Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting back on topic for just a minute...

I remember when I first started this blog as a means of collecting some of the differences between British English and American English (hence the name of the blog), and how I used to just ask you to give me words that were different. Looking back, that was pretty naive: how could you know? You had no idea that you talked funny! Of course, we came up with a pretty long list of the obvious words and phrases that both of us know are different. Then we involved the Australians and South Africans a bit, because their English derived from your brand, mostly (I didn't think of India for some reason, but we had one Indonesian.) But those had drifted a bit far afield from the way you speak today. Australian is pretty much a world of it's own, for example. We put together quite a list, though, before I stopped asking you to think of words for me.

Most of you know I have never stopped collecting your words though; I just learned that the only way to do it was to have written "conversations" with you, and then pore over what you write, both to me and in your blog posts. By doing this, I finally began to get what I was really looking for - the TRUE differences in the way we speak, and the REAL words and phrases you use every day; words that you have no idea are different to an American's ear. I have been skulking you. But most of you know that. Anyway, my collection is of much higher quality now.

From time to time, I need to ask you what something means, when I can't find the word or phrase in one of those special "dictionaries" or when it isn't obvious from the context. Today is one of those days. I think I know what the phrase means, but I want to make sure, and it isn't in the special dictionary that I could see. Here are a couple of extracts from my (our) friend Sage's blog today. Help me on these, please.

1. "Nothing could be done in the dark, so we had a couple of portable fires to warm up the bedroom and living room but we were still very cold when we went to bed..."

2. "I made roast chicken for tea, with roasted potatoes and carrots... and served them with some mashed swede. I should have also done some runner beans but forgot."

Okay, I'm guessing the first is what we would call "space heaters", but I want to make sure. Swede, I remember from before. Runner beans I've forgot if I ever knew.

I am reluctant to just ask Sage on her blog because it will sound stupid to her readers in the comments.

Okay, now I will go back off-topic as usual tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy haggis and turnips

Well, there's only 4 minutes of it left in my country, and over in most of yours, but Happy Robert Burns night. There, I made it under the wire. :)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Princess Louise, Dutchess of Argyll

Born in 1858 at Buckingham Palace in London, Louise Caroline Alberta was the sixth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She was the first British royal since 1515 to marry a commoner, John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne and heir to the Duke of Argyll. Few in the royal family, including the Prince of Wales, approved the marriage, but the queen did and Louise loved him so that was that.

This was another marriage that the queen wanted, in part, because it would mean her daughter would be living close to her, since John was, at least a Brit. He later served in parliament, which didn't go over too well with the royal family either, of course (one should not show favoritism to any political party.) Another reason the queen favored the marriage was that she was looking to improve the blood of the royal family, realizing that so much close intermarrying wasn't good. (Her own husband, Prince Albert, had been her first cousin, like so many of the others.)

Between 1878 and 1883, Louise's husband was governor-general of Canada. At first Louise didn't like Ottawa, but the winter climate grew on her over time.

Louise was badly injured in a sleigh accident in 1880, when it overturned and was dragged by the frightened horses for a quarter-mile. She had a bad concussion (not sure if there is a good one, but this one almost fractured her skull) and her earring was also snagged and it ripped out the bottom of her earlobe. Well I thought that was interesting.
This is a portrait in oils of Louise, painted by her mother, Queen Victoria, in 1851.

Louise was probably the most revolting of Queen Victoria's daughters. I mean rebellious, not revolting (she was the prettiest daughter) in that she was always mingling with the common people. Well, she married one, too. Here is a fun story about her:

Once, when she was visiting Bermuda, she decided to walk to a reception instead of ride. It was farther than she had thought and she became thirsty. She stopped at a house and asked for a drink of water. A black woman by the name of Mrs. McCarthy answered the door and told her that she would have to go out to get water and was reluctant to do so because she was ironing. The Princess Louise said she would continue ironing for her if she would go get the water. The lady told her she wanted to finish the ironing right away so that she could go to the big reception for Princess Louise - had she not heard that the princess was in town? At this point, Louise asked the woman if she thought she would remember he face if she ever saw her again and the woman said maybe, maybe not (all white people look alike, or something like that) so Louise told her to take a good look at her so if they met again at the reception she would remember her. I don't know what happened, if the woman saw her at the reception or not, and I was disappointed that she never seemed to get her water. It also didn't ring true to me that there wouldn't be any drinking water in the house and that the woman would have had to go some distance to get some and didn't want to leave that long. But it was a good story anyway. Louise seemed pleased that she wasn't recognized. I liked the part about Louise ironing. Her father had taught all the royal youngsters carpentry too, I think. I love legends.

