19 February 2019

An American "princess" married into the Greek royal family!

Who were the American "princesses" who moved to Britain? The charming Caton sisters grew up in Baltimore, children of a wealthy merchant family. These young Americans had the money and they were willing to negotiate with young men of status in Britain. The three sisters exploded into the heart of high society and the Prince Regent himself took an int­er­est. The Duke of Wellington fell in love with Marianne Caton. When she was 37, Marianne married the impoverished 1st Marquis Richard Welles­ley, Wellington's brother and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Marianne became the first American-born marchioness, and lady in waiting to Queen Adelaide. When Marianne died and was buried on the Costessey estate.

Her sister Louisa married Francis Marquis of Carmarthen who succeeded his father as the 7th Duke of Leeds in 1838. As the Duchess of Leeds, Louisa apparently became a friend of young Queen Victoria. Her other sister Bess married the elderly 8th Baron Stafford of Costessey Hall Norfolk in 1836. He had a very large family and no great wealth.

A very wealthy widow, New Yorker Lily Hamersley became the first American after Louisa Caton to become an English duchess. Lily married the 8th Duke of Marlborough in 1888. The inheritance she received from her first husband was used to restore Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, seat of the Churchill family.

Lily’s stepson, Charles Spencer-Churchill 9th Duke Marlborough, married Consuelo Vanderbilt, daughter of a New York railroad millionaire in 1895. Consuelo emigrated to Britain, moved into Blenheim Palace and gave birth to two sons, heirs to the dukedom.

Kathleen Kennedy, daughter of US ambassador Joe Kennedy, was invited to meet suitable men at the Astors’ palace. Note that Lady Nancy Astor, an Americ­an herself, was very support­ive of young American girls in Britain. In 1938 Kathleen met Will­iam Cavendish Marquis of Hart­ington, Duke of Devonshire's son, marrying in 1944. Alas William returned to his unit in France and was kill­ed in action in Belgium after the wedding. In 1948 March­ioness Kathleen Cav­end­ish died and was buried at Chatsworth.

Portrait of  young Nancy Leeds, 
by Giovanni Boldini, 1914 
Note the large diamonds in the tiara, made for her by Cartier in 1913.

Clearly many American women joined various noble families, but not just in Britain! One woman I knew nothing about Nancy Stewart Worthington Leeds (1878-1923) in Ohio to a wealthy merchant. Nan­cy’s education was via home-based tutors until she was enrolled at the private college preparatory school for girls in Connecticut.

As a young teen, Nancy married to George Ely Worthington, scion of the Cleveland Worthington industrialist dynasty. They divorced in 1898, and by 1900, she married William Leeds, the Tin King who was a multi-millionaire. Two years later, their only child William Leeds Jr (1902-71) was born. Sadly William Sr died four years later in 1908 in Paris, leaving Nancy a widow. Happily she was the heir to most of the family’s fortune.

Soon Nancy began to socialise with the European aristocracy in France and in 1914 she met the young Prince Christoph­er of Greece and Denmark. Christopher was the youngest child of King George I of Greece and his wife, Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia. As Nancy was both a commoner and twice divorced, many in the Greek Royal Family were not at all happy about such a marriage, reminding us of American Wallis Simpson and British King Edward VIII.

When King George I was assassinated in 1913, his son Constantine took the throne. Nancy was aware of King Constantine I’s position as a German sym­pathiser during WW1. This was partially due to his marriage to Sop­hia of Prussia, sister of Wilhelm II and partially because he felt naturally close to Germany’s militarism. In any case, Const­antine blocked popular efforts by Prime Minister Venizelos to bring Greece into the war on the side of the Allies. For Nancy, it would have been risky to align herself with Greece, had the Greeks created an alliance with Germany against her own homeland, the USA.

Princess Anastasia and Prince Christopher
1923, the year of her death,

Eventually, post-war, Nancy converted to Greek Orthodoxy and married her prince in Feb 1920 in Switzerland. King Constantine I made her a princess, not just a consort, giving her the title Her Royal Highness Princess Anastasia of Greece and Denmark. Unfortunately Anastasia was diagnosed with cancer, soon after their marriage.

