February, 1910. Herbert Cholmondeley of the Foreign Office arrived at Paddington Station with a delegation of Emperor of Abyssinia in England on an official business. He approached the stationmaster- it seemed the dignitaries had planned a visit to HMS Dreadnought, pride of the British navy, down in Weymouth. Would the station master be able to arrange a private car for the honored guests? He could, and he did. Once arrived at their destination, the princes were greeted by an honor guard, and the national anthem of Zanzibar was played. The foreign visitors were allowed to inspect the fleet and even bestowed military honors on some of the officers. Mr. Chomondeley translated for the exotics, and regretted that they could not stay for lunch for religious reasons. Continue reading
Posted in Aristo, Eccentric
Tagged Adrian Stephen, Augustus John, Benny Hill, Bertie Wooster, Duncan Grant, Fernandel, Neville Chamberlain, P.G. Wodehouse, Ramsey MacDonald, Virginia Woolf, William Horace de Vere Cole
© Jimmy NICOLLE, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons
Previously Mrs Allen the resident perfume-head noted the rose perfume created by Francois Coty called La Rose Jacqueminot. For those with no particular interest in perfume, the question arises, who was Jacqueminot, and why did Coty name a perfume after him?
The rose itself is a classic red number, the standby for generations of stage door johnnies and penitent husbands. The fellow it was named after was the very opposite of moonstruck.
He was one of Bonaparte’s boys, a dragoon who saw serious action at Austerlitz, Essling, and Wagram, seven times wounded and frequently mentioned in dispatches, usually next to the word “brave” He rose quickly through the ranks – Napoleon rewarded bravery and competence – and eventually found himself in the 1812 Russian campaign, where he was charged with commanding the vanguard during that ghastly retreat. His most notable performance there was on the banks of the Berezina. Continue reading
Francois Coty is known for the cosmetics giant he created, and less happily for his politics, which in the France of the 1930s leaned considerably to the Right. But his real legacy may not be his political bent, nor yet his fabulous success in the world of cosmetics, but his innovations in the field of business.
For political historians Coty is the man who bought newspapers in France during the waning of the Third Republic, including the right wing L’Ami du Peuple, and who also flirted with Mussolini and his Fascist regime. The Manichean politics of the 30s have cast a long shadow over the rest of his life, and perhaps that is a shame, because the Ligurian Corsican from Ajaccio, was a great businessman. He became a multi-millionaire in a matter of two years after creating his first real perfume: La Rose Jacqueminot, and never looked back. Continue reading
He was born in Caithness, son of Olaf, who was murdered in 1135 by Olvir Rosta, who a year previously had lost a minor sea battle and carried a grudge. Olvir’s method of restoring his self esteem was the burning Olaf’s house down while Olaf was still in it. This is how cycles of violence start, and neglecting to take out the nineteen year old Sweyn was an oversight that was going to cost Olvir.
That would come later. In the meantime, the boy (who, curiously, took his surname from his mother Aslief) gets his first mention at the 1135 yuletide revels at the household of the earl of Orkney. It seem the Earl’s cup-bearer had grabbed some of Sweyn’s holiday grog, an act that Sweyn did not take in the spirit of the season. He stewed for a day or so, then brained the fellow. Continue reading
I was digging around a Scottish root of the family tree and reading about the ill-fated Clan Gunn (great-grandfather Harry Nelson of Stirling, and so a member) when I came across a reference to the Highland Clearances and the evil Countess of Sutherland.
Highland Clearances were one of those suspiciously neutral phrases so disliked by George Orwell. But an “Evil Countess”? Not a lot of wiggle room with that kind of talk. It was irresistible. I had to know more.
The countess in question turns out to be Elizabeth Gordon, only child of the 18th earl of Sutherland and his wife. One of those households so yearned for by young readers of children’s books where the parents exit early and both freedom and responsibilities are put on tiny shoulders. In Ms Gordon’s case, the title came to her just after her first birthday. Already we can see where this story is going. Continue reading
Really, you couldn’t make up a name like that and even if you did, no fiction editor worth his salt would let it pass. So, truth must step up where fiction dares not tread.
