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Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

Nobility

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The 8th Earl of Wicklow

William Cecil James Philip John Paul Howard, 8th Earl of Wicklow (styled Viscount Clonmore from his birth until succeeding to the earldom in 1946) was received into the Church at the age of thirty in 1932. Having attended Mass with the family’s Catholic servants, he was banished from visiting the family home on Sundays in addition to being disinherited. He later married the architect Eleanor Butler who served in Seanad Éireann from 1948-1951. Above is one of three photographs of Viscount Clonmore in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

October 25, 2011 11:38 am | Link | 3 Comments »

‘I Have Prussiandom in my Blood’

Loriot on Prussia and Prussianness

November 2003

The Viennese weekly Falter interviewed Vicco von Bülow — better known as Loriot — in November of 2003. In part of the dialogue, Loriot explored the Prussianness of his family and upbringing, musing upon some aspects of what it is to be Prussian, turning away from the simplistic categorisations. Via Günter Kaindlstorfer.

Loriot: I am committed to my Prussian roots. I was born a Prussian, I have Prussian, so to speak, in my blood. That this defines you for yourself is not new. One is born there, so one has to accept it.

Prussian vices have caused too much harm over the past 150 years.

Loriot: That’s right, I will not deny it at all. Nevertheless, I am proud of my native town of Brandenburg; I am also proud of my country of origin. Here I will not deny, however, that I have been occasionally affected by the disaster that this country has done throughout history, time and again. Only: Which country has, over the centuries, not caused many evils? I will not have the Prussian reduced only to its negative sides. (more…)

October 16, 2011 8:05 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Nobility and Dignity at the Café Valois

Readers of this blog who don’t know me might be under the false impression that I suffer from nostalgia: in fact, I am quite comfortable with the twenty-first century and am glad I was born when I was.

One of my underlying intentions, however, is to remember that there is something we have lost, and we should recognise and admit it as a loss rather than blindly worshipping at the altar of the god Progress. I challenge anyone to read this story and deny that we today have lost something profoundly good.

The story is related by Auguste de Belloy and was published in the nineteenth-century periodical L’Illustration under the title ‘Customs of the Café Valois’.

Farewell, O good old days! Farewell, O affable visage of the proprietor and smiling and respectful reception of the waiters! Farewell, O solemn entries of the Café Valois’ dignified customs, which people were curious to see. Such was the case with the Knight Commander Odoard de La Fere’s arrival.

At exactly noon, the canon of the Palais-Royal heralded his arrival. He would appear on the threshold and pause for a moment to sweep the salon with an affable and self-assured gaze as someone eager to practice a longtime custom. His right hand pressing firmly on the white and blue porcelain handle of his cane, he threw his old faded brown cape over his shoulder with a swing of his left hand. No one ever snickered at this, since not even the most elegant mantle with golden fleur-de-lys embroidery was ever thrown back with a more distinguished movement.

In 1789 the former steward of the Prince of Conti ran the Café Valois; it was rather devoid of political colour and local flavor at that time.

Among the frequenters of the place, standing out by his noble manners, stately demeanor and wooden leg, was the Chevalier de Lautrec. He was from the second line of that family, an old brigadier of the king’s army, a Knight of Malta, of Saint Louis, of Saint Maurice and of Saint Lazare.

The Chevalier de Lautrec was a middle-aged man who lived a modest, though very dignified life on his small pension. Though he rarely appeared in society, he could be seen most often at the Palais Royal and the Café Valois. He was a very cultured mind and an assiduous reader of all the newspapers.

Deprived of his pension overnight, it was never known what the Chevalier de Lautrec lived on at a time when it was so difficult to live, and so easy to die. But here we have something that sheds at least a dim light on this mystery.

One morning after finishing a very modest breakfast in the Café Valois, as was his custom, the Chevalier de Lautrec rose from his table, chatted with all naturalness with the proprietress, who stood behind a counter, bid good-day to the master of the café with a slight gesture of the eyes, and walked out majestically saying nothing about the bill. (more…)

May 29, 2011 8:12 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

Mamarazza

The photographs of “Manni” Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn

IT’S A CRACKING photo; the sort of thing guaranteed to irk the puritanical and bring a smile to the good-humoured. The thirteen-year-old Yvonne Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn takes a swig from a bottle while her brother Alexander, just twelve, sits with a half-smoked cigarette. Taken aboard the yacht of Bartholomé March off Majorca in 1955, the photographer was Marianne “Manni” Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn — the mother of Yvonne and Alexander — who’s known by her photographic soubriquet of “Mamarazza”. (more…)

