Welcome to 'Lost in the Myths of History'
Monday, 31 October 2011
This is not a new post (it is taken almost directly from my other blog), nor is it a myth of history, but it is a rather touching story for Hallowe'en.
Queen Victoria’s charming granddaughter, Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein, in her most beautiful book, “My Memories of Six Reigns” – in which she comes across as such a delightful, interesting, lovely person of great humility and filled with admiration or understanding of almost everyone she met (including her husband who treated her so badly) – writes of some fascinating and interesting mystical/ghostly experiences. This one, however, is quite beautiful.
“On my return to England, after the dissolution of my marriage, I took a small house in South Kensington and this is what happened to me soon after I moved in. I was arranging my books and odds and ends in my sitting room when the door opened and in walked my eldest brother, Christian Victor. “Oh
Kicky, [the pet name we brothers and sisters always called him by], how nice to see you again.” He replied: “I just came to see that you were all right and happy.” He sat down in the chair next to the fire, and I then noticed he had his favourite dachshund on his knee. We talked a little, then he got up and told me I was not to follow him downstairs, that he was very happy and all was well with him. After he had gone and shut the door, I realised that he was in khaki but did not have his medal ribbons on. I then remembered that during the South African War, an order had been issued that officers were not to wear their ribbons so that the enemy would not be able to distinguish them from their men. Only then did I suddenly realise that this dearly beloved brother had died eighteen months previously and lay in his last resting place in South Africa.
My sister came to see me that same afternoon and I told her of what had taken place. She was sitting in the same chair as he had done and when she got up she remarked, “I know he has been here – I can feel it.”
Sunday, 23 October 2011
While Emily Bronte is remembered as a writer, it often seems that she would be better remembered as a mystic. The enduring fame of her only novel, Wuthering Heights, has often overshadowed her poetry but, since her poems were written originally for her own self-expression, they capture her essence even more clearly than the novel.
Emily was an intensely private person – perhaps partly because she was reluctant or unable to share the intensity of her inner life. Her dislike
of small-talk and socialising led many people to view her as cold or unfriendly but, had they been aware of the passion within her, she would probably have been seen in a different light. Emily was first and foremost a ‘free spirit’ and a child of nature. She walked for hour upon hour on the ‘wild and windy’ Moors around Haworth absorbed in her innate spirituality and imagination. So profound was her sense of connection to that environment and the creatures who lived on the Moors that when she was sent away to be a governess she became physically ill. At the same time, the parsonage in which she lived overlooked the stark graveyard and, since the average life expectancy in Haworth at that time was very brief, she must have seen numerous funerals (including those of her own mother and elder sisters) and this gave Emily a sense of the transience of earthly things.
As do many passionate souls, Emily suffered intensely from a kind a nostalgia for the eternal. After being absorbed in her meditations and the glory of her own inner world, it was torture for her to ‘return’ to the mundane reality of life. Her poetry creates the sense of a soul trapped in a physical body and always seeking escape. These lines from her poem ‘The Prisoner’ capture that sense so brilliantly that they seem to me to be some of the most powerful lines in all of English literature:
Then dawns the Invisible; the Unseen its truth reveals;
My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels:
Its wings are almost free - its home, its harbour found,
Measuring the gulf, it stoops and dares the final bound,
Oh I dreadful is the check - intense the agony -
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again;
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.
Wuthering Heights is, of course, an incredibly ‘dark’ novel, filled with violence, macabre notions and even implied incest, but at the same time it demonstrates Emily’s inability to create anything superficial. In spite of the Hollywood interpretations, it is not a simple, tragic love story but a powerful – and quite horrific – expression of the connection between souls, and of the ‘shadow side’ of humanity and the spiritual/inner world.
I do not believe anyone will ever or has ever fully understood the depths of Emily Bronte but, though she would probably shrink from any attempts to penetrate her innermost thoughts and spirit, I believe she deserves to be remembered as one of the truly great English mystics.
Saturday, 15 October 2011
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Perhaps this post would be better saved for Hallowe’en but, although it is a story suited to the darkening nights, it actually began on a Spring day and is a very tragic example of the effects of bigotry, hidden agendas and the way in which such events become myths of history.
The M62 motorway crosses the Pennines between Yorkshire and Lancashire and, on the border of the two counties, is the bleak Saddleworth Moor, made infamous by the horrors of the ‘Moors Murderers’ of the 1960s.Even now, the place remains bleak and whenever I have driven that way, I think not only of its bleakness but of how this whole area in the north of England must have appeared in the days before motorways. To the people of the south it was seen as an unruly place, filled with ancient superstitions and untamed people. Of course, this was not the case in reality, but that is how it appeared. One interesting fact is that much of northern England had clung to Catholicism during the English Reformation. Many of the Catholic martyrs were northerners, and Lancashire in particular adhered to that faith. A strange fact is that, to the staunchly Protestant mind of the early 17th century, Catholicism and witchcraft were almost synonymous. To the Protestant government under James I, the use of Latin, the rituals and the veneration of saints and relics in Catholicism were virtually identical to the rites of ‘Pagans’ and those who were classed as witches. This isn’t surprising considering the similarities between Celtic spirituality (which was strong in the North) and the older Nature worshippers. To many people of that time, the two blended together perfectly.
