Empress Augusta’s Appalling Christmas Gifts: 1873

Berlin Victory Column

The Siegessäule: The Victory Column in Berlin.

This narrative is from Princess Catherine Radziwill, wife of a Polish Prince, living in Berlin.

The first Christmas that followed upon my marriage was thus spent in all the gloom of black clothes. [in mourning for The Queen Dowager, widow of King Frederick William IV] On the 26th of December, the Empress appeared at my mother-in-law’s, accompanied by her daughter, the Grand Duchess of Baden, and brought with her an enormous bag filled with various trifles which she distributed among us as Christmas presents. These occasions were dreaded by everybody, as anything more hideous than the knick-knacks the poor Empress used to bring could hardly be imagined. My husband, with his cousins, had composed on the subject a little song of which the refrain was:—

‘Un vilain, vilain, vilain cadeau de la Reine; Un vilain, vilain cadeau de la Reine.’

The fact was that she never gave a pretty thing, and on this particular Christmas, the first in my experience when I was admitted among the recipients of her bounty, I remember having been scared by the sight of an appalling thermometer in green bronze representing the Column of Victory in Berlin, which in itself is a hideous monument. As my ill luck would have it, I was made the unhappy recipient of this monstrosity, and never could get rid of it in after life. No matter where I moved, the dreadful thing followed me. It would not get broken, or lost, or even mislaid; it was impossible to give it to a bazaar, and I expect that one day it will turn up again from one of my boxes, when I least expect it.

These presents of the Queen remind me of an adventure which befell one of them, and caused my poor mother-in-law a few sleepless nights. She had received for a birthday present from the Empress a table in white china ornamented by her Majesty herself with paintings of the kind called Decalcomanie. It was anything but beautiful, and was at once relegated to a dark corner of the apartment, whence it only emerged when the good Augusta was expected. This kind of thing lasted for about two years, when at last my mother-in-law thought she might venture to dispose of the ugly thing, and gave it to a bazaar held in her own house. She carefully waited until the Empress had paid it a visit, and then, feeling sure of impunity, sent it there. As it happened the Emperor appeared the next day, and after having been taken round the rooms was at once caught by the unfortunate table, and in spite of frantic efforts made by my sister-in-law to prevent him, proceeded to buy it as a present for the Empress. One may imagine the consternation! However, Augusta, if she recognised her own present, showed herself merciful, for she made no allusion to its fate

My Recollections, Princess Catherine Radziwill, 1904

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is pleased to see that even aristocratic houses have difficulty with holiday tat and with the vicissitudes of “re-gifting,” as it is so gratingly called. “Rubbish removal” would be a more accurate term, although Mrs Daffodil recognises that, as happens in some marriages, there are occasions when, through no fault on either side, mutual sympathy is lacking.

Mrs Daffodil will give an example. The entire staff is awaiting Christmas morning at the Hall when Mr Kidd, the butler, will open his gift from the footmen: a prismatic Dunhill “Aquarium” lighter, resplendent with multi-coloured fish. It is quite a good lighter in its way and would undoubtedly have pride of place in the rooms of an undergraduate or a bookie. Whether it will be as well-received by the fastidious Mr Kidd, who prides himself on his Cartier cigar-cutter and his humidor smuggled out of the smoking room at Sandringham, remains to be seen.

To be Relentlessly Informative, the deceased Queen Dowager was Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria who died 14 December, 1873.  Princess Catherine Radziwill was married to a Polish Prince; they lived in Berlin to be close to his family and she spent a good deal of time at Court until a series of amusingly scurrilous letters she published under a pseudonym, attracted the attention of the authorities. Empress Augusta was, of course, the well-beloved wife of Kaiser Wilhelm. It seems, from the anecdote above, that their tastes were well-matched.

For a previous post on the more tasteful gifts of the British royal family, please follow this link.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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