Friday, July 31, 2009

King Gustav V

The controversial Swedish monarch. Incidentally, he was the uncle of the beautiful and beloved Queen Astrid of the Belgians (1905-1935), whom I have often discussed on my other blog.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Karelia Suite


The three movements of the Karelia Suite (1893) by Jean Sibelius.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Last Tsarevich

Alexis (Alexei Nikolaevich) was the youngest child and only son of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. He was born at the height of the Russo-Japanese War, on August 12 (O.S. July 30), 1904, the long-awaited imperial heir. Nicknamed "Baby," he was the pride and joy of his parents and sisters. He was an intelligent, capable boy, with delicate features, coppery hair, and grey-blue eyes. Tragically afflicted with hemophilia, he suffered severe bleeding spells. Several times, he nearly died. His fragility made him all the more precious to his family, and his parents rarely had the heart to discipline him. They appointed two sailors from the Imperial Navy to serve as his nannies and prevent him from injuring himself. As any bump or bruise might kill him, his activities were severely restricted.

Yet, Alexis was a lively, energetic, mischievous child, prone to rambunctious behavior. He sometimes greeted those who bowed to him by punching them in the face, giving them a bloody nose. He enjoyed playing pranks on dinner guests. On one occasion, he ducked under the table, snatched a lady's shoe, and presented it to his father. Nicholas sternly rebuked him, whereupon the little prince returned the shoe to its owner- after placing a strawberry inside it. For several weeks afterwards, he was forbidden to attend dinner parties. Nonetheless, Alexis also possessed a sympathetic heart. His own sufferings, courtiers reported, made him compassionate towards others.

Alexis' hemophilia was the main reason for his family's reliance upon Grigori Rasputin, the infamous Russian preacher. Despite many reports of his corrupt lifestyle, Rasputin gained the trust of the Empress, as he claimed to be a mystic and holy man able to heal Alexis during severe bleeding spells. The source of this ability is uncertain. It is unclear whether Rasputin hypnotized Alexis, treated him with special herbs, or whether his advice to Alexandra to prevent the doctors from interfering with Alexis' condition truly aided his healing. In any case, as the doctors could do little to help Alexis and his mother was naturally desperate to keep him alive, she came to rely increasingly on Rasputin. She also seemed to genuinely believe in his sanctity, dismissing the lurid tales of his debauched ways as malicious gossip. "Saints are always calumniated," she wrote, "he is hated because we love him." Alexis and his sisters were taught to view Rasputin as a friend and spiritual counselor. Unfortunately, the Tsar's enemies seized upon the connection to spread subversive propaganda, even accusing the Empress and her four daughters of having affairs with Rasputin. This, of course, was sheer slander, but it aided in discrediting the imperial family and contributing to their downfall.

Like all Romanov boys, Alexis grew up wearing sailor uniforms and playing war games. To prepare his son for his future role as Tsar, Nicholas invited him to attend government meetings. During World War I, he visited his father at army headquarters in Mogilev for extended periods of time, becoming familiar with military life. Despite his preparations for rulership, Alexis realized he might not survive to adulthood, and tried to live in the moment, enjoying whatever time he had. At age 10, as he was lying on his back and looking at the clouds, his eldest sister, Olga, asked what he was doing. "I like to think and wonder," Alexis answered. "What about?" Olga inquired. "Oh, so many things," the boy responded. "I enjoy the sun and the beauty of summer as long as I can. Who knows whether one of these days I shall not be prevented from doing it?"

Yet, ironically, it was not hemophilia that cut his life short, but the Russian Revolution. Only two weeks before his fourteenth birthday, he was murdered, together with his family, by the Bolsheviks. It was a cruel, tragic end to the young, promising life of this sensitive, thoughtful and courageous boy.

