Friday, July 15, 2016

Alexandra of Denmark, Queen of the U.K.

Princess Alexandra of Denmark, born “Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia”, was the second child and eldest daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark and Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel. She was born on December 1, 1844 in the Yellow Palace, a town house near the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen. Her siblings include: King Frederick VIII of Denmark, King George I of Greece, Crown Princess Thyra of Denmark, and Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia (born Princess Dagmar of Denmark).

At the time of Alexandra’s birth, her father was simply Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg from the fairly unknown House of Glücksburg. In 1852, a succession crisis in the monarchy of Denmark erupted when King Frederick VII, the last Danish sovereign of the older Royal branch of the House of Oldenburg, was unable to produce a child and heir. Before his death, he had made Denmark a constitutional monarchy and since he had no successor, a conference of European kingdoms was called together to decide on the future of the Danish succession. The members of the conference decided to select Prince Christian as the next Danish king since his family was a junior branch of the House of Oldenburg. So, Christian was named the heir to the Danish throne when Alix was just eight years old. In 1842, he married his second cousin, Louise of Hesse-Kassel, the niece of a previous king of Denmark, Christian VIII. They had six children in total, including Alexandra, who all made impressive marriages into the royal families of Europe (just like Queen Victoria’s children), earning him the epithet “the father-in-law of Europe”.

The Family of Christian IX (left to right): Dagmar, Frederick, Valdemar, King Christian IX,
 Queen Louise, Thyra, George, and Alexandra
Alexandra, or “Alix”, as her close family members called her, lived quite modestly for a member of royalty since her family did not have a huge amount of wealth due to Prince Christian’s relatively minor royal standing at the time. Alix shared a bedroom with her younger sister, Dagmar (the future Empress of Russia), in the chilly attic of the Yellow Palace and did chores, unlike most royal children, such as setting the table and making her own clothes. Alix and her sisters shared a love of music and sewing with their mother, took swimming lessons with Nancy Edberg (the women’s swimming forerunner of Sweden), and were occasionally told bedtime stories by Hans Christian Anderson. Though Danish was Alexandra’s native tongue and she was born a Lutheran, she learned English at a young age from the English chaplain at Copenhagen. She was also confirmed into the Anglican Church after her father became next in line for the throne and was devoted to religion for the entirety of her life. When her father was named King Frederick VII’s heir in 1852, he was given the grand title of “Prince of Denmark” and moved his family to a new, much finer home – that of Bernstorff Palace. Though the family’s status had been elevated dramatically, their wealth remained the same and they did not partake in court life at Copenhagen while Frederick was still on the throne.

Princess Alexandra of Denmark
(Richard Lauchert, 1863)
As Alexandra matured into a gorgeous, elegant, and fashionable auburn beauty, in England, Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, were searching for a suitable bride for their eldest son and heir to the throne, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. The eldest Danish princess was actually not the Queen’s first choice because at the time, Denmark was at odds with Prussia over issues surrounding the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Because Queen Victoria had many German relatives and came from a German background herself, this made Alexandra a rather problematic but still acceptable bride for the Prince of Wales. Eventually, the other candidates for Albert Edward were discarded and it was decided that Alix would become the new Princess of Wales. Alexandra met Albert Edward on September 24, 1861 at Speyer when his sister, Victoria, Princess Royal, introduced the two. Albert Edward was not an intellectual or hard-working young man, unlike his siblings, but he was known for his charm, dexterity, and cordiality. “Bertie”, as he was known in his family, was a disappointment to his parents because he wasn’t anything like his intelligent and influential father. In fact, his mother saw him as flippant, careless, and reckless. Though he was not handsome (he had a short, tubby frame and his mother’s weak chin that he hid with a beard), he had a strong reputation as a playboy and engaged in numerous love affairs with various women throughout his life. Women were attracted to his “infectious gaiety”, his easy-going nature, and his approachability. Alix liked the Prince of Wales upon their first meeting and he returned her affections. The betrothal was then solidified and marriage plans began to take place while Bertie went to Ireland to gain some military experience. During his time here, he spent a few nights with an actress named Nellie Clifden and when his parents found out, a dismayed Prince Albert (whose health was failing at the time) travelled to Cambridge to chastise his son for his behavior. Two weeks later, Albert died on December 14, 1861 at the age of forty-two from what was said to be typhoid fever. Queen Victoria was never the same after her beloved consort’s death and blamed Bertie for his father’s early demise for the rest of her life. She even wrote to her eldest daughter: “I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder.”

