Battenberg’s Self-Catering is hailing its name from one of the most fascinating and mysterious families in Swellendam’s history: the Battenbergs.
Ever since Jean Henri Battenberg and his pretty wife Matthea first set foot in Swellendam in the 1850’s they held a strange allure for the local people and very soon rumours were rife that they were actually related to the German royal house of Hesse, some of whose members carried the name of Battenberg. It was speculated that Jean Henri was a member of the house of Hesse, who then married a commoner of Dutch descent, Matthea, resulting in his family disowning him and leading to their emigration to South Africa.
For all practical purposes, however, Jean Henri Battenberg was a simple carpenter and cabinetmaker by trade and was known to produce solid wooden furniture (some of it still in use today) while his wife was well known for the delicious soetkoekies she baked. Even though Jean Henri was responsible for the designs of extensions to the famous Dutch Reformed Church of Swellendam, he and his wife did not really mix with the townsfolk and few of the locals knew them well enough to get more than a glimpse of their background. Yet something about this quiet Dutch speaking couple sparked the imagination of the town’s people. Maybe it was because Matthea Battenberg was a strikingly beautiful woman who dressed really well, often decked out in what appeared to be expensive jewellery, including one golden necklace that “glittered with diamonds with a set of earrings to match”. It was often the case that European immigrants with fine jewellery had blue blood. Added to that was the knowledge that it was common practice for European royal families to ‘post’ their more scandalous relations to remote parts of the world – a winning recipe for gossip.
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