Author Topic: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?  (Read 47574 times)

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Offline grandduchessella

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Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« on: May 15, 2004, 11:19:19 PM »
I posted a thread regarding this on a different board, but got very few responses apart from a very rude Frenchman who posted about 10 times to complain about my poor American manners in referring to the GD as Ernie and calling me a "cowboy" for doing so. So, I decided to ask here where it's more civil.  :)

It's become all but accepted historical fact that GD Ernest was gay, or at the least bisexual. It's reprinted in countless books, articles, etc...I don't have an issue with this one way or the other or an agenda in protecting someones reputation. I am just curious as to whether the only sources emanate from his ex-wife Victoria Melita? All the information seem to flow from either her or a member of her family. Has anyone ever heard corroborating evidence from an objective bystander or historian? It seems Victoria Melita did possess a bit of a mean streak (though I still like her!) and an unforgiving nature, I wouldn't put it past her to have spread stories about Ernest that, given the times, would've been very damaging. Anyone know anything more?
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Offline bookworm8571

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2004, 11:41:24 PM »
In the books and articles I've read, the only people who have actually been named as saying or implying that Ernest was gay or bisexual are Victoria Melita, her sister Queen Marie of Rumania, and her niece Princess Ileana of Rumania. One of the biographies I have of Victoria Melita -- the one by Sullivan -- lists in its footnotes a 1980 interview with Ileana, who was by then a nun called Mother Alexandra. Ileana referred to Ernest's "disgusting nature" and apparently said that her aunt told her she arrived home unexpectedly and found Ernest in bed with one of the servant boys. Victoria Melita apparently told Ileana this story when the Rumanian government put an end to Ileana's engagement because her fiance had been involved in a homosexual scandal.

One of the biographies I have of Victoria Melita -- the one by van der Kiste -- alludes to whispered rumors in the Hessian capitol about Ernest visiting a mistress in the city and having an unusually warm regard for the stableboys and servant boys. I don't see names for any of the Hessians who knew this listed in the footnotes. On the other hand, the old story about "where there's smoke there's fire" might apply here. It's not the kind of thing they'd have discussed openly in the early part of the century, or even in the 1940s.

I also see little reason for Victoria Melita or her sister or her niece to make up a story like that. They certainly could have found other ways to destroy Ernest's reputation had they wanted to. I haven't read anything suggesting that Victoria Melita ever told anyone but her close family members or that the story was published during Ernest's lifetime.

Reading about them, I think Victoria Melita, her sisters, daughters and mother all were quite capable of acting selfishly and being unpleasant. Baby Bee flirted with her cousin Victoria Eugenie's husband. Victoria Melita's daughter Masha apparently competed with her cousin Ileana for male attention and strained relations between Victoria Melita and Marie. But were Victoria Melita or Marie or Ileana evil enough to make up such a story? I don't think so.

Victoria Melita was married off young to a man who apparently didn't want her sexually; she was completely unsuited to him and to the role of grand duchess and probably to motherhood. She is viewed with disapproval in the present day and was back then because she wasn't willing to accept her lot and be miserable. She dared to say, "I'm entitled to some personal happiness," to seek out a divorce and marry a man she really did love and want. It was clearly the best choice for both her and Ernest, regardless of what his sexual orientation really was.

I'm not sure why the rude Frenchman threw a conniption fit over your calling him "Ernie." The whole lot of them interest me because they're people, not because they're royal. Blue blood didn't make them perfect or keep them from having tragedies and scandals. They're all dead now and their thrones are extinct, so what does it matter anymore?
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by bookworm8571 »

Thomas_A.

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2004, 04:26:43 AM »

awkward awkward...

