Friday, September 9, 2011

Born to Rule; Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria

Born to Rule; Five Reigning Consort, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria is a 2005 book on the five greatest granddaughters of the formidable Queen Victoria  - Maud (Queen of Norway), Sophie (Queen of Greece), Alix (Empress of Russia), Marie (Queen of Romania) and Victoria-Eugenie (Queen of Spain) - written by Julia P. Gelardi.

The eldest of the five women whose life we will be tracing is Princess Maud of Wales. Born on November 26, 1869, to Edward, Prince of Wales ( later Edward VII of the United Kingdom ) and his Danish wife, Alexandra of Denmark, she was their youngest child. Maud grew up in a relatively relaxed environment with the Wales family, she was most attached to Mother out of her two parents.  Alexandra's way of coping with her husband's many infidelities was to shower her children with affections. Often smothering them with it.

Months later, born to Crown Princess Victoria "Vicky" (eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) and Crown Prince Frederick of Germany (later Emperor Frederick III of Germany) "Fritz", Princess Sophie of Prussia was born on June 14, 1870 in Potsdam, Prussia.  Sophie was born into the trio of girls at the end of Vicky's birthing years, she and her two sisters, Victoria "Moretta" and Margaret "Mossy", were the closest of the brood of the surviving 6 (Vicky lost two sons, Waldemar and Sigismund)  to their parents. Vicky and Fritz elder trio, William "Willy" (William II of Germany)Charlotte and Henry, were entirely against their liberal parents as was much of the Berlin court.

Next came Princess Alix of Hesse and by the Rhine on June 6, 1872, whose parents were Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (Queen Victoria's third child, second daughter) and Prince Louis of Hesse and by the Rhine (later Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse and by the Rhine). Alix "Alicky" grew up in a tiny part of Germany with a touch of England (brought over by her Mother). She was so bright and cheery that her family members taught to calling her "Sunny"....that is until tragedy hit the Hesse family; Alix's brother, Frederick "Frittie", a hemophiliac, fell from a window and died, a strain of diphtheria infected the house taking little Princess Marie "May" and later the children's Mother, Alice. There would be no more smiles for Sunny. That is until she first caught a glimpse of  Nicholas "Nicky".

Later, Princess Marie of Edinburgh (later Marie of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha) "Missy" joined the granddaughters. Daughter of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (later Duke of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, third child and second son of Queen Victoria) and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna (daughter of Alexander II of Russia).   Missy, originally brought up in England (forever making her the Anglophile), moved to Coburg after her Father became the Duke of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha (after the death of her Uncle, Ernest). The Coburg children were tormented by a Governess and her fiance, their Mother oblivious to it all (mirroring the Duchess of Kent  and John Conroy) until their Father found out.

In the Victorian Era, it was the norm that one of the daughters in the family would stay unmarried to tend to her ailing Mother; to Queen Victoria, it was Beatrice. Still, against Queen Victoria's hopes and dreams, Beatrice fell in love and - with the Queen's blessing, albeit reluctantly - married Prince Henry of Battenberg (the couple still resided in England, by the elderly Queen's side). Victoria-Eugenie's birth "Ena", second child and only daughter of Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry "Liko", coincided with Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. She was named after her Grandmother, Godmother and for the country where she was born.

It was at the Jubilee that Sophie was first introduced to Crown Prince Constantine of Greece. That time in her life was very difficult for her and for parts of her family. Her Grandfather, William I of Germany, died in 1888, and her Father, who was already dying of throat cancer, ascended the throne; he died after 99 days, the day after Sophie's 18th birthday. Her elder brother, William "Willy", ransacked the Neus Palais mere moments after their Father's death, looking for incriminating letters....he never found them ( Fritz had already sent to England). It was during this sad time that Sophie married Constantine "Tino" (1889). There was a rumor in Greece that Sophie's coming would bring a new golden age to Greece (For when a Constantine and Sophie reigned, Constantinople would fall into Greek hands). In less than nine months, Sophie gave birth to a son. It was during this first year that Sophie became interested in the Greek Orthodox Religion, later converting in 1890 (This infuriated Willy and his wife, Dona, with whom Sophie would forever be on distant terms)      

