My Father-in-Law—Fürst Leopold of Hohenzollern. Wearing the Robes of the Black Eagle
BEFORE I relate those events which decided my fate, I want to mention Devonport, that fair sea haven., one with Plymouth, which was for a short time something of a home to us.
This was to be our father's last naval command; after this he would have reached the top of the ladder and his career as a sailor would be over; besides, Duke Ernest of Coburg, whose heir he was, was getting very old and at any moment the Duke of Edinburgh might be called to other duties.
As a real Englishman, papa dreaded the change which stood ahead of him, for he was thoroughly - British in taste and habit, and bitter was the prospect of expatriation.
Devonport was a sort of interlude, and in my own life it stands out as a last taste of all I was soon destined to leave and give up—England, home and the beloved navy.
Devonport never came up to the enchantment of Malta with its southern sun and mysterious Eastern atmosphere; but there was the sea, there was papa and mama, there were many friends, and there was also that beautiful county of Devonshire, so enchanting with its hills and dales, its rivers and forests, its steep roads and high hedges, beautiful gardens and, in places, quite southern vegetation.
Owing to our studies at Coburg, we three elder sisters spent less time at Devonport than Sister Baby, from whom mama could never bear to be separated and whom she took with her wherever she was obliged to go; so my recollections of Devonport are tinged with a certain vagueness.
At first we did not much care for Admiralty House. We considered it a very uninteresting house. It looked out upon a wide and equally uninteresting square and it had very little garden to boast of—only an oblong piece at the back of the building where we used to play quarrelsome games of croquet.
Opposite us, stood the house of the general in command. This was a much finer habitation, with a large garden full of trees and that atmosphere of shaded mystery which means so much to children and that our garden entirely lacked.
Fortunately, General Harrison and his family were most hospitable and welcoming. They had three daughters, May, Violet and Evelyn, whose ages fitted ours exactly, and with whom we very soon became friends, so that much of our time was spent in their grounds, where, although we were rapidly growing up, wild and romping games were played. The garden overlooked the sea and, if I remember rightly, ended in ramparts. Unforgettable are the excellent teas offered us in the Harrisons' house when kindly Lady Harrison called us, heated and exhausted by our games, into that coziest of meals which is England's specialty. This friendship with the Harrison daughters was one of the chief features of our Devonport life. With the eldest daughter, May, who later married a clergyman, I am still in correspondence, but the others have dropped out of my life.
Devonport and the surrounding neighborhood seemed to appreciate the presence of a member of Queen Victoria's family in their midst; my father and mother were well loved, and most hearty and courteous hospitality was offered to every one of us.
Many, many years later, when, after the war, with my husband, who had become an allied king, we paid an official visit to the country of my birth, Plymouth and Devonport asked me to come amongst them once more and gave me a huge and touching reception in memory of the days when, as one of four happy sisters, I had lived amongst them, blue-eyed, fair-haired and unsophisticated—an innocent, unsuspicious little maiden with no knowledge whatever about life.
It was a heart-stirring occasion which made me live over again the treasures of the past. I clasped many a rough hand become shaky with age, and looked into more than one eye dimmed by the passing of years, but one and all remembered little Marie, the Sailor Prince's fair-haired daughter who, at such an early age, had left the beloved old country to go to a foreign land.
My parents made many friends and entertained a good deal. I have a faint remembrance of dinner parties given at Admiralty House, and a clearer one of tea parties in different houses out in the country; everywhere we were charmingly received, but for all that this part of my life has remained hazy, probably because of the big event which about that time sealed my fate and which overshadows all the rest. But before this took place, we went once again to Russia, and this time for a very sad reason.
A Sad Trip to Russia
IT WAS at Coburg during the autumn of 1891 that mama received news of the death of Uncle Paul's young wife.
Grand Duke Paul was the youngest son of Alexander II and our mother's favorite brother. Hardly three years ago he had married Alexandra of Greece, eldest daughter of King George and Queen Olga; and now "Alix" as we all called her, that sweet young wife and mother, was dead. The news came like a thunderbolt. Two lovers, full of their young happiness, they had filled our quiet home with their joy. A daughter had then already been born to them and it was at the birth of their second child, little Dimitri, that Alix had died.
What a cruel, unnatural event, Alix was dead! Our guest so recently, that sweet, gay, happy young creature, she was no more. It was unbelievable. Could happiness be so quickly torn asunder and destroyed?
Mama decided on a hasty departure for St. Petersburg, and that Ducky and I, the two eldest daughters, were to go with her. She wanted to be at the funeral, but above all, she wanted to be with the brother she so dearly loved.
How well I remember that funeral when young Alix was laid to rest alongside those who had gone before her. She was buried in the great church of the Peter and Paul Fortress where, since Peter the Great, all the Czars and their kith and kin had been interred. The Fortress of Peter and Paul—what a sinister sound it has. All through history, terrible tales are attached to its name. Tales of crime, fear and suffering to which the Bolshevik reign has added a hundredfold.
My Mother-in-Law—Fürsten Antoinette of Hohenzollern. Born Infanta Portugal
At the Tombs of the Czars
SIDE by side, in impressive rows, under plain, oblong blocks of white marble, lie all those great men and women of the past; one tomb exactly like the other, austere symbols of how death levels all things; pomp and glory, joy and pain at an end; dust to dust. At an end also sin and crime, hope and fear; each stone guarding its own secret, the secret of those different lives, many of which had ended in unspeakable tragedy. The last of these was grandpapa. There he lay, the size and color of his tomb exactly like all the others—heavy white marble plainly engraved with his name—and beside him grandmama. She had died a year or two before him, in her bed, a broken-hearted woman, her health all gone to pieces, a woman who had hidden away her suffering behind a proud, dignified bearing. Never did her narrow lips open in complaint, no one knew if she was aware of what all the world knew. But he, "le Tsar libérateur," as he had been called, because it was he who liberated the serfs, had been carried to his grave mutilated; his legs torn from his body by the bomb that the Nihilists had thrown at him whilst he was returning from some ceremony.
