History: Nagako, Japan’s Ferocious Dowager Empress [2004]

I thought some of you might be interested in a 2004 piece I wrote on Japan’s powerful, fierce Empress, then later Dowager Empress, Nagako. It is, among other things, the tragic story of a victim turned abuser and of a woman who rose to become a real force and power behind Emperor Hirohito.

The Early Years

empress nagako kojun japan diamond tiara

Empress Nagako, posthumously known as Empress Kojun.

Dowager Empress Nagako was the wife of Emperor Hirohito and the mother of Japan’s current Emperor, Akihito. When she died, only four years ago at the age of 97, she was also the longest living empress consort in Japanese history. She was Crown Princess from 1924 to 1926, Empress from 1925 to 1989, and Empress Dowager from 1989 to 2000. In short, she was close to the throne for 76 years!

She was born on March 6, 1903, Tokyo, the eldest daughter of Prince Kuni who headed one of the eleven cadet branches of the Imperial Family. Her father, a descendent of a 13th century emperor, was the last of his line. And she, in turn, was the last imperial princess to marry into the Japanese Imperial Family.

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History: What if….? The Chaos Theory & Royal History. [2005]

ED. NOTE: Regular and perfume readers, please feel to skip this post entirely. You see, once upon a time, I wrote mainly about history under the name “Pandora’s Box” for one of the main, unofficial royalty sites. A few are already posted and hidden in the archives, but I’m in the process of transferring over some more articles that were published back in 2004 and 2005 (and leaving them largely as is), so that everything in one place. In this case, it’s an article that examines alternative history and how easily things would have been different if one tiny, small event had not occurred.

For example, the Tsarevitch’s hemophilia leading the way for Rasputin, the miscarriages of Catherine of Aragon & Charles II’s Catherine de Braganza, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that triggered the start of WWI, or if a royal heir had not died, paving the way for Queen Victoria’s unexpected rise to the throne. Consider it an examination of the “Chaos Theory” as applied to royal history, if you will, and a light-hearted, extremely speculative game. As with all the articles, I certainly don’t expect anyone to read it; most of them are quite academic, very long, for a totally different audience, and have some extremely wonky formatting after the transfer from the old website. So, if your main interest is perfume, please feel free to skip them.

What if…. ?

Written by Pandora’s Box – Tuesday, 04 January 2005

The “Chaos Theory” posits that the tiniest event half a world away can have enormous consequences, in the most unexpected of ways. History is not immune from causality or the strange twists of fate. A crazy monk, a face on a coin, an assassination, a baby’s death… these things can have unexpected, long-lasting consequences. In fact, they can change the course of history. But what if some of these seemingly minor, inconsequential events had never occurred? Today, we’ll explore that subject and some of the hypothetical situations which could have arisen if events had turned out differently. The potential outcome is obviously speculative and up for conjecture, but there is usually evidence to support one side or another. In this light-hearted parlour game, I’ll tell you a few of the things I sometimes wonder about, and how I think history was impacted. Perhaps you will see a different outcome. If so, let me know, along with some of your own favorite “what ifs.” At the end of my column, I’ll give you some information on submitting your choices.

* * *

What if…
What if Catherine of Aragon had given Henry VIII a male heir? Much of Henry’s obsession with securing the succession stemmed from the lessons he had learned from his father, Henry VII, and the bloody conflict of the War of the Roses. Henry knew full well that a male heir would secure the Tudor line, prevent rival claimants and preclude another devastating political conflict.

Had Catherine of Aragon given Henry a son (or two), it’s quite likely that Henry would have remained married to her. If he had not sought to remarry, he would never have split from Romeor created the Church of England to justify his actions. He certainly would not have married Anne Boleyn. Yes, he probably would have continued his affairs, but it’s unlikely he’d have had six wives. Even more significantly, there would not have been a legitimate daughter calledElizabeth, who would later become one of England’s greatest monarchs.

* * *

What if…
What if Arch-duke Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914? One might argue that, but for the assassination, the tenuous balance of power which had existed between various rival empires would not have been upset. If World War I had not occurred, then neither would have the political, economic and social conditions of the interwar years, which led to World War II. And that, in turn, led to the rise of Hitler, Nazism, the Holocaust, the spread of Stalinism after Hitler’s defeat and much more.

Even if we don’t string out causality so far down the line, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand had other big consequences. The war which ensued decimated much of the aristocratic class inEngland, triggered economic ruin in Russia, led to the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire. Some historians might argue that the economic and social conditions in Russia would have made Revolution inevitable, but there is little doubt that the Great War exacerbated existing conditions and speeded up the eventual outcome.

The Great War also created much of the conditions and problems existing today in the Middle East. In the Balfour Declaration, and some other contradictory documents such as the Sykes-Picot treaty, the British promised all things to all people in the Middle East in return for their support against the Ottoman Empire. Present-day Israel, the area being fought over as Palestine, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan (formerly Transjordan)… all these areas were impacted by British promises, both during and after the War.

In short, the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand is perhaps the best example of the Chaos Theory. Franz-Ferdinand was not the ruler of an Empire, and he was merely the Emperor’s nephew, albeit very close in the line of succession. Nonetheless, his death triggered events which led to cataclysmic changes at every level of society, and in almost every country on earth.

* * *

What if…
What if George III had agreed to taxation with representation for the American colonies? One of the key causes of the American Revolution was the question of taxation. The English government felt that the colonists should pay taxes as compensation for the services and benefits which they received. The colonists believed that they shouldn’t be taxed if they were not given political representation.

Conflicts between the colonists and the Crown grew worse after the French and Indian war, which severely depleted the Treasury. King George III wanted the colonists to pay for the war through higher taxes and issued something called the Stamp Act. The angry colonists, led by Samuel Adams and James Otis, came up with the slogan “No taxation without representation” and petitioned the King to revoke the Act. He didn’t. A few years later, another statute – the Townshend Act – was enacted which taxed tea, among other daily necessities. Although the Townshend Duties were subsequently revoked, the tea tax remained in place. A few years of relative calm ensued, but trouble lurked under the surface:

[T]he crises of the past decade had created incompatible mindsets on opposite sides of the Atlantic. King George III and Parliament still faced money problems and were determined to assert their powers to tax the colonies and regulate trade for the benefit of the entire British empire. On the other hand, the colonists’ ideas about taxation without representation, about actual versus virtual representation, about tyranny and corruption in the British government, and indeed about the nature of government, sovereignty, and constitutions had crystalized during this period.

The Library of Congress, The American Revolution 1763-1783, at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/features/timeline/amrev/rebelln/rebelln.html

The wheels of change were moving inexorably towards rebellion and, eventually, towards revolution. But what if the King had agreed to provide the colonists with a voice in Parliament when they had asked back in 1765 or at later points in time? The decision might have diffused the seeds of resentment and prevented them from being fanned into the flames of actual conflict.

Or perhaps not. One cannot discount the impact of ideas, and the Age of Enlightenment had sown the seeds of intellectual questioning against the established political order. From Russia to Europe to the Americas, revolutionary ideas about the nature of government and its relationship to the people were being debated. The feelings held true regardless of whether it was France or America, Voltaire or John Hancock, a feudal regime or the New World, a question of daily bread or taxes on tea. In both cases, the result was the same: the Old World political model was seen as unfair, undemocratic and inherently corrupt.

Then again, ideas are one thing, but economic reality is another. History has shown time and time again that the masses are rarely moved to radical revolutionary change unless their economic livelihood is on the line. Karl Marx published Das Kapital in 1867 but few Russians actively sought revolution until famine, huge wartime losses and an influenza pandemic turned their daily existence upside down. That was almost fifty years later. Clearly, ideas only go so far; but people don’t necessarily act on them until there is no food on the table.

In short, the taxation issue probably had a greater impact on the daily life of the American colonists than any intellectual discourse on the nature of government. Had there been some change in the laws – even if it was only indirect change, through political representation and the hope of softening future tax duties – the American Revolution might not have occurred. At the very least, the parties might have arrived at an arrangement similar to that of the British government and the present-day Commonwealth.

If either of these two scenarios had come to pass, history might have been very different. All it would have taken was one tiny law regarding representation, representation in a Parliament already dominated by British aristocrats who would have voted for their own vested interests and along party lines. They certainly would not have supported measures benefiting far-flung colonists against the Crown, so where was the harm? Yet that’s the very reason why, realistically speaking, the colonists would have remained dissatisfied. Representation might have been nothing more than a temporary band-aid on an already infected wound. We will never know one way or another but, oh, the possibilities….

* * *

What if…
What if Charles II’s wife, Catherine de Braganza, had been able to have an heir? The Queen’s inability to conceive and carry a child to term led Charles II to designate his younger brother, James, as his heir. James, the Duke of York, was a Roman Catholic and extremely unpopular.

He ascended the throne as James II in England (and James VII in Scotland), and was England’s last Catholic monarch. His subjects distrusted him due to his religion and “Popish” policies which they felt made him a pawn of Rome. James II was eventually deposed in “the Glorious Revolution” of 1688, and fled to France where he lived out the rest of his life. He was replaced on the throne first by his daughter Mary (Queen Mary II), and then by his daughter Anne. Both daughters were Protestants.

Charles II’s failure to have a legitimate heir and his choice of a Catholic as successor triggered a chain of consequences whose impact lingers to this day. The two interconnected events led to political statutes which changed not only the line of succession, but also the qualifications for succession. In 1701, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement which ensured that no Catholic would ever rule England again. It stated that, if Queen Anne had no heirs, only descendents of Sophia, the Protestant Electress of Hanover, were eligible to ascend the throne. It also stated that any member of the royal family who married a Catholic would be excluded from the line of succession.

The Act changed the political landscape. Queen Anne had no surviving heirs. Since she outlived the Electress Sophia, the terms of the Act of Settlement kicked in. Sophia’s son ascended the British throne as George I, the first of the Hanoverian kings. And, obviously, the line remains unbroken to this day, since the current monarch is also one of Sophia’s descendents.

The Act’s proscriptions regarding marriage to a Catholic also remain in effect. When Prince Michael of Kent married a Catholic, Baroness Marie-Christine Von Reibnitz, in 1978, he immediately and automatically lost his place in the line of succession. At the time, he was eighth in line to the throne.

Would things have been different if Charles II had had a legitimate heir? Possibly. Although Protestantism had a strong hold in England by the 1600s, James II was not the wisest or the best of kings. One can argue that his religion was the straw which broke the camel’s back. Had there been a different ruler on the throne, Parliament might not have felt the need to pass a formal rule prohibiting Catholic monarchs or marriages. At the very least, the succession would not have passed to the descendants of the Electress of Hanover.

* * *

What if…
What if Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI had been successful in their attempt to escape France?The initial stages of the French Revolution took place in 1789. The King and his family were imprisoned in the Tuileries palace but life was not (yet) the horrific misery which it would eventually become. Although the palace was a dark, dank, gloomy (and allegedly cursed) place, the Queen was permitted a few ladies-in-waiting, her possessions, and some minimal comforts. The King received the same treatment.

