Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Last Romantic: A Biography of Queen Marie of Roumania

The Last Romantic is a 1986 biography written by Hannah Pakula on Marie of Edinburgh, Queen of Roumania.

In 1871, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, is introduced to Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, only [surviving] daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia and Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna of Russia (nee Princee Marie of Hesse and by the Rhine). Having already been scared off by Elisabeth of Wied, the second son of Queen Victoria proposed to the Grand Duchess, against the wishes of both his Mother and hers. They married on January 23, 1874. Maria Alexandrovna's was an unhappy in England where she was placed behind the Princess of Wales in order of importance, despite Maria Alexandrovna being the daughter of an Emperor (styled Her Imperial Highness) while Alexandra was only the daughter of the King of Denmark (styled Her Royal Highness). The Duchess of Edinburgh was also unhappy in her marriage, once referring to herself as "[Alfred's] official mistress". Her one comfort in such a life was her children.

Marie Alexandra Victoria, nicknamed "Missy" in the family, was born on October 29, 1875, Alfred and Marie's second child and first daughter. She was preceded by her parents only son, Alfred ("Young Affie"), and three younger sisters, Victoria Melita ("Ducky"), Alexandra ("Sandra") and Beatrice ("Baby Bea"). Raised first in England, Marie never lost her love for the country. Because of her Father's naval career, Missy often spent time abroad, particularly at Malta where her cousin, George, Duke of York, was stationed. George fell in love with the prettiest of the Edinburgh girls and sought her hand in marriage. Alfred and his older brother, Edward, agreed but their wives did not. Before Missy could make any decisions for herself, Maria Alexandrovna planned for Missy to meet Crown Prince Ferdinand of Roumania.

Ferdinand Victor Albert Meinrad, or "Nando" as he was known in the family, was born on August 24, 1865, the second son of  Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and Infanta Antonia of Portugal. His uncle, King Carol I of Roumania, had been married to Elisabeth of Wied (the same woman Alfred had rejected all those years ago), for a number of years but the only fruit of their union, Princess Marie of Roumania, had died in 1874, so he needed an heir. Having become familiar with the situation in Roumania, Ferdinand's older brother, William, renounced his rights to the Romanian throne in favor of his younger brother. Unaccustomed to life in Roumania and lonely, Ferdinand grew close to his Aunt's lady-in-waiting, Elena Vacarescu. Elisabeth, believing Elena to be the reincarnation of her deceased daugther, encouraged the romance, knowing full well that such a match would never be permitted by the King. Once Carol discovered what was going on between the Crown Prince and the cout lady, he had the Queen exiled to Neuwied and Elena to Paris. Ferdinand was duly sent to Europe to find a bride. The 27 year old Crown Prince married the 17 year old English Princess on January 10, 1893.

If Missy and Nando had little in common before their marriage, things became even worse after they married. Nando was a timid man who never stood up for his wife against his Aunt. Missy gave birth her first child, a boy named Carol after his great-uncle, on October 15, 1893. A girl, named Elisabeth, came the next year. Both children were snatched up by Queen Elisabeth, often known by her pen name as Carmen Sylva. In 1897, while Ferdinand was recovering from an illness, Missy was given a new aide-de-camp by the name of Zizi Cantacuzene. The two subsequently began an affair and like the Elena Vacarescu affair, King Carol ended it quickly. Pregnant, Missy demanded to give birth in Coburg - where her Mother was now Duchess. Missy gave birth to Marie ("Mignon") on January 6, 1900.

In 1899, Young Affie died in Meran after living a wasted life. The next year, Missy's Father succumbed to lung cancer after years of dissipation. The following year, Queen Victoria died to be reunited with her beloved Albert. Ducky had been married to Grand Duke Ernest of Hesse since 1894, a plan that had gone according to the wishes of the Duke of Edinburgh, but the two were illmatched and had long hoped for a divorce. Now that the chief opposition to the divorce was gone, the couple duly separated and Victoria Melita went to the open arms of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of Russia. Unfortunately for Ducky and her main man, Ernest sister was Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia who had her husband strip the Grand Duke of his title. Missy named her next child, a boy, Nicholas after the Tsar to try and placate him. There were rumors that Nicholas was the son of Missy's close friend, Waldorf Astor, although Pakula refutes this.

