Category: Blog

A railway journey through time

A railway journey through time

From the 19th century on the achievements and inventions of the human race transformed the world. Suddenly there were new ways to communicate and move around. So began a railway journey through time. Up until the age of steam engines, most people lived in the area where they had been born and rarely went further than a day’s journey from home.

The first railway journey

Steam was first used in engines for the emerging factories of the Industrial Revolution. Then later it was used to power boats. But only when the engines became smaller could they be used on wheels and the idea of railways developed. George Stephenson engineered a railway from Liverpool to Manchester using his son, Robert’s engine called The Rocket. It opened in 1830.

The Stephenson’s then built a longer line connecting London and Birmingham. The excitement caught on and soon the pair were helping other countries develop railways. This led the chairman of the modern British Rail to comment that the whole world travels on a branch line of the Liverpool to Manchester original.

No stopping the railway

Once the railways came, there was no stopping their momentum. They carried goods to and from factories and eventually displaced the canal system of transport. They carried people to cities for work and business and the ordinary folk to seaside locations for recreation. The countryside was linked by the networks and huge viaducts built to span gullies and rivers. Railways brought prosperity to isolated towns and scenic coastlines. Everyone wanted to take a railway journey.

An ode to the railways

Another son of a Stephen, Robert Louis Stevenson of Treasure Island book fame penned a poem, an ode to railways. It is called From a railway carriage and starts like this.

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches.
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

I love the pace and the rhyme. Quite catchy as poems used to be before free verse. I used part of this as a header for one of my chapters in my historical series novel, Time Heal my Heart. It seemed apt for the time of the early 20th century when railways moved to the suburbs. Before people had cars they moved around on bicycle, tram, bus and train.

Railways take priority

Let’s continue our railway journey through time. Once railway networks extended anything in their way had to move. They seemed to have priority. The whole of the St Pancras cemetery had to move and be relocated for the Northern London line. Thomas Hardy before he was a famous novelist worked on this project. he positioned all the gravestones around a giant oak tree that is now known as The Hardy Tree. This story features in my novel Whispers through Time.

Likewise, when Sydney some years later had to build a suburban network, the Devonshire Street cemetery had to be moved to allow for the Central Station. Today many bodies still lie below the bustling station. The moving of a cemetery is very disrespectful. Corpses in various stages of decay are hauled from their resting places to a new site of mass burial. Headstones were left behind.

So, as you see there was no progress like rail progress. Today we see a similar process as green energy transmission lines take precedence and crush all in their path as they proceed through farmland and towns. I wonder what history will make of this in years to come.

Railways in America and Europe

The railway journey craze spread to America and Europe.  Following the example of Britain, they forged ahead with steam driven rail networks. The American pioneer Colonel John Stevens (another son of Stephen!) oversaw the first rail carriages pulled by horse and wagon. A faster and wider form of transport was sorely needed in such a vast country as America.

Europe was not far behind. France, by 1832, had a line between St Etienne and Lyon. Originally intended to transport coal it turned to passenger transport as well. Belgium and Germany followed with industry then passenger transport as the rage caught on. Politics and commerce spurred on even greater railway building projects. The vast continents of Africa and Russia benefited like America from this new form of transport. Ports could be linked to cities and one end of an empire connected to another. So developed the Trans-Siberian network and parts of the trans-Africa network. Terrain and colonial acquisitions stopped this latter vast project from succeeding.

The famous Orient Express

Europe being smaller concentrated more on passenger services. The idea of linking Paris to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) resulted in The Orient Express. It was the baby of a Belgian, Georges Nagelmackers who had already launched an international line from Ostend to Brindisi in Italy. But for the orient line the railway had to cross six nations. Not so easy plus the line was nearly 3000km long. It would cross Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria on the way to where east meets west, Constantinople.

It first left Le Gare de l’Est on October 4, 1883 on its way east. The last part of the journey was by boat though because the line was yet unfinished. Six years later it finally made the whole trip in three and a half days. That was marvellous in itself but what captivated the public was the sheer opulence of the train. Its sleeping compartments panelled with teak had marquetry inlays and water faucets. Guards for each compartment saw to all their passenger’s needs. Hot showers were available in a rear coach. There were also dining cars serving cocktails and fine cuisine, a smoking room and even a library.

The trip was very popular as it was much quicker than the boat alternative. The Orient added other routes to Milan and Venice plus from Constantinople you could connect to transport to Syria and Baghdad. Agatha Christie took this trip in 1928 after her traumatic marrige ending. She ran off and had a fantastic adventure which fuelled a few novels like Death on the Nile and Death in Mesopotamia. She met her second husband, Max Mallowan on a dig on a second trip there.

The Blue Train to the Riviera

Another glamorous train in France was Le Train Bleu which linked the port Calais with Paris then to the Riviera. In the early 1900s this was a favourite with socialites who would disppear to the Riviera for the season. Coco Chanel loved this train. It had blue sleeper cars with gold trim, hence its name. Only during the war years did it stop the night service to Marseilles, Nice and Menton.

Eventually with the desire for fast travel, trains grew out of vogue and air travel was the go.  But some services like The Orient Express are so popular for romance and nostalgia reasons that they are making a comeback. The Orient Express is due to travel again this year.  

Everything old is new again! If you love the Riviera, read my novel, The Last Hotel set there. A modern tale with old fashioned glamour and romance. Trains feature in all my books. I love trains so have my characters moving around on them. In my historical novels they have no choice.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published books. See more on her website.joniscottauthor.com

Philoxenia and the kindness of strangers.

Philoxenia and the kindness of strangers.

Whilst at a book signing recently a customer browsing books nearby approached me with a book in hand. Unexpectedly, he asked what the title Philoxenia, a seat at my table. meant. Maybe he thought seeing as I was an author, I would know the meaning of the obviously foreign word in the title.

I eyed the attractive cover which featured a bowl of olives and a plate of rustic bread.”It looks like it is a Greek cookbook,” I commented. This was confirmed by the nature of the author’s names, Kon and Sia Karapanagiotidis. Delightfully long Greek names. The man smiled but still hovered. I had not answered his question. What does the word Philoxenia mean?

What does philoxenia mean?

I looked at the word again and recognised within it two smaller Greek words. They are ‘philos’ meaning friend and ‘xenos’ meaning stranger. “I think it means ‘the love of strangers'” I said, “but as it is obviously a cookbook, not sure if I am right.”

“I will google it,” he offered. Why he didn’t do this in the first place, I did wonder. Maybe he just wanted company or a chat with a ‘xenos’, a stranger like me. Or was I starting to look like a Miss Marple in my autumn years? No, that can’t be it, surely not, he is too young to be an Agatha Christie fan like me.

“It means hospitality or kindness to strangers,” he announced, flashing his phone towards me. “Ah!” I replied, “That makes sense. What a lovely word with a special meaning. We have both learnt something today. Thank you!” The stranger now a little less of a stranger, smiled. he had a lovely smile that further brightened my morning. Smiles are like that, aren’t they. So much better than frowns or blank stares! You feel less invisible.

Becoming more visible thanks to philoxenia

At book events, even though you are meant to be increasing your visibility as an author, you can feel very invisible. Folk wander by immersed in their own world, fair enough, I guess. But I always smile and say ‘good morning’ but many just give me a blank stare or grunt in return. Not practising philoxenia obviously. My new word.