Part of the reason was a political fiction which was thrust on the King. Although the King tried to pretend the Revolution had occurred with his consent, few were fooled by this pretense. The simple reality was that the King was a prisoner who had little choice but to accede to the decrees of the National Assembly.

The royal couple remained imprisoned for two years. But in 1791, the Queen’s alleged lover, a Swede by the name of Axel Ferson, helped plan an escape. His plan had initially called for the King and Queen to leave Paris in a small, fast coach; their children would travel separately to avoid suspicion. But Marie-Antoinette refused to leave her children. While her maternal instincts are understandable, her position on another issue was not. The Queen stupidly insisted on bringing almost every possession, article of clothing, and knickknack she owned. Between her insistence that the entire family travel together and her wish to bring everything but the kitchen sink, there was no choice but to travel in a large, slow coach.

The decision proved catastrophic. Not only did it slow down the escape but it also made the royal family stand out. The overburdened coach made it as far as Varennes, almost to the German border, when they were caught. A peasant recognized Louis from his face on French coins! He sounded the alarm and the royal family was captured. They were brought back to Paris under armed guard and their fate hung in the balance. The National Assembly suspended the rights and “powers” of the King, and began to discuss abdication. More significantly, for the first time, they began to discuss the possibility of a Republic. And execution.

One might argue that abdication, assassination and a republic were inevitable outcomes of the Revolution, but there is another school of thought which disputes that conclusion. Before the royal family’s flight, regicide was generally considered an unthinkable option which was advocated only by the most violent of extremists. While kings had been killed in the past, it was usually by foreign enemies, or during periods of political upheaval, warfare or invasion. More to the point, it was usually something which only an equal was permitted to do. As Alexander the Great reportedly said, “only a King may kill a King.” With a few exceptions, such as Oliver Cromwell, it was almost unheard of for a king’s subjects to kill him. One reason was the theory of the Divine Right of Kings which argued that kings were God’s appointed, annointed representative on Earth. To kill God’s representative…. Well, you know how the story goes.

Here, there is no doubt that the French Royal Family’s failed escape cemented their fate. After the flight, it was no longer possible to continue with the illusion that the King supported the Revolution or its reforms. The moderates in the National Assembly were pushed aside by extremists who argued that the royal family’s attempted escape proved they were enemies of the French people. And from that point, it was only a tiny hop, skip and a jump to demanding their heads. Literally.

How would things have ended if the royal family had succeeded in their escape? There is little doubt that the extremists like Robespierre would have used a successful escape to hijack the Revolution, as he did with the unsuccessful attempt. But once the sound and fury of the Reign of Terror ended, then what? It’s quite probable that the course of events would have continued as they did until Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. At that point, however, the “what if” scenario becomes interesting. If the French royal family had survived, they would probably have sought the protection and shelter of England. After Waterloo, it wouldn’t have been Louis XVIII, the King’s brother, who would have been placed on the throne but his son, the young Dauphin and future Louis XVII. What would have happened then? I don’t have the faintest clue but it’s certainly an intriguing hypothetical to contemplate.

* * *

What if…
What if Tsarevitch Alexei, Tsar Nicholas II’s heir, had not been a hemophiliac? Nicholas and Alexandra had tried desperately for a son, only to have four daughters until, at long last, Alexei was born. His hemophilia was the only reason why Empress Alix turned to the mad monk, Rasputin, who seemed able to stop Alexei’s bleeding. In Alix’s eyes, Rasputin was the only one capable of helping and curing her young son. As a result, he gained enormous influence and control over the Empress who treated him as her closest confidant after the Tsar himself. No matter how debauched or depraved his actions, she looked the other way. By 1911, many of the top positions in the government were filled with his appointees and followers.

Rasputin’s unpopularity and her refusal to curb his increasingly degenerate behavior led to enormous scandal and vicious rumours. Gossip ensued about Alix’s relationship with Rasputin, as well as that of her young daughters. By 1916, things had reached a fevered pitch. The war was going badly, Russia was suffering enormous casualties, and food was scarce. The people were beginning to mutter about the Empress’ German origins. It was well known that the Tsar’s policies and decisions were shaped by “that German woman,” as Alix was labeled. It was equally well known that “the German woman” was controlled by Rasputin. People were beginning to think that Rasputin had become the true lord of Russia, and rebellion was in the air. Yet Alix still would not hear a word against him.

In 1916, Rasputin was murdered by a group of aristocratic princes. But it was too late. Only a few months later, the Tsar was forced to abdicate and the Romanovs were imprisoned. The wheels of revolution had slowly begun to turn, leading to the tragic events of 1918.

Would things have turned out differently if Alexei had not been a hemophiliac? I don’t believe so, given the impact of the war and Russia’s underlying economic and social problems. However, it’s quite likely that Rasputin would not have gained power over the Imperial couple, thereby obviating the need to assassinate him. And his assassination was, arguably, almost as damaging as his life had been. As the Tsar’s sister, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlova, wrote in her memoirs: “His death came too late to change the course of events. His dreadful name had become too thoroughly a symbol of disaster. The daring of those who killed him to save their country was miscalculated. All of the participants in the plot, with the exception of Prince Youssoupov later understood that in raising their hands to preserve the old regime they struck it, in reality, its final blow.”

* * *

What if…
What if Prince Charles had been permitted to marry the woman he loved from the onset? I’ve phrased this question carefully because I’d really prefer to stay out of the endless Charles, Camilla and Diana debates. My question is not about Charles and Diana’s marriage but, rather, how things might have been if the marriage had never taken place.

Obviously, one thing to take into consideration is the fact that Camilla Shand was unavailable from 1973 onwards. Camilla married Andrew Parker Bowles while Prince Charles was away on a naval mission. By some accounts, she was mad about Andrew Parker Bowles from the onset. Other reports, however, claim that she only married him because she thought Charles would never propose since she didn’t fit the bill as a suitable consort. Whatever the truth, let’s pretend that Camilla was available and single.

What if the future King of England had married the woman he loved from the onset? Perhaps the better question is, what if the rules about suitable consorts had been different back then, such that Charles could have married the one woman whom he obviously can’t be without? Charles is in his mid 50s now, but he got married when he was 32. Although people’s characters are rather well-formed by that age, how would he have been if he’d been in a happy marriage? How would it have impacted his eventual reign as monarch? We’ll never know the answers to these questions but, again, it’s something to consider.

* * *

What if…
Speaking of marriages, what if the relationship between David, The Prince of Wales and subsequent Duke of Windsor, and Wallis Simpson had ended in a different manner? There are numerous reports which indicate the British Establishment was more concerned about Edward as a monarch than it was about his relationship with an American divorcée. For example, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, was contemptuous of the Prince’s overall character. And it didn’t help that Edward/David seemed to be ratifying, if only in appearance, the Hitler regime. Quite simply, the Establishment was alarmed of what would happen when the Prince ascended the throne.

Be that as it may, if Parliament and the Commonwealth had agreed to a morganatic marriage or if Edward VIII had not abdicated but given up Wallis instead, how would history be today? Would the future King have seen Hitler as he truly was, and not just as the man who saved Germanyfrom the brinks of an unbearable Depression and economic collapse? Or would he have continued in his support, unaware or disbelieving of Hitler’s plans for the Jews? Would he have continued despite inevitable opposition from his close friend and supporter, Winston Churchill, one of the lone voices in the desert warning against the German threat? Or would he have approved of Chamberlain’s appeasement strategy, as did so many in positions of power at the time? More to the point, what would have happened when war broke out, something which Hitler’s long-term plans made inevitable?

It’s impossible to know the answers to these questions but one thing is likely: so long as there was an independent Britain, there would still be a Queen Elizabeth II. In the early 1930s, there was a popular saying that Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales, was not “heir conditioned.” It meant that he was sterile. The reason was that the Prince of Wales had the mumps when he was young. Some reports even allege that he suffered the rare occurrence of a viral outbreak on his testicles.

Regardless of location, the mumps made one thing very clear: whether or not he abdicated, whether or not he married Wallis Simpson, it’s quite unlikely that he would have been able to have children. Thus, his brother and his heirs would have been next in line. And Princess Elizabeth would have eventually ascended the throne.

* * *

What if…
What if Princess Charlotte, the daughter of the Prince Regent (later George IV) had not died in childbirth with her baby? The Prince Regent had only one child with his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, whom he detested. His beloved daughter, Princess Charlotte, married Prince Leopold of Belgian in a love match. Her death in 1917 came as a huge blow to the Prince Regent. More importantly, it changed the line of succession to the throne. After the death of George IV, his younger brother ascended the throne as William IV. The new King had no legitimate heirs, so his niece, Victoria, became his heir. In short, if Princess Charlotte had not died, there would not have been a Queen Victoria.

Without Queen Victoria, and her wise consort Albert, many of the incredible achievements of Victorian era might not have occurred. Under her reign, there was incredible overseas expansion; Prince Albert’s brilliant handling of the “Trent Incident” which kept England out of the American civil war; there was a long period of domestic stability, free of the internal political upheavals or profligacy which had marked the reigns of earlier rulers; and Britainexperienced an unprecedented economic boom. True, the Industrial Revolution would have occurred regardless of the person occupying the throne, but the impact of Prince Albert’s contributions in this area cannot be discounted.

Similarly, one cannot ignore the beneficial impact of royal continuity. By having the same monarch on the throne for decades – especially one who had numerous legitimate heirs– Victoria provided political stability in a way which England had not experienced since the George III.

More importantly, “[t]o the Empire, she brought a dignity, style, and most important, a validation of the monarchy that had not been witnessed since, perhaps, Elizabeth I.” Ilana Miller, Queen Victoriahttp://www.victoriaspast.com/FrontPorch/queenvictoria.htm. She wisely used her powerless position to unite the country, particularly in the political realm where she sought to avoid the political strife which had plagued her predecessors. She accomplished this through her style of working with her prime ministers, especially Disraeli and Melbourne.

Victoria also united the country in the example she set in her personal life. By emphasizing the family unit and simple values, she seemed a more approachable monarch than the profligate, extravagant Prince Regent or the very Germanic, early Hanover kings. The people were able to feel as though she – and her family – were just like them, although obviously nothing could be further from the truth. But, if Princess Charlotte had lived and given birth to a child, none of that would have happened and England might be a very different place today.

* * * * *

To My Readers: These are just a few of the many “what ifs” that intrigue me. If you have any other royal scenarios which capture your imagination, please submit them. Ideally, I’d like my column next week to be devoted to your ideas or comments on this subject. Almost every country has a rich royal history, so the more wide-ranging, the better.

When you write, please let me know if I have your consent to publish your comments (with possible editing for space or clarity) and the name/email/description which you’d like me to use in quoting you. If you can write a brief explanation on why a certain event is important in your eyes, all the better, but please don’t think that a long discourse is necessary. All that’s needed is a few sentences to explain your thinking or the background of events to other readers who might not know as much as you on a subject.

