27 August 2016

British princes who wanted to marry "inappropriate" women

Prince William of Gloucester (1941–1972) was the son of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (d1974) and the grandson of King George V and Queen Mary. His mother was Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, daughter of 7th Duke Buccleuch. At his baptism in Windsor Castle in 1942, his godparents included Uncle King George VI and Grandma Queen Mary.

As a grandson of the British monarch in the male line, Prince William was called His Royal Highness. His father Prince Henry was important, serving in Australia as Governor-General from 1945 until 1947. And the toddler William was close enough to Princess Eliz­abeth to be a page boy at her 1947 wedding to Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh.

Prince William was not home schooled; he received a proper education at Wellesley House Prep School, Eton College and Magdalene College Cambridge. He also did post-graduate studies at Stanford University in the USA. And he took a “proper job”, in the diplomatic service in various British embassies. When his father, the Duke of Gloucester, became frail, first-born son William left the diplomatic corps and returned to run the family estate in Britain.
Princess Margaret, Earl of Snowdon, Prince William of Gloucester and the Queen Mother
Photo credit: misshonoriaglossop

So far, so good. Spouse and I were living in the UK in the early 1970s and we knew something about the handsome young prince and his royal duties. What ordinary citizens did not know were two important things. Firstly that William had recently been diagnosed with a genetic con­dition known as porphyria (blistered skin, abdominal pain, vomiting, seizures, muscle weak­ness and mental disturbances). Although the British and other royal families had a long history coping with porphyria, William’s condition was seen to be in remission.

Secondly BBC Channel 4 released a documentary called “The Other Prince William”, shown in Britain in 2015 and in Australia in 2016. There had been a published interview in the Daily Mail with the Prince’s girlfriend as far back as 2012, but I didn’t remember that article.

Basically the BBC programme acknowledged that the girlfriend, Zsuzsi Starkloff, had enjoyed a long term love affair with the prince, dating back to their time together in Tokyo in 1968. The couple travelled extensively across America, where they did whatever they wanted, without the glare of the British royals and British newspapers spoiling their fun. It was clear that they wanted to marry, but that they were blocked from fulfilling their dreams by both The Queen Mother and Prince Phillip (but not by Queen Elizabeth). There were apparently 3 irresolvable problems:
1. Starkloff was not Church of England, but was Jewish;
2. Starkloff was an older woman who had been twice divorced and had at least one child; and
3. Starkloff was Hungarian.

Under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, anyone in the royal family had to get the monarch’s permission to marry, including Prince William. But William was 9th in line to the throne and realistically speaking, would never ever become the monarch himself! Thus the Queen’s permission for a distant cousin to marry was traditional and polite, but not very meaningful by the 1970s. And why would Hungarian citizenship have been a problem? After all, members of the British royal family had married Dutch, French, German, Czech, Spanish and Greek citizens for centuries.

The royal family refused to accept their relationship, but the documentary made it clear that the lovers kept in contact via letters, telephone calls and visits. According to Starkloff, William continued to love her, until his tragic plane accident and death in August 1972. He had been a passionate and a very experienced pilot, so did the plane crash at Wolverhampton Airport occur because of external sabotage, pilot suicide or freak accident?

I remember August 1972 with crystal clarity because of the massacre of so many young Jewish athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich. Yet I cannot remember the royals rushing back from Munich to be in London in time for Prince William’s funeral. Everyone was there in time … except for Zsuzsi Starkloff.

On William’s untimely death, his younger brother Prince Richard of Gloucester became heir-apparent.

What the documentary under-stated was the incredible closeness of Prin­ce William of Gloucester’s story (1968-72) to the story of his uncle, the former King Edward VIII and his much divorced lady love, Mrs Wallis Simpson (1936->). Edward had already become king on his father's death in early 1936. In the same year, the new king proposed marriage to Mrs Simpson, a commoner and a foreigner, with two ex-husbands still well and truly alive. Every single British citizen who had lived through the constitut­ional crisis provoked by King Edward back in 1936 would have made the link to Prince William in 1970. It had been only one generation earlier!

Prince William of Gloucester and Zsuzsi Starkloff
Tokyo 1965
Photo credit: The Telegraph

What the Daily Mail over-estimated was the international tragedy (as opposed to a personal one) that the royal family provoked with regard to Prince William and Zsuzsi Starkloff.  Their story was headed: “How the Queen sabotaged my passionate affair with her cousin: Zsuzsi Starkloff tells the story of how Prince William of Gloucester fell for her and scandalised the royals in the process".