Two bombs were thrown; the first had not touched him, but being a brave and also a kindly man, he had stopped his carriage—or was it sledge?—because, having heard the explosion, he himself wished to see who had been hurt. A second bomb was thrown, and that, for him, was the end of the road.
Grandpapa Emperor, mama's father, a man with liberal ideas who had trusted his people! It was after his violent death that the era of repression began again, Alexander III considering it dangerous to follow up his father's more advanced political conceptions. When the Nihilists' bomb put an end to Alexander It's reign, he had been on the point of giving a constitution to his vast empire; his son, however, did not consider Russia ripe for such innovations.
And here we were, all gathered together in this great, gloomy cathedral, to lay a young wife and mother in her untimely grave. Full of the pomp and splendor characteristic of all Russian ceremonies was that funeral. Stupendous chants rose to the vaults, echoing again from the fortresslike walls; there were thousands of lighted tapers, fumes of incense, and those thundering bass voices of the cantors which always made me hold my breath, wondering how human lungs could sustain such an effort without bursting. Clad in deepest mourning, with long black veils on their heads, stood the Empress, grand duchesses and princesses, their dull black slashed by the bright ribbons of their respective orders, blue for the Empress, red for the grand duchesses, making their somber apparel appear all the darker by contrast; and there was huge Uncle Sasha, surrounded by his enormous brothers, cousins and uncles, and as chief mourner, Uncle Paul, a little in front of the others.
A Scene of Royal Mourning
Frailer than his brothers, though just as tall, r and marvelously slim, Uncle Paul was a different type; darker and more gentle, he had soft brown eyes and the beautiful hands of his mother. In the white tunic and silver helmet of the Garde à Cheval, there was indeed something knightlike about him. I cannot remember if he wore this particular uniform at the funeral, but it was thus that I best remember him—long and slim like a slender marble column, with his caressing voice and luminous eyes. A man full of human kindness and understanding, a man who always defended those who were being attacked, who was always fair toward others; a charming companion, gay and intelligent, it was not astonishing that of all her brothers, mama loved Uncle Paul best.
I can still see him bending over the bier upon which his lovely young wife lay with crossed hands against which leaned a small holy image we all had to kiss in turn, and with a thin white veil over her face. I remember the tears running down his cheeks and how Uncle Serge, his favorite brother, took him in his arms when he made a desperate gesture of protest when at last they laid the coffin lid over the sweet face he had loved.
It was indeed a scene which made a deep impression upon the very young girls that we were then; the grand setting, the flickering tapers, the flowers, the impressive chants and, above all, the grief of that young husband who had to be torn away from the coffin of his bride. Tout passe.
The Castle of Sigmaringen. The Birthplace and Home of the Hohenzollerns Mirrors its Towers in the Blue Danube
|The Burg Hohenzollern on its Lofty Perch|
The Strange Fate of Uncle Paul
MANY years later, Uncle Paul married a lady not of his caste. Morganatic marriages were not sanctioned by the Emperor and it was a long time before Uncle Paul's wife was received or recognized by the family; my mother, in spite of her love for her brother, being one of those who held out longest in protest against her plebeian sister-in-law.
The Emperor then—Nicholas II—even banished his uncle for several years from Russia. Later, however, he was forgiven and his wife was received, but never on an equal footing with the grand duchesses. She was given the title of Princess Paley and was a most devoted wife, adored by her husband, and she finally made heroic but unsuccessful efforts to rescue him from the hands of the Bolsheviks.
Uncle Paul was one of the grand dukes murdered by the Reds in the winter of 1919, and, strangely enough, he met with his cruel death just within the walls of the Peter and Paul Fortress, close to the church where, so many years ago, he had buried his young wife.
How strange indeed and, sometimes, awful is man's fate.
Royal funerals are occasions for great family meetings, of kings and queens, princes and princesses, uncles, aunts, cousins of every degree, local as well as those of foreign lands.
It was several years since we had been in Russia, and a few years make a great difference at that early age. We were all growing up and stared at one another shyly, no one wanting to make advances for fear of rebuffs. Young people are not always merciful to one another; they are nearer Nature than their elders, are inclined to form clans, so that outsiders are occasionally made to feel thoroughly uncomfortable. It was tremendously interesting to meet so many relations, but it was not an entirely pleasant experience. The boys and young men were inclined to like you too much and the girls were ready to snub you. We were at the horribly self-conscious age when you imagined that every look was a criticism, every word ironical; you suffered because you were so young, so awkward and completely unable to cope with what uncomfortably resembled a family court of justice.
There were large meetings in Cousin Xenia's rooms. Xenia was Emperor Alexander III's eldest daughter and a year older than I; her especial chum was Minnie of Greece, the younger sister of poor Alix whom we had just laid to rest. Having an immense admiration for Xenia, I found her evident preference for Minnie difficult to stand; besides, Minnie was backed by innumerable brothers of every age. She had not her sister's good looks, but she was animated, clever, amusing, masterful and rather noisy. There was an irresistible good humor about her, but she also had an exceedingly sharp tongue. Much later in life we became friends, but in those early days I am afraid that we heartily disliked each other, and as none of us was so ready with our tongue as she was, she made us feel greatly at a disadvantage.
