Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, 1864 – 1918

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Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia was how she became more commonly known, however she was born as Princess Elizabeth of Hesse and by Rhine. Her mother was Princess Alice, the third child of Queen Victoria and her father was Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse.

Both her parents died young, her mother in particular was only 36 when she contracted diphtheria and died along with Elizabeth’s youngest sister Marie. The impact of losing her mother when she was only 14 made Elizabeth keen for her own family. She was much admired throughout European Royal courts and had many suitors, including her own cousin the future Kaiser Wilhelm II. Having turned down several proposals she agreed to marry the dashing Grand Duke Sergei of Russia. He had showered her with gifts of great value, though this didn’t necessarily win over the princess, who initially said no to him. However his charm won her over and they were married in June 1885.

Upon Elizabeth’s arrival in Russia she was perceived by the people as a positive influence to the Romanov family. This was helped by her sincere conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church, a pinnacle part of many of the populations lives. Despite her popularity, there were issues in her marriage. Six years after the wedding, and no children to show for it, rumours circulated that the Duke was in actual fact homosexual. Whether or not this was the case, the couple fostered two children and created a family home in St. Petersburg. After his appointment as Governor of Moscow in 1892 they moved to the capitol, residing in Kremlin Palaces. It was while living here the political situation in Russia, which had always been troublesome, grew to an ultimately damning height. The autocratic power of Romanov family and the weakness of the Duke’s nephew and Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, Tsar Nicholas II would play a major factor in the fall of the Russian Empire and the death of Elizabeth.

The Assassination of the Duke in 1905 by a notable revolutionary group signaled the end of royal life for Elizabeth. She made the drastic decision to become a nun and give up all her worldly possessions and riches and proceeded to devote her time to helping the poor and destitute living in abhorrent conditions throughout the city. She became Abbess of Saints Martha and Mary Convent, establishing orphanages and hospitals to support the sick and vulnerable. This work continued throughout the First World War with her pioneering nursing training to assist with vast number of casualties. Her efforts were not matched by her sister, the Tsarina Alexandra, who played an instrumental role in the failures of the war by her poor judgement and influence over her husband.

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Alexandra’s demise came before her sister’s. The brutal murder of the Tsarina, the Tsar and their 5 children in 1918 by the Bolshevik’s, has been consider one of the worst atrocities of  the War. Elizabeth, despite her pious living and care of the people, was not spared. The Bolshevik’s seized her from the monastery, and along with several other prisoners, dragged them to the a remote area, beat them then threw them into a deep pit. Elizabeth was pushed first, but survived the fall. The killers above, realised this and threw down a grenade, however an orthodox hymn could be quietly heard, led no doubt by Elizabeth. A second grenade was thrown, yet the singing continued. It was the use of flames that eventually silenced the victims. The later discovered bodies showed that Elizabeth had helped bandage the hurt other prisoners, even though she herself was badly injured.

In 1981 Elizabeth was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as Saint Elizabeth Romanov. In 1998, a statue of Elizabeth was included as one of the ten 20th century modern martyrs above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey.

 

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On This Day…

It’s my blog birthday today! Happy First Birthday Blog! I haven’t been the best blogger…stopped for longer than I wrote for…but that is changing!

Starting with a new series of on this day...

(Technically yesterday- 25th January)

On this day 160 years ago in 1858, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s eldest daughter Princess Vicky married the Crown Prince of Prussia, Frederick. Their wedding took place in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Place in London, with the extended families on both sides in attendance. This marriage had been skilfully arranged by Albert who had a vision for the future of Europe. His ideas of a liberal and united continent were to be implemented through carefully arranged marriages of his own children to the various royal houses of Europe.

As the oldest, Vicky was the first to put this idea to the test. Prussia was the largest state of the German Empire and a powerful influence in Europe. For Albert and Victoria, their roots were German and so it was a natural ally to choose. The Crown Prince Frederick had similar liberal ideas to the Prince Consort, and an added bonus was Vicky and Frederick’s mutual attraction. Their marriage was a caring one, and lasted for 30 years, until Frederick’s untimely death at the age of 56.

A key part aspect of their wedding was that it made famous Felix Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’,  which has become a traditional piece to be played at English weddings.

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The Wedding of Vicky and Frederick by John Philip.

The Weekly Monarch .4

Henry VII

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Full Name: Henry Tudor
Born: 28th January 1457, Pembroke Castle
Son of Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort
Reigned: 22nd August 1485 – 21st April 1509

The Tudors. This name stimulates images of Henry VIII standing impressively in regal robes. You probably know which painting I am describing. If not, simply google Henry VIII and it should come up. He is synonymous with this dynasty, known for his numerous wives and changing the structure of religion in England. However, I feel his father, who gave this renowned dynasty his name, is often overlooked as a serious and boring king. I plan to change this perception.

Henry Tudor’s route to become king was not straightforward like the majority of rulers. As you an see above, neither of his parents were a monarch, so how did he come to be king? The answer is the Wars of the Roses. This series of conflicts officially began in 1455 with the Battle of St Albans and ended with Henry Tudor’s triumph at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The issues surrounding the initial battle stemmed from the political problems of the time, to the weakness of Henry VI and the shared royal bloodline from John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III. The establishment of two royal houses followed, The House of York and The House of Lancaster. 

