The Homes of Queen Victoria

A short video showing pictures of the main places lived in by Queen Victoria throughout her lifetime.

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The Last Tsar’s Siblings – Romanovs and the Russian Revolution

The tragic story of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his wife and children has been told and retold on countless occasions, numerous books have been written and film adaptations have been made. Nicholas’s story has become legendary, but the outcomes for his siblings were varied and it is these other five Romanov’s I will look at in this article.

Tsar Alexander III of Russia with his wife and children.

Tsar Alexander III of Russia with his wife and children.

The progress of the Russian Revolution and its deadly consequences advanced quickly, on the 8th of March strikes and demonstrations began in Petrograd (the name of St. Petersburg between 1914 and 1924) and they spread from there. Three days later 50 demonstrators were killed in the city and the Tsar, who was away at military headquarters in Mogilev, sent orders back to Petrograd to use force to crush any rebellion.

By the 12th of March the troops in the capital were refusing to fire on the protestors, the city garrison joined the revolution and the HQ of the Tsar’s secret police, the Okhrana, was set on fire. With the crisis deepening the Tsar made a last ditch attempt to go home and command the resistance personally. It was too little too late, on the same day the members of the Kadet party in the Duma (Russian parliament) formed a provisional committee to regain some level of control. Also on this day the Petrograd Soviet formed intent on having its own say on the formation of a new government.

The Tsar’s train back to Petrograd was stopped by a group of revolutionaries; it was at this point that he signed the instrument of abdication after being informed by his generals that it was the only way order at the front lines could be maintained. Initially the Tsar had ordered that his abdication was in favour of his only son Tsarevich Alexei, a council of regency would be appointed to rule the country until the boy reached his majority, being only 12 years of age.

Tsar Nicholas II on his train after signing his instrument of abdication on board the imperial train. (Imagined painting, not done from life).

Tsar Nicholas II on his after signing his instrument of abdication on board the imperial train. (Imagined painting, not done from life).

The Tsar was quickly put off from this idea by the Imperial family’s doctor who declared that the haemophiliac Alexei would never be able to cope being removed from his family and set upon the throne of Russia whilst the rest of his family would be forced into exile. Having listened to this advice Nicholas quickly ordered the instrument of abdication to be altered so as to leave the throne to his brother, Grand Duke Michael. Clearly Nicholas still believed that the monarchy would continue, just without him at its head, the idea of Russia as a republic would simply not have occurred to him automatically.

Almost a week passed before the ex-Tsar was returned under escort to be re-united with his family at their home, the Alexander Palace in Tsarsko Selo. There he was greeted by the revolutionary guards not as Emperor of All the Russias, but as Nicholas Romanov. Although a republic was not formally declared until early September 1917 the rule of the Russian monarchy was over. The deposed Tsar and his immediate family remained at Tsarskoe Selo until August 1917 before being transferred to Tobolsk and then onwards to Yekaterinburg.

Lenin, who led the second revolution in 1917 to found the Bolshevik regime. Responsible for the murder of Nicholas II and his wife and children.

Lenin, who led the second revolution in 1917 to found the Bolshevik regime. Responsible for the murder of Nicholas II and his wife and children.

In October 1917 the Provisional Government collapsed in the face of a Bolshevik uprising, by the end of 1917 Lenin had established himself as the new leader of an all-socialist regime which led to the foundation of the USSR. Lenin and his comrades were bent on imposing their ideals onto Russia and fought a bloody civil war between 1918 and 1922 to firmly establish their power. In 1918 with the White Army (Lenin’s anti-socialist opponents) advancing on Yekaterinburg the decision was taken to execute the Tsar, his wife, children and remaining servants in by firing squad in the basement of the house in which they had been imprisoned. Not only had the Romanov dynasty been removed from power, but they were now seen by the Red faction (Lenin’s Bolsheviks and other far left socialists) as enemies of the state and any of them who they could capture and kill was a bonus to them. This put the lives of the Tsar’s siblings into grave danger; any of them remaining in Russia would face certain death at the hands of Lenin’s socialists.

Tsar Nicholas had been the eldest of a family of six siblings, the children of Tsar Alexander III and his Danish wife Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. Nicholas was born in 1868 and he was followed by; Grand Duke Alexander born in 1869, Grand Duke George born in 1871, Grand Duchess Xenia born in 1875, Grand Duke Michael born in 1878 and Grand Duchess Olga born in 1882.

The two bothers born after Nicholas did not live long enough to see the revolution which brought death and destruction to their family. Grand Duke Alexander died at only 10 months old in May 1870 from a bout of meningitis. Grand Duke George survived into adulthood but died in 1899 aged 28. He had been out riding his motorcycle and having not returned home after several hours his worried staff sent out a search party. He had fallen from the bike and lay dying by the side of the road; a peasant woman found him there and held him in her arms until he died.

Tsar Nicolas’s only surviving brother was the Grand Duke Michael, who was 15 years old when his eldest brother became Tsar in 1894. Michael was enrolled in the military and served as an officer in the Horse Guards Artillery. From the death of his brother Grand Duke George in 1899 until the birth of his nephew, Alexei in 1904, Michael was heir to the throne of Russia, which was excluded from passing to females. As heir to the throne he was close to his brother and often represented the Tsar in an official capacity at events and ceremonies which he could not attend himself.

Grand Duke Michael in 1901 attending the Imperial State Council.

Grand Duke Michael in 1901 attending the Imperial State Council.

In the early years of the 20th century the Grand Duke had a few ill-fated romances. In 1902 he met his first cousin, Princess Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, they quickly fell in love. Sadly for the couple the Russian Orthodox Church refused to marry first cousins, and Nicholas II refused to permit a marriage between them. Beatrice went on to marry into the Spanish royal family and she too would experience revolution and civil war with the overthrow of the monarchy in that country in 1931.

Michael then fell for his sister Olga’s lady-in-waiting, Alexandra Kossikovskaya, who was known to her friends as Dina. As she was a commoner her marriage in the imperial family was, in the eyes of Tsar Nicholas and their mother the Empress Dowager, out of the question. Unfazed, Michael asked his brother in 1906 to grant him permission to marry Dina. This was refused instantly, Dina was duly dismissed from Grand Duchess Olga’s household and Michael was taken to Denmark from the remainder of the summer by his mother the Empress Dowager.

The Tsar’s secret police kept tabs on Dina over the months following the affair and when in September 1906 Michael returned to St Petersburg she was denied permission to travel and was kept well away from him. Their alleged plans to elope came to nought and Michael realised that the power of his brother as Tsar was irresistible and he gave up on Dina. She went to lie overseas and never married, always believing herself to have been cheated of her true love. Around this time there was also talk of him being wed to another of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, Princess Patricia of Connaught, this too came to nothing and never seems to have been pursued enthusiastically by either party.

In late 1907 a fellow officer introduced Michael his wife, Natalia Wulfert who was a divorcee onto her second husband. A commoner with a daughter from her first marriage was thought of as possibly the least suitable type of person for a Grand Duke to be consorting with in the eyes of the Tsar and the Imperial Court.

The unwelcome wife, Natalia was shunned by Michael's family.

The unwelcome wife, Natalia was shunned by Michael’s family.

This fact failed to stop a romance from blossoming, and within two years Michael and Natalia were lovers and she was separated from her husband living in an apartment in Moscow paid for by the Grand Duke. In 1910 and before her divorce came through, Natalia bore Michael a son, named George after Michael’s deceased brother.

In 1912 whilst traveling to the south of France for a holiday, Michael and Natalie managed to give the secret police whom always followed them the slip, and they managed to travel to Vienna without anybody knowing. Whilst there they were married in the Orthodox Church, a few days later Michael telegrammed the Tsar and his mother to inform them of the wedding.

Nicholas was furious; he stripped Michael of all of his official positions in Russia, banished him from the Empire and froze all his assets held in Russia along with seizing his estates. Over the next few months the newlyweds lived in a series of luxurious French hotels and for all the Tsar’s initial harsh response he did allow certain monies to be released from Russia on Michael’s behalf.

By 1913 the couple were in England and Michael took out a lease on Knebworth House outside London, he and Natalia were there as Europe hurtled towards war. Upon the start of hostilities Michael negotiated his return to Russia with the Tsar, Nicholas agreed that the Grand Duke and his wife could return to St Petersburg, and he left England by sea at Newcastle and travelled by land through Scandinavia to return to the capital. As Natalia was disbarred from living in any of the Imperial Palaces they took a villa in Gatchina which Natalia stayed in whilst the Grand duke went to the war front. Unlike his brother the Tsar, Michael was popular amongst the rank and file at the front and shared in their daily hardships which earned him much respect. In 1915 the Tsar gave Michael his estates back and also allowed Michael’s son George to be legitimated and the youngster came to be known as Count Brasov.

Knebworth House, in the English countryside it was probably the last place that Michael and Natalia could truly relax before their lives were torn apart by war and revolution.

The war was going incredibly badly for Russia and Michael was suffering from stomach ulcers and other illnesses whilst steadfastly remaining at the frontline with his soldiers. In October 1816 his stomach ulcers got so bad that he was ordered to go the take a period of rest in the Crimea at his sister Xenia’s estate. Whilst there he wrote to the Tsar warning him of public resentment growing against the regime on almost all fronts and begged his brother to consider making changes to avoid a meltdown. As usual all such protestations were ignored.

Michael spent Christmas 1916 with his wife and son George at his private estate, Brasovo. It was whilst there that he heard of Rasputin’s murder and the attempted assassination of the Tsarina. From here on out plots against the regime were to be found at every level of society from members of the imperial government itself, down to the lowest factory worker. There would soon be no turning back from the abyss and Michael could see it all too well, only the Tsar was blind.

As the February revolution in 1917 kicked off Michael found himself trapped in St Petersburg unable to get back to his villa at Gatchina where his wife was. He managed to take refuge in the mansion of a family friend, Princess Putyatina who lived on St Petersburg exclusive Millionnaya Street. The house next door was stormed by the mob and its owner killed, other people involved in the old regime were being rounded up left right and centre. Armed guards were sent by Rodzyanko who was the leader of the Provisional Committee in the Duma to ensure the Grand Duke’s security in the face of mob violence.

Upon Nicholas’s abdication in Michael’s favour he refused to accept the throne unless it was the settled will of the people. Instead of attempting to take command, Michael decided to give the Provisional government his blessing and recognised them as the de facto executive authority in the country. To have done anything else at this stage would have probably been futile, the people were demanding an end to the monarchy now and in the end Michael would never have the chance to assume the throne.

Michael was then allowed to return to Gatchina to be with his family but was ordered to remain in the St Petersburg area. In April he was relieved of his military positions and in July Alexander Kerensky became prime minister. In August Kerensky placed the couple under house arrest at their villa in Gatchina and a republic was officially declared on the 1st of September. As the upheaval of the October Revolution began to occur Michael was able to secure permission to travel, however the Bolsheviks were alerted about his preparations to leave and so they were stopped from going anywhere and their cars were seized. By March 1918 the Bolsheviks were firmly in power in St Petersburg at least and ordered that Michael was to be moved to the former Smolney Institute, now Bolshevik HQ, in which he was imprisoned.

Later on that month Michael was sent away to the city of Perm, initially lodged in a hotel he was quickly imprisoned by the local soviet. Natalia remained in the capital and pressed for Michael’s release, in April he was allowed freedom within Perm and in early May Natalia travelled to join him. Before leaving St Petersburg she got her son George’s nanny to smuggle him out of the country with help from the Danish ambassador.

No sooner had Natalia arrived in the city than the situation changed again, the enemies of the Bolsheviks were advancing on the city and for her safety Natalia left Perm on the 18th of May, this was the last time she was ever to see her husband.

On the night of the 12th of June four men gained entry into Michael’s hotel and ordered him to accompany them at once. After putting up some resistance he realised the futility of his protests and agreed to go. The local police were in connivance with the four men so even if the Grand Duke had been able to contact the police they have told him to go. In the early hours of the 13th Michael was taken to the forest outside the city where he was shot dead and his body stripped and buried, his remains have to this day never been found.

Grand Duke Michael and his faithful servant Brian Johnson who were both executed by the Bolsheviks in Perm.

Grand Duke Michael and his faithful servant Brian Johnson who were both executed by the Bolsheviks in Perm.

Natalia and her daughter were eventually able to escape from Russia after being imprisoned. Fleeing initially to London she ended her days in Paris utterly penniless as a charity case in an attic box room in 1952.

The Tsar’s eldest surviving sibling at the time of the revolution was, Grand Duchess Xenia. She had been married to her first cousin once removed, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia (Sandro), in 1894 at the Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg. During the couples honeymoon her father, Tsar Alexander III fell ill and died making her brother Nicholas become Tsar. Between 1895 and 1907 Xenia gave birth to her and Sandro’s seven children.

Grand Duchess Xenia and her husband Alexander in the early years of their marriage.

Grand Duchess Xenia and her husband Alexander in the early years of their marriage.

In the early years of the 20th century Xenia established herself as a leading champion of many different charities in St Petersburg and across the Empire at large. She was the patron of the crèche society for working class parents to have a place to put their children whilst they worked. She was also involved with various hospitals and many other worthy causes.

Upon the outbreak of World War One in 1914 Xenia was in France and her mother the Empress Dowager was in England, they agreed to meet at Calais to head directly back to Russia. Although Germany was the enemy now the Empress Dowager was sure that the Kaiser would allow her and Xenia to pass through his Empire in her private train to reach Russia. When they arrived at Berlin they were informed that the line to Russia was closed and that they could advance no further. They were instead allowed to travel to Denmark, which was the birthplace of the Empress Dowager and from there they went by sea to Finland and travelled to St Petersburg from there.

Back home she threw herself into war work by providing a large hospital for wounded soldiers, and chaired other institutions relevant to the war effort. During the war she became extremely disheartened by the constant defeats which Russia seemed to be suffering. In 1916, Xenia with her husband and mother wrote to Tsar Nicholas warning him of the influence of his wife and her favoured priest, Rasputin, which they felt was detrimental to the overall good of the nation. Nicholas never even read their letters, it was the Tsarina who opened the letters and then accused Sandro of “crawling behind” the Tsar’s mother and sister.

Xenia saw the way things were going but her brother seemed unreachable and he was ruled by his wife who held great sway in the affairs of government. Xenia beginning to think that all may soon be lost took her own family to her late father’s estate in the Crimea far away from the capital. Toward the end of 1916 Xenia’s mother, the Empress Dowager, also left St Petersburg for the Maryinsky Palace in Kiev (today the official residence of the President of Ukraine), she never returned to St Petersburg.

Whilst in the Crimea Xenia learned of the murder of Rasputin which had taken place in the capital, her own son-in-law, Prince Felix Yussupov had been one of the main participants in the murder. By this point in time Sandro was living separately from Xenia, he had had an affair in 1907 during Xenia’s last pregnancy and she too began having an affair with an Englishman which lasted until the advent of the war.

At the beginning of 1917 with the collapse of the Russian Empire only weeks away Xenia returned to St Petersburg in a last ditch attempt to persuade her brother to return to his capital city from military HQ and take the government under his direct control. She also tried to persuade her mother to do the same, but the Empress Dowager was resigned to defeat by this stage and refused to leave her palace in Kiev.

The outbreak of revolution in February 1917 signaled the end of the Romanov dynasty's 300 year rule.

The outbreak of revolution in February 1917 signaled the end of the Romanov dynasty’s 300 year rule.

She remained in St Petersburg as the Revolution erupted around her in late February and early March 1917. Upon hearing rumours that her brother had been forced to abdicate whilst on the imperial train she made a request to the Provisional Government to be able to see the Tsar. This was denied her, remaining in the capital for a few more weeks she was still there when the Tsar was returned to the Alexander Palace on the outskirts of St Petersburg. She was still refused to be allowed to go and visit her brother so on her 42nd birthday, the 25th of March, she departed St Petersburg for the last time and returned to the estate in the Crimea. Xenia arrived three days later and was joined there by Sandro, her mother and her sister.

It was in the Crimea that the family learnt of the Tsar Nicholas II’s execution at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Xenia and her family remained there; they were in fact trapped with little option to go anywhere else.

The Red Army approached the Crimea in early 1919, it is almost certain that the family would have been killed if they had been captured. However, help was at hand. King George V of Great Britain was the son of the Empress Dowager’s sister, Queen Alexandra. King George felt extreme guilt at the death of his cousin Nicholas II, as he could have saved him by offering asylum in Britain. He was not about to see his Aunt and other cousins murdered by the Bolsheviks, so he ordered the battleship HMS Marlborough to sail to Crimea and pick up the stranded members of the Imperial family. Initially they were taken to Malta, and then on to England.

A postcard image of HMS Marlborough, signed by many of the Imperial family members who boarded her in the Crimea for evacuation.

A postcard image of HMS Marlborough, signed by many of the Imperial family members who boarded her in the Crimea for evacuation.

Xenia decided to settle in England for the rest of her life. As the eldest surviving sibling of the late Tsar she was declared heiress to his estate within the United Kingdom. He had US$115 million deposited in four UK banks prior to the war; this would be worth over £2 billion sterling in 2012. Unfortunately, the bank of England explained to Xenia that her brother had used his personal fortune to help fund the war effort in Russia as the Imperial Treasury was insufficient. In 1919 there was a total of £500 left in the Romanov’s Bank of England account. Having left the Crimea with almost no possessions, Xenia quickly sank into an embarrassing financial state.

In 1925 her cousin King George found a home for Xenia by allowed her to stay in Frogmore House in Windsor Great Park. From time to time Xenia would visit King George V and Queen Mary and be entertained to lunch or dinner. The Empress Dowager left England for Denmark after a brief stay in England; she had her own private residence there, Hvidore Villa, which she had bought with her sister, Queen Alexandra, back in 1906 so they could spend part of the summer together and be near their father. Over the next decade Xenia often visited Hvidore as often as she was able to.

The Empress Dowager became ill in 1928 and by early autumn she was in rapid decline. Xenia was with her when she died at her Danish villa on the 13th of October that year and she was accompanied by many of the surviving members of the Romanov family at the deathbed. It was in these sad circumstances that Xenia was able to somewhat alleviate her financial stresses. The sale of the late Empress’s villa along with her jewels and other trinkets brought welcome security to Xenia.

Sandro, Xenia’s husband spent much of his time in exile living in France and rarely saw his wife for the remainder of his days, although they kept in touch through letters and it would appear from these that they were on friendly terms. Sandro died in the south of France in February 1933 and she travelled there to his funeral accompanied by their sons.

The now widowed Grand Duchess Xenia moved in 1937 to new accommodation, Wilderness House in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace which was given to her for life by King George VI as a grace and favour residence, prior to this move she had briefly taken possession of an extensive suite of rooms in Hampton Court Palace at the behest of King Edward VIII. Over the remaining years of her life she was frequently visited at Wilderness by her children and grandchildren and must have at last found a little piece of mind far removed from her glittering youth at the Russian Court and the tragic events which befell her loved ones in the course of the revolution. It was in London on the 20th of April 1960 that the Grand Duchess died, in comfortable surroundings surrounded by her family she was one of the lucky Romanovs.

Grand Duchess Xenia in later years at Wilderness House, Hampton Court.

Grand Duchess Xenia in later years at Wilderness House, Hampton Court.

Grand Duchess Olga was the youngest child of Tsar Alexander III and she was the closest to him, his death when she was but 12 years old was a particular tragedy to her. Olga was never close to her mother in her youth and so when in 1901 a marriage proposal came to her out of the blue from Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg, who had apparently never shown any interest in women before. She said ‘yes’ possibly just to gain some independence from her mother.

Grand Duchess Olga with her husband, Oldenburg.

Grand Duchess Olga with her husband, Oldenburg.

The marriage was an unhappy one; never consummated it was a failure of a match, none the less Oldenburg refused to grant Olga a divorce when she asked for it. The Tsar gave them a mansion in St Petersburg and there they carried on their sham relationship for years. Olga fell in love with the officer Nikolai Kulikovsky and her husband knowing this fact appointed Kulikovsky as an aide-de-camp and he lived in their mansion with them. Olga and Kulikovsky became lovers and it was the second worst kept secret in St Petersburg society, the worst kept being that her marriage was never consummated, so society forgave her the former due to the latter.

