Monday, March 22, 2010

The Curious Case of Prince Eddy

Had the eldest son of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of Britain survived, British history and perhaps world history would have been very different. Queen Elizabeth II's grandfather, King George V, would not have become king and, had the crown fallen to this particular individual we are about to discuss, perhaps the British monarchy might have been swept away with the rest of Europe's major thrones in the aftermath of the First World War.

Albert Victor Christian Edward - named for his paternal grandfather, Prince Albert; his paternal grandmother, Queen Victoria; his maternal grandfather, King Christian IX of Denmark; and his father, Albert Edward - was born January 8, 1864. He was titled Prince Albert Victor of Wales, as his father was then the Prince of Wales, but to his entire family and to most biographers later on, he was known as "Eddy".

From an early age, it was clear that Eddy was a most peculiar specimen. When Eddy and his brother, Prince George (just seventeen months younger) began their education with a private tutor, the tutor noted to the Prince and Princess of Wales that while their son George was progressing along at a fine, if unremarkable, pace, there was something sluggish about Eddy's mental development. Many historians believe that Eddy's premature birth as well as a possible case of petit mal, or absence seizures, were at the root of Eddy's learning disabilities. As Eddy and George both grew older, it was agreed that the two brothers should continue to be educated together, as one tutor believed it was Prince George who helped to stimulate Eddy's otherwise listless mind.

Eddy's private life also made him the subject of scandal. In 1889, the London police uncovered a male brothel on Cleveland Street. In a time when homosexual acts were outlawed, the raid made headlines as a number of men in British high society were implicated in the scandal. During this time arose the rumor that a member of the British royal family had frequented the Cleveland Street brothel, and the name that came forward was Eddy's. Though none of the male prostitutes in the brothel had ever named Eddy as a client, there was a great deal of talk that seemed to suggest his frequent presence there. Eventually, the Prince of Wales intervened and Eddy was never officially prosecuted or questioned in the investigation, but this forever tainted his image with later biographers.

Perhaps most intriguing were the rumors that Eddy might have been Jack the Ripper. These claims were not officially published about until the 1960s- over seven decades after his death- but it seemed that the mystery surrounding prince's controversial lifestyle provided enough ammunition for a number of authors to explore the possibility that Queen Victoria's grandson might have been the most notorious serial killer of 19th century Britain. At the time that the Ripper's first victims were murdered, however, Eddy was in Balmoral visiting family, a fact that diaries and letters from other relations can confirm.

When the rest of his family began to realize the severity of Eddy's weak constitution and dissipated life, his father and grandmother felt that a suitable, sensible wife would be the proper anchor he needed. Queen Victoria suggested another of her granddaughters, Princess Alix of Hesse. Alix, in Victoria's opinion, showed great internal strength, and her widely-acknowledged beauty would certainly appeal to her wayward grandson. The queen was right, and Eddy dully began corresponding with his cousin Alix. Alix, however, was not the least bit interested in Eddy, and though she was wholly devoted to her grandmother, she resisted Victoria's influence on the matter and politely turned down Eddy's marriage proposal. Princess Alix would later become Empress of Russia when she married her lifelong love, Tsar Nicholas II. Eddy then pursued a romance with Princess Helene of Orleans, daughter of the pretender to the French throne. The couple were deeply in love, but Helene was a Catholic, and unless she converted, Eddy would automatically lose his place in the British succession if he married a Catholic. Helene offered to convert, but she was dissauded by her father and by Pope Leo XIII.

Finally, Princess Mary of Teck was brought forward. She was, in Queen Victoria's words, "charming, sensible and pretty", and the daughter of the penniless Duke of Teck and Queen Victoria's cousin, Prince Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. Eddy and Mary were engaged, but just weeks later Eddy caught influenza and suddenly died at the age of 28. In his place, Eddy's brother George became second-in-line to the throne and later was crowned King George V.

