Welcome to 'Lost in the Myths of History'

It often seems that many prominent people of the past are wronged by often-repeated descriptions, which in time are taken as truth. The same is also true of events, which are frequently presented in a particular way when there might be many alternative viewpoints. This blog is intended to present a different perspective on those who have often been lost in the myths of history.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Sinking of Lusitania

In May 1915 when a German U-boat torpedoed the passenger liner Lusitania over a thousand people – including more than 100 Americans - drowned off the coast of Ireland. Since America was a neutral country the deaths of innocent people caused outrage and this is often cited as the event which brought the USA into the First World War – a sort of precursor of Pearl Harbour. In fact, it would be two years before Woodrow Wilson sent his troops to Europe to participate in that pointless conflict and, on closer inspection, it is clear that there was far more to this attack, which was seen as an example of German aggression, than is immediately apparent.
It is generally accepted now that the ship was carrying arms destined for Britain and her Allies. This fact alone made the ship a legitimate target for a U-boat, particularly when the British blockade of the German fleet was an attempt to starve Germany out and, for some time, it seemed to account for the speed with which Lusitania sank. The explosion caused by the German torpedo was immediately followed by a far bigger explosion and, though nowadays it is believed that this was due to the torpedo igniting coal dust or one of the engines, for a while it was thought that it was due to the igniting of the hidden arms. In a scene reminiscent of the bombing of an Iraqi hospital, which was said to be built over one of Saddam’s arms depots, the innocent passengers were basically used as a human shield. Of course, the killing of civilians (including children and citizens of a neutral country) cannot be excused but I believe that the greater guilt lies not with Walter Schwieger, who captained the U-boat, but with Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty – Winston Churchill.

Churchill – the man who wrote, when millions of people were dying: “I LOVE this war!” - had sent several ‘top secret’ memos saying that it would be ideal if American ships could be enticed into the areas where U-boats were operating, so that they would be sunk and America would join the Allies. He did not care how many people were killed as long as he succeeded in his war game. Captain Schwieger, on the other hand, had sunk several ships but had always given the crews time to escape. Only days before sinking Lusitania, he surfaced before firing a torpedo at another vessel so that the crew would see him, abandon ship and make their way to safety before they were struck. No one was killed. When he saw Lusitania, he was aware that the ship had sufficient lifeboats for all the passengers. He also knew that a ship like that would take a long time to sink (Titanic took two hours) and, since they were very close to the Irish coast, the passengers would have time to make their way to the shore. In fact, due to the second explosion, the ship listed, rendering half the lifeboats useless and in the ensuing panic, other lifeboats were dropped too hastily into the sea and capsized. The whole ship sank in less than twenty minutes.

A couple of weeks before the ship left New York, the German Embassy in Washington posted a notice warning that all ships bearing the British flag were liable to be attacked. Several prominent bankers also received specific telegrams from some ‘unknown’ source, telling them quite specifically that Lusitania would be torpedoed. Some of them cancelled their passage.

A British battleship, Juno, had been patrolling the waters and could have served as an escort to Lusitania but this ship was recalled to port and no alternative was sent out. British intelligence was aware that the U-boat was operating but no specific warning was sent by Churchill. Lusitania was capable of great speed and could have out-sailed any U-boat, but the owners had ordered the captain to use only some of her engines in order to save fuel, and for the same reason the ship did not zig-zag as others did to make a torpedo attack virtually impossible. Basically, Lusitania was a sitting duck.