More information HERE.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Princess Mary of Denmark


A picture video by "Maxieroyal" of Princess Mary of Denmark, set to "Tea for Two" by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Portrait of Tsarevich Alexei

A portrait by Sergei Egornov of the last Tsarevich, Alexei Nikolaevich. The paintings dates from 1911, so Alexis must have been around seven years old. He will be next on the list of short Romanov biographies, but meanwhile here is a description of this talented but sickly and tragic young boy:
He had what we Russians usually call "a golden heart." He easily felt an attachment to people, he liked them and tried to do his best to help them, especially when it seemed to him that someone was unjustly hurt. His love, like that of his parents, was based mainly on pity. Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was an awfully lazy, but very capable boy (I think, he was lazy precisely because he was capable), he easily grasped everything, he was thoughtful and keen beyond his years ... Despite his good nature and compassion, he undoubtedly promised to possess a firm and independent character in the future.

(Colonel Mordinov, ADC of Tsar Nicholas II)

Anastasia's Handwriting

Her signature.
A letter, dated May 17, 1910.

Anastasia's Art

Artwork by Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia (1901-1918).
A watercolor by 4-year-old Anastasia.
Another picture, by a 9-year-old Anastasia.
I think this one is gorgeous, and shows real maturity.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna (1901-1918)

Anastasia was the youngest daughter of the last Tsar. She was born June 18 (O.S. June 5) 1901. Her birth disappointed her father and mother; after three daughters, they were longing for a male heir. Nonetheless, Nicholas and Alexandra were loving parents and reconciled themselves to the arrival of a fourth girl. She received her name ("Breaker of Chains" or "Prisoner Opener") because, in honor of her birth, the Tsar pardoned a number of students who had been imprisoned for rioting in St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1900. "Anastasia" also means "Resurrection," resonating with the widespread (but now disproved) rumors of her survival of the brutal murder of her family in 1918.

Anastasia was a lively, witty child. She was short and plump, with blue eyes and strawberry-blonde hair. She was winsome, gifted and bright, but disliked schoolwork. She was a talented actress. Although all the Romanov sisters were good-hearted girls, devoted to their parents, to each other (despite normal sibling rivalries), and to their little brother Alexis, Anastasia was also very mischievous. She enjoyed pranks, teasing tutors, tripping servants, climbing trees and refusing to come down. On one occasion, during a snowball fight, Anastasia even rolled a rock into a snowball and threw it at her older sister Tatiana, knocking her down. According to Gleb Botkin, son of the court physician: "She undoubtedly held the record for punishable deeds in her family, for in naughtiness she was a true genius."

When World War I broke out, Anastasia was only 13. Too young to serve as Red Cross nurses (like the Tsarina and the eldest Grand Duchesses, Olga and Tatiana), Anastasia and her sister Maria visited wounded soldiers. They played checkers and billiards with the suffering men and tried to raise their spirits. One patient recalled: "(Anastasia) had a laugh like a squirrel...(and walked quickly) as though she tripped along."

The February Revolution of 1917 forced Tsar Nicholas to abdicate. The imperial family were placed under house arrest in Tsarskoe Selo. Alexander Kerensky of the provisional government later transferred them to Tobolsk, in Siberia. After the Bolshevik seizure of power, Anastasia and her family were sent to the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. The girls sewed their jewels into their clothes to hide them from their captors (later, during the massacre of the family, the gems would serve as armor, protecting several girls from the initial round of gunfire). Imprisonment took a heavy toll on Anastasia's spirits. Nonetheless, she still found ways to have fun. With other members of the household, she put on plays, causing everyone to roar with laughter. One guard remembered her as a "very charming devil," and noted: "She was mischievous and, I think, rarely tired. She was lively, and was fond of performing comic mimes with the dogs, as though they were performing in a circus."

Yet, on July 14, 1918, local priests who conducted a religious service for the family observed the girls' unusually deep despondency. In striking contrast to previous occasions, they were too depressed even to sing the replies in the service. The priests also noted that the family, contrary to custom, fell on their knees during the prayer for the dead. (Strangely haunting, as they were soon to join these dead). Only a few days later, during the night of July 16-17, forces of the Bolshevik secret police murdered the last Tsar, his wife and children in the cellar of the Ipatiev House. Anastasia was only 17.

