Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Saxe-Coburgs, the Battenbergs, the Johnstons, the Schultheises...

Victoria Regina, universal grandmother
A quick look at Queen Victoria’s family tree and you can see why she’s called the grandmother of everybody.  Everybody royal, I mean.  Not just any everybody.

Her first daughter Victoria married Frederick III, King of Prussia and became the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II.  Her oldest boy, Edward VII, married the daughter of Christian IX of Denmark and their daughter, Maud, married Charles of Denmark who then morphed into Haakon of Norway, whereupon he became a heroic resister against the Nazi invaders.  Victoria and Albert's second daughter, Alice, married Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and gave birth to Alix (i.e., an actual real granddaughter, not a metaphorical one), who married Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia.  Alix passed on hemophilia to her children, alas, which wasn’t really her fault.  But then became a friend to Rasputin, which kind of was.  All was forgiven, however, when she was slaughtered by the Bolsheviks with her entire family and became Saint Alexandra the Passion Bearer.  Alix's sister, Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine married Louis of Battenberg, and gave birth to Alice of Battenberg, Prince Philip's mother, and Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma and last viceroy of India.

Then came a couple more children of lesser note, Helena and Louise, who married the guy whose family they named the socks after, John, 9th Duke of Argyll.*  Then another son, Arthur, who also married into the Prussian line via Louisa Margaret, the daughter of Frederick Charles of Prussia. And finally, the baby of the family, Beatrice, who married Henry of Battenberg (whose name got translated into Mountbatten before it got replaced entirely by Windsor), who gave birth to Victoria Eugenia who married Alfonso XIII, King of Spain.  Not bad for a woman about whom the legend arose that she opposed laws against lesbians “because women would not do things like that.”  Not true, it turns out.  Alas.  Always loved that story.

Prince Philip and his mum,
Alice of Battenberg
The more you poke around in Victoria and Albert’s family background, the more some wonderful geography pops up.  When Queen Elizabeth's hubby, Prince Philip came on the scene, he was the son of Alice, also a Battenberg, remember.  She went a little batty, probably schizophrenic (for good reason, apparently - she was badly abused by her family), and eventually became a Greek Orthodox nun, and a woman Israel has declared to be one of the "righteous among the nations."  For the whole story, link here. It seems as though the family Philip married into want to keep her out of family photos, at least when she's in nun drag. I could be wrong about that. 

Albert’s father, Ernst I, the first duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was the older brother of Leopold, King of Belgium, whose daughter married Maximilian I of Mexico and became Princess Carlota of Mexico and his father was also Victoria's grandfather via her mother. Ernst’s younger brother by one year, Ferdinand, became the father of Ferdinand II of Portugal, whose daughter Infanta Antonia married Leopold, a Hohenzollern prince, and gave birth to Ferdinand I of Romania.  And Ferdinand II’s younger brother, August, became the father of Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, who was the father of Boris III, who was the father of present-day (still living) Simeon Borisov Sakskoburggotski.  No longer monarch.  Just an ordinary Bulgarian politician.  Except that, unlike the Hohenzollern boys, he has never signed any abdication papers.

Cry uncle any time.  I've barely scratched the surface.  Victoria and Albert had 22 grandsons and 22 granddaughters.  

The Johnston House, birthplace of Clarence, Cliff, Mabel,
Carrie, Lola, Austin, Harold, Rollings and Everett
Meanwhile, in the town of North Ogden, Nova Scotia, is a house which might be called “The Johnston House,” where my paternal grandmother, Mabel McCornick, née Johnston, was born, along with her older siblings, Clarence and Cliff, and her younger siblings, Carrie, Lola, Austin, Harold, Rollings and Everett.  Knowledge of the McCornick line goes only to my Scotland-born grandfather, Mabel’s husband, but the Johnston line goes back two more generations to Mabel’s father, Thomas, and her grandfather, Robert.  There is knowledge of the descendants down the line of Robert and his wife Margaret, which sometimes feels to me to include half the population of Nova Scotia, where I spent summers as a kid, sleeping in a room with Queen Victoria's picture hanging on the wall.  I remember old folks talking about a Johnston, though, perhaps Robert’s father, who had left (Enniskillin?) Ireland and was heading for Ontario but was shipwrecked in Nova Scotia and didn’t have the resources to continue the journey.  He landed in Canso, I believe, and migrated thirty miles to Guysborough, where he settled.  But these days, except for my father's cousin Betty née Johnston and me, nobody has the slightest interest in origins anymore.

