Princess Maria of Edingburgh

Maria, Princess Of Edinburgh

Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England

Name

Relation to Head of Family

Condition as to Marriage

Age last birthday

Rank, profession or occupation

Where born

Queen, The

Head

W

61

Queen of Great Britain & Ireland

 

Leopold, Prince, The, HRH

Son

U

27

Prince

London, Middlesex

Beatrice, Princess, The, HRH

Daur

U

23

Princess

 

Eugenie, Ex-Empress

Visitor

W

43

Ex-Empress of France

 

Alfred, Prince

Grandson

 

6

Prince of Edinburgh

 

Maria, Princess

Grand-daughter

 

5

Princess of Edinburgh

 

Victoria, Princess

Grand-daughter

 

4

Princess of Edinburgh

 

Alexandra, Princess

Grand-daughter

 

2

Princess of Edinburgh

 

Amalie Heim

Other

U

27

Governess

Alsace, Germany

Annie Pitcathley

Other

W

41

Nurse

Banff, Scotland

John Brown

Other

U

54

Queen's Personal Servant

Crathie, Aberdeen, Scotland

and 140 others, comprising one Lady Of The Bedchamber; two Maids of Honour; one Lectrice to the Queen; five Officers or Gentlemen in Waiting; one Librarian; two Doctors; one Housekeeper; three Dressers; four Lady's Maids; one Controller; one Secretary; six Pages (aged between 46 and 68); two Gentleman Porters; five Cooks; four Cook's Apprentices; one Confectioner; one Storekeeper; three Highland Servants; one Valet; one Messenger; one Table Decker; one Telegraphist; two Kitchen Clerks; a Cellarman; seven Kitchen, Confectionery and Pantry Maids; three Coffee Room Women; one Linen Room Woman; fourteen Housemaids; fourteen Footmen; one Assistant Butler; one Lamplighter; and one Nightwatchman.

Missy. Small, spindly child with fine blue eyes, chubby lips, and a mass of very fair, almost yellow, frizzled hair, dressed to the peculiar nines - in a dun dress, Mama hates white - bursting to talk, but everything is hush-hush here. At Eastwell Park it would be wild romps and Red Indians, she and Ducky together, Ducky almost her height already. Mama is not here, but Nana Pitcathley maintains Mama's strict rules: to be punctual, never to complain, never to refuse a morsel of food. They must learn to make conversation, practising on empty chairs. And Nana hangs the leather tawse over the ends of the beds. God has taken tall Grandpapa, as he took Grandmama last year. Grandmama was pale, with a sad face, in a blue bed on a train. Mama cried when she died; Missy had never seen her cry before. They went to the funeral; it was a long train journey; four days. They stood at a window of the Winter Palace, and watched the endless, plumed procession, led by a man with a giant sword. Nana loves to brush Missy's mass of hair, so different from Ducky's brown ringlets. Papa is not here either; so there are no games of Ogre. Sometimes they are shepherded, Alfred, Missy, Ducky, Sister Sandra, along the bewildering corridors to Gan-Gan, all in black silks, with a white cap. Her rooms are filled with pictures, statues, photographs of the other Grandpapa, the one they have never known. She asks the children if they are well-behaved. The housemaids cluck and shush as the children's feet hurry along the deep, soft carpets, past the busts and the screens and the gilt clocks. Nana noiselessly leads the way. Nana likes Ducky more than Missy, although Ducky argues, complains. Why? Missy purses her lips, and tries not to skip. Gan-Gan has a pet bullfinch, and her rooms smell of orange-blossom.

Missy is Marie Alexandra Victoria, better known in later life as Marie of Roumania. Her grandmother, the Queen ('Gan-Gan'), had been less than pleased to find her own name third in the line of forenames, and had admonished her son - her fourth child, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Kent and also of Ulster. The next child in line - Ducky - had duly been called Victoria Melita (and Sister Sandra was Alexandra Louisa Olga Victoria; the yet-unborn Baby Bee was Beatrice Leopoldine Victoria, too). It was a month of crisis at Windsor Castle, however. Alfred had married the only surviving child of the reformist Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Marie Alexandrovna - not a marriage of which Victoria had approved, not in the wake of Crimea, and the only one of her children to be married outside Britain (in the Winter Palace, in fact). Three weeks earlier, Alexander II had been blown apart in St. Petersburg by a Nihilist. A first bomb had not destroyed his carriage, but wounded his escort, and the would-be assassin was arrested. Alexander went to speak to him; a second, more suicidal bomber called Grinevetsky then exploded another bomb between himself and Alexander, whose leg was blown away. Both men survived only a few hours. In later life, Missy thought it possible she had been taken to the snow-blasted funeral; she was mistaking it with that of her grandmother, the Tsarina, who had died a year earlier. Missy's mother had travelled to St. Petersburg, and had not returned as yet. She had left the four children at Windsor Castle.

