Last One Over the Top ...

Bertie and King George V

Bertie had a complicated relationship with royalty, it is fair to say. While being a member of the blue-blooded brigade himself, he had little time for airs and graces ... unless they were his, of course.

Take King George for example: His Majesty  had often voiced his distaste for the young cavalry officer. In fact, his momentary hesitation before celebrating on hearing the news that Bertie was to travel to France with the Expeditionary Force was solely due to his calculation that if Bertie were to be blown to smithereens in Flanders, it would be impossible to dance on his grave.

Now read on ...
***

 

I got a personal request though, from Grey and Crowe (kicked off, I think by Wilson) to meet and greet the Kaiser’s younger brother, Prince Heinrich of Prussia, who was in London to meet in private with King George and see if there was anything the royals could do to avert the diplomatic crisis. Prince Heinrich was a tall, stately and imposing character, much more imperial, it is often said, than his elder brother. I travelled to the German Embassy by car and collected the Prince from Ambassador Lichnowsky and a gaggle of hangers-on. My orders were to bring the Prince only, so it was with a certain swagger and sheen of self-importance that I manhandled some of the more pushy Prussians away from the car. One of them in particular I noticed, another tall, dark fellow, in military uniform, with a shiny blue-black lick of hair across his brow, devilishly handsome; he gave me a furious scowl at first, and then rearranged his features into a more diplomatically acceptable expression. But I caught him looking at me as if memorising my every feature. Without wishing to tread on any more toes, I chivvied Prince Heinrich into the car for the short hop to the Palace.

I found him a warm chap, very courteous and extremely engaging. He spoke excellent English, in fact, in a rich, deep, baritone voice that was a pleasure to listen to. He took to me from the start, and I found myself deep in familiar conversation in the enormous back seat almost before the car even took off. In fact, he was making some veiled remarks about the importance of family, and I looked askance at him during the ride to the Palace, wondering if he was one of the “select few” who knew the truth of my paternity; because, of course that would make me a first cousin of his. The very thought would make most strong men break into a cold sweat, so I decided to leave the whole relationship thingy a little fuzzy, for the time being, anyway.

“And how does our royal cousin feel about this - impending war?” asked Heinrich, concern stamped on his handsome face. “My brother is aghast that it this affair should have arisen in the first place.” I listened, courteously, like the good toady that I was, and wondering which point to respond to first.

“Well, His Maj is jolly miffed that things have got this bad,” I suggested, “and he doesn’t want to get involved in a war over – um – over – what exactly is it over?” Prince Heinrich shrugged easily, and gazed out the window as the carriages, traffic and people of London flashed past. I considered his second point.

“Um – Your Highness?” he looked at me. “What do you mean – the Kaiser is aghast that the affair came up in the first place?” He looked at me for a couple of moments, and then pulled out a slim cigarette case from his naval tunic. He offered me one, and the fragrance of Turkish Sobranie filled the carriage as I lit up the gasper and exhaled the rich, blue smoke.

“His Majesty – my brother – went on holiday at the beginning of July,” says he, pocketing the case, “and was unaware of the - encouragement given by our Reichstag to the Austrian position.” He flicked a scrap of ash from his elegant trouserage. “He was on his yacht, off the coast of Norway, when he learned of the Austrian army mobilising. He heard – by a fortunate accident – through a telegraph message intercepted by one of his crew. And he returned to Berlin immediately.” Heinrich blew a long plume of smoke towards the ceiling, and spread his hands in a very un-royal gesture of What can you do? I was shocked, I have to say. All the while Grey was badgering Ambassador Lichnowsky to tell the German government to keep a cool head, and the head of Government itself was off sunning himself on holiday while his little pals in Berlin were stirring up a hornets’ nest.

“Woof!” says I. “Should jolly think some heads will roll in Berlin tonight!” He nodded. Indeed.

“His Majesty has spoken very severely to Chancellor Bethmann. He has told him simply that, since the mess was of his making, that he should be the one to clean it up.”

“Damn’ right!” says I, with pompous self-satisfaction. “Jolly well send the swine off to Siberia, or- “ I paused in mid-sentence, “ – well, no, actually, that’s not what you chaps do, is it?” Henry smiled in amusement and shook his head slowly. No.

Just at that point, we clattered through the huge wrought iron gates into the Palace, and we made ready to get out, when Prince Henry turned to me and said:

“I sometimes feel that we have the hardest part at times like this,” he put a familiar hand on my shoulder. “The brothers of monarchs must bear the weight of office without recognition or reward.” He looked into my eyes, and I swear that there were tears glistening there, so I just gave him some pious oomph about all pulling together, and an enormous wink to show that I knew what he was talking about, and as he legged it into King George’s private study, I pondered privately that the “select few” who knew my secret may as well have published it on the front page of the bloody Times.