Rumors of Anastasia's survival flourished for decades. Similar stories circulated about other Romanovs, but Anastasia, more than any other, seemed to capture people's imaginations. The multiple Anastasia claimants (most infamously, Anna Anderson) and the lingering hopes and doubts concerning the fate of the youngest Grand Duchess made her the most publicized of the Tsar's daughters. The legend of her survival has inspired books, plays and films. During the Soviet era, her burial place was unknown, fueling the rumors. Furthermore, when the mass grave at Ekaterinburg holding the remains of Tsar Nicholas, Empress Alexandra, and three of the Grand Duchesses was finally discovered in 1991, the bodies of Tsarevich Alexis and one of his sisters (Anastasia or Maria) were missing.

Nonetheless, in the last few years, the rumors of Anastasia's survival have been proved false. In 2008, Russian scientists reported that the charred remains of a young boy and a young woman found near Ekaterinburg in 2007 were probably those of Alexis and one of his sisters. On April 30, 2008, Russian forensic specialists announced that DNA tests proved that the remains belonged to the Tsarevich and to one of the Grand Duchesses. Meanwhile, American scientists reportedly tested DNA independently from the skeletons found in 2007 and confirmed that they belonged to the Romanov children. In March 2009, the results on the DNA and forensic testing of the remains were published, definitively establishing that every member of the family, including Anastasia, died in 1918.

(NOTE: I realize that some continue to believe in Anastasia's survival, but I think these recent tests are quite definitive, and, at a certain point, I feel it is time to let the dead rest.)

More information HERE.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Little Mermaid


...The little mermaid wanted to be human; she wanted to be other than what she was, and was willing to make a pact with the powers of darkness in order to have her way. As with all such bad bargains, the naive party cannot win. The little mermaid is doomed, but she ultimately finds redemption in her self-renunciation, and comes to a better place.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna (1899-1918)

Maria was the third daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. She was born June 26 (O.S. June 14), 1899. She was especially close to her younger sister, the famous Anastasia. The two girls shared a room, dressed alike, and were affectionately called the "Little Pair." (Similarly, their older sisters, Olga and Tatiana, were best friends, and known as the "Big Pair.") The four Grand Duchesses sometimes signed their names collectively using their first initials, as OTMA. They had their share of sibling rivalries, but, nonetheless, were deeply devoted to each other and to their little brother, Alexis, tragically afflicted with hemophilia.

A sweet-tempered child, nicknamed "the Amiable Baby," Maria grew up into a pretty, romantic, kindhearted, fun-loving girl, with light brown hair and large blue eyes her family called "Marie's saucers." She was artistically talented, and noted for her fine sketches, always drawn with her left hand. Surprisingly strong, she enjoyed lifting her tutors off the ground. From an early age, she felt a great interest in the lives of soldiers, and experienced a number of innocent crushes on officers she met at the palace and on family holidays. She loved children and hoped to have a large family ( so tragic this did not happen!)

Like all her sisters, Maria was a potential carrier of the hemophilia gene. During an operation to remove her tonsils, she began to hemorrhage, alarming the surgeon. He was so shaken that Empress Alexandra had to order him to continue the procedure. Maria's aunt, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, recalled that her four nieces all bled excessively, and believed they all, like their mother, carried the defective gene.

During World War I, Alexandra, Olga and Tatiana became Red Cross nurses, caring for wounded and dying soldiers in Tsarskoe Selo. Maria and Anastasia were too young to work in the hospitals, but tried to boost the suffering men's morale with cheerful visits and games of checkers and billiards. They also assisted in caring for the children at the nurses' school. Maria wrote her father that she thought of him while feeding the little ones and cleaning their faces. During this period, Maria, her sisters and mother sometimes visited Nicholas and Alexis at the military headquarters in Mogilev. Maria fell in love with Nikolai Dmitrievich Demenkov, an officer stationed there. After her return to Tsarskoe Selo, she often asked her father to give her regards to Demenkov, even jokingly signing letters to the Tsar "Mrs. Demenkov."

