Angela Jianu


MARIA ROSETTI 200 

On the left: Maria Rosetti with one of her sons, c. 1860. Photo by the painter and photographer Carol Popp de Szathmári

National Library of Romania,  LINK

On the right: Revolutionary Romania, c. 1850, by Constantin D. Rosenthal (Romania's National Museum of Art, Bucharest) 

Maria Rosetti was born Marie Grant in Guernsey two hundred years ago this year

 

Maria Rosetti was born Marie Grant on 14 September 1819 in the parish of St. Peter Port in Guernsey. Her parents were Lieutenant Edward Effingham Grant and Marie Le Lacheur, a local woman from an old Guernsey family of Huguenot descent whom he had married in 1817 in the Town Church. A Scotsman whose family originally came from Edinburgh, Marie’s father was born in Markyate in Hertfordshire in 1795, but his family resettled in Antigua and St. Vincent, in the Caribbean, where they became involved in the sugar trade. At the age of seventeen he became Lieutenant in the 8th West India Regiment of Foot, with headquarters in Trinidad. Later he joined the Royal African Corps, in which he served from 1819 to 1832.

During preparatory research for my study A Circle of Friends, I was fortunate to meet Jean Vidamour and Dinah Bott at the Priaulx Library in Guernsey (St. Peter Port). They helped me uncover previously unknown genealogical data, but also found information confirming older assumptions that Edward Effingham Grant was related to the Grants of Carron, a Scottish clan from Grantown on Spey. Frustratingly, very few records of the family’s life in Guernsey have emerged so far: we do not know how Edward Effingham Grant met Marie Le Lacheur, how their daughter, Marie, spent her childhood on the island or where she was educated. We catch up with Marie Grant and her widowed mother in 1847, when the latter lived at East Stonehouse, near Plymouth, and gave her consent to her daughter’s marriage to the Romanian nobleman and future revolutionary, Constantin A. Rosetti, which took place there on 31 August of that year. Marie Grant became Maria Rosetti.

It is generally accepted in accounts of the Rosetti family that Constantin met Marie Grant around 1844 in the household of a Bucharest elite family where she worked as a governess. This employment was probably secured by her brother Effingham who was, throughout the 1840s, secretary to Robert G. Colquhoun, the British Consul General in the Romanian (then Wallachian) capital city. The Grants and the Colquhouns were related through Sir James Grant (b. 1679), who had married an heiress, Anne Colquhoun, on condition he took her name. One of Marie’s uncles was a George Colquhoun Grant, who became Treasurer of St. Vincent in Antigua. These familial and diplomatic links might explain the circumstances which led to the eighteen-year-old Effingham Grant’s diplomatic appointment in Bucharest in 1838. The British Consul held the young, multi-lingual man in high regard and never missed an opportunity to recommend him to the Foreign Office. In his official capacity, but also to a large extent unofficially, Effingham Grant was to play a crucial role in the events of 1848 in the Romanian Principalities, then under Ottoman suzerainty. The revolutions which engulfed most of Europe in that year resulted in the defeat of left-wing and democratic movements fighting for civic and political rights. In East-Central Europe the quest for a new political order was compounded by nation-building objectives: the emerging Balkan and east-European nations fought for independence from Ottoman and Russian domination. When Ottoman and Russian forces defeated the revolutions in 1848 and 1849, the leaders were incarcerated or exiled. In hazardous circumstances, the young Effingham Grant liaised between the British Consul and his future brother-in-law’s fellow-revolutionaries throughout those dramatic months. In a gesture which lay outside his official roles, he secured passports and safe passage to the members of the Romanian provisional government imprisoned by the Ottoman military after the defeat of the revolt. Most of the revolutionaries found a safe haven in Paris, which retained a reputation as a den of republicans, conspirators and spies and as a school of liberal politics in spite of the relative conservatism of Louis Philippe’s regime. It was while attending courses at the Collège de France and frequenting the famous professors who taught there in the 1840s, the historians Jules Michelet and Edgar Quinet, that these exiled young men were able to promote in the West the cause of emerging small nations in the Balkans and East-Central Europe.