Zsuzsi, who might have once married into the Royal Family, today lives a modest existence on a mountain-top in Colorado. She is many thousands of miles from the world and the intrigues of the House of Windsor which caused her downfall. She could have been Duchess of Gloucester, with a sprawling estate in Northamptonshire and a grace-and-favour apartment in Kensington Palace. Her natural modesty and cool good looks would have won her many admirers and a place in the nation’s heart.

23 August 2016

Percy Grainger's music, sex life and his Australian Museum

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was born in Melbourne, son of British architect John Harry Grainger, and his wife Rose Aldridge Grainger of Adelaide. His father had migrated from Durham to Adelaide 1877 to take up a post in the Engineer-in-Chief's Office then moved on to a broad private practice. John Grainger had been responsible for the design of many important bridges, offices and houses across Australia, but as a close friend of David Mitchell, no piece of architecture was as significant as the design of Dame Nellie Melba's Coombe Cottage in Coldstream in 1912 (as we will see).

Rose Grainger thought her only child was a genius in the making. The lad showed great talent in the visual and musical arts, largely home schooled by his mother. At 10, he focused on piano studies with Louis Pabst, then harmony with Julius Herz. John Grainger thought his son was being smothered by an over-protective mother and stayed in Europe, from 1890 on. Did Percy ever see his father again?Apparently it didn’t matter. Percy was unveiled as a pianist at a public concert in Melbourne’s Masonic Hall in July 1894. Soon there were other public performances at the People's Promenade Concerts at the Melbourne’s famous Exhibition Building in October 1894.

Percy Grainger recital, 1907,
Queen Alexandra’s patronage 

In May 1895, Percy Grainger left with his mother to further his musical studies in Germany. He never returned to permanently live in Australia again but retained “a ferocious nationalism, an intense love of the landscape and a rather quixotic view of the virtues of the Australian character”. Grainger entered Dr Hoch's Conservatorium in Frankfurt-am-Main as a very young adolescent.

Grainger began a long professional concert career in Dec 1900 which took him first to London, where he lived with his mother from 1901-1914. Was he happy there? It would appear so since under his mother’s careful social guidance, he was quickly accepted by the best society. He played several times before royalty, including a solo recital with Queen Alexandra’s patronage in 1907. Rose’s pressure continued unabated.

In 1906 he met Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, leading to an imp­or­t­ant friendship that enhanced the young man’s career as a virtuoso. In fact Grieg selected Grainger to play his concerto at the Leeds Festival in 1907. Alas for Grainger (and for Mrs Grieg), the composer’s suddenly died the following year. Grainger thanked his mentor for the rest of his life, championing Grieg’s music in every country. The time was right – within two years, Grainger made his first recordings with the Gramophone Company.

Edvard Grieg, Grainger, Nina Grieg, Julius Rontgen
Norway 1907                                                    

With the outbreak of WW1 in Europe in 1914, Rose and her son Percy Grainger suddenly emigrated to the USA, without saying goodbye to all the people who had supported his career in Britain and the Continent. He was soon travelling around the USA, playing at concerts in city after city. He was not conscripted in Australia or Britain, but he did join the USA Army as a bandsman in June 1917.

Back in civilian clothes in 1919, Grainger was “lionised as a pianist and fêted as a composer, acclaimed as a latter-day Siegfried and a worthy successor to Paderewski”. Australia only had two great musical heroes, Dame Nellie Melba and Percy Grainger, known in every concert hall across the globe. So the entire country was very proud when the two of them created a joint Melba-Grainger Concert in aid of the Allied War Effort, in Jan 1916. He was naturalised as an American in 1918.

Mother Rose died in 1922, apparently suiciding because of per­sis­­tent suggestions of incest with her son; Percy must have been devastated.

Percy Grainger and his wife Ella Viola Ström,
Melbourne 1935

Percy Grainger was a celebrity of the European, North American and Australian stage, commanding huge fees and attracting sell-out audiences for his piano concerts. Grainger visited Australia twice during the 1920s, privately in 1924, then in 1926 on a concert tour for the giant theatrical company JC Williamson's.

During the 1926 tour, Percy met the gorgeous young Swedish poet-painter Ella Viola Ström (1889-79) on board a ship. For those who had thought Percy was a mummy’s boy, he surprised them all by marrying Ella, on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl.

Grainger was a handsome, talented, strange and bitterly intro­verted man. He was “fluent in at least 6 European languages and their dialects, and read and studied as many more. An obverse of this eclecticism was a rather cranky concentration on notions of Nordic racial superiority and language purific­ation.  His intensity around his work was matched by a violent and passionate sex life in which he repeatedly flogged himself, his lovers and his wife Ella, and demanded to be flogged by others. And he meticulously documented his activity through photography, and letters. He was actually frightened by his own private absorption with his “cruelty instincts”.