His family was devasted- the Prince of Wales told his mother "Gladly would I have given my life for his", and the Princess of Wales never fully recovered from his unexpected demise. Yet there were many who whispered behind closed doors that by Eddy's death, the stability of the monarchy was secure. George was sensible and dutiful, and, in the opinion of most, succeeded where Eddy would most likely have failed. In addition to inheriting his place in the line of succession, George also inherited Eddy's fiancee. About a year after Eddy's death, Princess Mary of Teck was engaged to Prince George, and their marriage would prove to be a solid and happy one.

Monday, March 15, 2010

93rd anniversary of Nicholas II's abdication

93 years ago today, March 15, Nicholas II abdicated as Emperor (or Tsar) of Russia.

With the outburst of rioting and strikes in the major Russian cities that would become known as the February Revolution, the tsar did little to diffuse the massive discontent that plagued his empire. Suffering from staggering losses and continued defeats in World War I and a severe food shortage during one of Russia's harshest winters in years, the situation was ripe for revolution.

A bread shortage in St. Petersburg led to rioting among the factory workers, and by the end of February 1917, St. Petersburg and Moscow were both at a virtual standstill as thousands of public workers took to the streets. When Nicholas received word of the strikes, he unwisely ordered troops into the capital to quell the uprising, rather than returning to St. Petersburg to solve the dilemma at hand. Within days, not even the soldiers were on the tsar's side, for they eventually refused to fire on the protesting crowds. The emperor also ordered the suspension of the parliament, the Duma, but the Duma refused to dissolve itself.

Finally, the emperor bowed to reason and began the train ride home. It was too late though. St. Petersburg and Moscow were firmly in control of the revolutionaries. The imperial train was halted on the night of March 14 at Pskov, still another day away from the capital. On the morning of March 15, Nicholas II received General Nikolai Ruzsky, who carried a stack of telegrams from the other military commanders. In each message, the generals begged the emperor to renounce his throne for the sake of the empire. Even his cousin, the renowned military hero Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, pleaded for him to step down.

With little protest, Nicholas II ordered the instrument of abdication to be drafted, which stated that he would abdicate the Russian imperial throne in favor of his twelve-year-old son, Alexei, with a regency to be appointed until he reached maturity. However, after discussing with his private doctor the possibility of leaving his hemophiliac teenaged son behind in Russia to assume the throne while the rest of the family went into exile, it was agreed that there would be little hope for Alexei's health and survival in such a taxing position. The abdication decree was revised, and instead, the tsar transfered the throne to his only surviving brother, Grand Duke Michael.

Grand Duke Michael

On March 16, Grand Duke Michael renounced the throne that his brother left for him. Fearing that another tsar would only encourage the revolution, Michael at least had the foresight to see that a drastic change was necessary to keep Russia from imploding in on herself. With the grand duke's renunciation, the 304-year-old Romanov dynasty came to an abrupt end.

Within sixteen months, the last reigning tsar, Nicholas II, and (according to very few) the technical last tsar, Michael, were both murdered by the Bolsheviks. Michael was living in a hotel in Perm with his butler, until one night in June 1918, when they were abducted by Bolshevik soldiers, hauled into the woods and shot. A month later, Nicholas and his entire family were slaughtered by their guards.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Birthday of King Frederick IX of Denmark

Today would have been the 111th birthday of King Frederick IX of Denmark. He was born March 11, 1899 at Sofrengi Palace and died in 1972 in Copenhagen.

Frederick married Princess Ingrid of Sweden, with whom he had three da
ughters -

Margrethe II, present
Queen of Denmark

Princess Benedikte, who married Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg

ncess Anne-Marie, the former Queen of Greece and wife of Constantine II, former King of Greece.

King Frederick IX of Denmark and his wife, Queen Ingrid

Family Profile: Family of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia

In this segment of Family Profile, we will be highlighting the family of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Nicholas II (Russian: Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov, born 1868 in Tsarskoe Selo, died 1918 in Yekaterinburg), was the eldest child of Tsar Alexander III and Empress Marie Feodorovna (born Princess Dagmar of Denmark, daughter of King Christian IX). Nicholas ascended the Russian throne in 1894 on the death of his father. A few weeks later, he married Princess Alix of Hesse (born 1872 in Darmstadt, died 1918 in Yekaterinburg), daughter of Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and, through her mother, a granddaughter of Britain's Queen Victoria. Alix converted to Russian Orthodoxy and changed her name to Alexandra Feodorovna.