Louise was accused of having many affairs, but it would be indiscreet of me to mention them, so I won't. Her marriage survived, probably because they were often apart.

After Queen Victoria died, Louise became closer to her brother, the new king. They had much in common, including smoking. Oddly, Louise was otherwise rather fanatical about physical fitness to the sneers of the others. "Never mind", she said, "I'll outlive you all." She didn't, of course. One can't outlive everyone.

It was about this time that Louise's husband was offered the job of governor-general of Australia, but he declined.

Louise died in December of 1939 at age 91, wearing her wedding veil of 68 years previous. She was cremated. The Canadian province of Alberta is named after her.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Princess Helena of the United Kingdom

The Princess Helena (Helena Augusta Victoria) was the fifth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, born in 1846 at Buckingham. She was known in the family as "Lenchen" (Helena in German is Helenchen.)

Queen Victoria lined up the much older Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein for Helena to marry. This caused bad feelings between the queen and the Princess of Wales, as well as the Prince of Wales and the queen's daughter Alice. Remember the Prussian wars to unify Germany and their war with Denmark and seizure of Schleswig-Holstein. Don't make me go through that again. Prince Christian didn't really have anything to be prince of, but he was willing to marry the ummmm dowdy Princess Helena and be kept by Queen Victoria, so the marriage was a go. In the end, they were devoted to one another.

"What shall I do with Christian now that I have him?" must have flitted briefly through the monarch's grieving consciousness from time to time. Queen Victoria's only goal was to have Helena stay close to her beck and call, and that necessitated a husband who had nothing to do and no land to rule.

The queen gave the newlyweds a gift of £100,000 plus she requested £6,000 a year from parliament for the couple, which she got, of course. Helena became the queen's sort of personal secretary. The queen made Christian the Ranger of Windsor Great Park, which came with a house to live in. Shades of Yogi Bear. The queen also made Christian High Steward of Windsor. Both positions were merely figurehead in nature, so Christian was left free to play with his dog Corrie and feed his numerous pigeons. That's about it. (Not to demean his manhood or anything.)

Helena and her younger sister Beatrice catered to the queen, with Beatrice being in charge and Helena doing what Beatrice didn't have time to do.

Helena was not in good health. Actually, she was in pretty good health (for her size) but was a hypochondriac. She was addicted to opium and laudanum. Queen Victoria didn't believe she was sick and said as much in letters to her other daughter Vicky in Prussia. To which Vicky replied... ah, well, who cares what Vicky thought, eh?

The devoted couple (the dope fiend and the pigeon guy) had six children, four of whom survived. None of the four, boys or girls, were what you would call beauties (the princess Helena Victoria, child number three of the devoted couple, was called "Thora" within the family, but everyone called her "Snipe" due to her sharp features. I'm not making this up.)

Besides needlepoint and serving meals to the poor (which made her very popular with the poor, but which I am going to gloss over in this account) she also liked to write, especially translations (German to English.) Perhaps her most famous translation was entitled, rather redundantly, "First Aid to the Injured."

In 1916, Helena and Christian celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Despite the two countries being at war, German Kaiser Wilhelm II sent a congratulatory telegram to his aunt and uncle. George V was present when the telegram arrived and was not wholly amused. Christian died the next year. George V changed the family name to Windsor and disposed of all the British royal family's German titles. So Christian was just plain old Christian. They still called him prince up until his death, though.

Helena has been described as "...plump and dowdy... placid..." But also businesslike and authoritarian. Go figure.

Her daughter, Princess Marie Louise, described her as, "... very lovely, with wavy brown hair, a beautiful little straight nose, and lovely amber-coloured eyes... She was very talented: played the piano exquisitely, had a distinct gift for drawing and painting in water-colours... Her outstanding gift was loyalty to her friends... She was brilliantly clever, had a wonderful head for business..."

