Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Royal Mistresses: Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester

'Good God, who would have thought that we three whores should have met here!'

The Countess of Dorchester , mistress of James Ii on encountering the Duchess of Portsmouth ,mistress of Charles II, and the Countess of Orkney, mistress of William III, at the coronation of George I, October 20, 1714

Poor James II, he gets no love, not from his people, his daughters, or from biographers. And the same for his mistresses as well, apart from Anne Hyde, the daughter of the Earl of Clarendon, who he married in 1660 after being forced into it by his brother Charles II, who took the view that James 'must drink as he has brewed.' Over the 11 years of their most unhappy marriage, she bore him 8 children, only two of whom lived, the future Mary II, and Queen Anne.

But James had many mistresses, in fact he was as big of a rake as his brother Charles II. He was taller, handsomer, if somewhat dimmer than his brother. While Charles was swarthy, favoring his Bourbon ancestors, James was fair. Perhaps we don't hear as much about his mistresses, because for the most part, they didn't dazzle the court the way that Charles II's did. Not for James II, a Nell Gwyn, or a Barbara Castlemaine. No James liked them young and plain for the most part, most of his mistresses were in their teens, at least at the start of the relationship. His taste in woman was catholic, if they were willing, then he was able. His brother Charles II once remarked on both the quality and quantity of his brother's conquests, encouraging the joke that James was given his mistresses by his priests as a penance! Although some of James's mistresses were known for being beautiful, such as the Countess of Chesterfield, and Susan, Lady Belasyse, it was the uglier ones that seemed to last the longest.

His first major mistress was Arabella Churchill, the daughter of Sir Winston Churchill and sister of John Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough. Arabella was seventeen when she was appointed a maid of honor to the first Duchess of York, and their relationship continued even through his remarriage to Mary of Modena. Unlike the Duchess, who after her years of trying to bear a boy had gotten fat, Arabella was tall, pale-faced and nothing but skin and bones. 'That ugly skeleton Churchill' was how she was described. However, the Duke had seen her fall off a horse, and was enchanted to find that she had a great set of gams. 'He could hardly believe the limbs of such exquisate beauty should belong to Miss Churchill's face.'
Their affair lasted twelve years, until she got too old (she was almost thirty when the affair ended), and the Duke needed to find greener pastures. She gave him four children, two boys and two girls. Her son James FitzJames, 1st Duke of Berwick, became the ancestor of the Spanish Dukes of Alba. Her daughter Henrietta FitzJames married the Earl of Waldegrave (the late Princess of Wales was one of her descendents).

His next mistress was Catherine Sedley (1657-1717) who was described by no less than Samuel Pepys as 'none of the most virtuous but a witt.' Catherine was said to have inherited her ready wit and her easy virtue from her father Sir Charles Sedley. Sir Charles was rich, a rake, and dabbled in playwrighting. None of his plays are produced today compared to his contemporaries such as Dryden and Etherage. In 1663, Sir Charles was heavily fined for an indiscretion. Samuel Pepys writes about the incident in his diary entry for July 1, 1663.

"Mr. Batten telling us of a late triall of Sir Charles Sydly the other day, before my Lord Chief Justice Foster and the whole bench, for his debauchery a little while since at Oxford Kate’s,1 coming in open day into the Balcone and showed his nakedness, … . and abusing of scripture and as it were from thence preaching a mountebank sermon from the pulpit, saying that there he had to sell such a powder as should make all the [women] in town run after him, 1000 people standing underneath to see and hear him, and that being done he took a glass of wine … . and then drank it off, and then took another and drank the King’s health. It seems my Lord and the rest of the judges did all of them round give him a most high reproof; my Lord Chief justice saying, that it was for him, and such wicked wretches as he was, that God’s anger and judgments hung over us, calling him sirrah many times. It’s said they have bound him to his good behaviour (there being no law against him for it) in 5000l."

Catherine's mother, also named Catherine, was the daughter of Earl Rivers. When Catherine was a child, her mother went mad, imagining that she was the Queen of England, and having to be addressed as 'Her Majesty.' She was confined to a Catholic convent abroad (Lady Catherine was Catholic while her husband and daughter were not) while her husband continued his carousing with his friends, 'the Merry Gang' in between his duties in Parliament. Although Catherine was his only legitimate heir, her father took a common-law wife named Ann Ayscough by whom he had a son. Although she was an heiress with the prospect of 10,000 pounds (6,000 from her mother, with an additional 4,000 upon her father's death), with this marital history behind her, it was no wonder that Catherine chose the life of a royal mistress as opposed to marriage.

Catherine was fifteen when she joined the court as a Maid of Honor to the Duke of York's second wife Mary of Modena (who was also 15 when she married James). She was just as surprised as anyone when James chose her to be his mistress in 1678 when she was 21. According to contemporary sources, she was tall, extremely thin, plain (as she got older she became almost emaciated) and had a squint. The standard of beauty of that time was plump, with rosy cheeks and golden curls. Charles II used to refer to Louise Keroualle, Duchess of Portmouth affectionately as 'fubs'. "We are none of us handsome," Catherine remarked,"And if we have wit, he has not enough to discover it." She was said to have endeavoured to make up for her lack of beauty by the extravagance of her gowns.

Her wit, which she came by naturally from her father, was shocking in its indelicacy as it was diverting. The first Earl of Dartmouth wrote that 'Her wit was rather surprising rather than pleasing, for there was no restraint in what she said of or to anybody: most of her remarkable sayings were what nobody else would in modesty or discretion have said" (Memoirs of the Court of England During the Reign of the Stuarts, page 506). In other words, she just said outloud what other people might have been thinking but who knew enough to censor themselves. She seems to have been as spirited as she was witty. By the time she was 20, Dorinda as she was nick-named in a satiric verse by a rejected suitor Lord Dorset, was a celebrated if not popular member of court. Like Nell Gwyn, she seems to have been able to make her royal lover laugh, particularly when she joked about the black-robed priests in evidence at court. James was always torn between his baser instincts and his immortal soul. Whatever the reason, James fell passionately in love with her.