February 14, 2011 8:00 am | Link | 14 Comments »

The House of Moctezuma

Noble Descendants of the Aztec Emperor

The last Emperor of the Aztecs, Moctezuma II (usually anglicised as ‘Montezuma’) suffered an ignominious end: defeated by the Spanish, some accounts have him being stoned by his former subjects, while others claim he died of starvation, refusing to eat food not worthy of an emperor, still more claim Cortés had him killed. Many of his descendants embraced Christianity and found favour from Mexico’s new overlord, the King of Spain. (more…)

October 24, 2010 10:00 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

Titles in Afrikaans

ROYAL, NOBLE, AND common titles in Afrikaans are, like most of the language, descended from Dutch antecedents which, in turn, come from German. The Cape knew not the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was established after the Dutch relinquished the colony, but was founded as an outlet of the Dutch East India Company (or V.O.C., to give its Dutch acronym). After a brief period of British occupation, Dutch dominion over the Cape returned during the Batavian Republic before finally being seized by the British in 1806 and erected as a British colony in 1814. When the Union of South Africa was created in 1910, the country had its first king, George V, though the sovereign was generally only referred to as ‘King of South Africa’ from 1927 onwards.

The country has had no emperors, though some like to attribute that title to Shaka, the greatest King of the Zulus. Typically, however, he is known as king (as in King Shaka International Airport, Durban’s brand new landing-place). South Africa’s royalty have tended to be either native (like Prince Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela) or German (like Prince Hubertus of Prussia, d. 1950, and a few Blüchers, etc.). (more…)

May 9, 2010 8:24 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

‘The Tolstoy of Transylvania’

In his column in the Daily Telegraph, former editor Charles Moore praises Miklos Banffy as ‘the Tolstoy of Transylvania’. Ardent Banffyites like yours truly are always pleased when the Hungarian novelist gets attention in the English-speaking world, which happens all too rarely. I can’t remember how on earth I stumbled upon the works of Banffy, probably through reading the Hungarian Quarterly, a publication that — covering art, literature, history, politics, science, and more — is admirably polymathic in our age where the specialist niche is worshipped.

Simply put, Miklos Banffy is a must-read. If you love Paddy Leigh Fermor’s telling of his youthful walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (the third and final installation of which we still await), then Miklos Banffy will be right up your alley. Start with his Transylvanian trilogy — They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting, and They Were Divided.

The story follows two cousins, the earnest Balint Abady and the dissolute László Gyeroffy, Hungarian aristocrats in Transylvania, and the varying paths they take in the final years of European civilization. The novels “are full of love for the way of life destroyed by the First World War,” Charles Moore points out, “but without illusion about its deficiencies.” Three volumes of nearly one-and-a-half thousand pages put together, they make for deeply, deeply rewarding reading, transporting you to the world that ended with the crack of an assassin’s bullet in Sarajevo, 1914.

After finishing his trilogy, Banffy’s autobiographical The Phoenix Land is worthwhile; some of the real events depicted shadow those in the fictional novels. As previously mentioned, it contains a description of the last Hapsburg coronation (that of Blessed Charles) and numerous amusing tales. After that, I’m afraid you will have to learn Hungarian, as I have neglected to do, as no more of this author’s oeuvre has yet been translated into English.

January 12, 2010 2:52 pm | Link | 8 Comments »

The Freiherr of Finance


Germany’s new finance minister, Freiherr zu Guttenberg & his wife, Freifrau Stephanie.
Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg does not have a snappy name. Perhaps that is why he is known in Bavaria as “the Rocking Baron”. Unusually for a man whose family tree stretches back to the 12th century, the 37-year-old aristocrat has charisma and a glittering political future. In February he became Germany’s youngest economics minister, and in Sunday’s elections he won the highest percentage of constituency votes of any candidate. He became the envy of fellow politicians by attracting thousands of people to his rallies, a phenomenon not witnessed since Helmut Kohl. The Windsors should take note. As the leading contenders drained the colour from their campaigns by trying to say as little as possible, the young baron triumphed by being himself — a mixture of fiscal conservatism and an even-handed personality unafraid to challenge orthodoxy. He opposed the proposed buyout of Opel by a consortium led by the Canadian spare parts maker Magna and the Russian bank Sberbank, but he got plaudits for standing up to Angela Merkel. Guts are in the family genes. His great-grand-uncle, the Catholic monarchist Karl Ludwig von Guttenberg, was tortured by the Gestapo and shot after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler. He revealed no names of the fellow plotters. Mr Guttenberg does not need a job. He gets more than he needs from his family estate in Bavaria. If duty impels him, German politics will be all the richer.