Olga and Peter spent a great deal of time at Tsarskoe Selo and she was close to the Tsar’s children, he favourite niece was Anastasia whom she called, “the little one”.   She grew closer to her eldest brother the Tsar over the years and grew very distant to Michael, she deplored his elopement in 1912 with Natalia and she never really spoke to him very much from that point onwards.

When war broke out Olga went to Ronvo in modern day Ukraine, she had in the past learned basic nursing and put her skills to good use at the understaffed hospital. As the Russians lost territory to the Germans her hospital was moved deeper into the Empire too Kiev, where she was joined by her mother and where the imperial family had the Maryinsky Palace. In 1916 the Tsar annulled Olga’s marriage and she was wed the same year to Kulikovsky in Kiev in a small ceremony, the only member of the family being there was her mother.

When the tsarist regime collapsed in 1917 Olga and her husband left Kiev for the Crimea along with her mother the Empress Dowager, and there they all met up with Grand Duchess Xenia. The family were placed under house arrest at their estate Ai-Tador on the orders of the local revolutionary forces.

The Romanovs in the Crimea, under house arrest before being rescued by the Royal Navy.

The Romanovs in the Crimea, under house arrest before being rescued by the Royal Navy.

When in 1919 the British Navy came to the Crimea and took control of the port towns they uplifted most of the imperial family who had made it to the coast. Olga and her husband refused to leave Russia though and travelled to the Caucuses which had been cleared of Bolsheviks by the White Army. It was there in a rented farmhouse that Olga gave birth to her second son on the 23rd of April 1919. Although she was by now aware that her brother that Tsar and his family had been executed they still had no idea about the true fate of Grand Duke Michael.

In November 1919 the White Army lost the upper hand, this propelled Olga and her family to flee to the Black Sea coast always just ahead of Bolshevik troops. Before she was evacuated she was informed by the Danish consul that her mother had arrived safely in Copenhagen. Initially they were taken to a refugee island near Istanbul in which they had to endure extremely primitive conditions. After two weeks they were evacuated from the island to Belgrade, where they were received by the future King Alexander I of Yugoslavia.

Hvidore, the Empress Dowager's private retreat in Denmark became her full time home from 1919 until her death.

Hvidore, the Empress Dowager’s private retreat in Denmark became her full time home from 1919 until her death.

The Empress Dowager summoned Olga to Copenhagen and there she and her family lived with her mother, at first in the Amelianborg Palace and then Hvidore Villa. It was not always easy for her, the Empress Dowager wanted Olga to be at her beck and call and she never really liked Kulikovsky due to him being a commoner and found Olga’s sons irritatingly boisterous.

In 1925 Olga and her husband travelled from Copenhagen into Germany and visited Anna Anderson in Berlin. Anderson was the most serious in a string of people who claimed they were Tsar Nicholas’s youngest daughter Anastasia. Olga left with hope in her heart that this one might really be her beloved niece. However as soon as she sat down with Anderson, Olga knew that she was not Anastasia, and although she had some of the story right there were too many gaps, mistakes and obvious blunders, not to mention that Olga did not consider Anderson as even looking like Anastasia. She returned to Copenhagen with all hope extinguished that there were any survivors amongst her brothers family.

After the death of the Empress Dowager in 1928 Olga used her half of the money from the sale of the Hvidore estate to buy a farm 15 miles from Copenhagen. There she and Kulikovsky kept different animals and she was helped out in the house by her maid who had travelled with them from Russia. Over the years the farm became a centre for Russian monarchists and she maintained many connections with the old imperial regime survivors whilst living in Denmark.

During WWII Denmark was occupied by the German forces, many Russian émigrés who wanted to fight Russian communism joined the German Army to fight the USSR. Towards the end of the war Joseph Stalin’s regime accused Olga of conspiring against the USSR and as soviet troops moved through Germany and close to the Danish border the remaining Romanovs took leave of the country and went live in rural Canada.

In Canada they first lived in Toronto but then purchased a 200 acre farm in Halton County, Ontario. By 1952 Olga and Kulikovsky were elderly and the farm was too much work for them, their sons had moved on and after some of Olga’s remaining jewels were stolen they decided to sell up. From here the couple and Olga’s loyal maid ‘Mimka’ a 5 room house in Cooksville, Ontario and it was here that they spent the rest of their lives. Mimka suffered a stroke whilst at the house and Olga nursed her until she died there in 1954. In her small house there on the outskirts of Ontario she could still not escape her past, it became a magnet for Romanov imposters, but also more distinguished visitors. Marina, Duchess of Kent, Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten and in 1959 Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Toronto and invited Olga to a luncheon on board the royal yacht Britannia.

Olga at her house in Cooksville, Ontario.

Olga at her house in Cooksville, Ontario.

Kulikovsky died in 1958 after a long illness and Olga became increasingly infirm and unable to take care of herself. She was hospitalised at Toronto General in April 1960 which was the same month which her only remaining sibling Grand Duchess Xenia died in London. She never returned to her house and instead went to be cared for by Russian émigré friends in Gerrard Street, Toronto. It was there that the last Grand Duchess died on the 21st of November 1960 after slipping into a coma.

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The History of Bute House – Home to the First Minister of Scotland

Bute House – many people have never heard of it. Often nicknamed as Scotland’s 10 Downing Street, it is the name of the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland and is located at No. 6 Charlotte Square in Edinburgh’s New Town, as the centerpiece of Robert Adam’s final and finest example of urban architecture.

Unlike the world famous White House in Washington D.C. or No. 10 Downing Street in London which were more or less built for purpose (with major adaptations over the years), Bute House was built as a private home and it remained so until 1966, at which time when it was given over to the National Trust for Scotland. Only at that point was the building made available to officers of state as an official residence, initially for the Secretary of State for Scotland and latterly as the home of Scotland’s First Minister.

The only point of reference outside No. 6 Charlotte Sq which alludes to the building’s purpose are these well polished brass plates. Source: The Times Scotland

Due to the fact that only in recent times has the house come into use for its current role, the history of the building has been largely ignored. In the past 13 years the Scottish Cabinet has held regular meetings in the house, and as such it has become the scene of the making of some of the major decisions taken by Scotland’s devolved government. So, as the years go by this building will become more and more a part of the fabric of Scotland’s long and rich history and as such it merits having some of its own story being told.

Historical Background to Bute House  

For a start, Bute House is not a term which would have been familiar to the people who constructed the building, it is a term which the house became known by in the 20th century, for which an explanation will be given later. Simply it would have been referred to as No. 6 Charlotte Square, one of 48 houses which were planned in the square which was to be the completing component of the first phase of the New Town.

It could be said that the history of the house begins, at an embryonic stage, in the year 1768. There was no trace of a construction site, but there was a plan, drawn up by a young, unknown architect called James Craig. He had won the competition held by the Town Council in 1766 to come up with a design for a new town to be built for Edinburgh’s polite society to house itself in stylish townhouses and less overcrowded spaces as they had had to endure in the Old Town.

Craig’s plan of 1768 merely puts down on paper for the first time the future location of the house in his great scheme. Much would change between this conceptual idea and the commencing of building work on the house in 1792.

Firstly the name of the square itself would change, had the name on the 1768 plan stuck then I would be writing about No. 6 St George Square’. It had been so named as a counter balance to St Andrew Square at the east end of the New Town. St Andrew and St George being the patron saints of Scotland and England respectively, this being partly political in implication was intended to show that Scotland in the aftermath of the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745 was now fully reconciled to the Act of Union which had joined the two countries together in 1707, forming Great Britain. Other such overtures to the union were made in Craig’s original plan, and came to fruition Thistle Street and Rose Street being the national flowers of both Scotland and England again emphasising the togetherness of Britain.

James Craig's 1768 plan for the New Town showing St George Square in place of Charlotte Square.

James Craig’s 1768 plan for the New Town showing St George Square in place of Charlotte Square.

St George Square never did come to pass, it was thought by some that the fact that Edinburgh already had a George Square located on the then southern outskirts of the city, that some confusion may be caused. Therefore a new name was needed, and the patron saint of England lost his place in the grand designs of Scotland’s capital city. If it wasn’t to be a saint, then like the rest of the New Town streets it would be named after a member of the ruling Hanoverian dynasty, King George III’s wife was chosen and became the only royal to be represented twice in the New Town, Queen Street had been so named in honour of Queen Charlotte and now Charlotte Square as well.

Another major alteration to the initial plan was due to the existence immediately north of Charlotte Square of the extensive Moray Estate, owned by the Earl of Moray and used as his private pleasure grounds. Craig had originally intended for Queen Street to be extended westwards behind the north side of the square, this mirrors what actually did happen at Queens Street’s east end where its runs behind the north side of St Andrew Square. And as at the St Andrew Square end there were to be mews lanes between the houses for the keeping of horses and carriages owned by the residents. But it turned out that the land needed for the north-west corner of Charlotte Sq. was part of Lord Moray’s property.

This fact almost put paid to the entire idea of a square at the west end of the New Town. The plan was no longer seen as practical due to the necessary encroachment onto Lord Moray’s land and instead the Lord Provost of Edinburgh declared that instead a circus or crescent should be considered which would literally have taken the edge of the plan and allowed building to commence without imposing on the Moray estate. The Town Council decided not to give up quite as easily as that though and entered into negotiations with the Earl of Moray to see what compromise could be made if any. The Earl agreed that the construction of the square could go ahead, however no mews were to be built at the rear of the north side and Queen Street would be cut short east of the square.

This turn of events was actually a blessing, as what it afforded the early occupants of the north front of Charlotte Square was the pleasant prospect of an uninterrupted “country scene” overlooking the Moray estate and villages such as Stockbridge down to the banks of the Firth of Forth and over to Fife. This also allowed for larger gardens at the rear of the houses than had been intended as they ran on to meet the edge of the Moray property. The estate boundary ran at an angle from east to west behind the square and so the gardens of numbers 9, 10 and 11 Charlotte Square at the west end of the north side of the square had far shorter gardens than did 1,2 and 3 at the other end of the block. Being right in the middle of the façade No. 6 had the median sized garden.

So, with all of these initial issues seemingly resolved the Town Council decided that the New Town needed to be finished with a great architectural triumph as some people had criticised the plainness of what had already been built from St. Andrew Square and along Princes, George and Queen Streets. To answer these complaints the council, commissioned that virtuoso Scottish architect, Robert Adam to design the facades for Charlotte Sq. in 1791.

Adam produced a unified scheme for the houses on the square; this was something completely novel for Edinburgh. The north and south sides were to be mirror images of the other and they became known as, “palace fronts”, and meaning that although they were made up of eleven individual houses these frontages were pulled together by their skilful design to appear as one grand edifice. No. 6 being the grandest of them all was the classically inspired centre piece to this harmonious plan, at 32 feet wide it was to be largest house in the block.

It was the north side of the square upon which work was to commence first; it would appear that amongst the very first feus taken for the square was that of the land for No. 6. In 1792 Orlando Hart purchased the feu for £290 (£348,000 in 2010).

Hart was a product of the new era of personal advancement that came with the 18th century economic boom. Starting out as a shoemaker he rose to become a City Councillor, member of the board of the public dispensary, captain of a golf club, and was nominated to represent the city of Edinburgh at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1777. It says something about Edinburgh’s consumer driven society when a man who began as a shoemaker is able to become wealthy enough to enter the city’s “gold rush” of the 18th century which was the speculative building of elegant townhouses.

Hart had to pay 5 guineas for a detailed copy of the elevation of the building and his builders were required to stick rigidly to the plan. Sadly, Hart did not live to see his latest money maker come to fruition as he died in Edinburgh in September 1793. His eldest son sold the house upon its completion to its first owner in c1796.

The finished result produced a house of four floors, the top floor being behind a pediment with sloped roofs and a basement below it all. In terms of the exterior; the basement level stonework was finished in a rock face style, above on the ground floor was a rusticated look, the first and second floors are polished ashlar, complimented with four Corinthian pilasters and a central, arched faux-venetian window above the front door, with stone carved roundels above the flanking bays on the first floor. The rear of the house, which, at the time of construction looked out onto a practically rural setting was ignored as far as finely polished stonework was concerned, it is more simply finished in exposed rubble.

The Exterior of No. 6 Charlotte Square, appearing much as it would have done in the 1790's.

The Exterior of No. 6 Charlotte Square, appearing much as it would have done in the 1790’s.

The most unusual aspect of this house compared with other Georgian townhouses was the fact that it had a door in the centre of the building. Most of these homes had a door placed on the same side as the staircase, but that was impossible here for the sake of the symmetry of Adam’s “palace front” design. This led to a considerably altered ground floor plan compared to its neighbours. A T-plan entrance hall with two small rooms either side led through to the stone staircase with iron baluster. Also on the ground floor were a large dining room and a smaller service room at the rear of the house, overlooking the back garden and the Moray estate.

From the ground floor the stone stair leads down to the basement which would have been equipped with a kitchen and other rooms for the use of the servants in the house, storage space, laundry, scullery, wine cellar would all have been present at the time of construction.

Far above on the first floor, the entertainment floor, there were only three rooms; the large rectangle drawing room occupied the entire with of the house with its three windows overlooking the square. Connected to the main drawing room was the back drawing room, another large rectangle space. Adjacent to the back drawing room was a smaller parlour, all three of these rooms with ceilings of over 14 feet in height.

The second floor was where the principle bedrooms and dressing rooms were located and these would have been built of generous proportions. The third floor contained smaller bedrooms with sloping ceilings which would have been mainly earmarked for children and servants to live in.

In an age when maidservants would share beds these houses would be able to accommodate a surprising number of household servants as well as the large families which often occupied them. Staff and trades people were able to come and go from the house by going down the external area steps from the street and using their own door directly below the main entrance on ground level. Also in the servants area there was access through low wooden doors to storage space located underneath pavement, these still exist today and would originally have been used for coal and other household essentials.

Once the house was complete and sold by the Orlando Hart’s son all it needed was inhabitants to make the house a home, and by 1797 the first of them was in situ at No. 6 Charlotte Square.

Early Residents of No. 6

One of the first recorded inhabitants of the house appears to be John Innes Crawford Esq. who appears on the Edinburgh postal directory of 1797 at this address. His next door neighbour at No. 5 was John Grant of Rothimurchus, the father of the renowned diarist Elizabeth Grant who was born in that house. On the other side at No. 7 is John Lamont of Lamont an Argyllshire land owner member of the Royal Company of Archers. It is unclear what Crawford paid for the house but Lamont purchased No. 7 in June 1796 for £1,800 (£1.9 million in 2010), although slightly smaller than No. 6 is a reasonable bench mark figure for what these houses were selling for to their initial buyers, No. 4 was sold in 1797 for a similar figure.

John Innes Crawford was born c.1770 at Cleghorn House in Lanarkshire, a home which he inherited and it was no doubt from this base of membership of the landed gentry that he funded his life in Edinburgh.

Crawford was a man of scientific interest as in 1818 long after he left Charlotte Sq. he was elected to become a member of the Wernerian Natural History Society, based in Edinburgh it hosted many prominent scientists of the day.

Continuing to look through the post office directory for 1797 we see that a Mrs Alex Simpson is also noted as living at No. 6 Charlotte Sq. it is not clear what the arrangement is here. Being listed as she is suggests that she is widowed, as it would be her husband’s name which appeared on the list otherwise. She may have been a lodger in the house, or a housekeeper who had herself added to the directory, information on her is almost non-existent so all is supposition.

By the time the next postal directory for the city was published for 1799-1800, Crawford was still in situ at the house. In 1799 Crawford was married to Jean McMurdo, the daughter of John McMurdo of Drumlanrig who had been the Chamberlain to the Duke of Queensberry until he retired in 1799.

Jean was the subject of Robert Burns’ poem Bonnie Jean; Burns was a good friend of Jean’s family and a frequent visitor to their home on the Drumlanrig estate. At the time of their marriage John was a captain in the North British Militia.

Mrs Simpson did not appear on the 1799 directory but curiously she reappeared in 1800, and by this point Crawford and his Bonnie Jean had moved on. This was to be Mrs Simpson’s final year in the square and thereafter the house had new owners.

Edinburgh, engraving of the NE corner of Charlotte Square. Titled 'Charlotte Square, Drawn, engraved and published by J. and H.S. Storer, Chapel Street, Pentonville.' General Collection Date 1820 Copyright RCAHMS

Early 19th Century Charlotte Square, the north-east corner, Source: Scotlands Places

In May 1805, a sale of the contents of the house is advertised in the Caledonian Mercury newspaper being sold by a Mr William Bruce who was an auctioneer. The possible owner at the time was a John Boyd Esq. who is known to have lived in Charlotte Square at the time, and the occupants of most of the other available properties were known. This sale came only one year before No. 6 was sold to its most famous early occupant, Sir John Sinclair.

Sir John Sinclair

Sir John Sinclair Bt. of Ulbster in Caithness became the owner of the house in 1806, there appears to be no newspaper advertisement for the sale, so it was likely purchased by private bargain. Sir John did not have far to flit, prior to No. 6 he was living only three doors away at No. 9 Charlotte Square. To go to this bother proves that there was status value in being the owner of the large house in the middle of the block rather than more architecturally simple and slightly smaller house a few feet away.

Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster (1754–1835)

Sir John Sinclair. Source: BBC: Your paintings, uncovering the nations art collection.

Sir John was born at Thurso Castle in Caithness in 1754, the eldest son of George Sinclair of Ulbster and distantly related of the Earls of Caithness. He was extremely well educated as all Scotsmen of rank and position were expected to be through the course of the enlightenment, studying at Edinburgh University, Trinity College, Oxford; he finished up receiving his LL.D from Glasgow in 1788. In Scotland he was admitted as a member of the Faculty of Advocates and he was called to the English bar but he never practised law as a profession.

His first permanent addresses in Edinburgh had been in the Old Town and Canongate, but as with most persons of quality he was to vacate and move north across the by then drained Nor’ Loch valley and into the New Town. Homes in the Old Town being abandoned by the fashionable set were occupied by the lower orders and by the turn of the century that part of Edinburgh’s former grandeur was seemingly gone forever as increasingly the place became one great slum.

In the same year that he was created a baronet, 1780, he also entered politics. From his first election victory until 1811 he sat as MP for Caithness, a seat which was ‘inherited’ by his son, George who sat in the House of Commons until 1841, a total of 61 years between father and son.

Outside of parliament he was the founder of the Board of Agriculture, the ancestor body of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As well as this he was he was a respected economist and financier, in 1784 he published his History of the Public Revenue of the British Empire which established his reputation. Leading on from this he became so trusted in his financial judgement that even William Pitt, a Tory Prime Minister took his advice on economic matters.

None of the aforementioned achievements are really what Sir John is remembered for. He is most famous by far as the pioneer who organised and compiled the First (or Old) Statistical Account of Scotland which published between 1791 and 1792. This feat was carried out by Sir John sending out requests in 1790 to over 900 parish ministers around Scotland. These ministers covered Scotland in its entirety and they were asked to answer a mere 160 questions to which Sir John desired answers. The questions were split up into four sections, geography and topography, population, agriculture and industry and then a selection of miscellaneous inquiries. Some of these participating clergymen were eminent scholars in their own right and their responses to this national survey were extremely detailed and well written. Through this huge undertaking of compiling and distilling these hand written returns Sir John created quite simply one of the most important documents in late 18th century Europe, an invaluable resource which extensively details the life of the people through the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Most recently the Third Statistical Account of Scotland was published between 1951 and 1992, an even wider ranging study but based on the principles of Sir John’s 18th century original.

Sir John’s occupation of the house came to an end in 1816 when he sold the property to the Edinburgh hotelier Charles Oman. Sir John moved a little further than he had in his previous flitting, but not by much. Setting up home for the final time he ended his days at 133 George Street, barley a stone’s throw from Charlotte Square, nowadays the site of Brown’s Bar and Brasserie.

Even in his retirement Sir John was still very active in the political sphere. An arch unionist, in 1828, he was writing counterblasts to newspaper articles, warning their readers of the danger of the proposed dissolution of union between Ireland and Great Britain. Despite the fact that he admitted Scotland would be more equally represented in Westminster by the departure of the Irish members, it failed to stop him from talking up the union mostly on the emotional ideal of the integrity of the British Empire, regardless of the feelings of a large part of the Irish populace.