The evening before the attack, King George V asked an ambassador whether the USA would enter the war if a U-boat sank Lusitania. Churchill then went on holiday. Who was to blame for the murder of over a thousand people? Who was the real – and more cowardly – aggressor?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Madame du Cayla

Zoé Victoire Talon, Comtesse du Cayla (1785-1852), was the favorite of Louis XVIII in his declining years, as is mentioned in the novel Madame Royale. Madame du Cayla had been educated by Madame Campan with the Bonaparte princesses. She became a lively young matron who suffered in an unhappy marriage. In 1815, she sought the King's protection and his help in keeping the custody of her children. Their friendship grew over the years and by 1820, after the assassination of the Duc de Berry, Louis XVIII kept Madame du Cayla as close to him as possible. By all accounts the relationship was platonic, Louis-Stanislaus being more susceptible to the delights of the mind than those of the flesh. As Lamartine is quoted as saying by Imbert de Saint Amand:
The king's sentiment for this attractive woman had from the first the character of a love which hides from itself, under the name of friendship, what the age of the King and the reserve of the woman did not permit to be to be avowed; he felt an affection for her which he styled paternal, and he called her his daughter, not daring through respect for himself and respect for her, to call her by any other name. (The Duchess de Berry and the Court of Louis XVIII)
Louis XVIII reserved his Wednesdays for keeping company with Madame du Cayla, in which they enjoyed games of backgammon peppered with a great deal of witty repartee. He bestowed upon her the Château de Saint-Ouen as her own, as well as jewels and porcelain. When not in her company he wrote her several letters a day. She was, it seems, the last and greatest love of a man otherwise known for his conniving. According to Hugh Noel Williams in A Princess of Adventure:
Gradually, Madame du Cayla succeeded in establishing almost as complete an ascendency over the mind of Louis XVIII. as she had over his heart, and used it without scruple in the interests of the ultra-Royalist party. 'From the day,' writes Pasquier, 'when M. Decazes had been taken from him by proceedings which had wounded his heart, his self-esteem, and his regard for the royal dignity, the King had only occupied himself with business so that it should not be said that he had given it up.' 2 Weighed down beneath the burden of his infirmities, he had begun to fall into a state of apathy which put him at the mercy of those who resolutely applied themselves to the task of governing him. Occasionally, a flicker of the old spirit would reveal itself, but it was speedily quenched; all he desired now was peace and quiet, and Madame du Cayla would give him none until he had surrendered to her will. To her influence may be traced the fall of the high-minded and patriotic Duc de Richelieu, who had refused to lend himself to the plans of Monsieur [Artois] and his friends ;8 the nomination of Villele as Prime Minister; the ignominious dismissal of Chateaubriand from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the acceptance by the King of the Septennial Bill of 1824 and other reactionary measures.
The attitude of the different members of the Royal Family towards the favourite is interesting. Monsieur, although he does not appear to have been a party to the plot woven around his helpless brother, at any rate in its early stages, did not scruple to take advantage of it, and repeatedly urged Madame du Cayla to 'ignore the things which spite and folly might say against her, and to enjoy in peace the noble use which she was making of the confidence and affection of the King.'4 The Duchesse d'Angouleme, on the other hand, could not bring herself to countenance a lady to whom gossip had attributed in her youth at least one unorthodox connection, and not only treated her with coldness, but expressed her displeasure at the intimacy which existed between her dame d'atours, Madame de Choisy, and the favourite. At the same time, we may venture to doubt if, at heart, Madame altogether regretted an intrigue which, however unworthy it may have been, had put an end to the dissensions in the Royal Family and was doing so much to promote the interests of the party whom she honoured by her protection.
As for the Duchesse de Berry, less fastidious in her choice of friends than her sister-in-law, she appears to have been on very good terms with the favourite, though she did not at all approve of the King's habit of referring to Madame du Cayla, even in the presence of his family, as 'his third daughter,' which seemed to place that lady on a footing of equality with the Duchesse d'Angouleme and herself; and, on one occasion, she expressed her sentiments upon the matter rather pointedly. However, the relations between the two ladies were, on the whole, excellent; indeed, Madame du Cayla appears to have entertained a real affection for the princess, since she remained faithful to her cause after the Revolution of 1830, corresponded with her frequently, and even intrigued on her behalf.
In spite of everything, it was Madame du Cayla who persuaded Louis XVIII to receive the Last Rites when he was mortally ill. As is related in The Living Age:
Nothing so perplexed and annoyed the Duchess d'AngouIeme and the Count d'Artois, in the last mouths of Louis the Eighteenth's life, as his obstinacy in refusing to receive the archbishop and to submit to the ceremonies which the Catholic Church imposes upon dying moments. He refused, as a condemned man would the visit of the executioner. At length Madame Du Cayla induced him to consent, and in so doing closed the door of the king's apartment against her for the rest of her days. Louis, grateful, made a will in her favor and left it on his desk. But Charles the Tenth entered his brother's cabinet, carried off all the papers, burnt the will, and made a beggarly compensation to Madame Du Cayla of a thousand a year for her life.
Madame de Cayla ended her days at her little palace of Saint Ouen in 1852. While some saw her as a schemer, others saw her as the last vehicle of grace for the ruthless Louis XVIII.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Prince Albert Victor - The Victim of Lurid Lies