Offline Greg_King

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2004, 06:47:00 AM »
At the risk of offending sensibilities, this is what history is, and what history involves.  There is a vast difference between prurient interest in someone’s personal life and in examining and analyzing that life for the purposes of research and evaluation.  The Grand Duke is a historical figure; by virtue of this-and to claims made concerning his sexuality-it is a legitimate subject for historical debate and discussion.  On this board posters have speculated liaisons or illegitimate children-certainly personal topics, raised by someone who could not possibly have known them-and I have not seen anything other than reasoned discourse.  Why, then, the reaction over the Grand Duke’s personal life?  Having worked with Penny for the past year on our new biography of the Grand Duke, this subject has demanded research and analysis, and I may add here that there is much more at play than a simple accusation by his former wife as filtered through her niece.  What bothers me most about this is not only that legitimate historical interest and investigation is being slighted, but also the tone, often observed, that somehow Ernst Ludwig is “maligned” as one author put it, by raising the question, or by assuming that perhaps Victoria Melita spoke the truth.  And while I recognize that some hold beliefs different than myself, the implication that if the Grand Duke was gay he is somehow diminished is personally untenable to me.  Let’s suppose, for a moment, that the Grand Duke was homosexual.  Does this detract from his life or work?  Does it undo his establishment of the Kuntslerkolonie in Darmstadt, and his important patronage?  Does it lessen the impact he had on his subjects?  Does it mark him out as undeserving of respect for his achievements?  The answer is, No.  The Grand Duke’s sexuality alters nothing of his accomplishments, nor lessens his unique position in Hessian history, nor does it cast his life as anything less than extraordinary by any circumstance.  In fact, given his times, his position, and the demands incumbent upon him, the Grand Duke’s life and accomplishments would be all the more remarkable and admirable had he been forced to live a charade for public consumption.  This is not a question of insinuation and whispering, but a legitimate item of historical interest.  More to the point, supposing the Grand Duke was homosexual, does history not owe him the recognition of that part of himself that convention dictated remain hidden?  Does it not owe to him acknowledgment of a remarkable life lived under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, a grant of understanding in death that not only underscores his achievements but portrays a historical background against which he would not only have struggled but risen triumphantly?  The catastrophes of his life assume a new, more poignant resonance if he indeed was forced to conceal that most intrinsic and important part of his identity, not as a Grand Duke, but as a human being.  If the Grand Duke was not homosexual, he remains a remarkably accomplished man; if he was, then his struggle was all the greater, his life that much richer, his courage that much more exemplary.

Greg King

Offline bookworm8571

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2004, 08:51:10 AM »
I would have thought it was a given that Grand Duke Ernest's many accomplishments would not be diminished if he was, in fact, gay.

By all accounts he was a good father, amusing, artistic, sensitive; took his role as Grand Duke seriously, particularly as he matured; and cared for shell-shocked soldiers in his own home after World War I. All in all, a very admirable man. More knowledge about his private life and sexual orientation could only add dimension, as far as I can see. I think truth -- the whole truth -- is always better than 100-year-old historical cover-ups or myths.

I don't think such discussions should be at all off-limits when we're analyzing the life of a man who was, as Mr. King pointed out, a historical figure who had an impact on events that probably affect our own lives today.

If Ernest was gay or bisexual, it's relevant to discuss how he lived with that fact in a time when it was even less accepted than it is now. I don't think there is anything wrong with saying so if he was, or that he would have been wrong to be so, by the way. He would have been a victim of the marriage as much as Victoria Melita. If he was NOT, on the other hand, it's certainly time to refute the stories, isn't it? I will be interested in reading what I'm sure will be a well-researched, thorough, thoughtful biography of a multi-faceted man by Mr. King.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by bookworm8571 »

Offline bookworm8571

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2004, 12:01:19 PM »
I think you're overlooking the fact that his private life was as much a part of his life as his public life and, in fact, is a legitimate topic of research. It's even more so if one is writing a biography.

Apparently you would prefer that we no longer speculate about any aspect of the private lives of these people we are all obviously fascinated with. So there should be no more discussion then of Nicholas and Alexandra's love for one another and relationship with Rasputin -- Nicholas considered that none of the public's business, after all. There should be no further readings of the private letters or diaries they probably never intended to be published. No more should we discuss Nicholas's love affair with the ballet dancer, or Alix's rejection of Prince Eddy, the stupid cousin who might have been King of England. Alexei's hemophila is certainly off limits, since they did not wish anyone to know about it. In short, one should look only at what they chose to make public during their lifetimes and should view them with all due reverence. Of course, all of that is history. If someone hadn't gone digging into their private lives we wouldn't know anything about it or understand them or sympathize with them. The secrets of Ernest's life are no more sacrosanct than were his sister's. I like and sympathize more with the man because I see from these biographies that he was a man and not a plaster saint.