– Pandora’s Box
pandorasbox -etoile.co.uk

History: Urban Legends, of the Royal Kind… [2004]

ED. NOTE: I don’t always write about perfume. In fact, once upon a time, I wrote mainly about history under the name “Pandora’s Box” for one of the main, unofficial royalty sites. A few are already posted and hidden in the archives, but I’m in the process of transferring over some more articles that were published back in 2004 and 2005 (and leaving them largely as is), so that everything in one place. I certainly don’t expect anyone to read them, especially as most of them are quite academic, very long, for a totally different audience, and have some extremely wonky formatting after the transfer from the old website. So, if your main interest is perfume, please feel free to skip them.

Urban Legends, of the Royal Kind…

Written by Pandora’s Box – Tuesday, 16 November 2004

There are hundreds of urban legends about royals – in history, on the internet, in common parlance, they abound everywhere. You must have come across them, I know you have. Whether you’ve been talking to a friend, reading the paper or just using extravagant analogies, we’ve all come across comments comparing people to the sadistic Caligula, the evil Lucrezia Borgia, or the gluttonous Henry VIII.

Sometimes, we assume the legend is true. It’s usually not out of ignorance but, rather, because a story becomes part of popular culture or modern folklore. As the old saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire and, in some instances of royal history, that’s quite accurate. In a few instances, however, the politics of an era, its social mores, and the power of folklore create an image which subsequent scholarly research shows to be quite untrue. Sometimes, all that’s needed is time to bring hidden documents to light. And sometimes, it was all a lot of rubbish to begin with, but the rumour caught fire anyway. Modern research has shown some of these rumours to be the result of some political, cultural, or social need; but it’s still too late, the legend has caught hold of the popular mind.Human nature is such that we revel – almost guiltily – in the titillating and salacious. How many of you have sometimes given a quick peek at a particularly juicy tabloid story? How many of you have occasionally grinned at the embarrassment of some popular actor whom you’ve thought was an over-rated, arrogant buffoon? I know I have.

Take that barely sublimated feel of vicarious superiority, combine it with an elemental appreciation of seeing the mighty fall, and perhaps you’ll see why certain myths take hold in the popular imagination. Go one step further and combine that natural, human response with today’s increasingly short attention span – and what do you get? A stewing pot of half-formed beliefs that have just enough truth to withstand a cursory, gossipy conversation but little else.

It’s the perfect laboratory for an urban legend, where a controversial fact becomes “true” simply by virtue of being repeated long enough. In short, people have just enough knowledge to get the wrong idea, and then they repeat that misconceptions to others who, in turn …..

Well, I think it’s time to discuss some of those commonly repeatedly rumours. Just because something has been repeated over the centuries as the gospel truth doesn’t mean that it is, in fact, true. By the same token, just because something has been repeated ad nauseaum doesn’t mean it’s false.

This week’s column will focus on a few of those popular myths from Lucrezia Borgia and Napoleon, to  the “Prince Albert” piercing, Anne Boleyn, Jack the Ripper and the royal prince, Richard III, and Hungary’s Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory. I’ll avoid some of the truly obvious ones, so that I may discuss some of the more controversial or popularly misunderstood urban legends. A few of the royals discussed below will be analysed in greater detail in subsequent columns but they still warrant inclusion on this list. If you have a special curiosity about someone on this list and would like to see their life explored in depth, please let me know. In the meantime, let’s get down to details.

In each of the following instances, I’ve tried to give a simple one line summation about the urban legend in question. Sometimes, the reference will be immediately obvious to one reader but it won’t be to another. So, I’ll be as basic as possible. Following the summation, I’ll explain the “Status” of the legend; in other words, if it’s true, false, in controversy or some variant in between. Then, I’ll give a brief historical explanation about the context surrounding the story and why it should be treated as true, false or up for debate.

 * * *

Legend: Prince Eddy, Queen Victoria’s grandson and second in line to the British throne, was “Jack the Ripper.

Status: False.

Explanation: Prince Albert Victor, the son of The Prince of Wales, was popularly known as “Prince Eddy.” He was named Duke of Clarence in 1891 and would probably have succeeded his father as King had he not died of the flu during the epidemic of 1891-1892. There were unconfirmed rumours that the Prince was slightly retarded but it’s safest to say that he was simply rather slow and not particularly bright.

Rumours concerning the Prince and “Jack the Ripper” had existed at the time of the investigation into the Whitechapel murders, but they really took off after 1970. That was when Dr. Thomas Stowell published an article in a criminal journal claiming to have solved the mystery. Stowell relied on papers left by Sir William Gull who was Queen Victoria’s physician. Sir William had apparently treated Prince Eddy for syphilis, a condition that slowly eats away at the brain. Dr. Stowell’s article never explicitly names the killer as Prince Eddy but, rather, calls him “S.” The person is easily recognizable as the Prince. Stowell’s theory is that the killer had syphilis, went mad and committed the murders. Stowell’s argument has been disproved on a number of different levels but so have all subsequent attempts to link Prince Eddy to “Jack the Ripper.”

Quite simply, the Prince had unbreakable alibis for many of the key dates. In fact, Eddy was not even in England on the day of two murders. Court circulars and royal records show that he was in Scotland, at a large house party where he was seen by hundreds of witnesses, shooting grouse with Prince Henry of Battenberg. He also had strong alibis on the dates of several other murders. Seehttp://www.casebook.org/suspects/eddy.html.

For those interested in the subject of Prince Eddy, the late, great historian and royal biographer, Theo Aronson, wrote an excellent discussion of his life and the “Jack the Ripper” legend in “Prince Eddy and the Homosexual Underworld” (1995)(out-of-print but available used).

 * * *

Legend: The Queen Mother, consort to King George VI and mother to Queen Elizabeth II, used artificial insemination to conceive her children.

Status: Controversial, unresolved, but most probably false and highly unlikely.

Explanation:This legend has its roots in Kitty Kelley’s 1997 book, The Royals. Kelley quotes an “unnamed royal family friend” as her source for the claim that the Queen Mother resorted to “manual fertilization.” Since then, stories of “turkey basters” have become urban legend. It’s one which, in my opinion, is highly unlikely.

Although artificial insemination has existed, in some form or another, since the 1700s, it’s highly unlikely that a man as shy, reserved and private as King George VI would have agreed to the sorts of intrusions required for success. One may argue that kings have done a lot less for an heir, but this King truly lacked the sort of ruthless, brash personality for such actions.

Another strike against the book is that royal insiders were quite unwilling to assist Ms. Kelley with her research. And, arguably, it shows: a large numbers of reviews that found her allegations to be “unsubstantiated.” Ms. Kelley has repeatedly claimed she leaves no rock unturned in her research, but the shrill, extraordinarily nasty tone of the allegations in this book really leave one to wonder if she just had an axe to grind. The book is a compendium of every possible royal urban legend in existence, and the evidence for the claims flimsy beyond belief.

 * * *

Legend: Kitty Kelley’s book on the British Royal Family was banned in the UK

Status: False.

Explanation: Kitty Kelley’s book has never been published in the UK, leading many conspiracy theorists to allege that it was banned. The story has now risen to the level of urban legend but it is completely untrue. Britain’s tough libel laws differ greatly from those in the US and would certainly have led to a large verdict against Ms. Kelley and the publisher. As a result, neither was willing to take the risk of releasing the book in Britain. At no time did the Royal Family ban the book.

 * * *

Legend: Napoleon was poisoned to death

Status: Unresolved.

Explanation: The exiled Emperor died on the island of St. Helena in 1821 after a lingering decline and a final period of intense stomach pains. Rumours spread that the British had killed Napoleon to get rid of a thorn in their side and to end any political influence which he might still have. To counter these allegations, British military doctors on St. Helena performed an autopsy and found evidence of stomach cancer, which was given as the cause of his death.

In the 1960s, new tests found abnormally high levels of arsenic in his hair and suspicions were raised anew that the Emperor had been murdered. For the longest time, the two main suspects were the British or a close aide of Napoleon’s, the Comte de Montholon. According to some, the Comte murdered Napoleon under directions from the British. This theory was recently disproved by new tests on Napoleon’s hairs which suggested that he had been exposed to arsenic over a long period of time, as opposed to simply his brief exile on St. Helena. The results were interpreted as “clearing” the British. “British ‘cleared’ of Napoleon’s murder,” (October 29, 2002) at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2371187.stm

Be that as it may, questions still remain over the arsenic and why Napoleon’s hair showed such high levels. Some possibilities involve arsenic being used in 19th century hair restorer, to create certain colours for wallpaper, or in other innocuous products. Others continue to insist that Napoleon was murdered. One of these is the President of the International Napoleonic Society, Ben Weider, who strongly rejects the claim that Napoleon died of cancer. (For his analysis of the situation, see http://perso.club-internet.fr/ameliefr/E-Conference2.html)

Personally, I think there are plenty of innocuous reasons for the arsenic findings and do not believe Napoleon was murdered. Nonetheless, the matter is unresolved and open to debate.

 * * *

Legend: Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, had 6 fingers on one hand

Status: Unproven and almost certainly false.

Explanation:Folklore has always given Anne six fingers but there is no real evidence to support the claim. The rumour can be attributed to Henry VIII himself who repeatedly charged his wife with witchcraft when he’d tired of her and wanted to end the marriage. George Wyatt, grandson of Thomas Wyatt and one of Anne’s very few friendly biographers, stated she had a “double nail” on one of her fingers. http://tinyurl.com/5hm3n A misshapen nail is much more likely than a separate sixth finger, particularly as any deformation was seen in the Tudor era as a mark of disease or even God’s disfavor. It’s unlikely that Henry VIII would have wanted the mother of his children to be thus marred. http://fine-eyes.net/anneboleyn/myths.html In short, the myth should be discounted as false.

 * * *

Legend: Champagne glasses were created after being modeled on Marie-Antoinette’s breasts.

Status: False.

Explanation: There are various different versions of this story but the most familiar involves Marie-Antoinette who was said to have champagne glasses made out of molds of her breasts so courtiers could drink to her health from them. The second most prevalent story involves Madame du Pompadour. The mistress of King Louis XV supposedly had the saucer-shaped coupe glasses commissioned for her lover who supposedly greatly admired her breasts. In all cases, however, the story is false since the coupe was invented far before any of these ladies were born.http://www.snopes.com/business/origins/champagne.asp

* * *

Legend: Prince George, the Prince Regent and future King George IV, was a bigamist.

Status: True.

Explanation: Prince George, the eldest son of King George III, and known as “Prinny” was already married when he was forced into his ill-fated, unhappy marriage to Caroline of Brunswick. Legend has it that he fell in love at first sight with Maria Fitzherbert, a Catholic widow, whom he saw standing on the stairs of the Opera House in 1784. Whether it was love at first sight or not, one thing became clear: the Prince was deeply enamoured. He pursued her for quite a while but Mrs. Fitzherbert was an extremely religious woman and refused to become someone’s mistress, even if that “someone” was the future King of England.

The Prince was not used to being rejected or not getting his own way. To show Maria how serious he was, he attempted “suicide,” but he made sure he had a doctor on hand just in case. Prinny wanted to make a grand gesture and get his way, not to actually end his life, which he enjoyed far too much. Maria was terrified but she agreed to marry the Prince.