The stranger stayed. His name was Brad. We chatted about food which made me a tad hungry as I had rushed to get here and not had breakfast. Then we chatted about travels another wonderful engaging topic. He like me had travelled widely and now we had our word, we extolled on the hospitality or philoxenia we had both experienced abroad. We had both been adopted for meals by Greek and Italian families we had randomly met. Yes, these lovely Europeans like to share their wonderful earthy cuisines with strangers. Meals made from the most basic of ingredients, fresh from the market and transformed into luscious comforting and delicious dishes for all to share. I remembered that I had included a chapter about this phenomenon in my latest book, Time Heal my Heart. 

Philoxenia and the English man

In Chapter 27, I think it is, the characters Oscar and Luigi retire from the exhausting Giro d’Italia bike race of 1914 (the most difficult race ever) They visit Luigi’s uncle and aunt in nearby Florence. There in the courtyard garden, they are plied with plates of steaming spaghetti to reinvigorate their stiff aching limbs. There in the garden, Oscar the Englishman marvels at the ‘philoxenia’ of Luigi’s family. Estranged from his own family in London, he has been a runaway for years and not even informed his parents where he is. How different is this happy, loving family sharing a splendid meal under a splendid tree in beautiful Florence.

Oscar will remember his sojourn in Florence for years to come. His time there with this family and their philoxenia prefaces the horror of the years to come. Even though Oscar and Luigi have no idea at this time, the world is about to erupt into war. In a few weeks’ time as they travel to Sarajevo, they will coincide with its outbreak, the opening shots fired by Gavrilo Princip that will echo around the world.

How a sandwich led to the outbreak of WWI

And this is another foodie story because Gavrilo would not have shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie if he hadn’t stopped for a sandwich at Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen! Now that’s a story in itself. See above link to Gavrilo Princip to read about this amazing coincidence that changed the lives of millions. I could not resist having my boys Oscar and Luigi also eating a salami sandwich nearby. A sort of Forest Gump moment. They become firsthand witnesses of the shot that lights the powder keg and boom! we have a world war. The first one ever. They called it The Great War. But it was not so great if you became embroiled in it as millions worldwide did. Oscar escapes the rising tensions by taking off to Argentina, but Luigi stays and takes the confusing consequences of his country changes sides during the war.

Philoxenia rules the day!

Now I have come a long way off topic and away from my chance meeting in the bookshop. What happened, you might ask if you made it this far? (having survived my digressions and rants) Well done you. My stranger now not a stranger stayed to chat as I said and this led, I believe to other people thinking I was worth talking to and maybe not so invisible, so a few people hovered. They picked up and turned over my books to read the blurb on the back cover. Two wondered off to the counter with copies of The Last Hotel, my bestseller. Not everyone wants a signature and mine is not flash since I have CRPS in my right hand.

Thanks to the kindness of a stranger and later a few more strangers who stopped by, I had a lovely afternoon in Rosetta’s Bookshop, Maleny in the lovely hinterland of Queensland, Australia where I live. If you are ever here in our great southern land make sure to visit the Sunshine Coast Hinterland where you can view from a distance The (stunning) Glasshouse Mountains to the south. In Maleny and nearby Montville you can experience the hospitality or philoxenia of Queenslanders! There are many cafes, cheeseries and wineries where you can share a bowl of olives and some rustic bread just like the Greeks do.

Joni Scott is an Australian writer. See website joniscottauthor.com to read her history blog and find her books.

The Origins of Easter

The Origins of Easter

While researching for my second novel, I learnt about the origin of the word Easter and the different tradition in France where this novel, The Last Hotel is set.

The English word Easter is derived from ‘Eostre’, the name of a pre-Christian goddess associated with spring and fertility. Easter occurs at the spring equinox when the day is divided into equal periods of night and day. Spring in the northern hemisphere is a season of new life for plants and animals. Hence the bunnies, chicks and eggs of Easter celebrations in the Western world. Easter occurs at the spring equinox when the day is divided into equal periods of night and day. Spring in the northern hemisphere is a season of new life for plants and animals.

Easter and the natural world

Religious festivals are often connected to the natural world and its seasons. Before all the modern gadgets, electricity and devices, man was more in tune with the natural world. When the sun set the only light was from the moon until the sun rose again. Imagine that. Today you have to take a camping trip to a remote area to experience that. Even then some fellow campers could bring along televisions etc. Don’t you hate that. Why go camping??!

In the non-English speaking world, Easter is called by derivatives of the word Passover which is the festival in Hebrew Culture celebrating the liberation of the Jews from Egypt. (Book of Exodus). The word Pascha comes from the Hebrew Pesah. Unleavened or unrisen bread is eaten in the form of matzo. Jewish people and others enjoy matzo ball soup which is quite delicious.

The trial and crucifixion of Jesus occurred at Passover, so his death and resurrection coincide with Passover. His death is honored on Good Friday and his rebirth on the Easter Sunday. These same days became associated with the pagan festivities of the time celebrating renewal and rebirth. This explains the origins of Easter.

Easter is both a happy and sad time

In the Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday precedes Good Friday by about six weeks and is the start of Lent. This traditionally is a time of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter.

Not all Christians observe the Lent ritual. Ashes were used in ancient times to express grief and sorrow and placed on the head.

In the Christian tradition, Easter is both a sad and joyous date on the calendar. It marks the death but also the resurrection of Jesus. As Easter is determined by the moon and seasons, the actual calendar date varies from year to year.

What is the Holy Week?

Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem triumphant and feted on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before the day that would become known as Easter Sunday.

This is the beginning of Holy Week. The Last Supper took place on the Thursday, Maundy Thursday when Jesus ate with his disciples. That night he prayed long into the night in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas, one of his disciples, betrayed him. He fell out of favor with authorities, and they crucified and buried him on Good Friday.

According to the Bible, Jesus rose from the dead three days later, on Easter Sunday, signaling the victory of life over death and the promise of eternal salvation for believers. Believing in his deity as the son of God, and trusting in his guidance, guarantees you forgiveness of your sins and life everlasting in heaven.

Christians attend church services at Easter. The Good Friday service is a solemn service that usually follows the 14 stations of the cross as Jesus made his way carrying the heavy cross to his place of crucifixion.

On Easter Sunday, the service is by contrast joyful celebrating his rising or resurrection. Both services involve participation in special liturgies and hymns. Some churches also hold Easter processions and pageants, reenacting the events of the resurrection. This is particularly so in the Philippines where the Holy Week is celebrated.

Easter, a time of hope and renewal

Easter is a holiday rich in history and tradition. It is intercultural around the world. Whether you celebrate it for its religious significance or its cultural significance, it is a time of renewal and hope, a time to celebrate the arrival of spring or hope and the promise of new life.

Later as children became a distinct entity not just little adults, mythical bunnies were added from German folklore to deliver sweet nougat or chocolate eggs to ‘good’ children just as Santa Claus rewarded them at Christmas. In Europe, it is also traditional to paint eggshells and hang the pretty eggs as a display.

In France chocolate bells also feature as a tradition to connect with the joyful ringing of church bells on Easter Sunday.

From Christian sorrow and joy, church services to family gatherings or Easter eggs brought by the Easter bunny, Easter is a time to come together with loved ones and rejoice in the blessings of life and be grateful.

Happy Easter!

photo source

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel, Colour Comes to Tangles and Time, Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

Who invented buttons?

Who invented buttons?