Unmentioned by this editorial is that Baron zu Guttenberg’s grandfather (his mother’s father) was the late German winemaker & Croatian politician the Count of Vukovar. From the Count, Baron zu Guttenberg is descended from the noble house of Eltz, who are responsible for one of my favourite castles in the whole world, Burg Eltz, which once graced the 500-deutschmark note.

At the ripe age of 70, the Count of Vukovar took up arms in defence of the town of Vukovar during the Yugoslav Wars of 1991. The Count was elected to the Croatian parliament the following year as an independent, and served in that body until 1999, when he retired from politics. Nonetheless, the Croatian parliament persuaded him to accept honourary membership of parliament in his own right, in which role he continued until his death in 2006.

The Baron’s wife, meanwhile, is Stephanie, Countess of Bismarck-Schönhausen, great-great-granddaughter of the “Iron Chancellor”, Otto von Bismarck. A portent of this economics minister’s future?

October 5, 2009 8:10 am | Link | 21 Comments »

Prague Prince Propels Pristine Party

New Grouping May Hold Balance of Power After Next Bohemian Vote

PRINCE KARL VII, current head of the House of Schwarzenberg and sometime foreign minister of the Czech Republic, recently combined with other political colleagues to form a new party in time for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Bohemia. A number of supporters of the Christian & Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL) were disappointed with the selection of the left-leaning Cyril Svoboda as party chairman, and have formed a new conservative group, Tradice Odpovědnost Prosperita 09 or “Tradition Responsibility Prosperity ’09″.

Prince Karl — or Karel Schwarzenberg as he is known for electoral purposes — suggests that Bohemian voters have grown disenchanted with the current choice of political parties on offer. “The results of the last elections – the worst were the election to the European Parliament, but even the national elections – show that the degree of support for political parties by Czech citizens is going steadily down,” the Prince told Radio Prague.

“People are evidently not content with the parties that are offered to them, and they are more and more fed up. I read this in the e-mails I get and letters, and hear it in pubs and wherever. And as we think that there is still a lot of work to be done in our country, we decided to offer at least some alternative. That’s it.” (more…)

September 23, 2009 9:12 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Of tribes and traditions

In tribal Africa, Ghaddafi expounds traditional government; Meanwhile ethnic Romanians vote to be ruled by their German neighbours.


«Ghaddafi dreams of kings, princes, sultans, sheiks» reports Afrikaans newspaper Die Burger.

ONE OF THE LESS-REPORTED aspects of the selection of Col. Moammar al-Ghaddafi, the tent-dwelling Libyan leader and notorious eccentric, as Chairman of the African Union was his proposal that an upper house of “kings, princes, sultans, sheiks, and other traditional leaders” be added to the Pan-African Parliament. Col. Ghaddafi has been forthright in his condemnation of democracy as ill-suited to the African continent. “We don’t have any political structures [in Africa], our structures are social,” he explained to the press. Africa is essentially tribal, the argument goes, and as such multi-party democracy always develops along tribal lines, which eventually leads to tribal conflict and warfare. “That is what has led to bloodshed,” the AU chairman posited, citing the recent example of the Kenyan elections.

Europe, of course, solved the matter of tribal difficulties by brutally uprooting long-established peoples from their native lands after the Second World War and transferring them to jurisdictions in which they would ostensibly be part, not only of the majority, but of theoretically “national” states. Cities with centuries of Polish history became Soviet, towns as German as sauerkraut became Polish, and so on and so forth. Sometimes the undesired populations of multi-ethnic were cruelly murdered, as recent revelations from the police in Bohemia have shown.

Still, remnants of the old cosmopolitan order remain. (more…)

July 1, 2009 11:46 am | Link | 3 Comments »

S.R.E. & S.R.I.

Left, a prince of the Holy Roman Church and right, a prince of the Holy Roman Empire.

Credit: I think this is one of Zygmunt’s photos.

