Born To Rule
Grade : A

Queen Victoria had nine children and 40 grandchildren. Of her granddaughters, five became queens. They all reigned during tumultuous times and all suffered their share of hardship and disappointment. Julia Gelardi tells the story of these five women in Born to Rule, a fascinating look at a lost era.

The five queens were: Maud, Queen of Norway; Victoria Eugenia, Queen of Spain; Sophie, Queen of Greece; Alix (Alexandra), Empress of Russia; and Marie, Queen of Romania. With the exception of Alix, all these women left royal descendants, some of whom are kings and queens now.

Maud, daughter of Queen Victoria’s oldest son, King Edward VII of Great Britain, led a tranquil life. She fell in love with several suitors, but eventually married her cousin Prince Charles of Denmark, and they had one son named Alexander. Maud and Charles lived quietly, but their lives changed when Charles was asked to become King of Norway. He accepted and took the name Haakon VII. Alexander became Olav, but Maud kept her own name. She was often homesick for England, but grew to enjoy Norway, especially its natural beauty. Maud loved the outdoors and became a good skier - she was complimented on her form when she was sixty. The Norwegians insisted on a middle class style of monarchy and that was just fine with Maud who had no snobbery about her at all –she even did her own shopping because she enjoyed it. Maud’s grandson Harald is the present king of Norway.

Victoria Eugenia (called Ena) was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s youngest child Princess Beatrice. Ena was a very minor royal until she married King Alfonso XIII of Spain and became its queen. A bomb on her wedding day foreshadowed the turbulence of her life. Beatrice and Alfonso had a difficult marriage. He was restless, chronically unfaithful, and he blamed her for their children’s poor health. Ena carried the gene for hemophilia and two of their four sons had the disease, while another was deaf due to a childhood illness. Ena sometimes felt like an outsider in the very formal Spanish court, but she carved out a place for herself by founding the Spanish Red Cross. Ena and Alfonso were forced out of Spain after an uprising and she lived many years in exile in Switzerland, estranged from her husband. Eventually the monarchy was restored in Spain, and Ena’s grandson, Juan Carlos, is the king.

Sophie was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s oldest child, Victoria, Empress of Prussia. Sophie married Constantine of Greece and, despite his infidelities, she had a happy family life, especially with her children who all loved her dearly. The Greek throne was a shaky one, and Constantine and Sophie were exiled from Greece and then called back as king and queen twice until they were exiled permanently. Sophie worked with the Red Cross and began a program of reforestation in the countryside, but her good works didn’t gain her many friends. All of Sophie’s sons became King in their turn and finally her grandson Constantine II assumed the throne. However, he was overthrown in 1974, and the monarchy abolished. Constantine II and his family live in London.

Alix was the daughter of Victoria’s second oldest daughter, Princess Alice of Hesse. Alix married Czar Nicholas of Russia, and became the Czarina Alexandra Federovna. Of all the queens, Alexandra is probably the most famous and her ultimate fate the most tragic. She and her husband were passionately devoted to each other and they had a blissfully happy marriage. However, Alexandra was not a good Czarina. Her shyness kept her isolated from society and her son’s hemophilia and her own religious fanaticism caused her to fall under the influence of Rasputin. When Russia exploded into violence, Nicholas, Alexandra, and their five children were killed by the communists. Alexandra and her family are now saints of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Marie was the daughter of Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. She was the most interesting of all the queens and was the only one who pushed the boundaries of what was proper for a royal woman in her position. Marie married Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, and while their marriage was not a romantic one, they were both devoted to Romania and made excellent ruling partners, if not lovers. During World War I, Marie showed herself to be a true heroine through her service to the soldiers who loved her and called her “Mama Regina." She had a long term love affair with Prince Barbo Stirbey, who became her mentor, and her charm and his political savvy served Romania well in the post World War I peace talks. Marie was also a writer who published articles, and collections of Romanian folktales. Her memoirs were a best seller and are still fascinating reading. She toured America, and if she were living today, I’ll bet she would be on all the talk shows. After Ferdinand’s death, Marie’s life was blighted due to her bad relationship with her son King Carol II who was much influenced by his mistress Elena Lupescu. Marie’s grandson Michael was king briefly, but was deposed by the communists and lived in Switzerland for many years. After the fall of communism, Michael returned to Romania and lives there now. He is a popular man, but there is no call to restore the monarchy.

I love books about royalty, especially if they are related to Queen Victoria and her family and I was engrossed in this one. Born to Rule allows the reader to empathize with and understand these five women. Yes, they were queens, but they were not just gilded figures wrapped in ermine and diamonds, but were real women who suffered from poor health, ungrateful children, and philandering husbands and they had more than their share of the misfortunes that plague us all. ”Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," said Shakespeare. For all but one of Victoria’s queenly granddaughters, that saying was certainly true.

Reviewed by Ellen Micheletti
Grade : A
Book Type: Non Fiction

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : August 25, 2010

Publication Date: 02/2007

Review Tags: Victorian royalty

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Ellen Micheletti

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