Category Archives: Historical Figures

The Ungrateful (Royal) Dead of Denmark

Now I’ve heard the ultimate First-World problem:  what if a man married a queen, naturally expecting that would make him  a king, and had to settle for being a Prince Consort? Not even a King Consort? Horrors! That is what happened to poor Prince Henrik of Denmark. 


Among other places, the prince is prominently featured in the spectacular series of seventeen wall-sized tapestries created to celebrate the 50th birthday of Queen Margrethe II in 1990. They actually took ten years to make, so they were finally hung in the Great Hall on her 60th birthday, in 2000. 


The prince gets to wear any number of medals and attend elegant events in the Great Hall. The photo is from a poster in the hall–sadly, my invitation to the event must have been lost in the mail. 


I wasn’t invited to eat in the adjoining dining room, either.


Among other royal perks, there’s a royal yacht. We happened to be in Stockholm last spring when the Crown Prince of Denmark, son of Henrik and Margrethe, sailed in for a visit. 


We stood around for quite awhile so that my granddaughters could lay eyes on an actual Prince and Princess. They duly emerged and waved to the small crowd.


The Danish artist Bjørn Nørgaard painted the “cartoons”–the full-size color plans for the seventeen tapestries in the Grand Hall of Christiansborg Palace.


A gift from many Danish businesses plus the state of France, the homeland of the prince, the tapestries depict the entire history of Denmark. They throw in some guesses at the future to boot.

All through 50 years of marriage, the prince has been grousing about the slight he suffered. Now he’s 83, and he’s fed up. So the Prince Consort is refusing to be buried in the specially designed sarcophagus waiting for him and the Queen in Roskilde Cathedral.


As resting places go, Roskilde is pretty nice.


The medieval cathedral has been the burial place for Danish royalty for hundreds of years.


There’s a King’s Door which can only be used by the King and/or Queen to enter. Now, it’s not clear to me whether the Prince Consort can enter through it, but I don’t want to add insult to injury. So I’ll assume he can. In any case, he and anyone else is allowed to LEAVE through it after attending a wedding, confirmation, or funeral (obviously, not his own funeral). The bronze doors, polished and patinated to look like gold, replaced carved-oak ones from the late 1800s, were newly designed and installed in 2010. 


Royalty and nobles occupy beautiful chapels. I especially like the ceilings.



The memorial sculptures range from medieval times to the 1950s or so.


Bjorn Norgaard was commissioned some years ago to design a modern-yet-traditional monument for the future burial chapel of Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik. Instead of the typical stone effigies of the great and good, it features their images sandblasted into a large gleaming egg of glass. 


What’s not to like? But Queen Margrethe will apparently occupy this resting place alone. I wonder whether the Prince might still get a promotion, and if so, whether it will change his mind. On the other hand, my egalitarian, practical mind has to wonder why a lifetime of royal luxury wasn’t enough. Maybe I’m missing something.

A couple of articles about the brouhaha are at:

http://m.startribune.com/denmark-s-french-born-prince-causes-a-stir/438498423/

http://www.theguardian.com › world › … › royal-snub…

Tivoli in Springtime


I’m not big on amusement parks. In fact, I’ve successfully avoided taking either children or grandchildren to Disney World ( bad grandma!) 


Rides either terrify or bore me. But I loved Tivoli in Copenhagen. The park opened in 1843, just outside the west gate of the still-walled old city. 


King Christian VIII was worried about social unrest at the time. Workers all over Europe were annoyingly demanding higher wages and shorter hours. The founder of the park, George Carstensen, convinced the king that if the people have a place to amuse themselves, “they do not think about politics.” As the city expanded, Tivoli became almost the center. That’s the tower of the City Hall in the background.


I visited at twilight because I wanted to see the fabled lights.


The daffodils were perfect. 


So were the thousands of tulips. In fact, the flowerbeds were so perfect that I wondered if gardeners came in nightly and replaced them with fresh plants straight from a greenhouse.


A rock band was getting ready to set up at the Chinese theater. The theater dates from 1874.


The pagoda sparkled.


Families strolled and let cotton candy melt in their mouths.


A pair of peacocks wandered into a restaurant.


There are any number of restaurants, plain to fancy, plus food carts strategically placed.

Tivoli has many faces.


Raincoats for sale? Sure. It rains quite a bit in Copenhagen.