On December 15, 1785, the two were secretly married. The marriage was valid under canonical and ecclesiastical laws. However, it was illegal under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 which required the monarch’s consent before any member of the royal family could get married. Here, the King had never agreed and it would have been out of the question to ask him since he did not approve of Mrs. Fitzherbert.

There was another, equally important, reason why the Prince’s marriage was kept secret. Under the Act of Settlement of 1689, the Prince automatically forfeited his right of the succession by marrying a Roman Catholic.

The marriage was one of the worst kept secrets in society but the couple were so discreet that most people looked the other way, with the exception of older segments of high society and Beau Brummell, the Prince’s close friend and society’s arbiter. The couple spent most of their time in Brighton where Prinny was building and furnishing Brighton Pavilion. Mrs. Fitzherbert had a home in the Old Steine with a secret passageway into the Pavilion; she also had a home in London, close to the Prince. Both homes were purchased and furnished by the Prince. Never good with money in the first place, the Prince was racking up huge debts in this period, close to £1,000,000. It was a huge sum in those days, the equivalent to something like £80,000,000 today. http://www.eh.net/ehresources/howmuch/poundq.php

The Prince was running out of money and neither his father nor anyone else was willing to help him. The King, who was increasingly tired of his extravagant, scandalous son, finally agreed to pay the Prince’s debts if he got married. The King’s choice: his niece, Caroline of Brunswick. The King knew full well about the Prince’s secret marriage to Mrs. Fitzherbert; who didn’t? However, as noted above, it was illegal under the terms of the Royal Marriages Act.

Prinny and Mrs. Fitzherbert separated briefly when he married Caroline in 1795. Since the Prince had never been officially married to Maria, he didn’t need to obtain a divorce. After his daughter was born, the Prince renewed his pursuit of Mrs. Fitzherbert. She, always the good Catholic, asked for the Pope’s guidance. In 1800, Pope Pius VII reaffirmed the validity of their marriage. Even Princess Caroline agreed; she considered Mrs. Fitzherbert “the Prince’s true wife.”

The couple got back together and stayed together for almost a decade. They separated permanently when the Regency was declared in 1811, and they remained apart even when Prinny became King in 1820. However, Maria was well-taken care of: she received a yearly stipend from the royal family until her death in 1837 at the age of 81, long after Prinny’s death in 1830. She was considered by many to be the King’s widow and his one real love. In fact, his dying wish was to be buried with a miniature of her face, a wish that was granted.

For a fun, richly anecdotal, but also well-balanced, biography of Prinny, you might want to try Saul David’s “Prince of Pleasure: The Prince of Wales and the Making of the Regency,” (1999). For a complex discussion of Maria and her marriage to the Prince, you can try James Munson, “Maria Fitzherbert: The Secret Wife of George IV” (2002).

 * * *

Legend: Lucrezia Borgia was murderess who engaged in incestuous affairs with her father and brother.

Status: False.

Explanation: Few woman have a reputation like Lucrezia Borgia. Over the centuries, she’s become a symbol of sexually depraved evil, a Mata Hari capable of murder and incest, who discarded husbands and lovers alike, or a cold blooded killer who doled out a fatal dose of poison from a cunning ring or necklace. Her very name is associated with poisonings and sex, but the truth is very far from the legend. Modern scholarship has shown Lucrezia to be a rather unfortunate young woman who was the victim of her mad brother’s sociopathy and her father’s ruthless ambition.

Lucrezia was born in 1480 into the mighty Borgia family. It had its roots in Spain but it really dominated the Italian political landscape. The family was headed by her father Rodrigo, the future Pope Alexander VI. Her mother was not married to Rodrigo but was merely one of his mistresses. She bore him four children, including Lucrezia’s infamous older brother, Cesare, and another brother, Juan. In 1492, Cardinal Rodrigo became Pope. The first whiff of scandal around the Borgias arose when the new Pope installed a young mistress in the palace next to St. Peters and visited her openly. It wouldn’t be the last scandal associated with the Borgias.

As for Lucrezia, she’d already been engaged to two Spanish nobles before the age of eleven. Her father had broken each engagement because he had higher aspirations, aspirations that were fulfilled when he got Lucrezia betrothed in 1493, at the age of thirteen. The candidate was Giovanni Sforza, an aristocrat whose family ruled Milan. It was not a happy marriage, even though the marital contract explicitly said that no consummation could take place for a year. Sforza was a weak man who tried to play political games against the Borgias, and lost. Rodrigo Borgia was not someone you wanted as an enemy, so Sforza fled Rome fearing for his life.

In 1497, the Pope filed divorce papers on Lucrezia’s behalf, and that’s when the problems began. Sforza was pressed to sign the divorce papers, specifically one attesting to non-consummation of the marriage by reason of his impotence. Sforza was well-known to have fathered several illegitimate children and the allegation about his virility infuriated him. He retaliated with the claim that the Pope wanted the divorce because he wanted his lovely daughter all to himself.

The accusation stuck, then and throughout history. The Borgias were feared and hated in Rome, and more than one powerful noble was eager to believe that the Pope was having incestuous relations with his daughter who was 18 by then. Eventually, the charge came to encompass not only the Pope but also Lucrezia’s brothers, Cesare and Juan.

One of the reasons was the political atmosphere of the times. The Borgias were seen as a corrupt family, but people were unwilling to target them openly due to Cesare’s hotheaded, murderous nature or her father’s vindictiveness and might. Lucrezia was an easier target for rumours. She was also a young, beautiful, blonde woman, so people took delicious glee at the thought that she might be having sex with her father. Over time, the rumours were taken as the gospel truth.

Another reason for the rumours is that the Borgias were an unusually close family, something which wasn’t easily understood at the time. It certainly bewildered Sforza who found the Borgias’ ostentatious display of closeness to be incomprehensible. Michael Mallet, The Borgias: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Family (1987). Lucrezia’s brothers may have been divided by rivalry and jealousy, but they both loved her very deeply. So did her father, although not in an incestuous way. Lucrezia, in turn, seems to have been driven by a deep compulsion to please her family in all matters, no matter what she felt inside or how questionable their activities. Thus, when Cesare insisted on including Lucrezia in some of his vicious “sports” — such as shooting unarmed criminals from the balcony of the Vatican with a cross-bow — Lucrezia sighed and followed his “request.”

Cesare hurt her reputation in other ways too. When her lover, a young Spaniard, was found murdered, it was universally assumed that Cesare had done it a fit of incestuous jealousy. When Lucrezia’s other brother, Juan Borgia, was murdered and his body fished out of the river, no-one suspected Cesare (although he was indeed the killer) but people whispered that Lucrezia was inhumanly cold and unaffected.

In reality, she’d been devastated by the news and it ended her one attempt at extricating herself from her family’s web. Lucrezia had fled to a convent soon after her father had filed the Sforza divorce papers. She allegedly wanted to take the cloth and become a nun. She was so determined that she refused to leave no matter how much her father blustered. Her beloved brother’s death ended all that. Lucrezia quietly returned to the Borgia fold and resigned herself to her fate. Before the ink on the divorce papers was dry, she’d been married off again. This time, her husband was the Duke of Biseglie, a member of the Neapolitan ruling family. Their marriage was a happy one until the Duke’s family fell from power. Then, Cesare murdered him too.

Cesare died at the age of 30, far before his sister, but the damage to her reputation had already been done. He, more than any one else, was the cause of her legend as a vicious murderess. The reality is that Lucrezia was neither a monster, nor a vacuous blonde but a woman with limited options in her time. She tried her best to resist her family’s machinations but she simply lacked the power to do so.

As one commentator put it, a “study of Lucrezia’s life in view of her popular image makes the peril of taking ‘popular knowledge’ as fact extraordinarily clear. Lucrezia Borgia was a woman who has been shamefully and undeservedly maligned for centuries and whose few champions have been only very moderately successful in setting the record straight. It is, indeed, a cruel irony that this woman, who was the least awful of her clan, has received a reputation as being among its worst.” Marguerite Wolf, http://www.dragonrest.net/histories/lucrezia.html

For a truly stellar analysis of Lucrezia, her fascinating life and family, and her very different later years, I suggest Sarah Bradford’s “Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy” (2004)

 * * *

Legend: “The Blood Countess,” Erzsébet (or Elizabeth) Bathory, took baths in the blood of virgins in order to keep her youth and beauty.

Status: False, although many of the Countess’ other infamous deeds are true.

Explanation: Erzsébet (or Elizabeth) Bathory was a Hungarian countess, who was born around 1561 into one of the richest, most powerful Protestant noble families in Mittel Europa or Middle Europe. Her maternal uncle was the King of Poland, Stephan Bathory (1533-1585). Some of her cousins were Princes of Transylvania and one of them even made a grand marriage into the Habsburg Imperial family. Her other relatives included a cardinal and the Prime Minister of Hungary.

Madness supposedly passed through the Bathory veins. Many of her relatives had a dark side: one uncle was supposedly addicted to rituals and worship in honor of Satan; her aunt Klara was a well-known bi-sexual and lesbian who enjoyed witchcraft and torturing servants; and Elizabeth’s brother, Stephan, was an infamous lecher and drunkard around whom no female woman or child was safe. Elizabeth’s uncle, King Stephen, was no exception to the list because his savagery in battle has often been cited as evidence of the family’s derangement.

Elizabeth was reportedly stunning beyond belief, one of the most beautiful women of the era, with legendary paleness, jet black hair and rather “mad eyes.” She was married to a Hungarian noble, Count Ferencz Nasdasdy, at the age of 15. The Count was frequently away on military campaigns against the Turks, leaving Elizabeth alone in castle on a lonely mountaintop in the Carpathians. She soon got bored and tried to devise ways in which to keep herself entertained.

She found it in torture. Numerous historic reports showed that Elizabeth had a veritable passion for torture, which was directed at both her servants and at peasants within her fiefdom. Elizabeth began with the servants, punishing them mercilessly for the slightest infraction, actual or imagined. It was historically common for aristocrats to brutally beat their servants, even to the point of death but Elizabeth took it much further than an occasional disciplinary matter. On some occasions, she whipped the servants until they bled to death; on others, she would put a naked servant girl outside, covered in honey, for the animals and insects to devour. She sewed up the mouth of a girl that talked too much, while burning the genitalia of others. By some accounts, she even invented the horrific torture device, the Iron Maiden. She also developed the “art” of freezing a girl to death during the winter by pouring water over her naked body until it hardened and she was unable to move. And when Elizabeth was merely in a bad mood, she used branding irons, razors, pincers and torches.

When the Count died in 1604, Elizabeth got even worse. It is at this point that the legend takes on overtones of the vampire stories. According to legend, one day, a servant girl accidentally pulled too hard when brushing the Countess’ hair and Elizabeth slapped her so hard that she drew blood. The blood fell on her own hand, instantly transforming it into the freshness of youth. Elizabeth, vain and proud about her legendary beauty, was convinced she’d found the secret of youth. She ordered her servants to cut up the young maid and drain her blood into a big vat. Elizabeth bathed in it to keep her entire body young and continued to kill young peasants for years thereafter in order to keep her beauty.

