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  #1  
Old 04-09-2008, 12:30 PM
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May 2008: "King, Kaiser, Tsar" by Catrine Clay

More information regarding the discussion of this book will be posted here.
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Old 04-28-2008, 04:58 PM
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Here is the schedule for the discussions and chat about the May 2008 Book Club book (King, Kaiser, Tsar by Catrine Clay). If you wish to take part in the discussion during May, you should have read (or be reading) the chapters specified in the thread title. We have divided the book into sections for weekly discussion, and there will be an hour of facilitated discussion at the beginning of each new period. However, the thread will be open for general discussion at all times. Please note that discussion of later chapters than those specified in the thread title is not permitted, and posts containing such spoilers will be deleted. If you have any questions, suggestions, comments, or feedback, please contact Empress, GlitteringTiaras, or me.


Sunday 4 May: Thread opens for discussion of chapters 1-6 at 4 pm (US East Coast time). Facilitated discussion of chapters 1-6 (4-5 pm East Coast time, 9-10 pm British Summer Time), led by GlitteringTiaras.

Sunday 11 May: Facilitated discussion of chapters 1-10, with emphasis on the new chapters (4-5 pm East Coast time, 9-10 pm British Summer Time).

Sunday 18 May: Facilitated discussion of chapters 1-15 (4-5 pm East Coast time, 9-10 pm British Summer Time).

Sunday 25 May: Facilitated discussion of the whole book, including the Epilogue (4-5 pm East Coast time, 9-10 pm British Summer Time).

Saturday 31 May: Live chat in the Book Club chat room to talk over the book (starting in the morning and running for the rest of the day).

Sunday 1 June onward: Thread is available for anyone to post about the topic, regardless of whether they've read the book. This is the time for recommendations and discussion of other books and wider-ranging discussion of the book topic in general.
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Old 05-04-2008, 03:18 PM
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King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins who led the World to War by Catrine Clay is based on the British documentary, "Three Kings at War." The book chronicles the life of three inept yet powerful men, and the ultimate downfall of two great Empires and one still intact, albeit bruised. However, it is the story of family relationships that is the central point within this book. It is also the story of family strain, and perhaps jealousy, up until the outbreak of World War I and the extreme dysfunction within each family; British, German, and Russian and their interrelationship.

This week we will be covering chapters 1-6 which is the build up to understanding what happened and why. Here are my thoughts in regards to each chapter.

Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht von Hohenzollern, Willy:
  • Eldest of the three Kings.
  • Born deformed thanks in part to a botched delivery. The young boy’s left arm was five inches shorter than his right. (5, 10, 11) A damaged ear resulted in some hearing loss and problems later in life.
  • May have had ADD, ADHD, or Bipolar, which can be noted in later life and specifically during his reign. (11)
  • Strict tutor, Dr. Hinzpeter, with ideals and beliefs about absolute monarchy. Influential on young Willy. (17)
  • It is my belief, thanks in part to the underlying tone of the book, that Willy constantly had to prove that he was strong, a militaristic leader, as well as normal despite his deformity. This can be noted throughout the book as well as in other biographies about the late Kaiser. His tutor, Dr. Hinzpeter, pushed young Willy to have confidence (even though he never praised the boy) in himself. He did this by making Willy repeat things over and over again until he got it right no matter what. For example, the horse-riding episode. (16)
  • Exposed to constant war as a child. Three critical wars, under Otto von Bismarck, a man with whom Willy admired along with Frederick the Great.
  • Loved to play "military" (hence militaristic tendencies) and admired the Prussian style. At age ten received the Order of the Black Eagle.
  • Key moments in his young life: Franco-Prussian War, unification of Germany, and the Industrial Revolution, which thrust Germany out into the forefront.
  • Conflicted with identity and feelings regarding his British roots.
  • Very opinionated intelligent man; gifted almost to a fault.
  • KEY pages: 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18,19,20, 21,
George Frederick Ernst Albert, Georgie, the Second Son:
  • Frivolous, pitiful, and uneducated parents who did not care about his nor Eddy's education as well as overall development in leadership skills.
  • His mother, Alexandra hated Germany. This may have influenced his thinking later in life. Or not.
  • Wild and extremely undisciplined.
  • Weak inept mother, the Princess of Wales, coddled her children to death.
  • Spoiled nervous kid with no strength or confidence. This lack of backbone may be due to his mother, Alexandra. Blame her for some of his problems, and his father wasn't much help either. No wonder the kids turned out so badly.
  • At age 12 he was sent, along with his brother Eddy, to join the Royal Navy. There he learned discipline, something his parents never taught him, in this rigorous harsh environment. He cried a lot whilst there.
  • Had his parents been a better example to him and his siblings do you believe Georgie would have been more ... stable?
  • KEY pages: 25, 27, 28, 29, 33, 34, 38, 39, 40.
Nicholai Alexanderovich Romanov, Nicky, the Third Cousin:
  • A changing Russia during his childhood. Fears of rising socialism, wars with the Ottoman Empire (1877), and modernization (67). Dangers in Russia; children were at risk which is something Minny feared... for her son.
  • A decent, very insular, childhood compared to that of his cousins, Willy and Georgie. Because he was cut off from the harsh realities of life in Russia at such a young age, his naive and weak attitude could have contributed to his ultimate downfall later in life.
  • Kind mother yet weak (I believe despite what the author has to say.)
  • Nicky was coddled to death by his mother; almost obsessively.(67)
  • KEY pages: 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 55, 56, 57
Education:
  • Out of the three I believe Willy had the best. Key page (61-62) Excellent memory; studied 14 hours a day (68) Top of his class whilst in Cassel; Typical German schooling which consisted of studying the Classics; Iliad; Art; poetry; German history was his favorite subject. Along with Hinzpeter, Willy had a French tutor as well, Francois Ayme. He noted that Willy was extremely clever and hated to fail -- a foreshadowing into his actions as well as behavior in life. He also spoke "good French". Had a row with Ayme in regards to the Franco-Prussian War when he was a young teen, in which Willy blamed France (63)
  • Struggled as a early teen in regards to his loyalty: "Liberal England or belligerent Prussia"; "iron and blood" mentality which stuck with him, I believe, throughout his life. This perhaps haunted him until later in life when he clearly hated England. (63)
  • A proud man, Willy that is.
  • Attended the University of Bonn in which he studied German literature, social theory, law and philosophy. Serious student. Known as a "lively person" by his Profs. (77)
  • Georgie, age 10, received a rather basic education as well under his tutor, Mr. Dalton. (65)
  • Nicky began his schooling at the age of seven. Was in a classroom with two other children. Was considered "bright" with a "excellent memory" like Willy. Age 10, he was tutored under General Danilovich, a harsh man with a temper. Nicky referred to him as "Cholera". He learned geography, chemistry and four languages: Russian, English, French, and German. Had another tutor, Mr. Heath, found Nicky to be undisciplined similar to Georgie. I'm seeming an unhealthy pattern here: Their mothers were not too bright, which seems to have been inherited by Nicky and Georgie. Both women spoiled their children whom, in the end, doesn't make for a strong leader or whatever. Overall both kids really didn't have a chance as long as their obsessive mothers were over-doing it with the hugs as well as over-dramatic letters. (70-72) Alexandra, the Queen of Unstable Mothers, was "distraught" over losing her boys (74) "Prince George was crying as they left..." He was 15 years old (Oh come on! what a baby...grow a backbone kid!)
  • None of the cousins were extremely bright, except for Willy; in fact, I believe two may have had learning disabilities, frankly. Though one must remember time, place, context and situation: A true education for royal children wasn't all that important.
  • KEY pages: 60-63, 65, 67, 68, 69, 72 74
Family Drama:
  • Willy’s mood still erratic and seems to have increased after his marriage to Dona.
  • Assassination of Tsar Alexander II a shock to all. (83) Nicky was only 12.
  • Key pages: 79, 81, 83-86, 89, 90
Key informative, CliffNotes version, in regards to Russia, Alexander II, Alexander II, and Nicky:
The second half of the nineteenth century produced humiliation for Russia. Russia’s loss of the Crimean War in 1855 laid bare the reality that Russia’s military and industry were inadequate for the conduct of a war. Russia dropped from a world power to a second rate power. Worst of all, political instability in the army and among the serfs threatened public order. In response, Alexander II initiated a series of reforms intended to strengthen Russian institutions. The reforms included emancipation of the serfs, reform of local civic administration and establishment of local representative government, including elected town councils. The Russian judicial system and military conscription was to be completely overhauled. There would be reduced government control of universities and curtailment of censorship. In general, the reforms yielded mixed results. The emancipation of the serfs was so watered-down that no one was satisfied. The continued reforms in education and censorship gave the population a taste of Western-style freedom and the tools to organize and communicate, thus creating greater tension between the despotic government and the populace, culminating in Alexander II’s assassination in 1881.