Hans Christian Andersen, 1805-1875, is pretty much the secular patron saint of Denmark. He loved Tivoli Gardens. In 1965, the city put up a bronze more-than-double life size statue of the writer of at least 125 fairy tales, just outside City Hall. He’s holding his place in a book while he gazes up at the bright lights of Tivoli across the street. His knee is brightly polished because everybody sits on his lap for a photo. The sculptor was Henry Lucknow-Nielsen.


Across town, the wistful sculpture of Andersen’s Little Mermaid draws rowdy crowds from the nearby cruise port. It may be all some people really see of Copenhagen. 


Minus the crowds, the mermaid is lovely. She seems to ignore the busy harbor behind her. I’m sure she dreads the rowdy cruise-boat crowds, but maybe she’s off in her own world. Edvard Eriksen created her in 1913.

Tivoli in springtime did not disappoint. I loved Copenhagen so much that I’m going back in December (cheap off-season airfares helped).

Will it be cold? Afraid so. It was cold enough for mittens and wool hats in early May. But I expect Chrismastime in Scandinavia to be a fairy-tale experience. Plus there may be snow!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, literature and history of Europe!

Lord Anglesey, A Man of Parts


Henry, the dashing 7th Marquess of Anglesey, came to mind this morning. In a burst of fall energy, I started madly cleaning out drawers, cupboards, closets and even the dreaded garage. I thought of Henry.


After a couple of strenuous hours of pitching and organizing things I had forgotten I owned, I sank into my softest chair and thought admiringly of Henry’s study at Plas Newydd in Wales. Henry was Marquess from 1947 until he died in 2013. In 1976, he gave Plas Newydd–“New Mansion”–to the National Trust, but still lived upstairs with his family. I think his heirs still live there, too. So would I.


Henry’s study, used daily during his lifetime, is a magnificent jumble of books, papers, drawings, photos, magazines, and who knows what else.


Another part of Plas Newydd displays stuff from the family’s colorful history. Henry was a distinguished historian, and well he might be. His ancestors included the first Marquess, Henry “One-Leg,” whose leg was shot off by cannon fire at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, while he was right next to the Duke of Wellington himself. On the occasion, Henry coolly said, “By God, Sir,    I’ve lost my leg.” The Iron Duke replied, “By God, Sir, so you have.”


The Marquess had what remained of his leg amputated, with a stiff upper lip and no anesthetic, and was fitted with a wooden leg. Afterward, he fathered ten children and walked nine miles a day for the rest of his life.


But back to the 7th Marquess. He must have been something of an artist as well as a politician and a writer. He kept a special drawing table, under a window with good light. Of all the rooms in grand homes that I’ve seen, Henry’s study is one of my favorites.


I can see him happily puttering around, going from one table to the next. The jumble made perfect sense to him. He just kept a separate place for each one of his many projects. If only I had the space to do the same.


The other unforgettable room at Plas Newydd is the dining room. In 1936, the 6th Marquess commissioned Rex Whistler to paint the entire long wall as a mural.


The artist was happy to spend endless hours on the mural, partly because he was in love with one of the daughters of the family, whom he also painted. Tragically, Rex Whistler was killed in action in Normandy in July 1944, having insisted on fighting rather than serving in some less dangerous way. He had just arrived at the front.


I could spend hours taking in the detail of the Whistler mural, which is full of gentle humor and family references.


If I get to return to Plas Newydd, I’ll try to find time to look into the grounds and gardens, another interest of Henry’s.


Meanwhile, I’ll dream of having a room all my own, like Henry’s. “A man of parts” is the British term for a multi-talented Renaissance man.Henry is the best example I know of. Now, about my basement storage room…

There’s an article about the 1st Marquess at:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11682406/The-Battle-of-Waterloo-is-this-the-most-British-conversation-ever-to-be-held-on-a-battlefield.html

Art Nouveau Vikings at Frederiksborg 

Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod, Denmark houses tons of fine historic art, but one of my favorite pieces is pretty humble: it occupies a long lower-level hallway leading to the exit.

From 1883-1886, Lorenz Frolich painted a commissioned piece: a 37-meter frieze depicting the Danish conquest of large chunks of England. It was to be a Danish counterpart to the embroidered Bayeux Tapestry, which documented the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The style of the frieze was from the very early years of Art Nouveau,  also known as Jugendstihl, also known as Skonvirke in Denmark.

The Danish Vikings began sailing their shallow-depth longboats across the sea and up the rivers of England in the late 700s. Before that, they had only ventured as far as the Baltic countries on their raids. The trouble was, the Baltics were almost as poor in resources as Scandinavia. Pickings were slim. But England had rich soil where Danish settlers could grow much more food than in their own rocky soil. English monasteries were crammed with gold and silver candleholders, crosses and chalices.