Helena was also fearfully devoted to The Queen - to the point where she did not have a mind of her own. But, in the end, her name was the last one written in the queen's 70-year-old diary before she died.

Helena herself died in 1923.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

The fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was Alfred (Alfred Ernest Albert.) He was born in 1844 at Windsor Castle. He was originally the Duke of Edinburgh, but towards the end of his life he ruled Saxe-Coburg and Gotcha in the German Empire, so he ended up being known as the Duke of ... well, you know.

He was known in the family as Affie. "Affie", not "Alfie." As in "Affable." (Or "Affluent.")

When he was born, he was second in line of succession to the British throne, but as his older brother married and began having children he dropped so far down he lost all interest. In all likelihood, I mean.

He had an interesting and honorable life. He joined the Navy at age 12 and stayed in for some 40 years. He worked his way up through the officer's ranks until, in 1893, he was awarded his baton as Admiral of the fleet.

In 1862, Prince Alfred was chosen by Greece to take their throne, upon the abdication of King Otto. However, the British government (not his mother) told him to send the Greeks his regrets, so he just stayed in the Navy.

Alfred was the first English prince to visit Australia, stopping there nearly 5 months during one of his naval voyages. (My source says "English prince" rather than "British prince", so I am doing the same here - although I don't have a clue what Scottish prince might have preceded him. Maybe one was transported. Sorry, Adullamite.)

On the (then) Duke of Edinburgh's second visit to Australia, in March of 1868, he was the victim of an assassination attempt. While picnicking, he was shot in the back by one Henry James O'farrell. The bullet was just to the right of the prince's spine. He was nursed by six Florence Nightingale-trained nurses, led by matron Lucy Osburn. He recovered.

The assailant was arrested at the scene and hanged 40 days later. Back then, if you were caught in the act, they just got it over with. Moral: don't embarrass the Aussies. I could find no record of O'farrell's final words, but I imagine them to be along the lines of, "Holy Mackerel! - the bloke didn't even DIE, fer chrissake!"

In January of 1874, the Duke of Edinburgh married the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Tsar Alexander II. To commemorate this marriage, a small English bakery made the now famous Marie biscuit (with her name on them). So, that was pretty nice.

Marie herself was somewhat less than nice. She insisted on taking precedence over the Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark) because her own family (so they all thought) was much higher in rank than the lowly Danes. Her own mother was Hessian, you see. (Remember the rule: Denmark or Hesse.) Queen Victoria smacked her down, though, and granted her precedence right after Alexandra. I'm sure you care. To soothe her feelings, her father gave her the staggering sum of £100,000 for a dowry and granted her another £28,000 per annum for life. So the cookie princess was able to survive her humiliation.

Oddly, the Duke's flagship, when he was an admiral, was named "Alexandra".

Marie and Alfred had six children (one was stillborn), but only one son, another Alfred, the Hereditary Heir to Saxe-Coburg and Gotcha. Gotha. I have to tell you this story: while his parents were busy celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, the 24-year-old prince shot himself over a scandal involving his mistress-cum-unauthorized-bride (shades of Rudolf of Austria, eh?) and died a few days later. I think I will leave out the syphilis part.

The Duke himself died of throat cancer on 30 July, 1900.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Alice, Part II

Alice was born in 1843 at Buckingham palace. She was named Alice because the name was a favorite of Queen Victoria's first Prime Minister.

Alice's birth prompted the queen and Prince Albert to seek a new residence, Buckingham Palace not being large enough for the growing family. Really. That's what the queen said.

They purchased Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. It may have been wong - when Victoria died, Edward VII promptly sold the house.

Alice and her siblings were taught practical skills like housekeeping, cooking, gardening, and carpentry. This item comes from a Wikipedia article; perhaps you will believe it.

Victoria and Albert believed in old-fashioned family values, and their children wore middle class clothing and slept in sparsely-furnished bedrooms.

Alice was inclined to mingle with "the common people" when the opportunity arose. At Balmoral, for example, she visited tenets living and working on the estate. Alice also had an interest in nursing, and became a follower of Florence Nightingale. She became a bit too blunt with medical questions and observations for her mother's taste, but was a good nurse.

