British author talks about horses, the Royals during Harford visit

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Royal story comes to Harford

The love of horses and racing is a long standing tradition on both sides of the pond, as the Atlantic Ocean is often called when England and her former colonies, our United States, are the subjects.

That love of horse racing, particularly among the Royals, was brought home to Harford County Friday evening. That's when more than 80 people were treated to a talk from British author Hugo Vickers, the biographer of the Royal Family, about the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and her relatives' love of horse racing.

"Horses play a large part in the life of our Royal Family," Vickers said. "On ceremonial occasions they come out in force."

Vickers said the queen's carriage is pulled by the Windsor Greys, although the carriages of her grandson, and eventual heir to the throne, Prince William, his wife, Kate Middleton, and William's brother, Prince Harry, are pulled by brown bay horses.

"There is a simple distinction," Vickers explained. "Gray horses pull the sovereign."

Vickers spoke in a dining room of the Chesapeake Center on Harford Community College's Bel Air campus. His talk and dinner were part of the opening of an exhibit at HCC's Hays-Heighe House that covers the 100th anniversary of the American-born racehorse Durbar II's victory in the 1914 Epsom Derby in England.

The exhibit is titled "The Racehorse, the Royals and the Writer: The Legacy of Herman Duryea."

Maryanna Skowronski, director of the Historical Society of Harford County, is the guest curator of the exhibit.

Guests Friday got a preview of the exhibit, for which the official opening took place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Theresa Wiseman, a volunteer member of the advisory board of the Hays-Heighe House, introduced Vickers.

She said she has followed Vickers for more than 30 years, since he provided commentary during the wedding of Elizabeth II's son, Prince Charles, and his late first wife, Princess Diana, during the early 1980s.

"Mr. Vickers will be talking about two of my favorite topics, the Royal Family and horse racing, so ladies and gentlemen, you are in for a treat," Wiseman said.

Durbar II was owned by Herman Duryea, who was the uncle of Robert Heighe; he and his wife, Anne, owned Prospect Hill Farm, which became the community college campus during the early 1960s.

Durbar lived at the farm, and he is buried on the property, although it is unknown exactly where. His portrait hangs in the Hays-Heighe House.

Durbar won the Epsom Derby in late May 1914, about a month before the June 28 assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the event that set World War I in motion.

Vickers spoke about the atmosphere around the Epsom Derby during the years leading to World War I, including the interruption of a race by a suffragette firing a starter's pistol at a police officer.

Suffragettes worked to obtain the right for women to vote during the early 20th Century, and their work in Britain and the U.S. is a large part of the exhibit on Durbar II.

Vickers also spoke at length about Queen Elizabeth II's love of horses and horse racing, and he noted that she pretended to be a horse as a child, or she pretended her grandfather, King George V, was a horse, and she would pull him by his beard.

"As a person she really asks very little for herself, and her only extravagance I would say, if such it could deem to be extravagant, is her racing," Vickers said of the queen, who owns racehorses and has one of the top international stables.

Elizabeth II, now 88 years old, became queen in February of 1952; she has reigned for almost 63 years, and in 2015, she will become the longest-reigning British monarch, Vickers said.

She will be succeeded by Prince Charles, father of Prince William and Prince Harry.

"We are living at the tail end of a golden age, and we should enjoy every minute of it," Vickers said "We are very, very lucky to have her."

He added: "I feel it has been one of the greatest happinesses of my life that she's been my queen all this time, so long may she continue."

Harford student Jamie Colopietro, who is an intern at the Hays-Heighe House and is studying British history, said she enjoyed Vickers' presentation.

"It was really amazing," she said.

Friday's dinner was also a fundraiser for the Hays-Heighe House.

The stone farmhouse on the college campus dates to 1808 and was built by Archer and Hanna Hays; the Heighes purchased it in 1921, according to a history posted on the HCC website. The house was restored seven years ago.

"You really are supporting what we're able to do in the Hays-Heighe House," HCC President Dennis Golladay told the audience before dinner.

The house is used today to "showcase the social and cultural history of Harford County" through various exhibits and events, said Carol Allen, the college's library director; she also oversees the Hays-Heighe House.

Allen said Monday that about 82 people attended the dinner and talk by Vickers for which tickets were $75.

"We were well pleased with the [ticket] sales, given that it was the first time that the Hays-Heighe house has undertaken a fundraiser," Allen said.

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