When she was 25, she was courted by a distant relative, John Churchill. It would have been a good match for Churchill, despite her lack of looks, Catherine was rich as she was her father's only legitimate heir. Her parents urged the match, but by this time Churchill had already met and fallen in love with Sarah Jennings, they were even secretly engaged. When Sarah heard about the match, she wrote Churchill that upbraided him for his inconstancy and ended their engagement. She went off to France with her sister. Although he knew his parents were right to push the match with Catherine, Churchill couldn't bring himself to do it, and the negotiations ended.

In 1685, Charles II died, leaving his hapless brother King of England. James, his conscience no doubt pricked by a myriad of Catholic priests, decided to break off the connection with Catherine now that he was King. He sent her the royal equivalent of a 'Dear John' letter, in essence saying that she should go abroad or depart for the country for he would provide for her but 'he would see her no more.' Catherine refused to go but she left the palace and went to live in a house that had been taken for her in St. James Square at a cost of ten thousand pounds, which she decorated lavishly. Catherine was also given a lovely parting gift of four thousand pounds a year (!). However, on the day of the coronation, James Darnley, their infant son died and both parents were understandably distraught. He was given a royal burial in Westminster Abbey as befitting the son of a King albeit one born on the wrong side of the blanket. Drawn together by their grief, the King was soon sneaking out to see her.

Unlike Catherine of Braganza who bore her husband's infidelities stoically, Mary of Modena was appalled at her husband having mistresses, particularly one who was her Maid of Honor and not even pretty (shades of Diana and Camilla). Catherine had produced her first child, a daughter, while Mary of Modena was still not with child. So she raised a holy stink when James then created Catherine, Baroness of Darlington and Countess of Dorchester for life on the 2nd of January 1686 shortly after his accession to throne. There was also a rumor that James was planning to give her the apartments once reserved for his brother's mistress, the Duchess of Portsmouth. The Queen was so pissed that it was observed that she refused to speak to her husband when they twice dined in state.

The Queen wept and wailed over the great injustice that was being done to her, and she was joined by a chorus of Catholic confessors who also went to work on the King, who was in fear of his mortal soul from all the sinning he'd been doing since puberty. Finally, in front of witnesses, Mary told her husband that he must either give up Catherine or she would leave the court and the marriage and join a convent. This amused Lady Dorchester who had for some time been waging a war of wit with the black-robed fathers. She was open about her contempt for them and ridiculed their piety.

Catherine however was determined to be received by the Queen in her new rank as a Countess. She was already dressed and ready to go when she received a message that she would not be admitted. The King indicated that it was time for Catherine to go, and this time he didn't grant her the final interview that he had once promised her in the event of their parting. Catherine once again stood her ground. Soon after she apparently miscarried or faked one. When she recovered, it was decided that Catherine would go to Ireland where the King had given her some lands. This made her exile a little bit more palatable or as she put it 'the less invidious as well as the more obscure part of the world,' but by March she was already causing trouble for English officials in Dublin. They feared welcoming her too courteously lest they piss the Queen off. It wasn't long before rumors hit London of her possible return, fueled by the refurbishment of her house in St. James Square. The idea thoroughly discomfitted the Queen, which caused Catherine to wonder why she spent so much time worrying about her supposed charms. "She thinks much better of me than I deserve."

In November of 1686, Catherine was back at court taking her place with her usual aplomb. She bought Ham House in Weybridge from the widow of the Duke of Norfolk but her influence over James had waned. After James II was deposed and sped off to France with his tail between his legs so to speak, Catherine continued to write to him for support for her and her daughter, which led many to consider her to be a Jacobite sympathizer. There were also rumors that she was a spy for the other side but those proved unfounded as well. The truth was Catherine found herself between a rock and hard place.

Catherine's father Sir Charles Sedley decidedly was not, he had supported the Glorious Revolution. "I have now returned the obligation I owed to King James; he made my daughter a countess - I have helped to make his daughter a Queen." When Mary and William ascended the throne, Catherine was received rather coldly at court. Every day she watched as women like Hortense Mancini and Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland were admitted warmly to the royal presence. Full of wounded pride, Catherine told Lady Nottingham that 'the jury might possibly acquit me that would whip for being whores every one of the ladies afore mentioned.'

When Queen Mary finally admitted her, the former royal mistress exclaimed "Why so haughty Madam? I beg your majesty to remember that if I broke one of the commandments with your father, you broke another against him. On that score we are both equal." William III looked on her more kindly giving her a pension of fifteen hundred pounds a year (or maybe he was just afraid of what she might say if he didn't). Afterward, she said that 'both Kings were civil to her, but the queens had used her badly.'

Catherine also fought for the rights to the lands given to her in the Fens by the Duke of York in 1683, after they were given by William III to the Earl of Torrington. She took the case to the High Court of Chancery and won, but Torrington put the kibosh on that by bringing a Bill to the House of Commons to confirm the grant. Catherine, not to be outdone or outfoxed, went to the House of Commons in her turn to press her case. Although she lost, the House added a clause to the bill granting her four thousand pounds in back rent and an annuity of six hundred pounds a year. Unfortunately the bill was passed in the negative and she never received her rents.