Nor were we able to appreciate her many brothers, for they were decidedly rowdy and there were too many of them; there were the Greek Georgie, the Greek Nicky, the Greek Andre, and they made us suffer. It was they especially who made us feel outsiders, they were so tremendously possessive and so loud.
Another huge family was the one which we called the "Mishels." These were really a generation older than we were, mama's first cousins, her Uncle Mishel's sons. Uncle Misha, as he was known in the family, was grandpapa's youngest brother and a most kindly old gentleman looking for wives for his many sons and therefore extremely interested in his nieces and grandnieces, and so very kind to them all. There was Nicolas, Misha, Georgie, Sandro, Serge and Alexis. Some were closer in age to mama's generation, some to ours, but they used to come several strong to these family parties. They were not so loud as the Greeks, but the greatest teases ever born; they attracted and repulsed you in turns; you could not ignore them, but at the same time you were slightly afraid; the "charme Slave" at its wiliest! You shuddered, but all the same you fell under their spell.
Strains That Did Not Blend
I have retained a curiously uneasy memory of those family gatherings. Fascinating as was the charm of all those young men, there was, all the same, something slightly uncanny about the Mishel cousins; a blending of strength and weakness, kindness and a generosity which almost amounted to lavishness, and yet a touch of cruelty somewhere, undefinable, but you sensed that it was there, dormant, hidden beneath their captivating ways. We, too, had Russian blood in us, so we were strongly attracted, but the English side seemed on guard, a little hostile, or, anyhow, watchful, so that we could not blend entirely, nor feel quite at home. And yet I think at that time it would have needed but little persuasion to keep me in Russia altogether.
But strangely enough, our mother was strongly opposed to any Russian marriages for her daughters. Did she know her family too well? Who can tell? Or was it really because she did not want to put before us a religious conflict?
In grandpapa's days the grand dukes had been allowed to marry Protestant princesses, leaving them free to become Greek Catholics later if their convictions permitted. But Uncle Sasha, who was less liberally inclined, had made severer rules; whoever married in his time into the imperial family was expected then and there to become Orthodox or the marriage received no imperial sanction.
In those days the family spirit ruled supreme. In all royal and imperial families the head was bowed down to and considered omnipotent, no one dared discuss his decrees or cross his will. That was not so very long ago either; we have indeed lived to see extraordinary changes.
Mama in the Role of Duenna
So mama kept a watchful eye over her daughters; she was quite equal to holding her own, no matter how autocratic her family might be, and she always had her say. She played the governess amongst the unruly younger generation, declaring that they were being brought up without any manners. She never spared her criticisms or caustic remarks, which did not, of course, make her very popular. There were no doubt several little side plays, but of these we knew nothing. Mama had really succeeded in bringing us up as perfect little innocents—little idiots we should say today. We took everything for granted and seldom inquired into the whys and wherefores of events going on around us.
We were, however, soon torn away from these interesting, if somewhat perplexing, family gatherings, and carried off to Ilinsky, Uncle Serge's country seat not far from Moscow, where poor Alix had died and to which Uncle Paul wished to return.
At Ilinsky we were the guests of Ella, the beautiful, and that was supreme enchantment. More lovely than ever in her deep mourning, our feeling for her amounted to a sort of breathless adoration. She was almost too good to be true.
Having been Alix's closest friend, she was heartbroken at her death, and it fell to her share to look after the motherless babies, which she did to the best of her ability till they were grown up, even after Uncle Serge's violent end.
Ilinsky was a delightful place on the banks of a large river, and surrounded by many woods. We were quartered in a cottage annex of the bigger house. It was in the woods, and we loved it, especially as we were allowed to ride to our heart's content on the excellent sandy ground. There were also wonderful drives and mushroom hunts in the endless woods.
We also visited Moscow for the first time and were completely fascinated by its endless churches, its prodigious Kremlin and by that semi-Asiatic atmosphere which made it so much more old Russian than St. Petersburg with all its splendor. Moscow was at that time above all else the City of the Czars.
Again let me say, "Tout passe."
Although thirty-six years have gone by since that event which decided my fate, my pen seems to tremble in my hand when I set about recounting it. It is as though the difficult decision were again put before me. A sort of giddiness comes over me when I but think of it. Perhaps I feel it even more in looking back down the long road of knowledge than I did then, at that early age. Now, because I have lived it, I know all too well what it meant, but then I did not, for I was young and foolish and brave, like all beginners of life when they are idealists.
The first time I met my future husband was at Wilhelmshöhe, near Cassel, a beautiful old eighteenth-century château where Kaiser Wilhelm was residing during the Kaisermanöver, a yearly event of great importance in the Germany of my youth.
My Cousin the Kaiser
The imperial couple had invited mama to come with her two eldest daughters, although Ducky was then only fifteen and I sixteen—indeed, rather an early age to be brought out into the official world. Our feelings were complex, a mixture of shyness and protest, to which we may, however, add a certain percentage of flattered excitement. We were a bit awkward, no doubt, but though innocents we were not exactly stupid girls. We had always been accustomed to see people and had been brought up to be able to talk in several languages and make ourselves agreeable in any company; besides, we were gay and full of the joy of life.