Missy began an affair with Barbo Stirbey at the beginning of the century, a love affair that would be the loves of both their lives. Missy's favorite child, Ileana, was born in 1909 and there were many rumors abound that her biological father was Stirbey but Pakula says otherwise. The matter is entirely different when it comes to Prince Mircea who was born in 1913 - whom it is generally assumed among historians that Stirbey is the Father. Mircea was born just before the outbreak of the First World War.

Roumania had earned itself some recognition in the first and second Balkan Wars but it was no where near ready for a full scale war. As with many royal families, the Great War divided the Romanian royal family in two. Carol and Elisabeth both avowed German while Missy stayed true to her roots. Romania, however, stayed neutral for the first few years of the war. Carol's sudden death in 1914 made Ferdinand King but it was plain to all that the actually ruler of Romania was Queen Marie. Despite going against his bloodline and heritage, Ferdinand joined the war on the sides of the Entente. The war was a great hardship on the Romanian people, Missy too was effected. Mircea died in 1916 and his death absolutely devastated his Mother. Marie focused all her attention of her country and was a symbol of strength and resilience to the Romanian people. She chose correctly; the Entente was triumphant and the war ended on November 11, 1918.

Now that the war was over, the trouble in Missy's life stemmed from Carol, her eldest son. Like his Father before him, Carol fell in love with a Romanian girl, Jeanna "Zizi" Lambrino. Knowing full well that if he married her he would forfeit the throne, he married her in August 1918. Missy and Nando were furious and declared the marriage illegal. Despite pledging his eternal love for Zizi, Carol eventually grew tired of her and went along with his parents in having the marriage annulled. In 1921, in a double marriage between two sets of brothers and sisters, Carol married Helen of Greece and Elisabeth married Crown Prince George of Greece. Zizi gave birth to Carol's son, Mircea, in 1920. Helen gave birth to Carol's son, Michael, in 1921. In 1922, Mignon marrried King Alexander of Yugoslavia, completing the three marriages that would earn Missy the nickname of "GrandMother of the Balkans".

Helen, or as she was called by close friends "Sitta", and Carol's marriage soon broke down after Carol's relationship with Elena Lupescu came to light in 1925. They divorced in 1928. Missy felt rather sympathetic to her daughter-in-law's plight but disliked the way she kept Michael isolated from his family. Rather than give Lupescu up, Carol renounced his rights to the Romanian throne. In 1927, Nando died and Missy's five year old grandson ascended the throne. His reign was a short one because Carol returned in 1930 and proclaimed himself king while factions ofI the royal family fought over the regency. He had his wife place practically under house arrest and his Mother found herself increasingly under greater supervision. Wishing to rid himself of all perceived threats he used his siblings marriages to chase them away.

Marie died on July 18, 1938, aged 62 - before the fall of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty, whose path to destruction sprung from her own son's rule, and the rise of the Communist party in her beloved Romania.

I give this book a 4/5. Having already read Pakula's other work An Uncommon Woman I decided to give this book a shot. Now I'm not necessarily a fan of Missy, I've always been a bit of prude when it came to who I emulated (preferring people such as Victoria, Princess Royal and Alix of Hesse etc.), but Hannah Pakula does the romantic Queen of Roumania justice. The book was engaging and well written and I commend Pakula for that. I had a giggle or two with some outdated facts but then again this book was written almost three decades ago so that can't be helped. The one disappointment that I had with the book is its lack of overall...romance. I was expecting a little more on Zizi Cantacuzene affair because she muddles up Marie's pregnancy in 1897 and Mignon's birth in 1900. And I know that the book would mostly focus on the bane of Marie's life, Carol, it was a little lacking with her other children. I wanted to read a bit more about her relationship with Mignon and Elisabeth, who was a terror in and of herself. All in all a good read and yes, I'd recommend it to people.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The French Mistress

The French Mistress is a 2009 book written by Susan Holloway Scott on Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland's french mistress, Louise de Kerouaille.

