Great-Uncle Vasily & Friends, c.1910

Great-Uncle Vasily & Friends, c.1910
Justin at The Tar Baby Festival, Horncastle 2009

Wednesday, 22 December 2004

Christmas Newsletter 2004

Dear Distant Kin or Absent Friend,

Well, here we are again - the years seem to go by in a blur these days! The Boxing Day Wren Hunt was very quiet this year: no saboteurs in the woods at all. The twins were ever so disappointed – all those traps dug for nothing. It certainly isn't the sporting event it used to be.

January – Splendid news came through from Uncle Juan that dear great-aunt Emilia is up for beatification. It will be nice to have another saint in the family, although I do think the Pope is making rather too many lately, like Tony Blair with his MBEs. The only difference is that a candidate for sainthood can hardly refuse the honour. After all, it would be positively unchristian, wouldn't it?

February – A small earthquake, with its epicentre at Grantham, knocked one of our awful Staffordshire dogs off the drawing-room mantelpiece. It was broken but unfortunately Roger says the damage is repairable. He was terribly upset as the pair has been in the family – and on the mantelpiece, too, for that matter - for centuries. As if that were a sensible reason for keeping stuffed terriers on the mantelpiece. I don't know of any other family that does. Old Sempringham says that bad luck will come of it. We'll see.

March - The Kesteven Archaeology Field Club had their annual fieldwalking in Old Hundred on the weekend of the 17th-18th. At first we were very excited when what looked like a chariot burial was detected by a geophysical reading down at Kidby Long Drain – but it turned out to be a traction engine, dating from the 1820s, probably one that rioting unemployed farm labourers ‘disappeared’ in the hope of protecting their livelihood against mechanization. Restoring it will give the twins something to do.

April – Speaking of Americans, The Wrenshore Society were right! We are related. After several months’ researching, I’ve found that Tadeusz Hrenszaw is descended from a Captain John Wrenshore who fought at the battle of Worcester in 1653. Records from the city archives say he died a prisoner in the Cathedral crypt after the battle, but give no hint of where he came from. Apparently he had two sons – the elder was Richard, who fought with him at Worcester but escaped to France, where he became a soldier of fortune and was made Constable of Rennes by Louis XIV. Changing his name to le Chevalier de Rennes-le-Chateau, or Rennes-Sieur, he produced a line of Rennesieurs who fled the French Revolution in 1790, returning to England where they married the Hertfordshire Wrenshores (descended from Captain Wrenshore’s second son Thomas, a lawyer in London, who had a son Tobias (1623-1665), who in turn had a son Obadiah (born 1648), who married a Miss Rejoice-In-The-Lord’s-Election Barguest (yes – wouldn’t you know it?!) and with whom Obadiah emigrated to New Hampshire in 1683.

That isn’t all, by a long way – The Chevalier Rennesieur was killed campaigning in Poland in 1697, and Tadeusz Hrenszaw was his son. He was disinherited by his father after a quarrel, and earned his living as a shipwright, accompanying Peter The Great on his incognito trip to England. On their return, Tsar Peter later ennobled him as Count Hrenszaw, and his son Piotr Hrenszaw, a lover of Katherine the Great, had a daughter Sofia who became the second wife of Baron Nikolai Kirov, of Hoeppenthal in Galicia-Podolia (now Kirov in Russia – or, I should say, the Republic of the Ukraine, as Uncle Igor reminds me). Her second son, I think it was, a Colonel Fyodor Kirov-Hrenszaw, serving in the Ruritanian army, was rewarded for his valour at the siege of Balitzlav-Zhtovsk, its castle was renamed Hrenszaw in his honour and the Colonel was awarded a dukedom. Because of the pro-Austrian sympathies of the Ruritanian court, the family name and that of the castle were later changed from Hrenszaw to Hentzau. The line died out in 1903 with the death of the famous Prinz Rupprecht von Hentzau, but the really exciting thing is that were are related to the Elfbergs! Meanwhile – as most of you probably knew from Roger anyway - ‘our’ lot left St Petersburg in 1917 during the Revolution and came to England. Baron Aleksandr Mikhailovitch and Baroness Eudoxia Bogdanova Kirov-Hrenszaw ended up in the Royal Hotel in Harrogate with a suitcase of family jewels. Fortunately they used the last of them to buy Sotby Hall before they attracted Queen Mary’s avaricious admiration. It was Aleksandr - Roger’s grandfather – who anglicised the spelling of the family name from Kirov-Hrenszaw to Kirov-Renshaw. He thought it more appropriately inconspicuous for an English gentleman farmer.