Sir John died a few days before Christmas 1835 and his funeral was held in early January the next year and he was interred at Holyrood Abbey.

Oman’s Hotel

Charles Oman and his wife already kept hotels in the city at 22 St Andrew Street (known as Oman’s London Hotel) and 29 West Register Street (Oman’s Tavern Hotel). Their 1816 purchase of No. 6 Charlotte Square was not in order to set them up as patrician dwellers of Edinburgh’s most fashionable des res. No, they were there in what was to be an early example of the encroachment of commerce into the square, which in later centuries would almost entirely push out the residential character of these townhouses altogether. And what a prize to gain, if Charlotte Sq. was the New Town’s crowning glory, then No. 6 was the jewel in that crown as far as the houses went.

Back in 1806 Oman had been divesting himself of an hotel and tavern located at the back of St Andrew Sq. in a lane for £2,800 (more than £2.2 million in terms of 2010 earnings). He was obviously the budding businessman who was out to make his mark, buying and selling, moving up the property ladder as he went, to be able to secure a spot in Charlotte Square ten years later. There was money to be made in his line of business too, more visitors than ever were coming to Edinburgh to admire its newly constructed edifices, enjoy the shopping opportunities and theatre going.

Presumably one of the first changes that Oman made to the house was the attachment to the front of the building of the Oman’s Hotel signage. There are still markings visible today on the ashlar stonework belt between the ground and first floors, directly above the front door where that sign was once attached.

By the 1820’s No. 4 was also owned by Oman and this was added to his empire as an appendage to No. 6 doubling the size of his business footprint on the square, and matching the size of the Roxburgh Hotel as it was then only two townhouses also.

Not satisfied with taking on No. 6 in 1816, by that same year Oman was also renting and running the Waterloo Hotel on the Regent Bridge. This was Edinburgh’s first purpose built hotel and its, “extensive accommodation was decorated and furnished in such style and elegance as to surpass anything of the like in Britain,” according the, The new picture of Edinburgh for 1816. There was an associated coffee house, tavern and reading rooms for the use of guests or the paying public.

By 1816 Oman had become so renowned in the city for his, “knowledge in the culinary art,” that it, “has secured him the furnishing of most of the public dinners given in the city,” again repeating the words of, The new picture of Edinburgh for 1816.

With these very significant 1816 additions to his hotel empire and his growing reputation as a master of cuisine he became the undoubted “hotel king” in the city, Edinburgh’s early 19th century answer to the Hiltons perhaps? His hotels around the city became heavily patronised by the Scots aristocracy who no longer maintained an Edinburgh house in favour of a London address, and other distinguished visitors to the city. The arrival of guests at his hotels was often published in the papers of the time, and they were always listed in order of precedence. The published guest lists over the years reads like a list of Scottish peerage titles, Dukes and Duchesses of Argyll and of Atholl, Marquises and Marchionesses of Lothian and of Tweeddale, Earls and Countesses of Airlie, of Leven, of Rosslyn etc.

Oman diversified in a surprisingly modern fashion into hosting weddings at his hotels, as there is an example noted in The Scots Magazine of January 1822 of a wedding of Mr Thomas Mather to Sarah Maria Eastey which took place in the future Bute House. Also, corporate entertainment as it would be termed now was a feature of the business, on the 1st of June 1822 the 20th Anniversary meeting of the Didactic Society took place with dinner on the table for 5pm. These events took place in the same year as the royal visit of the King, and this would have been most likely the most profitable year of Oman’s life as Edinburgh teamed with incomers from all over the place.

Edinburgh, engraving showing Waterloo Place, National and Nelson Monuments and Calton Hill. Titled Waterloo Place, the National and Nelson Monuments, Calton Hill &c Edinburgh. Drawn by Tho. H. shepherd. Engraved by T. Barber. Published Jan.1 1829 by Jones & Cop. Tample of the Muses, Finsbury Square, London.'  Date 1829 Copyright RCAHMS

Oman’s Waterloo Hotel occupied the left hand side of Waterloo Place, it still exists as the Apex Hotel. Source: Scotland’s Places.

It was at No. 6 Charlotte Sq. that Charles Oman died in early August 1825, this however was not to be the end of Oman’s Hotels in Edinburgh. Mrs Oman now widowed, endeavored to carry on in the absence of her entrepreneurial husband and she proved that the highest born types of visitor were still keen to patronise their establishments. The hotel empire was downsized upon her husband’s death, she did not keep the lease to the Waterloo Hotel and so it was rented to a Mr Gibb shortly after Charles Oman’s death. Sadly for Mrs Oman, her eldest son had died in Jamaica in 1819 and so life may have been somewhat lonely for her depending on how close at hand other family members were.

Keeping the family owned part of the business going would have given her great focus, in preserving her husband’s legacy she could honour his memory. In 1832 Mrs Oman oversaw the arrival of the hotel’s most famous guest to date. From February that year King Charles X of France (youngest brother of King Louis XVI) and his court in exile were temporarily removed from the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which they had been allowed to stay in by King William IV since the former King’s arrival in Britain following the loss of his throne in the July Revolution of 1830.

File:Charles X of France 1.PNG

King Charles X of France, seen here in his coronation robes in 1825 reigned from 1824 until the July Revolution of 1830.
Twice in his life had he become an émigré, and twice he spent a part of that exile in Edinburgh.
As the Comte d’Artois, he was in Edinburg, living at Holyrood Palace in the 1790’s in the after math of the execution of his brother and sister in law; Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Upon the downfall of Napoleon I in 1814 the Bourbon’s were restored to the French throne under King Louis XVIII, Charles elder surviving brother. Upon Louis’s death in 1824, Charles became King. An absolutist to the core he attempted to reverse the French Revolution and restore the Ancien Regime. This led to the 1830 July Revolution, and the King found himself back in Edinburgh and for a time at Oman’s Hotel.
Source: Wikipedia

The French royal party who were mostly born at the Palace of Versailles into the world of Ancien Regime politics espousing absolute monarchy, excused and upheld by the Catholic Church; found a warm welcome in Edinburgh from the intensely anti-absolutist and staunchly Protestant Scots. Perhaps they were delighted to see royalty of any nationality frequenting their capital city as King George IV’s visit ten years earlier had been the first ever visit of a British monarch to Scotland. Prior to that the most recent visit of a Scottish King had been in 1633 when very reluctantly, Charles I made a visit to Edinburgh for his coronation. Although having been born in Scotland and speaking with a Scottish accent the King, who was also the English monarch chose to base himself permanently in England, it would seem that the latter nations Anglican faith sat far easier with the Catholic inclined Stuart monarchy.

Presumably the King Charles X’s royal entourage took up both Nos. 6 and 4 Charlotte Sq. as they booked out Oman’s Hotel in Charlotte Sq. in its entirety. One would assume that the French King would have been lodged in the principal house No. 6 and allowed his flunkeys and hangers on to find room in the appendage property.

Mrs Oman continued receiving her high born guests at Charlotte Square into the 1840’s. The first year of that decade royal wedding fever swept across Britain, the young Queen Victoria was to marry her cousin Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Mrs Oman joined in the party atmosphere and many houses were illuminated with lit up stars, crowns and VA initials burning in oil lit lamps. Mrs Oman had two stars illuminated outside No. 6 and lists were published in the newspapers to let the public know where to walk around to see these lit up displays.

Interestingly, Mrs Oman is alive long enough to appear on the 1841 census which is the first useful census to be taken in the British Isles. Mrs Oman is revealed for the first time as, Grace Oman. Grace is 60 years of age and living in No. 6 Charlotte Square with three others. Donald Mcglashan is her 40 year old waiter, and they are joined by two younger female servants, Caroline Remp, 25 and Isabella Morrison, 20.

In October 1844 Grace Oman died at No. 6 from having, “water on the chest” which was attested to in the parish records. Listed as 68, this is probably her true age as a close feirnd or relative would have reported it. She obviously decided to round her age down in the 1841 census, from 65 to 60, and this was not an uncommon lie in an age of sketchy records at best where nobody was ever going to catch you out.

New Money Returns No.6 to Private Use

By 1845 No. 6 had been sold off by Grace Oman’s heirs to Alexander Campbell, No. 4 had also gone its own separate way and been sold to one James Brown. Alexander Campbell was aged around 37 years old when he moved into No. 6 and we are afforded a closer look at his family and servants over the years of his occupancy from examining the census returns.

Alexander was the son of Archibald Campbell the brewer and he was born in Edinburgh around 1808. In 1851 Alexander is given as being 43 years of age, and he has inherited the brewery of his father. Campbell’s wife Catherine aged 37 and their children; Catherine 12, Alexander 10, Maurice 9, Elizabeth 6 and John 2. All of the family were born in Edinburgh.

They were looked after by a modest household staff of 4 servants, all female. The eldest amongst these was Margaret Aitkenson 31, she is listed as the cook, but in practice she would probably have doubled up as a sort of housekeeper to help Mrs Campbell look after the running of the house.

Born in the Scottish Highlands in Ross-shire, she would most likely have been the daughter of crofters who had in recent decades been cleared from the land to make way for sheep, and the profits of the wool trade. Famously many of the victims of the Highland Clearances fled from Scotland to Canada, the United States and further afield still, but many also stayed in Scotland and moved into the expanding towns and cities of the central belt. In Glasgow they were put to work in one of the many industrial works which that city was becoming world renowned for, in the far less industrialised Edinburgh these highlanders were swallowed up by the insatiable demand for domestic servants in the homes of the wealthy.

Margaret Aitkenson was joined on the staff by; Elizabeth Glover, 26 from Edinburgh, Jane Milne, also 26 and from Edinburgh and finally Margaret Dickson aged 27, she came from Kelso in the Scottish Borders. All of these young women were listed simply as house servants without giving them more specific job titles.

An emigration document relating to Elizabeth Glover dating from 1857 shows her leaving Scotland and sailing for Australia when she was 32. Elizabeth was joined by her widowed mother, aged 52. Elizabeth’s sisters Euphemia 30 and Helen 24 were also accompanying them as was their younger brother John aged 13. The family travelled aboard the Monica and the voyage would have taken between 2 and 5 months depending on the conditions encountered and the experience of the crew. The document also takes note of the family’s religion, Protestant; and whether or not they could read or write, the Glovers were all able to do both, some of their fellow passengers could do neither.

The Glover family landed in Sydney, New South Wales and it would appear from a family tree that Elizabeth had other siblings already settled in Australia which they were going to join, one of her brothers died in Chile, an example of the Scottish diaspora spreading its tentacles to the whole world, even far beyond the extent of British colonies. Elizabeth never married and died in Redfern, a Sydney suburb in 1898. Many of her siblings married and their descendants still live in Australia to this day.

Back in Charlotte Sq. the Campbell family remained in occupation long enough to be documented on the 1861 census. Alexander and Catherine Campbell are ten years older; he is still carrying on his brewing business but some of the children had grown into adults by this point in time.

Alexander the eldest son is now 20 years old and serving as an ensign in the 50th Regiment of Foot. The second son, Maurice had died in 1860 at the age of 18 in No. 6. John is now 12 and attending school. Both Catherine and Elizabeth from the previous census do not appear to be at home in the 1861 returns. It is known that Elizabeth married a Mr Ponton and she died whilst still young during a stay the House of the Binns near Linlithgow. She is stated in the paper as being the eldest surviving daughter of Alexander Campbell which sadly implies that Catherine was already deceased as well.

Mr and Mrs Campbell had in that decade from 1851 to 1861 added to their brood, with three children under the age of ten appearing. Eldest amongst these was, Isabella aged 9 followed by William aged 7 years and a little sister Margaret aged 3.

Given the expanded family, Campbell had also expanded his household staff. None of the servants of ten years prior are still in the employ of the family, we know that one went to Australia (Elizabeth Glover) and we can assume that if the others had married then this would lead to the end of their life in service.

In 1861, the 42 year old Arthur Henderson from Thurso is employed, somewhat unexpectedly for a male domestic in the New Town as the cook, like the previous incumbent of the post from ten years earlier; he was probably doubling up with some extra duties as a sort of house steward in the absence of a housekeeper. Henderson is joined by four female servants, Eliza Garrick, 30 from Kirkwall, Isabella and Esther Ross both 24 and both from Ross-shire, possibly (even probably) sisters. Mary Maxwell aged 21 had come to the city from the port town of Grangemouth in Stirlingshire. The youngest servant in the house was the 14 year old son of a fisherman, Alexander Gunn, who had left home in Wick to find work in Edinburgh. He may well have been the scullion boy to the cook and would have been the general underdog in the house upon which all the work that nobody else would do likely landed at his feet.

Other than the census returns Alexander Campbell was referred to numerous times in the printed press. In 1847 he was proving his devotion to God by joining a body called The Sabbath Alliance as a member of their extensive committee. The organisation’s members were sworn to promote the observance of the Lord’s Sabbath. In particular the running of railway trains on a Sunday was seen by the committee as a desecration which needed to be railed against. This was to be brought about, they hoped, by stopping the work of the postal department throughout the entire empire as this was the primary excuse for the operating of railways on a Sunday.

In 1851 he was made an ordinary director of the Commercial Bank of Scotland. Over the years he would go on to collect memberships to the boards of various different organisations based in the city.

He was also a charitable man and is listed for example as making a £5 donation to the cause of the unemployed operatives in Lancashire and other cotton manufacturing districts of England. Also in the 1860’s he was a member of the committee of The Scottish Fire Insurance Company Ltd.

Campbell was also a landlord, as the owner of 186 Canongate his tenant in 1862 was one Charles McLennan who applied to open a public-house at that address that same year. Doubtless as an owner Campbell had no issues with this, another outlet to sell his products would be welcome to the entrepreneur, presumably so long as there was no abuse of the Lord’s Day given Campbell’s membership of The Sabbath Alliance.

Returning to the census we can see that in 1871 Campbell was still living at No. 6 Charlotte Square, by now 63 years of age. At this stage his three youngest children were still living at home with him; Isabella is 19, William is 17 and Margaret is 13.

On the 14th of October 1863 Catherine Campbell (nee Gray-Scott) died at No. 6 Charlotte Square. Leaving her husband Alexander widowed, he never chose to remarry. Catherine was buried in St. Cuthbert’s Kirkyard and there is still a large and elaborate monument to her memory there to this day.

Given the reduced family living in the house, the number of servants had also fallen back to their 1851 number. Again a new census brought with it all new names for the staff as none of those employed in 1861 were still working for the family. When one watches TV programmes such as Upstairs Downstairs or Downton Abbey an impression is created of servants that live out their entire working lives under one family in one place. The truth is that domestic servants, especially in towns and cities lasted in one place only a few years on average. They could be dispensed with for any transgression which their employers were the sole judge of; if maidservants married they were dismissed, if they fell pregnant they were dismissed, if they came in drunk on their day off they could be dismissed, taking food or drink without permission was a sack-able offence. This is not say that any of these things happened at No. 6, they are the extreme possibilities for servants leaving one families employment. Others left to pursue careers in other areas, jobs in industry brought a higher degree of personal freedom, although hard work the days were shorter, they were usually better paid and could continue even whilst married. On the other hand there were career servants who would have found working for the family of a brewer to be something more low level than being in the employ of a titled family for example, and they would have looked for positions in what snobbish servants may have regarded as being a better class of household.

In 1871 the four members of staff looking after the Campbell family were as follows; Agnes Paterson aged 37, listed as the laundress and originating in St Andrews in Fife. Next there was Jane Petrie, a 38 year old housemaid from Orkney. Isabella Reid from North Berwick aged 33 was the cook. Lastly there was Thomas Kay from Lanarkshire who was the 16 year old page (or footman).

In 1881 at the now great age of 73 years old we still find Alexander living in No. 6 Charlotte Square. He was by then joined by only one of his children, William now 27 years of age. There are also grandchildren staying at the house at the time of the census. Feby Matilda Campbell aged 20 is presumably the daughter of Alexander, the eldest son of the owner of No. 6; she is joined by a 17 year old, likely her younger brother, also named Alexander Campbell.

The number of household staff had crept back up by 1881, from four 10 years earlier to five. They were listed as; Eliza Hunter, the family’s 30 year old cook from Cupar in Angus. Eliza Gammell from Leith was their 20 year old laundry maid. The third Eliza, at least their names would be easy for their ageing master to remember, Eliza Henderson a 22 year old from Perth who worked as table maid. Anne Falconer from Lochearn Head was the eldest of the domestics aged 30, she is given on the census as a housemaid but in the absence of a lady of the house, she would likely have been more like a housekeeper in practice than a mere maid. Lastly the below stairs establishment was completed by a 17 year old, the only servant Edinburgh born, Jessie Christie the kitchen maid.

During Alexander Campbell’s time at No. 6 he did have some alterations made to the building. One change from his ownership of which we know was submitted to the Dean of Guild in 1867 by Campbell’s architect, David Rhind. The plan was to include building up the back of the third floor to remove the sloped ceilings and create full sized rooms. Also there was to be a bay window built for the ground floor dining room overlooking the back of the house and supported by cast iron columns, one of which punched through the roof of the scullery below.

In the course of such a long occupancy Campbell must have made other alterations to the house in terms of décor, fixtures and fittings. Fashionable tastes changed a great deal between 1845 and 1887 and he would have given the No. 6 the overall stamp of the Victorian era which the 20th century restoration would later seek to eradicate.

By the time of the next census in 1891 William Campbell has inherited his father’s brewing business and has removed himself from No. 6 Charlotte Square to live at No. 2 Rutland Square only a 5 minute walk away.

Alexander Campbell died on the 12th of June 1887 at Cammo House, a retreat on the edge of the city near Crammond which his beer fortune enabled him to purchase as a getaway place.  Both of his houses were disposed of after his death by his son William, No. 6 Charlotte Square was purchased by Mr Mitchell Mitchell-Thomson who moved into the property with his family.

The New Aristocrat: Sir Mitchell Mitchell-Thomson 

Like his predecessor as owner of No. 6, Mitchell Thomson started his life out as part of that great band of very prosperous families which by then existed across Britain. They had founded dynasties based not upon chivalric service to the sovereign and power derived from landholdings; their power was new, derived from commerce, industry and its primary product, money. This growing demographic of newly prosperous families had since the industrial revolution been making huge fortunes which allowed them to live in a style befitting the old aristocracy whose tastes and fashions they aped and even attempted to outdo.

The amalgamation of these two types of family had taken its time but by the dawn of the 20th century the traditional upper classes had overcome their opposition to so called “new money” and to show acceptance heaps of hereditary titles were created from the end of the 19th and into the early 20th century, Mitchell Mitchell-Thomson was to be one such newly titled person, bridging the gap between his money making ancestors and his ennobled descendants.

Born in Alloa in early December 1846, he was the youngest son of Andrew Thomson and Janet Mitchell, at this time he was simply Mitchell Thomson, and he later double barrelled his surname.

Janet Mitchell’s father was the entrepreneur William Mitchell, who had been one of the founders of the Alloa Coal Company in 1835. Later William Mitchell became a partner in Ben Line, a shipping firm which took the coal for the Alloa Coal Companies mines out to Canada and returned with timber. So he was reaping profits from all stages of the coal industry from getting it out of the ground, to its shipment to their far flung customers in the Empire. With this fortune base William Mitchell had been able to ensure a comfortable life for his children and grandchildren.

Upon completing his education, Mitchell Thomson was made an apprentice in the family timber importing firm. He became an accomplished businessman and he was offered several directorships during the course of his life. These included a seat on the board of the Bank of Scotland, the Scottish Widow’s Fund Life Assurance Society, the British Investment Trust Company Arizona Trusts and Mortgage Company, the Scottish Reversionary Company Ltd.; the Caledonian Railway and the London Advisory Committee of the Canada Steamship Line Ltd, to name but a few.

In 1876 he was married to Eliza Flowerdew Lowson and together they had one son, she sadly died only one month after giving birth at their pre-Charlotte Square address of 7 Carlton Terrace. He next married in 1880 to Eliza Lamb Cook with whom he had two daughters.

Later, in his 40’s Mitchell Thomson began to seek elected office in his adopted home town of Edinburgh. He failed to be elected to Edinburgh City Council in 1882 on his first attempt but in 1890 he was voted in to a council seat.

