Sunday, July 17, 2016

Thyra of Denmark, Crown Princess of Hanover

Princess Thyra of Denmark, whose full name was “Thyra Amalie Caroline Charlotte Anna,” was the fifth child and third daughter of Crown Prince Christian of Denmark and Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel. She was born on September 29, 1853 at her family home of the Yellow Palace, a town house next to Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen. Her siblings included: Frederick VIII of Denmark, Alexandra of Denmark (who married King Edward VII of the U.K.), George I of Greece, and Dagmar of Denmark (who married Tsar Alexander III of Russia and changed her name to Maria Feodorovna).

Princess Thyra of Denmark
Up until the time of Thyra’s birth, her family had been relatively minor and unknown members of royalty. Her mother was the daughter of Prince William of Hesse and Princess Charlotte of Denmark, the sister of King Christian VIII of Denmark. Her father was also a descendant of Danish royalty but he came from an obscure German family, the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, a junior branch of the House of Oldenburg, which had worn the Danish crown since the fifteenth century. Christian and Louise lived a modest and humble lifestyle with their young children as they had no significant amount of wealth (their only income was Christian’s army salary). But the family’s life changed forever months before Thyra’s birth when Christian was elected as the successor of the childless Frederick VII, his wife’s first cousin. The Act of Succession was ratified two months before Thyra’s birth and Prince Christian was given the title of “Crown Prince of Denmark.”

Princess Thyra of Denmark
On November 15, 1863, the ten year-old Thyra became the daughter of the sovereign of Denmark when her father succeeded to the throne as King Christian IX. Unlike the majority of her siblings, Thyra spent her young adulthood bring raised as a proper royal princess in the official residence of the Danish royal family – the extensive Amalienborg Palace. In the same year that Thyra’s father was crowned, her eldest sister, Alexandra, left home for England to marry Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, and her older brother, Wilhelm, was elected as the new King of Greece under the name of George I. Three years after this eventful period, another of Thyra’s siblings – Dagmar – moved to her new home of Russia when she married Tsesarevich Alexander Alexandrovich. Eventually, Thyra herself reached a marriage age and her ambitious mother began to search for a suitable royal spouse for her youngest daughter. Thyra was a worthy prospect, for not only was she a beautiful and kindhearted young woman with dark hair and deep blue eyes but she was also the daughter of a king. But in 1871, marital plans for young Thyra came to an abrupt standstill when her family discovered that she had fallen in love with a commoner…and that she was pregnant with his illegitimate child.

Princess Thyra of Denmark
Sometime before the year of 1871, Queen Louise had noticed that her seventeen year-old daughter had become attracted to a Danish cavalry officer named Vilhelm Frimann Marcher. Initially, Thyra’s mother had done nothing to stop the flirtation because she believed it to be a meaningless teenage crush that would soon evaporate without any outside pressure. But Thyra’s parents were in for a surprise when they discovered in the summer of 1871 that their seemingly innocent daughter was having a passionate affair with Marcher and that she was pregnant with his child. Thyra’s family quickly concealed their pregnant daughter and the truth of the scandal from anyone outside the immediate family because they feared that if news leaked out it could destroy her reputation and any chance of a high-standing marriage. While the media was told that the Princess’s sudden absence from court was because she was sick with jaundice, in reality, plans were made for her to travel to her brother’s kingdom of Greece where she could give birth in secret. On November 8, 1871 in Athens (or Glücksburg Castle, as it is also said that she possibly went to her father’s home in Germany to have her child), the eighteen year-old Thyra produced a healthy baby girl named Maria. Not long after the birth, the illegitimate infant was taken away from her young mother to be adopted by a Danish couple in Odense. She was renamed Kate and lived a normal life with her adopted family. In 1902, she married a man named Frode Pløyen-Holstein and died in 1964 at the age of ninety-three. It is said that Marcher was deeply upset about losing his royal lover and their child but when he asked Christian IX for Thyra’s hand in marriage in an attempt to regain Thyra and the little Maria, the King refused because Marcher was a less than worthy bride of a royal princess. Allegedly, not long after Maria’s birth and adoption, Marcher had a heated verbal confrontation with the King that seems to have shattered the officer completely. On January 4, 1872, Marcher committed suicide, most likely out of grief and anger over the loss of Thyra and the daughter he was never able to meet.