The only person we knew at Cassel was Prince Friedrich of Hohenzollern—King Carol of Rumania's younger brother—general in command in that town, who had been more than once our guest at Coburg, where military duties occasionally called him. In those days we three sisters had been entirely fascinated by his quiet, friendly manner. Although he had the eagle nose characteristic of the Sigmaringen Hohenzollerns, it was set in a smiling, friendly face which had none of King Carol's forbidding austerity. "Onkelchen," as we called him, was really gemütlich—the only word which rightly describes him. His voice had a soft drawl that was very attractive, and though not really ironical, he had a twinkle in his eye which put the young at their ease at once.
All three sisters had absolutely fallen in love with Onkelchen, and it was a great joy to find him here at this rather formidable imperial court. Besides, Täntchen, his wife, whom we met here for the first time, was just as delightful as her husband. Small, thin and childless, she loved the younger members of her family and knew how to attract them, for she had a very big heart in her diminutive body.
There was nothing formal or pompous about this couple, and later on, when I had become one of an over-strict and unbending family, they were often a refuge to those weary of formulas and political routine. And on a visit to this uncle and aunt, King Carol of Rumania had sent his nephew and heir, it being considered necessary that he should have a change of atmosphere. He could at the same time follow the Kaisermanöver, which would improve his military science. King Carol never did anything without the very best of reasons. Thus it was that we first met at the Kaiser's table.
Kaiser William was our first cousin, his mother, the Empress Frederick, former Princess Royal of Great Britain, being our father's eldest sister. William was, of course, much older than we were, and though an interesting personality, he was not a favorite cousin. He was no doubt full of good feelings, but his attitude toward his family in general was brusque and at the same time boisterous.
He did not exactly intimidate you, but he "put your back up" the moment he addressed you in his overloud and deliberately "bourchicose " manner; you felt all prickly with opposition; there was something about him that roused antagonism.
Empress Augusta Victoria, his wife, was, I believe, full of the milk of human kindness, a woman of high principles, a good mother, a good and also patient wife; but her amiability had something condescending about it which never rose to the height of cordiality or ease; there was effort in it. Somehow her smile seemed glued on; it was an official smile.
But she seconded Germany's ever-restless ruler with really laudable abnegation, bearing him six sons and one daughter, true to her post, through thick and thin, through good and bad, and with always that smile which she seemed to put on daily with the gorgeous if somewhat tasteless gowns she was fond of, a smile that finally, as years advanced, seemed actually carved into her face. Was she ever tired of the eternal round? Who can tell? She never gave sign of weariness, but went on bravely, year in, year out, to the very end—a tragic end.
All those who go on and on untiringly, whether stone breakers, kings or cooks, awake in me a feeling of admiration; it is the ceaseless effort, the eternal "same thing" which needs the greatest patience and stamina. These virtues were Augusta Victoria's to the full.
Many years later, when my husband and I were their guests officially at Berlin, her hair was white, but she was still turning on the wheel of her duties. Her smile was as brave and impersonal as it had been in her youth, and, looking at her with a certain involuntary admiration, I suddenly saw her as an automaton, wound up by duty which death alone would unwind.
My First Meeting With Nando
Much of that visit to Wilhelmshöhe is now hazy, whilst certain unimportant details stand out clearly, such as the mauve color of our festive gowns worn for the big court dinner, and even the orchid I found in one of the imperial vases the same shade as my dress, which I pinned on to my shoulder, very proud of this improvement to my attire. I also remember mama's raised eyebrow when she remarked my affectation, not quite sure if she approved, but letting my little vanity pass as such whilst she impressed upon us how important it was not to be tongue-tied at dinner. "A princess who does not talk to her neighbor is a nuisance to society," was one of her maxims.
If I remember rightly, I was seated beside the Crown Prince of Rumania on this occasion. He was a good-looking, shy young man who tried to overcome his timidity by laughing. He spoke no English, was evidently very pleased to be in Germany again, and told us nothing about Rumania; nor did I ask him any questions as to that far-off country, being rather vague about its place on the map. But both Ducky and I liked this unpretentious young prince who went out of his way to be amiable to us. Besides, was he not the nephew of Onkelchen and Täntchen Hohenzollern who both were so charming?
Whether the poor young fellow had been told that we were marriageable princesses, I do not know. In those days girls were kept in ignorance of the marriage plots of their parents, but not so the princes, I suppose, as the proposing—poor things—fell to their share.
I wish I could remember more about that visit to Emperor William's court, but it is a picture that has been effaced, except for the beautiful situation of the Schloss, its splendid, formal gardens and the glorious beech forests which formed its background; that and my mauve-colored dress, Augusta Victoria's smile, the young prince's laughing—not to say giggling—timidity, and Onkelchen's comfortable, drawling voice full of fatherly encouragements.
Was it all a plot? Were they all in it? I do not know; that first meeting—in my mind, anyhow—was without importance.
A Childhood Idol
Was it in the autumn of the same year or the next that we were invited to visit our cousin, the hereditary Princess of Saxe-Meiningen, eldest sister of the Kaiser, at Berlin? I do not well remember. Anyhow, we three elder sisters were taken there for a week, I think.