In the spring of 1917, revolution erupted in St. Petersburg. To add to all the distress, the Tsar's children fell ill with measles. Maria, however, was the last to succumb, and was able to join her mother in a poignant appeal to the soldiers to remain loyal to the Tsar. Shortly afterwards, she developed measles and pneumonia and nearly died. She finally began to recover, only to hear that her father had been forced to abdicate. The imperial family were arrested and imprisoned, first in Tsarskoe Selo and later in Tobolsk and at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg.

The disasters had not quenched Maria's love of fun and, at first, she seemed blissfully ignorant of her danger, even remarking she would be happy to live forever at Tobolsk, if only she had more freedom. With her warm disposition, she attempted to befriend the guards at the Ipatiev House, many of whom were actually sympathetic to the imperial family (one smuggled in a cake for Maria's nineteenth birthday!). She talked with them about their families, showed them photos from her albums, and told of her hopes for a new life in England after her release. Sadly, however, it was not to be. On July 17, 1918, the imperial family was massacred, by forces of the Bolshevik secret police, in the cellar room of the Ipatiev House.

More information HERE.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria

A painting by Konstantin Makovsky (1839-1915) of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia (1899-1918), dating from 1905.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna (1897-1918)

Tatiana was the second daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. She was born June 10 (O.S. May 29), 1897 and named after one of the heroines of Pushkin's poem, Eugene Onegin. (Her older sister, Olga, had been named after the other heroine of the work.) Tatiana grew up in a loving family and was especially close to Olga. The two girls shared a room, dressed alike, and were nicknamed the "Big Pair." According to the children's French tutor, Pierre Gilliard, Olga and Tatiana were "passionately devoted to one another." Tatiana was also very close to her mother and was known to be her favorite daughter. Alexandra appreciated that Tatiana always seemed to understand her point of view. As Gilliard recalled: "It was not that her sisters loved their mother any less, but Tatiana knew how to surround her with unwearying attentions and never gave way to her own capricious impulses."Despite the Romanovs' wealth and luxurious surroundings, Tatiana and her siblings were raised austerely, sleeping on hard camp beds (without pillows) and taking cold baths every morning. They were kept busy with lessons and schoolwork, embroidery and knitting projects.

Tatiana was a very capable, steady girl, less open and spontaneous than Olga, but more patient and industrious. Many courtiers considered her the most beautiful of the Tsar's daughters. Tall, slender, elegant, with lovely auburn hair and delicate features, she looked the ideal picture of the imperial princess. She excelled at handiwork. She also had a talent for choosing elegant fashions and dressed her mother's long hair like a professional stylist. She was the acknowledged leader of the four sisters, who nicknamed her "The Governess"and entrusted her with the task of speaking on their behalf to their parents. Like her mother, Tatiana was deeply religious. She read her Bible diligently and pondered "good and evil, sorrow and forgiveness, and man's destiny on earth." "One has to struggle much," she concluded,"because the return for good is evil, and evil reigns." (A sad prediction of her own fate!) According to Lili Dehn, a lady-in-waiting,"she was a poetical creature, always yearning for the ideal, and dreaming of great friendships which might be hers."

In 1911, Tatiana and Olga witnessed the assassination of Pyotr Stolypin, a minister of state, during a performance at the Kiev Opera House. It was the girls' first brush with violence. Tsar Nicholas later wrote to his mother, Dowager Empress Maria, that the murder had seriously traumatized his daughters. Tatiana sobbed and both girls had trouble sleeping that night. Sadly, in the coming years, they would see more and more violence and tragedy.

In 1914, after the outbreak of World War I, Tatiana, Olga and Alexandra became Red Cross nurses at a military hospital in Tsarskoe Selo. Deeply patriotic, Tatiana worked valiantly amidst the horrors of war. According to one of Alexandra's close friends, Anna Vyrubova, "Tatiana was almost as skillful and devoted as her mother, and complained only that on account of her youth she was spared some of the more trying cases." A story told by a fellow nurse, Valentina Ivanovna Chebotareva, illustrates Tatiana's devotion to duty. Valentina described in her diary how she had planned to boil silk while Tatiana was otherwise occupied, as she feared Tatiana would be too fatigued to help her. Tatiana, however, guessed what was happening. "Why can you breathe carbolic acid and I can't?" she asked, and insisted on lending a hand.