The Wedding of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and Alexandra of Denmark
(William Powell Frith, 1863)
Almost a year after his first meeting with Alix, Bertie proposed on September 9, 1862 at the Royal Palace of Laeken, which was the home of his great-uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium. Alix left Denmark to arrive in England on March 7, 1863 where the British people greeted the beautiful and shy Princess exuberantly. Her popularity with Bertie’s future subjects was extremely high from the moment she first set foot on English soil, for the people were delighted to see the first marriage of a Prince of Wales in sixty-eight years. On March 10, 1863, the eighteen year-old Alix married the twenty-one year old Prince of Wales at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. The ceremony was a small and quiet affair for a royal wedding because the Queen (and thus, the court) was still in mourning for Prince Albert. The gorgeous Honiton lace gown that Alix wore for her wedding was the first royal wedding gown to be photographed and published in papers thoughout the world. The Prince and his new Princess of Wales left Windsor after the wedding festivities for their honeymoon at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. But even after Bertie became a married man, he did not give up his endless tirade of love affairs with women such as Lillie Langtry, Jennie Jerome, and Daisy Greville. Alexandra remained a devoted wife to her husband, despite her knowledge of his infidelities, and confidently shrugged off his affairs, later saying: “He loved me the most.”

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and his bride, Alexandra of Denmark
After the honeymoon, the newlyweds made Marlborough House in London their main residence with Sandringham House in Norfolk as their country retreat. The couple was known for their extravagant parties and their tendency to socialize to the extreme, which the Queen frowned upon. The Queen disapproved of a few other things her daughter-in-law did, such as hunting, which she tried to discourage Alix from to no avail. Alix would often come into conflict with her regal mother-in-law and members of the British royal family regarding her political views because she detested the Germans due to Denmark’s tense past with Prussia. But overall, the Princess of Wales was seen as “dignified and charming” in public and “affectionate and jolly” in private. She liked to dance and ice skate and was known for her skill as a horsewoman and a tandem driver. Her favorite hobbies were woodcarving and photography. Alexandra also performed numerous public and charitable tasks and events in her mother-in-law’s place without complaint, something the Queen greatly appreciated. She became a popular trendsetter when it came to fashion, as all the ladies copied her style of dress. Since Alix had a small scar on her neck, she would wear chokers or high necklines to cover the blemish, which unintentionally became a fashion standard that lasted for almost fifty years. In 1867, Alix fell seriously ill with rheumatic fever and although she recovered, the disease left her with a permanent limp. However, her style of walking became so popular (as with everything she did, wore, and said) that high-society women mimicked her limp to such an extreme that it became a trend known as the “Alexandra limp.”

Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales
(Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1864)
Though Alexandra got along with her mother-in-law quite well, their relationship was somewhat strained at times. Alix, like Princes Diana, was popular with the British people from the time of her wedding as, “her beauty captivated many of her subjects, but her enormous charm made them love her”. Since Queen Victoria remained out of the public eye after her husband’s death, Alix and her husband became the new faces of the monarchy. The people also loved Alix for her dignity and uncomplaining nature when it came to her husband’s infamous sexual reputation. For a good period of time, Alix was actually the most popular member of the royal family. On some occasions, crowds would cheer her and summarily boo her husband. It is suggested that the Queen was sometimes at loggerheads with her daughter-in-law because she was envious of Alix’s instant popularity. Alix resented the unsolicited counsel the Queen constantly gave her and her husband over both their public and private lives, such as the names of their own children. In total, Alix had six children with Bertie with just their youngest child dying in infancy:
The Family of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales
and Alexandra of Denmark

  • Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (1864-1892) died of pneumonia at the age of twenty-eight while engaged to Mary of Teck
  • George V, King of the U.K. (1865-1936) married: Princess Mary of Teck – had issue
  • Louise, Princess Royal (1867-1931) married: Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife – had issue
  • Princess Victoria (1868-1935) died unmarried and without issue
  • Princess Maud, Queen of Norway (1869-1938) married: King Haakon VII of Norway – had issue
  • Prince Alexander John (1871) died hours after his birth

Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales
The birth of Alexandra’s third child, her oldest daughter Louise, had a profound effect on the Princess of Wales both emotionally and physically. It was feared that Alix would die after the difficult birth, for she fell ill with rheumatic fever after the delivery. She recovered but the fever heighted her otosclerosis, which she probably inherited from her mother, as well as an abnormal bone growth in her middle ear. This caused her to become increasingly deaf over the years and as a result, she withdrew somewhat from her excessive socializing to spend more time at home with her children. Alix’s relationship with her husband faltered a bit after her numerous pregnancies and her serious bout with rheumatic fever (he did not come to her bedside during her illness, instead choosing to continue to socialize and flirt with other women) but they reconciled after he fell ill with typhoid fever in late 1871. Her hatred for Germany and its people never decreased and she protested against any political measures that supported German interests or growth. When her eldest child, Albert Victor, died of pneumonia shortly after his twenty-eighth birthday in early 1892, Alix grieved so immensely that she never touched his room, keeping it preserved as a kind of shrine for years to come. She was certainly never the same outgoing and cheerful woman she had been before her son’s unexpected demise. She was also close to her grandchildren in her later years and often watched over them and cared for them in their parents’ place.