In August of 1696, Catherine, at the age of thirty-eight, married a one-eyed Scot named Sir David Colyear, afterwards the first Earl of Portmore. He was an officer in William III's army and highly respected. By her husband, Lady Dorchester gave birth to two sons, and by all accounts the marriage was a happy one. When her sons were sent off to school, she told them, "If anybody call either of you a son a whore, you must bear it; for you are so: but if they call you bastards, fight till you die; for you are an honest man's sons."

Lady Dorchester died at Bath on October 26, 1717 at the age of 60 of unknown causes. While her former lover, James II came to regret his prolifigacy in his old age. "I abhor and detest myself for having lived for so many years in a perpetual course of sin," apparently she had no such regrets. She leaves behind a legacy of priceless bon mots. At the coronation of George I, when the Archbishop of Canterbury formally asked the congregation for the people's consent to the King's crowning, the Countess was heard to say loud and clear, "Does the old fool think that anybody will say no to his question when there are so many drawn swords?" (Charles and Camilla, Brandreth page. 21).

Catherine gave birth to several children while James II's mistress, but only a daughter survived. The daughter Catherine, although acknowledged by James, in all probability was the daughter of Colonel James Grahame, a witty and fashionable hanger-on at court and the King's Keeper of the Privy Purse. Apparently Catherine felt no need to confine her favors to just the one man. When her daughter began to give herself airs, Catherine told her, "You need not be so vain, daughter, you are not the King's child, but old Grahame's." Catherine the younger married first James Annesley, 3rd Earl of Anglesey, and had a daughter Lady Catherine whose descendants include the Baron Mulgrave. After his death, she married John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby.

In an age when women were considered 'The Weaker Vessel,' Catherine Sedley forged her own non-conformist path to happiness with wit and moxie. She used her god given wit to entice a king and keep him enthralled for over seven years, a lifetime for a royal mistrss. And instead of being tossed aside as a former mistress, she fought for the rights to the lands and money that were given to her. And she married happily and on her own terms, at a time when most women were considered past their prime.

Sources include:
Charles & Camilla: Portrait of a Love Affair - Gyles Brandreth
Sex Lives of Kings & Queens of England - Nigel Cawthorne
The Weaker Vessel - Antonia Fraser
Seductresses - Betsey Prioleau
The Diary of Samuel Pepys
Memoirs of the Court of England During the Reign of the Stuarts - John Heneage Jesse
History of England from First Invasion by the Romans - John Lingard
Royal Panoply - Carrolly Erickson
The Life of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough to the Acession of Queen Anne - Garnet Wolseley Wolseley

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Princess Pushy: The Fabulous Life of Princess Michael of Kent

She's tall, blonde and striking, married to a handsome prince, a member of The Royal Family. She's also haughty, gaffe (she once complained "The English distrust foreigners, they think the wogs begin at Calais") prone, and been linked to other men. Princess Anne dubbed her 'Princess Pushy' and the Queen once remarked mischievously to her husband's uncle, Lord Mountbatten 'that she sounds a bit grand to us.' Also known amongst the Royal Family as "Our Val" for Valkryie, Princess Margaret's son was said when asked what he would wish on his worst enemy, 'Dinner with Princess Michael of Kent.' The media have dubbed her the "Rent-a-Kents," for their habit of turning up at the opening of an envelope.

Who is this woman that has provoked such a sharp reaction in both the establishment and the media? How did the wife of a minor royal become such a lighting rod for bad behavior in a family where Prince Charles's youngest son once wore the uniform of a Nazi to a costume party (apparently he had no idea why that was such a no-no. And they say that Americans no nothing about history!), and the Duchess of York was caught getting her toes sucked by her financial advisor?

If you go to Princess Michael of Kent's web-site, you can trace her ancestry all the way back to Diane de Poitiers, along with Catherine the Great, Marie Antoinette and William the Conqueror. Quite a family for the former Marie Christine von Reibnitz or to be accurate Baroness Marie Christine Agnes Hedwig Ida von Reibnitz as she was born on January 15, 1945 in Carlsbad which is now part of the Czech Republic. Her mother was an Austro-Hungarian Countess, and her father Baron Gunther Hubertus von Reibnitz.

Her parents split up and her father moved to Mozambique while her mother decamped to Australia with Marie Christine and her younger brother Friedrich, where she ran a hair salon (makes one wonder where Princess Michael picked up her Eurotrash accent!). While growing up in Sydney, the future Princess Michael attended Catholic schools. After graduation, she headed off to Africa to finally get reacquainted with her long absent father. Marie Christine made her way to London where she did a course at the Victoria and Albert Museum and worked as an interior decorator. "Deep down inside me I always hear my mother's words: 900 years of breeding must be worth something."

She met her first husband, banker and Old Etonian, Thomas Troubridge, the younger brother of baronet Sir Peter Troubridge at a boar hunt of all places in Germany. They were married in 1971 and seperated two years later, although they didn't divorce until 1977. The marriage was later annulled in 1978 for undisclosed reasons but Marie-Christine was not allowed communion until she remarried in a Catholic ceremony which she and Prince Michael eventually did in 1983.

In the meantime, Marie Christine met her future second husband, Prince Michael of Kent while hunting (sense a theme?). "I was struck by this tall Austrian lady. I remember we had a long talk about the history of art while sitting in a hut eating sausages,' he has remarked. Her first impression was a little different. 'I just thought he was the funniest man I'd ever met. ' According to Princess Michael, they were friends first given that she was married, and Prince Michael was in another relationship. The prince would 'accidentally' run into her during early-morning rides in Richmond Park before he went to work at the Ministry of Defence. She would flatter his ego and spoil him which none of his English girlfriends had thought to do.