A recent BBC documentary about King George and Queen Mary made frequent disparaging references to George’s ‘dissolute’ older brother, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. Until a few years ago, I was under the impression that ‘Eddy’ as he was known in the family was an unintelligent wastrel and his untimely death on January 14th 1892 was something of a blessing for the country as he would have made a very inept king. Happily, I have since discovered that this image of the prince is without foundation.

So unpleasant is the way in which this poor prince has been presented that he was even, for some bizarre reason (undoubtedly to sell books!) posthumously accused of being – or being associated with – Jack the Ripper! Such a notion is totally without foundation and the stories attempting to make the association become increasingly wayward despite the fact that Court records prove that Prince Eddy was not even in London at the time of the murders! Other books suggest that he didn’t die in 1892 but was hidden away by the family and later became ‘the Monster of Glamis’!! Poor Albert Victor!

 The fact that one of his associates was involved in the Cleveland Street scandal also led to various spurious allegations about his dissipated life and some authors claim that the stories of his dissipation are supported by Queen Victoria’s letters. In fact, like many a grandmother, Queen Victoria might well have worried about her grandson’s morals – we need only think of her response to the Prince of Wales as a young man becoming involved with the actress – but there is nothing to suggest that Prince Albert Victor was any more licentious (in fact he was probably less so!) than most young men of his era and class. His younger brother, George, also had a mistress at the time and yet he is portrayed as the model of sobriety and morality!

Further accusations concern his laziness (something of which his father, Edward VII was also accused) and his lack of interest in study and inability to learn. The same allegations of a lack of intelligence were made about his brother, George, but again this is forgotten! Albert Victor had inherited his mother’s deafness and there is a likelihood that this might have made him seen ‘absent’ at times and also hindered his learning but by the time he was a young man, he was different from the image which has since been presented of him.

Recently discovered letters written from the prince to the Prime Minister and to his friends show that he had a very real and sensitive grasp of the tricky political situation in Ireland and, had he become king, he might even have succeeded in bringing harmony to that country in a way that successive kings and governments failed to do. Repeatedly, too, letters from his family and from others refer to his kindness and his understanding. When he died at the age of only 28, the country and his family genuinely mourned his passing and even the Prime Minister, Gladstone, wrote in his diary that the prince’s death was great loss to the country and to his party. Gladstone was hardly a sentimental man and such a tribute cannot be overlooked.

 It is only since his death that this poor prince has been the subject of all kinds of scurrilous slanders and there are times when I wonder whether this wasn’t done to bolster the image of King George V – as though to say, “Aren’t we fortunate to have this king....look at whom we might have had!” Although it is impossible to say for certain, judging by Eddy’s warmth and understanding, I venture to suggest that, had he lived and become king, he – unlike his brother - would have welcomed the Russian Imperial Family to Britain after the revolution and proved himself to be a very popular and well-loved monarch, with great similarities to his mother, Queen Alexandra who endeared herself to the people throughout her life. It seems very wrong that people go on – even on BBC documentaries – glibly repeating the old lies and creating more and more fanciful and lurid stories about this innocent man.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Wishing you a very Happy New Year!

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied,
'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.

So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?

In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention."

(Minnie Louise Haskins)