His successor, Alexander III, reacted to the assassination by ruling as a despot. He hated all aspects of liberal tendencies, although it was revolutionaries, not liberal, who murdered his father. Russian society became more repressive, with a corresponding increase in underground revolutionary activities. However, the Imperial Court remained oblivious to the stirrings of revolution.
Upon the premature death of his father, Nicholas II, weak, naïve, and ill prepared for the role he inherited, was crowned in 1894. At the feasts for his coronation, a panic broke out and many people were trampled to death. Nicholas went on with the coronation festivities. The word swept around the country – "Papa Tsar" – did not protect and did not care about his children. The stage was set for the convulsions of the twentieth century.
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Old 05-04-2008, 03:21 PM
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Other key points:
Geographical, cultural, and political surroundings, which fostered the downfall and strain (I believe) besides the family rift.

"...for this child sooner or later be surrounded by flattery. These are notions which crop up again and again in the education of all three royal cousins, and it is easy now to see how misguided it was, and how useless as a defence against the corroding power of flattery." (14) Extremely important quote from the author which is one aspect to their downfall. And one key point to tone of the book. Had flattery and constant yes’s to these three royal cousins not taken place could their development turn out differently? Or were they doomed from the beginning?


Family loyalty: "Vicky and Fritz, torn between two countries and the two Royal families, to know where to place their loyalties." (20) This was to haunt not only the latter two, but eventually young Willy.

The three wars for Prussia.
Otto von Bismarck.
The instability of the Ottoman Empire.
Social and political uprisings in Russia.
Thank heavens for William Gladstone.
The marriage between Willy and Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg AKA Dona. (81)

Questions:

1. Due to Alexandra's hatred for Germany do you believe it had somewhat of an impact later in Georgie's life hence the build up toward WWI? If so, why?

2. "Doomed as a failure". This quote was applied to Georgie's older brother, Eddy, which I blame solely on his mother, Alexandra. Do you believe this to be true? Or was there something else going on? If so, what?

3. If Vicky was Georgie's mother do you believe he would have been a stronger person hence "tougher"? What is the problem here in regards to both Nicky and Georgie? The obvious pattern which seems to have carried on in their adult years. Willy, on the other hand, turned out quite "normal" so far... despite his rising ADD problem.

4. Georgie's education suffered because he was the second son. His education was somewhat sacrificed to whatever they thought Eddy needed. Would things have turned out differently if he'd had the education and upbringing of the heir like his cousins did?

5. Would Willy have been less stridently patriotic if his mother had managed to maintain better relations with her father-in-law? And would it have made a difference if Prince Albert hadn't died young?

6. How much of a factor were Vicky's attitudes in the relationship between her husband and his father? Or were Fritz's liberal leanings enough to drive a wedge between them anyway?

7. Did the assassination of Alexander II before he was able to implement some of his reforms affect Nicky's upbringing and attitudes?

8. If Bertie had married a German princess, would relations between Prussia and Britain have been better during Queen Victoria's reign?

9. Do you believe Russia could only be ruled with by an autocratic monarch? After years and years of instability, a small rising class of literate Russians, socialism, modernization, and extremely poor peasants suffering is an autocracy the answer? Is having a monarch at all in Russia worth keeping?
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Old 05-04-2008, 04:00 PM
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The Royal Forums Book Club is now officially open!

I want to welcome you all to our first book club discussion and review, which TRF's members picked, of:
King, Kaiser, Tsar Three Royal Cousins Who led the World to War.

Let the discussions begin!
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Old 05-04-2008, 04:18 PM
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I really enjoyed reading this book because it gave the perspective from the three major players at once. The thing that really struck me in the early chapters, though, was what a hard time Vicky had of things when she'd married. She was the indulged and adored favourite child of her parents, and then she ended up in a really hostile environment with nobody she could trust to advise her. It looks as though the seeds of WWI were sown a lot earlier than is usually believed.
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Old 05-04-2008, 04:26 PM
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The early chapters seemed to me to be titled so as to focus on one or the other of the cousins, but then the writer seemed to go off on a tangent in each chapter comparing the one in the title to the other two. Or was that my imagination?
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Old 05-04-2008, 04:33 PM
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Unfortunately, Ms. Clay did that quite a bit. Specifically in chaper three, Nicky the Third Cousin, pages 50-51 when she began to sway off into the discussion of Willy and Vicky.