Quickly he became an effective politician and public servant. He served on the city’s Gas, Education and Water Commissions. He also became chairman of the Northhill Soup Kitchen committee. He was a trustee and chairman for the George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh.

Mitchell used his business fortune to buy a landed estate at Polmood in Peeblesshire and it was in that same county that he served as a Justice of the Peace. Between 1897 and 1900 he reached his political peak as he served as Lord Provost of Edinburgh. As Lord Provost he was also a representative for Edinburgh to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He also served on the committee of the Edinburgh branch of the Navy league in the early 1900s.

He was a Unionist politically and he favoured stricter economic control, this is shown by the fact that he was chairman of the Scottish Trade Protection Society (1890s) and later the Tariff Reform League (1900s).

In the same year as he vacated the office of Lord Provost he was raised to a baronetcy by Queen Victoria. It was at this time that he opted to make himself Sir Mitchell Mitchell-Thomson Bt. with the double surname of both his parents, taking into his bloodline the name of his maternal grandfather who had brought him the prosperity which led to this elevation into the pages of Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage.

Again, the census information is useful to get a sense of his household at No. 6 Charlotte Square. The 1891 census return for the house shows Mitchell Thomson as being 44 years of age and a timber merchant, married to Eliza 42. The couple’s two daughters are present; Janet and Violet were 9 and 8 respectively. The eldest child, Mitchell’s son by his first wife is not at home at the time of the census, being aged 14 he would most likely have been away at school.

The family were looked after by a below stairs contingent of four domestic servants; Isabella Dickson Bell was their 46 year old cook from Crammond. The table maid was Margaret Riley aged 33 and hailing from Currie. Janet Martin had come further than the previous two servants to end up in Charlotte Square, as she originated in Morayshire, aged 30 she worked as the laundry maid. The youngest servant was Isabella Forbes at age 25 she too had left home in Morayshire to work as a housemaid in Charlotte Square.

At the beginning of the 20th century the 1901 census reveals that the family were absent from the house at the time of enumeration. No. 6 was occupied solely by servants on this occasion; Margaret Hamilton is the 32 year old cook from Lanarkshire, Jane and Annie Jackson both from North Berwick aged 29 and 17 are both housemaids, one might easily make the assumption that they are related. The last housemaid was Sarah Coutt aged 30 she was originally from North Ronaldsay, the outermost of the Orkney Isles.

The family do not appear on the Scottish census returns for 1901, on further investigation it transpires that he had taken himself off on a tour of the West Indies as a gift to himself now that he was free from the cares of elected office. He purportedly paid a visit to Sir David Wilson the Governor of British Honduras, but he ensured he was back in time to attend the golf championship at Muirfield in June 1901 with Mr and Mrs Henry Asquith.

Mitchell Thomson during the tenure of his term as Lord Provost of Edinburgh. Source:

The family reappear on the 1911 census; Sir Mitchell is listed as being 64 and is no longer given as having an occupation but instead is a man of, “private means”. His wife Eliza, now Lady Mitchell Thomson is aged 62. Both of their daughters remain at home unmarried, Janet and Violet aged 29 and 28 respectively.

In the previous two censuses the house was maintained by four servants, whether the family were in residence or not. By 1811, this Edwardian Baronet had decided that he needed to puff up the size of his household somewhat with more servants heightening the sense of extravagance and comfort in which the family were able to wrap themselves up. On the eve of World War One in the autumn years of the Belle Époque era there was to be no dimming of the lights. To these pampered individuals surrounded by luxury the oncoming downfall of their glorious era, in which Britain had reached the zenith of its world power, was scarcely conceivable.

In 1911 the family had doubled their staff and kept a household of 8 servants; possibly the most since the times of Sir John Sinclair or perhaps more even than he employed. First among these was Edith Bond from England who was a 43 year old lady’s companion. Edith would not have been regarded as a servant as much as part of the extended family.

A woman of more genteel birth than the average paid employee it is likely that Edith had fallen on harder times than she was born to and need to earn a living. She would have been of use to the lady of the house for conversation and perhaps some aspects of personal care such as helping her chose what to wear etc. also acting as a companion to the daughters of the house when they went into the town, although by 1911 they would have a lot more freedom than in the previous century.

The next on the list was the 31 year old Margaret Hogg, a trained hospital nurse. In the absence of children in the house which usually explained the employment of a servant entitled ‘nurse’ the implication is that one member of the family was in need of constant medical attention.

Besides this there was six further female servants all declared on the census return to be general domestics, but they would have had more specific duties than that, one would have been cook, laundry maid, table maid and housemaids, job titles which the family had previously assigned to former serants.

Alexandria Duncan at the age of 59 was the eldest, joined below stairs by Jane Mellis who was 47, Ina Ross was 30, Jessie Whitehead was 31, Mary Fisher was 23 and lastly there was the 18 year old Margaret Bell.

Before the outbreak of the War the family had continued to enjoyed pastime of travelling, they felt free to go anywhere in the world that they liked on account of British influence. They arrived back to Southampton from Buenos Aires in the spring of 1914 and had been in New York in 1912.

It is not known what effect the outbreak of WW1 would have had on the staff of No. 6 Charlotte Square, given that they were all female they would not have been called up to fight but there would have been an expectation and pressure for them to go and work in the factories in place of men, and post war there were a great deal more opportunities for woman, perhaps they would never have come back to the house if they had left service in the course of the war.

After the end of the War in 1918 Charlotte Square became rapidly less residential, a trend which had slowly been happening over the late Victorian and Edwardian era with the invasion of doctors and dentists who opened up surgeries in their dining room flats and lived “above shop” as it were. Soon it looked as though commerce would encroach upon the square fully, but this was not to be the fate of No. 6. In fact it proved to be the “last man standing” of Charlotte Square and it was going to be the final house in the square which was given up as gentleman’s town residence.

General view of centre of North side (no. 6) B C Clayton Date 1930 Copyright RCAHMS

North side of Charlotte Square around the early 1900’s when the Mitchell Thomson’s were living there. Source: Scotland’s Places

During his time in the house Sir Mitchell had made some changes as his predecessors had done. It is probable that he had electric lights installed in the house given the time frame of his ownership and going by what is known of the rolling out of that technology in in the city. He made other alterations, such as a third floor billiard room which was top lit and commanded excellent views across the Forth. There were also upgrades to the service aspects of the house, and a food lift was created in order to allow the food to move faster from the basement to the dining room.

Sir Mitchell Mitchell-Thomson’s death came about of a cerebral haemorrhage whilst in hospital on the 15th of November 1918; four days after the armistice which brought to an end the War which had blown apart the world and the society he had grown up with. He would have been in his 71st year of life.

The death certificate was signed by his only son who now succeeded his deceased father as the second Mitchell-Thomson baronet, giving his address as 55 Montagu Square. The new Sir William Mitchell-Thomson Bt. reached high political office in the family tradition established by his father, serving as an M.P. for various constituencies as a Unionist from 1906 until 1932, having served during that time as Postmaster General during the General Strike in 1926 amongst other posts.

In 1932 he resigned from the House of Commons on being elevated to a peerage as Baron of Selsdon by King George V, at which point he was able to enter the House of Lords. This would have undoubtedly made his father proud to have a peerage in the family. As Lord Selsdon he served as the Chairman of the Television Advisory Committee and as such he appeared on the first ever day of BBC Television broadcasting in 1936. Lord Selsdon lived out his days in London and died at home in Grosvenor Square, London in 1938 and he has since been succeeded in his titles by his son and grandson the current and 3rd Baron of Selsdon.

The 4th Marquess of Bute at No. 5 Charlotte Square

In 1903 Sir Mitchell Mitchell-Thomson got a new next door neighbour in Charlotte Square, a 22 year old named John Crichton-Stuart or by title, the 4th Marquess of Bute. On the 11th of July that year the Edinburgh Evening News discreetly reported that that the Marquess of Bute had purchased though his agents, No. 5 Charlotte Square for the sum off £9,500 (over £3.2 million in 2010 terms). This young man’s arrival would turn out to be one of the most significant events in Charlotte Square in the entire 20th century, and it is down to him that Charlotte Square looks as it does today.

Money was no object for this young aristocrat, he as yet had no wife and children to bog down the outgoings and he enjoyed a very substantial inheritance worth over £5 million (comparing that to 2010 earnings a conservative translation of value equates it to £1.7 billion), amongst the highest ever value inheritances in British history. The main source of this super-wealth came from great seems of coal which ran under the family estates in Wales, which had come to the Bute’s by a fortuitous marriage.

For a man like Lord Bute to buy into the square when he had a string of other, grander homes around the British Isles from which to choose; was to make a statement of a new appreciation which was emerging for the New Town at that time. Indeed the very existence of the north side of the square was threatened in in the late 19th century when a proposal was put forward to build a great new concert hall for the city. Luckily, many people railed against the plan, Adam’s designs were becoming to be seen as a masterpiece, in an early example of collective care for heritage buildings.

In 1911 the Bute’s were not at home in No. 5 Charlotte Square but their home was being looked after by a resident staff of; Mary Ellen Groome was a 45 year old housekeeper, joined by two housemaids, Mary Butler, 43 and Elizabeth Gray, 24.

Instead that census shows the 29 year old Marquess at Cardiff Castle, in the city which the 2nd Marquess had founded as a port town to export his coal across the globe. At Cardiff Lord Bute was joined by his wife, five of his young children and a household staff of twenty servants. Amongst this army of retainers were; a butler, 2 housekeepers, Lord Bute’s valet, Lady Bute’s lady’s maid, a nurse, 4 nannies, 2 nursery maids, 3 housemaids, a kitchen maid, 2 still room maids, 2 footmen and a hall boy. Oddly no cook is listed, it may well be that Lord Bute employed a chef with his own cottage on the estate or that he or she was simply absent from the castle at the time of the census. To say that this family lived a little more grandly than the other families owning property in Charlotte Square would have been an understatement.

4th Marquess

John Crichton-Stuart, 4th Marquess of Bute. Source:

An interesting fact to note about the servants is that 17 of them were Scottish born, 2 French and one Irish. This demonstrates the moveable nature of the household, and many of these staff would travel with the Bute’s as they moved from home to home, usually leaving behind the housekeepers and maids as they would be expected to keep the house in order for the family’s next visit. And indeed the 4th Marquess added additional accommodation to the basement rear of No. 5 Charlotte Square in order to make space for his butler, valet and footmen.

Lord Bute had learned from watching his father that their seemingly inexhaustable wealth could be put to very effective use in the preservation of, and restoration of buildings with strong heritage value. The 3rd Marquess had sympathetic extensions built onto his own Robert Adam house in Ayrshire, Dumfries House; however his true passion had been the mediaeval and gothic. Both Mount Stuart, the family’s ancestral seat on the Isle of Bute and Cardiff Castle were magnificently rebuilt by the 3rd Marquess as the stone embodiment of his wildest dreams, as to what he thought a gothic castle should be.

So the son found a passion for the Georgian revival which was to become very fashionable in the reign of King Edward VII. In No. 5 Charlotte Sq. he ordered his architect A.F. Balfour Paul to de-Victorianise the house, preening back and eradicating the work carried out for former owners. The front room on the ground floor was made into an oak panelled library, and the baluster on the staircase was replaced in carved oak in an early 18th century style. On the first floor the drawing room and parlour were restored to their original proportions and their ceilings were elaborately remodelled. The drawing room ceiling was a copy of an original Adam ceiling from the dressing room of the wife of the 3rd Earl of Bute at Luton Hoo in England.

Upon completion of the restoration the young lord moved in to what is an unmistakably Edwardian interior, but a none the less earnest attempt to recreate what in Lord Bute’s eyes mind an Adam designed house should have for an interior. The works were completed by 1904.

Having set his up home the 4th Marquess decided that it was time to marry. His mother was Gwendolen Fitzalan-Howard, a granddaughter of the 13th Duke of Norfolk. The Norfolk’s were one of Britain’s greatest Catholic families who had survived the English reformation unscathed by being powerful enough to defy the Tudor’s when it came to their faith. The 3rd Marquess of Bute had also converted to Roman Catholicism after marrying Gwendolen; they raised their children as Catholics too.

So it was to Ireland that the 4th Marquess turned when looking for a bride, the place in the United Kingdom where the Catholic faith was far less questionable than in Great Britain. In July 1905 he was married in Kilsaran Catholic Church in County Louth to Augusta Bellingham, the daughter of a local landowner.

The affair was something akin to a mini royal wedding for the locals; the streets were decorated, youngsters given the day off school, the Marquess in Royal Stuart tartan being preceded by 17 pipers. The couple left immediately after the wedding to sail for Scotland and after a honeymoon they set themselves up in No. 5 Charlotte Square where their first child, Lady Mary Crichton-Stuart was born on the 8th of May 1906.

Lord Bute took a break from house buying and restoring during the First World War where he became the only British peer to enlist for service at the rank of private. Perhaps he took a while to recover from the War and that’s which he missed the opportunity in 1918 to make a desirable purchase.

For in 1918 the Bute’s next door neighbour, recently widowed Eliza, Lady Mitchell-Thomson sold No. 6 Charlotte Square for £8,000 (£1.42 million in 2010). The buyers seemed to be a consortium of men; Patrick Murray, William Campbell-Johnston and William Bolden-Wilson. It is unclear what the intention of these men was with the house, but 4 years later it was being sold again.

The Mountjoy Monopoly

On the 1st of June 1922 a company took pocession of No. 6 Charlotte Square from, Patrick Murray, William Campbell-Johnston and William Bolden-Wilson. This firm was called Mountjoy Ltd. And it was a wholly owned family business held by Lord Mountjoy, from whom the business derived its name.

Viscount Mountjoy was only one of several hereditary peerage titles which he held, one of the others being Marquess of Bute. The 4th Marquess had again purchased a house on Charlotte Square through his family property business which was fast becoming the front for the entire Bute estates across the country. It was in the mid 1920’s that Lord Bute/Mountjoy was to rearrange and consolidate his holdings.

In 1922 the Bute Docks and the Cardiff Railway Company (formed by the 3rd Marquess) were absorbed into the Great Western Railway. Between 1923 and 1924 the Bute Collieries were sold off in Glamorgan, Wales. These had been the cash cow that led to the astronomical wealth of the family through the 19th and early 20th centuries, so it is unclear why the 4th Marquess disposed of them at this time; the royalties from extracted coal were retained by the family so they still received a substantial annual income from the mines, perhaps it was worth it not to have to own and run them, just to take a portion of the money as it was made. All the remaining Bute family property was transferred in 1926 into Mountjoy Ltd. The company continued as the property business front for the Bute Estate until recent times but was dissolved by the current Marquess [John Crichton-Stuart, 7th Marquess of Bute] in March 2001.

From 1922 Lord Bute set about restoring No. 6 also, he was happily lodged at No. 5 and had no intention of actually inhabiting No. 6, so his alterations were on a less sweeping scale than had been made at No. 5. None the less all of the Victorian style elements added to the house by the Campbell’s and other non-Georgian adornments made by the Mitchell-Thomson’s were stripped back, and in fact a much more authentic and restrained Georgian feeling was restored to No. 6 compared to the perhaps, over the top No.5 interiors.

The triumphs of the 4th Marquess’s restoration of No. 6 were the neo-Georgian entry hall on the ground floor with its inclusion of an early 18th century fire place which faces visitors as they walk in the front door. The restoration of the first floor drawing rooms took place at this time also with the Victorian double doors between the two rooms being removed and replaced with a single door re-creating the room’s original, symmetrical dimensions. Upon the completion of these restorations the house was rented out to tenants.

Before the 1920’s came to an end, Mountjoy Ltd. also made purchase of No. 7 Charlotte Square upon the exit of the Whyte family from that address in 1927. This purchase gave the Marquis control of the three house wide centrepiece of the Adam “palace front” on the north side of the square. He used Mountjoy Ltd. to complete his string of purchases by later adding No. 8 to his collection also.

Strength in numbers it seemed gave Lord Bute the clout necessary to restore not just the interior of his houses to something of their former Georgian appearance but he was also able to pull together a collective effort to restore the north side of the square externally to try and recreate Adam’s original vision. Many of the houses had been altered in such an untidy way that there was no longer any uniformity of the façade at all, each individual house was clearly demarcated by the different windows or doors or dormer windows which no longer matched their next door neighbour.

Nos. 5 and 7 flanking No. 6 had both in 1871, under the auspices of their then owners, undergone alterations to drop the drawing rooms windows from their original level down so as to make them floor to ceiling. Additional to this was the removal of the thin columns of astragals either side of the venetians which No. 5 and 7 originally had as their first floor windows which were immediately next to No. 6. Both of these houses also had ugly box dormers installed in 1889, the only saving grace was that these separate owners were seemingly working in tandem to maintain some air of symmetry. Suggesting that they were well aware as to the damage they were causing to the harmony of Adam’s design, but they were not interested enough to stop making these modifications.

Part of the 4th Marquess’s restoration included the correction of the first floor window heights, the restoration of fanlights and astragals which the Victorian era had seen removed. Crucially he ordered the demolition of the dormer windows poking out of the roofs of the houses. Balfour Paul was set to work on the interiors of No. 7 as he had been in the early 20th century at No. 5, this restoration cost No. 7 two original dining room recesses which were thought to be Victorian additions, Balfour Paul was perhaps too thorough in his work and not thorough enough in his research.

Closer view of No.5-7  Copyright RCAHMS

Nos. 5, 6 and 7 Charlotte Square returned (almost) to their original appearance, this was completed in the early 1930’s but this shot dates for the 1950’s or 1960’s. Source:

Once architectural harmony had been regained to the best of the Marquess of Bute’s knowledge and opinion he moved to secure his legacy by helping to create one of the first conservation orders in Scottish history. The Edinburgh Town Planning (Charlotte Square) Scheme Order, 1930 was enacted by the invocation of the 1925 Town Planning (Scotland) Act. The establishment in 1931 of the National Trust for Scotland would be of assistance to a private individual like the Marquess in spreading his message of heritage conservation through a public body with interested and influential stakeholders. Some decades later the 4th Marquesses grandson, the 6th Marquess, would become President of the National Trust for Scotland and undoubtedly the latter brought as much to that role as he did in no small part owning to the influence of his grandfather.

The 4th Marquess died on the 25th of April 1947 at the age of 65 at his ancestral seat of Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute. The Evening Telegraph report elected to describe his financial activities the weekend after his death. The Marquess had, “sold half the city of Cardiff for £2 million,” including, “20,000 houses, 1,000 shops and various theatres and cinemas”, his Welsh seat of Cardiff castle was possessed of a, “gold plated staircase”.

Prior to the nationalisation of coal royalties he was earning £117,000 (£18.3 million in 2010) per annum. His lands in Britain at the time of his death still extended to 117,000 acres upon which he had 6 stately homes in various locations. A castle in Spain and extensive lands in Morocco where he was the greatest foreign landowner and he commissioned the luxury El Minzah hotel in 1930, which is decorated in the Spanish Moroccan style, and can still be found today overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar in the centre of Tangier.

In all the 4th Marquess left an estate worth around £60,000,000 (£5 billion in 2010) and so despite two world wars, a great depression and the introduction of cripplingly high taxes in the post war period, not to mention the loss of revenue from the now state owned coal royalties he was still one of the richest people in Britain. He was by far and away Charlotte Squares wealthiest ever resident, even including the overthrown French monarch who had lived at No. 6 for a time in 1832.

After 4th came the 5th Marquess; another John Crichton-Stuart, the new Lord Bute preferred to make his Edinburgh home in No. 6 Charlotte Square and moved their Edinburgh base next door into the centre house. At this point No. 6 can claim to have become Bute House, even if that term was still not yet in common usage.

Unsurprisingly, the 5th Marquess received a rather heart sinking tax bill for inheriting such a huge fortune only two years after the end of the World War II, he was expected to pay 75% to the Treasury, or in monetary terms £45 million out of the £60 million estate value. That was just the beginning; there were tranches of other taxes and fees to deal with too. Being asset rich and cash poor was to the story of the British aristocracy through the second half of the 20th century. The total inheritance which the 5th Marquess received after all duties had been paid was the comparatively minuscule amount of £264,000 (£22.3 million). Bute’s have proven to one of those families who dealt with the 21st century and held on to much of what they had held in the past.