Innocent romances sprang up between Tatiana and Russian soldiers. At one point, Tatiana fell in love with Dmitri Yakovlevich Malama, an officer in the Imperial Russian Cavalry. She had first met him when he was wounded in 1914. He subsequently became an equerry in Tsarskoe Selo. Malama gave Tatiana a French bulldog. "Forgive me about the little dog," Tatiana wrote to her mother, "to say the truth, when he asked should I like to have it if he gave it to me, I at once said yes. You remember, I always wanted to have one, and only afterwards when we came home I thought that suddenly you might not like me having one. But I really was so pleased at the idea that I forgot about everything." When the dog died, Malama gave her a replacement. Tatiana took her pet to Yekaterinburg, where it died with the rest of the family. In 1916, Malama paid the imperial family a visit. The Empress certainly liked him: "My little Malama came for an hour yesterday evening," she wrote to Nicholas, "...(l)ooks... more of a man now, an adorable boy still. I must say a perfect son-in- law he w(ou)ld have been -- why are foreign P(rin)ces not as nice!"

The tragedies of World War I would give way to the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution. Tatiana was only 21 when she was murdered, along with her family, on July 17, 1918, at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. Her young, promising life was brutally cut short. Yet, she achieved great heights of spiritual heroism during her long, weary months in captivity. The final entry in her notebook at Ekaterinburg was a saying she had transcribed from the words of Father Ioann of Kronstadt, a famous Russian holy man: "Your grief is indescribable, the Savior's grief in the Gardens of Gethsemane for the world's sins is immeasurable, join your grief to his, in it you will find consolation."

For a more in-depth read, see HERE.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Queen Lovisa of Denmark

From the Mad Monarchist's excellent series on past royal consorts:
Queen Lovisa of Denmark was born on Halloween, 1851, to King Charles XV and Queen Lovisa of Sweden. The King and Queen of Sweden had only one other child besides Lovisa; their son Carl Oscar. However, when he died young the distraught monarch began to raise his daughter in the rough manner of a boy. She was a happy child, good natured, treated with the crude affection of a son by her father who once said, "She's an ugly devil but she's funny!" There was some talk about her being able to succeed to the Swedish throne but it would have required a change in the succession laws of both Sweden and Norway and when the King's brother had a son the issue was dropped...(Read more)

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Tragic Anniversary

Today marks the 91st anniversary of the massacre of the family of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, by the Bolsheviks.
In 2000, the victims were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as holy passion-bearers. In their memory, the Church on Blood of All Saints was built in Ekaterinburg on the site of the massacre.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (1895-1918)

Olga was the eldest daughter of the tragic last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. Her birth on November 15, (O.S. November 3) 1895 brought both disappointment and joy to her family and people. She was not the longed-for imperial heir (by law, this had to be a son), but she was, from the start, a beloved daughter and princess. Nicholas wrote in his diary: "A day I will remember for ever . . . at exactly 9 o'clock [p.m.] a baby's cry was heard and we all breathed a sigh of relief! With a prayer we named the daughter sent to us by God 'Olga'!" His sister Xenia noted: "The birth of a daughter to Nicky and Alix! A great joy, although it's a great pity it's not a son!" Nonetheless, as Alexandra's sister, Ella, wrote to their grandmother, Queen Victoria of England: "The joy of their having Baby has never one moment let them regret little Olga being a girl."

Olga was soon joined by her sisters Tatiana (1897), Maria (1899), Anastasia (1901), and, finally, by her brother, the long-awaited tsarevich, Alexis (1904). The children grew up in a tender family. In striking contrast to many other royal couples, Nicholas and Alexandra were devoted spouses and affectionate parents. Olga was especially close to Tatiana. Like the rest of the family, Olga also doted on her little brother, Alexis, tragically afflicted with hemophilia.