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and Alexandra of Denmark
On January 22, 1901, Queen Victoria died and the fifty-nine year old Albert Edward became King Edward VII the fifty-six year old Alexandra as his Queen Consort. A few days before Edward’s coronation was scheduled to take place, he fell ill with appendicitis and was so sick that Alexandra had to take his place at a military parade to keep the public calm. The coronation was then postponed because Edward had to undergo an operation to drain his infected appendix. After his recovery, Alexandra was crowned alongside her husband on August 9, 1902. Alexandra did not partake in political activities as Queen and her royal duties and activities did not change much from those she performed as Princess of Wales. It is said that she was prohibited from seeing her husband’s briefing papers and she was purposely barred from a few of his foreign tours “to prevent her meddling in diplomatic matters.” 

Coronation Portraits of Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark
(Luke Fildes, 1901)
The Anointing of Queen Alexandra
(Laurits Tuxen, 
In 1910, while Alix was visiting her brother King George I of Greece in Corfu, she was sent an urgent telegraph informing her that her husband had fallen gravely ill. After receiving this news, she returned to England straightaway to be by her consort’s side. In his later years, Edward had suffered from bronchitis (he smoked twenty cigarettes and twelve cigars a day) and began to endure numerous heart attacks in his final days. On May 6, 1910, surrounded by his wife and children, King Edward VII died at Buckingham Palace at the age of sixty-eight after just nine years on the throne. In his last few hours, Alix had dispensed oxygen from a gas cylinder with her own hands to aid his breathing. She grieved for her husband immensely after his death and shortly after his passing, she said to a friend: “I feel as if I had been turned into stone, unable to cry, unable to grasp the meaning of it all.” Edward was given a grand funeral, which was attended by “the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place” and was buried at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, where he had married Alexandra almost fifty years earlier. Later in the year, Alix, now the Queen Dowager, moved out of Buckingham Palace and back to her former home of Marlborough House while her son, George Frederick, was crowned King George V of the U.K.

Alexandra of Denmark, Queen of the U.K.
She maintained a quiet life in her widowhood during her son’s tenure on the throne, dedicating her time to charitable activities such as Alexandra Rose Day, a fundraising event for hospitals where female volunteers sold fake roses to the disabled. When World War I broke out, Alexandra’s hatred for the Germans reached a fever pitch. She was vocal of her dislike of her nephew by marriage, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and supported the removal of hanging banners of foreign princes who were part of the Order of the Garter from St George’s Chapel. During the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks executed Alix’s nephew, Tsar Nicholas II, and his family. The Tsar’s mother and Alix’s sister, the Empress Dowager Maria, was brought from Russia to England in 1919 by the Royal Navy to live with Alix for some time. Before the war, Alix had been able to preserve her youthful beauty but by the late 1910’s, her age began to show. She started wearing intricate veils and heavy makeup to hide the reality of her faded loveliness but many of her contemporaries said that this just made her face appear “enameled”. Her health began to fail around this time and in 1920, a blood vessel in her eye burst, which left her partially blind for a period of time. Her memory and speech diminished in her final years and on November 20, 1925, the eighty-year-old Queen Dowager succumbed to a fatal heart attack at her home of Sandringham House. She was then buried beside her husband in St George’s Chapel.

Alexandra of Denmark, Queen Dowager
She was survived by her only remaining son, King George V, and her three daughters. George, who would reign until his death in 1936, married his late brother’s fiancée, Princess Mary of Teck, in 1893 and had six children, including Edward VIII and George VI. Alix’s oldest daughter, Louise, had married Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife in 1889 and had two surviving daughters before her death in 1931. Alix’s middle daughter, Victoria, remained unmarried and motherless for the entirety of her life, instead choosing to remain as her mother’s companion (it is said that Alix vigorously dissuaded Victoria from marriage for this specific reason). Victoria died in 1935 at the age of sixty-seven. Alix’s youngest daughter, Maud, married her maternal first cousin, Prince Carl of Denmark in 1896, who became King Haakon VII of Norway in 1905. They only had one son, the future Olav V of Norway, before Maud’s death in 1938.

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