Sunday, October 26, 2014

Amply rewarded

It is 70 years since the death of Princess Beatrice, a constant companion to her mother Queen Victoria while she was alive, and a great great grandmother to the current King of Spain, Felipe VI. Beatrice did not keep a diary herself, as far as I know, but Queen Victoria was a committed diarist: very soon after Beatrice’s birth, the Queen wrote of being ‘amply rewarded’ for the ‘very long wearisome time’. Moreover, it was Beatrice who edited Queen Victoria’s journals, a huge task that took her decades to complete, and she did so faithfully to the letter of her mother’s instructions. Towards the end of her life, Beatrice also translated into English, and edited, diaries kept by her German great grandmother.

Beatrice, the fifth daughter and youngest of nine children born to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was born at Buckingham Palace in 1857. The birth caused controversy, according to Matthew Dennison, author of The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria’s Youngest Daughter (see review at The Guardian website), when it was announced that Queen Victoria would seek relief from the pains of delivery through the use of chloroform - the practice being dangerous to mother and child and frowned upon by the Church of England and the medical authorities. Two weeks after the birth (on 29 April), Queen Victoria wrote in her journal (freely available online here) about her newborn:

‘Till today I have been prevented from writing in my Journal, & I resume it today with feelings of the deepest, gratitude towards an All Merciful Father in Heaven who has preserved me, & restored me almost completely to health & strength. I have felt better & stronger this time, than I have ever done before. How I also thank God for granting us such a dear, pretty girl, which I so much wished for! She came into the world at 2 o’clock on the 14th, having caused me a very long wearisome time. I was amply rewarded, & forgot all I had gone through, when I heard dearest Albert say “it is a very fine child, & a girl!” & it was as inexpressible joy to me. My beloved ones love and devotion, & the way he helped in so many little ways, was unbounded. Mrs Lilley being old, & having been so ill last year, I had an assistant monthly Nurse, Mrs Innocent to help her. Dr Lucock & Dr Snow attended me. After I had some sleep, Mama & Feodore came in for a moment to see me. Albert had to go at 4 to the Council, & wished dear Aunt Gloucester. He brought Vicky in, to wish me good night - We have to settled that the Baby should be named, Beatrice>, Victoria, Feodore>. Beatrice, is a lovely name, meaning Blessed, & was borne by 3 English Princesses. Dear Mama, Vicky & Fritz & Feodore, are to be the sponsors. - Have done remarkably well all the time. - After the first days saw all the Children, & Vicky has often been reading to me, Mama, & Feodore, also constantly coming in & out. [. . .]

Occupied in choosing various things including little caps, &c - for the dear little new born one, who is such a pretty plump, flourishing child, promising to be very like Arthur, with fine large blue eyes, marked nose, pretty little mouth & very fine skin.’

From birth, Beatrice became a favoured child of her parents. Through much of her childhood she was referred to as ‘Baby’. Queen Victoria came to rely on her increasingly, for emotional and practical support, especially after the deaths of her mother and then of Albert in 1861, and from 1871 when the last of Beatrice’s older sisters married. At times, the Queen even dictated her private journal to Beatrice. Despite her mother’s reluctance to let Beatrice go, she did, eventually, in 1885, agree to her marrying Prince Henry of Battenberg, a morganatic descendant of the Grand Ducal House of Hesse, on the condition that the couple made their home with the Queen.

Beatrice and Henry had four children between 1886 and 1891, but Henry found domestic/royal life too monotonous and yearned for more employment. The Queen made him governor of the Isle of Wight in 1889, and, in time, consented to him joining an expedition fighting in the Fourth Anglo-Ashanti war (in present day Ghana). However, he contracted Malaria, and died in 1896. Beatrice continued to serve her mother, who gave her Henry’s job as Isle of White governor, as well as apartments of her own at Kensington Palace. On the death of the Queen in 1901, Beatrice was devastated; and, thereafter, not being close to her brother, the new King Edward VII, she played less of a role in public affairs

The marriage of Beatrice’s daughter, Princess Ena, to King Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1906 caused some controversy as it entailed her converting to Catholicism, against the wishes of Edward VII. The marriage, moreover, was to transmit Beatrice’s haemophilia gene to the Spanish dynasty. Felipe IV, who succeeded to the Spanish throne in June 1914, is her great great grandson. In 1917, George V’s policy of divesting the royal family of its German associations led the family to change its name of Battenberg to Mountbatten. Beatrice died on 26 October 1944; further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, or The Royal Forums.