The American press covered her every movement… including news about Princess Anastasia’s only son, William Leeds Jr. In 1921 William Jnr married into European royalty when he wed Princess Xenia of Russia who was living in Greece. Xenia’s mother was his step-father’s sister! Princess Anastasia was not happy about William or Xenia’s young age, nor the fact that she had hoped her son would go and live in the USA, not in Europe. At least her son and daughter in law literally stayed by her side for the rest of her life.

When cancer killed the princess in 1923 in a London hospital, she was only 45. Later Prince Christopher remarried, this time to the Princess Francoise of Orl­eans in 1929; they had one child, Prince Michael of Greece in 1939.

Anastasia's mother in law Grand Duchess Olga spent her last years in Britain, living in the residences of the British Royal Family. Olga remained very close to her sister-in-law Queen Alexandra, and her nephew King George V. Olga died in 1926. Thanks to Unofficial Royalty and Royal Musings blogs

16 February 2019

Border walls are brutal, obscenely costly, fatal and even ineffective - Dr Elisabeth Vallet

Elisabeth Vallet noted that at the end of the Cold War there were just 15 walls delimiting national borders; today, with 70 of them in existence around the world, the border wall has become the new standard for international relations.

With the proliferation of walls and their normalisation in the rhetoric of  President Donald Trump, democracies have adopted the tactic as though it were a classic policy tool in foreign relations and defence. And yet these rampant fortifications come at a hefty price, as much for the governments and internat­ional relations as for the local economies and populations. For those most vulnerable, for those pushed out by the walls, the cost is exorbitant.

As symptoms of a rift in the world order, as manifestations of the failings of international cooperation, these barriers also come at a cost to those they shut out — the untouchables. The reality is that, despite being entrenched in international law, their freedom of movement is not as valuable as others’, each passport carrying its own set of rights.

It seems like every month brings news of another border wall going up. Europe’s Baltic States, worried about invasive neighbours, are raising a fence along their eastern frontier. Meanwhile, in Asia, Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling for the building of an iron wall around the Xinjiang region. In Latin America, Ecuador appears to have begun erecting concrete panels along the Peruvian state line. In Africa, a barrier between Somalia and Kenya, made of barbed wire, concrete and posts, is nearing completion.

Building the Berlin Wall, 1961

This is a far cry from the illusion generated by the fall of the Berlin Wall — and by the utopian dream of a world without borders that emerged in the 1990s.

First, Vallet said, consider the financial cost of border walls. Each one is a boon to the security and construction industries. The experience in the USA provides many examples of the cost of a massive border infrastructure. This typically involves not just a physical wall with stone foundations, posts, and even concrete panels, but also razor wire, cameras, heat sensors, movement detectors, drones and patrol personnel, dogs or robots.

In fact, in 2009, the US Government Accountability Office placed the cost for building just a fence along California’s border up to $6 million each k. In harsher terrain jurisdictionally and geologically, such as the Texas state line, the building cost could be as much as $21 million a kilometre. Maintaining it for 20 years will be a massive cost c$8.5 billion; it is therefore a massive public infrastructure, akin to a giant highway, that eats away at a country’s public finances and, in turn, at overall disposable income. So this financial burden is also an economic weight that drags down the country’s aggregate income as well as the local economy.

In Berlin, there was a masonry wall only in the CBD.
The remainder of Western Berlin was surrounded by a triple line of barbed wire fences with razor sharp concertina wire.

There is also a human cost. There is, in fact, a proven correlation between the fortification of borders and the number of people who die trying to cross them. In the USA, 6,000 deaths in the desert along the border have been recorded in the last 16 years. Since the tightening of European policies, the Mediterranean has become a dead sea, where the number of deaths continues to climb despite a decline in the total number of crossing attempts. In fact, to get across a fortified and tightly controlled border, the available routes are often far more treacherous, pose greater threats and require resorting to smugglers, who are sometimes linked to organised crime groups like the Mafia.