Raiding was wearying work, but somebody had to do it, right?


After a couple of centuries of striking fear into the hearts of the Brits, and much bloody axe-swinging, the Dane Swein Forkbeard was crowned King of England in 1013.

When Swein died, his son Canute the Great took the crown, and in due course Swein’s grandsons Harold Harfoot and Hardecnut had their turns at ruling the rich land of England. The printed information at Frederiksborg skips over the period when the Danes lost their grip on power in 1042 after the death of Hardecnut. But we’re informed that 1066 was all about the Danes: the Normans were direct descendants of the Danish Vikings who had conquered the part of France that became Normandy.


The Frederiksborg frieze is at pains to depict the conquering Vikings as reasonable, law-abiding fellows willing to sit in orderly rows and debate issues like gentlemen.


There’s also emphasis on their domestic qualities. And it’s true: they were fine farmers and they had domesticated animals.

Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok, photo from review in “Variety,” Feb. 21, 2014

 

All the qualities of the Vikings are on display in the History Channel’s TV series “The Vikings.” I’m anxiously awaiting the 5th season. A disclaimer: yes, I know the show is full of appalling violence. Don’t even ask me what a Blood Eagle is. But for the first time, I begin to understand the Vikings, their world view, and the elaborate mythology that guided their behavior.

The series tells the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, an early Viking of song and legend, and his descendants, who eventually became the Normans of 1066 fame. Following the time-honored traditions of TV showrunners everywhere, real events are compressed and characters invented. But historical research is said to be quite accurate as far as clothing, houses, community organization, laws, and religion.

Travis Fimmel, pictured above, plays Ragnar. He is a former Calvin Klein model, but he has real acting chops to go along with his fierce blue eyes and intimidating tattoos. I’ll watch him do anything, from his early daring voyage to pillage Lindisfarne monastery, through adultery and divorce, and right on into the murderous madness of his old age.

Katheryn Winnick and Travis Fimmel in “The Vikings,” photo from review in “The Telegraph,” May 3, 2014

 

Another big selling point of “The Vikings,” for me, is the depiction of strong women. Lagertha is Ragnar’s brave and loyal wife, a formidable “shieldmaiden.” Even after their messy separation after he takes up with a tall, graceful, ladylike beauty, Lagertha graciously returns again and again to bash heads alongside Ragnar and their sons. Axe, sword and shield in hand, she’s ready save Ragnar’s bacon when he finds himself in trouble. What a woman!


I like the kinder, gentler version of the Vikings depicted in Frolich’s frieze paintings. But I’ll take my Vikings at their fiercest, too.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe, Scandinavia and the British Isles!

Rudyard Kipling’s Beloved Bateman’s

 

1fac83c7-7594-479b-a24f-4643c42663f6The Nobel prize-winning British author Rudyard Kipling died on January 18, 1936 in his beloved country home, Bateman’s, aged 70. The house is deep in the rural countryside of East Sussex, close to the site of the Battle of Hastings.

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Public Domain portrait of Rudyard Kipling, from John Palmer’s 1915 biography

I have to confess I’m not really familiar with much of his work, but I loved visiting the home where he and his wife chose to spend the last 34 years of his long and productive life.

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They bought the house in 1902.  It had  no bathroom, no electricity, and running water was only downstairs. But Kipling wrote, “Behold us, lawful owners of a grey stone lichened house–A.D. 1634 over the door–beamed, panelled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked. We have loved it ever since our first sight of it.”

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The house is now in the hands of the National Trust.  Most of the furnishings are from Kipling’s happy time there. It is hard for us to appreciate just how famous this man was even before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, but the house was a peaceful retreat from Kipling’s busy life–he was active in politics and journalism, besides literature, all his life.9313938c-3171-478f-ad25-bc04c49b1791

His wife Caroline ran his affairs, working tirelessly in a tiny hidden office with a window looking out into the entry way, above and to the right of the fireplace.  She kept an eagle eye on the many people who knocked on the door, seeking time with the great man.  Not many were admitted when he was working in his study, pictured below. (We should all probably have someone like Caroline to turn off our internet when we want to get something accomplished).

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Kipling spent a good part of his working life in India and Africa, writing about both the glories and pitfalls of British imperialism.  He wrote with foreboding about the difficulties–and the morality–of maintaining the global British Empire, which was still in its heyday during Victorian times.

