Dora B. Montefiore, New Age September 1904
Source: New Age, p. 602, 29 September 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Nothing, it appears to me, shows the steady rise in the level of intelligence and of reasoning capacity among women generally than does the recent “revolt of the Princesses,” which swept during the last few years through the effete and corrupt Courts of Europe. It is needless to go through the list of “revoltees.” My readers can, no doubt, recall the cases, and need not be reminded that some amongst those who have claimed and obtained freedom to form new and more congenial ties are grand-daughters of the late Queen Victoria. The last case to call forth the sympathy and active aid of those throughout Europe who stand for liberty and equality of opportunity for all – be they princesses or paupers – is that of Princess Louise of Coburg, the daughter of Leopold of Belgium, and of that unfortunate Queen and mother who died a few years ago in obscurity at Aix. It has been shrewdly observed that the real liberties of the people advance more rapidly under the rule of a bad Sovereign than under that of a decent one. The reign of a Sovereign in the former category seems ever to be “the dark hour before the dawn,” the climax of evil forces and influences from which true liberties are wrested; as was the case in our own history during the reigns of John and of Charles I. The same rule would seem to apply to the personal liberties won by royal individuals – liberties which should secure them at least the same personal freedom as is supposed to be enjoyed by the humblest of their subjects. The letter of Princess Louise of Coburg, published in the Belgium Socialist newspaper, the Vooruit, is the cry of a suffering and wronged woman, the victim of the evil conduct and the licentiousness of two men of Royal birth, Leopold of Belgium, her father, and Philip of Saxe-Coburg, the husband, whom she was compelled for political reasons to marry, but whom she repudiates, because she believes in a higher morality than that of Kings and lawyers.
I venture to believe that the heart of every true woman who reads this cry of agony long endured, but only now finding a voice in which to express itself, will vibrate and respond to the cry of the unhappy Princess, a cry which seems to ring with the stifled exasperation of the pent-up voice of the dreamer, who has been struggling through one of those nightmare dreams that grip the throat and forbid articulate expression. “I am Louise of Coburg,” she writes; “the slighted daughter of your King Leopold, the ill-treated wife of Prince Philip of Saxe-Coburg. The enumeration of this title is painful to me, but it is necessary.” She dare not, she continues, write the story of her grievous wrongs to any other paper but the people’s paper, whose columns are open to every cry of revolt against existing arbitrary conditions, for those other papers “recognised me as mad, and expressed the opinion that my father had the right to punish me for all the evil I had done.” Of that father she writes:- “As I played in the park of Castle Laeken in my childhood I saw strange things happen about me. My father was seldom at home; for the most part, he spent his time with the youngest and prettiest ladies of the Court..... My father hunted after pleasure, and all the distinguished ladies and gentlemen of his circle followed his example. I will not repeat the things I heard. They would cause too great a sensation. Certain it is that the corruption at Court was profound, and that beneath all the State and the gilded magnificence lay much that was foul. So I grew up in a world of hypocrisy; which had only the outward appearance of superiority and high standing.” What a training, what a preparation for living a life in which our only sure guide and torch is Truth towards ourselves, and towards others! Of her married life she writes: “During the first days after our marriage my husband, whom I now knew as a drunkard, one day dashed abruptly into my bedroom, accompanied by three noblemen as drunk as himself. He demanded that I should show myself to his friends. Because this roused my indignation, he so used his riding-whip upon me that I carried the marks of his brutality for weeks.” Against this life of legalised immorality Louise of Coburg protested, not by a life of Court intrigue, the keeping up before the world of the appearance of a legal and moral tie, whilst daily trampling in secret that tie under foot, and thereby destroying character and the bases of honour, but by open revolt against social Court conditions, and by seeking, obscurity and forgetfulness in the society of a man, not of princely rank, but of loyal and faithful nature. In punishment for this revolt she was treated as insane, was like the young wife of George I shut up in a lonely castle, and cut off from all intercourse with the outer world. Had it not been for the devotion of the man to whom she had entrusted her fate, and who first had to suffer a period of imprisonment as a punishment for his loyalty, she might have dragged out her weary life, a prisoner to the end, as did the luckless Hanoverian Princess; but she has succeeded in escaping, in finding friends and sympathisers, and now exclaims, as she realises the exquisite joy of regained freedom: “I am free, and have found a sure place of refuge with those who love and respect me. I have hypocrites around me no longer, and, far from my husband and father, I feel myself secure. I will no longer be a Princess. I will be a woman surrounded by love, respect, consideration.... For twenty years they have oppressed my heart and conscience. I only take back now what has been shamefully stolen from me.”
If women will reflect, they surely cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that the real forces which have helped in this pitiable struggle for freedom have been the forces which the discoveries of modern science have placed at our disposal. Before the days of telegraphs, telephones, and of steam and electric transport there was little chance for the individual, whose freedom society combined to crush. Insurmountable material difficulties were piled up like obdurate rocks along the path of those who would fain have delivered the prisoners, and set the walled-up captive free. And what have rich and powerful States and Governments, what have costly Armies and Navies done towards the amelioration of those material difficulties, towards the changing of the face of the world, towards helping men and women (in the words of Mr. Booker T. Washington), “to be workers, instead of being worked”; the former stage meaning degradation the latter civilisation. It is clearly not from the march of ravaging Armies and death-dealin, Navies, not from the laws and enactments of those whose object is to keep power and wealth in their own hands, that the down-trodden – be they economically enslaved men, or politically, socially, and economically enslaved women – must look for help. No, it is the quiet worker in the laboratory, the man of the study probing for Nature’s hidden secrets and underlying forces, on whom our hopes are set. The engineer and the electrician going out to the utmost ends of the world carries with him a spark of that divine liberty which is some day, we believe, to be the heritage of all women and of all men. Their victories are bloodless, but very real ones; their slaves and captives are the fluid forces of the Universe; and their conquests are the exalted valleys, and the mountains brought low, along which run the highways and the flashing lines of communication, which shall in the end belong to al all, for the service, freedom, and increased happiness of all.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.