Sophie Dorothea of Celle,
aka Princess of Ahlden after her
husband threw her in jail in Ahlden
Meanwhile, over in Germany, in a lovely little town called Celle, just down the road from Hannover, there once lived a woman known as Sophia Dorothea of Celle.  Like most nobility, she is known chiefly for the children she produced. Sophia Dorothea of Celle was the only child of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, which probably rings no bells for most people, but my mother, who was born in Celle and lived in Braunschweig (that’s German for Brunswick) a short while before coming to America, had a childhood illness, which I’m told was cured by a shepherd tending sheep in the Lüneburg Heath.  So there.  Don’t say I don’t have connections.

Sophia Dorothea of Celle’s mother was her father’s longterm mistress, a probably very nice Huguenot lady, whom he eventually married morganatically (i.e., you can have my name, but keep your hands off the family silver).   Sophia Dorothea was supposed to marry the future king of Denmark, but Sophia of Hannover decided she should marry her son instead.  Sophia Dorothea shouted, “I will not marry that pig snout” and fainted into her mother’s arms. She did marry the pig snout, however, who was her cousin George Louis, by the way, and they positively hated each other for the rest of their lives.  That didn’t prevent them from producing two children, George Augustus, who became George II of Great Britain, and Sophia Dorothea (yes, same name), who became "Queen in Prussia" when she married the perfect shit that was Frederick William I of Prussia, and gave birth to Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great.  George Louis got away with his affairs, of course, being male, but Sophia Dorothea suffered for hers.  George put her in prison in Celle for thirty-some years and never allowed her to see her children again. After leaving her covered with purple bruises and tearing her hair out. Before she died she wrote a letter to him to serve as a curse from beyond the grave.  George would not permit mourning in London or in Hanover and stuck her body in the cellar.  It was eventually moved into the Stadtkirche, the “City Church” of Celle, where it remains today.  According to Wikipedia, “George I died four weeks later, presumably shortly after receiving his deceased wife's final letter.”**

The reason for George’s scorn was that Sophia Dorothea had taken up with Philip Christoph von Königsmarck, played by Stewart Granger in the 1948 film about the affair, Saraband for Dead Lovers.  The lovers are brought down by a woman named Clara, Countess Clara Platen, played by Flora Robson.  Granger wanted Marlene Dietrich to play the part instead of Flora Robson, because Flora Robson was not beautiful and it was difficult, Granger said, to be cruel to a plain woman, and he needed to be cruel.

Sometime before my mother, Clara, was born (we do not have the wedding certificate) my grandmother, Bertha Luisa, married Karl Schultheis of Berlin.  We do, at least, have their names as legitimate parents of my mother, i.e., a married couple, on her birth certificate from the Midwifery Clinic in Celle in 1915.

But these were war years, and Karl went on to greener pastures, apparently divorcing my grandmother and abandoning my mother, and marrying again.  Karl and his second wife produced two boys, Kurt and Willi.  Kurt was killed in the Second World War, but Willi went on to become a famous horseman, known for training Olympic dressage champions and founding a stud farm, which one of his daughters still runs today.  Another of his daughters, Daniela, contacted me a few years ago and we have a lovely relationship.  My grandmother had somehow kept in touch with the Schultheis family and knew of Willi, so I was able to meet him when I first went to Germany in 1960.  Daniela, it turns out, was asleep in the crib in the next room, although if I knew about her then, the information didn’t register in my twenty-year-old mind.  Karl never told his second family about his first, turns out, but we decided, Daniela and I, that we could brush that aside.  I figure given all this bad blood between Sophia Dorothea of Celle and her pig snout husband, the King of England, the least I could do, as son of Clara Bertha Luisa of Celle, would be to set an example and let bygones be bygones.

*That’s of course an anachronism, but otherwise not so far-fetched.  Argyle (spelling was changed) socks go back to 1935.  Some claim (a real stretch!) they were named after the tartan of the Campbell clan.  The head of the Campbell clan today is His Grace, the 13th Duke of Argyll.

** The misery doesn't end there.  Pig snout George I and Sophie Dorothea's hatred for each other was mirrored in their two children.  George II hated his sister, Sophie Dorothea of Hannover, and apparently the feeling was mutual.  Then Sophie Dorothea married Frederick William of Prussia, who was known for beating his children, and forbidding them, including his heir, Frederick the Great, to see her unless he was present.  Freddie loathed his father and found ways to get around this order.  He loved his mother, from all reports, and greatly mourned her passing.  When his father died, he then became the man his father would have wanted, the king who expanded Prussia into a world-class state and went down in history as one of Europe's greatest generals.  (Depending on who you ask, of course.)

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