She nursed her father in his final illness. She nursed her grandmother through hers. She made bandages for wounded soldiers at Hesse. She nursed her own family during diphtheria epidemics.
Vicky and Alice, wearing their middle class clothing.

Alice possessed a sharp tongue and an easily triggered temper.

Queen Victoria began Alice's matrimonial plans in 1860. She instructed her daughter Vicky to interview and make up a list of possibilities in Prussia and thereabouts, which Vicky did. As it turned out, Alice liked one that made Vicky's list. The queen liked him and another guy, but saw that Vicky liked Ludwig.

They were married at Osborne House on a dreary day, in a makeshift chapel. Even the mourning queen attended, but her sons stood and shielded her from being seen. Odd. The queen remarked to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, that it was the saddest day she could remember. I'm sure he opened his mouth to say, "But what about the day Albert died, ma'am?" but quickly closed it again. The only reason I can think of why she would say such a thing was that she meant it was sad that Albert wasn't there to see his daughter married.

The Queen prevailed on the PM, Lord Palmerston, to vote Alice a £30,000 per year allowance, and he did manage the vote, but (as Edward remarked) even that large sum (large in that day and age) would not be enough to buy Alice the kind of lifestyle she was used to.

When Alice and Louis left for Hesse-Darmstadt, the people of Darmstadt were already leery of her since she was asking for a new house. After Alice's leaving, Victoria expressed her grief in her diary thusly: "Already nearly a fortnight since our dear Alice has left and strange to say - much as she has been to me - and dear and precious as a comfort and an assistance, I hardly miss her at all..."

They were all very big on dashes and run-on sentences back in Victorian times. I fancy them myself, as you have probably noticed.

The queen was disenchanted with Alice's decision to breast feed her children and even more distressed at Alice's interest in women's issues, especially her vivid gynecological talks. Victoria didn't want to talk of the human body and such, and largely ignored her daughter when she brought them up. But of course Victoria had no qualms about ratting Alice out to others. In a letter to Alice's sister Louise, the queen wrote:

"I would rather you had not met her [Alice] so soon, [after Louise's marriage] for I know her curiosity and what is worse and what I hardly like to say of my own daughter - and I know her indelicacy and coarseness... When she came over in '69 and saw Lenchen [Helena, another daughter of Victoria] again and asked her such things, that Christian was shocked..."

Christians don't speak of such things. Kidding. Christian was the name of Helena's husband; she had been sent to Denmark. In return for Alexandra, probably. I don't know. They seemed to trade queens back and forth.

The queen was also annoyed by Alice's letters begging for money, pleading poverty. The tiny queen also hated Alice's attempts to cheer her up when she visited. Alice disliked her mother's mourning seclusion that went on so long, but Victoria was content in her sorrow and wanted no cheering up.

In 1873, Alice's youngest and favorite son, Frederick (Frittie) died when he fell out of an upstairs window. He regained consciousness, but the child was a hemophiliac and died from internal bleeding.

The picture at left is Alice and Louis with their 2 eldest children. Click to enlarge.

Diphtheria struck the Hessian royal household in late 1878 and Alice nursed her sick children. Alice's oldest daughter Victoria fell ill first, and the other children soon followed. Only her youngest, Marie, died. Alice, however, made the mistake of kissing her sick son Ernest and contracted the disease herself. She didn't fall ill right away and had time to visit her sister Victoria one last time. Alice fell ill a couple weeks later and died on December 14, the anniversary of her father's death. Her last words were "dear Papa."

She was buried just outside Darmstadt, with the British Union covering her casket. She was 35 years old.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse

The third child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was Alice. Alice Maud Mary. Maud is the Anglo-Saxon version of Matilda. (For those of you writing down these names.)

At first I was not going to devote too much time here to Alice: she didn't really do anything earthshaking; she was hardly her mother's favorite; she was a bit of a rebel and feminist, given more to mingling with the common folk than suited her mother's taste; she actually stood up to her mother and married whom she wanted; she didn't live very long. But the more one researches Alice, the more interesting she becomes - so much so that I find I need to break this account into two posts. This is the first.