Louise Renee de Penancoet de Kerouaille is the daughter of an improverished nobleman from the french province of Brittany whose parents send her to Court to serves as a maid of honor to Henrietta Anne of England, known as Madame in the French court. The Duchess of Orleans forms a close friendship with the innocent maiden and gives Louise privy into the terrible state of the Orlean marriage. Henrietta Anne is abused by her husband, Phillip, Duke of Orleans, likewised called Monsieur, who repeatedly rapes her and flaunts his lover the Chevalier de Lorraine before her, motivated by his suspicions of her close friendship with his brother, Louis XIV of France. There is nothing Henrietta desires more than seeing England and her beloved older brother, Charles II of England and even the pregnancy and birth of Anne Marie d'Orlean, forced on her by Monsieur, will stop her.

In 1670, Louise accompanies Madame to Dover to be reunited with her brother. The true reason for the visit was to secure an alliance with England and on June 1,1670, Charles signs the Secret Treaty of Dover, promising to convert to the Catholic faith in order to gain support from Louis XIV. But it's not all serious business for Charles because during the trip, he becomes besotted with the baby faced Louise despite his mistress, Barbara Palmer, presence at Dover. Oh but the month passes by so quickly and the two go their separate ways.

Henrietta Anne's health has never been good but her sudden death on June 30, 1670 came as a shock to everyone. Because she died shortly after drinking rumor has it she was poisoned by her husband. With the death of the Duchess of Orleans, Louise de Kerouaille is left without a protector. With the task of being Louis XIV's spy, Louise departs for England under the guise of being a maid of honor for Charles's Queen, Catherine of Braganza, but in actuality to seduce the king himself.  She cleverly yielded the King's advances until she had a firm grip over his affections and was indispensable to him. Louise gave birth to Charles Lennox on July 29, 1792.

Despite his great affection for his "Fubbs" as he called Louise, Charles II of England was not a faithful man and Louise had much competition. The greatest of which came from a woman the complete opposite Mademoiselle de Kerouaille. Nell Gwyn "Pretty Witty Nell" born to the lower order of society, rose to fame as an actress before catching the eye of the King. Portraying herself as the very picture of what it was to be English, Nell often made the French Louise the butt of her many jokes, referring to her rival as "Squintabella". Hortense Mancini temporarily supplanted Louise in Charles' favor but her promiscuity to Louise's comparative innocence drives Charles right back to his favorite French woman. Her greatest sadness of all was catching a venereal disease from her beloved. But for all her lows, Louise de Kerouaille also had her highs. In 1673, she is made Duchess of Portsmuth and in 1675, her son is made Duke of Richmond.

As a Catholic, Louise was subject to much suspicion during a period in British history where the religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants was at the very heart of the government. The people cannot tolerate a Catholic King and are incensed when Charles's younger brother and heir, James, marries the Catholic, Mary of Modena. Likewise, Louis XIV of France was greatly angered upon hearing the news that James' daughter, Mary, was to marry the Protestant William of Orange to settle the feud between the English and the Dutch. Louise comes under fire during the Popish Plot instigated by Titus Oates but her position with the king is strong enough to withstand all. Charles II died on February 6, 1685 and it is due to Louise that he converts to Catholicism and receives the last rites.

I give this book a 2.5/5. As far as the many mistresses of Charles II goes, Louise de Kerouaille is near the bottom of my list of favorites. A classical Nell Gwyn girl myself, I find Louise de Kerouaille to be greedy and scheming, but The French Mistress does make me see Louise de Kerouaille in a new light and I'll give the book that. However, when one is writing a book on a highly controversial figure and tries to make them seem sympathetic to the reader, there is a right way to do it and then there is a wrong way to do it. Scott was on the fence throughout the book on Louise de Kerouaille, one moment she's the innocent victim whose name is wrongly blackened in history and the next she's the ambitious woman that we know and hate. The book is called a "Novel on the Duchess of Portsmuth and Charles II" but the 2 years that Louise spends with Henrietta Anne is nearly half of the entire book. Also I felt that the story was lacking the more interesting parts of Louise's story. It could have done more with how Louise strung Charles along or more interactions with Nell Gwyn. Foreshadowing is a good thing, it builds the suspense but Scott gave a little to many wink-wink-knudge-knudges and it became very very annoying. I'll be going for another read of The King's Favorite thank you very much.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Reluctant Queen

Reluctant Queen is a 2010 novel by Freda Lightfood on the marriage of Henry IV of France, his first wife Margot of Valois and his chief mistress, Gabrielle d'Estrees. This is the second book in Freda Lightfoot's book series on Henry IV. It is proceeded by The Hostage Queen and followed by The Queen and the Courtesan.