Charly, as we called our cousin, was an exceedingly fascinating and intelligent woman. For many years she played a large, finally a too large, part in my life. A good deal our senior, though our cousin, she was more mama's companion than ours. She was often our guest at Coburg. As children we adored her with that fervor young creatures bring to their loving. Like most young married women, she was flattered by our admiration, and she could be more charming than anyone I have ever known. She was small and inclined to be plump—a tendency which she always fought, much to the detriment of her health, for she was nearly always ailing—and she was one of the few women of those days who wore short hair. She was neat to a degree and always beautifully dressed, somewhat imitating Queen Alexandra, whom, like everyone else, she much admired. Never have I heard a softer, more melodious voice; there was a purr in it which would have disarmed an ogre. She was an inveterate smoker and always diffused around her a delicate odor of cigarettes and Hammam. Not really a beauty, her face was most attractive, the lower part having a slight twist, and when she talked the tip of her small and well-shaped nose moved slightly downward.
Yes, I remember her every peculiarity, down to the way she laid her fingers over the lid of her precious cigarette case before she opened it, and the way she would tap her cigarette on the table before fitting it into its holder, because once I loved her very dearly, and though she was later no longer my friend, I am still grateful to her for the delight she was to me in those early, unsophisticated days. Each time she arrived at Coburg or at the Rosenau was an occasion for excitement and rejoicing. Her movements were deliberate and gentle, like those of a cat, like a cat also the soft way she touched things—each of her gestures was a caress. She knew many things, though not so many as she gave you to believe; she spoke always as a connoisseur, be it about horses, music, flowers, cooking or army equipment, and for many long years I bowed down before her superior knowledge, till I discovered what she really was. Amongst her many passions was also that of politics. Capable of lifelong friendships, of generosity and even of abnegation, she was, for all that, one of the most fickle and changeable women I have ever had to do with.
Charly in Coburg, Charly in Berlin
If I describe this lady so minutely, it is because for many years she played a large part in my life, and not always a happy one. To this fascinating princess our mother took us, following up, I believe, the plan she and Charly had conceived together; for I learned, many years later, that it was through Charly that mama had got into touch with King Carol and my husband's parents, who were looking for a wife for their second son, destined one day to be Rumania's king.
Charly, in her own house in Berlin, was quite a different person from Charly, our beloved Coburg guest. Here she was one of a gay and exceedingly worldly set, and we were too young to have our place amongst such sophisticated company. They all had their own joys, their own mannerisms, their special language, their loves, enthusiasms and abhorrences.
We looked on and suffered the cruelest pangs of jealousy, watching our idol exposing a side of her character we had never before dreamed of; whilst for us, uninteresting Backfische to whom she had promised a glorious time, she had hardly a word or a look.
Bitter disillusion! That week spent at Charly's belongs to one of the most painful memories of my young life.
The Crown Prince of Rumania was amongst the many young men this gay cousin received almost daily, and if we had continued meeting in her house, I do not think that today I should be where I am, for it was only too natural that the grown-up German prince, happy to be back in Berlin, should be much more amused in her exhilarating company than searching for topics of conversation in keeping with our Backfische innocence.
In all countries the smart set is cruel to outsiders, but there was a special flavor about this Berlin atmosphere that Charly and her chic friends spread around them which I remember with acute suffering.
Many years later, as grown-up women, when Ducky and I compared notes, living over again our memories of that Berlin visit, tears of resentment still came to our eyes, so acute had been our humiliation and disillusion.
But nevertheless, through it all we clung to our love for Cousin Charly, for the young cannot shatter their ideals all at once. It needed years entirely to destroy my feeling for her, and even then her soft, purring voice could, if I shut my eyes, occasionally awaken again that old sensation of delight she had given me when I was a child. I could see her again arriving at the Rosenau with little presents for us children, filling the quiet house with her delicious perfume of cigarettes and Hammam and ravishing our adoring eyes with her lovely clothes and beautiful jewels, because Charly loved jewels almost beyond anything else.
Only on horseback we could never stand her; even then her theories and criticizing superiority made a torture of that favorite sport. Charly belonged to those beings who, with a single word of disdain, could shrivel up your ardent enthusiasm, make your dearest possession appear worthless or rob your closest friend of her charm, and this with a voice soft and gentle like a caress. Charly's appreciation or depreciation of things was a decree.
But to Charly's honor let it here be mentioned that toward mama she was, I believe, loyal to the very end. Even after thrones had crumbled and known worlds with their traditions had fallen to pieces, when new times stared the two old friends in the face, Charly, a shadow of her former self, would still go to Coburg to visit my brokenhearted mother, who lived to see the destruction of her kith and kin in Russia, Germany humiliated, and all she believed in torn up by the roots.
Finally it was Charly who died a year before my mother—died cruelly of the same illness of which both her father and mother had died so many years before.
The next meeting with the Crown Prince of Rumania was at Munich. Springtime—a feeling of mystery and excitement in the air! This meeting, I believe, had been carefully arranged, but of course my sisters and I did not know this. We were thrown together as much as possible. My mother combined excursions, drives, the visiting of picture galleries, shops, exhibitions, theaters. Munich is the town of towns for this sort of thing.
The Shy Young Prince
The young prince was excruciatingly shy and laughed more than ever to mask his timidity. Curiously enough, it was his extraordinary timidity which attracted me most; .there was something so young, so suppressedly eager and just a little helpless about him. It gave you a longing to put him at his ease, to make him comfortable; it aroused your motherly feelings—in fact, you wanted to help him.
I was much too young myself to have any positive conception of things; besides, our education had been according to the ideas of those times. We had been kept in glorious, but I cannot help considering dangerous and almost cruel, ignorance of all realities—in fact, our education had been based upon nothing but illusions and disillusions and a completely false conception of life. There was, perhaps, a serenity about it which the girls of today will never know, a sort of stupid happiness, but, for all that, it was cruel—yes, "cruel" is the only word which really describes it—it was a sort of trapping of innocence, a deliberate blinding against life as it truly is, so that with shut eyes and perfect confidence we would have advanced toward any fate.