Princess Alice married the Duke of Hesse, one of the many German states that Prussia was trying hard to unite (and dominate.) She left the UK shortly after her father's death. (You may recall St. Albert had been killed by the Prince of Wale's shocking behavior.)

Usually Hesse was a prime source of queens for Europe, along with Denmark, but Alice moved there instead of out.

Hesse was a Grand Duchy. Might still be. So Her husband was Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse and she was the Grand Dutchess of Hesse. It wasn't nearly as well-paid a job as being a princess of the United Kingdom, and Alice was always complaining of being poverty-stricken in her letters to her mother. Frankly, Alice was not all that high on Queen Victoria's list of children to begin with, so this complaining didn't set well with her, and the relationship became even more strained.

During the wars of German unification, Hesse sided with Austria and Prussia attacked Hesse, so (technically) Alice was at war with her sister Vicky. As you might imagine, Hesse fell to Prussia even faster than France did in WWII. The Prussians moved into Hesse and took over their railroads and telegraphs and strutted around for a while and socked Hesse with a 3 million florin levy for war reparations and... well, Alice just couldn't take it anymore (since they didn't have that much money to start with) and wrote off to her mother the queen to MAKE VICKY JUST STOP IT!

Queen Victoria shot off a letter to her eldest daughter, passing along Alice's request that her sister intercede and tell the Prussians to PLEASE BACK OFF HESSE. Vicky wrote back to her mother, reminding her that she was now married into the Prussian Imperial chain of command, and that Alice would just have to DEAL WITH IT and next time not choose to be on the losing side. Or words to that affect.

But, in the end, Prussia did back off, and Louis was allowed to keep his thronette. Obviously the fact that Alice was the sister of the German Empress had something to do with it. Not to mention that she was the daughter of the ruler of the British Empire. Also, the fact that the Russian Tsar put in a good word didn't hurt. So Hesse survived and Alice got to keep the house she was always complaining about.
Alice and Louis had 7 children. Those that survived childhood all played their own parts in the saga that was the European royal houses, but I only want to mention three of them here.

Her 4th child was Ernest Louis (Uncle Ernie) who succeeded his father as the next Grand Duke of Hesse.

Alice's second child was Elisabeth and her sixth child and fourth daughter was Alix. Both were to walk in the highest circles of power, and both were destined for tragic ends.

Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine (called Ella in the family) married Grand Duke Sergei of Russia, a younger brother of Tsar Alexander III (father of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia.)

Alix, of course, became the tragic last Empress of Russia, wife of Tsar Nicolas II, mother of the hemophilic tsarevich, desperately susceptible to the demonic monk Rasputin, who seemed to be able to abate her son's hemophilia. Born Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine (called Sunny by her mother, Alice - and a darling favorite of her gran, Queen Victoria) she married Tsar Nicholas II and ruled with him as Empress Alexandra Fedorovna for 24 years (including their time of captivity) until the Russian Revolution, when the imperial family was taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks. She was executed with her husband and all her children in that gunsmoke-filled Ekaterinburg cellar on that terrible impossible July night in 1918.
The Russian imperial family in 1913 [click to enlarge] Alix (Empress Alexandra), daughter of Alice, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. The children are great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria. The Tsar was a cousin (and look-alike) of George V - the Tsar's mother was the sister of Alexandra of Denmark, Queen Consort of Edward VII. Clear? Back row: the Grand Duchesses Marie, Olga, and Tatiana; Right, Grand Duchess Anastasia; Front: the tsarevich Alexei; Nicholas and Alexandra.

As Lenin and Sverdlov and the Cheka continued their purge of the Russian aristocracy, Ella (by then a nun) was arrested a few days later and, along with other members of the extended royal family, was beaten and thrown into an abandoned iron mine pit. Though the Cheka expected them all to be killed by the fall, singing and praying were heard from the shaft. Hand grenades were thrown in and brush pushed down and set ablaze. When the White Army later exhumed the bodies of Ella and the others, they found young prince Ioann's injuries had been bandaged by Ella before he died. Ella herself finally had died from injuries from the initial fall. All in all a horrible and lengthy death for the lovely Ella, who had meant so much to her little sister Alix.
Ella was canonized by the Orthodox church outside Russia in 1981, and in 1992, following the fall of communism, she was canonized by the Russian Orthodox church inside Russia as well.