Were his wife’s responses to Percy’s peculiar preferences ever documented? Presumably yes. “It is easy to imagine that the excitement of whipping orgies might cause a sudden heart-failure in either of us at any moment,” he wrote in the letter that appeared in Self-Portrait of Percy Grainger. Yet, he wrote, she loved it.

He was appointed Head of Music Department, New York University, a very prestigious landmark in his career in 1932. And he continued to travel to Australia, touring for the Aust­ral­ian Broadcasting Commission in 1934-35. Income from this tour was to est­ablish a Music Museum and Grainger Museum on the campus of University of Melbourne. The Museum did indeed open in Dec 1938, designed by the University's architect in close consult­ation with Percy Grainger. The Museum's historical and archit­ectural significance put the building on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Percy Grainger Museum,
Melbourne University

Percy Grainger made his last trip home in 1955-56 and gave his last concert anywhere in 1960. The next year he died in the USA and had his body buried in Adelaide. I am assuming he wanted to be buried in Adelaide, to honour his beloved mother’s hometown.

The Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne says it is the only purpose-built autobiograph­ical museum in Australia. Its fascinating collection is huge, and internationally significant. You will expect objects directly related to Percy Grainger's composit­ional career, such as scores and manuscripts. But there are many more thousands of items that are not musical eg diaries, furniture, decorative arts, photographs, clothing and correspondence. The Museum believes its collection was motivated by Grainger’s desire to interpret and contextualise his own creative achievements and cultural environment.

20 August 2016

Venice's ghetto and synagogues - 1516-2016 exhibition

Even before the great influx of Spanish refug­ees in 1492, It­aly's Jewish population was expanding. The first European ghetto was actually built in Frankfurt, not in Venice. But the Venetian Ghetto was special in its political and architectural design, and it became the model for later Jewish quarters. Note the year when the Venetian Senate ordered the Jews of the city to move to the site of an old ghèto-copper foundry to prevent them from roaming about at night, 1516! It was only 24 years after the Spanish expulsion!

Ghetto Nuovo/New used officially organised, religiously-based segregation to keep Jews away from civil life, and away from the centres of religious and political power. Given the minimal space in the ghetto, the citizens were forced to build upward, result­ing in temporary additions, narrow walkways and tall buildings. This canal-enclosed island was gated at night, locked up from midnight to dawn by paid Christian guards. The gates were opened each morning with the toll of a bell in St Marks church.

It was therefore ironic that locking Jews in the ghetto every night also provided a refuge in which Jewish culture and identity thrived. The Jews found a space in which the community could unite its own people.

Venice's ghetto, built upwards not outwards

Jewish Venetians were not persecuted, as they were in many oth­er parts of Europe, both because Venice was a more tol­er­ant city AND because of the new citizens’ trading skills. Jews were allowed to run their own trading companies and practise in the professions. Jewish artisans and traders could run Venice’s commercial houses by day, even though by night and on Christian holidays, they were restricted inside the Ghetto. Certainly they had to wear id­ent­ifying marks on their clothing and had to pay very heavy religious taxes, but life in medieval and renaissance Ven­ice was tolerable.

The Jews MUST have felt stable enough, given that 12 years into the existence of the ghetto, they started establishing their synagogues and cong­regations. The Old Ghetto was now becoming home to German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Levantine Sephardi Jews. When Jews arrived from Levantine ports in 1541, the Ghetto Vecchio/Old was est­ablished.

Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain erected the Spanish Scola in Campo di Ghetto Vecchio.  This large building was rebuilt on the first half of C17th, the biggest of the Venetian synagogues. Haul yourself upstairs in a wide double staircase that leads to a very impressive women's gallery. It had a C17th wooden pulpit of note.

Founded by Ashkenazim from Germany and built in 1528, Scola Grande Tedesca was the oldest of the 3 synagogues in Campo Ghetto Nuovo. It was reconstructed in 1732 when a gallery was added to provide separ­ate seating for women during services. Note the eastern wall with the ark and a raised dais. In the late C16th, decorative wood panelling was added to the lower half of the walls and benches were placed in front. Soon baroque gilded portals, with gild­ed Corinthian columns were added, further enriching the lush interior. The Ten Commandments were written in gold over a red background around the walls.

Next door to Grande Tedesca was a plain wood cupola in the corner of the Campo that marked the Schola Canton. It was a private synagogue that was noted for having wooden panels depicting scenes from the Bible.