After Henry VI death, the House of York remained in power until Henry VII,  whose claim was through his mother, Margaret Beaufort to the Lancastrian line. (also a decedent of John of Gaunt) Henry’s early life is not widely known, which is unusual for a king. Much this was owing to his unorthodox royal family and distant claim to throne, which resulted in him spending his early years in exile abroad. Henry’s return came from the dislike of Yorkist King Richard III, who had overthrown his brother, Edward IV’s sons and heirs to take throne for himself. Margaret Beaufort was instrumental in promoting her son as an alternative king.  Richard’s defeat at Bosworth signaled the end of the Wars of the Roses, with Henry taking the throne and marrying Edward IV daughter, Elizabeth of York. 

Now to address Henry as boring king. He was not boring but cautious. Unlike previous kings, Henry had not been brought up to be the next monarch and had therefore not been taught the ways of diplomacy and statesmanship, he had to learn this quickly. But he was ultimately a very successful king. He made England peaceful, for the first time in over 30 years, and vastly improved the country’s finances. But the success of Bosworth was not the end of Henry’s need to defend his position as king. Throughout his reign he had to contend with those that opposed his reign. Most notably Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, whom both posed separately as the ‘Princes in the Tower’, trying to play on the sympathies of the country. Luckily for Henry, his own supporters were larger in number and these threats were not long lasting. Yet the first Tudor King was never fully confident of this.

His main success of security was marrying Elizabeth of York, and in doing so uniting the two houses. Thus the Tudor Rose was born. Their marriage was prosperous and unusually caring for an arranged marriage. Together they had four children who reached adulthood, with the renowned Henry VIII taking the throne. Henry Tudor’s greatest accomplished can be argued as fully establishing the Tudor dynasty for his son, as Henry VIII never encountered any opposition to his rule.

The Weekly Monarch .3

George V

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George V coronation portrait by Sir Luke Fildes, 1911

Full Name: George Frederick Ernest Albert
Born: 3rd June 1865
Son of Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark
Reigned: 1910 – 1936
Hobby: Stamp Collecting (he took this very seriously)

The Grandson of Queen Victoria, who was not meant to be king, grew up in the strict and proper society emerging in Britain in the late 19th century. His limited education did not prepare him for what would be in store when his elder brother, Albert Victor (known as Eddy) died suddenly of pneumonia. At 27, George was faced with the daunting prospect of being the next in line to the throne. 

Having only ever learnt about George V with relation to the First World War, I had an impression of him as a very brave and prepared King, who led Britain successfully through the war. I never thought how little provision had been made for George to take the throne, and even how little education his elder brother (whom I knew nothing about) had experienced. Schooling seemed to have little importance to the future monarch, and was the case, up until Prince Charles (current heir to the throne) attended Gordonstoun boarding school in the 1960s. The main focus of their education came from the Navy as they were both enrolled as sea cadets. For George, little was expected from him as the second son. He simply followed in his brothers footsteps, and even did so when Eddy died by being encouraged to marry his brother’s finance Mary of Teck.  

Becoming King was a burden for George. ‘I am heartbroken and overwhelmed by grief. May God give me strength and guidance in the heavy task that has fallen upon me.’ He was crowned in 1911, and shortly afterwards visited  India, the first British monarch to do so. His reign brought much change to politics in Britain, as he appointed (on behalf of the British public) the first labour government, saw women gain the vote, and the supremacy of the elected House of Commons over the House of Lords.

The First World War came only four years into George’s reign and was a horrifying shock to him, especially being at war against his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm. This led to the general distrust and anger to any German within Britain and caused George to rethink the family name which was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (his grandfather, Prince Albert’s name). The new name of Windsor was selected because of historic roots to William the Conqueror and therefore how British it seemed! This was an important move for the propaganda of the royal family, showing how loyal they were to their country. The war was an ultimate victory for Britain but a disaster in terms of loss. Nearly one million men died during the First World War.

For George and the royal family, the war had been a turning point for the future of the monarchy in Britain. 27 crowned heads of state were disposed or abdicated by the end of of the war including George’s close cousin, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, whom was murdered. This was a major political concern for Britain, owing to the growing feelings of socialism. George’s approach to monarchy changed, with the help of his loyal wife Queen Mary, they made royalty approachable. This was shown by visiting the many wounded in hospitals, making trips to the more deprived parts of the country which were experiencing vast amounts of unemployment. George even attended a football game. He made monarchy what it is today, drastically different from the aloof and out dated system that it had been before. George introduced the Christmas broadcast which his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth still dutifully does each year.

King George V’s legacy is an notable one. He may not have been the most academic or confident monarch, but held his role in the highest importance. Duty came before all else. His preference for remaining at home, living the quiet life with his stamp collection was overturned by his duty to his country during the war. But for me, we really do have George to thank for the fact that we still do have a monarchy today, as it was his understanding that reinvented the role of the king and queen for future generations.