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My Memories Of Six Reigns

I haven't rambled about books in ages, so it must be about time I did that again. Just finished reading a book called My Memories Of Six Reigns, by Princess Marie Louise. She was one of Queen Victoria's grandchildren, and the six reigns she lived through were Victoria's, obviously, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI, and Elizabeth II. She, it must be said, does come across as a slightly batty old lady at times, with her memories of all her "most dear" friends, who are all absolutely charming, and live in quite delightful homes, constantly having marvellous teas. The women all have "dear little noses", and the men are all splendid and brilliant. She's remarkably forward-looking in her attitude to technology, and the changes that she's witnessed in her life, but her obsession with finding everybody "dear" and "charming" does border on the infuriating. Still, I guess I can forgive that in an eighty-four year-old woman writing in 1956.

It's a fascinating read at times though, even if you do have to fight your way through layer after layer of ingrained diplomacy. She was born in 1872. Old people when she was young could remember the beginning of the nineteenth century - even the end of the eighteenth. She met authors, artists, composers, explorers and politicians. She travelled all over the world, by ship and by rather rickety aircraft, and must have been a hell of a woman in her younger days. In her older days as well, come to that. She talks of watching the planes fly over London during the Battle of Britain, and picking her way through rubble when her sister's town house got bombed.

There are pitfalls, of course. Tours of South Africa and the Belgian Congo, for instance; and it doesn't take a degree in history to know what those places were like in the first half of the twentieth century. Her pride in Britain's Empire, and the way that it oversaw its dominions, which she clearly sees as being rather a good thing all round. She's at great pains to point out that there's no difference between the people of one country and another, or indeed one colour and another, but she displays complete indifference to the realities of life for those under colonial rule, and seems to have been on very friendly terms with General Jan Smuts. She also comments on the lovely former slave quarters she visited whilst in the West Indies. Royals were, generally, schooled in the art of not displaying an opinion on political matters in those days, which might explain her attitude, but it's a bit off-putting to read a book where somebody can mention slavery in a fashion that suggests it might actually be quite a nice experience; or at the very least, not all that terribly unpleasant.

The sometimes rocky opinions of those from previous eras are commonplace in history books though. You might never quite get used to it, but you do learn to look past it. And there are benefits to doing that. Princess Marie Louise was a cousin of Alexandra Romanova, wife of Nicholas II, the last Czar of Russia. They were close friends, and it's nice to read about her as a real person. Russian history has long been a particular interest of mine, but so much of it focuses around the Czars and the political figures. To so many writers, Alexandra seems to exist only for her relationship with her husband and with Rasputin.

There are also some nice little details about Queen Victoria, and particularly about Edward VII and George V. Behind the scenes sort of details, that only a family member would know. It makes a nice change to the usual starchy accounts of royalty. One scene has Marie Louise finding Queen Victoria sitting on the ground, after her carriage horses bolted, causing her to be tossed out, and all her petticoats to come undone. You don't get that in The Age Of Empire! Good reminiscences about Edward VII's wife, Queen Alexandra, and her complete inability to arrive at official engagements on time; and some nicely humanising details about Queen Mary as well (wife of George V). She always looks so forbidding in photographs and old film footage.

So, yes. Fascinating in many ways, and infuriating in others (was every woman in the British Empire in those days really so "dear" and "sweet"?!). A very good way to get a snapshot of eighty-four years worth of history, at any rate. Just be aware that you might need to follow it up with a book full of battles and/or monsters, just to wash away the hailstorm of sugar.

That's a mixed metaphor, isn't it. Sorry about that.



( 5 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )
Dec. 9th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
This does sound like an interesting book, but I'd not be able to concentrate on that type of thing for long enough. Autobiograsphy is my fave genre.

**I haven't heard Modern Times Rock and Roll for ages and ages!!
Dec. 9th, 2012 09:33 pm (UTC)
Go and listen to it now! Loudly.
Dec. 9th, 2012 09:46 pm (UTC)
That's the thing, I only have it on vinyl!!
Dec. 9th, 2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
:) :)

I am looking at Queen pics on Tumblr so this is v appropriate!!
( 5 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )

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