Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two New Books

Recently I ordered and received two new books, which have little in common other than that they are both about European royalty of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and will enrich any monarchist's library.

First I'll congratulate my friend Arturo Be├ęche of on his splendid Dear Ellen: Royal Europe Through the Photo Albums of H.I.H. Grand Duchess Helen Vladimirovna of Russia (1882-1957). As the niece of Tsar Alexander III, wife of Prince Nicholas of Greece, and mother-in-law of three princes including Paul of Yugoslavia and George Duke of Kent, the imperious but beloved "Ellen" was closely related to all the Protestant and Orthodox royalty of Europe. With many charming never-before-published photos, and forwards by her two surviving Yugoslavian grandchildren, this tribute opens an enchanting window into the vanished yet relatively recent world of the extended European royal family during perhaps its most tragic and tumultuous period. It is particularly moving to see the light-hearted late-19th-century photos of the then-young royal generation (many of them grandchildren of Denmark's King Christian IX) unwinding merrily in private, blissfully unaware of the upheavals and sorrows that await them in the next century. Anyone who likes to wistfully pour over images of the all-too-brief era when modern photographic technology coexisted with the lingering apparent dominance of Europe by inter-related royal families will want to order Dear Ellen.

A very different approach to the same period, perhaps more enjoyable for children yet also valuable for adults, is undertaken by the comic book Karl I: The Emperor of Peace by Marcel Uderzo and Marc Bourgne. (Yes, the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary now has a comic book!) With beautiful colour illustrations based on real photographs, the graphic novel follows the saintly Karl (1887-1922) from his birth through the terrible years of World War I to his premature death at 34 in exile (recently commemorated here). The slim and inexpensive volume packs in considerable detail and sophisticated treatment of complex historical topics such as the Emperor's unsuccessful but noble attempt to bring the horrible war to an earlier end. Obviously written by and for Catholics, the book (which once I ordered it took only three business days to arrive) is suffused with a strong sense of the importance of Bl Karl and Zita's Roman Catholic faith to their lives. Karl I: The Emperor of Peace would be a great way to introduce children, perhaps especially Catholic children, to the study of the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Monarchy in general. I can recommend it highly for monarchists of all ages!

Grand Duchess Helen and Emperor Karl [third cousins once removed via Karl Ludwig of Baden (1755-1801) and Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt (1754-1832)], though of the same generation and class, found themselves on opposite sides of World War I. I do not believe they ever met; there never was all that much affection or interaction between the Romanovs and the Habsburgs, modern Europe's two greatest imperial dynasties (though ironically Dear Ellen reveals that Prince Nicholas's first choice for a bride before he decided to pursue Helen was Karl's cousin Archduchess Elisabeth, granddaughter of Emperor Franz Josef). [However, an interesting subsequent genealogical connection exists: in 1956 Helen's granddaughter Countess Helen of Toerring-Jettenbach (b 1937) married Karl's nephew Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (1918-2004). It was their grandson Prince Alexis of Windisch-Graetz (1991-2010) who has the sad distinction of being the youngest royal death reported by this blog.] Yet in their different ways, and within their different Christian Churches, they were both devoted to their families and met the challenges of the frightening twentieth century with dignity and grace.

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