One morning in Spring, however, a small girl named Alizon Device was walking through a woody area when she met a pedlar and asked him for some pins. He ignored her and she cursed him for being so disdainful...a couple of minutes later he suffered a stroke and, having been taken to place of refuge, said that the child had put a curse on him. So terrified was the little girl (as any child would be!) that she believed she really was to blame and confessed that she had sold her soul to the devil! Soon, under pressure from interrogators, she claimed that her mother and several other local women were witches and, before long, all kinds of old local family rivalries came into play, neighbour giving evidence against neighbour, people blaming others for every minor ailment they suffered and, within a very short time, many innocent people were hanged...and the government agents were given an opportunity to make further inroads into suppressing the ‘Catholic’ north. The same mass hysteria broke out in Pendle as later happened in the Salem witch trials in America.
It is fascinating that, if one looks at the transcript of so-called witch trials, the greater superstition is in the prosecutors rather than the persecuted. Their fears of the dark, their obsession with the ‘power of evil’ and their need to project those fears onto others and find in them some kind of darkness comes to the fore. Something like five hundred people were executed as witches in England in the 17th century – many of them were accused by local rivals; some of them were merely unfortunate in having warts in the wrong places or being left-handed or something equally natural. Many of them were truly healers, finding in Nature the herbs and poultices that are still used in hospitals today. Perhaps one or two or maybe more were unpleasant people, but it’s a very strange thing that those claimed to be promoting the Gospel found such darkness in themselves that they saw it everywhere.
The witches of Pendle were the victims of a family feud, superstition and King James I’s strange obsessions.
Monday, 3 October 2011
Sunday, 2 October 2011
months from March to June 1888 – that he is often overlooked and seen as having played no major part in world events. Had he lived, the history of Germany would certainly have been very different but even though he was not able to implement the numerous changes he and his wife (Queen Victoria’s daughter, Vicky) had planned throughout his twenty-seven years as Crown Prince, his role in the Unification of Germany has often been underestimated.
‘Fritz’ was a sensitive and thoughtful man who views often contradicted those of the Chancellor, Bismarck. Consequently, Bismarck did his utmost to denigrate the Crown Prince and more especially his English wife about whom Bismarck created and publicised various scurrilous and totally unfounded rumours. Perhaps his greatest insult to Fritz, however, was the way in which he completely played down the Crown Prince’s role in the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent unification of Germany. Despite his hatred of war, Fritz was an extremely competent commander whose ability in the field led to many Prussian victories.
“I know how harrowing and dreadful war is to him,” Vicky wrote to her mother, “how he hates it and how little ambition he has to become a military hero. On the other hand, I know that he is considered our best leader – and that it was not thought necessary to give him the best officers on his staff.... – ...so great was the confidence on the part of Moltke and the King in Fritz’s genius. He is always quiet and self-possessed and determined; having no personal ambitions, he thinks only of what is best not of what makes most effect...”
Even the French observed and commented on his humanity and the kindness with which he treated ‘the enemy’, and a French journalist recorded him saying, “I do not like war, gentlemen. If I should reign, I would never make it.”
His father, the King of Prussia, was very reluctant to accept the role of Emperor and even threatened to abdicate rather than allow it, but Fritz firmly believed in his father-in-law Prince Albert’s dream of a unified Germany as the surest hope for peace in Europe and eventually succeeded in persuading his father to accept it. For this and for his victories against the French, Bismarck gave him no credit and even excluded him from the War
Cabinet and did not publicise or even allow to be made known the role that the Crown Prince had played. For the next seventeen years, Fritz was continuously excluded from any decision-making as Bismarck basically controlled the King. Throughout this time, however, he and Vicky not only continued to make plans for many reforms but also raised their family. Fritz was a devoted and loving father and he and Vicky remained in love with each other to the end of his life. It is significant that his first act as Emperor was to take the star of the Order of the Black Eagle from his jacket to give it to his wife as a sign of his gratitude and his deep respect and honour of her. Theirs was one of the great love stories of history.
It is a tragic and in some ways unsurprising thing that a year before he came to the throne, Fritz was diagnosed with throat cancer and by the time his father died, Fritz himself was already dying. Following a series of botched operations and lots of in-fighting and subterfuge between medics, he was left unable to speak and could only communicate by writing notes. Intriguers at court began to flatter and support his son Wilhelm as though, as Vicky wrote, he were already dead. So great was the intrigue around them that Vicky felt obliged to smuggle Fritz’ war diary away to England, as she was certain that it would be destroyed the moment he died, as would all his other papers which recorded the role he had played in unification and his opposition to many of Bismarck’s policies.
