Countess Markievicz: The Polish Connection - Part 1 of 3: Love and Marriage

To the Irish that shared Constance Markievicz's life and times, the appellation, "The Countess" was enough to recall the fiery revolutionary and friend to Ireland's poor. Despite her exotic surname and title, she was born in Sligo, christened Constance Georgina Gore-Booth. Over the next few weeks, WGT will be chronicling the story of how Markievicz became a countess. The three-part narrative is adapted from WGT Connacht correspondent Joe McGowan's new biography, "Constance Markievicz: The People's Countess," with his kind permission.

Countess Markievicz: The Polish Connection

Part 1 of 3: Love and Marriage

By Joe McGowan
WGT Connacht Correspondent

Constance (left) and her sister Eva, 1898.

Pearse, O'Connell, Connolly, Collins: all names that are well known to the student of Irish history. Amidst these familiar names the foreign sounding Markievicz strikes a discordant note. Markievicz? An Irish patriot? How could that be?

Constance Georgina Gore-Booth was born in London on February 4, 1868, to Sir Henry Gore Booth, 5th Baronet, and his wife Georgina, an Anglo-Irish landlord family with properties at Lissadell, County Sligo. As a child and young woman, although high spirited and restless, she led the leisurely lifestyle of her class.

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From 1898 to 1900, Constance's life was centered in Paris, where she attended art school. Thus began the Polish connection. It was there that this aristocratic lady met Kazimierz Dunin Markievicz.

They fell in love, and in 1900, despite religious differences, married. Con was in her 32nd year, her husband six years her junior. It was Kazimierz's second marriage, having been previously wedded to a Polish girl, Jadwiga Splawa-Neyman. They had two sons but, tragically, in 1899, Jadwiga and their younger son, Ryszard, died.

Con was Anglican and her intended husband a Polish Catholic. He was a subject of the Russian Empire, the official religion of which was Eastern Orthodoxy. In the summer of 1900, despite concerns voiced by the Gore-Booths about religion and the venue for the ceremony, Constance received 'a most gracious' letter of blessing from Kazimierz's mother.

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'THE COUNTESS'

The matter of the venue being of great concern to Josslyn Gore-Booth, Con's brother, he expended considerable effort in securing opinions from British and Russian lawyers. It was finally agreed to solemnize the marriage in a registry office, at the Russian Legation in London, as well as at a later Church of England ceremony on September 29, 1900, in London's Marylebone Church.

Kazimierz Dunin Markievicz in Russian uniform, 1914.

Constance resisted any advice to defer to her husband's religion by having a Roman Catholic Church wedding. She could not contemplate the offspring of the union becoming 'Popish babies,' she declared. Given her family upbringing and background, this response is not surprising. In later years, on her release from Aylesbury Jail in 1917, she embraced the Catholic religion 'enthusiastically and wholeheartedly.' The Marriage Settlement stated that '... all children of the marriage shall be educated and brought up in such religious faith as the said Constance Georgina Gore-Booth shall from time to time determine.'

Was Count Kazimierz Dunin Markievicz really a Count? Was Constance Markievicz therefore a Countess? Does it really matter? The subject was debated in an exchange of letters in The Irish Times recently. Since the question is of interest to some and of concern to others, we will touch on it briefly here.

In a letter to her brother Josslyn, Constance expresses the belief that she is a poor match for Kazimierz, him being "a hereditary nobleman." This, she explains, means that he is the "son of a Count whose family has been on a certain property for seven generations."

This matter was of great importance to the Gore-Booths, who wanted to know whether the Markievicz family was their aristocratic equal. Family honour was at stake so the matter was investigated.

Sir Charles Scott, Her Majesty's Ambassador to St. Petersburg was directed to seek a ruling from the Russian foreign minister. He then instructed a member of the Okhrana (later the KGB) to spy on Count Kazimierz in Paris. This man, a Mr. Rachkovsky, duly reported that Kazimierz, "takes the title of Count Dunin Markievicz without right in that Poland has never had a Count of that name. ... He may have been able to buy this title at the Vatican, or to obtain it in Austria."

Constance and Casimir on the day of their church wedding in London, September 29, 1900.

Continuing his report he gives an account of the characteristics of Con's intended husband: "He is known as somewhat original and as a bon vivant, liking the noisy life… Since the death of his wife he indulges in all pleasures, which take up every instant of his life. Apart from this stormy life, there is nothing with which to reproach him. One would say that, if he is not serious at present, it is because of his youth and that reason will dominate him through age or another happy marriage."

