Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Marie-Antoinette and Alexandra Feodorovna

I love comparing and contrasting figures of the past, so I was very interested to read this thread, on the Alexander Palace Forums:

Marie Antoinette and Alexandra- Who's More Tragic?

It has some fine contributions from American historical novelist, Elena Maria Vidal, who has thoroughly studied both the Bourbons and the Romanovs. To quote Miss Vidal:
Both women were vilified in ways that transcended all reality by their political enemies. In order to pull apart a family, destroy the image of the mother; in order to bring a nation into revolution, then destroy the reputation/ image of the queen/ empress, who was the mother figure of the people. If they could convince the people that the queen/empress was evil and that the king/tsar was an idiot, then it meant the children were no good and the entire family should be gotten rid of. It was a deliberate ploy. Antoinette and Alexandra are tragic because no matter what they did it played into the hands of their enemies.  The Great Catherine outwardly had lovers and no one held it against her and she was loved by the people. Napoleon's Josephine spent more money on clothes in one year than Marie-Antoinette did in her entire life and yet Josephine was popular with the French people. It is sad that two women of virtue like Antoinette and Alexandra should be so terribly misunderstood.

Eugen of Sweden: Prince and Painter

Youngest brother of King Gustav V and uncle of Queen Astrid of the Belgians, Prince Eugen (1865-1947) was one of the founders of the Swedish school of landscape painting in the 1890's. Here is a biography from A Mirror of Nature: Nordic Landscape Painting 1840-1910:
Prince Eugen was the son of King Oscar II and Queen Sophia of Sweden. His choice of an artistic career was not one he made lightly, even though he had the support of his parents. Quite clearly, however, he saw art as a calling, and his extensive training and devotion to his task set him worlds apart from the royal dilettante. Indeed, it could be said that Eugen became an artist more despite than because of his royal birth. With his open mind, he was drawn towards the radical tendencies of the 1880s, and was to include among his friends many of the Swedish artists who in that and the following decade figured among the ranks of the Opponents and the Artists' Association. Prince Eugen's significance for art policy and the support which his acquisitions for his own collection gave to contemporary Swedish art were considerable.
Eugen began his artistic education in his youth, under various teachers, and on completing his secondary schooling read history of art for a time in Uppsala. After his studies in Sweden, he was to receive the major part of his artistic training in Paris. Between 1887 and 1889 he was a pupil of Léon Bonnat, Alfred Roll, Henri Gervex and, for a short time, Puvis de Chavannes. The latter's classical simplicity, especially, was to mould Eugen's development.
Prince Eugen devoted himself exclusively to landscape painting. Geographically, his main areas of interest were the countryside around Stockholm and Lake Mälaren, along with areas further to the south, in Västergötland and Skåne. Most important were a number of places where he spent his summers, such as Tyresö south of Stockholm, Örgården near Vadstena in Västergötland, and Österlen in Skåne. Central to his work are park landscapes and views of the sea approach to Stockholm from the Waldemarsudde estate on the island of Djurgården. Eugen bought this property in 1899 and a few years later built a residence there which is now preserved as a museum.
Here is an interesting review by Trond Noren Isaksen of a new book on Prince Eugen's Danish connections.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Two Emperors: A Contrast

Napoleon Bonaparte and Nicholas II.

Nathan Söderblom

Here is a highly laudatory biography of the Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala and ecumenist, Lars Olof Jonathan Söderblom. (My own view of the man is rather more skeptical). He was an important person in the life of Princess Astrid of Sweden, the future Queen of the Belgians. He enjoyed the favor of the Swedish royal house and the young Princess regarded him as a trusted, fatherly friend. Her conversion to Catholicism, however, cast a pall over their relationship...
As a student at Uppsala University, Söderblom won respect not only for his intellectual attainments but also for his personal charm, abundant vitality, and talent as a speaker. He took his bachelor's degree in 1886, with honors in Greek and competency in Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin. This admirable linguistic background equipped him for the exacting scholarship of the School of Theology at Uppsala where, for the next six years, he continued his wide-ranging studies in theology and the history of religion. From its founding in 1888, Söderblom was the editor for five years of Meddelanden, the Student Missionary Association review, in whose pages he published the first piece in what was eventually to become a personal bibliography of 700 items. In 1890 he attended the Christian Student Conference in New England and there, after listening to a lecture by a visiting clergyman, wrote in his diary a sentence that was to prove prophetic, «Lord, give me humility and wisdom to serve the great cause of the free unity of thy church.»[1]
After being ordained a priest in 1893 and appointed chaplain to a mental hospital in Uppsala, he cast about for a post that would enable him to marry Anna Forsell, a gifted woman student - one of twenty among 1,700 men at Uppsala University - who was later to bear him thirteen children, as well as to collaborate in the preparation of many of his published works. He accepted a call to the Swedish Church in Paris.
For seven years, from 1894 to 1901, Söderblom preached in Paris, where his congregation included Alfred Nobel and August Strindberg, as well as Swedish and Norwegian painters, authors, businessmen, diplomats, and visitors to the city. Summers he spent in Calais in research and writing while also serving as chaplain to Swedish seamen in the area. Meanwhile he pursued graduate studies in theology, history of religions, and in languages predating those of the classical ages, and eventually became the first foreigner ever to earn a Doctor of Theology degree at the Protestant Faculty of the Sorbonne.
Söderblom's experience in France strengthened his youthful resolve to promote «free unity» among Christian churches. One of his biographers, Charles J. Curtis, points out that fluency in French and understanding of French and Parisian culture gave him an international outlook, that the theological currents of France merging with those from his native land solidified his theological liberalism, and that social work among the Scandinavians in France convinced him that in the life of the church right action was as important as right belief[2].
From 1901 to 1914, Söderblom occupied a chair in the School of Theology at Uppsala University and concurrently, from 1912 to 1914, a chair at Leipzig University. In these productive years he wrote a series of books on religious history, religious psychology, and religious philosophy. With a group of brilliant colleagues and students at Uppsala, Söderblom led a theological revival in Sweden, giving stature to the field of comparative religion, pursuing the theme of the uniqueness of Christianity in the historical and personal character of Revelation, incorporating the study of non-Christian religions into the discipline of Christianity, and stimulating intense studies in the life and thought of Martin Luther[3].
Söderblom's election in 1914 as archbishop of Uppsala, and, in consequence, primate of the Church of Sweden, was a surprise. Customarily, the king chose the first name on a slate of the three who topped the list in the voting in the sixteen electoral colleges. In first and second place were two distinguished bishops who split eighty-two percent of the electoral vote almost evenly; in third place was Söderblom, a priest and professor, with eighteen percent of the vote. Not since 1670 had the bishops been passed over.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Life of Marshal Mannerheim