Offline JM

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2004, 01:02:55 PM »
Quote
Among other things, a problem with your reasoning is that in the absence of reliable information about a person's private life, people who are 'fascinated' with someone will tend to fill in the void with their own ideas, which of course is a fallacy.

There is a natural tendency to look for attributes in historical figures that mirrors their own experience in life.  That is why serious historical, philosophical and scientific inquiries rely greatly on positivistic methods, such as reliable historical records, logic, and scientific law instead of such epistemically poor but literary rich schools of thought such as psychoanalysis or deconstruction to analyze persons or history.  It is too easy for the analysis to become a mirror of the analyst, and not on the figure studied.

The fact is Ernie's life was nothing like any of our own.  None of us wore his shoes, or experienced what he experienced, or had the responsibilities that he had.  Therefore, to measure his world against the values of our own is simply erroneous and won't present a true picture of the man or his life.


I think you underestimate people, Rodger. You claim that "people who are 'fascinated' with someone will tend to fill in the void with their own ideas." Perhaps some do, but generally speaking we can not assume that this is what tends to happen. I'm sure most people that take the subject seriously are not likely to "fill in the void" with what "mirrors" their own lives.

Are we not allowed explore ideas and claims just because they may not be accepted as a historical fact?

Do we have to conform to accpeted theories when trying to understand a person?

Now don't get me wrong. I like source notes at the end of my books. However, if there is some evidence that points in a new direction. I think it is perfectly alright to discuss it in an honest and reasonable manner.

It is my personal opinion that this is a place for discussion. If we need a place to discuss what is and isn't up for speculation somone should start a new thread.

Offline bookworm8571

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2004, 01:15:16 PM »
I would consider Princess Ileana to be a relatively reliable source of information.

I'm sure Mr. King will conduct research into many aspects of the Grand Duke's life and will cite his sources for any information he uncovers when he writes the biography. Quoting gossip without attributing it to the rightful source would make the end product suspect. As a newspaper reporter, I do not quote people who will not allow me to use their names, regardless of how plausible their stories might be. It isn't fair to the reader. If I happen to interview two credible people who tell me two conflicting stories about an event, I quote both and let the reader make up his or her own mind. I don't consider it my place to express an opinion on which of the two versions is correct.

Good historians should be equally meticulous in gathering information about their subjects and, I hope, recording all credible information that might cast light on the subject. A historian can analyze and express opinions and speculate about his subject matter in ways that a journalist cannot, but backing up the opinion with original source material is just as important. Ultimately, it's up to the readers to judge what the truth is and that can't be done if they aren't given the whole story.

None of us are German royalty or the grandchildren of Queen Victoria, subject to the pressures or responsibilities or able to enjoy the pleasures that such a life might entail -- but I think it's ridiculous to believe that an intelligent person cannot IMAGINE what that life must have been like and how they may have been forced to react because of their station in life.

Most importantly, I believe history is the story of human beings. Human beings are basically the same, regardless of what the trappings of their lifestyles might be, and they loved and hated and felt joy and pain in 1903 just as we do in 2004. It's in that sense that we can understand Ernest and Victoria Melita and knowing them as human beings will add dimension and interest to the historical events that surrounded them.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by bookworm8571 »

