Thursday, April 26, 2012

DEAR ELLEN – Review by Coryne Hall

 “Dear Ellen”, by Arturo Beéche. (  138 pages, over 300 illustrations. Family trees.   Dedication by H.R.H. Princess Elisabeth of Yugoslavia and Remembrance by H.R.H. Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia.

“I like snobs,” Grand Duchess Helen once said.  “They are the only people who take me seriously.”  Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Helen of Russia was the only daughter of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich and his wife the formidable Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna.  In 1902, to the disappointment of her mother, Helen left the splendour of St Petersburg to marry Prince Nicholas of Greece, third son of King George I and Queen Olga.  The couple went on to have three daughters, Olga (Princess Paul of Yugoslavia), Elisabeth (wife of Count Carl Theodore of Toerring-Jettenbach) and Marina (wife of Prince George, Duke of Kent).  Each is given a chapter in the album.  

Arturo Beéche has given us a real treat.  This lovely book is filled with photographs (many of them provided by Grand Duchess Helen’s family and never before published), as well as the reminiscences of family members.  He has been given access to the diary of Princess Olga of Greece which, among other delights, gives her version of the end of her engagement to Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. Family members have provided reminiscences of Helen, George and their daughters.  Prince Alexander, Prince Dmitri and Princess Elisabeth of Yugoslavia,  Archduchess Helen of Austria, Count Han-Viet of Toerring-Jettenbach and Prince Michael of Kent have all provided memories for this book.

The text is concise and informative and there are family trees to help you sort out the myriad intermarriages between the different branches of Grand Duchess Helen’s family. But it is the photographs which really make this book stand out.  Forget the carefully posed pictures of royalty you normally see.  These are photos taken for the private family albums. Among the more surprising images are one of Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna on horseback (we are used to seeing her in court dress glittering with jewels); Helen in a bathing costume; Prince Nicholas in a towelling robe on the beach, and also a wonderful picture of the prince, who was a talented artist, with his paint brushes and easel.  There are gorgeous images of Helen and Nicholas’ daughters as children, including a rare one with some of the Tsar’s daughters who were their playmates, and a photo of the Tsar taken by Grand Duchess Helen. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The book moves on to the couple’s many siblings and cousins, which brings in the royal houses of Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Great Britain, Hanover (Cumberland), Romania and Holland.  Among the couple’s nephews was Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The author has done an excellent job showing just how Helen and Nicholas are related to all these European royals and, again, there are many unpublished family photographs.

Nicholas and Helen had an extremely happy married life but the family certainly had their share of triumph and tragedy, not to mention the vicissitudes of Greek politics. After Nicholas’ death in 1938 Helen remained in Athens and worked for the International Red Cross during the war, also collaborating with resistance groups.  She died in 1957. 

The couple’s many descendants continue to meet regularly at family events and credit must go to them for generously allowing these family photographs to be published, and to Arturo Beéche for telling the story so well.

Highly recommended and definitely not to be missed!

Coryne Hall

Available at Amazon – USA:

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