It was apparently that wily old matchmaker Lord Mountbatten who got them together by telling both Prince Michael and Marie Christine that the other was really keen on them, which then sparked their mutual interest. "One day Lord Mountbatten said to Michael, 'By the way, what are you going to do about that young woman?' He answered, 'Why should I do anything?' 'She's madly in love with you', came the reply. Then I too saw Lord Mountbatten and he said: 'What are you going to do about that young man? He's madly in love with you.' For all we knew, he believed it. I don't know but from then on we began to look at each other a little differently."

They married in June 30, 1978 in a civil ceremony in Vienna. Prince Michael had to give up his place in the succession since due to the Act of Succession of 1701 (at the time he was 15th in line for the throne), as no member of the Royal family can marry a Catholic and keep their place in the line of succession (their children Lord Frederick and Lady Gabriella were raised Anglican, and thus are still in the line of succession, although way down on the list, 31 and 32 respectively). Princess Michael has been quite vocal about how in the dark ages the attitude is, "They can marry a Moonie, A Seven-Day Adventist, a Scientologist, A Muslim. " (Okay, I have to agree with her on this one. If the heir to the throne can marry a divorcee that he had a thirty year affair with, I think they can bend and get rid of that Roman Catholic clause.)

Since then, Princess Michael has put her court shoes in her mouth more often than not. She attributes it to the fact that at 6ft tall in her stocking feet, she's hard to miss. Others put it down to her sense of entitlement. One of the first blows was the revelation that Princess Michael of Kent's father had not only been a member of the Nazi party but had also been in the SS, where he held the rank of Sturmbannfuhrer or "Assault Unit Leader" during the Second World War, although she produced papers that proved that he had actually been expelled from the party in 1944 (one wonders what he did to get the Nazi's to kick him out!)

Then there were the charges of plagiarism on her first two books Crowned in a Far Country, and Cupid and the King, which Princess Michael claims wasn't her fault but the fault of one of her researchers who didn't properly right down where the offending passages came from. In another interview, she allegedly claimed that she had more royal blood in her vieins than any person to marry into the royal family since Prince Philip. She's also a cat lover, in a family that adores dogs, particularly corgis. When she once complained about a cat being mauled by a corgi, she was promptly put in her place.

Her most famous moment stuffing those size 11's in her mouth came in 2004 while dining at Da Silvano, a restaurant much favored by celebrities in Greenwich Village. Objecting to the noise level at a table of black diners near hers, she first slammed her hand down on their table and allegedly told them to "Get back to the colonies," as she and her party were moved to another table. One of the women at the table, Nicole Young confronted the Princess about her remark. Prince Michael is reported to have replied "I did not say 'back to the colonies' - I said 'you should remember the colonies.' Back in the days of the colonies there were rules that were very good. You think about it. Just think about it." The New York Post reported that the diners thought that the remark was racist. She subsequently denied the charge. Her later explanation was that she had merely told one of her fellow dinner companions that she would be glad to go back to the colonies in order to escape the noise. In another article, she complained that she couldn't possibly be racist because she had once darkened her skin and pretended to be half-caste while traveling through Africa after a visit to her father.

In September 2005, she was caught on tape complaining about the Royal Family after a News of the World reporter pretendedto be a sheik, gained her confidence while pretending to be a buyer for her home Nether Lypiatt. In her defense, she wasn't the first royal to be caught out this way, Prince Edward's wife, Sophie Wessex too fell into the trapin 2001, which ended her PR career. While most of Princess Michael of Kent's revelations were pretty harmless (calling Princess Diana a 'nasty' and 'bitter' woman, who had been married merely as a 'womb'), it was her defense of Prince Harry for wearing the Swastika that really raised eyebrows. "But I believe that if he had been wearing the Hammer and Sickle there wouldn't have been so much fuss made." Recently Princess Michael has gone on record talking about how much smarter her children are then the other royals, having better education and a better degree than Prince William (Lord Frederick went to Oxford while Lady Ella graduated from Brown).

Princess Michael has a reputation for being someone who cultivates people who can and are willing to be generous in order to have a royal at their table (hence the nickname 'Rent-A-Kents'). She once convinced British Airways to lay on a special plane to ferry her from Manchester airport to London for a private engagement! She has also accepted gifts like a 150,000 pound building plot in Antigua from tycoon Peter de Savary and a 115,000 racehorse from another admirer. Since she and her husband receive no funds from the civil list, they are forced to actually work for a living. Prince Michael has his own consultancy business, and is fluent in several languages with a particular flair for Russian, which is appropriate for someone related to the Romanov's. He also holds several paid directorships with companies in the City. Princess Michael recently took a job as President of Partridge Fine Art, a gallery in New Bond Street. She has also given lectures around the world on various subjects related to her three books, however after her remarks at Da Silvano, there were fewer invites from the lucrative American market. Although they have no official duties, Princess Michael clearly likes to look and travel in royal style. She admits to having had botox which doesn't come cheap.

"I live in the 18th century in my mind," she once told an interviewer. "I see my whole life as a cultivation of taste. " Ah yes, when Royalty lived in splendid palaces, before a little thing called the French revolution! Unfortunately for the Kents, times are different. They were given a grace and favor apartment in Kensington Palace when they married (at various times royals from Princess Diana to Princess Margaret have lived at the Palace). However, in recent years, the public have complained about the fact that the Kents were paying only 67 pounds a week for the flat. The Queen stepped in and agreed to pay 10,000 pounds a month until 2010 by which time the Kents have to find another place to live. They've also had to sell their Cotswolds country estate Nether Lypiatt because of the upkeep, they received almost $11MM for the house.