June 6, 2009 6:13 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

RIP: Dom Pedro Luís of Brazil

Please pray for the repose of the soul of

Dom PEDRO LUÍS MARIA JOSÉ MIGUEL
RAFAEL GABRIEL GONZAGA
de
ORLÉANS-BRAGANÇA
e
LIGNE

Prince of the Imperial House of Brazil

Son of H.I.H. Prince Antônio of Orléans-Braganza
&
H.H. Princess Christine of Ligne

Born 12 January 1983 in Rio de Janeiro.
Died 1 June 2009, on Air France Flight 447.
Until his early death, heir-presumptive to the Imperial throne of Brazil.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine:
et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace.

Amen.

June 4, 2009 12:03 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Count von Stauffenberg: “We Live in a Society of Lemmings”

Count Franz Ludwig von Stauffenberg, the third son of Hitler’s would-be assassin Count Claus von Stauffenberg and brother to Gen. Berthold von Stauffenberg, recently spoke to the German magazine FOCUS about Germany’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. Stauffenberg, a father of four and grandfather of eight, has spent his life as an attorney and a politician for the Bavarian Christian Social Union party, serving in the Bundestag from 1976 to 1987 and as a Member of the European Parliament from 1984 to 1992.

FOCUS asked the Count about his participation in the German court challenge against the Lisbon Treaty.

“I see the way to [the Constitutional Court] as a last resort,” the Count said, “and had hoped that we could compel a re-think through an ordinary democratic manner, through argument, debate, and public pressure. This has totally failed. I’m not anti-European; I was long enough a CSU Member of the European Parliament. This Europe is no longer compatible with the basic structures of a democratic legal state.

FOCUS: Has your case something to do with your experience as the son of the resistance fighter Count von Stauffenberg?

“No. My father expected that his children would … stand on their own as a man or woman. I didn’t go into politics from devout worship of my father, but because of the unsuccessful paths of my peers from the generation of 1968.”

FOCUS: Your action comes late. Why have you waited so long?

“In Brussels, there was no sudden seizure of power, but a systematic, persistent development, in which the Bundestag deputies, constantly obedient and even docile, incapacitated themselves. They see themselves as a reserve team for higher office rather than in their actual role as inspectors to reflect, as a counter force on equal footing.”

FOCUS: How can it be that so few see a risk in the Lisbon Treaty, and the rest should be so beaten with blindness?

“In Germany, almost no one wanted to hear concerns. We live in a society of lemmings.

Link: Graf Stauffenberg: “Wir leben in einer Gesellschaft von Lemmingen” (In German)

March 24, 2009 12:41 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

The Coronation of Blessed Charles

Blessed Emperor Charles was crowned as Apostolic King of Hungary on the 30th of December in 1916. It was the last Hapsburg coronation to this day. For those interested there are two accounts which do justice to the sacred rites. One is by that most devoted admirer of the Hapsburgs, Gordon Brook-Shepherd, in his excellent biography of Charles, The Last Hapsburg. (Brook-Shepherd also wrote excellent and quite readable biographies of the Empress Zita, of Crown Prince Otto, of Chancellor Dollfuß, and Baron Sir Rudolf von Slatin Pasha).

(more…)

October 21, 2008 8:46 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

The Badge of the Cincinnati

George Washington’s Society of the Cincinnati medal was auctioned off at Sotheby’s last year for a whopping $5,305,000. Founded by General Washington and other officers of the Continental and French armies who served in the American Revolution, the Society of the Cincinnati is the oldest and most prestigious of America’s many hereditary societies. Louis XVI was himself a member, and the Society was known as the ordre de Cincinnatus in France, where it was added to the hierarchy of orders (even though it was not, strictly speaking, an order) as ranking just below the Order of Saint Louis. General Washington’s Cincinnati badge was, after his death, given to the Marquis de Lafayette whose descendants kept it in the family until the auction last December.

(more…)

October 8, 2008 8:24 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Words of Windisch-Grätz Wisdom

 

« They do not want to hear about the Grace of God? They will hear the grace of the cannon. »
Alfred I Candidus Ferdinand,
Prince of Windisch-Grätz
on the liberal constitutionalist rebels
October 2, 2008 8:08 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Santa Maria della Pace


PHOTO: © ADAM DAVIS

One of my favourite churches in all of Rome is that of Santa Maria della Pace. The best approach is from the alley leading out of the northwest corner of the Piazza Navona, crossing the Via di Santa Maria dell’Anima and making sure to turn left into the smaller alleyway when the little street itself swerves north. Moving forward, the perambulator suddenly emerges into a tiny trapezoidal piazza and having continued for a few paces realizes, almost as an afterthought, that there is something over your right shoulder. There is the Church of Santa Maria della Pace.