Olga was an intelligent, thoughtful, strong-willed and forthright girl. From her early childhood, she was known for her kindness, but also for her hot temper. As a little girl, she became impatient with a portrait painter and told him: "You are a very ugly man, I don't like you one bit!" She defended the rights of eldest children. When she learned the Biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, she sympathized, not with Joseph, but with his older brothers. She loved reading and was interested in politics. Clever and witty, she was capable of amusing repartee. When her French tutor, Pierre Gilliard, taught her the formation of French verbs and the use of auxiliaries, she answered, "I see, monsieur. The auxiliaries are the servants of the verbs. It's only poor 'avoir' which has to shift for itself."

Olga adored her father. Her relationship with her mother was more difficult. During her adolescence, she often found Alexandra trying, while the Empress repeatedly reprimanded her eldest daughter for episodes of bad temper and capricious or rambunctious behavior. Nonetheless, Olga blossomed into a gentle, generous young woman. She took her religious faith very seriously and put it into practice through charity work. On one occasion, while out for a drive, she saw a young child using crutches. She made inquiries and discovered that the child's parents were too poor to afford treatment. Olga (by now already in command of a substantial part of her fortune) set aside an allowance to cover the child's medical bills.

Plain as a child, Olga had grown into a lovely young woman, with a fresh complexion, light chestnut hair, and bright blue eyes. There were rumors of matches with Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia, Crown Prince Carol of Romania, Edward, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Britain's George V, and Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia. For her part, Olga fell in love with a series of Russian officers. In 1913, she fell in love with Pavel Voronov, a junior officer on one of the imperial yachts, but their differing ranks made marriage impossible. Voronov soon became engaged to a lady-in-waiting. On his wedding day, Olga wrote: "God grant him good fortune, my beloved...it's sad, distressing."

With the onset of World War I, Olga's life spiraled towards tragedy. During the war, Alexandra, Olga and Tatiana worked as nurses, caring for wounded and dying soldiers. Intensely patriotic, Olga was very dedicated and caring, and enjoyed meeting and talking with the other nurses, women from many different walks of life, whom she would never have encountered under normal circumstances. Yet all the tragedy took a heavy toll on her mental equilibrium. Suffering nervous strain, fits of rage and emotional exhaustion, she was obliged to give up nursing.

Meanwhile, Olga seems to have realized Russia was heading towards disaster. "She was by nature a thinker," Gleb Botkin, the son of the family's physician, Yevgeny Botkin, later recalled, "and as it... seemed to me, understood the general situation better than any member of her family, including even her parents. At least I had the impression that she had little illusions in regard to what the future held in store for them, and in consequence was often sad and worried."

In any case, the sad ending to her story is all too well known. Amidst the horrors of revolution and captivity, Olga suffered ill-health and deep depression. She was only 22 when she was murdered, along with her family, by the Bolsheviks. It was certainly a terribly tragic end to a young, promising life. Yet, like the rest of her family, she had heroically tried to deepen her faith and bear her sufferings with charity towards her enemies. She would win a final triumph when she was eventually canonized (together with her parents and siblings) by the Russian Orthodox Church as a holy martyr and passion-bearer.

(For more in-depth information on Olga, see HERE and HERE)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Birthday of Swedish Crown Princess

The Mad Monarchist reminds us of the birthday of HRH Princess Victoria, heir to the Swedish throne. I must say it seems somewhat ironic that her birthday falls on Bastille Day! What is a sad day for monarchists in one country is a happy occasion for those in another. May God bless Princess Victoria on her birthday and grant her many, many more.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Poems of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna

July 17, 2009 will mark the 91st anniversary of the Bolsheviks' massacre of the Russian imperial family. Here are two poignant poems from Grand Duchess Olga (1895-1918), the strong-willed, thoughtful and forthright eldest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