Queen Victoria left all her private journals to Beatrice, with instructions to edit or destroy any passages which appeared unsuitable for posterity. This involved her in transcribing the journals in her own hand, into 111 volumes, and destroying most of the originals. A few extracts from the diaries were published in the Queen’s lifetime - see The crown hurt me - and, in 2012, the Royal Family published 40,000 pages of the diary online as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations - see Victoria’s diaries online. Wikipedia has a separate entry for Queen Victoria’s diaries, although the fullest and most accurate information is on the Queen Victoria Journal website itself. Although, there are, in fact, four different versions of the journal, three of these versions only cover a few years, and it is Princess Beatrice’s 111 hand-written volumes that provide the vast bulk of what remains of Queen Victoria’s diaries. Thus, it is Beatrice who must have edited the above extract about her own birth!

Towards the end of her life Beatrice turned her hand to another ancestor’s diaries, those kept by Queen Victoria’s maternal grandmother, Augusta, duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. She translated these from the German, and they were published in 1941 by John Murray as In Napoleonic Days. Here is part of Beatrice’s own introduction to the book, and a few extracts, including the first and the last two.

‘The King having kindly given me his permission to translate for publication some extracts from my Great-Grandmother’s Diary, I hope this small effort and venture of mine may be of some interest to the public and ultimately benefit the funds of various War Charities. [. . .] Her original diary is in the family archives in Windsor Castle and, so far, the extracts from it have only been printed in German for private circulation. The curious similarity between the days of the Napoleonic wars and our own times has led me to think this Diary might appeal to some readers, interested in that period. The record is very simply told and contains many references to the Duchess’s family and the part they played in her life, but these could not be easily eliminated without spoiling the impression given by her graphic descriptions of the times in which she lived, in the Germany of that day so very different from present-day Germany.’

2 April 1806
‘The moon shines cold and bright in a cloudless sky. The mild breath of Spring has given way to cold biting east winds. It seems as if nature has allied itself with humanity to destroy all thoughts of happiness. There are nothing but storms in the atmosphere and amongst men. Poor Germany, what will thy fate yet be, given over to the caprices of a despot, who recognises no law but his own will, who sets no limit to his own lust for power, and to whom all means are justifiable to gratify this passion.

Soon to be under the yoke of an arrogant, grasping people, what future can my poor devastated country expect, she who once in olden days, defied the Roman Eagle! When the short shameful war broke out, I foresaw a dark future, but now that war has ended so disastrously my heart is filled with a nameless dread. Slowly and heavily the storm is creeping over Saxony. I wonder where I shall finish these entries and in what place I shall lay my weary head to rest, after life’s storms have passed over me?’

15 August 1806
‘At last the terrible blow has fallen which wrecks the German Constitution! Francis II has laid down the German Imperial Crown. In spite of the flaws of the old regime it surely is better than what we are going to be given in its stead. The ancient national oak, with its mouldering trunk and weather-beaten branches in which Wotan’s eagle has for 1000 years had its eyrie, cannot be expected to stem the present tide of events.’

28 September 1806
‘A false rumour last night that a French Cavalry Brigade was approaching, caused great distress in the town and deprived us of sleep. It was “much ado about nothing.” But I wonder if these disturbers of the peace may not some day unexpectedly descend on us?’

10 October 1806
‘Merciful God, what terrible times we have lived through! The grim memories of these days of bloodshed will never leave me. Already at [half past eight] my niece sent for me. Her corner room overlooked on the one side Wladbergen, through which the road from Coburg passes. On the left, shots were falling at intervals, as well as in and around the little village of Garnsdorf, at the foot of the hills, where the Prussian Jagers were posted. The ground above the forest was also being occasionally shelled. Prussien Batteries were stationed in the fields near the high road to Rudolstadt, and on the road itself, Fusiliers.

Towards 8 o’clock Prince Louis Ferdinand arrived on the scene, rapidly followed by Horse Artillery and 2 Saxon Infantry Regiments. In the distance their fine band could be heard, and lastly our brace Saxon Hussars came by, at a quick trot.

Prince Louis Ferdinand accompanied by his ADCs reviewed all the Troops, his brave, debonnaire appearance creating a general sense of confidence.

One could see the enemy coming down the hills, and hear the tramping of the Infantry and the sound of bugles. The whole scene of bloodshed lay spread out before us. The fire of Prussian Battery was incessant, but the French guns seldom came into action. Their Cavalry emerged from the forest and streamed along in a never-ending and terrifying procession.’

1 October 1821
‘I must somehow have caught a chill on my drive back from Ebersdorf, and feel very unwell. I have such pains in my limbs, that I am afraid I must be feverish.’

3 October 1821
‘I had such pains in my head and palpitations of the heart this morning that I could not help being alarmed about myself, but it passed off, and we were able to lunch in the little Casino at the foot of the old tower, the Ebersdorf family joining us.’

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