Like so many Roman edifices the Church is the work of many centuries. A church dedicated to the Apostle Andrew once stood on the site, and it was on the foundations of that church in 1482 that work on Santa Maria della Pace commenced. Sixtus IV, praying for peace in the Italian peninsula, vowed to build a church dedicated to Our Lady of Peace, and hence the Apostle’s patronage was superseded. While Baccio Pontelli deserves the credit for the church proper, Pietro da Cortona’s splendidly theatrical façade and its enveloping piazza were commissioned Alexander VII in the 1650s.

Santa Maria della Pace has a number of connections to the Chigi dynasty. The first prominent member of the Chigi family was Agostino (1465–1520), a wealthy banker and builder of the Villa Farnesina in Trastevere. Here at Santa Maria della Pace, Agostino commissioned the Capella Chigi (not to be confused with the Capella Chigi in Santa Maria del Popolo). Alexander VII himself was a Chigi, and perhaps this explains his patronage of Cortona’s façade and piazza. Among the later Chigi clan, there were a number of cardinals, some of whom were even nuncios, and more recently Ludovico Chigi Albani della Rovere was Prince & Grand Master of the Order of Malta from 1931 to 1951. Anyhow, the Chigi chapel features a fresco initiated by Raphael (and completed by his school), while the adjacent chapel includes sculptural decoration by Michelangelo.

In addition to greats such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Cortona, the cloister of the church is by none other than Bramante, and indeed was his first work in the Eternal City. Somewhat exhaustively, it doesn’t end there. Santa Maria della Pace has a high altar by Carlo Maderno, a sculpture of the Deposition by Cosimo Fancelli, two small frescoes by il Rosso Fiorentino, and another fresco by Baldassarre Peruzzi who, shall we say in kindness, was a much better architect than painter. There are further works by Maratta and Gentileschi (Orazio, that is — not Artemisia).

(more…)

August 19, 2008 9:40 pm | Link | No Comments »

“Der Rote Baron”

Foreign Film Fictively Frames Favorite Fabled Freiherr

Our cunning cousin, the Hun, has cleverly concealed a card up his hunting-jacket sleeve. Just when you thought the continual winging by hand-wringing Germans about their militarist past (or at least the thoroughly shameful parts thereof) would never end, a new film depicts the life of the dashing Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen: better known to us as The Red Baron.

“Der Rote Baron” is showing in den deutschen Kinopalästen as we speak, but the motion picture was not actually meant for a German audience: this is but part of the clever ruse. The film was actually made in English and then dubbed back into German by the mostly Allemanic cast.

Having convinced us of their peaceful intentions through more than a half-century of “Guys, we really messed up circa 1933-1945”, the obvious intent is to swamp the English-speaking world with a film depicting the charming gentlemen fighters of the first weltkreig in order to disarm us as they prepare for their dastardly plans.

Why, as we speak, Georg Friedrich von Preussen is polishing his pickelhaube and dusting off his feather cap in preparation for this latest Prussian plot for world domination. While the Western world worried itself sick over global Islamism and the Chinese threat, little did we know that a swelling irredentism was brewing deep within the hearts of every Berliner; a tear developing in the eye at the mere mention of Tsingtao; a soul in mourning for the loss of Tanganyika. How naïve we were not to realize that all those bright young Germans spending their gap year teaching smiling Herero natives in Namibia were actually forward units of intelligence-gatherers yearning for the return of Ketmanshoop and Swakopmund to the Germanic fold.

(more…)

May 25, 2008 9:12 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager, 1917-2008

Catholic Nobleman, Forester, Knight of Malta, Plotted to Kill Hitler

Philipp Freiherr (Baron) von Boeselager, the last surviving member of the conspiracy of anti-Nazi German officers, has died at 90 years of age. The freiherr‘s background and upbringing were distinctly Catholic. The Boeselagers are a Rhenish family with Saxon origins in Magdeburg. Philipp was the fourth of eight children and was educated by the Jesuits at Bad Godesborg. His grandfather had been officially censured by the Imperial German goverment for publically taking part in a Catholic religious procession.