Rumors about Princess Michael of Kent's marriage to Prince Michael started almost as soon as they were married. In 1985, she was seen leaving the apartment of Texas oil millionaire J. Ward Hunt wearing a rather tragic red wig, and there were rumors of her canoodling in a New York movie theater with Senator John Warner, ex-husband of Elizabeth Taylor. In 2006, she was seen holding hands, kissing, and taking romantic gondola rides with a Russian millionaire Mikhail Kravchenko, who the media were happy to report was 21 years younger, while on a trip to Venice, where they stayed in adjoining $4,000 a night rooms at the 5-star Hotel Cipriani. Princess Michael's explanation was that she holds hands and kisses all her friends, and that they were discussing business.

Until recently, it was assumed that Princess Michael of Kent wore the pants in the family and Prince Michael was just her mild-mannered hen-pecked hubby (shades of Sunny and Tsar Nicholas II who Prince Michael resembles). "She doesn't henpeck him, she lion-claws him," said a close friend. But it appears that still waters run deep. Recently, in the press, he was seen around town with an attractive blonde named Marianne Krex who is 30 years his junior. They even attended the ballet together with Marianne hiding her face from the cameras with her jacket. This isn't the first time that Prince Michael has been seen with a female friend. The ballet dancer Bryony Brind and historian Leonie Frieda are just two of the women he's been seen with without Princess Michael of Kent. Apparently Prince Michael is a regular at Julie's restaurant and bar where he takes many female 'friends. Lucy Weber, an American artist, is shopping around her memoirs, alleging that she and Prince Michael had an affair for 8 years. The artist kept a diary about her lover with such entries as "He loves sex pure, unadulterated. He thinks about it quite a bit during his working hours - loves white suspenders, beige or tan. His sexual senses are keen and he has a vivid imagination." Princess Michael went on the offense immediately, stating that her husband was not having an affair and that it was her idea for him to take Marianne Krex to the ballet. She also labels Lucy Weber as a fantasist.

If it is true, then the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Prince Michael's father, the Duke of Kent, cut a wide swathe through society in the 1920's before his marraige to Princess Marina of Greece. He was alleged to have had affairs with everyone from the black singer Florence Mills to a 19 year affair with Noel Coward, there were even rumors of an illegitimate child, possibly Michael Canfield, Lee Radizwill's first husband. There were also rumors that he was addicted to drugs, cocaine and heroine, and that his cousin, the Prince of Wales used tough love to get him off. Prince Michael's mother, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, was no slouch in the lover department either, having had affairs (allegedly) with the conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent and the black society pianist Leslie Hutchinson. Prince Michael's niece Lady Helen Taylor was once known by the horrible nickname 'Melons' due to her ample cleavage, and was considered a bit of a party girl during the 1980's. Even Prince Michael's son, Lord Frederick has admitted dabbling in drugs at college.

Of course, it is possible that Prince and Princess Michael are innocent of any infidelity, that the friendships are simply what they say they are. After 30 years of marriage this past June, it is clear that they have come to some kind of understanding and contentment. Whatever the truth, it is clear that Princess Michael likes the perks and privileges that come from being a member of the Royal family, no matter how minor.

Perhaps Princess Michael herself says it best. "They will always have to have a bad girl in the family..but I'm not going to have sleepless nights worrying about what the good citizens of Newcastle are thinking about me."

Sources include:

New York Social Diary
The Independent
The Daily Mail
The New York Post
The Royal Family web-site
Who's Really Who - Compton Miller

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Polls Are In!

And it's Mata Hari by 11 votes!

There were 7 votes each for both Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni and Elizabeth Bathory, as well as 6 votes apiece for Sarah Bernhardt and Pope Joan.

So look forward to a post on Mata Hari: Spy or Innocent Victim? in September, along with a post on Boudicca and Eva Peron.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Uncivil Wars: Lillian Hellman vs. Mary McCarthy and the Question of Julia

Author Lillian Hellman

Everyone’s memory is tricky and mine’s a little trickier than most --- Lillian Hellman

“A foremost literary fabulator of her generation, Lillian Hellman invented her life, so that by the end even she was uncertain about what had been true,” Joan Mellen.

In January 1980, a seemingly off the cuff remark by Mary McCarthy regarding Lillian Hellman sparked off a literary feud and a debate about truth, particularly in memoirs, that has raged on till this day.

McCarthy was a guest on the Dick Cavett show on PBS. The interview was begging to flag when Cavett asked McCarthy what writers she thought were overrated. Among the writers that she mentioned were Pearl S. Buck, John Steinbeck and Hellman who McCarthy said, "who I think is tremendously overrated, a bad writer, a dishonest writer, but she really belongs to the past." Cavett, of course, asked McCarthy what was overrated about Hellman. McCarthy replied that "Everything. I once said in an interview that every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"

Mary McCarthy

It was the literary equivalent of the shot heard around the world. Hellman was watching that night and was incensed. She immediately called her friend, the writer John Hersey and told him of her intention of suing, inviting him to join her in the lawsuit (McCarthy had said a few derogatory words about Hersey's prose.) Hersey declined and tried to convince Hellman not to sue. Instead, Hellman slapped a $2.25MM lawsuit against not only McCarthy, but also the Educational Broadcasting System and Dick Cavett. The lawsuit claimed that McCarthy's statement was "false, made with ill-will, with malice, with knowledge of its falsity, with careless disregard of its truth, and with the intent to injure the plaintiff personally and professionally."

McCarthy, at first thought the lawsuit, was a joke. When she realized the seriousness of the issue, and that Hellman intended to pursue it, she began to worry about her finances. McCarthy had only about $63,000 in savings, while Hellman was a wealthy woman (she owned the copyrights to Hammett's work as well as the royalties from her memoirs and plays) who someone had convinced her lawyer to take her case pro bono. It was clear that Hellman's intention was to bankrupt McCarthy.

