We have a winner. A real winner. I read a lot of books. I have read a lot of books about royalty. The majority of books published in English are largely fluff. Consider the number of books that have been published on Prince William's engagement and wedding and then think about how many well-researched, scholarly books you have read.
have been reviewing books since 1983, when I first started the print
version of Royal Book News, then a bi-monthly newsletter. I have read
some good stuff -- Hugo Vickers' biography of Princess Alice comes to
mind, as well as Greg King's biographies, and I have also forced myself
to gorge on Kitty Kelley and Lady Colin Campbell, although Lady C was on
to something because she, not Andrew Morton, was the first to write
about Charles and Diana's marriage and Diana's psychological issues.
James Pope-Hennesseys and Greg Kings are far and few between, and,
sadly, the publishing industry is not willing to encourage major royal
tomes. Although the archives at Harewood House must be teaming with
material, there has never been a serious biography on Princess Mary,
Countess of Harewood. Two hagiographies were published in the late
1920s, but nothing since then. Princess Mary died in 1965 shortly after
she learned that her elder son was the father of an illegitimate son.
The late Princess Royal is largely unknown in the United Kingdom. She
is the only child of George V who has not been subjected to a
biographer's pen. Even her youngest brother, the mentally challenged,
epileptic Prince John, has had more biographical information published
about him than Princess Mary has.
It is a shame that no one has
taken on Princess Mary. I used to say the same thing about Princess
Victoria of Hesse and By Rhine, the eldest child of Princess Alice,
second daughter of Queen Victoria, and Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and
By Rhine. There are biographies on Victoria's sisters, Ella and Alix,
who married Grand Duke Serge and Nicholas II of Russia, respectively.
Victoria's only surviving brother, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig, wrote his
memoirs, and was also the subject of a biography, both in German.
who provided the center, the core, to her siblings, featured in the
biographies of her siblings and her daughters, Princess Alice, and Queen
Louise, but she was never the star. Until now.
Thanks to Ilana
Miller's The Four Graces (Eurohistory.com: $43.00), Victoria's story
has come to the fore in a meticulously, well-researched book. Suffice
to say, this is a superb book, and one of the best royal books I have
read in a long time. Miller breathes life into a princess, less known
than her sisters, but far more important in many ways.
Graces refers to Victoria and her three younger sisters, Irene, Ella and
Alix, although all three take a back seat to Victoria in this book. The
three younger sisters made spectacular dynastic marriages: Irene
married her first cousin, Prince Henry of Prussia; Ella wed Grand Duke
Serge of Russia, who was assassinated in 1905; and Alix made the
grandest marriage of all, when she married Nicholas II of Russia. The
princesses' maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria, made it clear that she
did not approve of any of these marriages. She did not believe that
Alix did not have the right stuff to be the consort of the Tsar of
Russia. In this matter, Queen Victoria was proved right. Although
Nicholas and Alexandra were very much in love, neither were ever
prepared for the mammoth tasks.
Princess Victoria was very close
to her grandmother. She was born at Windsor Castle, and, despite her
German title, Victoria was to spend most of her life in England. She
did not make a grand marriage. She, too, married for love, and her
husband was Prince Louis of Battenberg, her father's first cousin. The
marriage was not considered equal, as Prince Louis was a morganaut, the
son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and By Rhine and Julie von Hauke, who
was created Princess of Battenberg.
Victoria was content to stay
in the background, support her husband in his naval career in the United
Kingdom. She rose among the many tragedies in her life. Frittie's
fall from the window in 1873. Alice and May's deaths from diphtheria in
1878. Ernie's divorce. The death of his daughter, Elisabeth, in 1903.
Serge's assassination in 1905. The regicide at Ekaterinburg and
Alapaevsk in 1918. The air crash at Steene in 1937. George's death from
cancer in 1938.
One can only imagine how strong Victoria had to
be in order to provide support and comfort to others. The day after the
crash that killed her sister-in-law, Onor, her granddaughter, Cecile,
and her nephew, Donatus, and their two sons, the pragmatic Victoria
suggested that the marriage between Don's younger brother, Prince
Ludwig, and the Hon. Margaret Geddes take place the next day, albeit
quietly. The family had been en route to London to attend the wedding,
Young Princes Alexander and Ludwig were to have been pages in the
Ilana Miller, an Adjunct Professor of History at
Pepperdine University spent an enormous amount of time working on this
book. She read the appropriate histories and biographies. She was able
to do research in Darmstadt, and she was given access to unpublished
material, including Princess Victoria's and Grand Duke Dimitri's
unpublished memoirs. Copies of the former are at Southampton University
and Darmstadt and Dimitri's diaries are at Harvard. Ilana also met
with Victoria's granddaughter, Lady Mountbatten, who was able to provide
first hand information about Victoria.
In 1917, Prince Louis of
Battenberg renounced his German title and was created Marquess of
Milford Haven. Victoria, a Princess in her own right, could have
retained her title, but she, too, chose to relinquish her grand ducal
title, and became known as the Marchioness of Milford Haven.
life was far from ordinary. She was the glue, the lynch pin, that kept
her family together, even when divided by war. She was close to her
two daughters-in-law, Edwina, and Nada, and she provided the stability
for her young grandson, Prince Philip.
vicissitudes of her own live - and the lives around her - Victoria was
the ultimate survivor. Considering her own family ties, one can only
imagine her joy on November 20, 1947, when she sat in Westminster Abbey
to watch her grandson marry the future Queen of the United Kingdom. No
doubt Queen Victoria would have approved of this marriage.
Miller is to be commended and complimented for The Four Graces, which
is sure to become a well-thumbed reference work for future biographers
The book is illustrated with eighty photos.
would recommend that Eurohistory use a professional indexer in order to
create a more detailed index based in names and places. This book
deserves a detailed index.
One more quibble: the typeface is too
small. Older folks may require a magnifying glass in order to read the
book. I am not kidding.
So invest in a magnifying glass if you
have trouble with small print. It's worth the investment. The Four
Graces is one of the best royal books that I have read in a long time.
This book is a true winner. It is a must read, a definite need for your
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