Now, this seems a silly question. You might answer who cares. Buttons are trivial nonessentials to everyday life. But since my week strangely enough has been besieged by buttons, I asked myself this question. Who invented buttons?

My week started ordinarily enough but then on two separate occasions; a button popped off my dress. Two occasions, two different dresses. Now you may say, “well, all your dresses must be close to their use by date.” And this could be true. I do hang onto things a little longer than the average girl. Returning home from the second outing minus another button, I decided to replace the missing buttons. Being a thrifty baby boomer, I had a ready supply of spare buttons in an allocated tin. My father who taught me such thriftiness, would have been proud of my preparedness.

Sorting buttons, Am I mad?

The buttons I needed were not immediately found in the large tin, so I poured the contents of the whole tin into a salad bowl and started sorting. By the end of an hour and two cups of tea later (plus one and a half slices of lemon madeira cake), I had piles of buttons sorted by colour. There were lots of white shirt buttons, and less of the coloured versions. The three orange buttons were an unexpected find.

Buttons sorted, I sewed on the missing dress buttons and put all the sewing paraphernalia away. If you have survived reading this far, well done! Silly lady chatter. This boring mundane activity did not pique my interest into the origins of the button. It was the next day at my weekly women’s group where rather than our usual mystery guest speaker, we had instead a craft activity. And, oh no, the craft material provided was, you guessed, it buttons. We were like kindergarteners or those at the other end of life, the nursing home inmates, making cards using buttons (and a few bows.)

The history of buttons

So, this weird coincidence led me to ponder the meaning of life, according to buttons. Who invented buttons? Were they always for fastening clothes? Let’s unpack a bit of fashion history. Buttons are traced to the Indus Valley (Pakistan) circa 2800 BC, Scotland c 2000BC and in the Bronze Age sites in China and Ancient Rome. So, buttons have been around a fair time. They were used for ornamental purposes on fabric but not as fasteners, just for decoration. The first buttons were made from seashells and then later of the newly formed metal, alloy of bronze made from copper and tin.

The development of buttons follows the history of materials available to man. Over their history, buttons have been crafted from shells, ivory, metal, glass, silk, enamel, leather, enamel, wood, china and plastic. Buttons used for fastening date to the Roman Empire where leatherwork shows buttonholes. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that where there were buttonholes there were buttons. These were evidenced in leather satchels before use on clothes and shoes. By the Byzantine, there were buttons to fasten cuffs and necks of shirts and tunics and for sleeves and necklines for women’s dresses.

The word ‘button’ comes from a German word meaning ‘to push through’ which makes sense once the buttonhole emerged.

Buttons as status symbols

At some time, the side on which the button was sewn became gender assigned.  The left for women and the right for men. This is believed to be due to a man having to draw his weapon from left to right without slicing off his supply of buttons. Another reason is that the maids need to dress their ladies with their right hand, and this is easier if the buttons are on the left. The badge like buttons also emerged and worn to advertise allegiance to a group or army. Soldier buttons could even serve as lockets with locks of their beloved one’s hair kept inside close to their heart. With all buttons, the fancier the button, the higher the status of the wearer. Buttons were status symbols just like rings and jewelry can be today.

Why do the Amish ban buttons?

Maybe this is why the Amish people ban buttons, calling them along with many other modernities, ‘proud.’Buttons are a sign of individuality and vanity, two things the Amish try to avoid. By not wearing buttons, all members of the community look the same regardless of their wealth or social standing. Anything individual brings attention to oneself, so buttons are not on the Amish agenda. Uniformity is the key.

I would not be happy as an Amish woman. I love colour and diversity in clothing. It makes me feel happy. That is why I wrote a book about colour; Colour Comes to Tangles.

Buttons for everyone

Moving on; The Industrial Revolution brought buttons and many other products to the masses. Buttons now could be made en masse not singly by artisans. The simple flat button with two or four holes was easier to manufacture than a button with a stud or post or a cuff-link toggle style. Most shirt and dress buttons were flat and white or bone coloured and this is still true today.

Then came the zipper

With time, other forms of fastening clothes evolved such as the press stud, hook and eye and the zipper. The last, the clasp fastener or zipper as it is now known, has revolutionised clothing, handbags and many, many other everyday objects. No one individual is responsible but a series of gentlemen. see the zipper link. 

Elias Howe, Jr. (1819–1867), the inventor of the sewing machine, received a patent in 1851 for an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure.” Elias did not pursue marketing his clothing closure system and so missed his chance to become the “Father of the Zip.”

Forty-four years later, Whitcomb Judson (1846–1909) marketed a “Clasp Locker” device similar to Howe’s idea. As first to market, Whitcomb became the “inventor of the zipper.” However, his 1893 patent did not use the word zipper.

The 1851 Chicago “Clasp Locker” was first a hook-and-eye shoe fastener, a redesign of Elias Howe’s. Colonel Lewis Walker, Whitcomb launched the Universal Fastener Company to manufacture the new device. The clasp locker made its debut at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair but was met with little enthusiasm. Instead, Swedish-born electrical engineer, Gideon Sundback (1880–1954) made the zipper the hit it is today.

The “zipper” name came from the B. F. Goodrich Company, which used Sundback’s fastener on rubber boots. or galoshes. However, it took 20 more years to convince the fashion industry to use the closure on garments.

In the 1930s, a sales campaign began for children’s clothing featuring zippers. The campaign promoted zippers for self-reliance in young children as zippers made it possible for children to dress themselves.

No more buttons for the fly.

In 1937, the zipper beat the button in the “Battle of the Fly.” French fashion designers used zippers in men’s trousers and Esquire magazine declared the zipper the way to go for men. There would be no more peep hole embarrassments caused by missing or undone buttons. But the men still had to remember to zip their fly!

The next big boost for the zipper came when zippers could open on both ends such as on jackets. Today the zipper is everywhere. But we still have buttons!  Those cute little fasteners that led to the saying ‘as cute as a button.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel Colour Comes to Tangles and her latest historical WWI drama, Time Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

Photo by elnaz asadi on Unsplash

 

Why do we run away from trauma?

Why do we run away from trauma?

Characters that run away from trauma

As I write this, I realize that all of my five novels have characters, mostly women that run away from their current lives. They run away from trauma. Maybe it is a coincidence I choose this theme or is it because I myself am a runaway? Mind you, history is full of examples of women running away. I never realized until I started researching the matter. The correct term for this response to trauma is called ‘dissociative fugue.’

In my first novel, Whispers through Time, set in early 1900s, two sisters, Francesca and Winifred run away from London to Australia to escape their unhappiness. The characters were inspired by me reflecting why my grandmother ran off from her large family of siblings in London. Then later in life she runs away again from her new family and that is why I barely knew her. Why do we run away from trauma?  She shut herself off from her loved ones.

Why does a woman run away? It is the subject of today’s blog, The runaway response to trauma.

Then in my best seller, The Last Hotel, my character Jenny escapes her abusive marriage for a holiday in France with her ballet dancer son. Unwittingly, I’m at it again, in Colour Comes to Tangles, my next book. One of the characters is missing in action somewhere and her friends mount a search. In Time Heal my Heart, another historical, it is a minor character but a mysterious one who leaves her native France to come to Australia. To tell you more would contain spoilers. Find more plot details on my website or Amazon books.

