Thursday, June 30, 2016

Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine

Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, whose full name was “Victoria Alberta Elisabeth Mathilde Marie”, was the eldest child of Princess Alice of the U.K. and Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Victoria was born on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1863 at Windsor Castle. Her maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria (who was also her namesake), was present at her birth and held her when she was christened in a Lutheran ceremony. Her parents would eventually have six other children after Victoria, including: Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia, Princess Irene of Prussia, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia.

Princess Alice with her husband,
Grand Duke Louis, & their two eldest children:
Victoria (left) and Elisabeth (right)
Victoria spent the majority of her childhood at her father’s court in the New Palace in Darmstadt, where she shared a room with her closest sibling in age, Elisabeth, until she reached adulthood. As the daughter of a British princess and a German Grand Duke, Victoria received an excellent education and was known to have had a lifelong passion for literature. When the Austro-Prussian War erupted in June of 1866 and Prussia invaded Hesse, Louis and Alice sent their only children at the time – the three year-old Victoria and her one year-old sister Elisabeth – to their grandmother in England for their own safety. Once the war ended after just two months, the girls returned to their parents in Hesse. When Victoria was seven years old, she remained with her family in Hesse during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and helped her mother in the war effort by setting up military hospitals in the palace grounds and serving in the soup kitchens during the bitter winter. Victoria had an argumentative nature and was often cool and aloof. Overall, she was described as having a “direct, abrupt, and rather masculine manner”.

Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine
Victoria’s family was plagued by tragic events, the first of which occurred in 1872, when Victoria’s eighteen-month-old brother, Friedrich, was discovered to be afflicted with hemophilia, since his mother was a carrier (a trait she had unfortunately inherited from her own mother, Queen Victoria). This discovery caused much alarm to not just Queen Victoria’s family but also other European royal houses that Victoria’s descendants had married into, as it proved that the disease was hereditary. A year after Friedrich was diagnosed, he tumbled from a window onto stone steps and died hours later of a brain hemorrhage. He was just two years old. Since Friedrich survived the fall but died of the bleeding caused by it (which could not be stopped because of his disease), if he had not been a hemophiliac, he most likely would have lived. His death shook the foundation of Victoria’s family and hit their mother especially hard, as little Friedrich had been Princess Alice’s favorite son. Tragedy again befell the Hesse family in early November of 1878, when every family member (except Princess Alice and Elisabeth, who was moved away to avoid catching the disease) caught diphtheria. Alice cared for her family diligently for days in face of the dangerous possibility of falling ill herself, as diphtheria was contracted through physical contact. But her efforts to save her youngest daughter, four year-old Marie, failed when she died on November 18th. Despite Marie's death, Victoria (along with her siblings and father) were steadily recovering. All seemed well until Alice herself fell ill and died on December 14th at the age of thirty-five. The family deeply mourned the loss of their mother but Victoria, who was the eldest child at the age of fifteen, had to shake off her sorrow rather quickly to fill in the void her mother had left behind. She became a surrogate mother to her younger siblings and a confidant of her father, who she supported both politically and emotionally. Victoria herself would later write that her childhood came to an end with her mother's death and she had to take on all the responsibilities of the head family matriarch

Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine
with her husband, Louis of Battenberg
Victoria’s family often partook in the large family gatherings of Queen Victoria’s children and grandchildren, so Princess Victoria had met her relative and future husband, Prince Louis of Battenberg, various times during her early life. Prince Louis, the paternal first cousin once removed of Victoria, was the eldest son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine and his morganatic wife, Countess Julia von Hauke, Princess of Battenberg. Because of his mother’s low status, Louis and his siblings could never inherit their father’s title or even use his ranking, so they used their mother’s instead. Louis was actually the older brother of Prince Henry of Battenberg, who had married Victoria’s aunt, Princess Beatrice. Prince Louis had been influenced by Victoria’s late mother and uncle, Prince Alfred, to join the Royal Navy as an officer and assume the British nationality. During the winter of 1882, in one of the aforementioned family reunions, Victoria and Louis ran into each other again but this time, they fell in love. By the summer, they were engaged.

Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine
on her wedding day
Although Victoria’s father didn’t want her to marry Louis because he wasn’t wealthy and, more selfishly, he feared losing his daughter’s companionship, Victoria took no heed of her father’s desires and went through with the marriage. On April 30, 1884, the twenty-one Victoria married her thirty year-old cousin in the presence of her very pleased royal grandmother. The newlyweds settled down in England, where they would live for most of their lives, though they resided in Germany and Malta for brief periods. Surprisingly enough, on the eve of his daughter’s wedding, Grand Duke Louis secretly married his commoner mistress, Countess Alexandrina Hutten-Czapska, a divorcee of the Russian chargé d'affaires in Darmstadt. The morganatic union caused such outrage and shock throughout the royal families of Europe that Louis was eventually pressured into annulling the marriage within three months (the couple actually separated after less than a week).

During their thirty-seven years together, Victoria (now styled as “Princess Louis of Battenberg”) and Louis had four children, two daughters and two sons, all of whom survived infancy:
  • Princess Alice of Battenberg (1885-1969) married: Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark – had issue
  • Princess Louise of Battenberg (1889-1965) married: King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden – no issue
  • George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven (1892-1938) married: Countess Nadejda Mikhailovna de Torby – had issue
  • Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900-1979) married: Edwina Ashley – had issue

Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine
Since the family mainly lived in England, they resided in either Chichester, Sussex or the town of Walton-on-Thames. When they lived in Germany, they stayed in the castle of Schloss Heiligenberg in Hesse. Prince Louis continued his career in the Royal Navy during his marriage and since he served with the Mediterranean Fleet, Victoria would spent some winters in Malta to be near him. The couple had a very happy marriage and were devoted to each other, as displayed when Victoria fell ill from typhoid in 1887 and Louis loyally nursed her back to health. Victoria had always been very intellectual like her maternal grandfather and mother before her and as a married woman, she spent a lot of time studying geology, archaeology, and socialist philosophy. She also indulged in painting. Known to have had a sharp mind, she adopted an “odd mix of egalitarian views intermingled with an abiding sense of her rank and privilege”. She even made good use of her intelligence by teaching her children herself and encouraging them to explore new ideas and inventions of the time. But despite Victoria’s tough persona, she also had a taste for adventure. When she was sixteen, her cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II, taught her how to smoke. During her wedding, she was limping because she had previously tried to jump over a coal scuttle but ended up twisting her ankle. In 1906, she even flew in a Zeppelin airship and later took a rather dangerous flight in one of the first biplanes.
Victoria's daughters (left to right): Princess Alice of Greece and Denmark
(1906), Louise, Queen Consort of Sweden (1907)
In 1903, Victoria’s eldest child, Princess Alice, married her distant relative, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, who she had met and fallen in love with at her great-uncle Edward VII’s coronation. Victoria and her husband were present at their daughter’s wedding, as well as many other members of British, Danish, and Greek royalty. Victoria kept in close contact with her relatives scattered around Europe and even visited her relations in Germany and Russia quite often. Up until 1914 when World War I broke out, Victoria reguarly traveled to Russia to visit her two sisters who had married into the Russian royal family, Elisabeth (the wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich) and Alix (the wife of Emperor Nicholas II). Victoria recognized the danger of Rasputin, a controversial family friend of Alix and Nicholas’s, and tried with no success to persuade her sister to stop mingling with the “Mad Monk”. When the Great War finally broke out, Prince Louis had no choice but to resign from the Navy because of his German background. During the span of the war, he and his wife lived at Kent House on the Isle of Wight, the previous household of Victoria’s aunt, Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, which she had bestowed upon her niece. Victoria was furious at the British government for her husband’s resignation but hostility towards those of German origin remained so strong that Victoria’s cousin, George V, renounced the royal family’s German titles in 1917. Louis and Victoria did the same and swapped their surname of “Battenberg” for the more anglicized version – “Mountbatten”. While the war was still raging on, Victoria’s eldest son, George, married Countess Nadejda Mikhailovna de Torby, the daughter of Russian Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich (a grandson of Tsar Nicholas I) and his morganatic wife, Sophie of Merenberg, Countess of Torby, in 1916. They had two children together, a daughter and a son. Four months after changing their names, George V re-ennobled Louis as the Marquess of Milford Haven. Victoria, now the Marchioness of Milford Haven, received horrible news at the end of the war when she learned that her two sisters in Russia, Elisabeth and Alix, had been murdered in the Russian Revolution along with Alix’s family. And, just as the Russian royal family was deposed, Victoria’s brother, Ernest Louis, also lost his title of Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine during the German Revolution of 1918-19.
The family of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine & Prince Louis of Battenberg:
Princess Alice (seated left), Princess Louise (seated right), Prince George (in back), and Prince Louis (on floor)
(early 1900's)
Victoria was not very pleased with her husband’s new title of Marquis, as she saw it as a status that was bequeathed to bankers, lawyers, and brewers – certainly not royalty. But her husband was satisfied with his new ranking, for he did not want to have to support the lifestyle of a Duke. But Louis didn’t get to wear his title of Marquis for long. On September 11, 1921, Louis complained of feeling unwell and was persuaded by his wife to rest while she went to a nearby pharmacist’s to fill out a prescription. By the time she came back, she found her husband dead at the age of sixty-seven. The official cause of death was heart failure following a bout of influenza. After a funeral service at Westminster Abbey, Louis’s remains were buried at St. Mildred’s Church, Whippingham on the Isle of Wight with his brother, Prince Henry of Battenberg, and Henry’s wife, Princess Beatrice of the U.K., was also Victoria's aunt. George, as Louis's eldest son, succeeded his father as the 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven. After her husband's death, the widowed Victoria moved to an apartment in Kensington Palace, which had been given to her by George V. It was here where she would remain for the rest of her life.

