"She was a gentlewoman, a scholar, and a saint, and after having been three times married, she took a vow of celibacy. What more could be expected of any woman?"
In The White Queen, the BBC show inspired by Philippa Gregory's novel, Margaret Beaufort was portrayed as a religious nutcase. But while very pious, the mother of Henry VII was also a smart, pragmatic and ambitious woman who had a powerful influence on English history. Born on 31 May 1443, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Beauchamp and her second husband John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, and the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine Swynford (the couple was later married and the children legitimized).
Her father died soon after her birth, so the king, Henry IV granted her wardship to William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and steward of the royal household. At the tender age of six, she was married to the Earl’s seven year old son, but the little girl didn't move in with her new husband straight away. Instead, she was allowed to remain with her mother on the Bletso estate. Some say that it wasn't a marriage at all, though. Only a betrothal. In any case, a few years later King Henry VI revoked the de Pole’s wardship, handing it over to his own half brothers Jasper and Edmund Tudor. Margaret's marriage was then annulled.
On 1 November 1455, aged only 12, Margaret married the 24 year old Edmond Tudor. The marriage was immediately consummated and, the following year, Margaret gave birth to her only son, Henry. The birth was very difficult, and both mother and son almost died. But it was Edmund who would never see his son, having died a few months before the birth. Margaret moved in with her family in Wales, but was soon separated from her child. The king had granted his wardship to William, Lord Herbert and the child lived with him until he was 12. These were difficult years, not just for Margaret, but for the country too. The War of the Roses raged on and, when Edward IV regained the throne, Henry fled to Brittany, where he remained for 14 years. During most of his young life, Margaret rarely saw her son and communicated with him mostly by letters.
Margaret married twice more. On 3 January 1458, she tied the knot with her second cousin, Sir Henry Stafford. The coupled live peacefully together, but never had any children. In 1471, her husband died. The following year, Margaret married again, this time to Thomas Stanley, the Lord High Constable and King of Mann. Their was a marriage of convenience. Thanks to Stanley, Margaret was able to return at court and was even chosen as godmother for one of Queen Elizabeth's daughters. After Edward IV's death, the throne was seized by his brother Richard. Margaret briefly served his Queen too.
Richard stripped Margaret of all her titles and estate, transferring her properties to her husband. Perhaps he was suspecting that she was plotting with the dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, to remove him from the throne. Because Elizabeth's sons, the Princes in the Tower, were thought dead, the dowager queen agreed to marry her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, to Margaret's son, Henry. The marriage would unite the two houses of York and Lancaster. Margaret was also very likely involved in the Buckingham rebellion, which failed, also thanks to her husband who supported the King.
However, Stanley wouldn't come to the king's aid at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Instead, even though his eldest son was held hostage by Richard, he waited to see how the battle would unfold and, when he was finally ready to fight, it was to support his stepson Henry Tudor. King Richard was killed and Henry became King. It was Stanley that placed the crown on his head after the battle. Margaret was now known as "My Lady the King's Mother". Her son also rewarded her by recognising her right to hold property independently from her husband and, towards the end of his reign, he also appointed to her to a special commission to administer justice in the north of England.
Margaret now lived away from her husband. In 1499, with Stanley's permission, she took a vow of chastity. A very pious woman, she was famous for her education. During her life, she founded and supported several schools and churches. Her son was very devoted to her and she had a great influence on her youngest grandson, the future Henry VIII, too. Margaret died in the Deanery of Westminster Abbey on 29 June 1509, the day after her grandson's 18th birthday and just over two months after the death of her son. She is buried in the Henry VII Lady Chapel of the Abbey.
Estelle M. Hurll thus describes this portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds:
Henry VIII. had been dead some two hundred years before the Master Crewe of our picture was born, but English kings are not allowed to be forgotten. Successive generations of children were shown Holbein's portraits of the bluff old ruler, and were taught something about his reign.
It happened one time that the children of Master Crewe's acquaintance had a fancy dress party. The Crewes were people of fashion who entered constantly into social affairs. Naturally there was much discussion over their son's part and costume. It was a happy thought which fixed upon the character of Henry VIII., for the boy's round face, square shoulders, and sturdy frame were well fitted for the rôle.
Evidently no pains were spared to make the costume historically correct. Holbein's portrait was the costumer's model, and every detail was faithfully followed. The boy is dressed in the fashion of the sixteenth century in "doublet and hose." This consists first of a richly embroidered waistcoat, the most effective part of the dress. The sleeves are made of the same material and are gathered at the wrists in a ruffle. The lower part of the doublet is a skirt falling just above the knees.
