The Fall of Ruritania
The Fall of Ruritania; A Personal Account. Hon. Magnus fforde; ed. Anthony Coleman. Foreign
Service Press, 2012. 119 p. £29.
During the years he served as Great Britain’s ambassador to Bavaria (1901-14), Magnus fforde (as he preferred to spell his name) also represented his county in an adjoining and much smaller kingdom, Ruritania. His duties were not particularly onerous in either case, but he was ideally placed to witness a series of notable events, including the nearly bloodless coup that led to the absorption of Ruritania into Bavaria.
It is that coup that is the primary focus of fforde’s narrative. According to editor Coleman, fforde printed an account of the events—for circulation among close friends—after his retirement from the Foreign Service in 1921. Coleman has now augmented that text with a chronology of Ruritania’s tragicomic history and a consideration of the fictional elements introduced by Anthony Hope in The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and subsequent volumes.
Magnus fforde was clearly frustrated by the association in the popular mind of Hope’s works with the real Ruritania and, by extension, with himself. Yet, as Coleman makes clear, fforde’s obvious affection for his “lost” kingdom mirrors the unconsummated romance between Hope’s main characters—Rudolf Rassendyll and the beautiful Princess Flavia.
Then again, many of the events fforde describes can only be categorized as “Ruritanian.” These include accounts of the kingdom’s annual waterfall-jumping contest and, in particular, the last known appearance of King Rudolf VIII, who would be remembered as “the Well-Intentioned.”
A devotee of aeronautics, philately, and apiculture, Rudolf—accompanied by his faithful Airedale Otis—ascended from a public square one June morning in 1914 beneath a hot air balloon flying the Ruritanian colors, bound for a holiday on the Riviera. However, the monarch was never seen again, and, in the wake of his mysterious disappearance, Bavarian agents disguised as itinerant klezmorim toppled his government and sent his queen into exile. Fittingly enough, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo a few weeks later rang down the final curtain on the Belle Époque that Rudolf and his fellow monarchs so thoroughly epitomized.