Friday, 3 February 2012

The Ruritanian Succession, Part 2

Kolonel Heinrich von Sanf-und-Schinkel, Queen Flavia and Cousin Albert - all Ruritanians together
Reminded the other day that I hadn't posted part 1 of this, I thought perhaps I should get on with part 2.

The Rassendylls, according to the testimony of Rudolf Rassendyll, derive their red hair and long straight noses from a liason between Prince Rudolf of Elphberg (later Rudolf III of Ruritania) and Countess Amelia, wife of James, Knight of the Garter, 5th Earl of Burlesdon and 22nd Baron Rassendyll. This liason is thought to have taken place in 1733; subsequently, James died and a posthumus son was born - though what happened to the title at this point, is not known, as it should have passed to his closest living heir. The death of James and the birth of the red-haired child that would become the 6th Earl can be presumed to be in 1734, though potentially they could both be in 1733 (or less likely, the death of James could have occurred very late in 1733 and the birth of the future 6th Earl in 1734).

When discussing the portraits on the wall of the family home (p.10), Rudolf comments that 'five or six' of the portraits of the Rassendylls of the 'last century-and-a-half' (of which there are 'fifty ... or so') show the Elphberg red; furthermore, his brother Robert remarks (p.8) that the red hair and long, straight nose come out once a generataion.

'Five or six' implies five or six generations from the 6th Earl (inclusive). Taking a standard genealogical generation of 25 years this would give 125 or 150 years since 1734. We might then expect the youngest Rassendyll to be born around 1834, or perhaps 1859 - very roughly. The first of these, if it applies to Rudolf, would give a date of 1863 for the events of Zenda; the later date, however, of 1859 is unsupportable, as it would give of 1888 for the events of 'Zenda' and as has been demonstrated, unless there is a way to explain the absence of Fritz von Tarlenheim's 10-year-old youngest son, the events of 'Zenda' must have taken place before 1883 or thereabouts. However, Rudolf also say that these portraits are of the previous 'century-and-a-half'. 150 years from 1734 gives 1884 - remarkably close to the date of 1883 calculated as the latest reasonable date of the events of 'Zenda'.

'Prisoner of Zenda' was written after the events it describes, though before the events of 'Rupert of Hentzau', which take place four years later. In other words, there is a four-year gap in which 'Zenda' must have been written. If we are to take the 'century-and-a-half' seriously, it seems likely that it was written in the years either side of 1884. To claim that it and 'Hentzau' must refer to events before 1871 is shrinking 'a century-and-a-half' down to 'a century-and-thirty-seven (or fewer) years'.

Furthermore, it can be pretty confidently asserted that 'Zenda' was written earlier in the same year of the events of 'Hentzau', which were in October. So perhaps August or September of that year, before Rudolf Rassendyll's meeting with Fritz von Tarlenheim at Wintenberg.

If publication of Fritz's memoir came shortly after writing, then the date of 1898 for publication suggests that the year the events of 'Hentzau' took place was 1884. There is a detailed timescale involved in 'Hentzau' which relates to events of 'Thursday 16th of October' and the days following. In 1884, the 16th of October was a Thursday; other possible years (post-1852) are 1856, 1862, 1873 and 1879.

The main objection to all the later dates is that Ruritania is in Germany, and effectively ceased to be after the incorporation into the German Empire. Thus, for the purposes of this argument, 1873, 1879 and 1884 are much of a muchness. All preserve an independent (or relatively-so) Ruritania after 1871, so they can be ruled out - if Ruritania is German, rather than Austro-Hungarian.

Summer 1856 for the writing of 'Zenda', and the October of that year for the events of 'Hentzau', seem extremely early. Apart from anything, writing in 1856, Rudolf Rassendyll is unlikely to have referred to portraits of 'the last century-and-a-half' if he meant post-1734, a mere 122 years previously. He may, of course, merely have been referring to portraits hanging in the house in general, including those from before 1734. We cannot know for certain, but the context suggests that he means that the portraits of the last 150 years post-date 1734. The mention of 'Imperial' beards would also weigh against such an early date. If the events of 'Hentzau' take place in 1856, then 'Zenda' takes place in 1852 - too earlyfor the 'Imperial' style to be known. The portraits - though not, admitedly, the beards - would also mitigate against the potential 1862 date. Furthermore, both these dates would require the manuscripts of the memoirs to have remained secret for several decades.

Of course, it is possible to raise the objection that this is exactly what did happen - Queen Flavia, born approximately 20 years before the events of 'Zenda', would have been born around 1832, and 62 when 'Zenda' was published, and 66 on the publication of 'Hentzau'. 'Bob' Rassendyll, Rudolf's older brother, born around 1815, would have been approximately 79 when 'Zenda' was published. Either or both may be expected to have died in the meantime. If the manuscript of 'Zenda' were among Rudolf's papers, held by Robert, they may not have been published until after Robert's death. Likewise, it is perhaps unlikely that Fritz would seek to publish 'Hentzau' until after the death of Queen Flavia.

So there are two possible streams of historical thought: the first is an 'early' composition, 1856 or 1862 for the events of 'Hentzau'. This means that Ruritania could be in Germany, is absorbed into the German Empire, and Queen Flavia lives until the age of approximately 65 and dies before Fritz publishes his memoir in 1898 (though it would have been written no later than around 1870, if the events it relates to were in 1856). Likewise, in England, Lord Robert Burlesdon has recently died, perhaps in 1893, aged around 78, and Rudolf's manuscript published as part of his papers. The problems of the 'Imperial' beard and the 150 years of portraits can perhaps be explained away - the 'Imperial' style perhaps being known by that name when the manuscript of 'Zenda' was written in 1856, though the style itself predated the naming thereof; the portraits are those going back to the early 18th century, not necessarily those post-dating the birth of the 6th Earl in 1734.

The other possibility is a 'late' composition, close to the publication dates. In this case, on the other evidence, 1884 for the events of 'Hentzau' fits best with the interpretation of the 'century-and-a-half' and the 'five or six generations'. In this case, Ruritania is more likely to be in Austria-Hungary. This also fits more closely with the (circumstantial, but not negligible) information that later, an 'ex-King of Ruritania' worked as a doorman at Barribault's Hotel in London. Fritz's manuscript in particular shows no signs of revision - though it is written perhaps 14 years after the events it describes, there is nothing to suggest that it was subsequently re-worked in the perhaps 30 years it lay in drawer (if the early date is accepted). Queen Flavia is alive, and Fritz and Helga's youngest son is 10 years old. There is no dedication to the dead Queen, no suggestion that the manuscript derives from a preceeding epoch.


Added to the links at the side is a frankly brilliant site that generates calendars for historical years. It's been invaluable in finding out which years in the second half of the 19th century had Thursdays for the 16th of October. It probaby means all my newspapers will turn out to be very very wrong but so what? I just have to do them all again...

UPDATE: Also added a site I should have linked to long ago, called 'The Ruritanian Resistance' that is one of several around the web trying to get a handle on Ruritanian history and culture. A great site, even if I don't agree with all its conclusions. For instance, I don't think Black Michael's mother was Jewish, I suspect she was Slavic - I don't hold with the notion of a 'pure' German Ruritania, there are enough people called Nikolas, Stanislas, Ladislas, not to mention that fact that 'Strelsau' itself has a Slavic termination, to convince me that Ruritania must have had a least a minority Slavic population. Even so - great site, brillliantly researched and put together by people who love Ruritania!

1 comment:

  1. Ruritania is a fictional country in central Europe which forms the setting for three books by Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), The Heart of Princess Osra (1896), and Rupert of Hentzau (1898).