Over all is flung a handsome mantle; but this is drawn apart in front to display the smart waistcoat to full advantage. A broad-brimmed hat set jauntily on one side, and trimmed with a long feather, completes the costume. By way of ornament is worn a big jewelled collar and a long chain with locket. A short sword swings from the girdle, and on the left leg is the garter, which is the badge of membership in the ancient Order of the Garter, of which Henry VIII. was the tenth sovereign member. This is of dark blue ribbon edged with gold, and bearing in gold letters the motto "Honi soit qui mal y pense".
It is one thing to have a perfect costume, and another to understand the rôle. Master Crewe not only looks his part, but he acts it as well. He has not failed to take in all the points of the portrait, and imitates the pompous attitude to perfection. He stands with feet wide apart, grasping his gloves in the right hand and supporting the other on the sash.
He is a bright boy, who enters into the spirit of the game, and it tickles him hugely to play the part of a despot. But while he is Henry VIII. in miniature, he is Henry VIII. without the king's coarseness, and in the place is a child's innocent pleasure. It was no wonder that his parents, delighted with the success of the costume, wished to have a portrait made.
The boy is painted as he appeared when posing for his admiring friends. In his effort to assume a lordly air his boyish glee gets the better of him, and he belies the character by a broad grin. Perhaps he has caught the twinkle in his father's eye, or his mother's suppressed smile, and he can keep serious no longer. "Bravo!" cries the audience, and he smiles in innocent delight at his success.
His pet dogs are in the room, and one of them is rather suspicious of this strange young prince. He sniffs cautiously at his legs, for though his eyes deceive him, his sense of smell cannot be mistaken. Through a window in the rear we get a glimpse of the park beyond, which adds much to the beauty of the picture.
When I first requested a copy of The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives Of The Daughters of Nicholas And Alexandra by Helena Rappaport, I thought it would be one of those difficult reads that would take me ages to finish. Why? Because the fate of this wonderful family was so tragic, I thought I could only bear reading it in small doses. But I devoured it. Rappaport's style is engaging and compelling. Once you start reading the book, you just cannot put it down.
Thanks to a treasure trove of diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, some of which had never been published before, Rappaport manages to bring the four Grand Duchesses back to life. During the decades, the sisters have been turned into a faceless and undistinguished mass. The fact that they themselves used the term OTMA to refer to themselves, often wore similar white dresses, and were paired in groups of two by their own mother, only reinforced this erroneous impression. In reality, each Grand Duchess had a very different personality and individuality. Olga was the bookworm, with an intellectual bent. Tatiana took a lot after her mother, was very practical and was famous for her nursing skills. Maria was a placid and sweet creature, while Anastasia had an irrepressible but good nature.
All of them though, even once grown-up, retained a certain innocence about the world, which was due to the seclusion in which they had always lived. Although they were the most popular princesses in Europe, the details of their daily lives were hidden from a public who wanted to know more about them. Alexandra, who was very often ill and had an aversion for society, and Nicholas, wanted to give their daughters as normal an upbringing as possible, without however, letting them forget their positions and the duties that came with them. As a result, the four sisters (and their brother), grew up with barely any friends and eager for any information about the world outside their palace. They grew up into sweet and caring women devoted to their family, their country, and God, but to the Russian people they, like their parents and brother, were strangers.
Rappaport doesn't just manage to present the Grand Duchesses as individual women, allowing you to finally be able to tell them apart, but she also reveals details about their daily lives no one else had ever mentioned before. There is new information about the Grand Duchesses, their brother, and their parents on most pages! Quite a feat, if you consider how many volumes have been written about this unfortunate family! Placed in the proper context, this information helps us gain a deeper understanding of who the Romanov were, why they acted the way the did, and what their relationship in the family dynamic was. I had never realised, for instance, the terrible toll her frequent pregnancies, which resulted mostly in the births of girls, and the illness of her only son had on Alexandra's health, and how much that impacted the family, increasing their seclusion and their distance from the Russian people.
As I reached the end, I couldn't help but hope the story had ended differently. The last days and deaths of the Romanovs are covered in just a few sentences though. That's because Rappaport has already written a wonderful book, Ekaterinburg, on the subject. While I do understand her choice, I wish she had given us a few more details, just to make the story more complete. As it is, the end is quite rushed. All the same, though, this is a must read for any fans of the Romanov family. It will greatly enrich your understanding of all its members.
Meticulous researched and compellingly written, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives Of The Daughters Of Nicholas And Alexandra By Helen Rappaport, brings the four Grand Duchesses, each with its own distinct personality and individuality, back to life. The book, which draws heavily from diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, features lots of never-published-before information on their daily lives that will greatly enrich your understanding of this wonderful but tragic family. The end, though, is a bit rushed.