The Tsar and Tsarina, like all the other royals of the day throughout Europe, kept diaries and made entries for every day of their lives since they were old enough to write. It was the fashion of royalty to do this. So did all their children, of course. The Russian family all wrote in English in their diaries. After they were murdered, the final books of their diaries were recovered. The last entry in the diary of the young Grand Duchess Olga Nicholaevna has become legend, still printed on plaques and T-shirts even today:

"Remember that the evil which is now in the world will become yet more powerful, and that it is not evil which conquers evil, but only love."

Next: Alice, the early years.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Edward VII of the United Kingdom

Albert Edward.

By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the faith, Emperor of India.

Uncle Bertie.

As I research the last representative of the house of Saxe-Coberg and Gotha (which would soon be renamed Windsor by his son), I can't help drawing parallels between him and the current Prince of Wales. Albert Edward waited in the wings 60 years to become king, and then reigned for 9 years. Prince Charles has so far waited 57 years (he is now aged 61). British queens tend toward longevity.

Born November, 1841, at Buckingham Palace, grandson of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, christened Albert Edward after his father and maternal grandfather.

Unlike his elder sister, Edward did not excel in his studies. Instead, his talents were charm, sociability and tact. And, really, aren't those things more valuable to a constitutional monarch than a bagful of brains? I think so. This is not to say Edward was stupid by any means; he was just not what you would call a diligent student.

The Prince of Wales was largely excluded from any political power, and spent his life representing his mother at various functions for decades, pretty much the same as it is now. He wanted to join the army, but Mum said no since he was heir. I can picture him mentally shrugging as his thoughts turned to his next mistress. But no matter: mum gave him plenty of honorary military ranks and a trunk full of uniforms. (Incidentally, this diverged from the present Prince of Wales, who served honorably in the Royal Navy for 5 years.)

Edward was the first heir to the British throne to visit North America. He christened a bridge in Canada and laid a corner stone. He watched a tightrope walker make his way across Niagara Falls. He stayed a bit with President Buchanan and then went to Mount Vernon to honor the tomb of George Washington. Bet he was enthusiastic about that.

He met Longfellow, Emerson, Holmes. Not Thoreau.

In New York, at Trinity Church, prayers were said for the royal family for the first time since 1776. Surely that made his eyes water a bit. I think it was somewhere in this general time period that an American brand of pipe tobacco was named Prince Albert.

Edward gained a reputation for being a playboy. I guess that's the most diplomatic way of putting it. Once while playing army with his buddies in Ireland, the other officers hid an actress (Nellie Clifton) in the prince's tent. His ill father got wind of it and caught up with Edward at Cambridge to issue a personal reprimand. I sit here mentally watching Edward's eyes glaze over as Prince Albert laid it on him, expressing his profound disappointment. Jesus.

Unfortunately, Prince Albert died 2 weeks after the visit and Victoria went bananas, blaming Edward for his father's death. No guilt tripping in that family, no sir. And, boy, could she hold a grudge. She wore black for the rest of her life, and wrote to his older sister Vicky, "I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder."

Before his death, Prince Albert had decided (and therefore so did the queen of course) that his son would marry Alexandra of Denmark. I am sitting here trying to conjure a mental image of the pleasant meeting when Victoria summoned Edward to tell him who his life-mate was going to be: "You've killed my man, you twit. Why cannot we keep our willy in our pants, then? You shall now marry that viking girl."

Or something on that order, as Edward smiled that vacant smile of his and thought, "Yes. Whatever, Mummy."

Alexandra was the eldest daughter of Prince Christian. Prince Christian was known as the father-in-law of Europe. His offspring, besides Alexandra, included George I of Greece (think: the current Duke of Edinburgh) and Alexandra's younger sister, Princess Dagmar - soon to be Empress Marie Fedorovna of Russia, wife of Tsar Alexander III and mother of Nicolas II. Between Denmark and the German state of Hesse, they cranked out the queens for years and years. But I digress.

