Prince Alberts Daughter
by Andrew Lee-Hart
12th November 1881, Spitalfields
My Dearest Molly
Can you ever forgive me? I have gone away, fled to London where I can be lost amidst the crowds and their busyness. I know that it was the cowardly thing to do, but I have caused you so much hurt, you who deserve so much better. I could deal with the anger of my congregation at St Thomas, the ridicule and contempt they felt when their vicar, somebody who they respected, proved to be as fallible as they were. But I cannot bear the hurt in your eyes and therefore I have decided to leave you and start anew where nobody knows who I am or what I have done.
I have rented a room above a tailors shop in the east end of London, it is small but more than sufficient for my needs and is almost warm, well at least when I wrap a blanket around me. It smells of tallow and there are also the various odours that drift in from street outside along with the noises from the myriad people for whom this area is home. Like the majority of the populace in Spitalfields, the tailor is Jewish, he is a Mr Nathan Shnaider and he lives and works in this building, and he is perhaps my only friend at the moment, although I suspect he would be surprised to be regarded as such. He has a sparse beard and must be in his seventies, I assume that he is a widower as there is no trace of a Mrs Shnaider, but there is a granddaughter, Rebecca who is always hither and thither on one errand or another.
My brother has found me a job in his insurance office; just copying ledgers and doing simple arithmetic; for the most part it is mindless work but that suits me at the moment and my wage gives me enough money to live and eat, which is all I want. I assume that you are back with your father, but if you need anything write to me care of my brother. Once again, Molly I am truly sorry.
Your husband Ian.
My darling Molly
I do so long to get a letter from you, although I quite understand that you might well never want to hear from me again. Who knows perhaps you tore my last missive up without reading it and will do the same with this poor effort.
I walked along the river last Sunday afternoon and there, walking towards me was David Hailsham, my friend from Cambridge, who you met once when we were in London. I was so embarrassed and nervous, but he just glanced at me and made no sign of recognition; have I changed so much? Without a dog collar perhaps I was just part of the London populace that he professed to care so much for. So long as it was not a snub I suppose, but then there was always a little of the snob about him.
The tailors granddaughter is an interesting case. She is probably in her early or mid-twenties, so only a little younger than me, and at first she appears like a typical native from this part of the capital, albeit more finely dressed, but when she talks you realise that she is a character. She claims that she is the daughter of the late Prince Albert. Apparently her mother fled when Rebecca was only little, leaving her in the care of her grandfather, but before she did so she told her who her father was and swore her to secrecy. She has not kept her vow and everyone hereabouts know her as Alberts Daughter. She wears black as a sign of perpetual mourning for her supposed father and professes sympathy for the Queens loss. Other than this obsession with the late Queens Consort she talks a great deal about Russia where her people are apparently suffering great persecution at present. There is a meeting next week and she wants me to go, but then there are always meetings about one atrocity or another, and hopefully I can avoid going to this one.
I do hope that you are happy Molly, I think of your blonde hair and your curls that I liked to run through my hair. Oh my love, what have I done to you?
Yours in sorrow
My darling Molly
Still no word, but then what can I expect? One cannot always choose who falls in love with you, and I did little to encourage poor Elsie, and sometimes the flesh is weak even when the brain is asking what one earth I think that I am doing. I did hope that you might be more tolerant. Sometimes when you are with somebody who is struggling, as Elsie was, then words are spoken that you do not mean and gestures are misunderstood. I regret it all more than I can say, and I am so glad my parents are no longer alive to witness my shame.
I was in bed two nights ago, exhausted after writing down endless numbers when there was a peremptory knock on my door. Rebecca, dressed to go out in a long, fur lined coat of doubtful provenance, stood in the doorway. I had completely forgotten about the meeting regarding persecution of the Jews but my Rebecca would brook no refusal so I put on my winter-coat and followed her.
The meeting was held in a church hall and Rebecca was to be one of the speakers, so she left me in the third row next to her grandfather and went off somewhere to arrange something or other. That woman is never still, all that energy and vigour, she is an important figure amongst the people of the East End, I am not sure whether her neighbours believe in her supposed parentage but they certainly respect her. The hall smelt of humanity and food, it was not unpleasant but rather it made me realise my shared humanity with these people, however different their backgrounds from mine.