On the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo is the rooftop Levantine Synagogue (1541), built for Ital­ian-speaking Jews from the eastern end of the Mediterranean (Israel, Egypt, Turky etc). Its highlight was its spectacular bimah, an ornate carved double stair case in dark walnut leading up to a grand platform and 2 twisted columns supp­orting a canopy. The ben­ches were also wal­nut. The Italian Synagogue was built in 1575 to serve the needs of the local Italian Jews, the poorest group living in the Venetian Ghetto. Thus it was small, simple and not often visited by travellers.

Spanish Scola, Venice.
Note the elegant semicircular wooden balustrade, and the ark which is supported by handsome 
marble columns 

Coming from different parts of Europe, each group clearly wanted to preserve its rituals and sense of community. By 1571, in that tiny space, 5 synagogues were fully cat­ering to diverse sub-communities of Jews. Were they sometimes at odds with each other? Undoubtedly yes!

Most private houses in Venice have three storeys. All the buildings of Venice were constructed on wooden piles which were closely spaced and driven into alternating layers of sand and clay. These underwater piles did not decay much because they were not in contact with oxygen. Nonetheless all of Venice was fragile due to the ongoing battle with flooding. I would add that the ghetto was probably more unstab­le, given the tall architecture that came from over-crowding.


Venice’s very pragmatic approach allowed the city to prosper by accepting, within limits, merchants from all over the world. Amazingly they even extended tolerance to Turkish merchants from across the Ottoman Empire, Venice’s greatest enemy.  In turn, this ethnically diverse urban area created even more mutual understanding and tolerance.

The Jewish community in Venice fostered a complex cultural and intellectual life, producing works by scholars like Leon Modena, Sara Copio Sullam and Simone Luzzatto. And until 1650, Venice printed a third of all Hebrew publications across Europe. Christians would visit the ghetto to buy spices, jewellery, and fabrics and to visit banks and doctors. In summary the Jews influenced much of Venice’s foreign trade, at a time when commerce and scholarship flourished.

But the good times ended. Event­ual­ly the Jews were taxed so severely that most fled to Hol­land OR lived on charity. By the time Napoleon and his French army dec­lared the gh­etto illegal in 1797, there were only imp­overished Jews to liberate. The Venet­ian Republic coll­ap­s­ed, along with the gates of the ghetto and the Jews were emancipated.

Venice's 1516–2016 Exhibition  Even today Venice only has a small population (270,000). So 2016 should be celebrated as the 500th anniversary of The City of Light welcoming foreign Jews in and utilising their trade contacts and skills. Today the Venice Ghetto is one of the most popular area for tourists to visit. The two medieval squares, which once con­tained the Jewish commu­n­ity: ghetto Nuovo and ghetto Vecchio, still stand. And there had long been a cem­etery on one of the small islands where all Jewish cit­i­zens of Venice were buried.

Today only 450 Jews live in Venice. So the Venetian Heritage Council acted! Founded by designer Diane Von Furstenberg, the Council pledged $12 million to restore the Jewish ghetto, to salvage its crumbling herit­age and revive it as an important Jewish cultural centre. The project included the renovation of what was a small, disorganised Jewish historical museum and the restoration of the ghetto’s five gorgeous synagogue interiors.

Scola Grande Tedesca, Venice
women's gallery

Alas the synagogue exteriors looked like shoddy Venetian palazzos. So the 2016 Exhibition had to tell the stor­ies of survival and achievement, despite ghet­toisation. Restorers asked themselves: should the buildings be changed at all? If they were to be renovated and returned to their former glory, which incarnation of the ghetto should be the target version: 1516? 1800? 1939? They concluded that restorations had to be subtle and respectful; one of the key aims of the project was to revitalise, rather than simply preserve.

The year started with the opening ceremony in March 2016, at the famous Teatro La Fenice Opera House. Until Nov 2016, there will be concerts and lectures, and from June a major historical exhibition at the Doges’ Palace: Venice, the Jews and Europe: 1516-2016. In July there was the premiere of The Merchant of Venice in English, with the play being performed not in a theatre but in the Ghetto’s main square. The exhibition features laser scans of the synagogues, exquisite ritual objects, music, paintings, C16th Hebrew publishing, and an entire section dedicated to Sara Copio Sullam, the Sephardi poetess of the Ghetto. .

Thank you to Simon Worrall for The Centuries-Old History of Venice's Jewish Ghetto and to Livia Albeck-Ripka for A Jewish Ghetto Worth Saving in Tablet 30th Dec 2014.