Offline Forum Admin

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2004, 04:31:49 PM »
Rodger raises an interesting point. Sometimes it can be very difficult to assess credibility of a source, and one MUST understand how credible a source is, in order to give, or not give, the information from the source any weight or not. Even contemporary sources today may have what appears to be genuine credibility on the surface. They appear to be what they say they are, and do the things they claim they do. They present photographs, and statements from witnesses. All appears outwardly to be what they claim. Take the evidence of WMD alleged to have existed before the invasion of Iraq as an example.
Later, upon scrutiny of the "source", their background fails to check out, in fact the truth is that they are nothing they claimed to be. Witnesses do not really exist or could never have seen the things they claim. Statements are bogus. The photographs are a product of Photoshop and not real at all...one person's head pasted onto the body of another....
Furthermore, we can not perhaps know the motive of the supposedly credible source, perhaps they have ulterior and hidden motives.  Everyone understands that invariably the thing that one person accuses another can be often the one thing the accuser himself is actually hiding.  For example, often the man loudly denouncing others as "gay" is hiding his own closeted homosexual behavior to draw attention away from himself.
NOW, extrapolate this uncertainty back one hundred years to "source" material...How can we know, today, the hidden agenda or motives of people dead for seventy years?
A fine example, for me, is Rasputin's secretary Semenovich.  I was thrilled to discover a copy of his book on Rasputin in a used book store, for just a few dollars. Wow, I thought, who would have better first hand knowledge of Rasputin, what new information will it reveal....IF I were "new" to Imperial Russian history, I would have read the book and considered him a highly credible source...The TRUTH is that Semenovich sold out for the money, hoping that a scurillous, scandal mongering book, catering to the lowest basest level would sell far more books than the  more "ordinary" yet far more historically valuable Truth about Rasputin. Simply because a source is "contemporary" to the event does not guaranty reliability...
My two cents....

Offline JM

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Re: I thiRe: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisex
« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2004, 05:28:15 PM »
Quote
JM Wrote : I think you underestimate people, Rodger.

How do you know this to be true?  Guessing?

JM wrote:  You claim that "people who are 'fascinated' with someone will tend to fill in the void with their own ideas." Perhaps some do, but generally speaking we can not assume that this is what tends to happen.

So, you are saying that people shouldn't 'fill in' information that either isn't there or is speculation?  My point exactly. Thanks for making it for me.  QED

JM wrote:  I'm sure most people that take the subject seriously are not likely to "fill in the void" with what "mirrors" their own lives.  
 
Again how do you know this?  Where's your evidence?  At best the speculation is metaphysical, and therefore not a matter for serious discourse, at least according the standards set by the Viennese Philosophical Circle.  

JM wrote: Are we not allowed explore ideas and claims just because they may not be accepted as a historical fact?  

Sure you can, but the problem here is I suspect that many people, especially younger ones, aren't quite ready yet mentally to differentiate between what is speculation and fact.  Case in point, questions about a man's sexuality who is no longer alive, and didn't leave much in the way of direct evidence on the matter other than fathering children.    
 
JM: Do we have to conform to accpeted theories when trying to understand a person?
 
In most cases, yes.  By the way, the accepted spelling of that word I believe is 'a-c-c-e-p-t-e-d.'  But I can only guess at that because of the rules of spelling in the English language.  It's the commonly accepted rules than enable me to take your error and deduct what you meant by 'accpeted.'  Do you now get an idea why we have rules and theories about things that are ambiguous?

JM wrote: Now don't get me wrong. I like source notes at the end of my books.

Well, you'd love law school then.

JM wrote: However, if there is some evidence that points in a new direction. I think it is perfectly alright to discuss it in an honest and reasonable manner.
 
The problem though is this: how can you tell what is reliable evidence and what is not?

We have theories, rules actually, about what is good evidence and what is not that are based on the experiences of other people in similar situations and the problems they have encountered when assessing the validity of evidence.  The idle speculation of ex-wives and jealous persons are are less reliable as a source of evidence than other sources, period.


Well, Rodger, I do think you underestimate people. But, it doesn't matter too much.

On another note. Although some sources may be questionable or not "objective," this does not mean we should simply dismiss them as obsolete. What if we used this reasoning regarding the IF's murder? What are we to do about the Bolshevik's testimony about that night? I doubt that these men were above lying. Can we call them reliable sources? And, if we can't, why do we still accept their testimony.

Is there such a thing as an objective person. No, I don't think there is. Everything from history is "contaminated," so to speak. If we simply understand that, as I'm sure most people do, there is nothing wrong with discussing different theories.