McCarthy's lawyer argued that McCarthy's comments were literary criticism, which was protected by the First Amendment. "The fact is Mary's a critic with a right to make judgements, and Lillian Hellman's a public figure," Dwight MacDonald, a friend and fellow writer claimed (Writing Dangerously, Brightman, page 601). Her lawyers claimed that her quip was "rhetorical hyperbole." However on television, it sounded defamatory.

McCarthy apparently knew that the question was going to come up in the television interview. Her friend Frani Muser remembered talking about Hellman with McCarthy the morning of the interview. "She knew it was coming," (Writing Dangerously, page 610). Muser added that the remark about "everything she writes is a lie including "and" and "the" came from a Paris Metro interview, and they had joked about it. Clearly McCarthy thought it was just a funny quip on a literary television show on a public television station.

The minute the news hit, the literary world immediately weighed in on either side. Diana Trilling, William F. Buckley, Irving Howe, and Dwight MacDonald weighed in. No stranger to literary feuds himself, Norman Mailer took it upon himself to play peacekeeper, with his article in The New York Times entitled an "Appeal to Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy." Needless to say his efforts were not rewarded, especially by Lillian Hellman, who was known to hold grudges and could be spiteful. According to one of her biographers, Carl Rollyson, she was one of four people who sued Nixon to get the Watergate tapes released. When she called Dick Cavett to ask him why he hadn't defended her against Mary McCarthy, Cavett suggested that Hellman come on the show to defend herself. Hellman refused. The idea of having to defend herself against a charge of dishonesty was anathema to her. To the public at large it must have looked like two cranky old ladies bitching at each other.

Mailer even used the defense that McCarthy was attacking a frail bird who was half-blind. This was despite the fact that Hellman was still feisty enough to threaten to scream if her nurse didn't give her a cigarette. At the time of the lawsuit, Hellman was 72 and looked older and McCarthy was a still good-looking woman of 65. By the time, Hellman died 5 years later, McCarthy had aged considerably. While the lawsuit probably invigorated Hellman and kept her alive, the stress took its toll on McCarthy.

What was the source of the enmity between Hellman and McCarthy. Was it political or personal? Was it out and out jealousy of one well regarded but lesser known writer against a more popular and rich author? Some say the feud started because Hellman either slept with or attempted to seduce McCarthy's lover at the time, Philip Rahv, the editor of The Partisan Review. Hellman's lawyer Ephraim London believed that it was simple jealousy, while McCarthy was revered, she wasn't nearly as successful as Hellman whose memoirs had each spent weeks on the best-seller lists. McCarthy's friends felt that Hellman was jealous that McCarthy was an intellectual, accepted by the New York literati, and Hellman was seen as the author of several well-made but melodramatic plays.

Others saw it as a continuation of the feud of the anti-Stalinists of which McCarthy was an early member vs. the Stalinists which included Hellman, Hammett, and other left-wing liberals who continued to defend Stalin long after his crimes had been made public. Hellman once chastized Kruschev for turning against Stalin, she felt he was disloyal. Although she claimed not to know anything about the Moscow purge trials, Hellman had signed petitions applauding the guilty verdicts and encouraged others not to cooperate with a committee that sought to establish the truth behind the trials. McCarthy, herself, said that the enmity was personal. She hated what she saw as Hellman's attempts to make herself look more like a heroine at the expense of others. Her ire was particularly incensed by Hellman's memoir Scoundrel Time. "I mean you'd read this goddamn Scoundrel Time and you'd think she went to jail almost!" (Writing Dangerously, Brightman, page 604).

For those of us born after the McCarthy era, it can be hard to understand how the wounds from that time continued to fester even thirty years after the fact. Witness the outpouring of vitriol when Elia Kazan was given an honorary Oscar several years ago (the closest I can come up with is the anti-war hippies vs. the men who actually served in Vietnam). The feud between McCarthy and Hellman dredged up memories of a time that people had long tried to forget. The anger of those who saw Hellman taking credit for doing something (talking about herself, but not naming names before HUAC) that others had done before her.

On the surface, both women seemed to have a lot in common. Both came from troubled childhoods. McCarthy, who was seven years younger than Hellman, lost both her parents in the influenza epidemic in 1918 when she was 5 years old. She and her brothers were left in the care of their paternal grandparents who found it difficult to all of a sudden have three children to take care of. Instead McCarthy and her brothers were under the direct care of an aunt and uncle who were abusive. McCarthy eventually ended up living in Seattle with maternal grandparents. Hellman spend her childhood shuttling between the boarding house in New Orleans owned by her father's unmarried sisters, and an apartment in New York. A Daddy's girl, she had no use for her mother, who she considered weak. While McCarthy went to Vassar, where she felt out of place amongst the rich girls, Hellman dropped out of NYU after two years. Both married and divorced young, both started their careers in the early thirties, McCarthy writing theater reviews and Hellman as a playwright. Both early in their careers were known more for being the girlfriend of prominent men, Hellman with Dashiell Hammett, her companion for the next thirty years, and McCarthy first with Philip Rahv, and then with her second marriage to Edmund Wilson.

While Hellman had initially wanted to become a novelist, McCarthy had ambitions to acting and playwrighting. Her first husband Harald Johnsrud had been an actor and playwright. Hellman had dabbled in writing short stories, succeeding in getting two of them published. She had also worked as a reader at MGM, when her husband Arthur Kober had been hired as a screenwriter. It was in Hollywood that Hellman met Dashiell Hammett, then the celebrated author of The Maltese Falcon and The Dain Curse. It was Hammett who steered Hellman towards the case that became the basis of The Children's Hour and encouraged her to try playwrighting.