The feelings shared between Alix of Hesse and Nicholas of Russia did not wane as time went on. Their first meeting began an infatuation which took a much stronger hold in Nicky in 1889 when Alicky came to visit. Queen Victoria felt that Alix deserved a crown at the very least but she still containted a deep dislike of Russia long since the Crimean War. The aged Queen attempted to dissuade Alicky from becoming Empress of Russia "Tsarina" by waving the title of Queen Consort of the United Kingdoms through a marriage between the Princess of Hesse and by the Rhine and Maud's eldest brother, Prince Albert Victor "Eddy". But Alix would have no other and she refused (which was a rare sight to see with the headstrong Queen Victoria as your Grandmother). With Eddy out of the way, Nicky redoubled his efforts to wed Sunny and he was literally going to go through hell and high water to get her. Nicky's parents, Alexander III of Russia and Marie Feodorovna, became Germanophobes after Prussia/Germany stole the territories of Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark, and opposed the match as much as Queen Victoria did and usually, the mild mannered, Nicky would agree but not this time, his marriage with anyone other than Sunny was nonnegotiable.  He loved her and she loved him, the only thing that stood in the way now was the question of religion. Alix adamantly refused to convert to Orthodoxy being raised a strict Lutheran. She refused the budge on the matter until her sister, Elizabeth "Ella",  who, herself, had recently converted, showed her the way. Nicky and Alix became engaged in 1894. But by then, Alexander's health began to fail and the 49 year old Tsar died on November 1 of the same year. Seven days later, Nicky and Sunny, now Alexandra Feodorovna, were married.

In history, Missy was deemed the flirt. Her natural good looks and fun loving personality attracted her to many men. The first of a long list was her cousin George (later George V of Russia), second son of Edward and Alexandra. Both of their cousins approved of the match but Alexandra would have no German as a daughter-in-law and Maria Alexandrovna would have no English man as a son-in-law. The two remained close friends throughout all their lives. Marie A. instead found a more suitable husband for Miss; Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania. They married on in 1893. In Romania, Missy was living a troubled life; her fun loving and outgoing nature was  repressed in the sombre court of Bucharest. If her husband, "Nando", had stood up for her and let her have things her way things would have been better but as it was he completely under the thumb of his Uncle, Carol I of Romania. Children did not help the situation; Miss gave birth to her first child, Carol, in 1893. Shortly before the birth of her second child, Missy's Aunt-in-law, Elisabeth of Wied "Carmen Sylva" returned from exile. The two women would constantly be at odds with each other. Only after six years of residing in Bucharest did things get better for Missy. The only things that did come out of those early years was Missy's understanding of her adoptive homeland.

In 1895, Alexandra gave birth to her first child, Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia. Although a girl, Nicholas did not feel too disappointed in the child as there would be more children in the future. During the initial years of marriage, Alexandra Feodorovna was at a crossroad with her Mother-in-law. Marie F., widowed and now presiding the title of Dowager Empress, refused to give up any of her spotlight and Alexandra was the new Empress was right to step her foot down to gain her recognition as the Emperor's wife. Minny, as she was called, was full of charm and won St. Petersburg over, while Alix, always shy and reserved, having been brought up by the strict morals that had coined the Victoria Era, had a certain disdain for the louche society.  At Nicky's and Alix's coronation in 1896, words gets about among the commoners that there will be a shortage of bread and wine, a riot occurs and thousands are killed in the process. The Tsar and Tsarina at first intended to cancel the ball that was to be held after the coronation but Nicky's domineering Uncles soon pushed them into reopening the idea because the French ambassador was to be attending.  It caused Alix much anguish.

Princess Maud harbored a deep crush for Prince Francis of Teck and hoped to marry him but Francis gambling and overall his lack of interest in the Princess. She suddenly decided on her cousin, Prince C(h)arl(es) of Denmark without much thought. They married in 1896 and soon afterwards Maud fell deeply in love with Charles. As a wedding gift to his daughter, Edward, Prince of Wales, gave her the estate of Appleton; Maud fell in love yet again. English to the core, Maud took her sweet time before her departure to Denmark and even as Princess of Denmark and Queen of Norway, Maud would always relish her trips to England.