Children of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra -

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (born 1895 in Tsarskoe Selo, died 1918 in Yekaterinburg)

Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna (born 1897 at Peterhof, died 1918 in Yekaterinburg)

Grand Duchess Marie Nikolaevna (born 1899 at Peterhof, died 1918 in Yekaterinburg)

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna (born 1901 at Peterhof, died 1918 in Yekaterinburg)

Tsarevich and Grand Duke Alexei Nikolaevich (born 1904 at Peterhof, died 1918 in Yekaterinburg)

By all accounts, the family of the last Russian tsar was close-knit and intensely sheltered. While Russia spun into continued turbulence with strikes, riots, and eventually the First World War which hastened the collapse of the monarchy, Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra virtually isolated themselves and their children at their beloved Alexander Palace in the imperial compound of Tsarskoe Selo, 15 km outside of St. Petersburg.

Their only son, Alexei, brought their parents indescribable relief upon his birth in 1904, for the succession of the monarchy was secure. But this was to be a short-lived joy, for within weeks of his birth it was confirmed that the boy suffered from hemophilia, the genetic bleeding disease that his mother had inherited from her maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria. Several of Alexei's royal cousins across Europe also suffered from the disease, but his case remains the most well-known of all the royal hemophiliacs. It was his illness that brought about the appearance of Grigori Rasputin, the infamous Siberian "holy man" who became an intimate confidante to Empress Alexandra- with devastating consequences for the monarchy.

The entire family was brutally murdered in the early morning hours of July 17, 1918 in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg. They had been imprisoned in a merchant's house there for nearly three months, in the midst of the civil war that had broken out across Russia between the Bolsheviks' Red Army and the White Armies, made up of anti-communist and some monarchist troops. As the White Army advanced undefeated upon Yekaterinburg, the Ural Soviet panicked, fearing that a White takeover of Yekaterinburg would lead to the liberation of the tsar and his family and possibly restoring them to power. The family, who had their physician, a cook, valet and maid also imprisoned with them, were herded down into the cellar of the house. There, they were shot, beaten and bayoneted to death by their guards. Their bodies were partially burned and dumped inside a shallow grave in the woods outside Yekaterinburg, where they remained hidden for over 70 years.

In 1998, two decades after the remains were first stumbled upon and almost a decade after scientists used DNA testing to confirm the identities of the remains, Russia's last imperial family were buried in the tsarist crypt at the Fortress of Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Anniversary of King Constantine II's accession

March 6 marks the 46th anniversary of the death of King Paul of Greece and his son's accession to the throne as Constantine II, King of the Hellenes.

King Paul had undergone surge
ry for stomach cancer in February 1964, but died within the subsequent week. His death took his family and country by surprise, and his twenty-four year-old son unexpectedly found himself King of the Hellenes. At first, many Greeks were enthusiastic about their new king. He was young, handsome, and had been the first Greek to win an Olympic gold medal since 1904 when he competed in sailing at the 1960 games. Constantine's wedding later that year to the beautiful Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark brought a wide range of press coverage to Athens and further enhanced his popularity.

However, the r
eign of Constantine II quickly soured. He was on shaky terms with the prime minister, George Papandreou, and after Papandreou's resignation in 1965, a series of crown-appointed prime ministers failed to earn the country's confidence and left Constantine's critics accusing him of acting unconstitutionally.

Problems in Greece came to a head on April 21, 1967, when Colonel George Papadopuolos led a coup d'etat and quickly took control of the government in Athens. With little military support, Constantine II swore in the colonels as the legitimate government in Greece but insisted that there be more civilian ministers appointed to the regime. Meanwhile, Constantine secretly orchestrated a counter-coup to overthrow the military junta, which was launched on December 13, 1967. The coup failed, and the Greek royal family fled in exile to Rome.