If Missy's father had travelled to St. Petersburg, he had made a quick return. He manages the unusual feat of appearing in the census twice - at his home in Eastwell Park, Kent, and as the rear-admiral on board HMS Penelope at Harwich. At Windsor with Queen Victoria and her four grandchildren were her youngest children, Leopold and Beatrice. It had been hoped that Beatrice would marry the son of the other "royal" in the castle, Ex-Empress Eugenie, the widow of the self-styled Napoleon III (Bonaparte's great-nephew). But her son Eugene had died in a skirmish with Zulus two years earlier. Leopold, the first to carry the haemophiliac gene, had survived his condition thus far. He married a minor German princess a year later, and had two children. He did not live to see the birth of the second, succumbing to the disaster in his genes in early 1884.

Missy's mother maintained a degree of contempt for the British royals; she was the only in-law to be bold with Victoria; but she shared with her the sport of match-making. Missy was born to be a pawn in the game played out around her. However, her first proposal came before she was ten, from a young boy a few months older than she was. A Master Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill made her an offer, which she was to remind him of in later life. Like young Winston, Missy was not enamoured of schooling. She was poor at spelling, could not remember dates, and Amalie Heim's natural history lessons turned her stomach. But she could speak Italian and French, and usually wrote in the latter (and this despite the bony nose and ugly smile of the responsible governess). She was, by her own admission, a vain child, a lover of having her photo taken, of dressing up. She loathed most of the succession of royal residences - on the Isle of Wight in the summer, Clarence House (her parents' London residence). But the house in Kent had land where she and Ducky could run themselves ragged. Her father was mostly away; her Anglophobic mother dictated their lives. They were forbidden to show signs of illness - as the British did.

Marie in about 1890

When Missy was ten, her father, of whom she was fond - and who took advantage of his rare appearances to pretend to be a giant, to the children's delight - was posted to Malta. This gave the family the distance and space they needed, away from the stuffy British way of life. It gave her mother the space to plan Marie's marriage. And across Europe, a parallel plot was being hatched in Roumania, an artificial country only fifteen years older than Missy herself, and ruled by King Carol I. Carol's son had died; his eldest nephew declined the succession; the next nephew, Prince Ferdinand of Hohenzollern, was despatched to the Balkans as the Crown Prince. Shy, with protruding ears, obsessed by botany, Ferdinand ("Nando") soon blotted his copybook by falling head over heels for a lady-on-waiting. But Roumanian law cannily forbade its royal family from marrying Roumanians! With a flea in his ear, and a list of eligible royal brides, he was sent to find a proper wife. Missy was first on the list. She was also first on another list in Windsor Castle. The Prince of Wales - Edward VII in waiting - was grooming his own eldest, Albert, to succeedhim. The Wales family had engaged him to Princess May of Teck; but Albert died at the age of 18, of pneumonia. The second son, George, was suddenly in the spotlight, and Missy was the Windsor Castle choice. Marie, Duchess of Edinburgh, was having none of it. She dictated Missy's refusals; Missy married Nando, although she was still seventeen; and George married May of Teck, his brother's former fianc?e. Missy's first child, Carol, was born on her eighteenth birthday, in 1893. There followed Elisabeth (1894), Marie ("Mignon") (1900), Nicholas (1903), Ileana (1909), and Mircea (1913).

Missy's mother had dressed eccentrically (she disdained the idea of left and right, and had identical shoes sent in pairs from Russia). Missy herself now had space to re-invent herself, and enjoyed the more spectacular aspects of being a crown princess (as she had always liked being taken to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace). She also took to the gypsy look, as she saw it, of the peasants. But after a few years, she scandalised the country by waltzing and riding with a young lieutenant, Zizi Cantacuzine. The king and his wife acted quickly, placing young Carol in the care of a governess called Mrs. Winter, and banning her from seeing him. At about the same time, Nando himself fell dangerously ill, and was expected to die. Her brother Alfred committed suicide in 1899; her father died of throat cancer in 1900. And Victoria died in 1901, a funeral she was not allowed to attend. Missy overcame all these crises with care. She nursed Nando back to health; but she never loved him. Their relationship was only sustained by mutual respect. Her emotional needs were fulfilled by a rich young aristocrat, Barbo Stirbey, who was about her own age, and who had strong political connections. They corresponded daily; it is likely that they were lovers, and her sixth child, Mircea, was thought to have been Stirbey's. Mircea, however, died young, after which Missy, it is said, resolved never to dance again.

If there is something of the fairytale about Missy, then it is hardly surprising. She wrote and published sentimental folk-tales herself, and liked melodramatic gestures. But she was also astute, and when Carol I finally died in 1914, she was the driving force in Nando's succession. She and Stirbey ensured that Roumania, at first neutral, entered the war in 1916 against the German-Austrian alliance. As an Anglo-Russian with a German husband, the issue was domestic, as it were, as well as political. At first, it seemed a blunder; Roumania was occupied by German forces; the Russian revolution threatened Roumania's stability, too. But by the end of the war, during which Missy had been involved in nursing at the front, it proved a successful move. She took over the floundering negotiations in 1919 over Roumania's boundaries, about which assurances had been given. Arriving in Paris in pomp and high fashion, where she was interviewed by Colette for Le Matin , she saw off the French and British disdain for Roumania. She secured for Roumania almost as much new land as the original borders had contained. Her negotiations were conducted flamboyantly, using the media interest in her appearance to great effect. She was also able to visit England again, and to remind Churchill of his childhood proposal.