Boeselager had most intimately been involved in the March 1943 plot to assasinate Hitler and Himmler when the the Fuhrer and the SS head were visiting Field Marshal Günther von Kluge on the Eastern Front. Boeselager, then a 25-year-old cavalry lieutenant under the Field Marshal’s command, was to shoot both Hitler and Himmler in the officers mess with a Walther PP. Himmler, however, neglected to accompany Hitler and so the Field Marshal ordered Boeselager to abort the attempt fearing that Himmler would take over in the event of Hitler’s death, changing nothing.

«Each day Hitler ruled, thousands died unnecessarily — soldiers, because of his stupid leadership decisions. And later, I learned of concentration camps, where Jews, Poles, Russians — human beings — were being killed.»

«It was clear that these orders came from the top: I realised I lived in a criminal state. It was horrible. We wanted to end the war and free the concentration camps.»

Boeselager later procured the explosives for the famous July 1944 plot (the subject of the upcoming film “Valkyrie“), under the cover of being part of an explosives research team. He handed a suitcase with the explosives on to another conspirator. When the bomb exploded in Hitler’s conference room, Boeselager and his 1,000-man cavalry unit made an astonishing 120-mile retreat in under 36 hours to reach an airfield in western Russia from where the aristocrat would fly to Berlin to join the other conspirators.

At the airfield, however, he received a message from his brother (Georg von Boeselager, a fellow cavalry officer who was repeatedly awarded for his consistent bravery on the battlefield) saying “All back into the old holes”, the code signifying the failure of the coup. Even more astonishingly than his swift retreat was his return, with his unit, to the front quickly enough not to raise any eyebrows. As a result, he was not known to be part of the conspiracy and escaped the gruesome tortures and executions dealt to many of his fellow conspirators.

After the war, his role in the plot was revealed and Philipp von Boeselager was awarded the Legion d’honneur by France and the Great Cross of Merit by West Germany. He joined the Order of Malta in 1946, eventually co-founding Malteser Hilfdienst, the medical operation of the German knights of the Order, and helping coordinate German pilgrimages to Lourdes.

The greater part of his post-war years was spent in forestry, and Boeselager served as head of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deutscher Waldbesitzerverbände (the coordinating body of private and cooperative forest-owners) from 1968 to 1988. Coincidentally, he was succeeded in that post by Franz Ludwig Schenk Count von Stauffenberg, the son of the July ’44 plot mastermind.

May 5, 2008 9:14 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

The Sad State of the Modern Newspaper

…and the heroism of an Anglo-Hungarian countess.

IT IS ONE OF THE more saddening facts of life that British newspapers have suffered an inexorable decline in the past few years. The great Times of London – once the most respected newspaper in the world – has been reduced to a boring mid-brow tabloid, the once-solid Scotsman idiotified and, again, tabloided, and of course the Daily Telegraph, which has gone from staunchly conservative (as in worldview) to merely Conservative (as in the tribe of Britons who prefer blue to red).

The Telegraph, like the Conservative party itself, doesn’t seem to know what it’s there for. It has at least remained a broadsheet; going tabloid would be a disaster and would probably be considered the last straw for all the die-hards for whom loyalty to one’s newspaper is a point of pride. And, to its credit, it finally seems to have realised the damage done by constant front-page photos of “Posh” and “Becks” and other “celebrity” partisans of the Anti-Culture, for they seem fewer and far between these days (as compared to a year or two ago, when they were frequent). The Telegraph‘s base are old folk who want a quality newspaper. They are loyal to the Tele and, despite its decline, would be too embarrassed to jump ship to the Guardian, which is written better but which nonetheless expones a nefarious ideology.

As for myself, the last straw came one morning in the Common Room of St. Salvator’s Hall when, flipping through the Telegraph, I reached the page which normally displays the Court Circular but found it missing, replaced by a curt statement advising that should I desire information about the activities of the Royal Family I should direct myself to http://www.royal.gov.uk. Outrageous! As it happens, this is not a permanent loss but rather an occasional one, as the editors at the Telegraph seem to decide whether or not to print the Court Circular each day on a whim. Fair enough, but I came to the realisation that the producers of the Telegraph are not aiming at me – the reasonably educated young man who seeks in his daily read a newspaper that is well-written, right-thinking, and properly presented – and so I have ceased to be a Telegraph regular.