 

Exiled in Paris with her husband, Maria Rosetti caught the attention of the fiery, intense Jules Michelet, who turned her into a heroic female emblem of the Romanian revolution. His text of 1855, “Madame Rosetti” (later included in the volume Légendes démocratiques du nord of 1854) was based on oral communications from the exiled Rosetti circle and is overt propaganda for the Romanian cause. Michelet shows, with his usual flair for melodramatic detail, how the crowds rallied in support of the beleaguered government after Maria tactically appeared in the streets of Bucharest on 12 July, holding her baby daughter – the symbol of the “infant republic”:

 


It was a sublime moment of heroic fraternity, of a grave joy, not without a dark presage of things to come. The enemy was lying in wait. This woman offering her infant to the fatherland would have wanted to give out weapons, and she only had a banner – and a torn one at that – to give. She gave away the shreds to the crowd as one would throw flowers to martyrs. […]

No-one wears with more grace the rags of democratic poverty. No-one knows better than her how to soften poverty for those dear to her. Admirable in danger, she was no less admirable in the course of a lengthy exile, full of hardship, pain and deprivation. But who would not be oblivious to them by her side? Admirable mystery of modern solidarity! It is the closeness of a stranger, of an adoptive daughter of Romania, which brings the Romanian exile closer to his own homeland, to its living genius and its warm hearth.”


 

In 1850 in Paris, Maria Rosetti sat for what was to become an iconic portrait in modern Romanian art. The artist was the Jewish-Hungarian painter Constantin D. Rosenthal (1820–1851), who had been naturalized Romanian in 1848 and was to die in a Habsburg prison as a result of his involvement with the Wallachian forty-eighters. Depicted in half profile, Maria appears in a graceful but defiant pose, dressed in a richly embroidered ethnic Romanian blouse and wearing a necklace of golden coins, an item of traditional peasant dress. Her left hand clutches a tricolour flag and her right fist is clenched round the handle of a dagger. Intended for an inner circle of disaffected Parisian republicans around the historian Jules Michelet, the portrait, which did not display the sitter’s identity, created a Romanian Marianne-like allegory later used in philo-Romanian propaganda around the Congress of Paris (1856). Nowadays, it can be seen at the National Museum of Art In Bucharest.

 

Upon his return from exile in 1857, Constantin Rosetti became one of the founders of the Romanian Liberal Party and was a member of several governments until his death in 1885. In a country which fought for independence and statehood throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, political life was convoluted, and the Liberals were often embroiled in contested policies. Maria remained a loyal partner and ally to her embattled husband until her own death in 1893. She is remembered as one of Romania’s earliest female journalists as founder and editor of the educational paper Mama şi copilul (The mother and child) in 1865. Although short-lived, it was the first periodical of this kind in Romania. (Incidentally, Maria Rosetti would probably be shocked to see herself described today as a “socialite” in one of the Wikipedia entries about her).

Maria’s brother, Effingham Grant, also settled in his adoptive country. His business partnership with Rosetti and his subsequent marriage to a young girl from one of Wallachia’s oldest and most distinguished families, made him a prominent member of the country’s liberal and entrepreneurial elites. Marie and Effingham Grant’s journey from the Channel Islands to Eastern Europe was a perilous adventure which could have ended badly. They overcame all odds, went native and played significant roles in the nation-building processes which created modern Romania.

 

Source: Angela Jianu, A Circle of Friends: Romanian Revolutionaries and Political Exile, 1840-1859 (Brill Publishers, Leiden, Balkan Studies Library 3, 2011)

 

For further details, visit:

‘Maria Rosetti: From St Peter Port to Revolution,’ Priaulx Library, Guernsey [Accessed 26 February 2019]

Jianu, Angela, 2018. "Dress, design : Romanian", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version 1.1.1.2/a, last changed 06-12-2018, consulted 25-03-2019.  LINK

© Angela Jianu, 2019       Material from this page mustbe cited as: Angela Jianu, "Maria Rosetti 200," URL: angelajianu.com 

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