The Mad Monarchist gives an impressively detailed summary of the famed Finnish soldier and statesman's career.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Royal Hospitality

Yesterday was the anniversary of the tragic death of Marie-Antoinette. Historical novelist Elena Maria Vidal has an interesting article on the visits to Versailles of Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Maria of Russia in 1782 and of King Gustavus III of Sweden in 1784. (The Swedish sovereign was a great ally of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and tried his best to save their lives during the Revolution, before his own assassination in 1792). Miss Vidal describes the French queen's enchanting garden parties at Trianon for the visiting Baltic princes and gives us a glimpse of the complicated political and personal relationships of the time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Julia Dent Cantacuzène Spiransky-Grant

I never realized General Grant had a granddaughter who became a Russian princess. Viola tells her fascinating story.
Born at the White House in 1876, she was the daughter of the President's son, Frederick, who was a diplomat. She remembered her grandfather who died when she was ten and described him as grave and serious but kindly. She was apparently very fond of him.
Frederick became the U.S. Ambassador to Austria-Hungary when Julia was older. She learned fluent Austrian in Vienna and made her debut at the Imperial Court. She must have also learned the accomplishments of most educated, upper-class American women and become quite cosmopolitan.
Although the family returned to New York, Julia traveled to Europe with her socialite aunt, Bertha Palmer, who was involved in the Chicago World's Fair, when she was about 19. She met a handsome, young officer in Rome from an aristocratic family. Julia and Prince Michael Catacuzene, who was attached to the Russian Embassy in Rome, soon fell in love.
They married at one of the Astor houses, Beaulieu in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1899.
There were two services - the Episcopalian one at this house and a Russian Orthodox one. Julia's wedding dress was described in the New York Times as 'severely cut and quite simple'. It was made of rich, white satin. She also wore a tulle veil with real orange blossoms attached to it. (Read full article)

More HERE. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Simo Häyhä: "The White Death"

The Karelian Winter War hero considered by many to have been the world's greatest sniper. A touching personal account of an afternoon with the revered veteran, HERE. Despite his deadly skill and reputation, he was actually a very humble and soft-spoken man. After all, he was only fighting to save his beloved Finland.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mathilde Kschessinska

Jeffery Taylor reviews a recent biography of the notorious and extravagant Russian prima ballerina assoluta. How sad that such a talented and attractive lady led such a dissolute and tragic life.
Always surrounded by scandal, the ballerina adored roulette, diamonds, caviar and men, particularly when named Romanov. The full story of Mathilde Kschessinska has never been told before but new access to Soviet and Imperial Family archives sheds fresh light on her fascinating tale of love, wealth, power, and above all, survival vividly recounted in a new paperback, Imperial Dancer, Mathilde Kschessinska and the Romanovs.
The first baffling problem facing the famous dancer was naming the father of her newborn son. Thanks to his mother’s notorious sexual generosity his conception gave no clues. Nine months before his birth, Mathilde maintained a ménage a trois with two Imperial Grand Dukes. In 1894 her lover, Nicholas, the Heir to the Throne, became Tsar Nicholas II, and obliged to attend to dynastic matters, asked his cousin, the fabulously wealthy Sergei, to take responsibility for Mathilde. Sergei happily obliged. Mathilde jumped at the idea but never lost her lust for Nicholas with whom she always kept in touch. Six years later another besotted Grand Duke, Andrei at 20 eight years Mathilde’s junior, moved into her country house. Enslaved by love Sergei remained in situ but generously vacated her bedroom and paid their bills when asked. The arrangement still stood when Mathilde fell pregnant. (Read full review)
 HERE is a photo gallery of Mathilde.