It is clear to me that the author was more interested in Willy moreso than the other two. Which is fine, but it is clear he was quite pivotal building up to what eventually happened. Furthermore, one cannot deny that he is a fascinating man. Brilliant yet looney at the same time.
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Old 05-04-2008, 04:41 PM
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Well, I sort of liked the fact that she was overlapping the chapters, because it seems forced when you get separate biographies - you feel as though you're reading three parallel books. But I agree that the focus was biased. Maybe that's inevitable early in the book because Willy was the eldest of the three.
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Old 05-04-2008, 04:55 PM
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Quote:
Maybe that's inevitable early in the book because Willy was the eldest of the three.
And perhaps that he is still viilifed as the evil gluttonous ruler thirsty for world dominance are left-over sentiments she grew up hearing about (this is simply an assumption.) Remeber in England during and the build up to WWI there was severe anti-German feelings in the country which continued years after WWII.

Second, it should be known that Kaiser really wanted Germany to be a contender on the world stage, but so did Russia. Who nation didn't? It was the good for Germany at first, I believe... but it didn't turn out all that well.

I must also say that I am a Kaiser "fan" (as strange as it may sound.) He the most difficutl person to figure out. Clearly the guy had an emotional problems.. which leads me to the question: Do you think he had ADD, ADHD, or was he Bipolar? Page 11 is a good kick off regarding this issue. What was going on here?
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Old 05-04-2008, 05:06 PM
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It's always hard to diagnose disorders from this far away, but I wonder if he was just a somewhat hyper kid who was never encouraged to develop self-discipline or if there was some actual mental problem. In this day and age of everything being given a syndrome name by drug companies who think they've found a remedy for it, it's easy to think of him as having bipolar disorder or something. But maybe, as the Queen said about the King of Morocco, perhaps he just lacked the attentions of a Scottish nanny.

It looks as though the author is saying that it's a combination of innate personality and mishandling by his family and other associates rather than something more clinical.
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Old 05-04-2008, 05:18 PM
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Quote:
It looks as though the author is saying that it's a combination of innate personality and mishandling by his family and other associates rather than something more clinical.
True, but I cannot help to add my 21st mentality into the fray. I still think he had some disorder. Under his tutors he was, well, somewhat "normal", but once he was out of their sight he began to act out.

Clearly, all of the mothers -- Minny, Alexandra, and Vicky (though the latter not so much) -- were not a big help when it came to the development of their sons. All of them seem seriously screwed up in one way or another. I would also blame their surroundings as well, social and political. Things were on the verge of change at that time...
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Old 05-04-2008, 05:29 PM
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Really, it's a wonder that crown princes ever turn out well if they're heirs from a young age. Maybe Georgie had a more normal childhood because he missed all the expectations.

I can't help wondering, from reading the book, whether Vicky was taking out her frustrations on her son and whether that had any influence on him. I was interested to read how attached he always was to Queen Victoria.
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Old 05-04-2008, 05:46 PM
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It is possible Willy suffered from ADHD. ADHD children are often very bright, as we know Wilie was. However, as adults they usually find ways of coping with th disorder and become less hyper and more focused, I don't think this was the case with Willy so I have to doubt he was truly ADHD. I really don't see the classic signs of bipolar disorder, at least not from what the author wrote.

Georgie cut a rather sad figure in his early years. Separated from his family in order to serve in the navy, his older brother stuck to him like glue. One shudders to think how things might have turned out had Eddy lived and become King, as he was apparently as dumb as a post. But the author doesn't really touch on Eddy's relationship with Willy and Nicky much so it might have turned out better, or might have made no difference whatsoever.

Nicky is the one you feel for the most. The climate in Russia was horrible and he was sheltered in ways the other two were not. I think all three sets of parents went out of their way to give these children too spartan an upbringing, thinking to protect them from the flatterers and sycophants they would eventually encounter, but in no way preparing them to deal with it.

Therein I think lies the bulk of the problem, more so with Willy and Nicky than with George, as George was never intended to be King.

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Old 05-04-2008, 05:52 PM
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Some quick thoughts before I head off to bed:

It was an interesting read. I ended up believing that Queen Victoria was definitely the sort of mother/mother-in-law who wanted to have a finger in everything that was going on - and I believe Edward ended up with the most sensible solution towards that by agreeing to what she said, and doing whatever he wanted for himself and the family anyway, even if it wasn't the most practical of approaches considering his proximity to her. (Or his own messy personal life outside marriage).