As the meeting started I wondered if I was the only Gentile in the room, but this thought faded as Nathan introduced me to a few people sitting close to us, and I soon felt just a part of the audience. Rebecca stood on the podium and introduced the two speakers; a rabbi who had fled Russia and had just arrived in England and then a Mr Leader, a local businessman who is busy speaking to various people in government and is trying to see Mr Gladstone hoping that our government can intervene. He seemed confident, as if the highways and byways of government are open to him.
Rebecca seemed dynamic on stage, as if she needs an audience to be at her best, at least she is better doing such humanitarian work rather than starting a religious cult or a revolutionary cell. She talked about the murders and imprisonments of people faraway under a despotic leader and it was as if they were people we knew; our neighbours being dragged away to prisons or left for dead in the snow. It was a true mitzvah to help such people she told us, and at the end I put my hand in my pocket and gave something, and was pleased to notice that Rebecca watched me do so. The similarity of church did not escape me, but for once I was part of the congregation rather than on stage, and I preferred this.
The weather is cold and damp, and I cough at night. Sometimes I wonder if this is where it will end, me dead in a garret with only Rebecca and her grandfather to mourn for me, whilst you pretend you were never married and tend your father, socialise and are the lady of the manor once again.
Yours husband Ian.
10th December, S.
My Dear Molly
Thank you for your letter. I realise that you are angry, and no I am not starting all that again with Rebecca, and no there is nobody else I can socialise with. I am a stranger in a strange land and at least Nathan and his granddaughter have taken pity on me. I spend most of my time feeling solitary, when I am not working I go for walks and read. I did go and spend the day with my brother soon after I arrived in London but it was awkward; I never got on with my sister-in-law Isabelle as you know and there was so much embarrassment, even more so than when I told them about my taking holy orders all those years ago. I do talk to him at work, where he is more relaxed than at home, but he laughs at my affair, thinking the whole thing a tremendous joke.
You ask if I go to church? I have been to St Bonifaces which is quite close to where I live. Not quite the same congregation as in Shropshire; poorer, but also less of them. The vicar appears to be a godly man; quite elderly and with a wife rather younger than him who looks bored and dispirited. At times when I am there I feel close to God, as a hymn is sung that I recognise, or a psalm strikes a chord but mostly I feel as if I am in an empty cavernous building that has nothing to do with God.
Anyway I am glad you are reading my letters and I am sorry you are angry. Take care.
Yours &c. Ian.
10th December, Spitalfields
You might have heard about the trouble that has fallen on me. Last month I saw you walking by the Thames with another gentleman; you looked right through me, I hope it was because you did not recognise me rather than a snub. A brief liaison with a kind-hearted woman may have been wrong but you and I got up to worse in Cambridge or perhaps now that you are respectable you have forgotten all that.
As you can see I am back in London, in a poor district and work with my brother doing simple finances. Molly has fled back to her father and is very angry with me. Do I miss her? I miss the comfortable lifestyle and the respect of the good people of Shropshire, but being patronised by the gentry and the bishop? I was bored and comfortable, at least here there is life and I am just a clerk so dont feel as if I am playing a role. Even waking alone in a small room, smaller than my set at Cambridge, is pleasant enough.
I have made a friend called Rebecca whose grandfather is a tailor in the same building that I reside. She swears that she is the daughter of Prince Albert, and perhaps she is, there is certainly something regal about her and she is strikingly beautiful. At present she is running around trying to get help for the Jews suffering pogroms and imprisonment under the tyrannical Tsar, Alexander III. The stories that I have heard are truly atrocious. Rebecca talks of going to see the Queen and pleading the cause, as all attempts of interesting the government have fallen on deaf ears. I just pray that she does not drag me with her on this escapade which can only end in embarrassment and humiliation.