Soon after the death of his father the 5th Marquess gave up Cardiff Castle to the city of Cardiff and it is now operated by Cadw (the Welsh equivalent of Historic Scotland or English Heritage) and open to the public. Despite the fact that he had offloaded this significant estate he was also the purchaser of St. Kilda, an archipelago of Scotland’s North Atlantic coast. His acquisition was based on a love of ornithology and these islands were the perfect place to further his studies, in his will he left St. Kilda to the National Trust for Scotland.

By the 1950’s there were very few houses in Charlotte Sq. actually being lived in as complete townhouses, Bute House was the last one to be used in the traditional old style for which it was intended. From 1948 Mountjoy Ltd. (the 5th Marquess of Bute) had leased his late father’s former residence of No. 5 Charlotte Sq. to the National Trust for Scotland who had just moved out of offices in Gladstone’s Land on the Lawnmarket. And to the other side of Bute House, No. 7 had been let since before 1930 after its own restoration was completed to Whytock and Reid; the now sadly defunct Edinburgh based cabinet maker, drapers and antique dealers. The only reason they had been purchased by the 4th Marquess was to enact his Adam revival restoration of the square, he had never had any intention using them personally.

5th Marquess

John Crichton-Stuart, 5th Marquess of Bute. Source:

The 5th Marquess died at his family’s ancient seat of Mount Stuart on the 14th of August 1956, another premature death as his father and grandfather were not very old when they had died. This Lord Bute was only 49 years old and was taken by a particularly serious bout of pneumonia.

No. 6 in the Care of the Nation

The 5th Marquess was succeeded by his eldest son and name sake, John Crichton-Stuart 6th Marquess of Bute. Upon Lord Bute’s death in 1956 he left an estate valued at £139,472 (£6.7million in 2010) upon which duties payable totalled at £111,577 (£5.37 million). The mighty industrial fortune enjoyed by the 3rd and 4th Marquesses was now gone, and the next decade or so would be a financial balancing act for the 6th Marquess of Bute to determine what had to give, in order to keep as much of his family heritage intact as possible.

Negotiations took place at length between the trustees of the 5th Marquess’s estate and the Inland Revenue over the repayments of these death duties. Falkland Palace had already been placed in the care of the National Trust for Scotland in 1952 and in order to be able to meet the payment of the inheritance tax more property would have to be given up. And so it was a full ten years after the death of the 5th Marquess, that in March 1966, the trustees under settlement between the 6th Marquess and his solicitors disposed of Nos. 5, 6 and 7 Charlotte Square on behalf of Mountjoy Ltd, with the acquiescence of the Inland Revenue, to the National Trust for Scotland. It is unclear why No. 8 was not also given over at the same time; it was possibly sold prior to 1956.

Upon giving over these properties the 6th Marquess had certain ideas for how his former three houses should be used. He was keen for the National Trust for Scotland to maintain its headquarters at No. 5. Suddenly finding that they owned the house which they had been renting since 1948 the Trust were more than happy maintain themselves at No. 5, remaining until 1999 before vacating to the more spacious suite of houses on the south side of the square known properly as Wemyss House (after the 12th Earl of Wemyss a former President of the National Trust for Scotland), but known more often as “No. 28”, as it was through No. 28’s door that the five house complex was entered.

No. 7 was to continue being rented out by Whytock and Reid, from the Trust as it had been from Mountjoy Ltd; until 1973 when their lease expired and the Trust decided that it would be restored into a public visitor attraction displaying the interiors of a ‘typical’ Edinburgh New Town house c.1800 [known as The Georgian House]. This idea may have originated from the 6th Marquess and been one of his intentions when handing the house over so as that the National Land Fund would accept the terms.

A more controversial request from the 6th Marquess was that he was concerned that Bute House itself was to remain as a ‘home’. The problem here came from the National Land Fund, who were key players in the negotiations which saw the properties transferred to the Trust. They insisted that they would support nothing if there was not at least some degree of public access.

6th Marquess

: John Crichton-Stuart, 6th Marquess of Bute. Source:

A solution was found in the idea, which had long been touted in Edinburgh, for an official residence for the Secretary of State for Scotland. To provide the secretary with a bolthole whilst in the city and where he or she could entertain key people and thereby selected members of the public would be able to access the interior of Bute House. This seemed to work and a proposal and plans pressed ahead for the setting up of Bute House.

The Bute House Trust was set up to oversee the conversion of the house into its use for the Secretary of State and the National Trust for Scotland leased the house to the newly formed Trust for a peppercorn rent. The Chairman of the trustees of this new Bute House Trust was none other than the 6th Marquess of Bute, so in a way he left No. 6 but not really.

The trustees were responsible for raising the £30,000 spent by 1970 (£653,000 in 2010), which it took to make alterations, re-decorate and re-furnish the house to make the house fit for its new purpose. As well as spending money, many individuals and organisations were generous with loans or gifts of furniture from a substantial and valuable loans of collections from Althea Dundas-Bekker at Arniston House, which the National Trust for Scotland kept for over 20 years and much of it placed into Bute House, down to the gift of a colour T.V. set from Scottish Television.

By June 1970 the house was ready for habitation once again, some of its collection highlights at that time were an Allan Ramsay portrait of the 3rd Earl of Bute (ancestor of the 6th Marquess who had been Great Britain’s first Scottish prime minister), a specially designed rosewood sideboard created in 1973 especially for the Bute House dining room by Edward Barnsley, one of the 20th centuries leading furniture designers. Also on loan were four Chippendale chairs in red damask with a matching Sheraton settee.

This arrangement between the serving Secretary of State for Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland continued, facilitated by the Bute House Trust, until the year 1999. It was at this stage that the Scottish Parliament was reconvened after an almost 300 year absence from Edinburgh and consequently Bute House was promoted from the pied-a-terre of a London based cabinet secretary into the permanent base of the leader of Scotland’s new devolved administration.

The Drawing Room of Bute House in 1970 as it was set up in readiness for the use of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The Drawing Room of Bute House in 1970 as it was set up in readiness for the use of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Bute House in the Devolution Era

Rumour has it from within the Scottish Government (it may or may not be true) that Bute House was not the first choice of the Civil Service when coming to decide where they were to lodge the newly created First Minister of Scotland, after all No. 6 was already the home of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The government owned the Governor’s House, perched atop Calton Hill clinging to the edge of the cliff face above Waverly Station. That house seemed to meet the civil services criteria, who realised that making that house into lodging would be the most cost effective thing for the tax payer as there would have been no rent involved. However, Donald Dewar the first First Minister in devolution Scotland, was aghast at the prospect of being housed in a mini-castle in such a prominent location in central Edinburgh. That would have done his supposed left wing credentials no favours. Instead he pushed for the eviction of his Labour party colleague, the Secretary of State for Scotland, who basically had a title but no real work to do anyway in the wake of a new Scottish executive. At least that is the hearsay behind the choice of residence.

Governor’s House, First Minister Dewar’s apparently early refusal of this house led to Bute House becoming the FM’s official residence.

What is fact is that on the 17th of May 1999 Donald Dewar was appointed First Minister of Scotland by the Queen during the course of a discreet private meeting in the Morning Drawing Room of Holyrood Palace. They were surrounded by furniture that was commissioned for King Charles X of France when he was lodged at the Palace in the immediate aftermath of his overthrowing from the French throne. King Charles X was something they both had in common, as of that day; they both lived somewhere that King Charles X had called home for a time.

The setup of Bute House was finalised (for the time being) in 1999 and has changed relatively little in how it has been used since then. The basement is devoted to housing the First Minister’s staff, formers pantries and servants rooms turned into offices full of computers with strip lighting in the ceiling and broadband cables on the floor.

The ground floor has changed the least in purpose over the centuries; the large dining room at the rear of that level has even managed to retain its original Georgian cornice and is used really only for official dinners. Connecting to that there is a onetime butler’s pantry which has now been made into a well equipped kitchen to serve the main dining room.

The drawing room on the first floor overlooking the square is where the first minister receives guests and entertains official visitors, sumptuously furnished with many fine paintings on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland.

At the back of the first floor is the cabinet room, which would have been a secondary drawing room in the 18th century. This room was furnished as the library in the time of the secretary of state but since 1999 has been the location of weekly meetings of the Scottish cabinet ministers and secretaries every fortnight, every other week they convene at St, Andrew’s House. The other room on this floor would at one time have been used as a small parlour; it is now the first minister’s study.

The second and third floors have been converted into a private flat for the first minister and his family. There is a small private kitchen there, living room, five bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms as it was set up in 1970 for the secretary of state’s use.

Bute House became the scene of an early tragedy in the devolution story when on the 10th of October 2000 Donald Dewar slipped on the wet pavement outside the front door of the property and incurred a fall in which he banged his head. Seemingly fine at first he later suffered a major brain haemorrhage and died a day later in hospital in Edinburgh. This sad event ushered in Henry McLeish as First Minister; he picked up where Dewar left off in terms of leading the Labour/LibDem coalition in the Scottish Parliament.

According to some reports (perhaps rumour again), Mrs McLeish was not very fond of the interior décor of Bute House and was preparing grand plans for some DIY. Possibly luckily for Bute House she was stopped in her tracks by the fact that her husband was forced out of office on the 8th of November 2001 by his entanglement in the Officegate affair.

Jack McConnell was then chosen to head the coalition and take the lead of his party in the second Scottish Parliament elections which took place in May 2003. He was able to reform the coalition after those elections and he survives a full term in office up until the next elections in 2007. Thankfully the McConnell’s had the taste to leave the house as was and abandoned any McLeish makeover ideas.

The Cabinet Ministers of the first Salmond Administration in 2007 meet in the Drawing Room at Bute House. Source: Wikipedia

McConnell lost his position in the 2007 elections to the Scottish Parliament when the Scottish National Party won a plurality of seats and Bute House welcomed its fourth First Minister, the first non-Labour.

Alex Salmond led a minority government at Holyrood from 2007 until the elections to the Scottish Parliament held in May 2011. At these elections his party won the majority of seats and his residence in Bute house was secured until the next elections in 2016.

Or so we thought, until the Scotsman newspaper ran a story (or rumours) that the Governor’s House was being considered as a replacement residence to Bute House. The paper suggested that Alex Salmond was personally dictating that he should be moved into the mini-castle from which Donald Dewar, father of the nation, had shied away from. In truth the decision has nothing to do with the serving first minister and he or she will be told where to live by the Scottish Civil Service after they have worked out the most cost effective (or cheapest) way to organise things.

For the foreseeable future Bute House is to go on as the official residence of the Scotland’s first minister, but it is a house with a long and full history, no doubt with many more chapters to be written. Who knows, after Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014 Bute House may find itself as the official residence of the prime minister of Scotland?

Postscript: Water, Gas and Electricity

One thing that fascinates people about the New Town is the thought that these houses, fine homes that they were, were constructed without amenities such as; electricity, gas or running water. People are often keen to establish exactly when these developments would have been introduced into a building like No. 6 Charlotte Square. It is not clear without detailed records on the subject, but estimates can be made by looking at contemporary sources relating to neighbouring houses in the square.

I will start off with that most basic and most taken for granted of modern conveniences, the introduction of water direct into the home. The well-known stories of the 18th century Old Town and the tradition of Garde Loo need no repetition here; they are suggestive of a city without much in the way of advanced sanitation.

This rather disgusting problem was one of the raisons d’etre for the New Town in the first place; therefore by the time No. 6 Charlotte Square was built in the 1790’s during the last phase of Craig’s New Town, much had been achieved in respect to the improvement of the water supply.

That being said, it will probably surprise some people to realise that city first received piped water from Comiston in 1681 and over the next century upgrades were made to this supply. Being accessed mainly from wellheads located throughout the Old Town it was at that time rare, although not unheard of, to have water diverted into your home directly.

By the early 19th century there were acute shortages in the supply regularly and so a new solution was required to maintain the supply with consistency. By 1819 the Edinburgh Joint Stock Water Company had been formed with huge capital and began supplying the city from Crawly springs, After 1819 direct supplies into individual dwelling all over the city became commonplace in both the New Town and the Old Town.

Charlotte Square however was a little more advanced in earlier years, possibly due to the fact that it was at the correct end of town to receive piped supplies from the reservoir on Castle Hill, and so these houses never bore the brunt of a drought. It would appear form sales advertisements in the newspapers of the 1790’s that all houses in the square were fitted with a water pump, located in the back garden from their time of construction. This was not plumbing, but it negated the need for water to be delivered to the houses in the square by the famous water caddies, a trade which died out entirely in the years following 1819.

As early as 1806, the advert placed in the Caledonian Mercury relating to the sale by Sir John Henderson of No. 8 Charlotte Square stated that, “water is in abundance for every use, and is conducted to various parts of the house,” proof positive that houses in Charlotte Square were able to be equipped for modernity before much of the rest of the city. 1806 was the same year in which Sir John Sinclair moved from No. 9 to No. 6 Charlotte Square, there is no way to know for certain whether or not whether No. 6 already had these advancements at that time or not, but it is easy to imagine that if it was good enough for Sir John Henderson, then it was good enough for Sir John Sinclair.

No.6’s next owner, the hotelier, Charles Oman would almost definitely have had piped water installed throughout the house before the opening for business of his elite boutique hotel in Edinburgh’s newly created west end. Later on, most likely Alexander Campbell or perhaps as late as Sir Mitchell Mitchell-Thomson, there would have been the introduction of fully functioning bathrooms with hot water on tap, heated by a boiler and elsewhere in the house would have been recognisably modern toilets, where waste was flushed away into the sewer network without the necessity of a servant to do the needful removal of effluence.

Moving swiftly on, to lighting, after the fall of darkness the only method by which the earliest inhabitants of No. 6 would have had to light their home was produced by a flame in some form. Candles were the number one choice, beeswax for the rich, tallow for the poor; the former giving off a brighter light and not producing any offensive stench, the latter giving off a poor light, and being made with animal fat they stunk while being burned. No. 6 probably used both, beeswax upstairs and tallow downstairs.

This would have been what all of the occupants up to and including the Oman’s were used to, but it was during the ownership of Charles Oman that Edinburgh’s first gas works opened up (the remains of which were rediscovered during the demolition of the New Street bus depot in 2006) and coal gas was sold for street and domestic lighting.

The first experiment in Edinburgh with gas lighting took place in 1819 on North Bridge, it was a success and through the 1820’s spread across the city at a rapid rate, firstly for street lighting, then commercial property and into the homes of wealthy residents at first. Charlotte Square got its gas street lighting in 1822. No. 6 being Oman’s Hotel at this point was likely to be amongst the early houses in the square to have this technology installed, especially because it was more cost effective as an energy source than the expensive candle which a hotel would have used. Again there is no certainty, only informed supposition.

Finally, after gas lighting came electricity. This tended to be slower on the uptake than gas had been. Electricity was available from 1895, again it spread quickest for use as street lighting, but houses such as those in Charlotte Square would probably have joined the city grid in the first decade of the 20th century. Remnants exist in No. 5 Charlotte Sq. of electric servants bells installed in the ground floor library which was fitted out in 1903, they don’t look like insertions, so it is most likely that electricity was installed at that same time if not before. And as for No. 6 if the Mitchell-Thomson’s did not install electricity then the Marquess would have surely installed it after 1922, as he had done in No. 5.

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Welsh Nationalists to King of England – The Improbable Rise of the Tudor Dynasty


The Tudor Dynasty – Where did they come from?

The Tudors, that name conjures up in the imagination a big, bearded King Henry VIII and his six wives, or Bloody Mary and her burning at the stake of countless heretics, or of the Virgin Queen fending off the Spanish Armada, or for the thoroughly up to date among you, you imagine Jonathan Rhys Myers ripping the bodices of every wench that passes by. There can be no doubt that they are an exciting dynasty, they became expert at exercising their power for their own benefit as well as for the enhancement of their nation as a whole. It was in a sense however a dynasty that lived fast and died young. The dynasty only lasted for 118 years which is not long when compared to other dynasties in the British Isles and the continent, the House of Plantagenet who had ruled England before the Tudors ruled for 331 years.

The family ruled England for all of the 16th century and it is what they crammed into that time which makes the dynasty’s five reigning monarchs (not including Lady Jane Grey) so interesting and well known today. The family only had three generations on the throne between Henry VII to Elizabeth I so they barely had time to get their roots embedded into the throne before they were gone. Each of the Tudors is famous in their own right and I don’t intend to dwell too much on the rulers themselves but instead examine the origins of the ruling family. Few people know where the Tudors came from before they took the throne of England in 1485, the truth is their royal origins were somewhat dubious, not that it was the first or last time a tenuous regal connection won somebody a throne. The irony comes into it more when you realise the politics of previous generations of the Tudors, they are not the views you would expect an English King to espouse and indeed the Tudor monarchs did not share the views of their recent ancestors. In fact the monarchs were too ashamed of the apparently low born nature of the name Tudor to actually use it and it did not come into such common usage until the late 18th century.

The story of the Tudors before the throne of England is one of meteoric rise which perhaps gives a clue as to the ambition driving the dynasty to grasp whatever possible opportunity they could grasp to improve themselves. The family first appears on the radar of history in the early 13th century. The well-known ancestor of the Tudors from this time was Ednyfed Fychan who was a soldier in the army of the Prince of Gwynedd in North Wales. In terms of ancestry further back from himself, Ednyfed was a 9th generation descendent of tribal King of Gwynedd. The small physical size of the Welsh kingdoms probably meant that having some claim to Welsh royal descent was not really a surprise and it would likely have been far more common to have some royal blood there than one might imagine.

The three decapitated English knights.

Ednyfed was a fierce warrior and legend has it that he was taken notice off when during one battle when, fighting for Prince Llewellyn the Great of Gwynedd against an invasion lead by the Earl of Chester at the behest of King John, he beheaded three English nobles and presented their heads, still dripping with blood, as trophies to Prince Llewellyn. The Prince then granted him a coat of arms which featured the heads of three warriors as a reminder of this service. As further thanks, the Prince made Ednyfed his chief councillor in 1215 and he was sent to represent Gwynedd in the negotiations which led to the peace of Worcester in 1218 and again in 1232 he was sent to a meeting with King Henry III. Prince Llewellyn died in 1240, but Ednyfed continued in the service of his son Dafydd ap Llewellyn until his own death in 1246. Ednyfed had put the family on the map, literally by being granted estates in the north of Wales from Prince Llewellyn. His son succeeded to these upon Ednyfed’s death, he was called Goronwy ap Ednyfed and it is his son, Tudur Hen (or Tudur ap Goronwy) who first bore the name by which the later ruling dynasty would come to be known.

Welsh Nationalists: The Tudurs

It was during Tudur Hen’s lifetime that the political landscape in Wales altered forever and the old ways of warring Princes began to ebb away. In 1272 everything changed when Edward I became King of England, he was intent on having the entire island ruled by England and he first turned his attentions to Wales. Most of the descendants of Ednyfed had decided it was best for them to swear loyalty to King Edward and it was proven to be wise choice when Edward took control of North Wales he allowed the family to keep their estates. Had they been set against him they would have lost more than just lands and titles.

For Tudur Hen there was more to life than status and position. He decided to join a revolt against Edward I in 1294 under the leadership of Madog ap Llewellyn who was a descendant of previous Princes of Wales, Madog now assumed that title for himself. Although he had been born in England and had previously been given a great deal of money by Edward I to buy his loyalty to and consequently his treachery to Wales, he still determined to revolt. The reasons for this are not so honourable as it may seem, Madog was furious at the high level of taxation which was being imposed by Edward, no doubt to help finance his extensive castle building projects in Wales. So because he was having to pay too much in taxes he kick started the revolution, not because the people were being oppressed or Wales was to be amalgamated into England.

Tudur Hen was appointed as steward in the self-styled “Prince of Wales” household and they set off with the intention to free Wales once again. At first they were successful, sacking Caernarvon Castle and several others all the while the revolt was spreading from the north to the south of the country. In the winter of 1294 King Edward brought his army into Wales determined to nip the revolt in bud. Edward was himself hemmed in at Conway Castle and was under siege until his navy provided relief and lifted the siege in 1295.