Agatha Christie, the runaway

So let me start exploring this runaway phenomenon as it is a recurring theme and true to life, not just the stuff of fiction. Did you know that Agatha Christie, the famous mystery writer ran away? In 1926, she disappeared for ten days and the police from two counties were looking for her. It was as sensational as her best seller of a few years previous, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the book that made her famous.  After a quarrel with her cheating husband, Archie, Agatha drives off and parks her car precariously overlooking a Surrey quarry and plain disappears. She leaves behind her fur coat and driver’s license and also leaves the car headlights on.

What are the police to presume from this? Yes, of course, it looks suspicious, and Archie is the prime suspect. Agatha is missing presumed the victim of foul play. But in reality, she just wandered off and caught public transport to Harrogate where she booked into a hotel under the name of her husband’s mistress. Curious and curiouser as Alice would say. Finally, after an exhaustive police hunt and public newspaper appeals someone at the hotel recognizes Agatha and she is found.

Public opinion is mixed. Was it a staged disappearance to gain publicity or a desperate appeal to her husband to rethink his request for a divorce. Or was it neither of these and just amnesia? This seems more likely as Agatha was a shy woman not one to invite attention. Indeed, although today the answer to her strange disappearance is not any of these for sure, it makes sense that she was so distressed by the recent death of her mother and infidelity of Archie, that she just ran away. It was all too much.

Fugue or running away from trauma

I can relate to this myself as I did just that twenty odd years ago. Like Agatha it was out of character and surprised everyone even me. This condition is called ‘dissociative fugue’ and is a way of avoiding a situation because the trauma is too much to process at the time. This all makes sense but was not a known condition at the time. Nor is it today. I had never heard of it until I was researching Agatha Christie for my blog and a U3A talk.

This fugue state is one of four reactions to trauma that all start with the letter ‘f’. They are freeze, fight, fawn or flee. Fugue is the equivalent of the flee version. The others involve doing nothing, fighting, submitting in that order. These are common responses seen in domestic violence situations. Often the woman abused is too afraid to do anything and so ultimately submits and tries to please or appease her abuser. Fighting is not often a viable method especially if the other person is much bigger or stronger. Fleeing can work if you have somewhere safe to go. Agatha had a car and money to stay at a hotel, but many women cannot just run away especially if children are involved.

Historical cases of women running away from trauma

Decades ago, many women had unwanted pregnancies and had nowhere to turn. The shame of their situation led them to be dismissed from their domestic service and shunned by the father. This terrible situation is the plot for many a historical novel ie beautiful young servant impregnated by rogue son of the manor. Thomas Hardy was the master of such tales. Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a tragedy due to the Victorian morals that set one rule for men and another for women. Tess is seduced and shamed by a bad man and suffers the damnation of society.

Women who cannot run away from trauma

Fortunately, in Western countries this is not such an issue. Governments now support unwed mothers to be. But in many African and Arabic cultures the shame is still there, and fathers or brothers still murder female family members that dishonor the family name. It is very difficult for these women to run away and start again. Women instead often stay and submit to the penalty. Most times it is not even their fault that they shame the family. Many are victims of rape or incest. It is a sad world where this still happens.

Despite progress, it is still a patriarchal world where women and girls suffer. The suffragettes fought for women’s rights, women gained the right to vote but they are still often the victims of men’s aggression.

If you like to read books about real women, then try one of my novels. I have three historical and two contemporary and all are based on real lives and situations.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel Colour Comes to Tangles and her latest historical WWI drama, Time Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

 

The Rivalry of Sisters

The Rivalry of Sisters

‘Of all the gifts great and small, a sister is the greatest of them all.’ So, the saying goes and for many of us, this rings true. But history abounds with famous sisters who don’t exactly get along. First up, there are the famous biblical sisters like Rachel and Leah. These two exemplify the problem of sibling rivalry so often part of biblical stories. Rachel and Leah both have to share the man they love, Jacob. He first loved and married Rachel but she was unable to have children, so he took Leah to bed as well to bear his children. Imagine Rachel’s pain at this development. It is an untenable position.

The rivalry of the Boleyn Sisters

Moving forward, there are the beautiful Boleyn sisters who both wanted to marry the same man, Henry VIII. Quite a bad choice really as Anne literally lost her head in 1536 over that man. She lives on as one of Britain’s most famous ghosts while Mary sleeps on peacefully in her grave. Anne’s ghost is reportedly seen in many places around London and beyond including the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Hever castle. She was not ready to die and especially in not such a horrible way, deceived by her love. Her sister was a more reliable support to her despite the jealousy.

The rivalry of the Queen and Princess Margaret

Other royal sisters, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret shared a special sister bond but for Margaret the younger, it was not all plain sailing. Having a big sister who is also the queen of England was not easy. Margaret could not marry the man she wanted because he was divorced. She needed the Church of England’s and Elizabeth’s approval and it was not at first given. But in fact, the Queen and Eden drew up a plan in 1955 under which Princess Margaret could marry Peter Townsend while keeping her royal title and her civil list allowance. She could live in this country and even continue with public duties but she had to renounce succession as a royal princess. Read all about this here. 

Margaret ultimately, after much thought, decided to not marry Peter and married Anthony Armstrong Jones instead.  She did not have a happy marriage or life but kept the close bond to her older sister, Queen Elizabeth.

Though they had issues when Margaret wanted to marry a divorced commoner, they put this aside to maintain their special bond through life. After all it cannot be easy being the younger sister of a queen. So great was the love of Margaret for her big sister that she opted for her own cremation so there would be room in the family vault for Elizabeth and Philip one day and so she could be near her parents. Her ashes lie in the King George VI Memorial Chapel alongside her sister and the Duke of Edinburgh and her parents.

The Romanov Sisters

Recently, I have posted about the Romanov sisters. They were also royalty and suffered a terrible fate because of their status. Read about these beautiful young grand duchesses in my recent posts on the Russian royal family and these tragic sisters. They seemed to get along well but Anastasia the youngest may have been a bit of a brat. She was the naughtiest of the mostly very well behaved and family orientated sisters.

Rivalry between writing sisters

The arts abounds with famous sisters. The Bronte sisters, Anne, Charlotte and Emily shared a love of writing. maybe they shared a sense of rivalry as to who could write the best story? I know it was Agatha Christie’s big sister madge who challenged Agatha to write a crime novel. She did well, didn’t she. Writing over 80 novels and stories as well as plays, Agatha Christie became the most read and published novelist of all time.

I love the fictional sisters of Little Women and how they mostly got along just fine for four sisters with different temperaments. There are hints at jealousy and competitiveness but nothing too savage happens. maybe because it is fiction. But not all sisters have happy relationships. No one can be more annoying than a little sister trying to take the limelight or steal your boyfriend. Jealousy is a big issue that often ignites a lifetime of rivalry.

Movie Star rival sisters

In the case of movie star sisters, Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland, the enmity was fierce. They competed at star level and never softened their fierce jealousy of each other.

The Olsen twins, Mary Kate and Ashley made their acting debut while babies. They share an even more special sister bond, that of twins. Venus and Serena Williams are sisters at a unique competitive level, that of gold medals. They mostly leave their rivalry on the courts. Then there’s the Kardashian sisters competing for the best curves.

Have you heard of Zsa Zsa  and Eva Gabor? They were two sisters out of a trio of Hungarian born sisters. Magda is lesser known though she married actor, George Sanders, her little sister’s cast-off husband. Zsa Zsa, the middle sister competed with Eva for men, money and beauty. Though the sisters married multiple times, Zsa Zsa was the only one to have a child. The Gabor sister act was an act to follow in the 1940’s and 50’s. They were always in the news, a bit like the Kardashians of today.

