Saraband for Dead Lovers

Saraband for Dead Lovers

by Helen Simpson

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"I send with all speed," wrote Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orléans,
tucked away in her little room surrounded by portraits of ancestors, "to
wish you, my dearest aunt and Serene Highness, joy of the recent
betrothal. It will redound to the happiness of Hanover and Zelle. It
links two dominions which have long possessed for each other the
affection natural to neighbours, but which now may justly embrace as
allies. It appears to me that no arrangement could well be more suitable,
and I offer to the high contracting parties my sincerest wishes for a
continuance of their happiness."

The Duchess smiled grimly, dashed her quill into the ink, and proceeded
in a more homely manner.

"Civilities apart, What in heaven's name is the Duke of Hanover about?
This little Sophie-Dorothée will never do; she is not even legitimate,
and as for her mother, you know as well as I do that Eléonore d'Olbreuse
is nothing better than a French she-poodle to whom uncle George William
of Zelle treated himself when he was younger, I will not say more
foolish, and has never been able to get rid of since. What, with all
respect, was your husband thinking of to bring French blood into a decent
German family, and connected with the English throne, too! In brief, my
dearest aunt, all this is a mystery to me. I can only presume that it was
concluded over your head, and that money played the chief role. Men, men,
men! Clink a thaler in their ear, and hold a carrot in front of a donkey,
and forward both animals go, with never a blink, down God knows what
precipice. I do beg of you to write me such details as you have time for,
and to accept my honest hope that a business so ill-judged may not lead
to disaster."

This letter, reaching the Duchess of Hanover immediately after the
wedding, made no very pleasant reading, even allowing for Charlotte's
well-known trick of looking on the gloomier side of all new
relationships, and particularly of marriage. Its sting lay in the
assumption which permitted the writer to criticise the whole affair with
freedom, and to goad the Duchess under cover of her Duke.

The fact was, the whole match was of Duchess Sophia's making; but with
what agonies of troubled pride, what angry tears!

To begin with, the girl Sophia-Dorothea was not exactly illegitimate. She
had been legitimised some six years before as a result of a bargain
struck between her father and his brother Ernest Augustus, now Duke of
Hanover, then Bishop of Osnabruck; after which the official marriage of a
morganatic wife with her ducal husband took place before the wondering
eyes of their daughter, aged ten, who almost at once was swept into the
matrimonial whirlpool with a princeling of Wolfenbüttel. True, this was
only a betrothal, and the young man was carried off by a cannon-ball soon
after; but it showed that the Frenchwoman's daughter need not go begging
for suitors.

The Court of Hanover, holding aloof from these indecent proceedings, hurt
in the very core of its pride by this admission of a half-commoner to the
privileges of rank, turned away its eyes, while its ears remained alert
for scandalous gossip. There was little enough, and that little
ill-founded. The Frenchwoman was faithful to her Duke, and though tongues
made the most of a letter from a Court page found among the
twelve-year-old Dorothea's lesson books, such jejune displays of
depravity were not satisfying. The Court of Hanover, besides, had
problems of conduct peculiarly its own.

The Duke's mistress, Clara von Platen; what, for instance, of her? She
was a part of the State furniture. The Duchess ignored her. The fashion
in mistresses had been set by France and England; they were necessities
of the time, they diverted, at some expense, kings' minds from serious
matters; they were decorative often, and kept the arts alive for their
service. But Platen troubled political waters. Duchess Sophia shrugged,
and wrote high-spirited letters in three languages mocking such impudent
creatures, together with other contemporary vexing trifles. One thing
alone she did not mock. She set theologians jousting, she stirred
philosophies with her chocolate-spoon, but genealogy was her God, and she
would have no lack of reverence there. Her mother had been Bohemia's
lovely ramshackle wandering queen, her brother Rupert grew gouty and
sullen, a pensioner on the bounty of his English nephew Charles. Perhaps
the Duke's mistress had never in her life known such straits of poverty
and humiliation as, in her early days, had the Duke's wife.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013682375
Publisher: WDS Publishing
Publication date: 01/21/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 232 KB

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