Edward I, before he went on to attempt hammering the Scots, he liked to hammer the Welsh.

All of this success was to be short lived however and as the winter season melted away the military campaigning season resumed. Edward sent in a force under the command of the Earl of Warwick and the opposing sides met for battle on the 5th of March 1295 in Powys. The Battle of Moydog was to be the last stand that Madog and Tudur Hen would make in their attempt to regain Welsh sovereignty. Although the fought gallantly and managed to defend themselves well against an onslaught from the English cavalry, it was to be the skilful way in which Warwick directed his archers which was to prove decisive. Arrows reigned down upon Welsh spearmen and the losses began to pile up.

After defeat Madog went into hiding but was captured and taken to London, it is not clear what happened to him there, but he was obviously not killed because he is referred to as being alive in 1312. As for Tudur Hen he went back to his family who had made the pragmatic choice of affirming their loyalty to the English monarch. In 1301, Edward made another assertion of his authority by proclaiming his eldest son and heir, also Edward as the first English Prince of Wales. A tradition which continues to this day, the current Prince of Wales, heir to Queen Elizabeth II is the 21st man to hold the title as the heir to the English then subsequently the British throne.

Tudur Hen must have thought with this declaration that King Edward had every intention of defending his claims on Wales and so he himself swore loyalty to this newly created Prince of Wales. For this act of loyalty, which it is hard to believe could be heartfelt Tudur Hen was able to keep his families estates and when he died in 1311 he was succeeded by his son Goronwy ap Tudur Hen.

This Goronwy was a weak link in the nationalist chain. He was completely loyal to the English monarchs who ruled over Wales during his lifetime and even went so far as to fight in their armies during the English invasion of Scotland, it is speculated that he was present at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. If he was there in 1314 he was not killed amongst his comrades because he lived until 1331 and was in turn succeeded by his son Tudur ap Goronwy.

Like his father, Tudur ap Goronwy was not a rabble rouser and lived quietly as a loyal member of the English run establishment in Wales. So long as he did that, the money kept rolling in form his estates and he was secure in the knowledge that it would continue, so he never rocked the boat. He made his mark on the family’s nationalist credentials with his marriage to Marged ferch Tomos. Together the couple had several children and the eldest was Maredudd ap Tudur who would later succeed his father to the estates in North Wales. Marged had a sister named Elen, and Elen was the mother of a very famous Welshman, Owain Glyndwr.

The meant that Maredudd ap Tudur was the first cousin of Wales’s most celebrated nationalist in history, he is seen as being to Wales what William Wallace is to Scotland. Glyndwr however was not always a Welsh nationalist and had been quite happy to serve the King of England up until about the time that Richard II was deposed by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV).

At this time Glyndwr’s neighbouring lord annexed some of the Welshman’s land to his own. This neighbour, Lord Grey was a personal friend of the new English monarch and so he was the winner of the case which meant that Glyndwr had to accept the loss of his lands. Not only this but Grey “forgot” to inform Glyndwr that all landowners were to give up men for a troop levy which was demanded by the King for sending into battle against the King of Scots. As Glyndwr responded late, Lord Grey was able to circulate the impression in London that his neighbour in Wales was disloyal to the crown.

These events were the background to which Glyndwr was proclaimed by a small band of his followers as Prince of Wales in September 1400, not entirely randomly as he was descended from Princes of Powys. It was at this stage that Maredudd ap Tudur and his bothers elected to join their cousin in battle and supported him in claiming the Principality. 1401 proved to be Glyndwr’s year and he was victorious over King Henry IV forcing him eventually to retreat back to England.

Owain Glyndwr, last native Prince of Wales.

In 1402 the English tried to exert political pressure when they introduced the Penal Laws against Wales in 1402 in a bid to establish legal dominance. This only drove even more Welshmen under the banner of Glyndwr. The same year he managed to capture Lord Grey, the man who had caused all of the enmity to start, Grey was only released a year later once Glyndwr had extracted a huge ransom from the King of England. In 1402 the King of France also delivered his tacit approval to the Welsh rebellion by apparently sending troops to help them out. He had every intention of forming an alliance with an independent Wales as he had with Scotland, so that should he ever need to, he could invade England from Welsh or Scottish soil.

By 1403 the revolt was being taken seriously enough that the Welshmen who were studying at Oxford decided to take themselves back to Wales as did Welsh born labours living in England. They wanted to fight under the banner of this newly appointed and charismatic Prince. More importantly perhaps was the fact that soldiers, especially the very experienced longbow men serving in the English Army began to desert and go home to fight for Glyndwr.

The next year Glyndwr was in a position to hold his princely court at Harlech Castle and decree his plans for the nation going forward. This proclamation included the ambitious notion that there would be two universities. He declared that there would be a Welsh Parliament and separate Church of Wales which would chose loyalty to either the Pope in Rome or in Avignon as the Welsh people saw fit so to do. This was the pinnacle, almost all of Welsh society, both high born and low now sided with the rebel Prince and English resistance crumpled in the face of such national unity.

The House of Tudor may have ended up close to the throne of an independent Welsh kingdom if events had taken a different course, but this success was not to last. In 1406 it had become clear that King Charles VI of France was no longer really interested in helping the Welsh. At the same time the English started to achieve major military victories against them. King Henry IV combined his army’s military success with punitive economic restrictions on trading with Wales. One by one the Welsh leaders began to surrender and gave up their castles to the invaders. It seemed that as quickly as he had risen up he was knocked down. Although his own family were captured and sent to be imprisoned in the tower of London he kept up the insurrection until as late as 1412, at which point he seems to just disappear off the face of the earth. It is most likely that he was killed, but many believed that their Prince still lived and the rumours of sightings and secret communication persisted for years afterwards, in the same way that people have been convinced that Elvis Presley still lives, mostly because that’s what they want to think.

Maredudd ap Tudur was subsequently stripped of all his lands which became forfeited to the English Crown upon the reestablishment of their administration. Maredudd somehow managed to keep his life, but his brother Rhys was executed by the English at Chester in 1412 for his part in the uprising. Maredudd married Margaret ferch Dafydd, daughter of the Lord of Anglesey. It was their son Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur who decided to take the family on a new path which would, he no doubt hoped, bury the shame of the past forever.

Tudur becomes Tudor and a Welsh dynasty becomes English

In the immediate aftermath of Glyndwr’s initial defeats in 1406 Maredudd sent his son to London to be educated there in the style of an English gentleman and perhaps one day bring some prestige back to the family. Owain lived with his father’s second cousin Lord Rhys and one of the first things he was made to do was to anglicise his name, this meant he was the first one in the family to acquire a surname. Instead of choosing to be called Owain Maredudd or Owen Meredith in English he took his grandfather’s name of Tudur and so he was known as Owen Tudor from his arrival in London, but for this decision almost nobody would have heard of “the Tudors” and would instead have referred to “the Merediths” as the ruling dynasty of England from 1485 to 1603.

He was sent when still only a child into the court of King Henry IV who had was still at that time quashing Glyndwr’s revolt in Wales. During the reign of Henry V Owen became a soldier and fought under that King’s command at Agincourt in 1415. For his efforts he was made a squire and was granted the right to bear a coat of arms in England.

It was after the time of King Henry V’s death in 1422 that Owen entered the service of his widow, Catherine de Valois. Over the years Owen served the dowager Queen loyally and they grew closer, to be more than just mistress and servant. Catherine had attempted to marry John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset but had been thwarted by her young son’s regents. In 1428 the parliament passed an act which forbade the widows of former monarchs from marrying without the King’s permission. So she resolved to marry somebody of lowly enough birth that the Kings’ ministers would not care to interfere.

Queen Dowager, Catherine de Valois

The next year she married Owen Tudor, she never sought her son’s permission so it was questionable whether or not the marriage was legal. Presumably Henry VI would have raised any concerns he may have had about the marriage when he obtained his majority, he never seems to have done so and he made his step-father a knight. Henry must also have approved of his half siblings as he made two of Owen and Catherine’s sons earls. One of these brothers, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond was the father of the future Henry VII.

Owen Tudor had not brought his family any closer to the throne in the legal sense; his children inherited no right to the crown by being the children of a queen consort. As the opening salvo of the Wars of Roses was fired Owen was trotted out one last time to command troops against the upstart Earl of March. March was the man who quickly toppled Henry VI and made himself King of England, such ruthless times produced ruthless attitudes and when he defeated Owen Tudor he wasted no time at all in having him beheaded along with the other prisoners of war in Hereford.

Edmund Tudor was brought up by the abbess of Barking until 1442, at which point aged around twelve years old he was sent to his half-brother’s palace in London. He was well beloved by Henry and parliament declared the Tudors formally legitimate in 1453; at least they confirmed their legitimacy as Owen and Catherine had been married in the eyes of God.

In 1452 the nine year old daughter of the Duke of Somerset was summoned by King Henry VI to come to court. The child was placed in the care of Edmund Tudor and his brother Jasper, whom had been created Earl of Pembroke by their half sibling the King. Three years later when the girl was twelve she was married to Edmund, in an act that must have been solely aimed at dynasty making and power broking. Astonishingly the culture of power matches was so rife that this was actually Margaret’s second marriage, she had been married off as a toddler, however the union was annulled a few years later (Henry VI who had allowed the marriage must have had a new plan for her) and was never recognised as a proper marriage by Margaret herself.

It was this marriage to a pre-pubescent child which brought to the Tudor’s a claim to the throne; she was descended from King Edward III through her father. This is why she was such an attractive marriage prospect, royal blood brought that double edged sword of a claim on the crown but it could also bring danger. Edmund Tudor obviously though it was a combination worth accepting, and when she was only 13 she gave birth to their only child. The difficult nature of the birth meant that there was no chance of another child ever again. This was not ideal in a time of high infant mortality, but it did mean that all care and attention had to be paid to the young son that was born to them in 1557, Henry Tudor.

Lady Margaret, mother of Henry VII seen here in later life.

Perhaps these somewhat harrowing experiences for such a young woman of genteel upbringing made Margaret the force of nature she was in later life. She outlived her husband Edmund who died of the plague whilst in captivity by Yorkists and being held in South Wales. Margaret went on to outlive her next two husbands, she outlived her son whom had become Henry VII and had put the Tudor’s on the throne and took charge of arranging the coronation of her grandson Henry VIII.

The Tudor’s pick up the Crown of England

So far you have been able to see how Edmund Tudor and his father had manoeuvred the family into the right sort of lineage, but still that does not explain how somebody so distantly related to the throne was able to become King. Fate was sealed by one more useful marriage. When Henry became an adult he promised to marry Elizabeth of York (arranged of course by his mother). Elizabeth was Edward IV’s eldest daughter, and her brothers were the murdered Princes in the Tower. This meant that Elizabeth was the heir to her father as her brothers were dead, and so the supporters of Edward IV rallied round Henry Tudor even though the Tudors had always been Lancastrians. This would unite the two sides of the Wars of the Roses and provide stability which was much craved after by the war weary people.

Henry’s mother was happy to promote her son as an alternative to King Richard III and Richard had no friend in the King of France, whom readily agreed to supply Henry with troops. Henry left France with little more than a small expeditionary force of soldiers provided by both the Kings of France and Scotland who always loved sponsoring a coup d’état in England even if the monarch they helped get onto the throne became bothersome in later years.

King Richard III, end of the Plantagenets

Henry very tactically landed his force in Wales and marched through that country raising troops to invade England with. It was only due to the Welsh heritage of the Tudor name that so many men flocked to his banner so readily. Henry’s idea was to get on and fight quickly before the King had the chance to muster all his forces and form an indestructible enemy.

At Bosworth Field in the August of 1485 Henry was able to engage King Richard in battle. The King’s army outnumbered the rebels, but some of Richard III’s key supporters abandoned the battlefield or even switched sides at the crucial moment. Henry was victorious and Richard was killed that day, ending the Wars of the Roses there and then and bringing onto the throne of England the Tudor family from Wales. The rest is history.

Henry VII, founder of the Tudors as a royal dynasty.

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A European Union – the Marriages of Queen Victoria’s Children


Victoria with some of her extended royal family connections.

Pax Britannica was the term applied to the century of “peace” in European history from the defeat of Napoleon I at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the beginning of the First World War in 1914. It was essentially a policy imposed on the continent by Great Britain, a nation whose power was firmly re-established by their capturing and exiling the French Emperor, Napoleon I who had dominated the continent since 1800.

The main aim of the policy was to establish a balance of power in Europe which would mean that no one state could again become strong and pre-eminent and attempt to dominate the others as Napoleon had done. A key factor in this strategy was the hegemony of the United Kingdom as the controller of world trade routes by having the Royal Navy deployed in all of the far flung corners of the world. This absolute superiority in the sphere of maritime power was able to project British rule around the globe and helped to rapidly expand the size of the British Empire.

It would be wrong to suggest that were no major wars on the continent at all during this 100 year period. At the end of the day British sea power was unable to project itself any further inland than the cannons onboard the ships were able to fire their ammunition. Major powers still found reasons to pick a fight, the Crimean War between Russia and a Franco-British Alliance, The Second Italian War of Independence in 1859, the Austro-Prussian War in 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71, it was after this that the continent did settle down into a much more war free existence until 1914, and this period is known as the La Belle Époque (Beautiful Era) in Europe, similar to the Gilded Age in America.

Whilst the success of the British Empire was resented by some European states which envied the wealth flowing into British coffers it was reassuring to them also that Britain had no interest in power in Europe and seemed set to look to the wider world for its interplay. For all of Britain’s global outlook, there was still one area of policy (and it was policy back then) which they had to look to Europe to satisfy, and that was the royal marriage market. Marrying into European dynasties had long been considered as the best way to seal the deal as it were when it came to a new diplomatic alliance, and that had still not changed by the 19th century.

Queen Victoria grabbed the chance to create dynastic marriages and in doing so, in her mind she would be guaranteeing a perpetual peace, because she thought that her children and grandchildren would never fight each other in war. She never took much notice of the fact that history was littered with examples of these unions which had done nothing to prevent conflict between rival relatives. Instead of helping to stop the commencement of hostilities it was sometimes more likely to exacerbate them, if you add family jealousy and competition into the affairs of nations then is a fight not increasingly likely to happen since there are more antagonistic factors to deal with.

The Queen, as ever guided by her husband Prince Albert, did not seem to have any of those concerns about their children’s fate and assured themselves that they were playing a very personal part, a very central part in Pax Britannica by arranging these marriages for their children to the various royal courts of Europe.

Uncle Leopold I, King of the Belgians

 Victoria was not bereft of European connections to begin with, so it was not starting the job from scratch but instead consolidating and expanding the strength of the links which her family tree already afforded her. Through her mother’s siblings, Queen Victoria had an uncle who reigned as King Leopold I of the Belgians until 1865, he was succeeded by his son Leopold II who was first cousins to Queen Victoria. Albert himself was a continental cousin of the Queen, his father was Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha who was another brother of Victoria’s mother.

With 9 children of their own Albert and Victoria started to plan out which useful alliances could be made by the marriage of one of their offspring into the right royal house. Sadly for Victoria, Albert died in 1861 from typhoid fever, a death for which she never stopped mourning until her own passing in 1901. Prince Albert only lived to see one of his children married off, and that was their eldest, and by far his favourite, Princess Victoria (Vicky), Princess Royal.

Since 1714 with the accession of the House of Hanover, Germany had been a very popular place to go searching for a royal spouse for the British royal family. Why? First and foremost they were the right religion, most of them were Protestant. Secondly, because prior to 1871 there was no such country as Germany, there were instead twenty-five individual sovereign states which unified to form one country. In all, there were 4 Kingdoms, 6 Grand Duchies, 5 Duchies, 7 Principalities and 3 Hanseatic cities which came together to form Germany. So on this basis there was a plethora of royal and ducal families ruling these entities and they provided heirs who needed wives, and daughters who needed husbands, so the supply of potential royal brides was never in short supply from Germany. In fact so comfortable was the British monarchy with marrying Germans that almost every royal marriage in Britain between 1714 and the reign of Queen Victoria were between a British Prince or Princess to a German royal, occasional exceptions were Danish and Dutch matches. This is not surprising when you understand that from George I to George IV, these Kings of Britain were also the rulers of Hanover, one of the sovereign German states, so they had a vested interest in maintaining strong connections to the German ruling families.

And so it was to Germany that Victoria and Albert turned naturally, to make their first power pairing for the wedding of the Princess Royal. The cream of the extensive German crop of regal houses had to be the family of the King of Prussia. In the 18th century Frederick the Great had established the country as a great power in Europe with a very effective army. In the 19th century the influence of Prussia over the rest of the German states continued to grow and so it was being taken seriously as an emerging presence in the wider politics of the continent.

Victoria had already cultivated some family niceties with the Prussians; King Frederick William IV had been made godfather of Victoria and Albert’s eldest son Albert Edward (Bertie, the future King Edward VII). Frederick William IV had no children of his own; he was to be succeeded by his brother Prince Wilhelm, and then Wilhelm’s son Prince Frederick William (Fritz) who had been named after his uncle the King.

In 1851 the great Exhibition was taking place at the purpose built Crystal Palace in London, an event which showcased art, industry and manufacture from all over the world, there was everything on show from the Koh-i-Noor diamond to kitchen appliances. Prince Albert was quite rightly proud of the exhibition as he had been one of the key organisers of the whole event. A proud wife and a shrewd match maker Victoria invited Prince Wilhelm of Prussia and his son Fritz (who happened to be of marriageable age) over to London for the opening of the exhibition. It was on this occasion that the young Princess Royal first met Fritz, her future husband. Marriage was not quite on the cards yet though, Vicky was only 10. Queen Victoria would have been more interested in meeting and judging the young prince for herself at this stage, but it does illustrate the level of pre-planning that went into these dynastic unions.

In 1855 the Queen invited Frederick William who was by now 24 to visit the royal family at their new Highland home, Balmoral Castle. This was the encounter where Frederick William dutifully asked the young Vicky, at only 14 if she would marry him. The Princess readily agreed, and by sheer luck she did grow to love her husband but that would have been of little consequence in the grand scheme of things, plenty marriages were made amongst the upper class where there was no love at all and that was almost expected. One only had to look at King George IV’s disastrous marriage to Caroline of Brunswick to serve as a stark reminder of that fact, but few people would have used it as an excuse to stop a marriage from going ahead under similar circumstances to that one.

Luckily for Princess Victoria, she had the more unusual example of her own parents the Queen and Prince Consort, who despite the arranged nature of their own nuptials grew to love each other deeply, and their eldest daughter was to grow in time to enjoy the same sort of close and loving relationship with her own husband.

Fritz and Vicky were a very loving royal couple. Fritz was Emperor for only 99 days, a death much lamented by liberals in Germany.

The marriage itself was not an entirely smooth ride to begin with however. Once the engagement was agreed to, the Prussian royal house demanded that the Princess would travel to their capital Berlin to get married. It was recognised that the current King was unlikely to produce heirs by his own wife and that in turn Fritz’s father then he would follow onto the throne, as an heir presumptive the Prussians felt strongly that he should marry in his own country.

Queen Victoria is quoted as saying, “It’s not every day that one gets to marry the eldest daughter of the Queen of England.” Meaning that in no uncertain terms was the Princess going to marry in Berlin, the Queen felt that it was impertinent of so small a nation as Prussia to think that it had sufficient rank to demand where her daughter was to marry, Victoria did after all see herself as the head of a growing worldwide Empire, whilst Prussia was ranked as only the fifth power in Europe and was entirely bereft of any colonies around the globe.

Queen Victoria won, she rarely lost. The marriage took place in the Chapel Royal at St. James Palace in London on the 25th of January 1858. The marriage itself was met with much jubilation throughout the country and was popular amongst the British public. The real reason probably being that they thought that Britain would have a stronger influence in the destiny of Germany moving forward, as German national unification was on the horizon if not yet entirely worked out. And most importantly it was imagined that this influence would create a clearly friendly disposition from Prussia towards Britain. As the royal couple departed London at the end of January during a heavy snowfall, the populace of that city still turned out onto the streets to cheer and chant, “God save the Prince and Bride! God keep their lands allied!”