That’s the legend but is it true? There is little evidence for the claims, some of which may have arisen out of political conflicts of the time pitting various powerful families against each other, as well as Protestant versus Catholic.

A more likely explanation of the legend is that Elizabeth was covered in blood from her love of torturing victims. Her personal log put the number of her victims as high as 650 but there are questions about that document. A few recent historians have argued that Elizabeth’s victims probably numbered two or three hundred but nothing as high as 650. Whatever the case, reports of Elizabeth being virtually covered in blood probably stemmed from the viciousness of her torture methods, not from any wish to bathe in blood itself.

Since her death, her legend has grown. In fact, it’s often hard to separate fact from fiction. A review of modern scholarship leads me to believe that Elizabeth never drank blood or bathed in it. Some extremely well-respected historians have argued that the allegations against her must be seen in the political landscape of the time and that her “legend” was embellished for political reasons. One theory which has been brought forward stems from her status as a rich widow who was a prey for powerful men. The theory alleges that Elizabeth’s political machinations could have resulted in the confiscation of her properties by the Emperor. Her relatives, which included Count Thorzo who eventually brought her to justice, preferred to keep her rich inheritance for themselves.

I’m a firm believer that events must be read in the political context of the times, so I find the latter theory not wholly implausible. The “political context” theory has gone a long way towards explaining away some of the things in the Dracula legend. Vlad the Impaler, the Prince upon whom the legend is based, has been the subject of more than a few historical embellishments. If any thing, it was Elizabeth Bathory who was the real inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel, not Vlad.

Still, there is only so far one can go with the “political context” theory, at least when it comes to the Countess who truly was a monster beyond belief. She may not have taken “baths in the blood of virgins” or drank their blood, but her other actions gave ample credence to the subsequent legends. For one thing, it is undisputed that Elizabeth killed hundred of people, making her one of the biggest serial killers in all of history. For another, Elizabeth did, indeed, rip out pieces of her victim’s flesh with her teeth. Not to eat it, necessarily, but simply as part of her peculiar sociopathy and madness. Equally true is the fact that she tortured people to such a point that she was frequently covered in blood, hence the legend that she “bathed in blood.” Lastly, there is no doubt whatsoever that Elizabeth took the brutal disciplinary tactics of the age to new, sadomasochistic levels and thoroughly reveled in each new, heinous method of inflicting pain.

Sources: Valentine Penrose’s “Erzsébet Báthory, La Comtesse Sanglante,” translated in English as The Bloody Countess: The Crimes of Elizabeth Bathory (1996)(my note: very detailed, researched account but not recommended, because of a genuinely peculiar style of writing which overwhelms the facts and is far from the professional approach by most normal historians. The author’s style seems to be an attempt to recreate a surrealist, artistic text. Only the very patient can get passed the style to the historical fact underneath); Tony Thorne, Countess Dracula: The Life and Times of Elisabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess (1998)(my note: an excellent account of the Countess’s life which attempts to place it in a historical context and which does not quickly accept some of the myths surrounding her); Raymond T. McNally, Dracula Was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania(1987)(my note: although Mr. McNally is the foremost expert in this area, his book should not be considered for anything other than the most basic facts about Elizabeth Bathory’s life. Some of his allegations have been proven to be dubious because he simply goes too far. On the other hand, the book he co-authored with Radu R. Florescu on Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and his Times (1990) is truly excellent. It places the Prince in a historical context and debunks many of the legends, which have arisen around him.) Also consulted: The True Crime Library, at www.crimelibrary.com; The Mad Monarchs site, at http://tinyurl.com/62jud.

* * *

Legend: The “Prince Albert” genital piercing and ring was named after Queen Victoria’s husband.

Status: Unproven.

Explanation: The “Prince Albert” is a form of male, genital piercing in which a metal ring is placed through the foreskin and into the urethra. The practice has become associated with Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, who allegedly wore a ring attached to his penis which was then strapped to his thigh. The reason usually given is the clothing styles of the day. The strapping prevented any unseemly bulges, while keeping the smooth line of the tight trousers that were fashionable at the time.

There are no contemporary accounts of the Prince having such a “dressing ring” but that is not surprising. The Victorians – particularly the royal couple – were famed for their prudishness. In public, at least. After all, this was a society that insisted on table legs being covered up lest people get improperly aroused. Furthermore, after Victoria’s death, her daughter ripped out and destroyed large portions of Victoria’s diaries out of fear that something “untoward” and improper would be revealed. The same mindset would definitely have applied to such intimate practices as genital piercing. In short, it’s not utterly impossible that Prince Albert had a “dressing ring” but it hasn’t been proven either.

 * * *

Legend: Richard III killed the two princes in the tower

Status: Controversial, unproven and still the subject of much debate.

Explanation: Richard III had been vilified by historians and Shakespeare alike. One of the “crimes” for which he has received the greatest infamy was the death of his two, young nephews. The young princes were Edward V and his brother, Richard, Duke of York, sons of King Edward IV and his Queen, Elizabeth Woodville.

Their uncle, Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III, came after them in the line of succession. Richard III dealt with that problem through an act of parliament which declared the two princes illegitimate. Although the parliamentary decree might seem unjustified, there were a few questions about their parents’ marriage and, specifically, whether a precontract to another woman would have rendered it invalid. Nonetheless, “bastardy” was not an automatic bar to succession; it could be remedied by law, and bastards had a history of inheriting lands and titles. In short, the young princes arguably had an unqualified right of succession to the British throne, a right that was much stronger than their uncle.

Richard was undeterred. The parliamentary decree had “officially” resolved the princes’ role in the succession and paved the way for his own rule. In 1483, he placed the young princes in the Tower of London, which was, at the time, a palace as well as a prison. Eventually, the princes just disappeared from sight.

Their fate is unknown. It’s been speculated that they died at a young age, that they escaped and lived their lives abroad, or that Richard simply had them killed. The English author, Sir Thomas More, wrote that they’d been murdered and buried at the foot of a staircase in the White Tower. In 1674, the skeletal remains of two small bodies were found at the bottom of a staircase in the Tower of London. The bones seemed to date to the late 15th century. They are the best evidence for the claim that the princes were murdered, as opposed to the other possibilities put forward to explain their disappearance.

History has placed the blame for the young princes’ death on Richard III but is it justified? Some historians (and Shakespeare himself) have argued that Richard killed the young princes. The theory is that Richard III had an insecure grasp on the monarchy and that the Princes were a threat to Richard so long as they were alive.

However, there is another equally plausible candidate for the role of villain. Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond, who became King Henry VII and the father of Henry VIII. Henry Tudor succeeded to the throne in 1485, after defeating Richard in the Battle of Bosworth. Henry’s right to the throne was arguably shakier than Richard’s because it derived from right of conquest on the battlefield. Furthermore, he was a ruthless man who hadn’t hesitated to kill other potential rivals for the throne. Why not two little boys who had been hidden away over the preceding two years and who had the strongest claim of all?

Finally, Henry VII did not hesitate to use the young princes’ family to legitimize his claim. He married their sister, Elizabeth of York, to add the patina of a blood right. However, Elizabeth’s right to inherit the throne depending on both her brothers being dead. As a result, Henry ordered one of his nobles act on his behalf and kill the young princes soon after he ascended the throne.

Or so the theory goes. In reality, there is no proof of Henry’s guilt; any more than there is of Richard’s. We probably will never know what happened to the young princes, or who killed them.

Nonetheless, people should be cautioned at accepting the popular historical image of Richard III. Shakespeare’s play went out of its way to demonize the late King and the mud has stuck to this day. Yet, both the play and some contemporary accounts need to be placed in the context of the times. Shakespeare wrote the play around 1591, less than a decade after the Tudors had come to power, when the wounds of the longstanding “War of the Roses” were still fresh. Furthermore, Shakespeare depended on royal patronage for his livelihood; it would not have been politically wise to write something showing Richard III in a positive or well-balanced light. In short, both his play and the commentary of other contemporary writers need to be taken with a grain of salt.

That’s not to say that Richard was a saint. Far from it. However, history is rarely black or white, particularly at the highest levels of power. Richard III did many terrible things but killing the two princes in the tower may not be one of them.

Sources: Michael Hicks, Richard III (2003)(an excellent, balanced portrait that strips away the propaganda by both Richard III’s apologists and his detractors); Alison Weir, The Princes in the Tower (1995)(makes a strong case that Richard III was guilty of the young princes’ death but isn’t very willing to consider other theories or suspects.)

-pandorasbox- etoile.co.uk

“Your Majesty, Dinner is Served” – Part II: European Royal Families, Royal Banquets & Ten Royal Recipes

Written by Pandora’s Box [my old writing alter-ego]
Tuesday, 30 November 2004

This week, we will continue looking at royal culinary preferences but will broaden the focus to include some other royal families, such as the current Danish royals and the Romanovs. We’ll also examine royal banquets which have changed substantially over time, at least in terms of food, if not in terms of protocol. At the end of the column, an addendum will list ten royal recipes for you to try. As always, I hope to hear from any readers who have ventured into the kitchen with the recipe in hand.


The Recent Decades

Dinner at Buckingham Palace, which was such an integral part of last week’s column, only goes up to 1965 but other royal chefs have come forward since that time to provide an inside peek into the British royals’ eating preferences. TV chef Gary Rhodes spoke on a show called “All the Queen’s Cooks” about his time at Buckingham Palace. According to Rhodes and the program,

The Queen apparently favours plain food, such as lamb cutlets or roast beef, with bread-and-butter pudding or ice-cream to follow. All the Queen’s Cooks claims that the Queen dislikes spicy food and tomato pips, which are said to get stuck in her teeth.

Taking afternoon tea – which consists of scones, potted shrimps, thin cucumber sandwiches without the crusts and a special royal blend of tea – is one of the Queen’s favourite pastimes.

The programme says the Queen takes tea strong with a few drops of milk, and, as an aperitif, she likes a dry martini, stirred not shaken, and finished with a twist of lemon.

Rhiannon Edward, “Martinis and cuppas – the Queen’s delights revealed,” The Scotsman (August 3, 2004), at http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=642&id=888352004

The Queen’s eating preferences caused a slight international fuss back in 2000 when she was visiting Rome and the Vatican. As a general rule, the Queen’s household always warns foreign hosts of “the royal likes and dislikes. The requirements – which typically ban mauve flowers, duvets and foreign mineral waters – provide a rare insight into Her Majesty’s tastes.” See, “Right Royal Requirements,” BBC (October 10, 2002) at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/965079.stm

I have no idea why the Queen dislikes mauve flowers or duvets but it’s quite easy to understand her issues with other items. At the time of the Italian visit, the Palace reportedly sent orders that nothing with garlic was to be included on the menu. In fact, the kitchens of Rome’s Quirinale Palace, where the Queen was to stay for two nights, were allegedly “informed that Her Majesty will not tolerate ‘long pastas’ such as spaghetti, ‘messy’ tomato sauces or blackberries and raspberries.” See, “Cooking for the Queen: The unique demands of a royal palate,” http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/10/10/queens.dinner/

The Italian papers got hold of the request and had a field day:

Il Messaggero reported that “her majesty’s antipathy for ‘boorish’ garlic and onion is well known and detected a symmetry with the rightwing opposition leader, Silvio Berlusconi, who also apparently hates “these plebeian, intrusive breath problems.’ The newspaper’s culinary expert, Giacomo A Dente, also reported that the palace wanted spaghetti and other long pastas kept off the menu -because of the danger of undesirable splashes of sauce- as well as all forms of seafood, strawberries and wild berries: ‘those berries so dear to the majority of the Queen’s subjects’.

