Marlene Koenig is no stranger when it comes to royal history
August 2, 2013
In 2005 Marlene Koenig found herself dining at a palace in Belgrade to celebrate the 60th birthday of Crown Prince Alexander II of Serbia.
Looking back on this momentous occasion, Koenig said, “It was a very formal event and I was wearing a beautiful lavender dress I had found on sale at the Nordstrom Rack. But what I remember most is feeling remarkably comfortable.”
Koenig, librarian for the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center since 2008, has, in her own words, a “whole other life” beyond the stacks at Virginia Tech. For one thing, she is an acknowledged expert on British and European royalty and has been to the United Kingdom 46 times. Like millions of others recently, she eagerly awaited the birth of the heir to the British throne.
“It is particularly exciting from a historical point of view,” she said, “because this is the first time since 1894 that there have been three direct heirs to the throne behind a reigning monarch.”
The road leading to her unwavering interest in the royals and to Belgrade began in Ringwood, N.J., when she was in middle school. “I read a book about Queen Victoria and her descendants and I was hooked,” said Koenig. “I just couldn’t seem to get enough information about who was related to whom and how they were related.”
Over the years she continually read books on royal genealogy, absorbing as much information as she could. “I went to local libraries and poured through miles and miles of microfilm long before there were digital files,” Koenig said. (Today she owns more than 1,000 books and still has extensive clip files.)
All this independent research evolved into a growing interest in Queen Victoria’s non reigning descendants, she said. Koenig looked for addresses and started writing letters. That is how she met and developed a friendship with Alexander – a double descendant of Queen Victoria – who was living in exile and working as an insurance executive in the Washington, D.C., area where Koenig by that time had relocated.
During one of their conversations in 1988, Koenig predicted, “One day you will be back in Belgrade living in the palace and I expect a dinner invitation.”
Koenig said she never doubted that she would be proved right; Alexander was allowed to return to his homeland in 2001. She does admit, however, that the dinner invitation at the palace was more of a surprise.
She was invited back to the palace in 2010 to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine.
Koenig returned to Belgrade for a third time this past May, invited by the crown prince to attend the state funeral of members of the deposed Yugoslavian royal family. Decades after their deaths in exile, Alexander succeeded in exhuming his parents, King Petar II Karadjordjevic and Queen Aleksandra; grandmother Queen Maria; and brother Prince Andrej from cemeteries in the United States, Britain, and Greece, and bringing them back to Serbia for reburial. Koenig stood with Alexander in the Oplenac royal chapel in the southwestern town of Topola, where Serbian government officials and hundreds of mourners attended the historical event.
“It was an amazing experience for me,” Koenig said. “As a 12-year-old girl pouring over royal history, I would have never believed that I would one day be standing in Belgrade with a former crown prince as history was being made.”
Koenig began her career as a librarian after earning a master’s degree in library science from the State University of New York at Albany in 1981. She came to the D.C. area in the late 1980s. Her experience prior to joining Virginia Tech includes seven years at the American Society of Landscape Architects. Prior to joining that organization, she worked for more than 20 years in news libraries for the AP; CNN; NPR; and in the Washington, D.C., bureau of The (London) Daily Telegraph.
"The Gleichens: the Unknown Royal Cousins," which she wrote in 2011, has recently been made available in a Kindle edition. She authored "Queen Victoria's Descendants" (Rosvall Royal Books, 1997) and "Queen Victoria's Descendants: A Companion Edition" (Rosvall Royal Books, 2004); has edited and contributed chapters to other books; and has written for numerous publications including Majesty, Royalty Digest, Royalty Magazine, Atlantis Magazine and European History Journal. CNN, NBC, ABC, BBC, The Today Show, The Washington Post, and The (London) Daily Telegraph are among electronic and print media that have sought her expertise for their programming.
She publishes "RBN - Royal Book News" which she started in 1983 as the only newsletter for books about royalty. One big change, though, is that it is now a blog. She also writes a second blog, "Royal Musings".
Koenig said that her experience as a news librarian and an author greatly influences her work with the 180 or so students who use the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center library (run independently from University Libraries) as a resource.
“The students here get one-on-one attention and encouragement to think outside the box,” she said. “ I keep reminding them that Google is a search engine and not a research engine and work with them to identify available databases and scholarly publications that would most help them in their research.”
"Sometimes they are surprised when I tell them that the best way to get information is to just pick up the phone and talk to someone,” Koenig said with a laugh. “It might be old-fashioned but it still works.”
Marlene Koenig and crown prince
Marlene Koenig with Crown Prince Alexander during her most recent trip to Belrgade