This auspicious start to the union must have given Princess Victoria some comfort and confidence about starting a new life in a foreign country of which she knew she would one day be Queen. Her arrival was met with jubilation amongst the common people through their progress from Brussels to Berlin and Victoria was often reported as looking well and happy. But her arrival in Berlin was greeted with far from jubilation from the political classes; many at the royal court and in the government were very conservative and were suspicious of Victoria’s liberal views which had been instilled in her by her father Prince Albert.

Bismarck depicted in later life

Fritz supported his wife in her liberal political outlook and they quickly left themselves isolated from the establishment who were in charge in Berlin. In 1861 the stakes were raised further still as King Frederick William IV died that year to be succeeded by his brother as King Wilhelm I. This meant now that Fritz and Vicky were now the Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia and their politics started to be taken more seriously, those who disagreed became enemies. Wilhelm I appointed the ultra-conservative Otto von Bismarck to be his prime minister and refused to part with him even when there was a majority of liberal politicians in the parliament. The new Crown Prince was openly critical of some of Bismark’s more totalitarian policies such as curbing the freedom of the press; this gained both Fritz and Vicky the enmity of this powerful maneuverer. Bismarck blamed the Princess in particular for corrupting her husband’s politics with British style liberalism and making him forget true Prussian values and the two really became lifelong enemies.

None the less this was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s first piece of the jigsaw in terms of building a royal network of family ties in every court in Europe. With the birth of a son, Prince Wilhelm in January 1859 almost a year after the royal wedding the Prussian Crown Prince and Princess were playing their part and Queen Victoria could tick the throne of Prussia off of her list, her eldest grandson would one day be King.

The Queen and Prince Albert moved on with their project and began to think about the marriages of their next couple of children. She had professed a belief that her children should be able to marry for love; however there was no doubt in her mind that the opportunities for finding that love match were to go no further the royal houses of Europe. Why waste an opportunity for a useful alliance? And to raise a British subject to the royal family was seen as politically delicate, so was best avoided.

The Queens next child after Victoria had been Bertie, but boys were to be educated for longer than girls and so he was not quite ready to marry yet.  Victoria wasted no time at all in moving on to the next daughter, Princess Alice, and she asked her eldest daughter in Berlin to prepare a list of all of the most eligible Princes in Europe.

Perhaps there was a genuine lack, or perhaps her efforts were lacklustre but Vicky only managed to come up with two potential suitors for her sister’s hand in marriage. Princess Vicky’s candidates were William, Prince of Orange and Prince Albert of Prussia, a cousin of Vicky’s husband Fritz. The Prince of Orange was invited to Windsor to be inspected by Queen Victoria, but it all transpired that he was besotted with a young Countess and that he was therefore no good for Princess Alice, in the end the Prince of Orange never married and lived most of his days in a disreputable state in Paris. Alice was in no way attracted to either candidate and so she spurned them both.

This meant that the Queen had to rethink the plan and look again, this time her eldest daughter made the suggestion of either Prince Louis or Prince Henry of Hesse, whom she had met when travelling to Hesse a minor German state to inspect their sister Princess Anna as a potential bride for her brother Bertie. She informed the Queen that Anna was no good for Bertie but that she was impressed by her brothers Louis and Henry. So, Queen Victoria invited the two Hessian Princes over to Britain, with the cover story that they were invited to watch the Ascot races in the royal families company, Victoria obviously wanted to take a look at them herself. She was impressed by both, but she noted how close Louis and Alice looked when together and there was a clear attraction.

Louis of Hesse and Princess Alice depicted with some of their children. Two of their daughters would marry into the Romanov dynasty and both were murdered in the course of the revolution which began in 1917.

This was enough for the Queen to act; she had found another love match for one of her children and gave her consent in April 1861 for Alice and Louis to wed. The Queen managed to persuade the British parliament to vote a £30,000 (£2.1 million in 2012 using real price calculations) dowry to Alice, which her father scoffed that she would be able to do little with in Hesse compared to the wealth her elder sister would come into as Queen of Prussia. Also, the Grand Ducal palace in Hesse was not considered to be suitable and Queen Victoria insisted that a new one was to be built for the comfort of her daughter, which was agreed to, but the people of Hesse were not keen to shoulder the expense and so Alice was unpopular before she even arrived in the state.

 Before the wedding could take place, Queen Victoria’s beloved husband the Prince Consort died of typhoid fever, a passing which sent the monarch into a spiral of grief from which she never recovered in the rest of her long life. Despite this unhappiness the Queen ordered the wedding to take place as planned, but it took place privately in the dining room of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in what the Queen later described as, “more of a funeral than a wedding.”

Victoria practised the act of mourning as if it was her religion, and she was a devotee. Alice grew bored with her mother’s perpetual sadness after many years and lost sympathy with her.

Despite the rather demure beginning to the nuptials it did seem as though another love match had been formed and the couple went on to have 7 children together. The happiness shared by the couple did not please Queen Victoria who became annoyed and jealous that her daughter had that which she had lost forever.

When Prince Albert died in 1861 he had only two weeks previously been down to Cambridge to issue a reprimand to his eldest son Bertie, the Prince of Wales who was there attending the university. Bertie had been making a name for himself as something of a playboy Prince after taking up with an actress whilst he had been on military manoeuvres in Ireland. Albert was ill when he went down to Cambridge and should never have travelled, it became clear over the coming days that he was sick with typhoid, when he died the Queen blamed Bertie for having made his father so ill and she almost never wanted to see him again.

Prior to the Prince Consorts death he had sent his son to Germany to look at military manoeuvres, but Albert and the Queen had shortlisted a wife for him, Princess Alexandra of Denmark (Alix) the daughter of Prince Christian, heir to the Danish throne. They had arranged for the Danish royals to ‘bump into’ Bertie in Speyer. The two were not opposed to one another and the marriage plans began to advance. Before he died Albert had told Victoria that it should be so for definite, and after his death the Queen treated these words a sacrosanct.

Victoria wanted Bertie out of the way, so shortly after the Prince Consort’s funeral she packed her son and heir off on an extensive tour of the Middle East and when he returned to England the Queen practically had all of the arrangements in place for the wedding. He was married to Alix in St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle on the 10th of March 1863, bringing another protestant European royal house into the family. A further useful connection was made when 1866 Alix’s sister Dagmar married the future Tsar Alexander III of Russia. Meaning that one day when Alix and Bertie’s child was on the throne he would be the counterpart of a first cousin on the Russian throne in the child of Dagmar and Alexander.

Twenty days after Bertie and Alix were married, her brother George was nominated by the superpowers and the Greek parliament as the new King of the Hellenes (Greece). So through just this one marriage Queen Victoria had secured future blood relations to the British monarch would be occupying three thrones; Russia, Denmark and Greece. Victoria and Albert’s plan was already going well after marrying off only three of nine.

Next to marry was another daughter, this time it was the turn of Princess Helena, a middle daughter, and the Queen began to find that her remaining daughters were not quite as highly prized as the elder two had been on the royal marriage market.

She did not help her chances of landing a good match by her own behaviour either, between 1859 and 1863 she was romantically linked to her father’s librarian, Carl Ruland, a German native who was also German tutor to Helena’s brother Bertie. When Queen Victoria found this out, Ruland was packed off to Germany before he could say as much as goodbye and Helena’s marriage became a priority for the Queen.

The Queen obviously wanted to keep an eye on this wayward daughter, and she was starting to feel lonely as she kept sending her children overseas, so she decreed that Helena’s husband would have to be prepared to live near the Queen. In some ways it seemed as though Victoria was losing sight of the long term goal of a grand European union of royal families by setting these stipulations.

The choice of husband which the Queen made for Helena was even more confusing and it sent something of a wrecking ball through the carefully constructed, Europe wide family harmony which she and her late husband had planned. For Helena was to be married in July 1866 to Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, this was a severely politically sensitive choice. The Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were claimed by Denmark but Prussia and Austria had ganged up on Denmark in previous wars to invade and take control of these territories. Then in the Austro-Prussian War the Duchies had gone to Prussia.

Princess Helena and her controversial choice of husband Prince Christian.

Prince Christian’s family were close friends with the Prussian royal house and were seen as being mired by their acceptance of the Prussian conquest of the Duchies. Bertie’s wife Alix was distraught by this marriage and was mortally offended at what she regarded as an affront to Danish sovereignty. She was supported by her husband Bertie and her sister-in-law Alice of Hesse, Alice went as far as to openly claim that her mother was sacrificing Helena for her own convenience. The Queen took this comment from Alice badly, and she was very unforgiving towards Alix too for her part.

The Prince of Wales refused to attend the wedding at first, but in the name of family harmony Alice prevailed upon her brother Bertie to be present. The Queen allowed the ceremony to be held in the private chapel at Windsor, rather than St George’s due to the political controversies she had caused by agreeing to the wedding.

Due to the fact the Christian had no responsibilities to which he needed to attend to he was happy to stay on in Britain as had been the condition of his marriage to Helena. The couple settled into a quiet life in Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park and they were happy together for the rest of their lives. Victoria had found another love match, but it had brought no prestige at all on the international stage, only confusion from some quarters and despair from others.

Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh was older than Helena, but as he was a serving in the Royal Navy which took him to the far side of the world and so any plans for a marriage for him were put on hold. So it was another of his younger sisters who was to be wed next.

Queen Victoria’s most beautiful daughter according to contemporaries was Princess Louise, Victoria and Albert’s sixth child. Her good looks led some of the less respectful press to suggest without any proof that she must be involved in romantic liaisons. Reading this in the papers and knowing of Louise’s feminist tendencies the Queen decided that the time had come for her daughter to marry.

Princess Alix proposed her own brother the Crown Prince of Denmark as a husband for Louise, had Victoria accepted this then it may have healed some of the pain still felt by Alix over the marriage of Helena. The Queen was having none of it though; she put it bluntly and said that a Danish match was out of the question as that may antagonise Prussia, this only furthered Alix’s annoyance.

Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia had ideas for her younger sister too; she proposed an old and rich Prussian, Prince Albert. The Queen blocked this move too however by stating that no further Prussian matches would be stomached by the British populace at this time. Also Prince Albert refused to be domiciled in Britain as the Queen now seemed determined to demand for her remaining children, so that was Albert firmly off the list of suitors. Even the Prince of Orange idea was trotted out again but the Queen vetoed that as his life had become dissolute in the aftermath of his being jilted by Princess Alice.

Instead Louise had fallen in love with a Scottish aristocrat, the Marquess of Lorne who was heir to the Duke of Argyll. It must have been with some trepidation that Louise brought the suggestion to her family, as the grand plan had been to create family alliances across the continent through royal marriages. Bertie was wholly opposed to the idea, the Argyll’s were a political family and he feared the monarchy being dragged into party political squabbles, not to mention the fact that although he was to be a Duke when his father died, Bertie regarded him as a commoner.

The 9th Duke and Duchess of Argyll. The last royal person in the British Isles to marry outside royal rank was when Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister) married the Duke of Suffolk in 1515, which at that time was done in secret without the King’s knowledge, when he later found out he was furious.

Victoria revealed to her eldest son just how much her opinions had shifted with regard to her children’s marriage in a letter which she wrote to him:

That which you object to [that Louise should marry a subject] I feel certain will be for Louise’s happiness and for the peace and quiet of the family … Times have changed; great foreign alliances are looked on as causes of trouble and anxiety, and are of no good. What could be more painful than the position in which our family were placed during the wars with Denmark, and between Prussia and Austria? … You may not be aware, as I am, with what dislike the marriages of Princesses of the Royal Family with small German Princes (German beggars as they most insultingly were called) … As to position, I see no difficulty whatever; Louise remains what she is, and her husband keeps his rank … only being treated in the family as a relation when we are together

She told the Queen Augusta of Prussia (Fritz’s mother) in another letter that she was keen to bring in new blood, as she felt that it would be for the greater benefit of the royal family as all of Europe is now closely related. The monarch felt that foreign princes were not as worthy in the eyes of the British public as they once were, they were often too poor to keep the royal bride in suitable style and she felt as though they were getting more out of these matches than she was. She went on by telling the Queen Augusta that a Duke in Britain with a private fortune was not really of any lower rank than a minor German royal with a fancy title but no money to support it. Little did she know that the Duke of Argyll was heading for financial troubles over the next few decades.

So Louise married Lord Lorne at Windsor Castle in 1871 and the two lived happily for many years. Lorne was appointed by Queen Victoria as Governor-General of Canada and the couple lived over there for the duration of his tenure and were based at Rideau Hall. Louise’s full name was Louise Caroline Alberta, and the province of Alberta in Canada is named in her honour because she became very popular throughout the country and maintained an interest in the nation even after her husband had been recalled by the British Government. Whilst in Canada her favourite sister, Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse died, which made Louise melancholy and homesick for a time.

In the 1880’s the couple moved back to Britain and took up residence in Kensington Palace in a suite of rooms which had been granted to them by the Queen. Louise was politically mined on and had opinions on a wide variety of policies, a trait which was considered undesirable in a Princess, indeed it still is. Louise’s husband was a Liberal, but not liberal enough for her, she was disappointed when he became a Unionist Liberal as she was very much in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. The two started to drift apart in politics and in their private lives. Rumours of affairs began to attach themselves to Louise again, but none of these were ever substantiated, it was most likely just gossip mongers spreading their own imaginings based on the tiniest acknowledgement given by Louise to just about any man.

In 1900 Louise’s father in law died and she became Duchess of Argyll upon her husband inheriting the dukedom. Then in 1901 her mother the Queen passed away, Victoria left to Louise a house on the Isle of Wight so she would have a retreat. Louise was very fond of her brother Bertie and was close to him during his reign as King Edward VII.

In 1911 the Duke of Argyll began a long illness which persisted until his death in 1914, it was during this time that the couple became close again and Louise dutifully nursed him as best she could. After his death she was genuinely distraught and felt very alone, but she refused to be so encumbered by her grief as her mother had been in her mourning. Louise lived on until 1939 and is fondly remembered by her great great niece Queen Elizabeth II who had met her several times in her childhood. Having had no children with the Duke, Louise left nothing in the way of a bloodline legacy as her sisters had done on the continent so perhaps it was for the best that she was never sent to play her part in Victoria and Albert’s dynasty building game, as to have had no children in one of those marriages she would have been seen as a failure.

In 1874 Prince Alfred (Affie) was finally able to get married, but before we talk about that we should look at the outcomes of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Bismarck had managed to provoke France into declaring war on Prussia, this made France the aggressor and most of the German states rallied round to help Prussia against the French Emperor, Napoleon III. The war was a huge success for Prussia, and throughout the closing stages of the war Bismarck had negotiated with the lesser German states to bring about national unification under the hegemony of Prussia. The talks worked and in January 1871 at the palace of Versailles, the King Wilhelm I of Prussia was declared Kaiser (Emperor) of the German Empire. This meant that the Fritz and Vicky as Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia were now also the heirs to the Imperial throne of Germany. The potential for more family rifts here grew, Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse was torn. She was proud to see German’s unified, but she disliked that her husband was fighting for the Prussian’s at their command. Alix, Princess of Wales was not terribly enamoured by a strong Germany on the border with her beloved and native Denmark.

Prince “Affie” and his wife Grand Duchess Maria with two of their children.

In 1874, a German marriage was cleverly avoided for Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. He was ready to settle down after a long and full military career and the chosen bride this time reflected a return to the dynastic matches of his eldest siblings. This was to be first direct marriage between the royal house of Great Britain and the imperial house of Russia, the Duke of Edinburgh was married in St. Petersburg in January 1874 to Grand Duchess Maria, the only surviving daughter of Tsar Alexander II. As Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh the couple returned to London in March 1874. The marriage was not  a very happy one, Maria was thought of as haughty by London society, which in itself says something, because London society were hardly a self-effacing and humble bunch themselves. She also demanded to be ranked as higher than the Princess of Wales because as a member of the Russian royal family she felt that she was far superior to a Danish Princess. Queen Victoria did not allow her precedence over Alix, but did grant her precedence over everybody else behind Alix. Despite this the couple did have several children together and in 1893 he inherited the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from his paternal uncle, Ernest II.

The Duchy was now in reality a part of Germany, but still retained a degree of autonomy, Alfred and Maria now moved to Coburg where they lived out the rest of their days performing their various royal duties. The couple’s only surviving son died in 1899 to be followed in 1900 by Alfred himself, so the succession to the Duchy went to Alfred’s nephew, the son of his youngest brother Prince Leopold.

The next to marry was Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught. Arthur was the 7th child of Victoria and Albert and he like his elder brother Alfred enjoyed a career in the military before he settled down to married life. He was allowed by his mother to marry a Prussian Princess, Louise Margaret in 1879 and together they had three children. This Princess was only a grand-niece of the Kaiser Wilhelm I, so it had practically no political impact in terms of alliance building. As such it was purely made out of the affection the couple had for each other. The marriage continued to go well, even though over the years Arthur was romantically linked with Sir Winston Churchill’s mother and her sister.

The Duke and Duchess of Connaught

In later years after his brother the King died in 1910 he was appointed by his nephew King George V as Governor General of Canada, somewhat emulating the life of his sister Princess Louise and her husband the Duke of Argyll. After his years in Canada he settled down to a more quite life, still maintaining his interest in the military and continued to perform minor royal duties. He died in the middle of World War Two at his country home, Bagshot Park.

Prince Leopold was the second last child born to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; he was the only one who suffered from the hereditary disease of haemophilia which is normally carried by mothers and passed to their children. Haemophilia was almost the curse that went with Victoria’s bloodline as the Queen had become a carrier of the disease and through her children was potentially spreading it into different European Royal families.

Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany with his wife and daughter.

Due to his delicate condition the Prince was totally cosseted by his mother and she did not want him to leave home or do anything that may even put him at slight risk. Leopold felt as though his only way to gain freedom was to find a wife, but there was to be no question of him finding an important dynastic alliance due to his haemophilia, no foreign monarch wanted that sort of blight getting anywhere near their bloodline.

He was rejected by several heiresses and royal cousins and second cousins, and so possibly to stave off any further embarrassment to her beloved youngest son Queen Victoria stepped in. She declared that the children of the British monarch should be marrying into other ruling Protestant families. The Queen found Princess Helene a daughter of the reigning Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont and she was basically given her instructions to marry him. The wedding took place in St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle in April 1882 and the next year they had a child together, Alice.

The following year Leopold’s Prussian wife was again pregnant. In the winter time Leopold usually went abroad as the cold climate was bad for him. His wife stayed behind as she was pregnant, but he went on to his villa in Cannes. Whilst there he slipped and hurt himself, there was a cerebral haemorrhage and nothing could be done to stop the bleeding and he died not long afterwards. His son Prince Charles Edward was born four months later, and it was he who inherited the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg Gotha from his uncle Affie after his death in 1900.

Last but not least was Queen Victoria’s youngest child, Princess Beatrice. Like many noble families of the time a younger daughter was often held back from marriage so that she could keep the mother company in her dotage and do the sort of personal things for her that a servant could not do. Victoria intended this to be the fate of Princess Beatrice; she was to hang on in a sort of unpaid companion and secretary’s role at her mother’s side as a spinster.

But this proved not to be the destiny which Beatrice ended up by following, and she was subjected to the suits of several men. After 1871, the Bonaparte monarchy in France came to an end and the Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugenie had come to live in Britain in their exile. Also with them was their son and heir, Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial, would be heir to the Imperial throne of France. Despite the undoubted Roman Catholicism of these French royals Queen Victoria made a very close friendship with the ex-Empress and thought highly of her son.

Beatrice and Louis Napoleon grew close to one another, and the press was full of stories of their imminent engagement, one has to assume that the French prince had agreed to convert to Anglicanism for Victoria to have even allowed talk of such a match to go ahead at all. Tragedy struck however when the Prince Imperial, serving in the British Army was killed in action against the Zulu in June 1879. Beatrice was distraught and the Queen confided to her diary that she was too.

After his death Beatrice’s eldest brother Bertie decided that he would weigh in with his suggestion, he advised their late sister Alice’s widower, Louis of Hesse. The Queen saw the advantage of this in terms of providing the right sort of step-mother for her Hessian grandchildren as they approached marriageable age. The House of Lords however blocked the move by confirming that it was illegal to marry ones sister’s widower. By this stage Beatrice must have begun to think that she was indeed going to end up a spinster by her mother’s side.

