Wednesday, January 30, 2013
“Royal Gatherings. Who’s in the Picture? Volume 1: 1859-1914,” by Ilana D Miller and Arturo E. Beéche. (Eurohistory.com/Kensington House Books). 168 pages packed with 250+ illustrations, plus a large genealogical table.
One of the most popular features in the European Royal History Journal is ‘What’s in a Photo?’ where a royal gathering is used to talk about the people in the picture. What a treat then to have this idea brought together into a whole book! Using pictures from the vast and varied Eurohistory archive, Ilana Miller and Arturo Beéche have produced a real treasure trove – a book with the ‘wow factor’.
The sheer scope is breathtaking. Almost every royal family is here, from Francesco and Marie Sophie of the Two Sicilies in 1859, by way of Denmark, Russia, Hesse, Britain, Bavaria, Brazil, France, Austria, Prussia – the list goes on and on – up to 1914.
Using the same large format as Eurohistory’s highly successful “Dear Ellen,” the 38 chapters are headed by the main photo under discussion, followed by smaller photos of the people included. Where else would you find a photo of the Hohenzollern and Romanian royal families pictured together in 1909? They all look slightly uneasy too, and certainly the flamboyant clothes of Crown Princess Marie and Queen Elisabeth of Romania far outshine the uniforms of the men! Then there is the picture on page 159 of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor) in a group of mainly German relatives at the marriage of King Manoel of Portugal at Sigmaringen in 1913. Not only is it unusual to find Edward pictured at these sort of gatherings but it’s all the more poignant because we know that his country will be fighting most of these relations the following year.
I particularly love the family of King Nicholas of Montenegro on page 154. He and Queen Milena are in national dress, the men are in uniform but the women are intriguing. Some are wearing hats, some are hatless and Princess Anna of Battenberg appears to be wearing a small tiara. Was she changing for dinner when they dragged her out for a photograph? We shall never know. But it’s these details that make a photo interesting.
Eurohistory acquired a large part of the photo archive of the late Comte de Paris in 1999 and some of the pictures are here, including a wonderful 1902 shot of Princess Isabelle (Duchess de Guise), Louise (Infanta of Spain) and Hélène (Duchess of Aosta) with their mother the Countess of Paris. There is also a rare picture from the private archives of the Brazilian Coburgs showing Prince August Leopold of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, his fiancée Archduchess Karolina of Austria-Tuscany and her brother Archduke Franz Salvatore in 1894. August Leopold and Karolina were so inter-related that this reduced gene pool would seriously affect the health of their children.
Even rarer is a picture of the wedding of Princess Irene of Hesse and Prince Henry of Prussia in 1888. Henry’s father Emperor Frederick (who can be spotted in the picture) would die the following month. Wedding pictures of any kind in this period are extremely rare and although the image was obviously taken from above and some of the figures are slightly blurred (probably because they moved) its very rarity makes this one worthy of inclusion.
I could go on and on about this book. Many of these pictures were never meant to be seen by the public but, unknown to them, as the royals gathered for a photograph at christenings, weddings or just a reunion they left us an intimate portrait of a life that has now vanished forever. The sheer poignancy of some of these photos, particularly of the children, is gripping. We know what the future holds for them – Ilana Miller and Arturo Beéche have told us – but they, mercifully, don’t. All too often it is tragic. The final picture was taken at Sarajevo in 1914 – five minutes later the subjects of the photo, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, were dead.
Buy it – you won’t regret it!