Treasure of the month

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Kaiser Wilhelm's Visiting Card - July 2010

This visiting card belonged to Wilhelm II, Kaiser (Emperor) of Germany and King of Prussia (1859-1941). The card is contained in one of a set of family albums which formerly belonged to Gertrude Bell.

The albums were gifted to the University Library by the Plowden family in 2004 along with the papers of Lady Plowden. The albums had not formed part of the original gift to the library (in 1962) of Gertrude's letters, diaries and archaeological photographs but, instead, had been kept and treasured by Elsa, Gertrude's half-sister, who was Lady Plowden's mother.

Elsa often told her grandchildren of an occasion when she and Gertrude danced with Kaiser Wilhelm, during a trip to Berlin to visit their Aunt Mary and Uncle Frank (Frank Lascelles, who was the British Ambassador there). While Gertrude herself does not make specific reference in her letters or diaries to dancing with the Kaiser, she does give an account of meeting him on a visit to Berlin in January 1897. On that occasion she wrote home to Elsa of travelling to the palace in a glass coach and meeting the Emperor and Empress:

"I couldn't look at the Empress much as I was so busy avoiding Aunt Mary's train. She introduced me and then stood aside while I made two curtseys. Then I wondered what the dickens I should do next, but Aunt Mary made me a little sign to go out behind her, so I enjambed* her train and fled!"

* meaning, in this context, squashed or stood on

It seems likely that Gertrude acquired the Kaiser's visiting card during this or another such family visit to Berlin. The card's corner has been turned down; this usually signified that a card had been left in person and might, therefore, suggest that the Kaiser paid the Ambassador and his family a social call while Gertrude was staying with them.

Gertrude and Elsa are shown here - in a photograph taken from the same album- together at Mount Grace Priory in August 1900, with Gertrude's other half-sister Molly (later to marry into the Trevelyan family) and their father Hugh. Gertrude is on the right and Elsa at the back of the photograph.

With thanks to Mr Francis Plowden, Elsa's grandson, for his help in researching this Treasure, and for his kind permission to use images from the album and to quote his grandmother's reminiscences.

Bell family photograph