Two further German Princes were suggested, Alexander or his brother Louis of Battenberg. Alexander never pursued his suit, but his brother Louis did. Queen Victoria decided to invite Louis to dinner and she sat herself between him and Beatrice. Beatrice had been instructed before going into dinner not to even speak to Louis and to discourage his suit. Louis was somewhat perplexed by this and in the end he married Beatrice’s niece, Princess Victoria of Hesse, the eldest daughter of Louis and Alice. Victoria thought that she had won, but when Beatrice attended the wedding of Louis of Battenberg to her niece Victoria there she fell in love with another Battenberg Prince, Prince Henry and he loved her in return.

The wedding day of Princess Beatrice to Henry of Battenberg.

Upon her return to Windsor Beatrice informed Queen Victoria of her desire to marry Prince Henry. The monarch just said nothing, absolutely nothing and received the news with utter silence. Victoria did not speak a single word to her youngest and in her eyes most innocent child for seven months. She was finally coaxed out of this attitude by her eldest daughter the Crown Princess of Germany and by the solicitations of the Princess of Wales, until that point she had communicated with Beatrice by notes sent to and fro. Eventually the Queen relented and agreed to the marriage on the condition that Prince Henry renounced all of his commitments in Germany and agreed to live permanently with Beatrice with the Queen. He agreed to do so and in July 1885 they were married at St Mildred’s Church on the Isle of Wight.

This union brought to an end the weddings of Queen Victoria’s children, and although she had given up on her husband’s master plan of having all of their children married into foreign royal houses, she had none the less created an impressive network of family connections. These connections allowed the aged monarch to rest in the knowledge that Europe would evermore be at peace with itself and that consequently the vast British Empire over which she presided was secure also. Victoria died in 1901 as the longest ever serving sovereign in the history of the British Isles at a time when it was heading towards the zenith of its power in the world.

Victoria survived long enough to play her part the arrangements for some of her grandchildren’s marriages too. For example Bertie’s eldest son Prince Albert Victor was known as a bit of a rake and rumours of alleged homosexuality surrounded him. In light of this talk both his grandmother and his father thought that it was high time the heir presumptive to the British throne should be married off. A number of possible candidates were lined up. His cousin Princess Alix of Hesse, one of Alice and Louis’s daughters, she was not interested however and she preferred to marry the young Tsarevich Nicholas of Russia.

As young Alix was another grandchild of Victoria’s she felt she had the right to be involved in her choice too, but in the end she told Alix that she was proud of her for standing up to her which many people were too afraid to do. Alix had met the Tsarevich on several occasions and they had fallen in love with each other. Tsar Alexander III was unimpressed by his son’s choice as he was aiming for a more prominent match than a German Princess, he especially despised Germany. And as for Queen Victoria she had grave concerns about her granddaughter climbing onto “that tottering throne” which was how she regarded the security of the Russian monarchy in light of Alexander II’s assassination in 1881 after several previous attempts had failed.

None the less the young Alix went ahead and married Nicholas and in 1894 the couple became the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, their fate is a tragic one and is worth of a blog entry all of its own and it is surely famous enough for me not to have to repeat it here.

Going back to Prince Albert Victor, he found a love match for himself in Helene, daughter of the Count of Paris who was a claimant to the French throne. She was Roman Catholic and so the Queen was dead set against it, but she later came round to the idea and on condition that Helene converted to the Anglican faith, then she was able to marry Albert Victor. Her father however disbarred her from converting and Pope Leo XII stood by that decision, the affair had to end with that.

Princess Mary of Teck was the daughter of the Queen’s first cousin and she decided that this was a good match for her grandson, the wedding was set for February 1892 and he was to be appointed as Viceroy of Ireland to give him something serious to focus on and practice at being monarch, which is more than the Queen ever allowed for Bertie. As the day of the wedding approached Albert Victor contracted a serious flu and then pneumonia from which he died in January 1892.

In monarchy however sad the circumstances, that was never a good enough reason to abandon an advanced plan. Albert Victor was replaced by his younger brother George as heir to the throne, and Mary was set to marry George instead so that her future would not be altered. Heartless as it seems, George and Mary grew to love each other and were probably better suited to one another than Mary and Albert Victor would have been.

So Queen Victoria was playing her private part in the great game of nations and empires right up to the last decade of her life. In the end though politics, pride and jealousy of some of her family members led to the ultimate failure of the perpetual peace she and Albert had dreamed of in the early years of their marriage.

In 1914 when the peace broke, war erupted on the continent and around the world; this was the death knell for Pax Britannica. Victoria’s eldest grandchild by this point had become the Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm II son of Vicky and Fritz. He was fighting against his own cousins, Nicholas and Alix as Tsar and Tsarina of Russia and against Britain which had Wilhelm’s 1st cousin as its King, George V.

Tsar Nicholas II, maternal first cousin of King George V (middle) who in turn was the paternal first cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

King George V dropped all associations with Germany and in 1917 he even ventured as far as to change the name of the royal dynasty to Windsor so as to downplay any connections to Germany. His cousins who were living in Britain were also given new names, for example Princess Beatrice’s children the Battenberg’s became the Mountbatten’s. These renames although almost trivial and populist looking today were considered by the upper classes at the time to be an extreme move by the King. Even his cousin the Kaiser was surprised that George would turn his back on such a carefully plotted out pedigree and its prestige. It was a sign of very changing times; the Kaiser noted sneeringly that he was going to attend a performance of the Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Goth.

The original European Union

By 1918 the Allies had won the war and the European political landscape was altered forever. The Russian Empire although on the victorious side underwent a revolution which swept the Tsar off the throne. The Kaiser was next to go, but he was spared execution and merely sent into exile in the Netherlands. Over the next few decades many more royal houses connected by blood to the British throne were toppled and the almost medieval idea that family dynasties at the top of nations were able to actually keep peace was washed away forever. This was an early version of European Union, constructed upon the marriages of Princes it was left existing only in the memories a few survivors. Over the next century for better or worse the rules for royal marriage relaxed and alliances with foreign powers are now much less simple to construct.

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The Jailbird Duchess

Not many people have heard of “Duchess Blair” in the 21st century, but if you had been around in late Victorian Britain her name and her fame would have been well known to you. The imprisonment in 1893 of Mary, Duchess of Sutherland was met by British society with astonishment and was treated as the biggest scandal of the decade if not the century. As such it surprises me that this woman is not better known today, perhaps when Julian Fellowes needs a new project after Downton Abbey he might take some inspiration from the life this Jailbird Duchess.

Mary was born in 1848, the daughter of Rev. Richard Michell and his wife Amelia Blair. They lived in Oxford where her father was Principle of Hertford College in later years. Mary was the fifth child born of eight, and the youngest daughter. Her father was a successful private tutor and later went on to become the first principal of Hertford College. Although her origins as a daughter of the manse were in no way impoverished they were fairly humble, certainly a million miles from the world of wealth and privilege she would know later in life. Little is known of Mary’s early years, and it is not until 1872 when she marries that life events begin to be recorded in the papers and magazines of the time.

Her marriage in 1872 was to a man 14 years her senior, Arthur Kindersley Blair, a Captain in the 71st Highland Light Infantry. She gave birth to their first child in 1873, named after his father, baby Arthur died the next year. The couple had another child in 1876, a daughter this time, Irene Mary Blair, Irene went on to marry an Austrian count and is known to have travelled to New York on board RMS Olympic, Titanic’s more successful sister ship.

Captain Blair had managed to survive serving in the British Army in the Colonial Service during the time of the Indian Mutiny, but he managed to get himself shot in the midst of a pheasant shoot in October 1883 in Pitlochry. The newspapers from around the time were all throwing up differing theories as the exact circumstances of the his death. Some said that he was a dependant of the George, 3rd Duke of Sutherland, and the married Duke had taken a liking to his wife Mary. Caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of being beholden to the Duke, and hating seeing that his wife was getting cosy with him he decided to take his own life. Other papers were less sensationalist and claimed that he had been careless whilst handling his gun and shot himself. Again there were other papers which ventured as far as to say that the Duke had accidently shot Captain Blair.

Whatever the truth behind her husband’s death, it was not long before Mary was quite openly the mistress of the 3rd Duke of Sutherland. The Duke’s wife, Anne, Duchess of Sutherland and Countess of Cromartie was still living but relations between the two had been strained for some time. The intrusion of this new woman into the marriage was a step to far for Duchess Anne who instigated proceedings for a divorce. This was only stopped by the personal intervention of Queen Victoria, who was a close personal friend of the Duchess. Although divorce was off the cards the Duke grew further distant from his wife and closer to Mary, which caused friction between the Duke and his children too.

In the autumn of 1887 whilst staying at his estate in Staffordshire, Trentham Hall, the Duke became gravely ill; Mary firmly planted herself at his bedside and nursed him herself. This was greatly appreciated by the Duke, but the doctors thought that he was going to die imminently so they sent for his family to be with him also. By the time that Duchess Anne arrived with her children in tow the danger had passed and the Duke was feeling slightly better. Mary refused to leave the Duke’s side, and this led to an almighty scene with the wife and the mistress bawling at one another as to who should leave. The Duke decided to back Mary, and so the Duchess left that same day with the children. Their eldest son, Cromartie was present and he never really forgave his father for choosing the common mistress over his mother.

Mary’s life underwent a transformation which she could almost certainly never have imagined in her younger years at the manse. She was now exposed to a world of luxury and excess which would be quite beyond the comprehension of the average man on the street in Victorian Britain. The Duke of Sutherland held over 1.4 million acres of land in Great Britain alone, 1.1 million of those acres being in Scotland. The only man in Europe who owned more land than the Duke of Sutherland was Tsar of Russia. To put it in perspective he had three times as much land as the country of Bahrain, it’s no wonder that he was known by contemporaries as the, “Prince amongst Dukes”.

In terms of homes available to him, well he was not short of choice in that department, Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland, which his own father had tripled in size around 1850 with the help of Sir Charles Barry, the same architect that rebuilt the Houses of Parliament in London. Trentham Hall, again rebuilt by the Duke’s father and Barry a vast Italianate Palace, which was the family’s seat in Staffordshire, England. Barry was used again after to transform Cliveden in Buckinghamshire into an Italianate mansion in 1851, the Duke’s 3rd country seat. There were several lesser country houses too, and what can only be described as a ‘palace’ just off The Mall in London. Stafford House was the Duke’s home when in town, over the garden wall is Clarence House, which you may have heard of, it’s where the Prince of Wales lives today and it is considerably more modest in both size and décor when compared to Stafford House. A couple of hundred yards in the other direction was Buckingham Palace, and it is indeed the closest house to the Palace, so the Duke had the honour of being Queen Victoria’s next door neighbour.

If there were such things as private jets in those days you can be sure that the Duke would have had one, but being a Victorian he had to settle for the 19th century equivalents, for travelling on land, a private train, which would stop at his private train station which he had constructed at Dunrobin Castle, for travelling over water, a private yacht Sans Peur, which translates to Fearless, the motto of the Clan Sutherland.

The measure of all this wealth was summed up neatly in a concise article which appeared in many of the newspapers in 1888. The article listed the richest men in the world. The Duke of Sutherland was ranked 10th in the world, with a fortune estimated at £6,000,000 and an annual income of £300,000. Comparing these values to average earnings in 2012 means that the Duke would be worth over £2.5 billion in today’s terms, with annual earnings of £126 million, in an age where taxes for the super-rich were more lenient.

In 1897 the Duke became severely ill again. His doctors told him that he must Winter abroad and as he had been almost everywhere else he decided to take his ocean going yacht, Sans Peur out to the Far East.

Mary travelled incognito under the name of “Lady Clare”, and if anybody in foreign climes should inquire as to their relationship she was supposed to be the widow of one of the Duke’s family members. Mary’s brother seems to have been happy with his sister’s relationship with the Duke because they were both invited to stay with Richard Michell and his wife at their house near Madras when they stopped in India. Richard being a lawyer at the Madras bar during the 1880’s he had found love and married one of the daughters of a colonial civil servant. Having a British Duke to stay would have added a certain social cachet to the Michell’s amongst the colonial establishment.

The Duke and “Lady Clare” were also entertained by many British Governors along the way and received an invitation to visit the Sultan of Jahore. They decided to skip visiting the Sultan of Jahore until the return leg of their journey; instead they pushed onwards to Singapore and then on to their main destination of Bangkok, by which time the Duke’s health was much improved and was able to fully enjoy his time in the Siamese capital.

Upon arrival in Bangkok, the yacht was met by Mary’s eldest brother, Edward Michell, who had been appointed in 1885 to be legal advisor to the King of Siam. It seems that her generation the family were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and escape their more ordinary roots.

Whilst in Bangkok, the Duke and his party were given the exclusive use of one of the King’s private residences. Mary was taken by her brother to be presented to the King Chulalongkorn, who was delighted to meet her and she was invited to dine with the Duke at the King’s palace the next day. There were three women at the banquet, all of them Europeans, and these were the very first European women to ever dine with the Siamese sovereign and she was taken into dinner by Prince Devan, the King’s finance minister.

Upon their return to the Great Britain later in 1888 the Duke’s wife Duchess Anne became very ill. This did nothing to deter the Duke from heading off travelling again, this time he and Mary took the yacht over to the Atlantic to the United States where the Duke owned a large estate in Tampa, Florida known as Sutherland Manor. Duchess Anne died at Stafford House in London on the 25th of November 1888. Her husband did not attend the funeral as he was still in the US with Mary. None of this was doing any favours for the Duke’s relationship with his children.

They remained in Florida for some months and on the 4th of March 1889 the Duke married Mary and in doing so flouted the conventions set by society in terms of an appropriate period of mourning. It was thought by some that the Duke and his new Duchess, Duchess Blair as she became known would steer well clear of Britain from now on and remain in the Florida for the rest of their lives.

This was not their way however and so home they came in the April of 1889. They had to live fairly quietly whilst in London as although a Duke can usually be rehabilitated into the best company after a long absence simply by being a Duke, there was no such guarantees for a wife who was not from amongst the upper set. Any dreams that Mary entertained of being a grand hostess of balls and parties attended by royalty, nobility and millionaires from all over Europe, as previous Duchesses of Sutherland had been were soon forgotten. The best society wanted nothing to do with her; that is those who were secure enough in their positions in society that they were not afraid to offend her husband the Duke. It must be remembered that Queen Victoria was a personal friend of the Duke’s first wife, and Victoria was not known for forgiveness, so most of society would have been aware that to suddenly accept Mary into their circle would have deeply annoyed the Queen. Most of London society was ambitious for advancement and a Queen can kill dead those dreams with a few spent breaths, simply Mary had no chance of breaking in to this world.

This lifestyle of extreme luxury in isolation continued only for a few years, because on the 21st of September 1892 the Duke suddenly became gravely ill whilst staying at Dunrobin Castle and he died on the evening of the 22nd. His funeral took place at Trentham, where the family had their vault, although his coffin was put into the ground rather than the vault at his own request.

Cromartie, now 4th Duke of Sutherland expected to take control of the family’s vast fortune without question; that was the way these things worked. The curveball was thrown at this idea when it came to the reading of the late Duke’s will.

In the will, the late Duke had left to his wife, £150,000 (£59,000,000 in 2012) to be paid within 12 months of his death, and annuity of £9,000 (£3,500,000 in 2012) from his UK estates, the lease of Tittensor Chase for 21 years, one of the Duke’s English estates, an large quantity of furniture, plate, jewellery and paintings, one of which was Landseer’s “The Fatal Duel”, she was to have the use of the family’s diamond collection for life, all of the late Duke’s shares in various collieries were to be kept in trust for the Duchess during her lifetime, the Duchess was also to receive the absolute ownership of the Sideway Estate, neighbouring the Trentham Estate.

Cromartie with the backing of his family decided to contest his father’s will in court in order to have the provisions made to Duchess Blair to be vastly reduced. And it was during these proceedings that the Duchess made her disastrous error of judgement. Whilst in Stafford House she removed some of her late husband’s papers and then threw them on the fire.

When she was questioned about these actions in court she simply answered that it was a letter from the late Duke to her, and he would have wanted it destroyed. This did not wash with the judges in the probate division at the High Court of Justice and they subsequently found her in contempt of court, sentenced to pay a fine of £250 and be committed to prison for a term of six weeks. There was speculation in the press that she would be let off the hook because it was seen as inconceivable that a Duchess would be locked away for such an offence, but the sentence was indeed carried out.

As soon as the court order was delivered, the Duchess’s personal friends went to her and removed her from the court precincts and drove her to Holloway Prison in her own carriage. In the jail she was allowed to furnish her own cell and provide her own food, she was not however allowed to be waited upon by her own servants.

She was initially deeply affected by the passing of the sentence and was quite ill when she first went into prison, but she did reconcile to the fact that she was only there for six weeks and she had been kept separate from the other prisoners. Her mother and her brothers, who once again lived in England, were allowed to go and visit her.

Released at the end of May 1893 she headed straight out of London for her house at Windsor, The Willows. Friends of hers who sympathised with her presented her with a silver casket containing £250, to cover the cost of the fine, not because she was unable to pay it, but to show how indignant they felt at the harsh sentence meted out to the Duchess.

Although she was out of prison, the legal proceedings were to drag on over the matter of the 3rd Duke’s will. The matter was supposed to be the cause celebre of the 1894, however no sooner had the case gotten properly underway than both sides of the argument agreed to make a settlement. The Duchess was to give up all her claims in return for £500,000 (£191 million in 2012) plus the Duke was to build her a home of her own in Ross-shire, Carbisdale Castle which was completed in 1917. Also in the settlement she secured ownership of the Sutherland estate in Florida, which could not be considered as the property of new Duke as it had only been purchased in 1887 by his father. And with her fortune she purchased 45 Belgrave Square in the heart of London as her new townhouse.

Unfortunately Duchess Blair never really got to enjoy Carbisdale because she died in 1912. One of the interesting things about the castle is that its tallest part is a clock tower, only three sides of the tower have a clock-face, and one of the sides was left blank. Why? It is the side which faces towards Dunrobin Castle, and it is intended to signify the fact that she would not give her stepson the time of day.

Before she died in 1912 she had one further marriage to make a third. This time it was to Sir Albert Kaye Rollit, an MP sitting in the House of Commons for South Islington. The wedding took place in London in November 1896. He was to outlive her by 10 years and they were to have no children.

They lived fairly quietly, apart from one incident in October 1898 when in France the couple were travelling with friends to Paris from Calais by train and at some point before the train had left the Gard du Nord it is thought that the Duchess’s Jewellery case was targeted and stolen. The jewels in the case were worth around £30,000 (£10.8 million in 2012). The jewels were never recovered; thankfully this was her last major misfortune in a life with many highs and lows. After this she settled down into her later years to live more quietly and taking part in society only really at its fringes opening the occasional charity bazaar here and there.

She separated from her third husband a few years before she died by a mutual agreement. It was whilst staying at Leeds on the 25th of June 1912 that she died of a short illness. She left an estate valued at £470,000 (£153 million in 2012). Almost all of it to her daughter the Countess of Bunba as she was by marriage, but smaller sums of money to her surviving husband and her siblings, death duties alone totalled £60,000 (almost £20 million in 2012).

In her will she stated that she wanted to be buried alongside the Duke at the family vault at Trentham, and so it was, her third husband and her own siblings held the funeral at Trentham and she was buried under the same headstone as the 3rd Duke.

Since that day Duchess Blair has faded from memory. The girl from humble origins who wins the heart of one of the world’s richest men, vilified in the eyes of the world as the wicked stepmother who exerted undue influence over her dying husband to leave her more than her fair share in his will. Sent to prison for a misdemeanour for six weeks would have killed the spirit of a lesser woman in her position, but she sorts out her life, takes a fortune from the Sutherland family and finds love again, only for that love to let her down in the end. Truly a life full of all the twists and turns needed for a good period drama, so maybe one day she will be resurrected by some clever film maker or novelist.

Until then one of the best ways to get close to her story is to go and stay a few nights in her castle. Carbisdale is these days a youth hostel like no other, and it is open during the summer months for tours also. Well worth the visit just to see the scenery and the house that Jailbird Duchess had built out of spite for her stepson.

Thanks for reading,


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