Sunday, 20 April 2008


When I went to work in Wales in the Fifties I was told of an engine driver in Caernarfon whose father was Edward V11. His mother, a servant at a local stately home, had been pleasured by the king.

My colleague Reg Jones, who worked for the Daily Express, interviewed a Canadian in a Wrexham boarding house who claimed - and had the papers to prove it - that he was the grandson of the same libidinous king.

This week my biography of Sir Kyffin Williams R.A. will appear on the bookstalls. Whist I was writing it, Sir Kyffin told me that at an exhibition in South Wales he had met two highly respectable ladies from Cwmbran who insisted the Queen Mother was the daughter of one of Lord Strathmore’s servants. I tried to follow it up and found out that one of the things that Elizabeth hated about her brother- in-law the Duke of Windsor was the nickname he had given her, “Cookie”. Certainly a mystery surrounds her birth and there was no rebuttal when Kitty Kelley told the story in her book “Royalty”, which was banned in this country.

In one of his best selling gossipy diaries, my chum James Lees Milne reported he overheard the Queen telling the Queen Mother: “The difference between us is that I am Royal.” When I taxed him with it, he said, diplomatically, that he could not remember writing it.

Intriguing is the suggestion that the Queen herself is part Jewish. There was a rumour, when he married Queen Victoria, that Prince Albert was the son of a Jewish doctor at his supposed parents’ court. Another son of the same doctor, it was said, was the arms manufacturer Ernst Cassell, who showered thousands of pounds on Edward V11 and was so like him physically he was known as the Windsor Cassell.

One story I can vouch for, because I have spent ten years researching it for a book I may one day write,though so far it has been turned down by eight publishers. The rightful king of France is a backwoods Welsh farmer peer.

When, in 1843, she died penniless in Paris, a frail old lady of seventy-one under close police surveillance, Maria Stella, Baroness von Ungern Sternberg, Pretender to the Throne of France, had lived through a library of faery tales and become one of the sights of the city.

Maria Stella was born in the small Italian town of Modigliani in 1773.
Her father Lorenzo Chiappini, gaoler at the Pretorial Palace, exploited her good looks and ladylike manners. Her mother, Vincenia Viligenty, hated her, though she lavished affection on her other children. Luckier than Cinderella, whose life in many ways hers echoed, Maria Stella had a magic palace to which she could always escape. Countess Camilla Borghi Biancoli lived across the road from the gaol in a magnificent castle. In later life Maria recalled:

“Despite my father’s ignoble profession, she was very fond of me and showed me every kindness. I was admitted to her table and often shared her bed; she heaped presents upon me, and I lived almost entirely with her.”

A touring Welsh nobleman heard the 12-year-old Maria Stella sing and immediately fell in love with her. He was 56. He begged her to marry him.

Eventually the unhappy teenager gave in; though it took the nobleman six years to persuade her to return with him to Wales. When he died, she married Baron Ungern von Sternberg.

On his deathbed, the man she had always thought of as her father told her:

“The day you were born of a person I must not name and who has already passed into the next world, a boy was also born to me. I was requested to make an exchange and, in view of my circumstances at that time, I consented after reiterated and advantageous proposals; and it was then that I adopted you as my daughter, as in the same way my son was adopted by the other party.”

After years of investigation she traced her parents. They were the Duke and Duchess of Orleans. Both had died under the guillotine.

Maria Stella petitioned an Episcopal Tribunal sitting in Faenza for the proper rectification of her baptismal certificate. The tribunal, on May 29th 1824, declared her to be the daughter of the husband and wife M. le Comte Louis and Madame la Comtesse de Joinville, one of the titles held by the Duke of Orleans. His “son” Louis Philippe now occupied the Throne of France. After the Tribunal, his subjects, long puzzled by his swarthy Italianate looks, called him “Citizen Chiappini” until his forced abdication in 1848.

It seems a kind of blasphemy that the current preoccupation with fly tipping should remind me of the late, gracious Anne, Duchess of Westminster, still lovely in her eighties, the owner of Arkle the wonder horse and one of several widows of the Golden Duke, Bend O’r. Fabulously wealthy, his investments were bringing him £2,500 an hour in the 1920s.

Anne, Duchess, often invited me to cocktail parties at her home Saighton Grange in Chester. At one of these I was fulminating about a man I had seen throwing a pile of rubbish out his car in a quiet country lane near my home Picton Hall.

Another guest said: “You should have chased him.”

“Most unwise, “said the Duchess, “you never know how it is going to end up.”

“As you know, we have some fishing in Sutherland,“ she continued. It was an understatement. What they had was most of the Scottish highland county of Sutherland which contained some of the best game fishing in Britain, but she was not a lady who liked to boast.

“I came off the river one day,” she went on, “to see a family in a car parked in a lay by. They had been enjoying a picnic and when they finished they screwed all the waste paper and cartons in a ball, threw them out of their car window and drove off.

“I was furious. I picked up the litter, got in my land rover and ordered my ghillie ‘follow that car’. We caught up with them a few miles on and brought them to a halt.”

The Duchess, a formidable lady when roused, marched to the car, rapped on the window and when the diminutive Glasgow driver opened it, thrust the litter at him. “I believe these belong to you,“ she said in her best affronted Duchess manner.

The driver looked up. “It’s all right, Hen,” he said, “we’ve finished wi’ em.“
And drove off.


THE Royal Navy, once the scourge of brigands on the high seas, has been told by the Foreign Office not to detain pirates because doing so may breach their human rights.
Warships patrolling pirate-infested waters, such as those off Somalia, have been warned that there is also a risk that captured pirates could claim asylum in Britain.
The Foreign Office has advised that pirates sent back to Somalia could have their human rights breached because, under Islamic law, they face beheading for murder or having a hand chopped off for theft.
In 2005 there were almost 40 attacks by pirates and 16 vessels were hijacked and held for ransom. Employing high-tech weaponry, they kill, steal and hold ships’ crews to ransom. This year alone pirates killed three people near the Philippines.

And for two more good reads try