Madame Guillotine is one of the first history blogs I stumbled upon, and I was instantly hooked. So, I was thrilled when its author Melanie Clegg agreed to be featured in this month's instalment of the "15 Minutes With" series. Melanie is a history geek and art history graduate who writes novels of "posh doom", is obsessed with Versailles, loves Paris and gin, and is a committed vegetarian. On her blog, she writes about all things history and art, but sometimes she'll also share bits and bobs from her personal life.
Want to find out more about Melanie? Read on:
1. If you could live in any era, what would it be and why?
This is a tough one as I love so many different eras and for such different reasons and of course they all have their drawbacks as well as their benefits, which are mostly, let's face it, almost entirely sartorial. However, I would have to go for the French Revolution really as there is no other period that I consider to be quite so blood pumpingly exciting, vibrant and interesting. Plus if I go back there then there's a small chance that I might be able to hook up with Louis Antoine de Saint Just, who has been my Number One historical crush since my early teens. Le sigh. Plus I think the whole red ribbon around neck, dampened white muslin dress, shaved back of neck and pallid goth face powder Merveilleuse thing was a STRONG LOOK and one that I reckon I could rock with enormous aplomb.
2. If you could invite three people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would you invite, and why?
Okay, assuming that I've successfully gone back to 1794 and rescued Louis Antoine de Saint Just from the guillotine, then he's going to be my co-host for this dinner party. I know that I should go for a decent mix of guests but I think I'm going to invite Alan Turing, Lord Rochester and Oscar Wilde, although the latter is probably SNOWED UNDER with hypothetical dinner party invitations to the extent that they're literally falling off his mantlepiece in Tite Street Heaven so maybe I'll invite Athénaïs de Montespan along too for a bit of much needed glamour and gossip as I have a horrible feeling that otherwise I'll be trapped in between Maths talk from Alan Turing and Lord Rochester's scary seduction technique.
Actually, this dinner party sounds AWFUL doesn't it? Good grief. Okay, let's have Coco Chanel, Empress Joséphine and Athénaïs instead and we shall FEAST on macarons and champagne while ignoring Louis Antoine de Saint-Just's miserable laconic mutterings about our inappropriate aristocratic decadence. God, what a KILL JOY he would be - maybe I should just leave him to his fate so he can't ruin my parties?
3. Three books everyone should read?
Another hard one as how does one narrow it down? However, Catch 22, Anne Frank's Diary and A Prayer for Owen Meany generally head up any such lists in my view, with honourable mentions also going to Wolf Hall and From Hell as I'm ALWAYS nagging people to read them.
4. Who's your style icon?
Courtney Love without a doubt. She is just amazing and has been a massive inspiration to me since my miserable teens when I used to wander the streets of Colchester dressed in a flammable nightie with a decapitated doll safety pinned to my waist, some broken up Docs on my feet and my hair in over bleached tatters about my pallid face. I thought I looked AMAZING. Amazingly AWFUL.
5. What are you watching on TV?
I don't actually watch much television to be honest, other than a handful of VERY selective things, namely: Marple, Ripper Street, Game of Thrones, Endeavour, Foyle's War, Penny Dreadful and erm, that's it. I find the vast majority of television really boring, alas but I'll make an exception for those few shows.
6. What's the soundtrack of your life?
The terrible screams of my dying enemies.
Or 'Regret' by New Order, which is my favourite song. The line 'You used to be a stranger, now you are mine' gets me every time.
However, I got my first tattoo the other day and it was a totally different lyric: 'dazzled, doused in gin' from Taste in Men by Placebo so maybe that's the soundtrack to my life? Who knows?
7. What's your favourite holiday destination, and why?
Until quite recently, I was absolutely petrified of flying and so hadn't actually been to many places as not being able to fly rules quite a lot of the world out! I've been to Paris a lot though and had to go to Rome as part of my degree course so I suppose it would have to be one of them as I love them so much.
However, now that I'm less freaked out by the prospect of flying (I had a word with myself recently about the impact this fear was having on my life), I am keen to see more of the world and have Berlin, Florence, Tokyo, New York and Saint Petersburg at the top of my list of places that I want to see.
8. What inspires you?
I am mostly motivated by money and revenge. Seriously, this may be taking the old adage about 'the best revenge is to live well' to a whole new level but it's the thought of various people being made completely miserable by how well I am doing that spurs me on to do even more and better.
That and being able to buy nice things.