In the 1930s, The Andrews Sisters, Patty, Maxene and Laverne were another sister trio, a singing group famous for ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and other swing hits during WWII. They rated as the best-selling of all female vocal groups. Despite singing beautifully together and selling 75 million records, they started a fight in 1937 though they stayed as an act until 1967 when Laverne died.

Birth order and rivalry of sisters

Birth order does seem to have an effect on how sisters get along. The order of birth also is said to determine the personality of a child. First born children are usually more sensible, calm and conservative compared to their younger sisters. This is because their parents often spend more time on the discipline side of parenting. Later children meet laxer parenting as the parents run out of puff with a larger brood to control. Little sisters often get to do things their older sisters could not at the same age. this explains the claim that little sisters are spoilt.

As a a younger sister, I can see this. My sister claims I was spoilt and she had a tougher time. However, I have always looked up to my big sister and listened to her advice. I even wrote her into my first book as a character! Whispers Through Time also tells the story of two sisters, my grandmother and great aunt who emigrated to Australia in 1912. They had a special bond through life though their lives took different directions. One married an itinerant worker and the other a rich doctor, but they stayed connected through their shared ordeals during World War One and Two.

In the third book in this series, Last Time Forever, a sense of rivalry that must always have been there, rises to the fore. The sisters have a falling out later in life. Watch out for this last book in the sister trilogy. It’s at the publishers now. But meanwhile if you like stories of sisters and historical fiction, read the others, Whispers through Time and Time, heal my Heart. 

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel Colour Comes to Tangles and her latest historical WWI drama, Time Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

Photo from Unsplash.

 

 

Who was Saint Valentine?

Who was Saint Valentine?

Why is Feb 14th called Valentine’s Day?

Who was  Saint Valentine and why is February 14th called Valentine’s Day? It might be worth reading this before you rush off to buy cards and chocolates in celebration of this annual day of ‘love and lovers.’ Keep reading too for interesting facts about Valentine’s day  variations.

Saint Valentine performed secret marriages

Valentine’s day is named for Saint Valentine who was a Catholic priest in 3rd century Rome. At this time many Romans were converting to Christianity and Emperor Claudius II was not happy about this as he was a pagan. To retain control, Claudius wrote some strict rules for citizens and soldiers. One such rule was that Roman soldiers could not marry. However, there was a priest called Valentine who offered to secretly conduct a marriage ceremony for the soldiers.

That is how his name became associated with love, especially romantic love. However, Valentine did not totally get away with this secret activity as Claudius did find out and imprisoned him. But while in prison Valentine cared for other prisoners as best he could through prayer and small acts of kindness. What a trooper. he spread his love.

Legend goes that one of the jailers had a blind daughter who Valentine prayed for. She regained her sight and maybe his miracle angered Claudius more because he scheduled Valentine’s execution for 14 Feb 270 AD.

The Saint Valentine’s Message

Legend also goes that before he died Valentine left a message for the jailer’s daughter saying, ‘from your Valentine.’ This saying is the traditional one entered in a Valentine’s Day card to keep the sender or admirer anonymous, which for young women is half the fun. But this practice did not start until 200 years after Valentine’s death.

By then most of Rome was under Christian rule and paganism was on the wane. Pope Gelasius replaced a pagan agricultural festival with a Saint Valentine’s feast day. Also, later, in the Middle Ages, Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet, promoted the day as one to express romantic love. This time in history was a time of courtly love where lovers were often secret. The idea of an anonymous sender therefore fitted well with this day all about love.

Tradition of love spreads

The tradition spread throughout Europe and senders would craft a beautiful card to honor their love’s beauty. Decorations of cupid cherubs, hearts and red roses were the most common additions to the love message. These are still used on cards and single red roses are often sent with the card.

In a world that screams for more love and kindness we can’t be too hard on this tradition. Yes, I know today it also screams of commercialism, but most people tolerate it and find the custom sweet and harmless, especially if they are on the receiving end of the custom. Hope you are!

Vinegar Valentines

Around the 1800’s when more people could write and read and the postal service was underway, a variation of the sweet Valentine greetings came into being. These were the Vinegar Valentine cards. Shops sold them along with the sweeter version. The name sort of says it all, sour not sweet. Vinegar valentines were nasty anonymous messages to those unloved by the sender. I guess they were equivalent to the modern-day trolling on Twitter.

In those days the recipient not the sender had to pay for the postage. So, imagine getting a nasty snarky card and having to pay for the joy of it yourself! The Vinegar Valentines eventually died out as shopkeepers selling such cards were penalised but I have a feeling there may still be a few vinegar Valentine messages delivered on sweet Valentine cards.

Galentine’s Day

In recent times, in the Western World, the whole Valentine concept has been commercialized just like Easter and Christmas. We just can’t seem to help ourselves trying to make money out of everything!

A new variation of the day has emerged. It’s called Galentine’s Day. The Gal bit refers to gals. That’s right gals have banded together as they do to reinvent the day as one where anybody can express friendship or be loved.

Single women, single mothers and other unpartnered individuals can send and be sent Galentine’s cards or meet for lunch or drinks. It is a way to appreciate and be appreciated regardless of one’s loved up status. A great idea. Go for it, gals! It is usually celebrated the day before on Feb 13 but what’s a difference of a day between friends?

Reception in other cultures

But other cultures refuse to be affected by this commercial love- fest day. Iran and other Islamic cultures are definitely against it. After all, in Iran, it is even forbidden to dance with or embrace someone of the opposite sex, unless married and in the privacy of home. Saint Valentine has no chance there to spread his loving message.

In India, the authorities also tried to turn lovers away from celebrating this day. They instituted instead a ‘Hug a Cow’ day in its place. Cows are sacred to Hindus in India and to harm one is a sin. So instead of men and women hugging each other or sending love messages they are encouraged to hug a cow. This, surprise, surprise, has not gone down so well.

Hug a Cow Day?!

A flood, or more correctly a herd, of cartoons, jokes and memes appeared online, depicting men trying to hug cows who didn’t welcome such advances. Then one commentator, said, ‘consent is important’. This is true, of course and maybe even for cows. Animals have rights to! It seems the ‘Cow Hug Day ‘was not a winner so India will have to tolerate the incursion of Western culture. But animal lovers still think it is a good idea as they insist hugging animals is good for cows and people.

The message, after all, is ‘love one another,’ no matter the species. Be inclusive. This is needed in the India culture which does not have a good record of kindness to women. There is a terrible rape crisis in some of the cities. Women are less respected than cows. Some men behave badly. Watch out for these signs of abuse.

Celebrate Love on Valentine’s day

On a more positive note, let us celebrate love and friendship in all cultures and Saint Valentine’s Day could help do this a little despite being a commercialized version of the original sentiment.

So may a single red rose come your way with a loving message! It is a feel-good moment for the romantic ones amongst us. I like the custom. Saint Valentine’s Day is also my wedding anniversary so doubly special. Red roses, dinner and wine for me.