Hellman and McCarthy had only met a few times in their lives, the most notable being at Sarah Lawrence College in 1947, at a dinner party thrown by the college president, Harold Taylor, to discuss a writer's conference. McCarthy attended as did Stephen Spender who was also teaching at the college. Hellman was an invited guest. Just before dinner, McCarthy overheard Hellman flippantly telling a group of students that the writer and painter John Dos Passos had sold out the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War because "he didn't like the food in Madrid." Incensed, McCarthy stormed in and proceeded to tell the students that if they wanted to know the truth about Dos Passos's change of heart, they should read his book, Adventures of a Young Man. Hellman, in turn, was not pleased at being dressed down in front of a group of students. The next year, McCarthy and Dwight McDonald were a handful of anti-Stalinists who infiltrated the Waldorf Conference in 1948.

McCarthy's case was struck a blow in early 1984, when Justice Harold Baer Jr. denied her motion to dismiss the suit. The judge stated that "to call someone dishonest, to say to a national television audience that every word she writes is a lie, seems to fall on the actionable side fo the ine - outside what has become known as the 'marketplace of ideas.'" He also agreed with Hellman's lawyer Ephraim London's contention that Hellman was not a public figure. This despite her years as a well known playwright whose works had been performed as far away as Moscow, whose books had regularly hit the best seller lists, and who had appeared in one of Blackglama mink's famous "What Becomes A Legend Most" ads.

As part of her defence, McCarthy began to go comb through Hellman's memoirs looking for inconsistencies, and places where she might have out and out lied. She was helped in this endeavor by the journalist Martha Gellhorn, who devoted 16 pages to Hellman in forty page article in The Paris Review denouncing what she called Apocryphiars. While McCarthy concentrated her defense on the memoirs An Unfinished Woman and Scoundrel Time, others were quick to question the section called simply 'Julia' of Hellman's second memoir Pentimento.

Enter Muriel Gardiner Buttinger.

Ever since Pentimento came out, Gardiner's friends had questioned whether or not she was the inspiration for Julia. Their stories were similar. Like Julia, Gardiner was an American from a wealthy background. Her father was Edward Morris, the president of Morris & Company, a meat-packing business, but her mother was a member of the Swift family. From her early childhood, she was aware of the differences between her station in life and the poor around her. She developed a life-long commitment to social and political reform.

Gardiner graduated from Wellesley College in 1922, and traveled to Europe to continue her studies. Like Hellman's Julia, she studied at Oxford. Initially she went to Vienna hoping to be analyzed by Sigmund Freud (Hellman's Julia was analyzed by Freud). Instead she received a degree in medicine from the University of Vienna. After marrying Joseph Buttinger, the leader of the Austrian Revolutionary Socialist movement, she became involved in anti-fascist activities. Used the code name: Mary as she smuggled passports, money, and offered her home to anti-fascists, before finally leaving Austria in 1939 with her husband and child. Gardiner became a noted psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who edited The Wolf-man by the Wolf-Man, a case history of a wealthy young Russian who went to Vienna in 1910 to be psychoanalyzed by Freud.

The main difference between Gardiner's story and Hellman's Julia was that Gardiner and her child lived while Julia was beaten severely by the Nazi's and died, and her child was also eventually killed by the Nazi's in an improbable circumstances.

While Hellman claimed never to have met Gardiner, Hellman’s lawyer Wolf Schwabacher was also a friend of Gardiner, and had knew Gardiner’s story. Gardiner stated that Schwabacher often talked about his famous client, so it is hard to believe that Schwabacher didn’t mention to Hellman that he had a friend who had been part of the underground in Vienna. At the time of the publication of Pentimento, Gardiner claimed that she had written to Hellman who said that she never received the letter. Gardiner later wrote an account of her story, although she never claimed that she was Julia. Eventually she had planned on suing Hellman for appropriating her story but Hellman died before the suit could be filed. Hellman never revealed who the real ‘Julia’ was, she claimed at the time that there reasons why her true name could not be revealed, among them the idea that she might have been sued, although Julia was dead. Another excuse that she gave was that the Germans were still persecuting early Anti-Nazi's.

In 1983, Gardiner's own memoirs, Code Name: Mary was published by Yale University Press. An article by Edwin McDowell entitled "New Memoir Stirs 'Julia' controversy' was published in The New York Times. Both the Yale University press release and the book's dust jacket declared that many people believed that Dr. Gardiner's story was the model for Hellman's Julia. However, Hellman responded, "she may have been the basis for someone else's Julia but not certainly not mine."

Still the matter would not rest. Journalists began to examine the story closely and inconsistencies began to pop up. While Hellman insisted that 'Julia' was not the woman's real name, in the story Julia says that the 17th Century poet John Donne must have written his poem entitled Julia with her in mind. In an earlier story in An Unfinished Woman, Hellman had described a woman named Alice that she had worked with who had the same exact story as Julia's. Ephraim London begged Hellman to release the name of the real 'Julia' but Hellman refused. Gardiner, however, questioned others who had been part of the resistance with her, if they knew of any other American woman who was studying in Vienna who had been part of the resistance. The answer was always 'only Mary,' Gardiner's own code name. Even the archives of the Austrian resistance, contain no information of another American woman with a similar background to Gardiner's. No other friends of either Hellman's or Julia's came forward to confirm her story. They couldn't have all have been dead. Apparently none of Hellman's friends had ever heard the story of Julia until Pentimento came out.

The crux of the Julia story in Pentimento was Julia asking Hellman to smuggle $50,000 in a fur hat for use of the Resistance. Hellman and Julia agreed to meet in Berlin. This is were the inconsistencies come in, everything from the timetable of Hellman's trip to Moscow via Berlin, the need for at least 8 operatives to help Hellman on her journey to deliver the money for Julia, to the reasons why Julia needed Hellman to smuggle the money all. Even the ship that Hellman supposedly took to bring Julia's ashes back to New York came into question.