What to read then? We have already dismissed the Times, the Scotsman, and the Guardian. The Daily Mail is always readable but arguably aimed at a different demographic; the Daily Mirror, bonkers; the Sun, no thank you!; the Financial Times is too boring, though the Weekend edition is actually worth buying most of the time; the Independent has a good layout for a tabloid, but is rather of a Lib-Dem persuasion; the Glasgow Herald is just rather dull and has only recently repented of its long-held anti-Catholicism. Not wanting to support the nefarious New York Times, enemy of Western civilization and the last word in liberal elitism, its wholly-owned subsidiary the International Herald-Tribune is ruled out. Which pretty much rules out every English language daily newspaper available in St Andrews.

So, abandonné par ma langue, I have outsourced my daily read to the Continent (of all places!) and am now a partisan of Le Figaro. While by no means fluent in the language, I can comprehend written French with greater ability than I speak it. And while I still prefer the feel of a broadsheet, the Berliner size of Le Figaro has its advantages, being very easy to read in the confined space of my regular chair in the corner of the little coffee shop down the street. More importantly, I find it much more engaging mentally, which I put down to the fact that (not being a native or fluent French speaker) I am forced to read every word. Reading the Telegraph one unthinkingly only actually reads every third or so word; articles of particular interest excepted, naturally. The day’s Figaro usually arrives in the middle of the day or the afternoon, but I buy my paper in the morning so actually I’m usually reading the previous day’s Figaro. I don’t mind, it suits my current routine. (Mornings are for reading the newspaper in a coffee shop, afternoons are for reading books with a slow pint in the pub.)

The chief deficit of reading a French newspaper is that naturally the news is oriented towards France, and thus I don’t get the usual transatlantic focus of the British papers (which can be an advantage as well as a deficit, I’ll concede). Nonetheless, it does happen to have articles of interest to any trad.

A few weeks ago, Le Figaro reported on the restitution of Romanian castles to their original, pre-Communist owners (‘L’impossible restitution des biens en Roumanie’, Le Figaro, 21 April 2006). The New York Sun rather amusingly and provincially headlined the story “Westchester Man To Take Possesion of Dracula’s Castle” — the New York Post characteristically used the headline “VLAD TIDINGS“. (FTD also reported on the restitution of Bran). When I wrote my previous post on the subject I was under the impression that Bran was one of the castles which would be restituted and then purchased back by the Romanian government, but most sources imply that this is not the case and Dominic von Habsburg (of North Salem, New York) will actually take possesion of the castle, I’m glad to hear.

This morning, then, I read in Le Figaro of the controversy surrounding a red star which remains on a Soviet war memorial in a small town in Hungary, a country which has banned all Communist and Nazi emblems (‘Hongrie: Le pasteur, la comtesse et l’étoile rouge’, Le Figaro, 6 May 2006). The local Protestant minister has been fighting to replace the red star, and has found an ally in Countess Jeanne-Marie Wenckheim-Dickens. The Countess, aged 70 and a descendant of Charles Dickens, returned to Hungary a few years ago after her husband died. The family had fled the country in 1944 just escaping the conquering Red Army. “I return home,” the Countess says (‘with a delicious British accent’, Le Figaro reports), “and what do I find? My castle transformed into an elementary school with, right in front of the gate, a red star! To me, this star is the Antichrist.”

The Countess funded the restoration of her former castle, now a school, and obtained permission from the town to live in the old presbytery, an ancillary building of the old castle. But when, in 2004, she proposed to mark the accession of Hungary to the European Union by replacing the red star on the monument with a European flag, the ex-Communists in the town hall told her she “should not be afraid of the red star, but of the Cross!” With fighting spirit, “I placed a large cross on my entryway,” the Countess says, “then I painted it gold so that the Mayor, whose window is opposite, can see it all the better.”

“Crosses? She can build a hundred of them!” the Mayor said. “It doesn’t disturb me!” But in return the Mayor had a house on what was the domain of the Wenckheim family renovated for the use of unemployed local gypsies. “It was clearly to annoy me,” the Countess said. “They thought the gypsies were going to make the area around the nearby church, built by my grandfather, filthy. But not at all! They respect the place, and I, I love their music very much.” The Countess also gives weekly catechism lessons to the local gypsies. In her window, she displays a letter to the people of the town inviting them to vote for the conservative Fidesz party. “In December,” the Countess continues, “before Christmas, I add little angels and holy pictures; they don’t like that much across the way, since they’re aimed at the town hall. Because I, too, have a star: but is the star of the Shepherd”.

May 8, 2006 6:28 am | Link | 7 Comments »
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