Photo by Naomi Irons on Unsplash

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, Time heal my heart, The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com

The Tragic Romanov Sisters

The Tragic Romanov Sisters

The tragic Romanov sisters were the grand duchesses of Russia, the four daughters of Tsar Nicholas II and his empress Alexandra. Their names were Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia in order of birth. These young girls were also the great granddaughters of Queen Victoria as Nicholas and Alexandra were both grandchildren of the queen. It was normal for cousins to marry and interbreed as royalty had to marry royalty not commoners. However, if the grand duchesses had married even to commoners, their lives may have been saved. Instead, they were murdered at the ages of 22, 21, 19 and just 17 years old, along with their young brother Alexey, just 14, and the tsar, tsarina and servants. Such was the tragedy of the Romanov sisters.

Victims of the Russian Revolution

The whole family were the victims of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Due to social unrest, the progress of WWI and political machinations, the tsar was advised to abdicate in early 1917. Not a strong man or leader, he agreed readily and unwittingly signed his own death warrant and that of his young family. The Bolsheviks took control of Russia and imprisoned the royal family in their own beautiful Alexander palace at Tsarskoe Selo near Petrograd. For five months they lived a peaceful domestic existence there under guard before being transported like prisoners to Siberia to a town called Tobolsk. Here in this Siberian backwater, they led a dull existence with no visitors or outings until May 1918 when they were transported yet again to their place of execution at Ekaterinburg further southeast. Despite this fall from royalty and the consequent change in living conditions, the family remained hopeful and united.

Suffering of the tragic Romanov sisters

According to historian, Helen Rappaport’s books, the family knew their days were numbered. Their prison was becoming more dire and heavily guarded. The Red guards mocked them in many acts of disrespect. It is horrible to think of the suffering of these pretty teenage girls, their invalid brother who had hemophilia and their devoted parents. The Romanovs were not nasty people, but a loving family positioned in the wrong time in history. Nicholas was not a born leader. He preferred the quiet of the countryside, walks, nature and reading. His German born wife loved her husband and children but was more autocratic and prouder. As such being German born and appearing haughty, Alexandra became very unpopular with the Russian people especially when she became close to the spiritual monk, Rasputin.

WWI and then the Revolution

Once WWI erupted, with Russia and Germany enemies, German affiliation was suspicious, and Alexandra became even less favored. To the Bolsheviks, this was the time to act to depose the 300-year tsardom of Russia. It did not matter that Alexandra and her teen daughters were serving as nurses in Petrograd, working long days in the hospitals. Olga and Tatiana as the older girls dressed wounds, helped in operations and comforted the wounded. They were sisters of mercy and devoted to their country. The younger girls Maria and Anastasia also volunteered at the hospital after their lessons at the palace. Did this service make them appear less royal? Should they have upheld their position and remained distantly aloof as most royals are?

Four sweet sisters

But to read about the sisters, is to empathise and admire their spirit and kindness. They were sweet innocent girls in a time of horrible terror. As sisters they were very close both in age and association. Born just two years apart from each other over a ten-year period, Olga, Tatiana and Maria in the last years of the 1800s and Anastasia in the new century. Three years later their baby brother was born to much fanfare. An heir, a son, at last. The sisters never resented the gender bias of succession. It was normal for the times. Succession was usually via a son not a daughter.

Hemophilia, a German empress and a mad monk

But the long-awaited son had inherited the deadly royal disease of hemophilia. This reality was to seal the Romanov’s fate. Though the family tried to hide this weakness from the world by withdrawing from public events, the truth finally came out as Alexey grew past babyhood. By then Rasputin was a frequent visitor as he could heal the boy’s bleeds when they occurred. Injuries easily happened due to normal little boy bumps during play.  A frail heir, a mad monk, a German empress; it was not a combination to endear the family to the Russian population. Besides they were at war with Germany and the people were hungry and fearful of the progress of the war.

Despite their royal birth, the Romanov sisters had not enjoyed a life of opulence, gala events and public adoration. On the contrary, their young lives had been spent mostly at the Alexander Palace doing lessons and caring for their ailing mother and brother. Alexandra was not a well woman. She long suffered from neuralgia, sciatica and headaches and then had heart problems too. More often than not, she did not attend royal functions with her husband. Olga and later Tatiana attended instead. This was unusual and talked about in unflattering terms. Alexandra’s absence was seen as haughtiness. She was not the empress of her people.

The sisters liked soldiers not princes

For a while in their later teen years the older two grand duchesses, Olga and Tatiana attended balls and soirees and the peopled loved them. They were beautiful and gracious to all. By the time Olga was 18, there were moves to marry her with Prince Carol of Romania. The families met at the Crimea where they loved to go each summer. However, Olga’s parents left the decision to Olga. They wanted her to marry for love as they had. Olga did not fancy Prince Carol nor he, her. Carol preferred her pretty jolly young sister, Maria. But Maria was too young at the time to marry. So, nothing eventuated.

Olga along with her sister, Tatiana, preferred the fun company of the handsome soldiers who guarded the family at the palace and on the royal yacht. Later during the war, they had crushes on soldiers they nursed in the hospital. But always, their royal position prevented an alliance. Olga, Tatiana and later Maria could only dream of these men. They were off limits. The young Romanov sisters would all die virgins, never knowing the physical love of a man.

What were the Romanov sisters like?

So what were these Romanov girls like? As you can see from the photo on the cover of Helen Rappaport’s book, Olga had a wide, pretty face and Tatiana, the beauty, a more delicate appearance like her mother. Tatiana’s eyes were beautiful, and her heart shaped face made her very noticeable as a beauty. She was a devoted daughter and nurse and very organized. Her mother relied on her abilities. Olga could be moody, perhaps understandably as she was denied a normal life for a young woman of her time. Palace life was isolating and denied her socialization with other young people especially men of her age.

Olga, the eldest

By 20, she should have been married but offers from royal princes did not come. By then the war raged and it was not the time to ally with mighty Russia. Besides by then the riyal houses of Europe were aware of the presence of the deadly hemophilia in the Romanov family and they didn’t want it in theirs. Modern DNA analysis of the Romanov sister’s remains proves that only Anastasia the youngest was a carrier. They need not have feared but they did. Olga remained with her sisters and parents until 22, the age of her death by firing squad.

The younger sisters, Maria and Anastasia had more solid builds than their slender older sisters. Maria had a sweet, happy nature and a lovely smile and eyes. Anastasia the youngest was the plainest looking and a precocious child. She was inattentive to lessons, cheeky and at times disrespectful. her tutors had a hard time with her. But she did enliven the family gatherings. During the last days of imprisonment in Siberia, it was Anastasia who cheered the freezing government prison house with her charades and one act plays.

The royal jewels

One of the last sisterly sessions of camaraderie was sewing the royal jewels into their dresses to secure them from looting by the Red Guards at the final prison house. It was these hidden jewels that made the bullets ricochet around the basement where they were shot. These last remnants of the glorious reign of the Romanovs prevented a swift death for the girls. Instead, they suffered in terror as rounds of bullets flew around the bunker, injuring but not killing them. In the end, bayonets were used to kill the innocent young Romanov sisters. An end not fitting for their status nor kind, innocent souls. It was this terrible fate that ended the reign of the tragic Romanovs. Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs? Read this previous blogsto discover.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published books. Whispers through Time and Time Heal my Heart are historical fiction and set in the early 1900s around the era of WWI. The Last hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles are contemporary fiction and set in exotic locations. Visit her website at joniscottauthor.com.

Photo is of the cover of Helen Rappaport’s wonderful historical book.