Amidst the tragedies of revolution and captivity, she addressed these touching words to her mother (with whom she sometimes had a difficult relationship):
You are filled with anguish for the sufferings of others. And no one's grief has ever passed you by. You are relentless, only towards yourself, forever cold and pitiless. But if only you could look upon your own sadness from a distance, just once with a loving soul — Oh, how you would pity yourself, how sadly you would weep.
To God, she prayed for the ability to forgive her enemies (this poem might originally have been composed by the lady-in-waiting Countess Hendrykova, but, in any case, Olga transcribed it into her notebook):
Send us, Lord, the patience, in this year of stormy, gloom-filled days, to suffer popular oppression, and the tortures of our hangmen. Give us strength, oh Lord of justice, Our neighbor's evil to forgive, And the Cross so heavy and bloody, with Your humility to meet, In days when enemies rob us, To bear the shame and humiliation, Christ our Savior, help us. Ruler of the world, God of the universe, Bless us with prayer and give our humble soul rest in this unbearable, dreadful hour. At the threshold of the grave, breathe into the lips of Your slaves inhuman strength — to pray meekly for our enemies.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Suggestions?

I was wondering if any readers wanted to suggest a topic in Nordic history or culture for me to blog about. If so, please tell me! I am planning a to do a series of posts on the early Vasa kings of Sweden during the next few weeks. Does anyone have any other ideas? I would love to hear from you.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Engagement Interview: Prince Joachim & Princess Marie of Denmark


Here are the three installments of an interview with HRH Prince Joachim of Denmark and his betrothed, Miss Marie Cavallier (now, HRH Princess Marie of Denmark), on the occasion of their engagement in 2008.

As a Catholic, I have to say I am not thrilled by the fact that this is a second marriage after a divorce, and I regret the bride's conversion to Lutheranism, but I still found the interview very interesting and the couple seem very kind, positive and tender.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Norwegian Fjords


Sognefjord, one of the longest in the world. (Credits)
Hardangerfjord, in the county of Hordaland. (Credits)
Magdalenefjord, in the high Arctic archipelago Svalbard. (Credits: Svein Magne Tunli)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Carl Erik Mannerheim (1759-1837)

Marshal Mannerheim's great-grandfather, Count Carl Erik Mannerheim (1759-1837), was also a famous Finnish soldier and statesman. He was one of the founders of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland (1809-1917). His career brought him sometimes to the brink of death; at other times, to the heights of honor.

Born in Dalarna, Sweden, Carl Erik was the youngest son of Baron Johan Augustin Mannerheim, an artillery colonel, and his wife, Helena Maria Söderhjelm. Carl Erik's eldest brother, Lars Augustin, was a famed jurist and a major opposition leader during the reign of King Gustaf III of Sweden. Carl Erik, too, would clash with the King, with fateful consequences.

At 16, Carl Erik enrolled at Uppsala University, and studied natural sciences under Linnaeus. All his life, he was keenly interested in botany. Nonetheless, he chose a military career and rose rapidly in the army. His duties brought him to Finland, then under Swedish rule. In 1787, he became first major of the Turku infantry regiment. As Turku was the Swedish capital of Finland, the appointment placed Carl Erik near the centre of Finnish political affairs.

During the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-1790, Carl Erik joined the Anjala League, an officer's revolt against King Gustaf III. According to the Swedish constitution, the monarch was obliged to obtain the consent of the Diet of Four Estates (ie. the nobles, clergy, burghers and peasants) before declaring an offensive war. In 1788, however, Gustaf, whose absolutist tendencies repeatedly brought him into conflict with the Swedish nobility, made war on Russia without consulting the Diet. Roughly 100 aristocratic officers mutinied, attempting to negotiate peace with the Russian sovereign, Catherine II. She rejected their overtures, however, and the rank and file of the Swedish army remained loyal to the King, dooming the officers' efforts. The "Anjala-men," as they came to be known, after Anjala Manor, the Swedish military headquarters, where they had drafted their manifesto, were court-martialed and condemned to death. Colonel J. H. Hästesko, Mannerheim's commanding officer, was executed. The others, however, received clemency.

Carl Erik was allowed to remain in the army, but, not surprisingly, had lost all opportunities for career advancement, and resigned in 1795. The next year, he married Vendla Sofia von Willebrand, a wealthy young Finnish noblewoman. He purchased the magnificent manor of Louhisaari, near Turku, and, for the next twenty years, lived a private life, concentrating on agriculture. In 1805, he was appointed head of the Finnish Economic Society.