In June of 1984, Hellman passed away at the age of 79, leaving the fate of the lawsuit hanging in the air. Her executors decided not to continue with the case, which incensed McCarthy who was eager to have her day in court. When she heard about Hellman’s death, McCarthy said ''If someone had told me, don't say anything about Lillian Hellman because she'll sue you, it wouldn't have stopped me. It might have spurred me on. I didn't want her to die. I wanted her to lose in court. I wanted her around for that.'' McCarthy herself passed away in 1989 at the age of 77.

The case began a debate that has continued to this day with the James Frey/JT Ellroy/Augustin Burroughs memoirs. When is it okay in a memoir for an author to a) invent events out of whole cloth b) exaggerate events for dramatic purposes or c) appropriate other's experiences as their own? There are authors and critics who come down on both sides of the fence. The problem comes when the distortions make the reader question whether anything they have read is true. There is an unwritten contract between the reader and the author while reading a memoir or a work of fiction. When that is violated, it can leave the reader feeling like a chump, sold a bag of goods, a hollow feeling. While one expects that some liberties might be taken (no one's memory is infallible), one doesn't expect out and out lies presented as truth.

McCarthy was known throughout her life for seeking out the truth in her memoirs, she would go back again and again to the same events, even at the expense of her friends and family, in her need to seek out the truth. She was noted for her sharp tongue, for her ability in her criticism to take on writers that she considered overrated. Hellman, on the other hand, while polite on the surface was full of anger. She used her memoirs to get back at those people who she felt had slighted her.

But did Hellman lie in her memoirs? Or was she convinced that she was telling the truth? That Julia did exist? That events happened in An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento and Scoundrel Time the way she wrote them? In William Wright's Biography of Hellman, Lillian Hellman, The Image, The Woman, he relates an anecdote from Diana Trilling, where Hellman was convinced that Trilling was two years older than her, even though they were the same age. Hellman was also almost pathologically protective of Hammett's legacy and her role in it. She fired one biographer after reading three chapters. "Where am I in all this?" she asked him. She finally hired noted novelist Diane Johnson to write Hammett's biography and then browbeat the woman into not including any material she found in her research that contradicted anything that Hellman had written in her three memoirs. That included Hellman's contention that she had tried to raise money for Hammett's bail after he had been sentenced to prison for contempt, when the reality was that she had nothing to do with it. Hellman's stories about had been so convincing that they were repeated in other biographies that were written about him as fact.

But there was an even bigger issue at stake than just what is truth in memoirs and that is the First Amendment issue. In his "An Appeal to Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy" which appeared in The New York Times, Mailer argued that for Hellman to win the case would mean that it would become difficult for other writer's to criticize each other's work, although he took exception to McCarthy's assertion that Hellman's writing was dishonest.

When the Founding Fathers drafted the constitution, they had no crystal ball nor was Nostradamus around to predict the role of radio, television and the internet on free speech. The issue was considered so serious that Floyd Abrams, a constitutional lawyer who defended The New York Time's right to print The Pentagon Papers, joined McCarthy's legal team, after McCarthy's motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied. Hellman's lawyer urged her to settle, he was afraid that she would lose the case, with all the evidence that McCarthy's legal team had amassed but McCarthy would have none of it.

But in the end both women lost in the court of public opinion. One wonders today how Hellman would have fared on Oprah. Would she have been given the James Frey treatment or would Oprah have put on the Hermes gloves? In the years since her death, Hellman has seen the systematic dismantling of her reputation as a writer in regards to her memoirs as biographer after biographer tabulates the factual errors and downright lies. It’s almost become a cottage industry. Five new biographies have been published; she’s been the subject of a fawning TV movie starring Judy Davis, and several plays have been written about her, the most recent being The Julia Wars by William Wright (one of her biographers). Of her plays, only The Children’s Hour, and The Little Foxes are revived frequently.

Mary McCarthy, as in life, has had to settle for a little less, two recent biographies since her death in 1989. Her brother, the actor Kevin McCarthy, is probably better known than she is to the public at large. Her biggest success, The Group, seems quaint now compared compared to the sexual candor of recent fiction. Her memoirs, especially Memories of a Catholic Schoolgirl, and How I Grew, however, are held up as some of the finest examples of the genre. When people think of the two women now, invariably the lawsuit comes up, it has now become in a way their epitaph.


Lillian Hellman, The Image, The Woman: William Wright
Telling Lies in Modern American Biography – Timothy Dow Adams
Seeing Mary Plain – Frances Kiernan

Writing Dangerously - Carol Brightman
Imaginary Friends – Nora Ephron
Hellman & Hammett: The Legendary Passion of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett – Joan Mellen
Lillian Hellman: A Life With Foxes and Scoundrels – Deborah Martinson
Lillian Hellman: Her Legend and Her Legacy – Carl Rollyson


“Julia” & Other Fictions by Lillian Hellman – Samuel McCracken (Commentary Magazine, June 1984)
Lillian, Mary and Me – Dick Cavett (The New Yorker, December 16, 2002)
“Who Was Julia?” – Alexander Cockburn (The Nation, February 23, 1985)
“Lillian Hellman Wins Round in Suit,” Marcia Chambers (The New York Times, May 11, 1984)
“Reading and Writing; Literary Invective,” Walter Goodman (The New York Times, June 19, 1983)
“An Appeal to Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy,” Norman Mailer (The New York Times, May 11, 1980)

Friday, August 8, 2008

New Poll Up!

I've just put up a new poll to get your feedback on what Scandalous Women you want to see featured on the blog in the next few weeks.

Coming up in October, I will be doing Tudor Month (which may kill me!) where I will be featuring some of the most scandalous women of that era, including Bess of Hardwick, Bloody Mary and Lettice Knollys.