- Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor by Anne Edwards
Hodder, 462 pp, £12.95, September 1984, ISBN 0 340 24465 8
According to Barbara Tuchman, quoted on the jacket, there is ‘a startling royal family scandal buried at the heart’ of this biography of Queen Mary. What steaming titbit can her fellow American, Anne Edwards, biographer of film stars, have turned up at this late hour? Can it really be that rather overworked rumour that identifies Prince Eddy, the Queen’s first fiancé, as Jack the Ripper? Indeed it can. James Pope-Hennessy did not find room to discuss this matter in his 685-page life of Queen Mary published in 1959, possibly because the hue and cry after Prince Eddy had not then gained its full impetus, possibly for other reasons. What can Anne Edwards tell us about this business? Unfortunately she knows no more than anybody else and can only ask a string of questions.
Vol. 7 No. 4 · 7 March 1985
SIR: E.S. Turner in ‘Educating Georgie’ (LRB, 6 December 1984) wrote about Anne Edwards’s book on Queen Mary in which Sir Osbert Sitwell is quoted to the effect that he detected ‘many Rumanian traits in the Queen [there were family links with Transylvania] and among these were “the manner in which she smoked cigarettes; her love of jewels, and the way in which she wore them; and the particular sort of film star glamour that in advanced age overtook her appearance, and made her, with the stylisation of her clothes, such an attractive as well as imposing figure”.’
Rumanian traits? Not a single one of those quoted is other than a human trait. And as to the family links: nothing Rumanian there at all. Queen Mary’s background was in part Hungarian; in fact, one of her ancestors, a member of the Rhedey family – Hungarian nobles – was a ruling prince of Transylvania, which was an independent principality for centuries. Rumanians constituted a minority in Transylvania until World War I when, under the Treaty of Trianon, the province was given to Rumania where is still is and where Hungarians now constitute the largest minority in Europe.
E.S. Turner writes: I suppose we shall never know why Sir Osbert Sitwell thought Queen Mary’s style to be Rumanian. Oddly enough, at the time of Edward VIII’s abdication, the Queen is supposed to have exclaimed ‘Really, we might as well be in Rumania!’; presumably she was thinking of King Carol and Mme Lupescu. This, of course, is irrelevant to the point at issue.
Vol. 7 No. 13 · 18 July 1985
SIR: I was astonished to read a letter from a member of the notorious anti-Romanian lobby (Letters, 7 March). I had thought that Michael Titus had silenced them for good in The Magyar File. It is, of course, nonsense to say that Romanians ‘constituted a minority in Transylvania until World War 1’. Dacians, later Daco-Romanians, had lived in Transylvania for centuries before the Magyar-speaking tribes appeared in Europe at the end of the ninth century. The capital, Cluj-Napoca, was given the name Napoca by the Romans. Some Romanians ruled Hungary, it is true; perhaps the greatest king of Hungary was Matei Corvinul, and Nicolas Olhus was Primate of Hungary.
There are no Hungarians in Romania. There are Magyar-speaking Romanians. During the 11 years I was Secretary of the British Association for Romanian Studies, and in charge of the Unesco literary translations programme for Romania, I tried to get this message across when the Paprika Gang first got itself organised. I did not succeed in convincing some sub-editors that Romania is spelt like that – there never was a Rume, capital of a Ruman Empire. And, while we are at it, the BBC still pronounces the father of modern monumental sculpture Brankoosi, instead of Brancush (Brancusi), and I read only the other day that Tzara, founder of Dadaism, and Ionesco, pioneer of the Theatre of the Absurd, were French.
John Ryle’s article in the issue of 2 May on the coup in the Sudan misses the point. As Gordon (who kept order there for years) knew and said often, the Muslim Arab North of the Sudan and the Christian and animist South cannot form part of a viable state. One day or other they must go their separate ways. When he was murdered by the Mahdi’s troops, Gordon was planning to take the South with him to the Congo, where it would form part of a state ruled by him for King Leopold of the Belgians. It is misleading to write of the Umma Party as ruling the Sudan ‘in the 1890s under the Mahdi’. The man known as the Mahdi had been dead long since.