In Roumania, she had her son Carol to deal with. Like his father, he had fallen for a Roumanian girl, Zizi Lambrino, and, worse, he had effectively deserted the country and married her. Pressure was applied; the marriage was annulled by royal decree; Carol was given an exemplary two-month prison sentence (served in a monastery). It is hard to exaggerate the chaos Carol was to cause in the next twenty years. He returned to Zizi; he renounced the throne; Zizi had a son Mircea; Carol then renounced Zizi and Mircea in favour of the throne. Shortly afterwards, he married Princess Elena of Greece, and had a new son, Mihai (Michael); yet he soon left Elena, and took up with Elena Lupescu, a Roumanian socialite; and he once again renounced the throne. Despite all this, he was to manoeuvre his way on to the Roumanian throne, when Nando died in 1927. This was despite the succession having passed to a regency which acknowledged Mihai over Carol. Missy's dithering attitude towards Carol hindered and helped the machinations in equal measure.

Missy's political understanding of Roumania was limited to the intrigues of the royal family. Her appeal to the Roumanian people was essentially emotional. They saw her as the woman who had reclaimed the territory of Transylvania; as the woman who had placed Roumania on an international stage. She gave them glamour, too. At the coronation of Nando and Missy, delayed until 1922, she wore a four-pound golden crown, set with rubies, emeralds and other precious stones, over a veil of gold mesh. At this point, her daughters-in-law were respectively queens of Greece and Yugoslavia. "So very picturesque," stuttered the future George VI of England. "And intensely moving," she corrected him.

What Missy did was to shift the monarchy of Europe into a new phase. Victoria left in place many European dynasties with reputations for being remote. Missy ushered in the age of royal celebrity, most particularly with her trip to America in 1926, during which she used all her PR skills to swat away awkward questions, for instance about the profound anti-semitism which had dogged Roumania from its incarnation in the 1860s and 1870s. She was a photographable queen; nearly six hundred policemen were required to hold back the crowds at her tickertape reception in New York. She had arrived with a retinue of seventeen and nearly two hundred pieces of luggage. The front pages splashed her daily. She managed to upstage the disapproving President Coolidge by organising a surprise photo-session; she played the plain woman for a day with North Dakota farmers; she was adopted as an honorary Sioux "war woman". Her endorsements were already being used to sell Pond's Cold Cream. Now they went to town:

NO ROYAL GUEST who has ever visited America has been so widely acclaimed for her beauty as Queen Marie. Youth is hers-and great vitality, in spite of years crowded with strenuous activity. She has a beautiful skin-unlined, firm, fresh, with lovely natural color! A skin which speaks for itself of the wise care Her Majesty has always given it.... The Queen of Roumania's loveliness may also be yours.

Back in Roumania, as her son Carol manipulated the political system, and installed Elena Lupescu in place, Marie quietly took a back seat, travelling Europe, keeping close to her other children, three of whom were effectively banned from Roumania by Carol. She emerged in Bucharest only in 1934, when Carol used her to divert the threat of assassination on an Independence Day parade. She wore a red tunic, a hussar's helmet and a white skirt. Her reception was rapturous. She had used this quieter period to write an autobiography, which was launched in London, also in 1934. The Story Of My Life, as it was called, was an immediate hit, was translated into eight languages - including Japanese - and serialised in America in The Saturday Evening Post for a cool fifty thousand dollars.

Her last four years saw her health gradually fail (and her son Carol dissolve the Constitution, and declare himself absolute ruler). She maintained her affectionate relationship with Stirbey - who was in Paris - through a continuous stream of letters. Her last journey - by train from a clinic in Dresden, because Carol refused to approve the air fare - was long, hot and painful. She died within a day of her return, on July 18th, 1938. Within two years, Hitler (whom Missy had under-estimated) had overrun the country. Within ten years, her early sweetheart, Winston Churchill, had effectively surrendered Roumania to the Russian communists she despised. Her children and grandchildren became part of the diaspora of princes and princesses, eking out their wealth if they had managed to salvage it.

The little girl from Windsor Castle in April 1881 had become the first real royal icon, the first international superstar in Victoria's crowded house of descendants. It was left to the sardonic wit of Dorothy Parker to commemorate her impossibly glamorous status:

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.

Notes:

Several of the members of the household in Windsor Castle neglect to divulge their places of birth. Victoria was born at Kensington Palace; Beatrice was born (like Leopold) at Buckingham Palace. Ex-Empress Eugenie, who was Spanish, was born in Granada. Alfred and Missy were born in Kent; Victoria ("Ducky") was born in Malta; Alexandra was born at Coburg, in Germany.

Sources:

The last romantic: a biography of Queen Marie of Roumania, by Hannah Pakula, 1985, Weidenfeld and Nicolson

Marie of Roumania: the intimate story of the radiant queen, by Mabel Anna Potter Daggett, 1927, Brentano's

Marie of Romania: The intimate life of a twentieth century queen, by Terence Elsberry,1973, Cassell

The Story Of My Life, by Marie, Queen Of Romania, 1934, Cassell

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