But we were both young, there was love in the air, it was springtime, and mama had a happy, expectant face.
There was a bouquet of pink roses, a little chat near the open window whilst the moon rose slowly above the houses of the town, a hotel room—anything but a romantic setting—and yet, love in the air.
That is about all there is to relate about that Munich meeting, no other remembrance of it remains to me; a few snatches of conversation without any special interest, a bouquet of roses and the moon—not enough to make a good story; nevertheless, the beginning of many things.
And then a little later, "im wunderschönen Monat Mai," came our engagement, and, of all things, in the Neue Palais at Potsdam, under the approving eye of Kaiser William and beneath the benignly conventional smile of Augusta Victoria, whom the family pleased to call Dona.
The Little Word That Meant Much
Mama was radiant, and it was, I believe, Charly who had actually led the timid prince up to the crucial moment. How he ever had the courage to propose is today still a mystery to me; but he did and I accepted—I just said "Yes," as though it had been quite a natural and simple word to say. " Yes," and with that " Yes " I sealed my fate, opened the door upon life, a long life, the story of which I am setting out to relate; and to relate as fairly as possible—at least, such is my intention.
That same evening Kaiser William gave a huge banquet in our honor on the Pfaueninsel, a lovely island in one of the Potsdam lakes. In a characteristically eloquent speech, the Emperor announced our engagement. A setting both regal and military; champagne, "Hocks" and congratulations. But I remember few details of that festivity. I was excited, believed that I was very happy; but beneath all the noise, glamour and glory there was a feeling of angoisse which made Ducky and me clasp hands with something like apprehension.
There was already a foretaste of parting, of tearing asunder of beloved ties; it was a door open upon a future all unknown. All was mysterious, undiscovered land. We hardly knew my future husband, and none of his family except Onkelchen and Täntchen, and we had once had a glimpse of his father, Fürst Leopold of Hohenzollern, one of the most charming men of his time. But Uncle Charles, or Carol, and his far-off country, Rumania, all that was hazy, must not be too clearly thought of or one might become afraid.
And above all there was Ducky—Ducky, dearest of companions and comrades; however should we have the courage to part? Subconsciously I realized that she was full of resentment; I felt that she could not understand my easy consent, that simpleminded acceptance of an almost unknown man; in her heart of hearts she disapproved of this "Yes" which had been so quickly, too quickly, said. It meant separation, it meant the beginning of something new in which she would have no part; we had always shared everything, and now here was something I was not going to, could not, share any longer.
That evening we met the first Rumanian who had ever crossed our path—Colonel Coanda, my bridegroom's A. D. C.—a tall, amiable, good-looking man in a strange uniform, who was beaming with delight, for the Rumanians were very anxious that their young heir to the throne should marry according to the country's desire.
It seems that a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, a princess whose uncles and cousins sat on many thrones, was just what they all wanted, it was what they called "un beau mariage"; one which opened out a new future to a still rather unknown country "somewhere in the Near East," for this, let it be confessed, was how, in those days, we looked upon my now so beloved Rumania.
Colonel Coanda knew how to demonstrate his joy. He spoke in French and expressed himself with much greater facility than his shy young prince. He found many words in which to tell us how delighted the king and the people of Rumania would be, what a splendid reception they would give the young bride, how beautiful was his country, how romantic the scenery, how picturesque the peasants. He said the people "would carry their future Queen on their hands"—I well remember his using that expression—that they would build her a sweet home; that with her fair hair and blue eyes, she would be considered as a good fairy from beyond the seas. Oh, yes, Colonel Coanda knew how to say pleasant things; Ducky and I stood hand in hand, listening to him, and visions—tempting visions—passed suddenly before our eyes.
The times which followed were feverishly full of excitement, a blending of joy, anxiety, apprehension, hope and regret. It was all so sudden and so many different sides had to be faced. It was all very well saying "yes," and having a shy, good-looking young man to adore you, but things did not stand still at that.
To Sigmaringen on Approval
What would papa think about it? Papa had not been there at the engagement, and somehow my conscience was not quite easy; I felt, almost knew, that papa had had other dreams. And then there was Grandmama Queen—she would have to approve of my future husband; none of her granddaughters married without her approval. We should have to go to Windsor and be inspected—a rather formidable ordeal—but most weighty of all, there was Onkel Karl, King of Rumania, to face. You could not be long in the company of Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Rumania, without discovering that "der Onkel," as he called him, loomed almost oppressively large in his life. When he spoke of him, something very like anxiety and not far removed from dread came into his eyes; one felt that a shiver ran down his spine. "Der Onkel" was certainly a cold wind to his nephew, rather than a warming flame.
It was decided that the first move should be to Sigmaringen, the birthplace and home of the Hohenzollerns, and to Sigmaringen would come Rumania's ruler, to sanction his nephew's choice. No doubt the bride probably had been the stern king's choice, but this I did not know; I lived in the castle of my illusions and in my happy innocence had no idea that everything had not been the romantic play of chance.
So to Sigmaringen we went—Sigmaringen, that snug little town so far removed from the wear and tear of large centers, with its superb feudal castle looking down upon it like an eagle enthroned upon a rock.
Several centuries old, this ancestral stronghold mirrors its walls and towers in the limpid waters of the Danube. Here but a small stream, quite near its source, it is, nevertheless, the selfsame river which rolls its mighty waters through that far-off country over which one of Sigmaringen's children was called upon to rule. From west to east, through several lands and over hundreds of miles, it is as an ever-broadening ribbon binding the old home to the new.