And yet I do owe her something. Quite often Rebecca and her grandfather ask me to join them for the start of sabbath and we eat together and sing hymns, and for the first time I feel as if I am part of a family. Perhaps I should renounce my faith and become a Jew; I suspect anything that I do would not shock Molly anymore. In the evenings I often sit and talk with Nathan as he sews and cuts; he talks of London and how it has changed and also about his father who fled Poland at the beginning of this century and made his home here. But most of all he talks of his granddaughter; not about her supposed father, but how kind she is but also how restless and how he feels that she is only staying to look after him.
I hope that you are well, perhaps both of us have changed; not only did you fail to recognise me, I almost failed to recognise you. But I hope at the bottom we are both the same idealistic and tolerant people that we once were.
Yours &c. Ian
My Dear Molly
Just to wish you a happy Christmas. I realise that it will probably not be a happy time for you, but you have your father with you and your friends. I hope that you can take comfort in the birth of our saviour (see I can still be a Vicar when I choose). I do think about you and pray for you. For many of the people here Christmas is an alien festival and so there is not much in the way of festivity, this does not upset me in the slightest. My brother has invited me to stay for the day but I have pretended that I am staying with a friend, a lie, but hopefully in the scheme of things a minor one.
Your husband, Ian.
8th January, 1882
My Dear Molly
I hope you are surviving the snow in Shropshire and enjoyed the new year celebrations. The snow is grey here and very slippery. I walk cautiously to my place of work avoiding ice and street detritus, and yet it is rare for me to venture out without slipping over at some point.
Time grows heavy on me. I have sent you a leaflet concerning the plight of the Jews in Russia, I would be grateful if you could pass it amongst your family and friends. Surely you must see that it is a worthy cause and whilst the people here are eager to help they are poor.
Yours &c. Ian.
8th January, Brushfield Street
My Dear David
Thank you for your kind letter, and I quite understand the delay in writing. You lawyers are a busy lot and now that you are engaged to be married your time is not your own, congratulations of course, and I hope that you make each other happy.
Yesterday I spent the morning at London Zoo; Rebecca who I mentioned to you in my previous letter needed a day out, as she is looking so wan and tired, this business with the Jews in Russia is upsetting her. I paid a shilling each and we enjoyed a tramp around. No doubt you must have visited perhaps with Ellen or one of your fellow lawyers. We were both struck with sadness at the two leopards shivering in their cages. I long to see such creatures roaming free, but I suppose that having them here on show to the people of London is educational.
Alas for my hope that Rebecca would at least temporarily forget about her people in Russia, she continually returned to this subject and she has this maggot, this idea in her head of going to see the Queen and talking to her about it. She sees herself sitting down with our sovereign, woman to woman and then Victoria sorting it out, speaking to the Tsar who she thinks is related to our monarch.
I hope she does not know who my father is she mused, they were clearly such a happy couple and she honestly mourns him.
I am sure she will not know I reassured her, but I do think it will be impossible to speak to her, she has soldiers and servants, and I am sure people are always trying to get into see her without success. Perhaps you should write to her.
This idea seemed to appeal to her, particularly when I offered to help her with the letter. This seems to be more sensible than turning up at the palace and trying to fight her way in.
I occasionally hear from Molly but nobody else, which is why receiving your letter was such a pleasant surprise.
Your friend, Ian.
Thank you for your swift response. I thought of you last night. Do you remember those musical evenings at Cambridge we used to share with Southern and Preston? It was not quite the same, but I had noticed a piano in the Shnaider rooms and last night after I had sat with Nathan at his bench he invited me up to have dinner with them. Rebecca was already there cooking a stew of some sort, she is a basic cook but food has never been of great importance to me.
Afterwards we sat around the piano, the smell of our meal heavy about us, but not unpleasant by any means. Rebecca is a wonderful pianist, she played music by Beethoven and Chopin interspersed by various songs from the music hall and more traditional fare. They then asked if I could play, and although I felt rather embarrassed as I am not as good as her I played a couple of pieces I know by the divine Purcell. The room was warm and I felt so happy sharing music with two people I have to come to love. Rebecca is a caring woman, I noticed how often she checked on her grandfather, and when she felt he was tired she politely suggested that I go.
As I write this letter to you I can still hear the music in my head and her laughter, I never thought I would have such carefree evenings again. And yet it is perhaps a brief moment before real life catches up with me.