In 1578, after more than two years apart, King Henry III of Navarre is reunited with his wife, Princess Margot of France. Their marriage came on the heels of the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. During her absence, he found comfort in the arms of other women. However, she is undisturbed because she too has found lovers to amuse her. The two remain good friends until Henry becomes besotted with La Fousseuse and Fousseuse becomes pregnant. Margot agrees to help Fousseuse deliver the child but the child is stillborn and Henry blames Margot. To escape his wrath, Margot decides to return to her native France, to reunited with her brother, Henry III of France, mother, Catherine de Medici, and more importantly, her lover. Her stay in her brother's court is short.

After rumors begin to circulate that Margot is pregnant by her lover, Henry Trois orders his sister to return to Navarre only to have her searched and detained. Henry of Navarre at first refuses to take back his wife but eventually agrees to her return when he is given territory as a settlement. The death of her beloved brother, the Duke of Alencon, leaves two only two candidates for the French throne: the protestant, Henry of Navarre, and the Catholic, Henri, Duke of Guise. In 1585, Henry became besotted with Diane d'Andouins, nicknamed "La Belle Corisande", who pressures him into divorcing Margot so that he can marry her instead. Margot once again flees Navarre, this time raising her banner in support of the Duke of Guise, her one true love, setting up base at Agen, taking a soldier named D'Aubiac as her lover.  After being forced out by the townspeople, she moves to the fortress of Carlat but her luck runs out and she is caught by her husband. D'Aubiac is executed soon after.

In 1588, Henri, Duke of Guise, defying the word of King Henry III of France, comes to Paris to seek an audience with the King. Alarmed at Guise's presence, Henry Trois calls him the Swiss Guard, leading tot he Day of the Barricades as the people of Paris show their open support for Guise, forcing the King of France to flee. Henri's moment of glory does not last long when on Decemer 23, 1588 he is assassinated by Henry Trois's guard as the King looks on. Henry himself is assassinated by a friar conspiring with the Catholic League less than a year later. Henry of Navarre is the only legitimate heir yet because he is a Protestant in a Catholic country, he must first fight for it.

During his struggle with the Catholic League to claim his throne in the early 1590s, the now Henry IV of France, a man who can not live without love, falls head over heels, yet again, for umpteenth time - this time to the beautiful Gabrielle d'Estree. But she has no interest in him as she is already in love with another. However, after becoming his lover and the insistence of her Father, she grows to love Henry of Navarre and she eventually bears him three children. Born a Catholic, Gabrielle convinces Henry to convert to Catholicism which he does and soon after his conversion, Henry is crowned King. Henry grants her many titles and showers her publicly with his affection but the people of France share a different view of the new Duchess of Beaufort, calling her the Duchess of filth.

Henry's sister, Catherine, had long fostered the hope of marrying her Catholic cousin, the Count of Soissons, but Henry has other plans for her and in 1599 she is married, very much so against her will to, to Henry II, Duke of Lorraine.

In 1599, Henry's marriage to Margot looked likely to be annulled at last and so Henry proposed to Gabrielle, who was pregnant with their fourth child. On April 9th, after having a drink at a friend's house, she suddenly falls ill and gives birth to a stillborn son. She died the very next day in Henry's arms. The word "poison" is on everyone's lips.

I give this book a 3/5. The inside flap suggests the book is entirely about Gabrielle d'Estree but as you can tell from my summary of the book, Henry IV's famous mistress is only there for the latter half of the book. So who exactly IS the Reluctant Queen? I adapted to this lack of a formal protagonist in latching onto Margot of Valois but after the introduction of Gabrielle, Margot is hardly ever mentioned again and I felt that this was a bit of a let down, considering how attached I was becoming of her. Gabrielle's origin story was a little bland, with a somewhat cliche ring to it. The book was jerkily written with a plot a little hard to follow. It has no chapters...just long long long segments.