A curious coincidence, the beginning and the end—almost symbolic, in fact, to those who like to ponder over the intricacies of human destinies.
Sigmaringen, with its cozy little town nestling like a flock of well-fed geese beneath the shadow of the old castle, was a perfect picture of the Germany of that time; a self-sufficient, self-sufficing little place, living in happy respect of its Fürstliche Familie which was the center, the pride, the very raison d'être of the whole country.
That first visit to Sigmaringen was all sunshine; I still remember it with a happy feeling of gratitude. Sadder and less loving times were to follow, but that first glimpse of the lovely place and that first meeting with a family which welcomed me with open arms was all sweetness and warmth.
They had all gathered together for the occasion—my future father and mother-in-law, with Nando and his two brothers, Onkelchen and Täintchen, and also dear Grandmama Josephine, widow of the late Fürst Carl Anton.
Carl Anton, Nando's grandfather, had played an important political part in his day. He was a man of wide views and liberal ideas, in advance of his times.
So as to promote Germany's national unity, on the seventh of December, 1849, Carl Anton of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, in common accord with Friedrich William of Hohenzollern-Hechingen, his cousin, renounced his sovereign rights in favor of the King of Prussia. This renunciation took place with an official ceremony in which the prince released his troops of their oath toward himself, whereupon they were sworn in to Prussia.
On accepting the sacrifice made by the elder line of the Hohenzollerns in favor of the younger branch, the King of Prussia left sovereign rights to the Fürst of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, including the right of conferring their own house order.
Recognizing Carl Anton's remarkable political abilities as well as his staunch patriotism, the King of Prussia in 1852 made this liberal-minded prince prime minister of his government, and later he was named governor of the provinces of Rhine and Westphalia, with residence at Düsseldorf.
A Page From Rumanian History
Toward the end of his life, this energetic prince was lamed and for several years had to be wheeled about in a chair, but his brain remained unclouded and masterful to the end of his days. In fact, I believe he ruled his family with a rod of iron.
Of his four sons, Leopold, Charles, Frederick and Anton, it was certainly Charles who inherited his father's political ability, and with it his iron will. Anton died a soldier's death from wounds received at the Battle of Sadowa, during the war, in 1866, between Prussia and Austria.
But the eldest son, Leopold, my future father-in-law, has also a curious page in history. In the year 1868 there was a revolution in Spain in which Queen Isabella II was dispossessed of her throne, which was offered to Carl Anton's eldest son, Leopold. This offer was energetically refused by father and son, nor did the King of Prussia look upon it with a friendly eye, fearing complications with France. Spain then offered the throne to Frederick, Carl Anton's third son; this also was refused. These categorical refusals were principally due to the feeling of personal friendship existing between Napoleon III and the House of Hohenzollern. Carl Anton's mother had been a Murat, which explains the sympathy between the two families.
Political intrigues, however, did not stand still at this, and if those chiefly concerned stuck to their refusal, others had not ceased their underhand machinations.
In Spain, the campaign was fostered by Marshal Prim, who, since the Mexican disaster, nursed a grudge against Napoleon III. But in Germany it was Bismarck, that man of iron, who was pursuing his plan of isolating France and surrounding her with enemies. All these underhand intrigues were, however, carefully kept from the knowledge of the two Hohenzollerns till the plan should have ripened.
In June, 1870, Bismarck managed to gain over to his point of view the King of Prussia, who thereupon called together a family council at Berlin during which, under pressure and much against their will, Carl Anton and his son, Leopold, were finally persuaded to accept Spain's offer.
How a War Began
Upon this followed the well-known scenes that those who have studied their history books of that time will probably remember; though events are moving so quickly and so much has happened since that it is being forgotten.
At Ems, old King William, who was taking a cure, on the ninth of July, 1870, received Benedetti, French Ambassador to Prussia. Benedetti pressed the king to give orders to his relations to refuse the throne of Spain. The king replied that he was not ready to do this unless it was acceptable to Carl Anton and his son. A few days later Benedetti renewed his demand and the king gave the same answer. That same afternoon news was received that Prince Leopold had renounced his claim; Gramont, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, demanded an official renunciation, subscribed to by the Prussian Government. Benedetti asked for a third audience with the king, in which he pleaded for this, and also that the king should make a declaration—which he could telegraph to Paris—that the king would in future oppose any future candidature of Leopold to the throne of Spain. This the king refused.
On the afternoon of the same day, Benedetti asked to be received again. With every form of politeness, the king declined to see him, but those desiring war knew how to make the king's refusal look like an insult to France, whereupon Benedetti received orders to quit Germany, and Werther, Prussian Ambassador in Paris, was asked to leave France. On July nineteenth the French chargé d'affaires in Berlin handed in France's declaration of war to Germany. Thus had Bismarck pulled the strings according to his deep-laid plot.
Many of these incidents may have either been unknown or forgotten; therefore, whilst speaking of the Hohenzollern family, I thought it useful to bring them back to memory.
Certainly Fürst Leopold had in no wise the appearance of one whose acceptance or refusal of a throne could promote a great war, for a sweeter, more peace-loving gentleman could not be conceived. It was he who was now the head of the family. He was married to Antonia, Infanta of Portugal, daughter of Queen Maria da Gloria, whose consort was also a prince of Coburg, second cousin of Queen Victoria's husband. Besides Ferdinand, they had two other sons, William, the elder, and Charles, the younger.
