My father, Christopher, had the most profound affection for his aunt, Queen Alexandra of England, wife of King Eduard VII, and frequently stayed at the various English palaces. In the early years of the twentieth century, he found himself at Sandringham for the weekend, where he had a strange experience that I was reminded of when rereading his recently re-edited memoires in “Editions Lacurne”.
He was given a room in the modern wing, very light, very bright, and very pleasant. One evening before dinner, a little weary, he lay on his bed to read his book while his valet prepared his evening clothes. “Suddenly, the feeling that I was being watched made me turn around. Framed by the mirror on the vanity was a feminine face. It was so perfectly still that I could discern the smallest details of her appearance without the slightest effort.
“I noticed that this lady was young and very beautiful, that she had curly brown hair and a pretty dimpled chin. The top half of her face was hidden behind a small black wolf through which her eyes darted straight into mine with an infinitely painful expression. She seemed so real, so made of flesh and bone, that I myself initially believed she had somehow, I don’t know how, actually entered the room, that it was really just her reflection I could see in the mirror, and I turned my head to make sure.
“There was no one other than my valet who was busy coming and going. And, to my considerable surprise, as he moved towards the mirror to get something from the vanity, he passed right by the silent fact without seeming to have noticed it. I felt literally nailed to my bed. I tried calling out several times, but it seemed my throat was paralysed. Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, the woman disappeared, and the spell was broken.”
My father immediately asked his valet if he had heard or seen anything. “Nothing at all”, replied the valet.
My father dressed for dinner and went down to find his sister Marie and his niece, Princess Victoria. They didn’t believe him and responded with the usual jokes.
The next day, after breakfast, Queen Alexandra suggested that all her guests visit the neighbouring Houghton Castle, the splendid home of Lord Cholmondeley, which, by the way, still belonged to his descendants. The owner was not there, but the butler showed them around. My father stayed behind in the chapel to admire a motif when his sister and niece came running in, pale with emotion.
“They grabbed my arms and took me to the gallery where they stopped in front of a portrait. ‘Look, do you recognise her?’ they asked. I was speechless as I stood in front of the portrait of the very woman I had seen in my room at Sandringham the day before. She was wearing the exact same dress. In her hand, she held the little wolf I had seen her with, in such a way that her charming face was revealed to me in its entirety.”
Princess Victoria asked the woman accompanying them and in charge of their visit whether she knew the lady’s identity. “The woman hesitated. My God, yes, but around here, we never speak of her.” Not without some hesitation, she told us the lady was the ghost of the family. “However, I do believe that no one has seen her for about 70 odd years,” the woman in charge concluded.
That still didn’t explain to my father why the ghost had left her abode to appear to him in a modern room of a royal castle.
A lady-in-waiting of my grandmother’s, Queen Olga, to whom my father had told this story, was so excited by it that she conducted intense research on the lady. “She discovered that the lady was, during her time on earth, the spouse of an ancestor of Cholmondeley who treated her very uncivilly. Since there was no legal recourse at the time, her only hope was for an intervention by the king, and she long sought a way to escape her miserable home to come to London.
“But her husband took great care to make it impossible for her to regain her freedom, and for the last years of her life, he even kept her under lock and key, literally. She ended up dying of the desperation of not having attained her only desire.
“Since then, legend has it, she appears from time to time to anyone in the vicinity with a degree of kinship with the king, imploring them with her melancholic eyes to intercede on her behalf…”