See, “Italians feast on royal fear of garlic,” The Guardian, (October 11, 2000) at

Other papers followed suit with equally hyperbolic claims. Buckingham Palace was forced to respond with the common-sense statement that Her Majesty was merely considering others: “If you are going to be meeting people you don’t want to be breathing garlic fumes over them.” Id.

There are practical considerations involved as well. The royal entourage likes progress to run smoothly, “free from the disruptions of gastronomic indisposition.” See, “Right Royal Requirements,” supra. Hence the ban on shellfish, rare meat, foreign water and any food that is too spicy or exotic. “Yet the Queen is not averse to trying out new taste sensations. On a visit to China in 1986, she ate slimy sea cucumber – although suitably bland for the royal palate, it is a delicacy that requires a dab hand with chopsticks.” Id.

If the Queen is willing to try a slimy sea cucumber, I think it’s clear that her issues with something as simple as garlic stem from thoughtfulness. As royal watchers and commentators have often noted, the Queen is always sensitive to other people’s situations.

For example, she’s very different from her royal ancestor, Queen Victoria, who ate at lightening fast speed and, as a result, ended meals before some people had really begun. “This was bad luck if you were her dining companion as protocol dictated that the plates for each course be cleared as soon as Her Majesty’s palate was sated. As William Gladstone, the Liberal prime minister, chewed each mouthful 32 times, he often left the royal table famished.” Caroline Davies, “Royal kitchen tours offer a taste of the past,” The Telegraph (30/9/2003) at http://babyurl.com/JtR3uN. In fact, Victoria ate so fast that more than one aristocrat who frequented her court ate dinner ahead of time because, otherwise, there was simply no chance to have enough sustenance to withstand the long hours of ceremony.

In that sense, Victoria was a lot like Napoleon who drove his Imperial Court to distraction with his hasty manners. Napoleon loved to eat with his fingers, but most of all, he loved to eat quickly. Like Queen Victoria, Napoleon had little interest in food and would practically inhale his meals in a few minutes. He was so extreme that Empress Josephine would insist that the royal meal continue long after Napoleon had gulped down his food and left, even though – technically – the meal was supposed to be over once the Emperor finished.

In contrast to both Queen Victoria and Emperor Napoleon, the current Queen is known for playing about with bits of food on her plate for hours so that everyone has a chance to finish. She also prefers small portions, unlike her predecessor and namesake Elizabeth I, “who would use a peacock feather to make herself vomit between courses so as to create space for more food.” See, “Cooking for the Queen: The unique demands of a royal palate,” http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/10/10/queens.dinner/

In terms of drink, the Queen tends to stick to a glass or two of wine, and mineral water, of which she will only drink Malvern Water (she always takes a supply of it with her whenever she travels). Id. One of her favorite wines seems to be Brunello di Montalcino. See, “Italians feast,” supra, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/monarchy/story/0,2763,380437,00.html. The vineyard produced extremely earthy and smoky wines. If the name means nothing, then think of the richest, earthy, peaty and leathery wines from such comparable varietals like Cote du Rhone, Petit Syrah, Shiraz, or even a powerful, high burn, Zinfandel.

Other than a few select wines, Her Majesty also likes a martini, although it’s unclear if she prefers it made with gin (like the Queen Mother) or vodka. In contrast, Prince Philip prefers a tanker of lager beer or a gin-and-tonic. Dinner at Buckingham Palace, (Ed. Paul Fishman & Fiorella Busoni, Metro Publishing 2003), at p. 31. Neither one seems to be too fond of champagne. Id.

Royal Coronations

The differences between various British monarchs can be seen in the food chosen for their coronation banquets, as well as that served at street parties marking the occasion.

When the Prince Regent ascended the throne as George IV in 1820, the banquet was incredibly elaborate.The new King absolutely adored food and, at this point, was said to weigh more than 23 stone or over 320 pounds. For just one of his banquets as Prince Regent, he had the famous chef Carême serve over a 100 dishes in 36 courses. His coronation banquet was equally extravagant:

The Coronation Banquet for three hundred guests at Westminster Hall was served by a procession of household Officials and Gentlemen Pensioners. Some of the dishes served were: soups including turtle, salmon, turbot, and trout, venison and veal, mutton and beef, braised ham and savoury pies, daubed geese and braised capon, lobster and crayfish, cold roast fowl and cold lamb, potatoes, peas and cauliflower. There were mounted pastries, dishes of jellies and creams, over a thousand side dishes, nearly five hundred sauce boats brimming with lobster sauce, butter sauce and mint. The peers and bishops having had nothing to eat since breakfast turned to their plates with relish. The guest’s wives and children could only look on from the galleries built for the occasion. One peer at least tied a capon in his handkerchief and tossed it up to his famished family. http://www.georgianindex.net/coronation/Coronation-GeorgeIV.html

In total, there were 20 first courses, 22 main courses and 31 desserts. http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page2227.asp And, of course, the thousand side dishes!

When William IV succeeded George IV to the throne, things changed drastically. The court returned to the simple, very Germanic style of George III. Extravagance was rejected, and so too was fancy French cooking. In fact, Queen Adelaide dismissed all the French chefs and instituted “more homely English cooking. Lord Dudley, a guest of both Kings at the Pavilion, complained that with Queen Adelaide as host ‘you now get cold pâté and hot champagne’.” http://tinyurl.com/69kd6

When Edward VII ascended the throne in 1902, the Boer War had just ended and the country was in the mood to celebrate. More than 450,000 people were fed in the streets on Coronation day, possibly with “Carbonadde Flamande” which was a dish of stewing steak, onions, and beer in a butter sauce. The Coronation Cookbook, (April 24, 2002) BBC, athttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/breakfast/1947639.stm

At the coronation banquet, however, it was French food all the way. As we saw last week, Edward VII loved good food and he had a special fondness for sophisticated foreign dishes. At his banquet, the menu consisted of “Jambon D’espagne a la basque (Spanish ham) and Fillet de Truites a la Russe, trout with caviar in a hollandaise sauce.” Id.

When George V ascended the throne, “the Street parties of 1910 were of the ‘cold meat tea’ variety but many of the dishes then are still enjoyed today – boiled bacon, pickled onions, bakewell tarts.” Id. There was also banana jelly, iced buns and blancmange. Id. The one thing all these dishes have in common is that they are simple, basic British fare and, in that sense, they are symbolic of the King’s personal style and preferences.

Just as George V avoided fancy French dishes so too did King George VI. At his coronation banquet in 1937, his love of British fare shines through: rather than Spanish ham or Russian style trout with caviar, there was simple Scottish Salmon, followed by chicken in a rather plain sauce. Id.

The Queen’s Coronation

Queen Elizabeth had two banquets for her coronation but both were very simple. Rationing was still in effect in Britain but, equally important, the Queen liked simple food. Scottish salmon was once again featured on the menu, but the main course was grilled steaks, albeit steaks garnished with quarters of artichoke hearts tossed in butter with cocotte potatoes and slices of truffle. There was also a simple soufflé named after Princess Anne but not much more. Id. There certainly wasn’t the vast number of dishes featured at one of King Edward VII’s average dinners. And the Royal Family was obviously galaxies away from the extravagance of the Prince Regent.

The public or street parties celebrating the Queen’s ascension must have been quite something. According to the Royal Family’s official website, “[t]he Ministry of Food granted 82 applications for people to roast oxen, if they could prove that by tradition, an ox had been roasted at previous Coronations – a welcome concession in a country where the meat ration was two shillings a week.” http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page2333.asp

Oxen notwithstanding, most people probably ate the now famous Coronation Chicken — chicken with an apricot mayonnaise sauce featuring a hint of curry. The dish is usually attributed to Constance Spry, an English flower arranger and cookery author who also advised the Ministry of Works on floral decorations for the Coronation. “Popular lore has it that Spry hijacked the recipe from its similarly rich’n’spicy royal relation, jubilee chicken, prepared for the silver jubilee of George V in 1935, which mixed the chicken in mayonnaise and curry.” Jim Gilchrist, “Another Thing; Coronation Special,” The Scotsman (2/6/2003) at http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=885&id=612742003

In reality, however, it seems Rosemary Hume of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in London was behind the recipe which went on to appear in the famous Constance Spry Cookery Book of 1956. Id. It is thought Hume drew on a recipe by 19th-century cookery guru Mrs. de Salis, of chicken with curry powder and apricot butter. Id.

Whomever invented the dish, it has now become an ubiquitous part of the British culinary scene, and can be found everywhere from society weddings to the corner sandwich shop. Id. A copy of very simple recipe can be found at the end of the column, although you might want to consider the words of one commentator: “Numerous upstarts over the years have included almonds, raisins and crème fraîche, while one current version has chicken breasts tossed in Kerala aioli. Others lace it with saffron and the odd subversive red chilli. Upending a jar of salad cream over your fragmented fowl and stirring in curry powder just isn’t on.” Id.

The Queen’s Golden Jubilee

The Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002 were meticulously planned out and the food was no exception. In fact, Her Majesty personally chose the dish that would become known as Golden Jubilee chicken. The recipe was the result of a competition for chefs from all the Royal palaces. “The chefs were challenged to come up with a dish that could be cooked in large quantity, eaten cold with a salad and appeal to as many differing palates as possible. The initial entry of ten was whittled down to a final two, which were tasted personally by The Queen. She chose the dish cooked by Head Chef Lionel Mann as the eventual winner.” http://www.tiscali.co.uk/events/2002/goldenjubilee/features/cchicken_goldenjubilee.html

The Queen’s choice was a dish of cold chicken with a fresh, tangy dressing made from crème fraîche, ginger and lime. A copy of the recipe can be found at the end of the column.

Jubilee Chicken became the centerpiece of the food catered to the public for the concerts at BuckinghamPalace. Each ticket holders was given a hamper which included everything needed for a three-course meal, including a plastic champagne flute. Id. The starter was a smoked salmon wrap. The main course was Chicken Jubilee with a pasta salad. It was followed by strawberries and cream. But there was more.

Each hamper also contained half a bottle of Lanson champagne, a bottle of mineral water, Walkers shortbread, and Duchy Originals biscuits made from organic wheat and oats grown mainly on the Prince of Wales’ Home Farm at Highgrove. Cadbury’s provided squares of chocolate and a miniature book of coronation photos. Id.