May – The Hexagon Society – La Societe de l’Hexagone, I should say - have promoted Charles from Chevalier to Prieur-Commandant de la Langue Angloise, on the strength of his descent from Le Chevalier Rennes-Sieur. So now we are not only a mixed farm and a brewery, we are a Commanderie as well! We were thrilled to go to Soissons for his investiture, though of course we had to be blindfolded once we were inside the keep. It was quite a surprise to meet – oh, no, I mustn’t tell you who we met at the reception after the ceremony. But I thought he’d been dead for years.

June – Tamsin got nothing but Firsts, A’s, Grade 1 passes or whatever they are calling National Certificate grades this year – twelve of them! Somerville and Girton have been falling over themselves to offer her a place next term but at 15 I think she’s rather too young. Roger, on the other hand, is all for it – says the two years’ fees saved from Roedean will help us find her enormous tuition fees. Why has State education become more expensive than an English Public School? But he wants her to go to Bolingbroke College, which is a family tradition. I pointed out to him that Bolingbroke still doesn’t admit girls, but Roger says there has to be a first time for everything. He likes a fight, as you know.

July – Tamsin has announced that she won’t go to University at all – she wants to become a nun. Roger and I were absolutely firm with her and told her that she must finish her education first. She went straight up to her room, locked the door and didn't come out or speak to anyone for a month.

August – Roger and I had a wonderful three weeks in Florida. As he says, it’s like a gigantic Butlin’s retirement home built on a crocodile-infested swamp, but the Latin American emigres are absolutely charming, extremely generous and most hospitable. Xavier has many friends in the Cuban, Colombian and Venezuelan expatriate community there, but what a place to retire to from the political instability of one’s own country! The crime rate in Florida is so high that these well-to-do South Americans all seem to live virtually under siege, and the state police are so under-resourced that Xavier’s friends have to arm their servants with machine-guns. I wonder whether President Bush has any idea what a mess his brother has got into as governor. Of course it’s all too easy to see that the cause of all that crime in Florida is allowing all the work-shy petty criminals from council estates all over Britain to buy time-share apartments there. I’d write to Mr Bush and tell him myself, if I weren’t worried that he’d have them all forcibly repatriated.

Anyway, we arrived home late one night from the airport, absolutely shattered. All the lights were off but we could see – of all things - a floodlight trained on Tamsin’s window (until there was a tinkling of broken glass and it went out). There was also something luminous thrashing about in the moat. When we drove up we could see in the light of the car headlamps that it was Justin wearing a fluorescent white dress with a light blue cloak and a long blonde wig. As he scrambled up the bank towards us we noticed Tamsin’s bedroom window was open and she was screaming abuse and throwing shoes and books at Justin. He admitted that he had thought it a good idea to dress up as the Virgin Mary, lowering himself down from the roof to hover, radiating light, in the air outside Tamsin’s window, telling her what a bad girl she was to disobey her parents and how disappointed she was in her, and that she must agree to read Physics at Bolingbroke. Tamsin had spotted the deception at once, and cut the wire, about five minutes before we arrived on the scene. Roger’s response was to push Justin back into the moat, which brought Justin back within range of a well-aimed paperweight from Tamsin, knocking him out cold. We had a lot of explaining to do at the Casualty Department of Louth Infirmary, but at least Tamsin is speaking to us again.

September - Justin offered to stand in for Cetchewayo at the opening of his exhibition in New York. He doesn’t learn. Great-Aunt Lavinia insisted on going instead.. Roger schooled her in all the right things to say about composition, chiaroscuro, impasto, gestural quality, atmospheric perspective, the beholder's share and things like that.

October – Tamsin is settling in well at Oxford (apparently the Dean and the Senior Tutor of Bolingbroke College are old friends of Charles’s, so she's been entered as Thomas not Tamsin), but she writes to say she has become an atheist. If there really were a God, she argues, how could He allow people like Justin to exist? I have to admit that I sometimes wonder myself. There was a bit of a panic one morning when Cetchewayo escaped from the Orangery (I suppose he was looking for Great Aunt Lavinia, as he's been missing her terribly during her American tour). The police found him in an art materials shop in Mablethorpe, and they called in the RSPCA, who eventually overpowered him and brought him back. The bill is not something we want to think about. That's the downside of having an artistic temperament in the family, so to speak.

November – Reports that the Black Beast of Benniworth has been seen again, turned out to be groundless. It was a silage bale that made Mr Wragby's horse bolt after all.

December - Roger's book-signing tour meant it was tedious not to have him around to help with the Christmas preparations, but it does mean we'll be able to keep Matilda in the air for another year. Hurrah!

The Corpse Candles have been appearing over the Mere on frosty nights before Saint Andrew’s Eve, so I fear 2005 will prove to be a bit of a roller-coaster. Hang on tight!

Best wishes from all the Kirov-Renshaws,

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