It's just a discussion after all! Lets just accpet it for that.



Offline JM

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2004, 05:50:44 PM »
Not just me, Rodger!  ::)

According to you, we all have a "natural tendency to look for attributes in historical figures that mirrors their [our] own experience in life."

I sincerely hope that I never underestimate you.

If I do, please accpet my sincere apology.

:)

Offline Janet_W.

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2004, 06:28:32 PM »
Children, children!   ::)

Is it valid to discuss the sexuality of an historical figure? Yes, because sexuality is a huge part of one's life.

Are we doing so in a rude or out-of-context manner on this website? No, at least not yet.

Okay, shake hands, and let's all agree that the Grand Duke Ernst was a remarkable person who deserves a carefully researched biography that will shed light on his life and times and lead to a greater appreciation of what he accomplished.   :)

Offline bookworm8571

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2004, 06:31:34 PM »
I agree, Forum Administrator, that some sources are more credible than others and it can be difficult to ascertain how trustworthy some are at first glance. However, I don't think uncertainty is reason enough not to publish a statement or to automatically dismiss it as completely untrue.

Who else, for instance, would have greater intimate knowledge of Grand Duke Ernest's sexuality than his first wife? Who would Victoria Melita have been most likely to share the reasons for the break-up of the marriage with? Her sister -- her closest friend and confidant -- and her niece who was going through a similar experience. I don't happen to think they have reason to lie, but certainly their statements ought to be corroborated with those of impartial witnesses, if there are any, or refuted if they did in fact spread false stories about Ernest.

I don't think anyone ought to be shut up in a historical account. Rasputin's secretary has his place in history. If I were to quote him, I'd include facts and statements from those around him that would let the reader put him in his proper place in history. The reader will be warned to take his statements with a grain of salt, but still may find value in something he said. I think it's incredibly important to attribute statements to the correct person and research their lives and determine how likely it is that what they're saying is true. If possible, facts should always be corroborated with more than one source. But let's look at everyone who had something to say and judge their merits for ourselves. I don't think it's appropriate not to discuss something just because it can't be proven to be 100 percent factual. The argument can certainly be made -- and backed up with credible witnesses -- that the story about Ernest could have been true.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by bookworm8571 »

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #13 on: May 16, 2004, 06:42:30 PM »
Just to play "devil's advocate" for a moment, who would perhaps have the sharpest and biggest axe to grind than a divorced first wife? When I practiced law, the most difficult cases involved soon to be ex wives who made up all sorts of sordid stories about the soon to be ex-husband...tales of rape, abuse, drug use, theft etc etc etc...
When judging an account for accuracy, there are many levels to look at...proximity does not always equal objectivness, even when talking to relatives. (Ever talked to Mom and said "Im fine" when you werent??"

Offline bookworm8571

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Re: Was Grand Duke Ernst really gay/bisexual?
« Reply #14 on: May 16, 2004, 06:54:18 PM »
Sure, a bitter divorce brings out the worst in people, but why would she tell such a story more than 20 years after the divorce and the death of their daughter? First of all, she surely could have come up with some other damaging material to ruin Ernie if she wanted to. Why something this damaging, particularly since Ducky would have been damaged if it got out too?

This tale supposedly was told to Ileana at a time in Ducky's life when she was happily married with three children of her own. Surely her worst vitriol about Ernest had passed by then.  Ducky was also particularly vulnerable, having lost her fortune in the Revolution and the first World War, and relied on Marie and other relatives for financial support. Telling tales about Ernie would only have made her look repulsive to relations. Even if it were true, telling tales about it "was not the done thing."  Ducky told first her sister, a woman who was perhaps the only person she trusted, and Marie wouldn't have spread gossip. Ileana apparently didn't talk about it until much, much later.

The tale rings true to me and doesn't seem like just a biitter ex-wife telling untruths about a former husband she didn't care for. The timing of the story, the likelihood that only something intolerable would have disrupted the marriage and given Ducky a reason to seek a divorce, and the culture of the interrelated royal families gives me reason to believe it.