Information on the culinary preferences of other, modern royals families is hard to find. One reason is that the press in many European countries is far less intrusive than the British media. Another reason is that many European monarchs seem to be much more indifferent about what they are served.

For example, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands rarely makes food requests when traveling abroad:

“She tends to keep her likes and dislikes to herself,” says Hans Kamp, of the Royal Netherlands Court, “Although I honestly can’t think of any type of food she doesn’t like. We generally leave it to the country she is visiting to decide what food they are going to serve.”

“Cooking for the Queen,”” supra, at http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/10/10/queens.dinner/

The same goes for King Harald of Norway. According to a spokesman from the Norwegian embassy, the Norwegian royals “basically … eat what they get.” Id.

Back home, however, it would appear that the King prefers Norwegian dishes with a slight French twist. Take for example, the menu for the banquet before Crown Prince Haakon’s wedding: “The dinner menu had a classic Norwegian theme, and reflected the coming autumn season. An appetizer of trout roulade with ocean crayfish and herbs was followed by the main course – roast filet of veal with forest mushrooms, baby carrots, spinach and sugar peas served with a mille feuille of peppers, squash and chévre. The feast was topped off with a dessert of wild strawberries marinated in white wine syrup and a vanilla-praline parfait.” http://www.aftenposten.no/english/local/article183181.ece

The French influence is probably most pronounced at the Danish court. Queen Margrethe’s consort, Prince Henrik, is French and very knowledgeable about culinary matters. According to the Master of the Royal Household, he’s “got a real knack for food and wine.” http://www.cphpost.dk/get/77882.html Thus, when Crown Prince Frederik married Mary Donaldson earlier this year, it was Prince Henrik who decided what was going to be on the banquet menu. The dishes were Danish in origin but the French influence and style is evident, as the following menu should make clear:

Timbale of Shellfish from the Nordic Seas
Sea Urchin Sauce
Roast Venison from the Royal Forests
Rissole Potatoes from Samsø
Peas à la Parisienne
Sauté Mushroom and Morel Sauce
Vol-Au-Vent Perfect Union
White Danish Asparagus and Bornholm Chicken with a Sprinkling of Apple Cider
White Chocolate Délice
Crown Prince and Crown Princess


Prince Henrik’s involvement in the Royal Family’s culinary preferences extends beyond just his son’s wedding banquet. Due to his gastronomic expertise, it is said that the Prince Consort, not the Queen, decides what will be served at the family’s dinner table. He is provided with a selection of menus and makes the final determination. Prince Henrik also plays a role in the choice of wines. He owns his own vineyard in the famous Cahors region of France and his wines are featured heavily at royal banquets and the general dinner table.


One of Catherine the Great’s favorite things to eat was “Sturgeon & Champagne Soup.” There is an amusing story associated with this extremely expensive and elegant dish which required a whole fillet of sturgeon per person.

According to legend, the Empress had planned a visit to one of her lovers, Count Potemkin, at a time when no sturgeon was to be found in all of Moscow. Potemkin was in a panic because he knew of the Empress’ passion for the soup, but he was not one to give up easily. He found a cunning fishmonger who somehow managed to provide him with enough fish for the recipe. But it cost Potemkin dearly. To pay for it, he had to give up a painting which he’d recently purchased for 10,000 rubles. Darra Goldstein, “À la Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality,” (Random House 1983).

The original recipe may be too expensive for most people to make today but an affordable version is possible if you replace sturgeon with another white fish. For those who are interested, a copy of the recipe can be found at the end of the column.

Catherine the Great’s favorite soup is extremely revealing. Its extravagant sophistication can be seen as a symbol for her entire reign. The royal court under Catherine was extremely sophisticated and French in orientation; money was not an object and appearance was everything. Following Catherine’s lead, every noble family who could afford one had a French chef. Food costs at imperial balls were of no concern, family fortunes would be squandered on a single feast, and tables literally buckled from the weight of their splendor.

Subsequent tsars continued the trend. The royal court was obsessed with following the French style in all matters of fashion, decor and food. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Tsar Alexander I hired Antonin Carême from the Prince Regent. Carême was probably one of the most important master chefs ever to live, the creator of French “haute cuisine,” and a genius who cooked for almost every powerful royal in the 19th century. (See, Pandora article “Food Fit for a King (Literally!),” in the archives, for more on Carême and royal cooking.) When Carême died, the Tsar Alexander I mourned his passing in a way that probably no Tsar has ever done for a servant.

Tsar Nicholas II continued the traditions established by his predecessors, which included serving dishes first created under Catherine the Great. Hundreds of people worked in the royal kitchens. The latter was located in a building entirely separate from the palace, until 1902 when, eventually, an underground tunnel was built to connect the two establishments and to facilitate service. Bob Atchison, “History of Royal Dining,” (hereinafter simply referred to as “History of Royal Dining”) at http://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/tsartable.html.

The Imperial Table must have been impressive to behold. It was set with silver, gold, porcelain, crystal and huge flower arrangements from the Imperial Greenhouses. The silver dated back to Catherine the Great; the china came from the Imperial Porcelain Factory, was marked at the bottom with a cipher of the year and the name of the current monarch, and was checked for even the smallest imperfection. Those pieces with the minutest chip or flaw were smashed. The waiters were always men who were selected for their height, good looks and breeding.

It was a prestigious position as far as Imperial servants were concerned for it involved daily service upon the person of the Tsar himself. Only the most senior of waiters could be permitted to serve the Tsar and his family and these men were attached permanently to each member of the family. They travelled with them from palace to palace and were not attached to any particular building. The Russian seniority system meant that sometimes the most august waiter was also the oldest. Nicholas suffered in silence with an old waiter he had inherited from his father. The poor man had failing eyesight and Nicholas carefully supported the faithful servant’s arm while he poured the wines for want of mishap.

“History of Royal Dining,” supra, at http://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/tsartable.html

For the most part, daily meals at the last Romanov court seem to have been much less elaborate or extravagant than those at other royal courts of the same period, notably the British court under Queen Victoria or Edward VII. That’s not to say that they were abbreviated, miserly affairs; they weren’t. It simply means that Queen Victoria and King Edward VII went to unmatched extremes in setting a royal table.

The trend towards simplicity which we saw with the British Royal Family was repeated with the Romanovs. The extravagances of Peter the Great or Catherine the Great had given way to much simpler meals by the time you got to Nicholas II:

At the last Romanov court, meals were served in three to four courses and started immediately. “The Tsar did not request special foods to be served. Ever since childhood he had been taught to accept and eat was placed before him without question. His menus were selected by court officials and the chef who were generally familiar with his tastes. Aleksandra’s meals were prepared and served separately. She was on a special diet established by her doctors and was usually a vegetarian.”

The royal dinner might have been simple but it was long and there seems to have been an incredible quantity of food. The meal began with hors d’oevres, called zakuski in Russian, which were usually served in the adjoining Portrait Hall, or sometimes in the Small Library. Id. Zakuski were served either buffet style, standing up, or by waiters with rotating trays and were a complete meal in and of themselves. They consisted of many appetizers, including German salads, rare caviars, mushrooms and other dainty delicacies- all washed down with various kinds of vodkas. Id.

After the Zakuski, the real dinner began:

The first course was a soup, generally a rich cream soup with small meat pies. Then followed an intermidiate [sic] course of fish. People who knew Nicholas say he loved oysters, but there is no record of them being served at meals. Perhaps they were part of the zakuski. The fish dish served most often was Dviena sterlet in champagne sauce. Next came a course of chicken in rich sauces followed by another course of either beef, mutton or ham. This course could also be game, such as pheasant, wild goat, duck or partridge.

Throughout the meal, many different sorts of wines were served. The Tsar preferred Madeira or port with his soup but would switch to wine for subsequent courses. All the wines “were served in special bottles adorned at the winery with the Imperial crest and Tsar’s monogram – or in crystal carafes. The Tsar’s wine cellar was exceptional and the court anticipated the rare occasions when a rare vintage was served.” Id.

After dinner, the Imperial Family withdrew to the Portrait Hall where coffee was served. Tables were piled high with “chocolates, delicate sponge cakes of different sorts and shapes, and candies made in the Imperial confectionery.” Id. Brandy, cognac and liqueurs were also available on adjoining tables. It’s even been said that Coca-Cola made its way into the palace! Id.

When the Tsar left the room, the meal was officially ended:

There was no lingering about and sipping one’s coffee or going back for another serving of torte before leaving. Servants immediately began to remove everything as soon as the Tsar was gone. Enormous amounts of food were prepared and there was usually lots left over. According to tradition whatever was left could be sold by the kitchen staff and the money earned was their own. Crowds sometimes gathered at the palace kitchens awaiting the potential leftovers from the Tsar’s tables. The customers included members of the highest aristocracy.

The Tsar’s favorite foods were French. According to the historian Robert K. Massie, he enjoyed pig with horseradish, cabbage soup and buck wheat with broiled fish or fruit. Nicholas and Alexandra, (New York 1967).

He is also reported to have loved “Salade Olivier,” or, as it’s more commonly known now, Russian Salad. This dish was said to be his favorite hors d’oevre. It was named after his French chef, Olivier, who escaped Russia when the Revolution took place. He became a successful restauranteur and re-named the salad “ à la Russe” in honour of his late employer. “Based on peas, carrot cubes, potato cubes and mayonnaise and served in virtually every restaurant in Germany and nearly every French bistro and brasserie, ‘Russian salad’ is probably one of the world’s best known side dishes.” Rogov’s Ramblings, “Salade a la Russe,” at http://www.stratsplace.com/rogov/salade_russe.html It was also served at street parties during George V’s coronation. A copy of the recipe can be found in the Addendum to this column, along with recipes for other Romanov favorites.

Until next week, happy cooking and bon appetit

* * *


You will find below 10 recipes, ranging from Romanov favorites to the Queen’s Golden Jubilee chicken and the Plum Pudding made for Queen Victoria’s Christmas Dinner in 1899. I’ve reproduced many of the recipes almost exactly as I’ve found them. On occasion, only the American measurement system is used, as opposed to the European metric system. Or vice-versa. Readers who would like to try their hand at cooking can convert the measurements at http://convert.french-property.co.uk/ or http://www.onlineconversion.com/weight_common.htm. If you choose to make one of these dishes, I’d love to know how it turns out and whether you enjoyed it, so don’t hesitate to write to me.

1 – The Queen’s Coronation Chicken

Chicken – 1 x 2.3 kg (5 lb), poached
Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp
Onion – 1 small, finely chopped
Curry paste – 1 tbsp
Tomato purée – 1 tbsp
Red wine – 100 ml
Bay leaf – 1
Lemon – ½, juice only
Apricot halves – 4, drained, finely chopped
Mayonnaise – 300 ml (½ pint)
Whipping cream – 100 ml (4 fl oz)
Salt and pepper
Watercress – to garnish
Serves 8

1.    Skin the chicken and cut into small pieces.
2.    In a small saucepan, heat the oil, add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes, until softened. Add the curry paste, tomato puree, wine, bay leaf and lemon juice. Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes until well reduced. Strain and leave to cool.
3.    Purée the chopped apricot halves in a blender or food processor or through a sieve. Beat the cooled sauce into the mayonnaise with the apricot puree.
4.    Whip the cream to stiff peaks and fold into the mixture. Season, adding a little extra lemon juice if necessary.
5.    Fold in the chicken pieces, Garnish with watercress and serve.