12th February, Bushfield Street, Spitalfields.
My Dear Southern
A thousand apologies for writing to you when I understand that you are busy. I did try and see you but your servant told me that you were engaged all day and thus it seemed easier to write.
I am writing to you out of desperation regarding a friend of mine Rebecca Shnaider who has been most upset about the plight of her fellow Jews in Russia. It has become something of a King Charles Head with her and she eventually plucked up the courage to see our blessed Queen and tried to force her way in with inevitable consequences and is now languishing in prison. I visited her yesterday and she is in a wretched strait. She is not a wicked person and meant no harm to our Queen. I know that you have influence with the Queen and the government and would be grateful if you could help her and get her released. If you need more detail of this sad case I earnestly beg you to contact me, but she certainly means no harm to our sovereign.
Rev. Ian Sherlock.
20th February, 1882 The Vicarage, Clun, Shropshire.
My Dearest Rebecca
I am sorry that I could not speak to you before I left for Shropshire, in fact truth to tell I was a coward, and once I had made up my mind to return to my wife I could not bear to see you. I am so pleased that you were released from prison and I hope you can be more circumspect in your campaigns, it is good that you are so determined and passionate but sometimes we have to be more tactful to get what we want. I am glad Mr Southern was helpful.
I realise that I have betrayed you, I did not lie when I told you that I loved you and I hope that you dont think that I took advantage of you. My wife Mary has been writing to me and is clearly heart-broken and I feel that my calling is with her and with the people of Clun. They have forgiven me my indiscretions and I have vowed to serve them all. I do miss you, but you must realise that it would never have worked between us; we have so little in common and we have different paths to follow.
Please try to forgive me as well. You will find a young man of your own race and hopefully forget me. It breaks my heart to write this, but please if you ever need my help contact me post haste.
June 12th, London
My Dear Molly
I am sorry, but I imagine that this will be the last missive that I will send you. I realise that for the second time I have hurt and humiliated you, all I can say in my defence is that I tried to do what is right, but sometimes that is not easy and despite what I often preached, life is never clear cut. I often wish that we could have two goes at life, so that we can learn from all of our mistakes, but alas we only have one go and I am trying to make the best of it.
At first I was happy being back with you in our vicarage. The Rev. Dennis did a good job whilst I was away, a most eager young man, and now that I have truly left I hope that he is offered the position permanently. It was lovely to be with you again and for awhile I was busy getting to know my parish once again and getting to know you. But soon my mind kept wandering back to my time in London. I missed my room above the tailor, I missed the people with their kindness and their strength, and most of all I missed Rebecca who needs a friend and companion, but who I also need equally.
I returned to Spitalfields two days ago and Nathan my friend the tailor is letting me sleep on his settee for a few days, my old room having been let soon after I escaped back to Shropshire. I enquired after Rebecca but to my utter heartbreak she has left England and is heading towards Russia, she has money and contacts and is going to help as many of her fellow Jews to flee the carnage unleashed by the Tsar. Apparently she started making plans soon after I left and but only finally set off less than a week ago. I am really not sure what she intends to do, she seems to feel that just being there she can somehow avert the killings. But if I follow her perhaps I can stop her doing anything rash.
You broke her heart her grandfather told me, she thought you would be with her always and would help her.
I stood shame-faced. I know her route and I am following her, I have my ticket for the boat in two days time and I will track down Rebecca and with luck will catch up with her. I am sorry but my destiny is with her and with her people, please forgive me and please pray for me.
11th August, St. Petersburg
Greetings from Russia. I am not sure how good the Russian postal service is; this letter seems such a fragile thing to travel all the way from the East to your house in London, the miles it will have to travel through snow and ice and the people who will handle it before your maid hands it to you whilst you are eating your bacon and kidneys with your new wife opposite you (congratulations on your marriage by the way).
I am now in Russia; after my abortive attempt to resume my vicaring and being a husband to Molly I returned to London only to discover that Rebecca had left for the East in an attempt to single-handedly stop the cruelty practiced upon her people. I followed straight away, sending letters ahead of me so that eventually in Berlin I found her and after a few days renewing our acquaintance we carried on to Russia where we arrived a few days ago.