So Edward married Alexandra and they lived happily ever after. And Edward begat George V and Georgie (as he was called in the family) married Queen Mary (called May - because Mary was too long, I guess) and the present queen is named, inventively, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary.

Edward and Alexandra were married at Windsor in 1863. He was 21, Alexandra was 18. Then they became entertainers. I don't mean they did song and dance on the stage, I mean they ENTERTAINED. Lavishly. My personal opinion is that spending money was Alexandra's revenge.

Returning to the incredibly sarcastic "happily ever-after", it was rumored there was a distinct possibility that Edward may not have been totally faithful to Alexandra. Or to put it another way, his willy continued to wander:

Actress Lillee Langtry; Lady Randolph Churchill (Mother of Sir Winston) Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick; actress Sarah Bernhardt; Alice Keppel; singer Hortense Schneider; prostitue Giulia Barucci; weathty humanitarian Agnes Keyser. 55 liaisons total. But only conjecture, of course.

Uncle Bertie tried to keep his affairs discreet. That is, he tried not to do it on the footpath in Trafalgar Square during the noon rush.

How did the Princess of Wales take all this? I'm guessing she looked the other way. The story that Alexandra allowed King Edward's last mistress, Alice Keppel, to visit the king on his deathbed is a complete myth.

But what goes around keeps coming around: Alice's great-granddaughter is one Camilla Parker Bowes. Believe it or don't.

Edward never admitted to any illegitimate children. What a surprise.

In 1871, Edward contracted Typhoid (the disease that is believed to have killed his father rather than a broken shocked heart) and nearly died. He didn't, of course.

At his coronation, his waist measured 48 inches (122 cm.)

He's the one who introduced the practice of eating Yorkshire Pudding on Sundays.

Victoria finally died in 1901 and Edward became king. The queen had intended for him to rule as Albert Edward, but, in perhaps his first EVER gesture of defiance, he chose Edward VII. He said he didn't want to "undervalue the name of Albert". Right.

All his life he was able to get along with almost everyone, of every station and every political belief. He had many friends in many places. He was the most popular king since at least the 1600s.

It was Edward's habit to smoke 20 cigarettes and 12 cigars a day. Alexandra returned from a visit to her brother, King George I of Greece, on May 5, 1910 and her husband suffered several heart attacks the next day, but he refused to go to bed. The Prince of Wales told him that one of his horses had won at Kempton Park that afternoon (Edward was heavily into horse racing) and the king replied, "I am very glad." Those were his final words.
4 kings: Edward VII (rear) George V (left); Edward VIII (the boy in back); George VI

George V and his father were more like brothers than father and son, and after Edward's death he wrote in his diary that he had lost his "best friend and the best of fathers... I never had a cross word with him in my life. I am heartbroken and overwhelmed with grief."

Edward VII is buried at Windsor Castle. His funeral marked the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank the world had ever seen.

He had a real sense of duty. He had a real zest for pleasure.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Victoria, Empress Frederick

Well it is a few days past "tomorrow" but I would like to continue with highlighting queen Victoria's children, beginning with her eldest daughter Victoria, called "Vicky" within the extended royal family. But first a little set-up if I may.

When I say the "extended" royal family, I refer to the royal houses in Europe at the time, all pretty much related, and thus all "family".

There were many countries in Europe in the 19th century that still had monarchs, or constitutional monarchs, but (Since this series of posts is about Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom) I will be referencing mainly the royal households of the UK, Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Russia. These were the big players in the 19th century, and up until World War I.

Born in late 1840 at Buckingham, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa was soon created Princess Royal by her mother, since there were real prospects the little girl might become queen. As it turned out, she would become an Empress, but not of the British Empire.

Unlike her younger brother, who would become king of the United Kingdom, Vicky was intelligent and vivacious. When she was only 14, her mother and father arranged for her to be married to prince Frederick William of Prussia (Fritz) who was then second in line to the Prussian throne (and later the German Empire) behind his father. They were married 2 years later when Vicky was 17 years old.

Their marriage was, of course, a dynastic alliance, but (happily) it was a love match as well. Off to Germany the young girl went with her young husband. Soon thereafter, his father became king (Kaiser William I) and she suddenly found herself Crown Princess of Prussia.