2 – The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Chicken

4 chicken breast fillets, about 18 oz (500g) in total
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp olive oil
Bunch flat leaf parsley
1 lime quartered

For marinade:
Half lime, juiced and zest grated
3cm fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
1 clove crushed garlic
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
For dressing:
3fl oz (100ml) creme fraiche
6 tbsp mayonnaise
Half lime, juice and zest grated
2in (5cm) piece fresh root ginger

1.    Mix the marinade ingredients together in a shallow dish. Add the chicken and turn to coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
2.    To make dressing, place crème fraîche, mayonnaise, lime juice and zest in a bowl. Peel and grate the ginger, then twist in a piece of muslin, or press through a sieve to extract the juice. Add 2 tsp of the juice to the dressing. Stir, cover and chill to allow the flavours to develop.
3.    Scrape marinade from the chicken and pat dry with kitchen paper. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and place in a roasting tin. Drizzle over olive oil.
4.    Roast in oven (pre-heated to 190 degrees Celsius/375 degrees Fahrenheit/Gas Mark 5) for 25 minutes, baste occasionally until the chicken is cooked through. Leave to cool completely, then cut into bite-sized pieces.
5.    Combine the chicken and dressing, adjust the seasoning, and refrigerate. Serve with a pasta salad, lime quarters and chopped flat leaf parsley.

3 – The Romanov’s Cream of Asparagus Soup
Served to Empress Alix on the celebrations for her Name Day in 1897. The following recipe has been copied verbatim as found:

“Clean asparagus and cut it into small slices; melt butter in a saucepan, put flour and pepper into it. While stirring it pour some chicken broth and wait until it boils. Put asparagus into the broth and leave it on fire for some time, then strain it, run the sediment though a mincing-machine, rub it through a sieve and mix it with the broth, add some cream and warm it on fire.

For 4 persons: 500 grams of fresh, frozen or canned asparagus, 6 table full-spoons of butter, 4 table spoon-fuls of onions cut into small pieces, 2 table spoonfuls of wheat flour, one eighth of freshly ground pepper, 2 small glasses of chicken broth, 2 glasses of 10% cream.” Bob Atchison, ” Alexandra’s Namesday – 1897″, at http://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/tsartable2.html

4 – Catherine the Great’s “Sturgeon Soup with Champagne”
In Imperial Russia, a whole fillet of sturgeon was placed in each soup bowl and the broth poured over it. Diners sipped the broth and then ate the fish with knife and fork. The recipe below is a more economical version and can be made cheaper still by replacing sturgeon with another white fish.

3 cups basic Fish stock
1 lb fresh sturgeon, trimmed and cut into cubes
chopped scallions
Lemon slices
1 cup champagne
Salt and pepper to taste

“Place the fish stock and the cut-up sturgeon in a stockpot and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the fish is cooked. Pour the champagne into the fish soup and just barely heat through. Ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish each with some thin lemon slices and chopped scallions.”
(Taken from À la Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality, supra, at 63-64.)

5 – “Mayonnaise de Homard”
This dish was served at the Coronation Banquet for King George VI and the Queen Mother on May 10, 1937. The recipe serves 4. It seems a bit confusing and isn’t explained very well, but it has been copied verbatim from the Royal Family’s official website.

1.6 kg Lobster
0.14 pt Mayonnaise
1/10 bunch Chives
0.06 pt Vinaigrette
0.4 each Round Lettuce
2 Medium Eggs
0.1 each Cucumber
0.4 each Raddichio Lettuce
Salt and Pepper for seasoning

Boil lobster for 20 minutes, cool and shell meat. Marinade in chive vinaigrette, drain and combine with mayonnaise then build on a dish. Garnish with lettuce and cucumber.

6 – Russian Palace’s Vegetable Borscht
The source for this recipe is Roza Gorenuk, whose grandfather cooked for Tsar Nicholas II and, in fact, made this very dish for him:

1 tablespoon Vegetable oil
1 and ½ cups of finely chopped onion (essentially,1 large onion)
5 medium beets
½ cup chopped carrot (essentially 1 small carrot)
5 teaspoons Tomato paste
16 cups of chicken stock
2 large potatoes
1 medium cabbage head
1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons Sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Clove garlic; minced
1 teaspoon fresh Dill; chopped

1.    Peel and julienne raw beets to yield 4 cups. Peel and cube potatoes to yield 2 1/2 cups. Finely chop cabbage to yield 6 cups.
2.    Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add beets and carrot. Saute, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste. Remove from heat and set aside.

3.    In a large stock pot, bring chicken stock to a boil over high heat. Add potato and cook for 3 minutes. Add cabbage and continue boiling for 5 minutes.

4.    Add reserved beet-tomato paste mixture, green pepper, sugar, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in garlic and dill. Serve hot.

(Recipe taken fromhttp://www.recipeusa.org/Ethnic/Russian/Russian%20Palace%20Borcht%20%2013567.htm)

7 – “Salad Olivier” or “Salade À La Russe

1/2 kilo roasted chicken meat, cut in small cubes
4 medium boiled potatoes, cooled, peeled and sliced
4 hard boiled eggs, cut in eighths
2 half-sour pickles, sliced thinly
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper
6 – 8 hearts of lettuce
2 tomatoes, cut in wedges
16 green olives
2 Tbsp. capers

In a mixing bowl combine the chicken, potatoes, eggs and pickles. Fold in the mayonnaise and sour cream, season to taste and mix gently but well. Serve the salad on a bed of the lettuce hearts and garnished with the tomatoes, olives and capers.
(Taken from Rogov’s Ramblings, “Salade a la Russe,” athttp://www.stratsplace.com/rogov/salade_russe.html.)

8 – The Tsarina’s Cream
It’s unclear if this dish was created for a specific Tsarina and, if so, which one. Darra Goldstein, editor of “Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture” and the author of a Russian cookbook, includes it in her section of classic dishes under the Tsars. By her account, the dish is said to be so “divine” in its flavour that “some people call it pishcha bogov, ‘food of the gods.’” Darra Goldstein, À la Russesupra.

1 package unflavoured gelatin (1/4 ounce)
¼ cup water
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup + 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 ¼ teaspoons rose water
5 tablespoons Maraschino liqueur
½ cup unsalted, chopped pistachios — or – ½ cup lightly toasted, blanched sliced almonds
Green food colouring

1.    Soak the gelatin in the ¼ cup of water, then heat gently until the gelatin dissolves.
2.    Whip the cream just until it begins to form soft peaks. Then beat in the dissolved gelatin, which has cooled somewhat, and the confectioners’ sugar, almond extract, rose water and Maraschino liqueur. Fold in the nuts.
3.    Then add 2-3 drops of green food colouring, to tint the mixture pale green. If, with all the beating and folding, the cream is still not in stiff peaks, give it a few more turns with the whisk.
4.    Turn the mixture into a 1-quart mold or 6 individual molds. Sprinkle some chopped pistachios on the top. Chill for several hours before serving.
(Taken from À la Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality, supra, at 116.)

9 – Strawberries Romanov
This simple dish was originally created by my beloved Carême. It was originally made for Czar Alexander I using cream and, possibly, meringues. Modern versions often include ice cream and omit the meringues. The following recipe is from Darra Goldstein and seems to be the most historically accurate. For a simpler version, omit the sections dealing with the meringue. If possible, choose medium-size strawberries for this dish instead of the huge ones. If they are very big, you might consider cutting them into pieces. The following recipe serves 4.

1 pint strawberries, hulled
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup Cointreau or Triple Sec [My Note: Grand Marnier is another favorite liqueur used in this recipe ]
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

1.    Place the strawberries in a bowl and toss them with the 2 tablespoons of sugar. Mix together the liqueur and orange juice. Pour over the berries and leave them to macerate (or soak) for 2 hrs at room temperature.
2.    For the Meringues: Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they begin to hold soft peaks. Gradually beat in the ½ cup of sugar, beating until a thick meringue has been formed. Pre-heat the oven to 275 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease the foil. With a spoon, make 8 rounds of meringue on the sheet, flattening the centers slightly with the bowl portion of the spoon. Bake for 1 hr, or until lightly browned. Remove to a rack to cool.
3.    To serve the dessert, whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar. Place a generous portion of soaked strawberries on top of each meringue round. Top with whipped cream.
(Taken from À la Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitalitysupra, at 118.)

Emeril Lagasse’s version:
The famous chef, Emeril Lagasse, has a modern version of the dish that is extremely simple. It’s not “Strawberries à la Romanov” the way the Tsars had it and, strangely, it fails to include the one step that is fundamental in every other version of the recipe: soaking the strawberries in liqueur. The step is important because it infuses the strawberries with the subtle taste of orange liqueur. As a result, every bite of the fruit includes a fusion of tastes. Nonetheless, Emeril’s version is easy to make and, for that reason, may be of interest to readers.

6 ounces vanilla ice cream, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup sweetened whipped cream
Orange flavored liqueur, like Brandy, Cointreau or Grand Mariner, to taste
2 cups rinsed, hulled strawberries
Mint leaves, for garnish
Shaved chocolate curls, for garnish

Mix ice cream, sour cream and whipped cream together and slowly add alcohol to taste, adjusting flavoring to your liking. Divide berries between 2 glasses and spoon cream mixture over. Garnish with mint and chocolate.

10 – Queen Victoria’s Christmas Plum Pudding

Ingredients for the Plum Pudding:
3/4 lb. raisins
3/4 lb. currants
1/2 lb. candied orange, lemon and citron
1 1/4 lb. chopped beef suet (or shortening)
1 lb. flour (2 cups)
3/4 lb. moist sugar
4 eggs
3 gills of milk (1 1/2 cups)
Grated rind of two lemons
1/2 oz. nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves
1 glass of brandy (1/4 cup)
Pinch of salt

Ingredients for the German Custard Sauce:
4 egg yolks
2 oz. pounded sugar (about 1/4 cup)
1 glass of sherry (about 1/4 cup)
Orange or lemon peel, rubbed on loaf sugar
Very little salt

1. Mix the above ingredients thoroughly together in a large basin several hours before the pudding is to be boiled; pour them into a mould spread with butter, which should be tied up in a cloth. The pudding must then be boiled for four hours and a half; when done, dish it up with a German custard sauce over it.

2. German Custard Sauce: Whisk this sharply over a very slow fire, until it assumes the appearance of a light frothy custard.

(Taken from http://www.razzledazzlerecipes.com/christmas-desserts/plum-pudding.htm which cites as a source: “Royal Insight Collection, from Queen Victoria’s Christmas Dinner at Windsor Castle, 1899.”)