Fortunately Rebecca had organised everything better than I gave her credit for. She had many contacts en route, and we are now staying with friends in Russias Western capital. I assumed that Rebeccas friends were all Jewish, but in fact I soon discovered that all be one are gentiles, what unites them is a yearning for justice and for the deposition of the Tsar. I am not sure how we can help them but they have welcomed us, despite Rebecca already having mentioned who her father is (!). There is not much money but there are plenty of factory jobs and once we are settled and I have picked up a little of the language, I will start to earn my living.
Please do not worry about me and if you hear from Molly ask her not to do either. I may only be playing at being a revolutionary, but I am having the time of my life with the woman I love, and there is nowhere that I would rather be.
Extract from Her Loyal Consort; a life of Prince Albert by D. E. Ward, Symons & Co.,1971
Alberts will contained a bequest of £50 to one Ruth Shnaider of Spitalfields, London. Who this lady was has long remained a mystery and given rise to all sorts of speculation. Modern researchers have found little trace of her apart from a birth record in the Central synagogue, there is no record of a marriage or a death. Shnaider was a relatively common name in England amongst the Jewish community at the time. What is known is that she did not collect the money, at that time or thereafter.
Extract from My Extraordinary Life, Lady Dulcie Graham, private edition, published 1923
Whilst in Moscow (in 1921) I was invited to the Kremlin for a dinner party, my companions proved to be full of vodka and good spirits. Most incongruously I came across an older English couple who are friends with many in the Bolshevik regime. I was told that they came to Russia in the 1880s and after many adventures they joined a revolutionary cell in Moscow. Rebecca Shnaider must be in her sixties now but is still strikingly beautiful; a Jewess from the East End of London and her husband, a disgraced clergyman from Shropshire, in his long coat and fur hat looks just like a Russian and even has a slight accent although we conversed in English. Apparently Rebecca is related to the English royal family although they have nothing to do with her, this I find rather hard to believe.
Rebecca told me that they went out on the streets in 1917 and then became involved with Mr Leon Trotsky in the civil war. They are now firm allies of Mr Trotsky, and if, as seems likely he becomes the next leader of Russia, they will no doubt become even more prominent in the regime. It does make me optimistic about the future of Russia if people like this couple have some influence in the regime
Touchingly whilst I was leaving the Kremlin Ian took my arm and asked if I knew Shropshire, I mentioned that I had an aunt who lives in Ludlow, and for a short while we talked about the blue remembered hills and the man in front of me suddenly looked terribly homesick and sad, and his face haunted me the following day as was swept along to Leningrad.
Moscow, May (?) 1926
My dear Rebecca
I presume that this letter will be interfered with and burnt long before it reaches you, but perhaps there is a slight chance that it will reach you and you will read it.
Please believe me I forgive you for betraying me to the authorities, in this awful time we all have to do the most wicked things to stay alive just for a little bit longer. I hope that you are safe my love, but even those who betray are not protected, or not for long so try to escape and if you cannot flee this country please keep your head down, and certainly do not mention your father, people have been executed for far less. I know that you are someone who always draws attention to herself but at times like this being hidden is the best way.
In this cold prison, betwixt bouts of torture I have had time to think. The amazement that I am in a cell outside Moscow, me a doctors son from Shropshire who studied Divinity at Cambridge is the same man who has spoken with Lenin and Trotsky and even our present leader, although I understand that this will be blanked out of history. I doubt many of my contemporaries will have seen and done what I have done in my soon to be curtailed life; fighting the Tsarist troops and for awhile at any rate being at the centre of this disastrous experiment in love and equality.
I remember the first time I saw you as you came into to see your grandfather, I knew then that you were special and that our fates were intertwined. I fought it, fought it so hard, but despite all my efforts I had to follow you to the end of the world. Even when they drag me in front of the firing squad, my broken body trailing in the snow, I will know that it has been worth it and that I would go through this all again just to have been part of your life, to have shared your adventures and to have made you happy. Be safe my love.
Your husband, Ian.
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