The news must have concerned Josslyn Gore-Booth, who initiated the inquiry. This bohemian with a doubtful lifestyle was not going to enrich the family with another title, after all. What would the neighbors say? It seemed that the most that Kasimierz could legitimately lay claim to was to be a member of the "szlachta" which translates as "gentry" or "nobility". The title was usually associated with landed property.

Given Constance's disregard for titles and snobbery, such concerns were of little interest to her. Although often referred to as "the Countess" or "Countess Markievicz," the term she most preferred was "Madame," a name bestowed on her by the deprived and destitute of Dublin, whom she served so well.

After King George's visit to Ireland in 1911, Con's disdain for title-seekers is evident in a letter to Josslyn:

"Everything here has subsided again, & Dublin is its usual peaceful self & we are all praying that King George will not come again for many a long day. Even if I were not a nationalist I should object to King's visits for they but bring out the worst qualities in people: all sorts of snobbery is developed in people, which leads to such trickery, such meanness, such lies and misrepresentation. Everyone using every means to get himself noticed; no trick is too low for a man if he sees a title the other side…"

The Gore-Booth estate at Lissadell, Co. Sligo.

Josslyn must have been disturbed at the sentiments expressed in her letter and was surely perplexed by her growing identification with nationalism. In real terms, Con's family estate at Sligo and the Markievicz properties at Zywotowka in the Ukraine were roughly similar in size and social significance. Regarding heritage and the family tree, the Markievicz family could trace its origins to a famous forebear of the 12th century, much further back than the Gore-Booths.

  • PART 2: IRELAND BECOMES HER MISTRESS

    PART 3 IS COMING SOON.


    Posted April 25. 1 PM EDT.

    Thousands Gather Under Benbulben To Honor 'The Countess'

    Joe McGowan during preparations to anchor the new monument to Countess Markievicz, in Rathcormack, County Sligo.

    RATHCORMACK, COUNTY SLIGO, Ireland (WGT) -- More than 3,000 people gathered Monday under the shadow of Benbulben Mountain to pay homage to Constance Markievicz, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising.

    The occasion, the Easter Monday holiday, was the unveiling of a monument dedicated to Markievicz, born Constance Gore-Booth, who grew up close by this small village, on the family estate at Lissadell.

    The memorial, which cost more than $100,000, is a project that was conceived and initiated for the millennium, which followed the 80th anniversary of her appointment to the first Dail. Markievicz was the first woman MP in the British Isles, and, as the revolutionary Irish government's Minister of Labour, she was the first woman cabinet minister in the world. "Constance is a Sligo heroine, but she belongs to Irish people everywhere who remember her deeds and her courage," monument coordinator Joe McGowan told WGT via e-mail.

    The life-size sculpture, by Dublin artist John Coll, is a 20-foot-high tableaux depicting various achievements in the life of the devoted republican and activist for Ireland's downtrodden. An Irish army color party and band led a parade into the village to launch the day's ceremony. Among the marchers were pikemen from Wexford and pipe bands from Achill, in neighboring County Mayo.

    Unveiling the memorial, Seamus Brennan, Irish transport minister and chairman of the National Millenium Committee, described Markievicz as "a remarkable woman and one of the outstanding social and historical figures in our history." Brennan added: "Her contribution to the influencing and molding of the emerging new Ireland was considerable, and we owe her our gratitude for that. She is recognized today as a symbol of unity and tolerance that transcends party allegiances."

    The cover of "Constance Markievicz: The People's Countess," edited by Joe McGowan.

    Minister Brennan also helped mark the publication of a new Markievicz biography: "Constance Markievicz: The People's Countess," authored by McGowan, a local folklorist, preservationist, and expert on Sligo poet W.B. Yeats.

    McGowan told the throng: "This memorial belongs, not to we who brought it about, but to each and every one of you, not just to the people of Rathcormack, though they are worthy custodians, not just to the people of Sligo, but to the people of Ireland.

    "When these celebrations are over, when you go home today, take Constance in your heart with you, as she took the poor and dispossessed of Ireland into hers. As taxpayers, as citizens, as private donors it was your money that paid for this tribute, so in every sense it belongs to you. You may take pride in that ownership, as I do."

    For additional information or to purchase a copy of "Constance Markievicz: The People's Countess," contact McGowan via e-mail atconnacht@thewildgeese.com.

    Editor's Note: See WGT's review of one of Joe McGowan's earlier books, "Echoes of a Sa....

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