Major-General Rudolf Anton Carl Freiherr von Slatin (1857-1932): Three Faiths

Said to be the inspiration for one of Karl May’s characters, von Slatin is one of those characters who make us feel utterly inadequate.

Born the son of a Jewish convert to Catholicism near Vienna, he was in the commercial academy when his father died rather suddenly.  By chance he heard of an opening at a German bookstore in Cairo.  The sheer unlikelihood appealed to him, and he was off to Egypt.

All thoughts of bookselling left him as he joined Theodore von Heuglin,  explorer and ornithologist into the mountains of Dar Nuba in Sudan.  Rough times and much rebellion in the area at the time, and Europeans were few.  Before he was through, von Slatin met such luminaries as botanist Dr Eduard Schnitzer (aka, Emin Pasha on his conversion to Islam, later to relieve Henry Morgan Stanley) and General Charles George Gordon. Continue reading

Elizabeth Sutherland Leveson-Gower, 19th Duchess of Sutherland, 1765–1839; “Scotch people are of happier constitution…”

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

Alfonso León Fernando María Jaime Isidro Pascual Antonio de Borbón y Austria-Lorena, (1886-1941): Gesundheit

A name fit for a king, and so he was.  A king, that is. His father King Alfonso XII died before he was born, which gave him the rare distinction of being king right out the starting gate, though technically his mother Maria Christina of Austria was regent for his first sixteen years,  a time that saw the loss to Spain of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to Teddy Roosevelt and President McKinley.

Married one of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg (1887–1969),  kept Spain out of the First World War, left Spain in 1931 and never quite made it back, dying in Rome in 1941.

Why am I on about this?  Because as of Friday, I’ve been enduring the ‘flu (yes, yes, I know. Vaccination.  I know.  I was busy, and  besides probably some geriatric or tot needed it more). With little else to do but sneeze, shiver, and cough, I began to wonder, why was the 1918-19 pandemic called the Spanish ‘Flu?  One of those bigoted we-didn’t-start-it monikers, like the French calling syphilis the Italian disease and the Italians calling it the French?  Was Spain being made to pay for avoiding the mass slaughter of the trenches? 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