Violence is amp­lified when the border is militarised. First and foremost, because such militarisation legitimises the perception of the border zone as a theatre of operations, a war zone, where paramilitary groups feel justified to act, as in their deployments along the Hungarian border. Secondly, by adding military personnel or army veterans to border patrol forces (they account for a third of such teams in the USA), the tactics come to match those used in war zones, bringing with them patent impunity and violence. Lastly, by forcing clandestine border crossing to become even more hidden, by pushing migrants deeper underground, these measures reinforce the power of organised crime groups, and increase the violent extortion or coercion of vulnerable migrants. From the borders of Southeast Asia to the Sahel Region, and from Central America to the USA or from Turkey to Greece, it is the most vulnerable migrants who suffer the repercussions of border walls.

Constructing walls also comes at a political price. Since putting up a wall is a one-sided act — the farthest thing from the bilateral reasoning behind drawing state lines — it induces a separation from the neighbouring state, rather than fostering co-operation with it. Israel’s West Bank separation barrier is a major source of tension between Israelis and Palestinians. The Inter­national Court of Justice ruled its construction illegal in 2004, but did that court declare any other wall illegal?

Divided parents and children had to wave across the Berlin Wall for years

The rift created by a wall sends shock waves through other facets of the relationship between the nations. In the case of Trump’s wall, the cost of the split with Mexico is high, given this trade partner’s importance to the US economy as well as to the other bordering states. For refugees, the neighbouring states often serve as filters.

As border walls erode the potential for international cooperation and community, the world’s problems keep growing: food insecurity, ethnic conflicts, environmental crises, climate change, massive displacements of people. Many different problems bring nations to build walls, but they are pointless facades.

And a wall, by itself, is ineffective: it’s easy to scale it, place ramps over the barrier to get a car across, fly drugs over it with drones, or use hydraulic fracturing to dig out narrow tunnels. No wall has ever succeeded in permanently elimin­at­ing contra­band. Ramps, catapults, drones, tunnels, submarines, mules or corrupt border guards can always undermine its eff­ectiveness; or the drug traffic merely shifts elsewhere.

Thanks to Dr Elisabeth Vallet, Centre for Geopolitical Studies, Université du Québec à Montréal.

15 February 2019

Summarising the first 10 years of "Art and Architecture, mainly"

The first post in this blog appeared on the 21/11/2008.

So far, 1128 posts have been published, viewed 3 million times.

Readers have come from the following countries:



4.United Kingdom







A Californian bungalow in Melbourne
by far and away the most popular post.

The topics that have attracted the greatest readership
1.Californian Bungalow: Australia's Favourite Interwar Home...

2.Napoleon's house in exile: St Helena

3.Agatha Christie's greatest mystery: her husband's sex life

4.Vienna: Coffee, Art, Pastries

5.The Symbolism of Suffragette Jewellery

6.Iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge: 1932-2012

7.Art Deco and the American Diner

8.Ned Kelly, Sidney Nolan and Australian heroes

9.John Ruskin, JMW Turner and unpleasant sexual thoughts

10.WW1 paintings in the Fine Arts Society, London

Thank you, dear readers.

And thank you to the mega-blogs like ThoughtCo and its Art History Guide; the Art History Carnival and the Women's History Carnival.


12 February 2019

Al Capone, total gangster or partial humanitarian?

By the late C19th there were a few soup kitchens in American cities. But soup kitchens became urgently required only in the Great Depression (caused by the stock market crash in Oct 1929). The American belief was that the Federal Government should not be involved in providing poor relief, but that the Feds were in the best position to coordinate national efforts among public, private and non-profit sectors of society.

There were very few social welfare programmes set in place by the American government to provide support to the poor, sick, elderly or unemployed. As a result, the government was ill equipped to handle the complex needs of its citizens, a situation that didn’t change until the 1935 pass­age of President Roosevelt’s Social Security Act.