Romanovs, Rasputin and the Russian Revolution

Romanovs, Rasputin and the Russian Revolution

Queen Victoria of Britain had nine children and most of them married into the royal families of Europe. This was normal in the 1800s as marriage with commoners was not allowed so the royal families interbred. But such inbreeding led to the persistence or magnification of bad genetic traits. One such genetic defect in Victoria’s line was the gene part (called an allele) that codes for hemophilia, a rare blood clotting condition. This inherited disease passed through her descendants either via female carriers or affected males. The incidence of hemophilia in the Romanov royal family was one of the contributing factors to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Let’s examine this fascinating topic of Romanovs, Rasputin and the Russian Revolution. It has a lot to do with hemophilia which will be explained below so keep reading.

Hemophilia and the Romanovs

Alexei, the tsarevitch and only son of Romanov tsar Nicholas II of Russia had this game changing hemophilia gene defect. Because of this he was destined to a short life of restricted activity lest he bleed to death from an injury. His four older sisters, the grand duchesses, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia being girls, did not have the disease though they possibly were carriers of it. Historian, Helen Rappaport eludes to this in her brilliant books. Modern DNA analysis of the duchesses remains reveal that only Anastatia was a carrier. The gene lottery was more kind to the daughters than the son. The chance of being a carrier if your mother is one is 50% yet three of the girls escaped being carriers purely by chance.

It all started with Victoria it seems. It is important to know that females have two X chromosomes to determine gender and males have an X and a Y. Therefore, females are denoted by XX and males by XY. Variations to this pattern are very rare.

Hemophilia is caused by a gene mutation

Victoria carried a gene mutation on one of her X chromosomes that can cause hemophilia to be expressed. A gene mutation is an accidental change in the genetic code of an individual. It can occur during the copying of genes as the cells multiply and most of the time these small changes do not affect anything adversely. However, if a mutation affects the coding or instructions for an enzyme or metabolic factor this mutation can be deadly for the person who has or inherits the mutated gene code. In the case of hemophilia, the gene alteration prevented adequate production of clotting factor 8 and 9 which are essential for the body’s response to a hemorrhage of any magnitude.

The gene mutation for hemophilia is on the X chromosome

Such was the case for Queen Victoria’s mutation. How it occurred no one knows. She may have inherited this genetic alteration from a parent or happened first in her gene code. It was only noticed after the event when one of her sons, Prince Frederick started having blood clotting issues. Because the defect for the gene determining the clotting factor 8 was on one of her two X chromosomes and is a recessive ie not dominant allele, her other normal X chromosome masked the defect. Queen Victoria consequently did not suffer from the disease. Females with the defective X chromosome do not have hemophilia.

In the late 19th century, genetic science was in its infancy. The occurrence of this gene mutation had been noticed because it was in the royal family. From then on the royal families of Europe were watchful for its appearance in their sons. With the line of succession usually via the male descendants this was a worry. Victoria only became queen because there were no male descendants to take the throne.

The need for a male heir for the Romanovs

Male gender-based succession has led to many lives lost throughout history. There are those who killed to get the throne or kings like Henry VIII who killed his wives because they could not give him a male heir. Then there was the War of the Roses where everyone killed everyone for hundreds of years just to secure royal succession. Much blood was shed. But for one small boy in Russia last century, no blood could be shed. Alexei’s blood could not clot and allow the smallest wound to heal. Yet he was the boy who was destined to inherit his father’s tsardom.

Clotting factor 8 is the essential factor which allows wounds to heal so if it can’t be made by the body, the individual’s wounds no matter how small cannot heal. As well, any falls or bumps can cause internal bleeding which also can be fatal. Such was the fate of little Alexei the heir to the Russian throne.

It is doubly tragic that his parents anguished about not having a male heir for many years before he was finally born. Alexandra his mother had four normal healthy daughters over a ten year interval before he was finally born. A boy! The whole of Russia celebrated. The Imperial dynasty of 300 years could continue now. Nicholas’s brother the standing heir stood aside now Nicholas finally had a son.

But it was only days before Nicholas and Alexandra knew their new baby had health issues. His umbilical cord was still bleeding days after the birth. The dreaded royal disease had raised its head again. Already the two young sons of King Alfonso of Spain had inherited hemophilia. Alexandra realized she had passed the fatal gene onto her son. She was a carrier through her mother, Princess Alice of Hesse. Alexandra’s brother had the disease.

Hemophilia occurs in the Romanov male heir

The hemophilia gene mutation is recessive and only expressed if there is no other normal X chromosome to mask it. As males have  an XY chromosome make up not XX as females do, the faulty X chromosome from their mother Victoria expressed itself in Victoria’s sons not her daughters. Prince Leopold inherited this fault and had hemophilia and Princess Alice and Beatrice inherited the faulty X trait but because they had another X chromosome from their father that was normal the hemophilia was masked, and they were carriers not affected by hemophilia themselves.

The defect in their beautiful baby son had to be hidden. If the Russian population knew then the tsardom was in peril. Already there was trouble brewing. The people were poor and hungry, and Nicholas and Alexandra were distant, autocratic and lacking in empathy with their citizens. Alexandra as a German princess bride had been unpopular from the start. But Nicholas had married for love not politics. But politics can be ugly and turn on unpopular monarchs. The Russian people did not like Alexandra, the tsar’s wife. This and the poor health of the tsarevitch contributed to the failure to save the Romanovs.

The hemophilia of the Romanov son had to be kept a secret

Alexandra was an introverted, cold woman in public yet at home she was an adoring mother and wife. Really both Nicholas and Alexandra were unsuited for their royal roles. They were homely, family orientated couple wrapped up in each other and their children but negligent of their duties in the royal dynasty.

Alexandra withdrew more from public life as she protected her little son and hid his defect from the world. Even other royal cousins did not know as Russia could not know. She must have realized that even if she could by chance have another son, he too could be affected by the disease. The chance of another son being affected was 50%. Hemophilia had struck twice in Spain’s royal family. There was no certainty that the genetic lottery would spare any future Romanov sons. Besides, Alexandra had already born five children and was not a well woman herself. She suffered sciatica, circulation issues and heart problems. Often she would stay in bed for days or weeks. Her mauve boudoir at the Summer Palace in Petrograd was the centre of her existence.

Rasputin, the infamous monk

The family rarely left the palace grounds to mix with the people or travel abroad. When WWI erupted life became more difficult. She was of German origin and Russia was at war with Germany. Plus, her little son was often ill from bruising due to falls. In desperation for help she sought the services of Grigory Rasputin, the mystical monk with healing powers. His inclusion in the royal household made her even less popular with the Russian people.

Russian Revolution

In 1917, while the war raged, the Russian people had enough of their autocratic, uncaring tsar and his wife. There was a revolt and Nicholas reluctantly abdicated. Alexandra was furious. She was not there when he signed the papers and would have stopped him. Stronger than him mentally, she believed in the dynasty and their rights of succession. Nicholas was weak and not a born ruler. His focus was on his family not his country. But because of his abdication and the ensuing politics, his family would pay the ultimate price.

If their little son had not been so delicate, would the Romanov dynasty been able to survive? The occurrence of hemophilia in the one Romanov child who needed to be robust was a tragedy. It was one of the factors in the dynastic and family tragedy of the Romanovs.

To learn more read my linked Romanov article just above or on my blog joniscottauthor.com. Helen Rappaport’s books on the Romanovs are also wonderful informative reading.

Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs?

Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs?