The first modern Olympic Games were held in Greece on May 2nd, 1896 and it was around this time that war between Greece and the Ottoman Empire broke out. Crown Princess Sophie acted as a nurse during the war effort and advanced many other social activities involving childhood education and feeding the destitute. For all of her hard work, Sophie was rewarded with the Royal Order of the Red Cross by her Grandmother Queen Victoria. This disastrous war caused rifts between the Greek royal family and the general populace. And that rift began to grow turning into hatred with republican sentiment. It wasn't until King George and his daughter, Princess Marie, were nearly shot to death by a would-be assassin. The sympathy for the royal family during the aftermath brought the people back on to their side.

Just as Sophie's Mother was there for her, Missy's Mother supported her daughter from afar. In 1897, Missy began a scandalous relationship with Lieutenant Zizi Cantacuzene. The scandal was soon ended by the King of Romania but during the height of the scandal, Marie became pregnant. The turn of events cause Missy to leave Romania and turn to her Mother in Coburg for help. No one knows what happened to the child that was born in Coburg.  And when Missy found herself pregnant once again in 1899, she insisted on giving birth to the child in Coburg. When Carol forbade her from leaving, she told him "right to his face" that child was in fact Grand Duke Boris Vladmirovich of Russia. Marie left shortly afterwards.  The child was Marie's second daughter and she was named Marie "Mignon" after her Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother. In 1899, Missy's elder brother died in a failed suicide attempt and the next year her Father went to the grave as well. Another year passed and so came the passing of that greatest Grandmother, Queen Victoria.

As the years passed, Alexandra gave birth to three more Grand Duchesses, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia, but no Tsarevich to inherit the throne. Her growing despair over her situation caused her to turn to her adopted religion for comfort although not in the convention sense. The Grand Duchesses Militza and Anastasia introduced the Empress to a holy man by the name of Seraphim, one that had been dead for quite some time. They said if he was canonized then her dearest wish would be granted. The deed was done with and Alexandra soon found herself pregnant once again. Nine months later, Alix gave birth to the long awaited heir; Alexei. Alexei's birth was critical at the time to boost Russian moral during and after the disastrous Russo-Japanese War but the joy that Alexei brought about with him was shattered when it was discovered that he had inherited that dreaded disease; hemophilia.

In the same year that Queen Victoria passed, Sophie lost another guiding figure; her Mother, the ninety nice days Empress Frederick of Germany, died on August 5, 1901. On the 18th of March, George I was assassinated, shot, by Alexandro Schina. Constantine became King in the same year his Father predicted he would.

Maud's Father was named Edward VII after the death of his Mother, he held the, at the time, longest wait time before ascending the throne. Seven years after being married in a grand ceremony to her cousin Charles, Maud gave birth to her only child, Alexander. The twin countries of Sweden-Norway were growing restless as it soon became apparent that Norway would no longer tolerate being connected with Sweden and in 1905, Norway achieved full independence. All that was left now was to find a King. Charles was the perfect candidate. The two new rulers, Charles was from then on referred to as Haakon (Haakon VII) of the even newer country of Norway were crowned on November 18, 1905.

By 1905, Ena had blossomed into a beautiful young woman and her looks caught the eyes of many royal princes of Europe. In that year, Alfonso XIII of Spain traveled to England in search of a bride. Originally it was decided that he should win the hand of  Princess Margaret of Connaught, another granddaughter of Queen Victoria but he fell hard for the Princess of Battenberg instead. Over the next couple of months, the two exchanged letters. They met again in 1906 in Biarritz and it was there that Alfonso asked for Ena's hand in marriage. She readily said yes. On the day of the wedding ceremony, Alfonso and his new wife, Victoria Eugenie, had a bomb hurled at them in a failed assassination attempt by a a mad anarchist, Mateu Morral. It was in this turmoil that Ena showed her true resilient spirit. A year after their marriage, Ena and Alfonso welcomed their first child, a healthy boy whom they named Alfonso after his Father.The boy proved not to be as healthy as it was suggested at his birth when he started bleeding after being circumcised and the bleeding never stopped. Like his distant cousin in Russia, Alfonso "Alfonsito" was a hemophiliac. However, unlike her distant cousin in Russia, Ena's marriage couldn't stand against the might of the bleeding disease.

