Thursday, June 9, 2016

Princess Margaret of Prussia, Landgravine of Hesse

Princess Margaret of Prussia was the youngest child and daughter of Prince Frederick of Prussia, the future Emperor Frederick III of Germany, and Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest child of Queen Victoria. She was the eighth and final child born to the Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia, as well as their fourth daughter, with a thirteen-year age gap between her and her eldest sibling, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II. Her other surviving siblings (two of her brothers died young) included: Charlotte, Duchess of Saxe-Meningen, Prince Henry, Princess Viktoria, and Sophie, Queen Consort of the Hellenes. Born as Margaret Beatrice Feodora on April 22, 1872, she came into the world at the royal residence of Neues Palais in Potsdam. As she was born with short hair that resembled moss, she was affectionately giving the nickname “Mossy”.

The three youngest daughters of Prince Frederick & Princess Victoria: 
(left to right) Princess Sophie, Princess Viktoria, & Princess Margaret
Margaret grew up alongside her siblings amongst great luxury and custom. She was very attached to her two closest sisters in age, Viktoria and Sophie, as well as her parents, unlike her three eldest siblings. The Princess Royal had raised her first three children in a rather harsh, demanding, and critical manner but for her three youngest daughters (her “three sweet girls”), she swapped her strict parenting style for a more relaxed, affectionate, and motherly approach. This created a rift between not just the older and younger siblings but also their parents as well, for Wilhelm, Charlotte, and Henry never got along with their mother or father during their lifetimes. Out of all of Princess Victoria’s daughters, Margaret appeared to be her favorite, as she remained her companion for some time after Frederick’s death in 1888. Margaret’s father only reigned for three months in the year of 1888, when she was sixteen years old, before succumbing to an agonizing bout of throat cancer. With his death, Margaret’s older brother, Wilhelm, took the thrones of Germany and Prussia. Margaret was undoubtedly the most popular of Wilhelm’s sisters with the people due to her open and caring personality. She also was able to sustain good relations with many of her family members, a trait that was few and far between in the estranged German/Prussian royal family.

Princes Margaret and her fiancĂ©e, 
Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse
By this time, Margaret’s mother and brother began searching for suitable future spouses for her. While they mulled over candidates such as the future Tsar Nicholas II and her British cousin, Prince Albert Victor of Wales, Margaret became infatuated with another man – Prince Maximilian of Baden. However, he did not return her feelings so, in the summer of 1892, she became engaged to his close friend, Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse, the future head of the Hesse-Kassel family and the future elected King of Finland. Prince Frederick, or “Fischy”, was the third son of Frederick William of Hesse, Landgrave of Hesse, which meant he was not as wealthy or influential as other suitors for Margaret’s hand. Thus, Wilhelm II was very unwilling to permit the match but eventually gave in, telling his sister he only did so because “she was so unimportant”. The couple, who were third cousins, wed on January 25, 1893 at the Hohenzollern Stadtschloss in Berlin on the anniversary of Margaret’s parents’ wedding. At the time of the marriage, Margaret was twenty and Frederick was twenty-four. The couple was extremely happy together, despite their differing personalities (Margaret was much more strong-willed than her husband and had the appearance of being the more confident and steady partner in the match). During their early years together, they mainly resided at Schloss Rumpenheim, but when Margaret inherited Schloss Friedrichshof in 1901 when her mother died, the couple moved homes. Although it was frowned upon for a husband to be living in his wife’s property, and not vice versa, Margaret was obstinate that her mother’s old home should be continued to be cared for.

Margaret and Frederick had six sons together, including two sets of twins:
  • Prince Friedrich of Hesse-Kassel (1893-1916) died unmarried and without issue in World War I
  • Prince Maximilian of Hesse-Kassel (1894-1914) died unmarried and without issue in World War I
  • Prince Philipp of Hesse-Kassel (1896-1980) married: Princess Mafalda of Savoy – had issue
  • Prince Wolfgang of Hesse-Kassel (1896-1989) married: Princess Marie Alexandra of Baden – no issue
  • Prince Richard of Hesse-Kassel (1901-1969) died unmarried and without issue
  • Prince Christoph of Hesse-Kassel (1901-1943) married: Princess Sophie of Greece – had issue     