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In 1915, at the outbreak of World War I, Kipling’s son John was wild to join the fight.  He was rejected by both the Royal Navy and the Army because of poor eyesight.  So Kipling used his connections to get his son into the Irish Guards. John Kipling was killed in the Battle of Loos, aged 18, having been sent in with reinforcement troops.  He was last seen stumbling blindly on the battlefield, possibly from a face wound. His childhood bedroom, pictured above, is a poignant memorial to a lost son.

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I especially liked the dining room. The walls are covered with embossed leather brought from India.

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Above the fireplace is a painting that everybody in the family hated, but it was too good to get rid of. (Or maybe it was a gift from someone who was not to be insulted? I have items like that in my house, but I generally just get them out when the giver is visiting). The painting really is pretty ugly. It seems to show a naked crying baby, maybe with a mother or nanny wondering what to do.

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Mr. Kipling’s chair was placed so that his back was always to the hated painting.

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I think the kitchen must have had modern conveniences in the years leading up to Kipling’s death in the house in 1936.  Now, it’s a serene mostly-empty space where National Trust volunteers and staff dry flowers from the gardens.

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Literary fashions come and go, even for Nobel prize winners.  Having seen Rudyard Kipling’s country home, maybe I’ll find the time to dip into his writings. I’m sure Mr. Kipling would appreciate a visitor.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!

 

Thanksgiving Day: A Berwick Memory

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For Thanksgiving Day, I thought I’d post some paintings from beautiful Berwick Church in southern England.  St. Michael and All Angels is a little parish church in Sussex, dating back to at least the 12th century.  Parts of it are even older, dating from Saxon days. It was given a modern artistic touch in the 20th century.

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During the First World War, the famous Bloomsbury group of artists, writers and intellectuals decamped from their London homes and occupied the Charleston Farmhouse and Monk’s House in this area.  The men were mostly conscientious objectors.  They fulfilled their patriotic duty by doing farm work in Sussex.

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In 1941, several artists from the group were hired to paint new murals and decorations in the ancient church.  These are some of the few remaining works of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Quentin Bell.  They depicted themselves and their friends, both as country laborers and as figures in sacred scenes.

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The artists were all free-thinkers and even atheists living unconventional, sometimes scandalous lives.  But the local religious authorities hatched an ambitious plan to give artists employment; they hoped the plan would spread all over England’s ancient churches.  That didn’t happen, but I’d like to think the Bloomsbury group occasionally attended a service at the little country church they decorated so beautifully.

Berwick Church stands as an example of cooperation and understanding between people with very different views of the world.  After the tumultuous election season Americans just endured, I think we can use some cooperation and understanding. We’re different, but we can stand together.

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As for me, I’m spending Thanksgiving Day on an airplane, heading off on a new adventure.  They’re serving pumpkin pie in the airport lounge.  It’s pretty good!

Waldemarsudde: Favorite Room in Favorite House in Favorite City

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Considering the national election turmoil that’s going on in the USA this week, I’d like to transport myself to a more peaceful place:  Prince Eugene’s blue-and-white dining room in his beloved lakeside home in Stockholm, Waldemarsudde.

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It looks inviting, don’t you think?  Come on in and have a seat at the table. Here, between about 1900 and his death in 1947, the Prince entertained his friends, fellow artists, writers, and the odd anarchist.

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Eugene’s state-of-the-art kitchen, all shining white tiles, is now a little cafe. Photos of the Prince decorate the walls.

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Eugene was a handsome fellow, and must have been a charming companion. He fulfilled royal duties when asked, but mostly he lived his own life exactly as he pleased. As a younger son of the monarchy, he was under no pressure to marry.

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Whatever his lifestyle choices, it appears the Royal Family left him in peace, to pursue his art and his friendships. In his Salon, Ernst Josephson’s painting “The Water Sprite,” 1884, dominates the room.  It was considered so scandalous at the time that the Academy in Stockholm didn’t dare to accept it as a gift. I don’t think the nudity was the problem; it was the new-fangled Symbolist style.

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Eugene hung a portrait of his mother, Queen Sofia, directly across from the daring Water Sprite. She gazed gently and benevolently on her son’s private goings-on, however raffish. I’m guessing Eugene was a loving son who never caused his mother much worry.

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Eugene loved flowers.  His sunroom, overlooking the water, was always blooming.

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He designed a pretty ceramic flowerpot that’s still in use all over Sweden. I’d have brought one home if I didn’t always travel light.

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I’m already planning a return trip to Stockholm in the spring.  I’ll see Eugene’s flowerbeds filled with tulips, I hope.

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Meanwhile, I can dream of my favorite room in my favorite house in my new favorite city, Stockholm.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!