Oh that makes me sound awful, doesn't it? Okay, how about: the thing that MOTIVATES me to carry on is the thought of doing better than PEOPLE WHO WILL REMAIN NAMELESS (until I publish my memoirs and THEN THEY'LL BE SORRY). Okay, that's not much better is it? Ah well.
On a more inspirational (and nicer!) level, I find the women that I write about really inspiring - so many of them were REALLY up against it and had the odds massively stacked against them and others had to show genuine courage in the face of oppression, tyranny and fascist regimes. I feel honoured to share their stories.
9. One thing on your bucket list?
I recently wrote a sort of bucket list as I'm approaching what is delicately referred to as a Significant Birthday and am less than pleased about this fact, even though my Medieval forbears would no doubt have been pleased as punch to get to such a great age. There's loads of things on there but the ones that I am most keen to accomplish are getting arrested (to the surprise of anyone who has been out drinking with me, I have yet to feel the cold, clammy hand of the law on my shoulder), see The Cure live (I'm particularly into this one right now as I seem to be listening to nothing but their album Pornography on repeat while I work on my current book) and meet Aidan Turner. I ALMOST met him once when they were filming Being Human in Bristol as he nearly knocked my husband over with his bike. My husband isn't very nice so he didn't tell me about this until Aidan Turner was long gone and tiny speck in the distance: 'Oh, you know the guy who almost ran me over just then? It was that actor you really like...' Argh. However, the new version of Poldark is apparently based a few minutes drive away from my house so I suppose I could just hang about their gates looking pathetic until they let me in..?
10. Something about you that would surprise us?
I put a few facts about me to a panel on Facebook and the one that elicited the most surprise (and mirth) was the one about how I once bit David Bellamy when I was a small girl because he ENRAGED ME by picking me up to give me a cuddle. As the benign stars of our childhood are toppled one by one here in the UK, I live in FEAR that this rather hilariously awkward childhood memory will take on a more sinister aspect. I HIGHLY doubt it though as David Bellamy is awesome.
Born on 6th August 1844 at Windsor Castle, Prince Alfred was the fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In only four years! Poor Victoria! Still, the parents and the country rejoiced at having a "spare" heir should anything happen to Bertie, Prince of Wales. The two royal brothers grew very close. But while Bertie, growing up, wasn't really allowed to do anything (Victoria didn't trust him with affairs of government and any other job, including in the military, was precluded to the heir to the throne), Affie, as he was known in the family, was enrolled as a midshipman in the Royal Navy at the tender age of 13.
Queen Victoria was sad at losing her son, but her husband supported Alfred's wish and so she gave in. So, Affie embarked first on the HMS Euryalus, which took him to the cape of Good Hope and Australia (he was the first English prince to visit them), and then on HMS Racoon, and finally on the HMS Galatea, which he commanded. He remained in the navy for the next twenty years, attaining "only" the rank of admiral, much to his mother's disappointmentl The Queen thought he should have risen higher.
In 1866, Prince Alfred was created Duke of Edinburgh and granted by Parliament an annuity of £15,000. On 8 June, he took his seat in the House of Lords. In the meantime, his career in the navy continued and, in 1868, he once again went to Sydney. On his first visit, the Prince had been welcomed with open arms. But on the second, he was almost assassinated! The Prince was at a picnic at the beachfront suburb of Clontarf to raise funds for the Sydney Sailors' Home when he was shot in the back by Henry James O'Farrell. The Prince recovered in a couple of weeks and went back home, while O'Farrel was hanged.
On 23 January 1874, Alfred married the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, daughter of the Tsar Alexander II, at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, the marriage wasn't happy. Marie was considered haughty, and her generous dowry her only attraction. Alfred wasn't perfect either. He drank a lot, loved money, had a bad temper, and was considered by many to be quite boring. Still, the couple did their duty and had six children: Alfred, Marie (the future Queen of Romania), Victoria Melita, Alexandra, and Beatrice. One of their children was, unfortunately, stillborn.
It was rumoured, during his days in the Navy, that Affie had been offered the throne of Australia and refused it. In 1862, after the abdication of King Otto of Greece, he was chosen to succeed him, but his mother and the British government were against it and nothing came of it. Instead, the Queen and Prince Albert, wanted him to succeed to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In 1893, he finally inherited it from his paternal uncle, but he didn't rule it for long. After only seven years, on 30 July 1900, he died of throat cancer.