Princess Margaret with two of her sons,
Prince Philipp and Prince Wolfgang
(early 1900's)

When World War I began in 1914, Margaret and Frederick’s two oldest sons – Prince Friedrich and Prince Maximilian, enlisted in the German army. However, both were killed during the conflict. Prince Frederick died on September 12, 1916 at Kara Orman in Romania at the age of twenty-two. He was killed when fighting in close combat with the enemy and an enemy bayonet slit his throat. Maximilian, who was actually Margaret’s favorite son, died two years before his brother in October of 1914 near Aisne when he was killed by machine gun fire. In 1918, when the grief off Friedrich and Maximilian’s deaths was still raw, Frederick was offered the Finnish crown on October 9, 1918. As Finland had become independent from Russia near the end of the Great War, they decided to elect Frederick as their monarch. Frederick accepted the throne of the newly independent kingdom but when World War I ended a month later, Frederick had to renounce the throne on December 14, 1918 due to his German birth, the abdication of his brother-in-law and the dissolution of the German monarchies, and Germany’s ultimate loss in the war. A few years later, on March 16, 1925, Frederick’s older and nearly blind brother (the second son in the family, as the eldest had died at sea) abdicated as the head of the House of Hesse in order to marry a woman below his status. The title of Landgrave of Hesse therefore passed to Frederick, making Margaret his Landgravine Consort. Even though Germany had stopped the use of royal titles after the war, Frederick and his wife were allowed to officially maintain their new statuses.
Princess Margaret

In the period between World War I and World War II, two of Margaret and Frederick’s remaining four sons, Philipp and Christoph, supported Nazism and believed that Hitler could bring back the German monarchy. When Philipp married Princess Mafalda of Italy, the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III, Hitler gave him a position in his personal staff in 1939, as he saw that Philipp could be a valuable means of communication between Germany and its ally, Fascist Italy. However, once Philipp got the job, he realized the horrors of Nazism and attempted to leave but couldn’t. Instead, Philipp tried to make the best of his unwanted situation by using his position and wealth to help persecuted Jews escape to the Netherlands. Hitler eventually found out what Philipp was doing and had him imprisoned in a concentration camp for political prisoners while his wife was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, where she died in 1944 after being wounded in an air raid. Philipp was released by the Allies in 1945 but was held as a prisoner until 1947. He had four children with his wife before her death, three sons and one daughter. Christoph, unlike his brother, remained a staunch Nazi supporter during the war until Germany’s loss at the Battle of Stalingrad, after which he became unfavorable towards Hitler and his government. Once the Nazis turned against his family and arrested Philipp and his wife, Christoph planned to leave the party but was unable to do so, as he suddenly killed in action in a plane crash in 1943. At the time of his death, he was married to Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark (a great-great granddaughter of Queen Victoria through her second daughter, Princess Alice. She was also the sister of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the consort of Elizabeth II) and had five children.
Prince Philipp and Princess Mafalda of Italy on their wedding day
Prince Christoph and his wife, Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark

So, by the time World War II ended in 1945, Margaret had lost her two eldest sons (in World War I), her youngest son, and two daughters-in-law (her son, Prince Wolfgang, lost his wife, Princess Marie Alexandra of Baden, in 1944 during a bomb attack). Unfortunately, Frederick also died during the war on May 28, 1940 at the age of seventy-two. Their eldest surviving son, Philipp, succeeded his father as Landgrave of Hesse. Despite all these tragic losses, Margaret remained strong and, when the war ended, she took in most of her parent-less grandchildren and cared for them during the family’s tough times after the war. Margaret suffered a finanical loss in November of 1945 when her large jewelry collection, most of which she got from her mother, was stolen by American officers. The thieves were caught and imprisoned in 1951 but only 10% of the stolen jewels, which had been valued at over £2,000,000, were recovered and returned to Margaret. Princess Margaret of Prussia, Landgravine of Hesse, died on January 22, 1954 at the age of eighty-one in Kronberg. She was the last surviving child of Emperor Frederick III and Victoria, Princess Royal. Strangely enough, she died exactly fifty-three years to the day after her maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria, died. She was buried alongside her husband at their home of Schloss Friedrichshof in the family cemetery of the House of Hesse. At the time of her death, only three of her six sons were still alive and, in all, only two – Philipp and Christoph – had children.

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