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Bibliomaniacs' Corner
by Martin Davies

Margaret d'Estes
The Anglo-Saxon Invasion

The Anglo-Saxons have always been a nomadic, acquisitive race. Starting off in the lower Volga basin, they began their long westward drive by first taking in a large chunk of the north German plain. (The tribe’s name deriving from an emblematic tool/weapon - the sahsa dagger.) Invited by the Romans to garrison Britain, they were soon parcelling up the territory they were supposed to be defending with the Angles, some northern kinsmen whose name appears to be related to a more pacific tool - the fishing-rod. They were first dubbed Anglo Saxons by early Medieval chroniclers in order to distinguish them their more sedentary continental brethren, the Antiqui Saxons. After a thousand years or so of apparent dormancy - in fact spent consolidating their control over the British Isles and making a serious bid for France - they suddenly returned to form in 1620 in the unlikely guise of the Pilgrim Fathers, assimilating over the following three centuries a respectable proportion of the total global land-mass. Whenever a territory was irrevocably lost (such as the thirteen American colonies (1783) or Eire (1920)), another far larger one would immediately be acquired by way of compensation (i.e. Australia (1788) and Tanganyika (1920)). The result was the largest and most far-flung empire our planet has ever known. But one tiny Mediterranean rock managed to hold out, has never in fact been held at any stage by an official Anglo-Saxon army. It is hardly necessary to give the name of this plucky little republic, but I shall anyway. It is called Ibiza-Eivissa.

One of the first recorded Anglo-Saxons to arrive on Ibiza-Eivissa was a woman, albeit one with a surname originally from Lombardy. It is unlikely that any of the natives realised the long-term significance of this encounter, nor the staggering number of Margaret d’Este’s compatriots who would follow in her tracks - nowhere outside the British Isles has ever seen such a concentrated gathering of them. The month was April, the year 1906, and the timing immaculate, since Alfonso XIII of Spain was betrothed to Princess Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg, niece of the reigning British monarch, Edward VII:

The forthcoming marriage [May 21st] was the topic of the day, and all classes were equally delighted with the match. As compatriots of their future Queen we therefore met with an unusually favourable reception, and though I am sure none of the peasants had the remotest idea where England was situated we found a great bond of union to consist in the fact that both we and they lived on an island. Many were the questions we had to answer - Did one reach England before getting to America? Was England far from London? One man left his plough to come and tell us that he liked the English very much, which was a little surprising when one considered that till that moment he had probably never set eyes on any one of our nationality. We heard subsequently, however, that some years ago an Englishman hailing from Birmingham had stayed in the island, and though, to our host’s surprise, we could not supply the unknown traveller’s name, we were shown an unmistakable proof of his visit in the form of an English book - the only existing specimen in Iviza.

Margaret d’Este, With a Camera in Majorca, p. 131-2

Although it had been sixteen years since the visit of Gaston Vuillier, there can be little doubt that Margaret was familiar with his book, The Forgotten Isles (see our Ibiza History Culture Archive articles Weekly Editions 061 of Satruday 27th April 2002, 063 of Saturday 11th May 2002 and 065 of Saturday 25th May 2002). The subject of her Through Corsica with a Camera (1905) was standard Vuillier territory, while her second travelogue, With a Camera in Majorca (1907) also covered a key portion of the Frenchman’s bailiwick. The original title of his masterpiece is even alluded to in the opening sentence:

In the spring of 1906 we found ourselves with three months to devote to foreign travel, and after some deliberation we decided to spend them in exploring those “Iles oubliées” of the Mediterranean-Majorca, Minorca and Iviza-and in ascertaining for ourselves whether they were worth visiting and what were the possibilities of a stay there.

p. 2

Obviously the English edition of Vuillier, as we saw in an earlier article, left plenty of room for doubt. The ‘we’ is not a regal affectation, but rather a reference to Mrs R.M. King, the shadowy companion who had by then assumed total control of the expeditionary camera. She had accompanied Mrs d’Este three years earlier in Corsica (sharing with the author title-page credit for the snaps), and was to do so again in the Canaries a couple of years later. The third and last trip, incidentally, gave birth to In the Canaries with a Camera, (1909). It seems that, having once established their respective spheres of artistic prerogative, the two remained lasting friends. Before examining the Balearic volume, what was the reception of the first (Corsican) travelogue like?

