This article was written by Carol.
Royal memoirs have been a popular genre for a long time. Perhaps the earliest were those of Marguerite of Valois (1553-1615) and La Grande Mademoiselle of France (1627-1693). Royal memoirs were most prolific during the period between and after the two World Wars when many displaced aristocrats needed income. During the 1970s and 1980s, I amassed a decent collection by scouring the second-hand bookshops. A few years ago, downsizing caused me to decide it was time for them to find new homes. But here is my memory of the Top 10 Royal Memoirs from my collection.
10. For a King’s Love – Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia
Princess Alexandra (1921-1993), the child of a morganatic marriage of the Greek King, marries the King of Yugoslavia for love. It all goes south pretty quickly.
9. The Last Grand Duchess – Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna
In an “as told to” version, Olga (1882-1960), the younger sister of Tsar Nicholas, looks back 60 years and reminisces on life at the Imperial Court before the revolution. She shares her views on her mother (difficult), sister-in-law (kind and misunderstood), and Rasputin (helpful but disturbing). She describes how she ended up in a cottage in a suburb of Toronto, where she was visited by various members of the British Royal family during the 1950s.
8. My Own Affairs – Princess Louise of Belgium
An unhappy marriage at the age of 17, an uncaring father, and a strict head of her husband’s family (Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria) cause Louise (1858-1924) to leave her husband for her lover. Their life together was difficult, including his imprisonment for forgery and her forced internment in a mental asylum (from which she escapes). Here she states her case and settles a few scores.
7. My Past – Countess Marie Larisch
Countess Larisch (1858-1940), a niece to Empress Sisi and cousin to Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, attempts to justify her actions during the Mayerling affair, leading to her expulsion from the Austrian Court. A second book, Secrets of a Royal House, spills more salacious details.
6. My Memories of Six Reigns – Princess Marie Louise
Princess Marie-Louise (1872-1956), a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, married a Prince of Anhalt. The marriage was annulled within a few years. She returned home in 1900 and was an active member of the British royal family. Her respectful memoirs, published in the 1950s, was one of the first books to give an insider’s look at life in the Royal family.
5. My Story – Louisa of Tuscany
The Crown Princess of Saxony (1870-1947) gives her side of the story of her marriage to and escape from the Court of Saxony. Spoiler alert: a rotten father-in-law who threatened to lock her up in an asylum.
4. Education of a Princess – Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna
Another Romanoff memoir. Maria (1890-1958) and her brother Dimitri are raised by Grand Duke Serge and his wife Ella (sister to the Empress) when their mother dies, and their father is exiled for marrying without the consent of the Tsar. Related to the Greek, Danish and Russian royal families (she is a first cousin of Prince Philip), this is an absorbing look at life in Russia before and after the revolution, including her time at the Swedish court during a short-lived marriage, Dimitri’s involvement in Rasputin’s murder, and her escape from Russia. A companion volume, A Princess in Exile, carries her life story further to her time in Paris after the first world war.
3. The Journey – Cecilia Sternberg
Cecilia (1908-1983), a member of the European aristocracy, marries a Bohemian Count and becomes the mistress of two castles and a palace in Vienna. Forced out with only what they can carry as the communists take over Czechoslovakia, they must remake their life. Her husband’s idea is to live in the Ritz of Paris and just keep charging everything to the room. Eventually, they end up in a Florida motel room, working in a restaurant and selling her handmade pottery. Interesting to note that in more recent years, their daughter Diana Phipps was able to reclaim their castle in the Czech Republic.
2. Memories of Madame de la Tour de la Pin
Another member of the aristocracy this should be sub-titled “I was there.” Lucie Dillon (1770-1853), daughter of Viscount Dillon and a French aristocrat, was at Versailles with Marie Antoinette, escaped from the terror in Bordeaux, was visited by Talleyrand at her farm in upstate New York, and hosted Napoleon as wife to the Ambassador to The Hague. (Did I mention she was related to Josephine through her father’s second marriage?) A fascinating eye witness account of this period of history although with a sad ending as she ekes out an existence in her later years. (Hence the very long memoir for which she was probably paid by the word.) A biography, Dancing to the Precipice, which includes extracts from the memoirs and places them in their historical context, was published by Caroline Moorehead in 2009.
1. Daisy, Princess of Pless – by Herself
Princess Daisy (1873-1943), the Diana, Princess of Wales of her day, was an early target of the paparazzi. A noted society beauty, she was the daughter of Colonel Cornwallis-West and sister-in-law to Jenny Churchill and the Duke of Westminster. She marries the wealthy Prince of Pless of Silesia and enters the stiff and formal life of the Prussian aristocracy. A confidant of both King Edward and Kaiser Wilhelm, she is devastated when Germany declares war on her beloved England. A tale of a glittering pre-war life and the stress of divided loyalties during the war. Like many of these women, her last years were spent in poverty.
The genre remains popular to this day, witness Queen Noor’s 2003 Leap of Faith and Anne Glenconner’s 2020 surprisingly interesting contribution, Lady-in-Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown. The biggest bestseller in this category however surely must be 1992’s Diana: Her true story which is based on taped interviews with Diana, Princess of Wales.
And be sure to check out History of Royal Women’s page: Books written by Royal Women, for other Royal memoirs.