Thistle Publishing Home News Authors About Books

Cecil Rhodes and the Princess

Ruthless and visionary, Cecil Rhodes today personifies all the most extreme characteristics of the Victorian Empire-builder. Leaving both a country and a world-famous system of scholarships to commemorate his name, he might have been regarded as proof against personal intrigue. Particularly of the female variety since, in the jargon of the day, he was a confirmed woman-hater. But when he died, many people said his death had been caused by a woman, the notorious Princess Radziwill.

What was the hold this determined Polish adventuress had over him? With a passion for cloak-and-dagger intrigue which had already cost her her place in Russian society, the Princess pursued Rhodes from London to Cape Town. There she forced herself on him so relentlessly that Rhodes was said to get on a horse and gallop away whenever she approached his front door.

This well-documented double biography contains much material never published be-fore. It clearly establishes that Catherine's power over Rhodes was political, not sexual. Once she realised that Rhodes's few private emotions were fully satisfied by the group of hefty young men who surrounded him at home, the Princess changed her tune. Social importunity having failed, she first demanded money, then began forging Rhodes's name on promissory notes and finally — as Brian Roberts is the first biographer to have established — resorted to blackmail.

Rhodes's plan to silence her involved Lord Milner and other highly placed men at the Cape. Evidently she had in her possession documents that were political dynamite; they might, the author believes, have ruined Rhodes and deeply implicated Joseph Chamberlain in the Jameson Raid.

After legal proceedings which make ludicrous reading today, the Princess ended with a two-year sentence in a Cape Town prison. But the scandal and strain of the Radziwill affair were too much for Rhodes; tragically he died before the case was over. His evil genius — a figure extraordinarily compounded of melodrama and farce — survived him by forty years, her secrets still her own.

Buy Brian Roberts