Haydn served the Esterhazys uninterruptedly for the long period of thirty years. Here's the agreement he signed with the prince Paul Anton:
FORM OF AGREEMENT AND INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE VICE-CAPELLMEISTER
"This day (according to the date hereto appended) Joseph Heyden [sic] native of Rohrau, in Austria, is accepted and appointed Vice-Capellmeister in the service of his Serene Highness, Paul Anton, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, of Esterhazy and Galantha, etc., etc., with the conditions here following:
"1st. Seeing that the Capellmeister at Eisenstadt, by name Gregorius Werner, having devoted many years of true and faithful service to the princely house, is now, on account of his great age and infirmities, unfit to perform the duties incumbent on him, therefore the said Gregorious Werner, in consideration of his long services, shall retain the post of Capellmeister, and the said Joseph Heyden as Vice-Capellmeister shall, as far as regards the music of the choir, be subordinate to the Capellmeister and receive his instructions. But in everything else relating to musical performances, and in all that concerns the orchestra, the Vice-Capellmeister shall have the sole direction.
"2nd. The said Joseph Heyden shall be considered and treated as a member of the household. Therefore his Serene Highness is graciously pleased to place confidence in his conducting himself as becomes an honourable official of a princely house. He must be temperate, not showing himself overbearing towards his musicians, but mild and lenient, straightforward and composed. It is especially to be observed that when the orchestra shall be summoned to perform before company, the Vice-Capellmeister and all the musicians shall appear in uniform, and the said Joseph Heyden shall take care that he and all members of his orchestra do follow the instructions given, and appear in white stockings, white linen, powdered, and either with a pig-tail or a tie-wig.
"3rd. Seeing that the other musicians are referred for directions to the said Vice-Capellmeister, therefore he should take the more care to conduct himself in an exemplary manner, abstaining from undue familiarity, and from vulgarity in eating, drinking and conversation, not dispensing with the respect due to him, but acting uprightly and influencing his subordinates to preserve such harmony as is becoming in them, remembering how displeasing the consequences of any discord or dispute would be to his Serene Highness.
"4th. The said Vice-Capellmeister shall be under an obligation to compose such music as his Serene Highness may command, and neither to communicate such compositions to any other person, nor to allow them to be copied, but to retain them for the absolute use of his Highness, and not to compose anything for any other person without the knowledge and permission of his Highness.
"5th. The said Joseph Heyden shall appear in the ante-chamber daily, before and after mid-day, and inquire whether his Highness is pleased to order a performance of the orchestra. After receipt of his orders be shall communicate them to the other musicians and shall take care to be punctual at the appointed time, and to ensure punctuality in his subordinates, making a note of those who arrive late or absent themselves altogether.
"6th. Should any quarrel or cause of complaint arise, the Vice-Capellmeister shall endeavour to arrange it, in order that his Serene Highness may not be incommoded with trifling disputes; but should any more serious difficulty occur, which the said Joseph Heyden is unable to set right, his Serene Highness must then be respectfully called upon to decide the matter.
"7th. The said Vice-Capellmeister shall take careful charge of all music and musical instruments, and shall be responsible for any injury that may occur to them from carelessness or neglect.
"8th. The said Joseph Heyden shall be obliged to instruct the female vocalists, in order that they may not forget in the country what they had been taught with much trouble and expense in Vienna, and, as the said Vice-Capellmeister is proficient on various instruments, he shall take care to practice himself on all that he is acquainted with.
"9th. A copy of this agreement and instructions shall be given to the said Vice-Capellmeister and to his subordinates, in order that he may be able to hold them to their obligations therein laid down.
"10th. It is considered unnecessary to detail the services required of the said Joseph Heyden more particularly, since his Serene Highness is pleased to hope that he will of his own free will strictly observe not only these regulations, but all others that may from time to time be made by his Highness, and that he will place the orchestra on such a footing, and in such good order, that he may bring honour upon himself, and deserve the further favour of the Prince, his master, who thus confides in his zeal and discretion.
"11th. A salary of four hundred florins to be received quarterly is hereby bestowed upon the said Vice-Capellmeister by his Serene Highness.
"12th. In addition, the said Joseph Heyden shall have board at the officers' table, or half a gulden a day in lieu thereof.
"13th. Finally, this agreement shall hold good for at least three years from May 1st, 1761, with the further condition that if at the conclusion of this term the said Joseph Heyden shall desire to leave the service, he shall notify his intention to his Highness half-a-year beforehand.
"14th. His Serene Highness undertakes to keep Joseph Heyden in his service during this time, and should he be satisfied with him, he may look forward to being appointed Capellmeister. This, however, must not be understood to deprive his Serene Highness of the freedom to dismiss the said Joseph Heyden at the expiration of the term, should he see fit to do so.
"Duplicate copies of this document shall be executed and exchanged.