The Romanovs were the last of the Imperial royal family of Russia. They were most cruelly assassinated in July 1918 and their bodies thrown into a ditch. If you didn’t already know, the family consisted of the former Tsar Nicholas II, the Tsarina Alexandra and their five children. The oldest four children were all girls named in order of birth Olga, Tatiana, maria and Anastasia. The youngest child was the heir or Tsarevich, Alexey just fourteen at the time of his murder by the then Bolshevik government. Mowed down in a hail of bullets, their bodies thrown without reverence or ceremony into a ditch to rot. Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs? Helen Rappaport explores this in her fascinating book, The Race to Save the Romanovs. 

Since I am enjoying this book, I thought to share the read with you. I know it is a little off topic to my usual but not so far from my latest WWI novel, Time Heal my Heart. the Russian Revolution happened during WWI.

Deposed from 300 years of Royalty.

Noone deserves this fate, especially those born into royalty who had served their country whether adequately or not. This last Imperial family represented 300 years of glorious dynastic rule over vast lands and palaces. But the politics turned against the Tsar and the Tsarina particularly. She was a German princess of Hesse married to Nicholas to secure European alliances. When WWI broke out in 1914 her German connections were not as appreciated by Russians as Russia was on the side of Britain and France and Germany the enemy.

Alexandra the unpopular Tsarina

Adding to this unpopularity was the fact that Alexandra had become obsessed with Rasputin the monk. He was moved into the royal palace to supposedly cure her son of his hemophilia. This genetically transmitted disease was the blight of the family’s happiness. As the only son and promised heir of Russia, this disease made life difficult and precarious. Alexey at any time could bleed to death from any injury that drew blood. His body could not produce the clotting factor necessary to stop a flow of blood like normal people. Hence, he spent his childhood almost literally wrapped in cotton wool. His mother Alexandra fussed and cosseted over him to the neglect of her more robust daughters.

Four daughters and a sickly heir

As a result, these four young girls lived a protected and seemingly dull domestic life within the golden Alexander palace in Petrograd. It was not only their brother who was often ill and poorly but in time their mother too. She suffered from heart issues, sciatica and other health problems that took her to bed for weeks at a time. So, despite her youth, she was an absent mother and perhaps wife as well.

Nicholas II in contrast was slim and reasonably healthy and of a gentle kindly disposition. He was not an aggressive nor militant man so was not a born leader. he preferred the domestic life, loved his family and nature. A quiet life in the countryside would have suited him fine. But he was born into royalty so had to be seen to be active in the affairs of his country. Behind their impressive facade of grandeur, the Imperial family of Russia was like any other loving family with five children. They wanted to enjoy each other’s company and live a quiet and happy life.

Revolution and abdication

When civil revolution erupted during WWI, he seemed too easily convinced to abdicate. But by signing the waver to his royal position he unwittingly signed the death penalty for himself and his beloved family. If any of the two, Alexandra had more ambitions. She was born into an autocratic German family and was not one to embrace the common people. As such she was as distant a royal as she was a mother. The Russian people did not like her.

Royal cousins

Tsar Nicholas however was a royal grandson of Queen Victoria. he had grown up with his royal cousins in a less grand atmosphere.  He was close to his British cousins, especially the boy who would become King George V of Britain. They even looked alike and were often mistaken as brothers. Another cousin who was not as well liked was Wilhem of Germany who would become Kaiser Wilhem and a thorn in their sides over the years to come. His ambition and militarism would feed into the progress of the two world wars.

In contrast George V and Nicholas were gentler souls, perhaps ill-suited for their adult roles pitted against the might of Germany and their royal cousin. With regards to possible saviours for the Tsar and his family, history indicates that George V was best positioned for this role. But there were others. Supporters or monarchists within Russia, Alfonso of Spain, Chritian of Denmark and even Wilhem II himself. Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs?

Politics is a deadly game

The simplest answer to this question is that politics is a deadly game. All the people who could help the Tsar were enmeshed in a web of politics that made any rescue attempt either deadly or suicidal politically. The timing of the revolution in 1917 could not have been worse. Europe was in the grip of war. Britain and France needed Russia on their side to win against Germany. If either of these two countries appeared to be on the side of the old Russian regime then the new Russia could withdraw support. This is mainly why both Britain and France decided not to help. Added to this was their concern over revolt within their population. Fascists and socialists abounded and assisting the old Russian regime would inflame tensions within Britain and France.

Neutral Spain to the rescue?

Then what about King Alfonso of Spain? His country was neutral, could not he have intervened? After all he was another royal cousin descended from Queen Victoria and besides his two young sons also had hemophilia. They must have had an affinity over this royal disease that affected male progeny. But though Alfonso thought long and hard over this issue, he too settled for inaction. His concerns were similar. The socialists and fascists who could turn nasty (and they did in the later Civil War in 1936) could affect his popularity and destabilize the government.

Failure to act

Meanwhile while cousins failed to act, The Tsar and his family were moved further away from the rest of Europe into Western Siberia to a dismal place called Tobolsk. The time to act had passed. From Petrograd especially soon after the abdication would have been best. The Russian people had not yet turned their backs on the family, nor had the new government. Rescue was talked about. There was a way by sea to Finland if the family could be transported by rail past Petrograd. But water exits had to be before ice set in and this chance was missed as the months passed and winter set in.

Britain made a tentative offer via George V in these early days of 1917 but then later took it back due to the British government pressure. The German Alexandra would not be welcome in Britain, tensions would flare, and various other excuses swayed George’s mind. By then forces within the new government were in place to move the family west to Siberia. Out of sight, out of mind mentality.

Escape Options

There, in a rundown government house, the family of seven resided until July 1918 under guard watch. From this location, there was also chances of escape. Roads were mostly impassable, and a rail head was 132 miles away, so water was a better route. A boat down river towards ports that could lead to the sea and a number of possible destinations. The Arctic Ocean and Archangel lay beyond. Bergen in Norway was another option as there was a Norwegian shipper who was willing to help.

A Bergen to Aberdeen escape route had been under British consideration in 1917 before the offer to help was withdrawn. Some Bergen ships operated under British control, so this could have worked once the family were free of Russia. But getting out of Russia was the problem as then, in 1917, the family were near Petrograd which was heavily under government control. Any rail link connection entailed passing through the city first.  Another port often considered was that of Murmansk. But this too was a fantasy as this supposedly ice-free port is not really always ice free. Also, its fleet of ships was not exactly a fleet but an old battleship, a cruiser and some fishing trawlers. Plus, German submarines patrolled the waterways and icebergs also abounded to add to the danger.

Why didn’t Kaiser Wilhelm save his cousin?

Of all the royal cousins who could have helped, the one with most power was Wilhelm himself. Word from him in his immense position of power could have saved the family. Why did he not act in sympathy? They were family after all. Wilhelm was even Alexey’s godfather. But no, help was not forthcoming in 1918 either. By then Russia had conceded to Germany in a peace pact and this involved the division of Russia into four governance regions that would serve industrial Germany. Any concessions to a previous monarchy would contravene this treaty. Monarchists could raise the Tsar or his son back to power.

No, Wilhelm did not help. By mid 1918 it was too late anyway. The Russian government with all its powerful bodies, lenin included did not care to meddle with saving the old regime in any way. Turning their back on humanity, they let the status quo sign the death warrants for the ill-fated family, children and all. Nobody helped the once loved royal Romanovs. In July 1918, they were beyond hope.

Joni Scott is an Australian author who blogs about history on her website joniscottauthor.com. Her books are historical and contemporary and based on true stories.