“The reviewer is tempted at almost every page to quote, so full of description is this charming book, but space forbids . . . . ” (Daily Chronicle)

“An unusually well-written and well-illustrated book.” (Northern Whig)

“The authoress has given us some delightful pen sketches of the scenery, delicate little vignettes of local colour, and strongly sketched-in characters of the natives, and the illustrations are decidedly enticing.” (Photographic News)

“The book is one of the brightest of recent travel volumes. Mrs King’s photography is a worthy contribution to the work, and is worth studying by would-be picture makers, for its good placing of masses within the space, and for the strong yet not harsh way in which bold patches of deep shadow are placed against broad expanses of light.” (Photogram)

Leaving aside Photogram’s technical advice – as timely today as ever – one gets the distinct impression that our subject had a winning way with words. I have quoted so fully from these reviews because they apply equally to her book on the Balearics. Part III, ‘On Iviza’ consists of twenty-one pages of beautifully-wrought prose, ten carefully-composed sepia plates and ten captions of aching gentility. “It is fête-day, and the Ivizan peasants are all en grande tenue . . .” ; “Very Corot-like is the landscape, with Santa Eulália crowning a small eminence by the seashore.” Not just from another age, but from another planet. But Margaret’s first impressions, it has to be said, were far from promising:

It was pitch dark and raining hard. Some fishermen in glistening oilskins were unloading tunny from a bobbing, lateen-sailed felucca alongside, and we could hear the thuds of the stiff, heavy fish being thrown on board. The dim light of a lantern fell upon a party of broad-hatted peasants collected on the wet deck, who one by one were vanishing over the ship’s side and dropping into a cockleshell of a boat that pranced about below.

p. 122

When the clouds clear the following morning the pair gamely set off to explore the mysterious island beyond the fonda’s front door. After the standard tour of Dalt Vila, they set off in a “small and fragile conveyance” for San Antonio. It is Easter Sunday, and the flower-spangled countryside is given a final touch by the colourful parties of country folk encountered upon the road:

Whole families are coming to the town or walking back to their villages - bouquets of bright colour, purple, blue, yellow, pink, green, and red - quaint figures, such as one dimly remembers having met with in bygone days on nursery plates, and having accepted as truthful representations of that romantic race - the foreign peasant. Here they all were as large as life.

p. 10

An Edwardian lady to her fingertips, Mrs d’Este is able to do full justice to local dress and coiffure. We are shown details which differ significantly from the present-day costume on display at local celebrations: the shoes “resemble Moorish slippers, being turned up in a point at the toe”; the men wear “velveteen trousers of peacock-blue, brown, or purpose cut tight at the knee and spreading at the foot, like those of our costers or sailors” and a “broad-brimmed felt hat with ribbons hanging down behind.” Should anyone remain in doubt, Mrs King’s photographs are on hand to provide a clinching testimony.

Bearing in mind that this visit only lasted thirty-six hours, it is astonishing how much the doughty pioneers crammed in at a time when getting round the island was a slow and arduous business. The following morning the two raced over to Santa Eulalia (“the little horse trotting fifteen miles an hour on the flat, and straining every nerve to raise his average”) and in the afternoon took in the Salinas. En passant they are shown the newly-discovered Phoenician necropolis at Puig des Molins, which is given nearly three whole pages. Two recent finds are mentioned which do not appear to have made their way into the official collections…

That very day the workmen had unearthed a pretty ram’s head with curling horns, of fragile white earthenware, which our friend showed us. He also had in his possession what I should suppose to be the most valuable find yet made - an engraved scarab of dark green hæmatite, comprising on its tiny surface the figure of a man on horseback with a spear in his hand and a dog by his side, the whole cut with the delicacy of the finest intaglio. No inscriptions have as yet come to light, but as each tomb is opened the hope revives that it may prove to be in an unrifled condition and contain something that may throw a fresh light upon the burial customs of a long-vanished people.

p. 138

Present-day custodians of the local patrimony might like to track down Margaret d’Este’s heirs as the local guide, “not content with having done the honours of his native island, insisted upon our accepting some charming Phœnician relics as souvenirs of our stay.” Those were indeed the days. They returned to Palma with fond memories of the undiscovered paradise and blissfully unaware of what destiny had in store for it:

The little island that had before been only a name to us was now a very definite memory of pleasant days spent in the open air, of friendly and picturesque natives, of sunshine and charming scenery - while even our unpropitious landing had turned out to be a blessing in disguise, in acquainting us with the resident whose kindness contributed so largely to the pleasant recollections which we shall always retain of our stay in Iviza.

p. 141

In a fortnight’s time we shall be back with a look at another highly-cultivated Edwardian couple, this time from the misty Scottish glens. As is common knowledge, the Celts have always been the Anglo-Saxons’ leading partners in conquest

Martin Davies



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