1905 was also an important year for Alicky as the man that singlehandedly destroy the Romanov dynasty entered the Empress's life. His name was Gregory Rasputin. When Alexei was near death from an accident at Spala, the doctors could do nothing to help the poor boy. Rasputin did what no other could and he "healed" the child of his affliction. In 1913, Russia celebrated three centuries of Romanov rule. Now that Alexandra's eldest daughter was of marriageable age, Alix contrived with Marie to have Olga and Carol meet and hopefully hit it off. The two failed to notice each other and Olga put her foot down in saying that she was Russia and would die in Russia. Indeed she would.

1914; the year the Great War broke out in Europe upon the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Maud and Haakon of Norway opted to remain neutral during the war, and as a less important nation there was no opposition to that. Too bad for Constantine and Sophie, they were not  given the same opportunity. Because of Greece's strategic location in Europe, both sides of the war vied for Greece to join them. However, Constantine was adamant on staying neutral and because of it, the dubious French tortured the Greeks until they would submit. Marie and Ferdinand, the new King and Queen, were at opposing ends on who to support. As a Hohenzollern, Ferdinand loved Germany. As a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Marie loved England. In the end, it was the latter that would prove triumphant. Ena faced the same problem as Marie as her Mother-in-law, the formidable Maria-Christina was pro-Austrian. As for Alix, there was no say in the matter as to whether Russia would enter or not, it was nonnegotiable; Russia went to war.

As the war progressed, Nicholas spent more and more days away from the capital until he finally placed himself in charge of the troops, leaving Alix as regent. Over the years, Rasputin's influence over Alexandra grew until he completely dominated her. The Russian people resented him and the Empress, the German Bitch they called her.  Rasputin was murdered by Prince Felix Yusupov and Grand Prince Dmitri Pavlovich in 1916. Due to civil unrest the people of Russia faced was civil war; those who supported the monarchy and those who longed for change.To spare his countrymen of even more bloodshed, Nicholas II abdicated for himself and his son in 1917. Nicholas, Alexandra, their four daughters and beloved son were all executed by firing squad (although some members were killed in much more horrific ways) at the Ipatiev House on July 17, 1918. Nicholas last thought was to shield his wife.

The effect the French had on Greece brought the Hellenes to their knees and in order for the French to stop their ruthless attack on the Greeks, Constantine was forced into exile and his second son, Alexander, was proclaimed King. As the ex-King left his palace, crowds of people threw themselves on their knees begging their monarch not to leave them. Alexander, married a morganatically, had a daughter and died from a monkey bite three years later. Constantine returned to the throne on this sad note but left three years later and returned to exile, never to return (Victoria-Eugenie faced the same problems as her Greek cousin when she too was forced into exile in 1931). A double marriage between the Houses of Romania and Greece. George, Constantine's  eldest son, has finally won the hand of the troubling eldest daughter of Miss of Romania, while Carol, Marie's eldest son, became engaged to Helen of Greece. Sophie was right when she said opposed the match of Helen and Carol. Both marriages would end in divorce.

In her final years, Sophie was diagnosed with cancer and in 1932, Sophie died. After the restoration of the Greek Monarchy, she was reburied at Tatoi. Marie met her fate in 1938. Maud followed soon after, when she suddenly died after an operation  on 20 November 1938. Victoria Eugenie would not rest until 1969, she didn't live long enough to see her Grandson be proclaimed as the King.

I give this book a 3.5/5. Although the book is suppose to cover the lives of five of Queen Victoria's granddaughters it barely touches on Maud, Queen of Norway. Unlike Gelardi's later work, From Splendour to Revolution, Born to Rule is written chronologically which is hard to follow along with when you're working with five different women. One moment, one of the Princess's are about to be married and in the other another is just growing up. The book is a fine read but not exceptional.

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