Quote:
Due to Alexandra's hatred for Germany do you believe it had somewhat of an impact later in Georgie's life hence the build up toward WWI? If so, why?
Not just that. It's pointed out by the author that there was considerable anti-Prussian sentiment in Great Britain at the time, and I don't think Alexandra's feelings were the only cause. One reason, yes. But not the only one.

I'm more inclined by believing that Vicky's actions towards Willy was a predominant cause than Alexandra's towards George or Minny towards Nicky - Vicky commented in a letter somewhere that the child she had after Willy was so much more attractive, and therefore she was bringing that one out more often to show than she had done with Willy. I think that says a lot about that particular relationship.

There's also the whole "strict private tutor" going on for Willy, and military fascination, whereas George's tutor stopped once in a while to play with the boys.

I was interested to note Victoria and Albert's plan for a peaceful Germany, and how botched up it would become.

It's also intriguing to note that Alexandra's mother Queen Louise was disreputable to Queen Victoria for being part of the Hessen-Kassel Rumpenheim family - where the kids could roam wildly in the summers. Especially coupled with her remarks that the Wales children were wild… Makes me wonder about her criteria:)
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Old 05-04-2008, 05:54 PM
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It must have been hard for Willy and some of the other children if Vicky was forever harping on about their perfect dead siblings. Not that that excuses the way he behaved, because it sounds as though he had some fairly significant problems, but you can feel sorry for someone forever being compared unfavourably with an impossible ideal.

Somewhere I've got a biography of Vicky, which I must pull out and read.

Quote:
Nicky is the one you feel for the most. The climate in Russia was horrible and he was sheltered in ways the other two were not. I think all three sets of parents went out of their way to give these children too spartan an upbringing, thinking to protect them from the flatterers and sycophants they would eventually encounter, but in no way preparing them to deal with it.
I think this is a really good point. Somehow I don't see how an artificially simple upbringing was supposed to prepare those boys for a lifetime of being sucked up to and indulged by people on the make. Isolating them as youngsters would only make it worse. It doesn't sound as though Willy's parents made a really wise choice of tutor either, and from some of George V's biographies, I don't think Canon Dalton was an exactly inspired choice.
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Old 05-04-2008, 05:59 PM
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That Vicky felt truly unable to show love and affection to her oldest son is sad. I have no doubt she loved him, but she was so affected by his arm she couldn't see past it and give Willy what every child needs. In any event, Willy was definitely mishandled from a very early age and not just by his mother.

As Norwegianne mentioned, Bertie often went his own way with regard to his children despite Victoria's attempts to intervene. This might have been due to the fact that Victoria kept Bertie very much in the dark during her reign. He was never allowed to attend meetings with the PM and other advisers. I have no idea why Victoria didn't allow her heir to learn from her during her reign but obviously mother and son were not as close as they could have been, and this may have led Bertie to deciding to go his own way when it came to his mother's advice about his own children, a sort of thumbing of the nose. if you will.

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Old 05-04-2008, 06:11 PM
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Quote:
It doesn't sound as though Willy's parents made a really wise choice of tutor either, and from some of George V's biographies, I don't think Canon Dalton was an exactly inspired choice.
Both Hinzpeter and Ayme? I may be the only one who viewed Hinzpeter as a good tutor. Ayme on the other hand I'm still on the fence.


Quote:
I have no idea why Victoria didn't allow her heir to learn from her during her reign but obviously mother and son were not as close as they could have been, and this may have led Bertie to deciding to go his own way when it came to his mother's advice about his own children, a sort of thumbing of the nose. if you will.
I completely agree. In my opinion he should have listened.
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Old 05-04-2008, 06:14 PM
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Hinzpeter was a good tutor in some respects, however he was very much Prussian and totally opposite what Vicky and Fritz wanted as far as a person to tutor their son with their more liberal views in mind. In that respect he was obviously a very bad choice.

It is so easy to feel a certain sympathy for these three as children. As adults it becomes easier to blame them for their shortsightedness. Unfair, I suppose, given they were products of their upbringing.

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Old 05-04-2008, 06:32 PM
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I do think that under the circumstances, Vicky and Fritz were fighting an impossible battle. Maybe if Prince Albert had lived another 10 or 20 years and been able to advise Vicky about the realities of her life, it might have made a difference.
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