Royal Evolution

The fact there was a Diamond Jubilee at all and its significance was brought home to me, when I went to fetch  a book ‘The Queen’s Jewels’ (and they are fab)  and came came back clutching:

This book used to fascinate me as a child, a romantic window onto a lost world of royalty and splendour:  Edwardian Waists, diamonds the size of eggs, Romanov children exquisite and doomed.

Seeing it brought home to me the feat of the british monarchy and their people, still united when all around them royalty was deposed, murdered and exiled. In 1900 Euro-monarchy was nick-named the’royal-mob’: an elite gang all related to Victoria. By 2000  Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, France, eastern Europe en masse – all gone. Once sacrosanct – now extinct.

In 1900 there were  4 great royal families in Europe, plus ‘extras’.  Photographed in  all their assured glory  they gaze out of ‘The Last Courts of Europe’.


Saxe-Coburg-Windsor,  re-named themselves Windsor in WW1, survived abdication, lost an empire and evolved continuously: Elizabeth II is currently celebrating.

Romanov, celebrated their tre-centenary of power in 1913, deposed in 1917. The Tsarina was Victoria’s grand-daughter, The Tsar George V’s cousin.

Habsburgs, Assassinated and suicidal as the curtain drew on an empire.  Taking centuries of Eastern Europe and its ruling elite down with it. (Have you ever seen the film Sunshine?)

Hohenzolleren, Kaiser Wilhelm  was Victoria’s grand child. Royal buffoon extradordinaire ( he redesigned the army’s uniform 37 times in 16 years).  Perhaps a supreme example of an innate failing in monarchical systems – reliance  on primogeniture to deliver a ‘worthy ruling character’. Definitely deposed after that First World War.

So here they are splendid and doomed,  the last courts of Europe…

The one who made them all (ish).

Victoria wrapped in jewels and sashes

Victoria and Albert with their 9 children who married and married into Euro-royalty.

The Diamond Jubilee 1897,  87 year old Victoria – reluctant to appear in public was rapturously greeted

Victoria’s heir, excluded until her death, Edward VII with Queen Alexandra with their children. Uncle of the Royal Mob…

Alexandra when Princess of Wales,  the dress? the chokers? you can see how she started a fashion for them…what an array. When her sister visited they would dress identically,  one wonders…  including chokers?

Queen Mary,  Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, can you spot the resemblance?

Married to George V (after his elder brother her fiance died)…

first cousin to…

Tsar Nicholas, They could have stood in for each other at official functions…

The Court of Russia was the grandest in Europe, even royal visitors were struck: “There was something barbaric in its splendour, derived in part from the ancient Byzantine and evoking glories of the time of Catherine the Great and of France in the 18th Century.” There-in lay the problem, it had not evolved and faced the 20th C mired in the 18th.

The Romanov children were tight knit, brought up on a regime of cold showers, hard beds and white lawn dresses with an immense secret: their brother’s haemophilia. The girls had a joint ‘signature’ OMTA after their initials.  The images of them shine through time, I used to return to this picture again and again.  Refused asylum by George V the family was massacred in Siberia, even Tatiana’s beloved dog.

The Grand Duchesses  Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia and Olga in traditional kokoshnik headdresses with their brother.

The Tsarina used to dress them in matching pairs.

In traditional costume complete with ermine heads

Olga and Tatiana about to set off on military parade, they look fun don’t they?

Nicholas on the royal yacht which they enjoyed every summer

Empress Alexandra embracing Nicholas

1914, The last time the Russian Imperial family were seen by foreign relatives.  Marie on far left, Tatiana far right, the Tsar beside her, Anastasia 3rd in from left, Empress Alexandra seated middle, with Nicholas at her feet and Olga holding  a relative.

So the Hapsburgs, they had their own Victoria: Emporer Franz Joseph who ruled for 68 years.  But he too failed to evolve the monarchy, married badly and sealed their fate.  His son committed suicide, the next heir’s murder was the final fuse for WW1 which all led to dissolution of the monarchy in 1918.

Franz Joseph in the annual Corpus Christi procession Vienna 1909, the leopard skin throws are impressive aren’t they?

Empress Elizabeth, married at  merely 16 – known as the most beautiful woman in Europe, she travelled frequently to escape the prying eyes of court life , assassinated.

‘The Last Courts of Europe’ has alot of these rather prescient, ‘in death’ photos, here we see Elisabeth still beautiful – dead.

Countess Larisch confidante of the Empress and the Crown Prince with Archduchess Marie Valerie, Elisabeth’s favourite child. I love these more intimate shots, so evokative.

Wedding of the future Emporer to Zita with Franz Joseph centre ( I rather love the dress on the left)

Full court dress Vienna 1917, the fur-lined military coats are very Mc Queen / Ozbek

Which leads us to the the final family of the 4:  Hohenzolleren… below is the Emporer’s daughter’s in one of his ‘army’ designs, complete with skull and cross bones.

The royal ‘extras’ cut quite a dash too, 3 images particularly caught my eye:

Queen Marie of Roumania, in her Byzantine boudoir seated on leopard skin and surrounded by exotic arum lillies.

King Alfonse XIII of Spain at the wheel of his Hispano-Suiza looking very ‘toady’.

Queen Amalia of Portugal on fully-harnessed bull:  doubtful Amalia and Queen Marie sought each other out at royal weddings

Why do these images resonate: because our 21st Century eyes know that these gilded lives and seemingly pre-ordained certainties are just about to be swept away forever. These families had achieved long term success – ensuring power and fortune for their descendants . But they failed to evolve, of the 4 great families  before World War 1, only the Windsors survive.

Queen Victoria, gave away royal power – accepting prestige and pageantry. She embodied the monarchy’s capacity to personify the state -thus  re-inventing its emotional appeal to the people. Like Victoria before her, Elizabeth has evolved, in the process becoming symbolic of historic continuity and cultural identity.

Her belief in duty, hard work and democratic progress have seen her through 60 years, inspired millions and kept the diamond collection intact. Roll on the evolution.

All Images from ‘The last Courts of Europe’, except

Empress Elisabeth with deer hound  (couldn’t resist) thank you ‘Scandalous Women‘.

Queen Elizabeth at Jubilee, Daily Telegraph fashion section.

One thought on “Royal Evolution

  1. Very interesting entry! I had never seen the image of a deceased Empress Elisabeth before. She still looks gorgeous.. I’m absolutely addicted to her as a person, her story and her life, although it was not a glamorous one.

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