 

***

 

He must have been in with George for over an hour, and I kicked my heels in the outer office while Mainwaring glanced up at me with ill-disguised irritation.

“What d’you suppose they’re gassing about, Mannie”, says I, in blithe contemplation.

“I really don’t know, Beauchamp, and for the last time, will you please sit down and stop wearing a hole in the carpet.”

“Oh, right-o” says I, sitting down briefly and then springing back up again. “It’s just that I can’t help thinking that the King and Prince Heinrich might be able to thrash out a peace deal and, and – oh, I don’t know – stop this whole affair from getting too beastly.” I sat down again, and then sprang back up. “You’re the lucky one: you’re not in uniform, but for us poor bast – chaps, I mean – this kind of thing is jolly important.” If the two royal families were united against this war, I thought, then surely the war couldn’t happen? It shows how little I understood of politics at the time, but I was clinging on to hope after desperate hope, and I pondered as to whether I could add my voice of reason either to King George or Prince Heinrich’s argument. I wandered towards the closed door. Mainwaring looked up in alarm.

“Beauchamp!” he woofed. “Don’t even think – “

“Just wanted to make a couple of suggestions,” I countered, waving aside his objections.

“His Majesty has no desire to listen to your flatulent vapourings!”

“Ooh,” says I, genuinely impressed, “Must remember that one,” and I pushed open the door and slid into the room as Mainwaring bleated his protest at my blatant lèse-majesté. The two bearded heads were bent over an enormous stamp album propped up on a mahogany podium, George offering Henry a peek through a magnifying glass at a penny red, or penny dreadful, or something like that. As I came in and coughed softly, the two heads whipped up, one with an expression of polite enquiry, one with an expression of thunderous fury. I’ll leave you to guess which was which.

“Beauchamp!” growled the King. “Get out of here at once!”

“No - no, Your Majesty,” protested Prince Heinrich, gently. “Let him stay. After all, we are of common blood, and we face a common enemy: the threat of war.” King George shuddered the entire length of his body at being reminded of the specimen who shared his blood line, but he nodded quietly, without taking his eyes off me. Jolly uncomfortable, it was, but eventually his gaze dropped back to the stamp album. Prince Heinrich smiled at me and walked around the podium.

“Lord Albert,” says he, “you strike me as a man of intellect and judgement – “ the gagging noise from King George rapidly turned into a hacking cough, “ – and what I wish to know is: what do you think ought to be done to reverse this dreadful crisis?”

Well, now, I have to say that nobody in my life had ever spoken to me with such warmth and courtesy, or indeed asked my opinion on anything more substantive than the wine list; I was flown with enthusiasm and a sudden realisation of the impact that a simple suggestion in the right context can have.

“We-e-ell,” I began, thinking furiously, “Lord Grey has suggested a four-power peace conference, right?” Heinrich nodded, intently listening; King George eventually nodded reluctantly. “What if one of the arbiters was Germany herself? She could use her pull to stop Austria from rattling her sabre too much, or at the very least, to stop short of conquering Serbia: stop at Belgrade and promise not to annex any Serbian territory. Get Russia to be one of the signatories to the Austro-Serbian treaty, which should keep France happy, or neutral, at any rate. Ask Italy to police the arrangement locally, and threaten trade sanctions or withdrawal of military support if Austria refuses. Britain could remain neutral, and could oversee the entire process.” I finished, and gulped. “Huzzah.”

There was silence. My head was spinning, for I had never talked so much sense in my life: shows what you can do when people are prepared to listen to you, eh? Hope flickered across Heinrich’s face like a flame licking at a sheet of paper. Even King George was looking at me with something approaching reluctant respect. The two royals exchanged significant glances, and when the King spoke, it was without the customary frostiness.

“Beauchamp,” says he, “I would be obliged if you would leave us. Prince Heinrich and I need to discuss your – ah – proposal.” Heinrich nodded at me, and I prepared to take my leave, when King George spoke again. “And – and - ” he struggled to force the words out, “th-thank you, Beauchamp.”

“You’re welcome, Your Highness,” says I, thrilled at receiving a relatively sunny royal response for once. Gosh, this was a turn up for the books. “And thank you, Your Highness.” I turned smartly to the door, but King George’s voice followed me into the outer office.

“Beauchamp!” barks the King, “I’m a fucking Majesty, not a Highness!”

Oh dear.

And I’d been doing so well.

 

 


I think that, as life is action and passion, we should share the passion and action of our time at peril of being judged not to have lived at all.

 

I think that, as life is action and passion, we should share the passion and action of our time at peril of being judged not to have lived at all.

I think that, as life is action and passion, we should share the passion and action of our time at peril of being judged not to have lived at all.

I think that, as life is action and passion, we should share the passion and action of our time at peril of being judged not to have lived at all.