The Russian conquest of Finland in 1808-1809 brought Carl Erik once more onto the public scene. The reigning Tsar, Alexander I, had initially planned to annex Finland as a Russian province, alarming the Finns, who were anxious to preserve their traditional legal and political institutions. Carl Erik Mannerheim led a delegation, consisting of members of the four Finnish Estates, to St. Petersburg to discuss the Finns' concerns with the Tsar. He emphasized the need to call the Finnish Diet to resolve the situation. The liberal-minded Tsar was amenable to the Finns' wishes, appointing a Swedish-Finnish nobleman, G. M. Sprengtporten, as the country's governor-general, and promising to convene a Diet as soon as possible. On March 25, 1809, Alexander opened the famous Diet of Porvoo, swearing to uphold Finland's traditional laws, customs, and religion. The autonomous realm of Finland was thus established.

In the years to come, Carl Erik Mannerheim would continue to play a major political role. A long-term member of the State Council, he served as provincial governor of Turku and Pori from 1816-1826 and as deputy chairman of the Economics Department of the Senate (a kind of prime minister) from 1822-1826. A shrewd statesman, a tactful diplomat, and a sincere patriot, he was an outstanding leader. In 1825, to honor his achievements, the Tsar awarded him the title of Count. In 1826, however, the aging Mannerheim retired from public life. He devoted his last years to agriculture and horticulture.

It was very fortunate, not only for him, but also for Finland, that he was pardoned for his role in the Anjala mutiny. If he had been executed as a young man, he would never have founded the Finnish branch of the Mannerheim family, and his great-grandson, who saved Finland from Soviet conquest (and, surely, destruction) would never have existed. Strange twists and turns of history!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The New Danish Prince

The Danish Court has just released official photographs of the newborn son of Prince Joachim and Princess Marie of Denmark. The little prince was born May 4, 2009, and will be christened July 26, at the Møgeltønder Church, where his parents were married.

More photos HERE.

Jón Arason

Jón Arason (1484-1550) was the last Catholic Bishop of Iceland. He was ordained a priest ca. 1504. Roughly 20 years later, the Archbishop of Trondhjem, Norway, consecrated him Bishop of Hólar. Jón was a man of great talent, a famous poet, and a staunch defender of the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, like other Icelandic bishops of his day, he did not practice celibacy, fathering numerous children, and acted more as a warlord than a typical bishop.

During Jón's lifetime, Iceland was ruled by Denmark, and a crisis arose when, in 1538, King Christian III attempted to impose Lutheranism on Iceland. He was fiercely opposed by Ögmunder Palsson, Bishop of Skalholt, and by Jón Arason. The aging, blind Ögmunder was taken prisoner by the Danes, and died in captivity. The leadership of the Catholic resistance fell to Jón. He initially maintained a defensive stance, striving to preserve Catholic worship in his diocese, while Lutheranism prevailed in other areas. In 1548, however, when the Lutheran Bishop of Skalholt died, Jón took the offensive. He was determined to re-establish Catholicism in the vacant see, insisting that a Catholic Bishop of Skalholt should be appointed. The Danish king sent a new Lutheran bishop, Marteinn Eriksson, to occupy Skalholt and oppose Jón's efforts. Jón captured and imprisoned his enemy, incurring the wrath of the King, who declared him an outlaw. Yet, encouraged by Pope Paul III, Jón persisted, with great zeal and valor, in leading the Catholic resistance. While attempting, however, to capture one of his leading opponents, Jón Arason was himself taken prisoner and handed over to the royal bailiff. He was beheaded shortly thereafter, along with two of his sons, on November 7, 1550. The Icelanders long revered him as a martyr and national hero.

Legend has it that Jón Arason originated a common Icelandic saying. According to tradition, when he was about to be executed, a priest, called Sveinn, comforted him with the words: "There is another life after this, Sir!" The Bishop responded: "That I know, little Sveinn!" Ever since, the saying "That I know, little Sveinn!" has referred to something obvious that is being stated.