Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Prince Friedrich of Prussia

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Christoph
Dec. 19, 1911 – Apr. 20, 1966

I'm about convinced Prussia must have been the gayest country in Europe. I've written about Frederick the Great (link to post in sidebar) and Baron von Steuben (likewise in sidebar, and we'll get back to him in a bit*), and today we have Prince Friedrich of Prussia. He was a member of the German House of Hohenzollern, which never relinquished its claims to the throne of Prussia and the German Empire after they were abolished and replaced by the Weimar Republic in 1918. Educated at Cambridge University in England, Prince Friedrich settled in Britain in his late twenties just before war broke out in 1939. He became a British citizen, living in England as George Mansfield. For a time interned in Canada, he was able to return to England. However, in the 1950s he resumed his German titles, and to this day his descendants use the surname “von Preussen” (of Prussia).

He came to a mysterious end. Two weeks after he was reported missing in 1966, Friedrich’s body was recovered from the Rhine River, and it could not be determined whether he committed suicide or died accidentally. He was 55 years old. At that time his wife, Lady Brigid Guinness (heiress to the great brewing fortune), was living openly with Major Anthony Ness, whom she married in 1967, after Friedrich's death.

Lady Guinness had cause to be living with another man. Prince Friedrich had tempestuous, painful affairs and encounters with handsome young men. He was also notoriously unstable and caused his family much suffering. Friedrich did not choose his friends wisely. He was a close friend of the infamous Sir Henry "Chips" Channon (photo at end of post), who was married to Lady Honor Guinness, the older sister of Prince Friedrich's long-suffering wife, Lady Brigid Guinness, who died in 1995. Why both these attractive, fabulously wealthy women each married a gay man is a mystery.

Chicago-born Channon also became a naturalized British citizen, and he regarded America and its citizens with disdain. He was a promiscuous homosexual who made no effort to conceal it, and his wife, Lady Honor Guinness, finally left him. His published diaries are quite a revelation of scandalous self-serving behavior, even in their expurgated form. Channon was somewhat reviled as a poseur and social climber who cruelly exploited his wife.

In 1939 Channon met the landscape designer Peter Daniel Coats (nicknamed “petticoats”), with whom he began an affair that led to Channon's divorce. Among others with whom he is known to have had affairs was the playwright Terence Rattigan, the Duke of Kent (who resided next door to Channon on Belgrave Square in London) and Prince Paul of Yugoslavia. Chips named his only son Paul, and Terence Rattigan dedicated his play, The Winslow Boy, to Channon’s son.

Well, honestly.

All the while the two Guinness sisters – young, beautiful and exceedingly rich – were providing ready cash for the fortune hunters Prince Friedrich and Sir Channon. With facts such as these, who needs fiction?

The dashing and indiscreet Chips Channon:

*Sometimes I am nearly rendered speechless by a weird coincidence. I had made a post to this blog about Baron von Steuben, the Prussian military officer who trained our fledgling nation’s ragtag troops at Valley Forge at the request of George Washington. Steuben was also an unapologetic pederast who was nevertheless honored by our nation with citizenship, titles, land grants and a lifetime pension by our grateful government (see post on Baron von Steuben in sidebar). My post included an unattributed portrait of Steuben, since it was the only image of the man available on the Internet.

Imagine my surprise when I was visiting the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa., yesterday morning and entered a gallery in which the first painting I encountered was the very same portrait of Baron von Steuben I had included in my blog entry. Had I not researched von Steuben for this blog I would likely have walked right past this portrait, since I was seeking out Jamie Wyeth’s famous paintings of a pig and raven. A mother leaned down to her young son, who was admiring the von Steuben portrait, and told him that von Steuben was “the guy who straightened out our Revolutionary War troops.” Poor choice of words.

In reading the portrait’s descriptive placard I learned that the painter was Ralph Earl, the famous portraitist born in Massachusetts in 1751. Due to his “sympathies for the British,” Earl was forced to leave the country at the start of the American Revolution. Deserting his wife and two children, he traveled to England for seven years, where he married again without having been divorced. After his return to the U.S., Earl was sent to debtor's prison for failure to repay loans. He earned his freedom by painting portraits of prominent New York members of the Society for the Relief of Distressed Debtors (who knew?). Upon his release, Earl began a successful career as an itinerant portrait painter. Traveling around new England, he painted notables of the Revolutionary War and prominent citizens in their natural surroundings, many shown in regional landscapes depicting the subjects’ newly built houses and opulent furnishings.

Ralph Earl spent the last two years of his life in Bolton, Connecticut, in the home of Dr. Samuel Cooley. Earl’s death was caused by alcoholism at the age of 50. In 1935 a stone in Earl’s memory was placed in the Bolton Center Cemetery by the Connecticut Antiquary. The memorial even mentions his famous 1786 portrait of Baron von Steuben.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Men are men at every time in history and the ones we know about are usually the accomplished and rich. No surprise many ended up alcoholic. When one is too old for the the candystick & azz there is always substance to console one. comforting isn't it!