Catherine the Great, 1729-1796: Great-ish.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
Robert K. Massie,  574 pages, Random House

They don’t make biographers like this anymore. Usually these days the ability to write clear English is much less and the tendency to promulgate unsupported speculation is much greater, than in the last decades of the twentieth century. That was when Massie published the bestseller which made his name, Nicholas and Alexandra.

The same qualities that propelled Massie to the top then are evident in his prose now. He may not be a great writer of lyrical sentences. Consider his description of the day that Catherine usurped the crown of Russia from her husband Peter III: “That afternoon at Peterhof was warm and sunny, and the lesser members of Peter’s entourage remained on the terraces near the cool spray of the fountains or wandered through the gardens under the cloudless summer sky.” Continue reading

Marie of Roumania, 1875-1938: The Peoples’ Queen

“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.”

Americans, if they know of Marie at all, will half-remember Dorothy Parker’s  typically snarky quatrain above.  She deserves a lot better, and so, a short primer.

Marie was born in Kent in 1875, granddaughter of Queen Victoria on her father’s side and Tsar Alexander II  on her mother’s.   In 1893 she married Ferdinand, heir to the Romanian throne.

It was not the most passionate of marriages, but what she lacked in that area she more than made up for in her love of her new country and its people,  and somewhat in the manner of Lady Diana, soon became something of a peoples’ princess.  She learned the language, frequently wore the traditional Romanian clothing, and developed a powerful appreciation for her subjects (not least of all the gypsies of Romania and their peculiar culture). Continue reading