Denis Mack Smith must have been glad to have Jonathan Steinberg (author of Why Switzerland?) puffing his books in the issue of 23 May. His Cavour and Garibaldi did not cause an uproar, except in high-school staffrooms – university teachers in Italy had slopped churning out the old lies about both for years. There are two really good books on Cavour: one is the Cavour e il Suo Tempo, the definitive biography, and the other is Valitutti’s study of Cavour, Church and State. Mack Smith’s good luck was to be taken up by the dotty Left. Though my life of Mussolini has been a standard text in many countries for two decades, it never appeared in Italy because I do not get on well with the dotty Left. Enzo Biagi managed to get five instalments of my book published in L’Europeo, which was the first time millions of Italians heard some of the truth about their past, but then the curtain came down. The same is true of my history of the Fascist Militia. When I taught the History of Fascism in the Corso di Alta Cultura at the Italian State University for Foreigners, I was always being asked if he were not Denis MacSmith. That serves me right for mentioning him while teaching, in Italian, in a kilt.
Italian State University for Foreigners, Perugia
Vol. 7 No. 14 · 1 August 1985
SIR: General Gordon – who ‘kept order’ in the Sudan as a whole for just three years – could not, pace Mr MacGregor-Hastie (Letters, 18 July), have spoken of the ‘Christian and animist’ South since at his death Christian missionary activity had barely begun there and ‘animist’ had not yet become an odd-job word for tribes outside the influence of world religions. Also it was Equatoria and Bahr-el-Ghazal (provinces without fixed boundaries but including a good portion of what is now Uganda), not the Southern region as now constituted, that would have been attached to the Congo Free State if King Leopold had had his way. And by no means all the Northern tribes are ‘Muslim-Arab’; some are not even Arabic-speaking.
The North-South issue is, nevertheless, of great importance, as I think I made quite clear. There have been a few changes in the political situation since Gordon’s time, however. Gordon’s concern was to end the slave trade. Thus he administered the South for the high-principled Khedive Ismail until the Khedive’s deposition and the restoration of the old corrupt regime in Egypt in 1879. The Mahdist revolt and the collapse of Egyptian administration in the Sudan meant that the South was only accessible through Leopold’s domains. In the 1880s, therefore, Gordon’s best chance of achieving his objective lay in the service of the Belgians. But it was the separation of the Sudan from Egypt, not the North of Sudan from the South, that he envisaged. It was in fact the death of Gordon and the subsequent transformation of foreign policy under Lord Salisbury – whereby Britain resolved to stay in Egypt and keep the other European powers out of the Nile valley – which transformed Equatoria from a far-flung outpost of the Egyptian empire to a strategic zone, crucial to Anglo-Egyptian control of the Nile waters. Hydropolitics – still the most important underlying factor in the region – tied the fate of the South to that of the lands that lay down-river. Lumping the Southern Sudan in with the North at independence may have been a mistake – many British administrators in the South thought so. This does not mean it would not be a greater mistake to try and prise the two apart now. There is little talk of secession in the Sudan today, even among the Southern rebels. Given the history of failure among separatist movements in African countries, some of them with comparable ethnic-religious divisions, and the experience of the Southerners themselves during their first rebellion, between 1955 and 1972, this is a realistic position. In Gordon’s time other possibilities existed for North and South: today they really do not. ‘One day or other they must go their separate ways’ is a cruel sentence that obscures the reality of prolonged civil war, the burned villages, the untilled fields, the collapse of civil administration, the erosion of values, the destruction of human and animal life.
If an independent Southern Sudanese state ever did come into being this would, as I tried to explain in my article, itself be liable to further tribal fission. Or does Mr MacGregor-Hastie think the Southerners would be better off as citizens of Zaire, the most corrupt state in Africa? Or the Central African Republic, the poorest but one? Or Uganda, the most racked with civil war? The overwhelming priority in the Sudan at the moment is the establishment of an administration capable of saving the country from mass starvation. Neither the long-term nor the short-term problems of the region areliable to be resolved by creating a new country or readjusting borders. Would that they could. But North-East Africa is not the Balkans. It would indeed have been misleading of me to write of the Umma Party ruling the Sudan in the 1890s, as it did not exist until the 1940s. Writing, as I did, of the Ansar – the religious grouping that engendered the Umma Party – ruling in the 1890s ‘under the Mahdi’ was an error, though. I should have written ‘under the Mahdia’: i.e. the regime of the Mahdi and his successor the Khalifa (who ruled from 1885 to 1898).