These were war years as Prussia fought to consolidate all the German states into one Germany. Some of the fighting was with Denmark, and this caused strife within the British royal family because of their close ties to Denmark, but life went on. The monarchs of Europe never seemed to let wars stand in the way of family reunions.

Germany became a very militaristic state, run by aristocrats with saber scars above their eyes from fencing at university - quite the rage, even though sometimes self-inflicted. Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, was the real power, overseeing the unification of Germany, and the old king went along, keeping his nose clean, sleeping in his metal soldiers' cot, pretending he was in charge, honestly believing his crown came from God, listening to Bismarck whisper visions of grandeur in his ear. He would be another Frederick the Great, would the old soldier. But Bismark called the shots.

When William I died, much of the country envisioned the dawn of a new era. Fritz and Vicky were modern-minded and forward-thinking, a much-needed breath of fresh air. Finally, change would come to Germany.

But by then it was too late. By the time he took the throne, Frederick III had advanced throat cancer and was already breathing through a tube. His reign lasted only 99 days.

When Vicky's son took the throne as Kaiser Wilhelm II, there was no doubt about there being any peace and quiet in Germany. Forget that dream.
William was an odd child. His grandmother, queen Victoria, never seemed to really like him. Vicky tried to exert a proper British influence on him through his early childhood teachings, but his heroes and final influences were the German aristocracy and the military. He would wear a uniform as long as he was in power. When the other royal children would visit - from England, from Russia, they would recall Cousin Willy as always bossing them around, deciding what they would play, making them sit while he read the Bible to them. A psychopath? You be the judge. He was the last king of Germany.

The Dowager Empress lived out her life in relative seclusion, known officially as the Empress Frederick. Vicky had 8 children and lived to 60 years old, dying just 7 months after her mother. She died of inoperable breast cancer. Her servants and maids asked to be moved farther away from Vicky's room so that her screams would not disturb them in the night.

Vicky always kept in close touch with other members of the British royal family, especially her younger brother, the future king Edward VII. There are some 3777 letters cataloged to her from her mother, queen Victoria, and over 4000 letters from Vicky to the British queen.

Queen Victoria's precocious firstborn was buried at Potsdam, next to her beloved husband and her two children who had died in childhood.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The nine children of Victoria and Albert

In the 19th century, the main royal houses of Europe were well stocked with queen Victoria's offspring and her grandchildren. Her nine children were:

Albert (later Edward VII)

You may already see some namesakes of the current royal family.

Tomorrow: Victoria, Empress of Prussia

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Victoria and Albert

From Victoria's diary (24 May 1837):

"I was awoke at 6 o'clock by Mamma...who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen..."

She was to have reigned as Alexandrina Victoria, but the first name was withdrawn at her request.

Victoria had met her future husband when she was only seventeen. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was her first cousin. The queen proposed to Albert in October of 1838, and they were married early in 1839. Apparently he said yes.

Albert became not only Victoria's companion, but her close advisor as well. Victoria's mother was then evicted from Buckingham Palace, as the young queen, now married, was no longer required to live with her. Her mother was thereafter seldom visited.

Fun fact: Victoria was taught only in German until she was 3 years old, then in English and French, becoming virtually tri-lingual. (Tri-lingual means she had three tongues, to Albert's delight, tho' some say it contributed to his early demise. Some, not I.) Her seldom-visited mother spoke to her daughter in German, though she approached proficiency in English. Is that cool, or what?

[Next: 9 children, the future movers and shakers of all of Europe]

Friday, January 1, 2010

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria can be considered the matriarch of the modern British royal family. Indeed, most, if not all, of the royal houses of Europe can show this remarkable queen somewhere in their family tree. She had nine children and 42 grandchildren, many of whom married into other royal families, thereby extending British influence across Europe.

Queen Victoria was born in 1819 and became queen in 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday. At over 63 years, she is the longest-reigning female monarch ever - anywhere in the world.

Of mostly German descent, Victoria continued the House of Hanover. She was a niece of her predecessor, King William IV. Victoria's first name was Alexandrina, after Emperor Alexander I of Russia (her godfather); Victoria was the name of her mother.

(Next: Victoria and Albert)


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