Personally, I believe without a doubt that physical illness is almost always rooted in thoughts/emotions. For a man who had been silenced repeatedly, it is small wonder that those years of frustration eventually manifested as such a terrible affliction of his throat that rendered him speechless. The greatest tragedy, however, is that his plans never achieved fruition for, if they had done so, perhaps the whole history of 20th century Europe would have been very different....
Saturday, 1 October 2011
She had an English nurse and governess and was educated at home with British tutors. Being the oldest sister among her siblings, she was often entrusted with their care while her parents were for long periods abroad, a demanding formative duty, consciously carried out. Her favourite studies were literature, piano, singing, painting, and embroidery. Like her father, King Ferdinand, she was keen on botany and very found of flowers. Elisabeta was a favourite of Carmen Sylva (Queen Elizabeth of
The sufferings induced by the tragedy of the First World War on Romania deprived the young princess of vital further instruction: “she has not been what one could call really well educated, education in this country is difficult and war came on the top of it and we were refugees in very difficult and adverse circumstances”, is how her mother, Queen Marie characterised Elisabeta’s situation of those terrible years.
During First World War she did charitable work as a nurse at hospitals in the region of
Princess Elisabeta was also very fond of her grandmother Maria Alexandrovna spending many a holyday with her in
Elisabeta was “much more classically beautiful … always solemn, unable to express her feelings. Her look was straight, almost defiant, full of ardour, fantasy and imagination and fond of being alone”. Among the Romanians Elisabeta “appeared to be most popular among all classes” as Mrs Martineau, one of the visitors to the
Maria Alexandrovna was the first to suggest a marriage with George the crown prince of
Finally the marriage ceremony was organised in
When Elisabeta arrived in
Unlike her native Romania where the sovereign family was immensely popular among all classes after a victorious war that saw the achievement of country’s national unity, the monarchy in Greece was on shaky grounds, constantly harassed and besieged by increasingly powerful and hostile republicans bent on seizing every opportunity to diminish its role, situation aggravated by the worsening war in Asia Minor against a resurgent nationalistic Turkish army. There was also the incongruity in character with the rest of the Greek royal family, where her husband, the person capable to mitigating that, was often missing, sadly despatched for long periods to the war theatre.
Elisabeta’s health was shaken in the spring of 1922 because of a typhoid fever and then pleurisy, being operated twice in dramatic conditions, without anaesthesia in May
In those circumstances she was thus not able to attend Mignon’s wedding in June in
The tense environment in
Material life was terribly difficult in
There was not only gloom and doom for Elisabeta in
Elisabeta also fulfilled her role as a queen, for example when in October 1923, appealed on behalf of the refugees from Asia Minor who had fled to Greece during the conflict with Turkey, in a message to dr. Carroll from the American Friends of Greece: “Despite valuable assistance until recently given by the American Red Cross and Near East Relief to the destitute refugees and their families so cruelly expelled from Asia Minor, thousands will die this winter for lack of food, shelter, clothing and medicines, unless there is relief. Knowing the philanthropic feeling of the American people, I would be grateful and so would be the Greek people, for any help you may be able to give in this tragic hour of our history”.
On 15 December 1923 Elisabeta was able to realise that the end of her reign was near: “…The situation is more critical for us than it has ever been these last two days… Things here have reached beyond the control of any responsible people and are in the hands of republican officers… We are expecting a ‘coup d’etat’ from one moment to another, and then … God knows”. Those moments “has become such an agony that our only comfort is at night when sleep comes”.
The royal couple went on 19 December 1923 into exile in
Elisabeta asked for the Romanian citizenship, lost through marriage, to be restored to her and as a princess sought a quiet and more comfortable life in her native country. In that regard she benefited from
She also had established at her own expense a hospital and home for children in
In August 1944, King Michael achieved one of the greatest watershed moments in
She stands thus accused by some authors of trying to advocate a close Romanian-Soviet economic collaboration, entertaining designs contrary to the interests of the Romanian dynasty, or being put forward as a potential regency member in case the Soviets decided to remove the king or substitute his attributions during the royal strike. The documents and notes kept at the National Archives of Romania do not feature her in that sort of actions, mentioning her only in the chatter and that just occasionally between some diplomats and politicians. The most significant notes are those of the Romanian intelligence services between 1945-1946 that talk about cold relations between the King and his aunt prompted by her moves, but only as a succession of temporary misunderstanding.
The forced abdication of King Michael on 30 December 1947 at the pressure of the pro-Communist government and their Soviet sponsors found Elisabeta in the same situation as the other members of the royal family resident in the country, being forced to leave
Elisabeta died in exile on 15 November 1956 at
 Romanian National Archives (RNA), V/2741
 RNA, V/2134
 Queen Marie of
 RNA, V/3192 bis
 RNA, V/2739
 Idem, V/3904
 Idem, V/714
 Mrs Philip Martineau, Roumania and her Rulers,
 RNA, V/732
 Idem, V/741
 Idem, V/765
 RNA, V/748
 RNA, V/749
 Diana Fotescu (Mandache), Americans and Queen Marie of
 RNA, V/752
 Interview in ‘The New York Times’, 1934