Prince Louis Mountbatten and his wife, Edwina Ashley
In 1922, Victoria’s youngest child, Louis, married Edwina Ashley, the daughter of the 1st Baron Mount Temple. The marriage was content yet frustrating at times and Louis himself would later admit: “Edwina and I spent all our married lives getting into other people's beds.” Despite their somewhat rocky relationship, Louis and Edwina had two daughters. A year after Louis married, Victoria’s last unmarried child, Louise, wed Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. Louise was Gustaf Adolf’s second wife; his first, Margaret of Connaught (a cousin of Victoria’s mother) had died in 1920 after having five children. Louise was unable to have any living children with her husband. Their only child, a daughter, was stillborn in 1925.

Prince George Mountbatten and his wife,
Countess Nadejda Mikhailovna de Torby
In 1930, Alice had a nervous breakdown and became schizophrenic, resulting in her having to be forcibly placed in a sanatorium in Switzerland. She had five children with her husband, four daughters and one son. Her son, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark (the future husband of Queen Elizabeth II) was just nine years old when his mother fell ill so Victoria stepped in to take care of her grandson for the next decade. In 1937, Victoria’s deposed brother, Ernest Louis, died after a long illness and just a month later, her newly widowed sister-in-law, nephew, granddaughter (Victoria’s nephew was married to her granddaughter, Princess Cecilie of Greece and Denmark), and two of her great-grandchildren all died in an airplane crash. Then, in 1938, Victoria’s eldest son, George died of bone marrow cancer at the age of forty-five and his death hit his mother especially hard. After World War II, her son, Louis, accepted the position of Viceroy of India, which she didn’t like because she knew that the job would be hard and dangerous.

Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine,
Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven
(Philip de László)
Victoria had smoked ever since she was sixteen, so she fell ill with bronchitis in the summer of 1950. Since she was at her son Louis’s home at the time, she packed up and went back to her own apartment in Kensington Palace, saying that “it is better to die at home”. She died on September 24, 1950 at the age of eighty-seven and was buried alongside her husband at St. Mildred’s Church in Whippingham. As for the fates of her remaining children, Alice, who had been released from the sanatorium in 1932, broke off all ties with her family until the end of 1936. She moved to Athens alone in 1938 to help the poor but returned to Great Britain in 1947 to attend the wedding of her son, Philip, to the future Queen Elizabeth II. She died at Buckingham Palace on December 5, 1969 at the age of eighty-four. Victoria’s second daughter, Louise, became the Queen Consort of Sweden when her husband ascended to the throne as King Gustaf VI Adolf in 1950. She remained Queen for fifteen years until her death on March 7, 1965 at the age of seventy-five. Victoria’s youngest child and son, Louis, became the Viscount Mountbatten of Burma in 1946. His status was raised to Earl Mountbatten of Burma the following year. He was the last Viceroy of India and the first Governor-General of the independent Dominion of India. He was also First Sea Lord, as he served as a naval officer in the Royal Navy, and Chief of the Defense Staff. He was close to his grand nephew, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, who he mentored for years. In 1979, the seventy-nine year old Louis, his grandson, and two others were assassinated by the IRA when they blew up his fishing boat with a bomb. 

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