Prohibition (1920–Dec 1933) in the USA caused corruption. Brooklyn-born Alphonse Caponi/Al Capone (1899-1947) became a star of this corrupt world, a bootlegging gangster who by 1922 had become a full partner with other gangsters in gambling houses, saloons, brothels, speakeasies, bookie joints, horse races and distilleries. He also organised and ordered Chicago’s St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.

Clearly Capone made a fortune during the long, difficult Pro­hibition era! Yet his alcohol-smuggling was seen by many as an act of bravery, given Prohibition’s harsh restrictions.

Capone was not charged for many of his crimes. In 1926 he was arrested for murdering three people, spent the night in gaol and the case was dismissed. Capone's first gaol sentence was in May 1929, for a minor offence. In 1931 he was indicted on 23 counts of income tax evasion. The judge found him guilty on 5 of the 23 counts; he sentenced him to 10 years in federal prison and fines in the amount of $50,000. He also was sentenced to one year in county gaol for an earlier contempt-of-court charge.

Now I wondering if most Americans have heard of the generous support that Al Capone of­fered to the hungry, during the Depression when some 40% of the labour force were unemployed!

Unemployed men outside Al Capone's soup kitchen 
Chicago, Feb 1931.
Photo credit: Rare Historical Photos

Al Capone started one of the first Depression soup kitchens, in South State St Chicago. His soup kitchen provide a placed where the homeless and poor could get free food and a rest from the struggles of sur­viving on the streets. Chicago in winter was always very bitter.

Why did he spend his lawful income, and his ill-gotten gains, on charity? Three main motives have been suggested. Firstly because he was Public Enemy #1 to the police, courts, Tax Department, his gangster opponents and to teetotall­ers across the nation, Capone might have tried to change his bad reputation via good works. And there may well have been favourable publicity in the news­papers, good for any future businesses he may have been planning.

Secondly he was very close to his beloved Italian Catholic mother, Teresa Capone (1867–1952). She expected her son to behave appropriately to the hungry, the poor and to Italian immigrants, at least when he was wealthy. Teresa was also very proud when her son rang her by phone, speaking in Italian, and she fought valiantly to get her son out of prison after his 1931 income tax conviction.

Thirdly the unemployed men desperately needed support, but the Federal Govern­ment refused to listen. The Chicago Trib­une headlined on Dec 1931 that 120,000 meals were served by Al Capone’s Free Soup Kitchen. Hundreds of desperate, starving men assembled outside the shop front, literally depending on him for their food. And he offered some of them jobs, both in the soup kitchen and in the homeless shelter he ran!

Al Capone served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thanksgiving Day 1930 was a special pleasure for the gangster Cap­one because he fed 5,000+ hungry men, women and children with a hearty beef stew. Just before Christmas 1930, several trucks from major food store chains pulled up, bringing chickens, ducks and a couple of barrel of hams. A National Tea company truck brought a 1000 cans of corn, tea, half pound bags of sugar and candy.

Capone’s seven years as a crime boss only ended when he was event­ually found guilty of tax fraud at 33 years of age. In May 1932 he was given a sentence of 11 years and was among the earliest of inmates at the Alcatraz prison in San Francisco.

Chicago men eating and keeping warm
inside Al Capone's soup kitchen
Feb 1931.

While serving his sentence in Alcatraz, he was diagnosed with syphilitic dementia. As his health deteriorated, Capone was sent to the low-security Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island near Los Angeles to finish his sentence; he was released in 1939. He spent his last years at his mansion in Palm Islands Florida where he died from a stroke in 1947.

I cannot find out who took control of the soup kitchen, once Capone went to gaol. However I do know that the kitchen was demolished only in the 1950s, 20 years after the Depression ended.

The irony of this entire story, i.e a mobster was doing more for the people of Chicago than Chicago was doing for its own people, did not endear the government to its citizens. Perhaps as a result, visitors from all over the world still visit Chicago and drive by Capone’s old house or visit his grave.