William, though a dear, kindhearted fellow, had none of Ferdinand's good looks; he was inclined to stoutness, had snub features, and the characteristically eagle nose of the Hohenzollerns was conspicuously absent from his rotund and jovial face. He was full of the milk of human kindness, though none too happily married to a niece of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. This not very united couple had a two-year-old daughter and two wee twin sons. The daughter is now married to Manuel of Portugal.
The Peacock Prince
Charles, who was Ferdinand's youngest brother, had no lack of good looks. He had a beautifully slim figure of which he was inordinately proud. In fact, he was inclined to be too pleased with himself and stalked about with something of a peacock's strut. He considered himself as clever as he was handsome, and I was often astounded at the way he managed to lord it over Ferdinand, who was not only his elder but his superior in every way.
A year or two later, Charles, whom the family called Carlo, married his first cousin, Josephine, Princess of Belgium—sister of Albert, the King of the Belgians. Accustomed to admire him as a child, she continued to do so all through their married life; though she, too, was by far his superior. She may have had moments when she realized this, but she never showed it, so his vanity increased with the years in a way most provoking to his family.
A greater contrast than the two brothers, Ferdinand and Charles, can hardly be imagined. Ferdinand was almost painfully modest and unassuming, whilst his milk-fair, wasp-waisted brother was just the contrary, and, into the bargain, Ferdinand was inexplicably humble before his brother's assumed perfections.
But at that first meeting I looked upon them all with uncriticizing eyes, ready to take each man at his own valuation.
As I mentioned before, my father-in-law, Fürst Leopold, was one of the most charming princes of his day. Clever, cultivated, good-looking, he had something of Ferdinand's modesty, though he was much less shy and the most perfect homme du monde. I have never met a more unselfish man. He lived entirely for others, spending his life and energies rushing backward and forward between the different members of his family, wearing himself to pieces over the care he took of his delicate wife and of his adorable, old and very deaf mother, whom he dearly loved.
Antonia, or Antoinette, had been one of the great beauties of her time; one of those old-fashioned, classic-featured beauties whom one associates with the crinoline. Her profile was Grecian, her shoulders sloping, her hands long and delicate, her feet very small and useless. But her figure somehow could not fit in with the clothes of the day; there was a disproportion between the bust and the legs. The crinoline was missing. Superbly aristocratic, she moved slowly, with a curious swinging of the hips. She loved fine clothes and jewels, and though leading almost an invalid's life, was always very smartly dressed.
For several years already her health had quite broken down, and I never knew her except as an invalid who mixed only at certain hours with the other members of the family.
Our reception at the station was extremely official. Although small, the Sigmaringen court was wonderfully well run and even slightly pompous, with a good deal of ceremony. The carriages were perfectly turned out, the horses big and uniformly dark black-brown, the liveries were smart, but with all that there was a Gemütlichkeit about Sigmaringen which was very charming and which quite delighted mama, who loved all things German.
Mama adored my father-in-law; they got on beautifully together, he was so exceedingly amiable and thoughtful and had such perfect manners; besides, he was highly cultivated, well read and a very expert art connoisseur. All these qualities my mother appreciated to the full. Altogether mama was enchanted with everything, and this aristocratic and yet kindly German family was entirely to her taste.
Everybody at Sigmaringen was simple and friendly; the only one who had any stiffness was Fürstin Antonia, the invalid.
Quite the most fascinating member of the family besides Fürst Leopold was his charming old mother, a born Princess of Baden. Small and frail, she had exquisite features framed in veils and laces which heightened their delicacy. Her gowns and cloaks were just as they should be. She always wore gloves much too long in the fingers, which she had not had the strength to pull on properly. Being stone-deaf she had expressive little gestures indicating when she had understood your pantomimic conversation; she liked a good joke and had a sweet way of lifting her hand and covering her mouth when amused or pleasantly shocked. Dear old Grand-mama Josephine had the most lovely nose I have ever seen; it was one of God's perfections.
My Future Mother-in-Law
My future mother-in-law's looks were a great disappointment to me. Having heard that she had been a great beauty, I was all eagerness to see her, but I could not reconcile myself to this pale-faced, pale-lipped, Grecian-nosed woman with the too-small bust and too-long legs. These proportions can occasionally be beautiful, but in her case, the hips being enormous, there was something about her figure which made you feel positively uncomfortable. Had I been older, I would no doubt have understood how handsome her features still were.
She was most loving and charmingly kind to me, which I later realized must have been somewhat of an effort, because, being an ardent Catholic, it was a great distress to her to have a Protestant daughter-in-law.
This, however, had not been purely a question of chance. Rumania was a Greek Orthodox country, so its people quite naturally desired that their future king should be of their own faith. It had been one of the conditions accepted by King Carol when he became their sovereign, and knowing that a Catholic princess would never submit to this, he had married a Protestant wife, and, willingly or not, Ferdinand was to do the same.
Having found a bride to his taste, he did not grudge the sacrifice he was making, although being more strictly religious than his uncle, he was not sure that he was not endangering his soul, especially as his mother was persuaded that he needed the forgiveness of the church for having overstepped her decrees.
Ferdinand was her favorite son, there was a great affinity of character between the two; besides, as is often the case, distance had minimized his faults and magnified his good qualities. For his sake I was accepted with open arms and with many demonstrations of affection; besides, I was so young and such a confiding little innocent that I probably disarmed even those whose reason did not really accept me.
Editor's Note—This is the sixth of a series of articles by Marie, Queen of Rumania. The next will appear in an early issue.