Poivre was the son of a Lyon merchant and was heading towards a religious career when the Society of Foreign Missions, impressed with a native talent of languages, sent him to China and Indochina to get his feet wet with a little evangelical work. His time there is a little murky, a curious mixture of amusing anecdote and utter silence. One story goes that he landed in a Chinese jail through a misunderstanding with a local mandarin but learned enough Chinese while incarcerated to talk himself out of it.
On the utter silent part (or at least the Not In Front Of The Servants part), is the fact that he was encouraged to leave the mission and indeed, from China altogether. Certainly he gave up the path towards the church. Continue reading
Posted in Adventurer, Artist, Business, Patriot, Politico, Scholar
Tagged Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, François Mahé La Bourdonnais, French East Indies Company, Physiocrats, Pierre Poivre, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam
And, to complete a hat trick (and because I have an admiration and liking for things Romanian), we turn now to Ecaterina Teodoroiu, The Heroine from the Jiu
She was born one of eight children to a poor peasant family in Targa Jiu in Southern Romania and spent her earlier years studying to become a school teacher. Certainly she looks the part.
Of course, looks can be deceiving.
Romania did not enter the war until 1916. In the early years, the kingdom exploited all manner of unlikely resources, including the Scouts. As a nurse with that organization (they were instrumental in moving and tending the wounded), she was able to visit her brother, a sergeant, at the front. She came to appreciate the patriotism and camaraderie that war can create in a group of men. Continue reading
“When a very small child, I used to pray every night that I might wake up in the morning and find myself a boy.”
Instead she was always what she had been born, an Anglican vicar’s daughter, and a product of Ireland and Surrey. If not a boy, she was still able to get a full measure of ridin’ and shootin’ and such like typically English country pursuits. And, in due course, she would become the only English woman to fight on the front lines of World War One. For Serbia.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. She first had to get through finishing school in Switzerland, and with a small legacy from an uncle and the money she earned as a secretary, to pick up fencing and the rudiments of first aid. Also how to drive, which in her case was in her own French roadster, a Sizaire-Naudin to be specific.
1912-1913 marks the centenary of the First and the Second Balkan Wars, a spot of local trouble that would lead to the killing fields of the First World War. They’re not much remembered outside the area except by specialists and presumably relatives. Certainly they didn’t kick up any household names.
Which is not to say that there were not people with good stories. People like Milunka Savic.
She was a village girl, and either from boredom or patriotism (or possibly because her brother was to ill to go), in 1912 she cut off her hair and presented herself to the recruiting sergeant. Induction was presumably a cursory affair, and she was soon toting gun and bayonet to the front lines. No further record of the brother, but the army got their money’s worth. Continue reading
The one difficulty in Brideshead Revisited (okay, there are a lot of difficulties in Brideshead Revisited, but I’m only interested in one of them) is the question Sebastian Flyte’s charm.
We are assured that he has it, repeatedly, but somehow it never quite gets off the page. Now Waugh is some kind of writerly genius, and Sebastian is based on the real thing, but in this exercise, the author is coming up against a writing challenge even harder than describing sex without sounding absurd. Charm, like certain jokes, is evanescent.
As with Sebastian, so with Alfred. That he had charm and by the bucket-load is widely attested, and his CV ticks all the boxes for any romance writer’s dashing leading man. His father, a general for Bonaparte,* was considered the best looking man in the army and a dab hand at warfare. While the general was off expanding and defending the empire, Alfred was raised by his maternal grandmother, another good looking and elegant wit, Anne Franchi, aka Madame Craufurd, mistress of Duke of Wurtemberg among others. (Of her it is written “there is considerable mystery about this good lady’s career”. But I digress.) Continue reading
Posted in Adventurer, Aristo, Eccentric, Inventor, Soldier, Spouse, Trouble maker
Tagged Anna Franchi, Brideshead Revisited, Charles Dickens, Count Alfred D'Orsay, Countess of Blessington, Duke of Wurtemberg, Earl of Blessington, Eustace Tilley, Humbert Humbert, Louis Napoleon, Madame Craufurd, Rea Irvin, Sebastian Flyte