Princess Thyra and her husband, Crown Prince
Ernest Augustus of Hanover
Thyra soon returned to court and life carried on as if nothing had occurred. For a time, it seemed as though Thyra might marry the third son of Queen Victoria, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, who she had met during her childhood when her sister had married his older brother, Albert Edward. Though the couple met a few times to prepare for a possible future engagement and the Prince and Princess of Wales strongly encouraged the match, Queen Victoria ultimately decided not to agree to the union because a second British-Danish marriage would hinder with her pro-German ideology. But it was in the winter of 1875 that Thyra met her eventual husband – Crown Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover. That Christmas, Thyra went to England to celebrate the holiday with her sister, Alexander, and brother-in-law, the Prince of Wales, at their home of Sandringham. During this time, the Crown Prince of Hanover arrived to take part in the festivities as well. Prince Ernest Augustus, who was also the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, was the eldest child of the former King George V of Hanover and Princess Marie of Saxe-Altenburg. Since Ernest Augustus was a great-grandson of George III of the U.K. through his father, he was also given the title of “Prince of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.” His father had succeeded to the Hanoverian throne in late 1851 but after Hanover sided with Austria and lost the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, Hanover was annexed by Prussia and King George V was deposed. Ernest Augustus and his exiled family fled to Hietzing but spent most of their time in Paris while George V never gave up the fight for his lost crown. Thus, Ernest Augustus still kept his title of Crown Prince of Hanover.

Crown Prince and Princess Ernest Augustus
and Thyra of Hanover
Thyra was attracted to the Crown Prince, for although he was not handsome, he was a very gentle and even-tempered man with a rich inheritance. But Prussia grumbled about a match between Denmark and Hanover because both kingdoms had lost much land after the Austro-Prussian War (in the case of Hanover, they lost their whole country). So, Thyra’s parents tried to betroth her to the widowed King William III of the Netherlands, who had two legitimate sons and dozens of illegitimate children. The elderly king, who was thirty-six years Thyra’s senior, was known as a brazen philanderer and for these reasons, Thyra refused to marry him. She was also still in love with Ernest Augustus, who wanted to marry her even after he learned of her illegitimate child. Eventually, Thyra’s parents gave in and with the help of Thyra’s older sister, Alexandra, they set up a meeting between the couple in Frankfurt in early 1878. As expected, the Danish princess and the deposed Hanoverian prince soon became engaged.

On December 22, 1878, the twenty-five year old Thyra married Ernest Augustus (who was eight years her senior) at the chapel of Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen. Months before the wedding, Queen Victoria had named her Hanoverian cousin the 3rd Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale so Thyra was not only a British Duchess but also the Crown Princess of Hanover (Ernest Augustus and his family refused to abdicate their Hanoverian titles). After the wedding, the newlyweds set up their family home in Gmunden, Austria. Here, they had all their six children, save their youngest:
Thyra of Denmark with her youngest five children
(left to right): Ernest, George William, Christian,
Alexandra, Thyra, and Olga
(early 1900's)
    • Princess Marie Louise of Hanover and Cumberland (1879-1948) married: Prince Maximilian of Baden – had issue
    • Prince George William of Hanover and Cumberland (1880-1912) died at the age of thirty-one in a car accident, unmarried with no issue
    • Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Cumberland (1882-1963) married: Friedrich Franz IV, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin – had issue
    • Princess Olga of Hanover and Cumberland (1884-1958) died unmarried and without issue at the age of seventy-four
    • Prince Christian of Hanover and Cumberland (1885-1901) died from peritonitis at the age of sixteen
    • Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick (1887-1953) married: Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia – had issue

    Thyra of Denmark, Crown Princess of Hanover
    (Johannes Zehngraf, early 1900's)
    Though Thyra and her husband were styled as the “Crown Prince and Princess of Hanover”, in pretense they were the titular King and Queen of Hanover because her father-in-law (who never renounced his throne) died six months before her marriage. It is said that Thyra battled sporadic attacks of mental illness during her marriage but the reality of the situation is unknown. Although the marriage was a happy one, Ernest Augustus was a bit antisocial and didn’t like public events, so the family was somewhat secluded. But when World War I broke out in 1914 and Ernest Augustus and his family sided with the Germans as opposed to their British cousins, King George V of the U.K. revoked the family’s British titles after Germany lost the war in 1918. On November 14, 1923, Ernest Augustus died of a stroke at the age of seventy-eight at his home of Gmunden and was buried in the Hanoverian family mausoleum in the same city.

    Princess Thyra and her daughters (left to right):
    Marie Louise, Thyra, Olga, and Alexandra
    (early 1900's)
    Before World War I began, three of Thyra’s four children who were still alive at the time had married. Her eldest, Marie Louise, married her third cousin twice removed, Prince Maximilian of Baden, on July 10, 1900 in Gmunden when she was twenty years old. Maximilian, who was twelve years Marie Louise’s senior, was the son of Prince Wilhelm of Baden and Princess Maria Maximilianovna of Leuchtenberg, the granddaughter of Princess Augusta of Bavaria and Eugène de Beauharnais, the stepson of Napoleon I. The couple had one daughter and one son: Princess Marie Alexandra of Baden, who married Prince Wolfgang of Hesse (the son of Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse and Princess Margaret of Prussia), and Berthold, Margrave of Baden, who married Princess Theodora of Greece and Denmark (the daughter of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg). Louise’s youngest child and son, Prince Ernest Augustus, married his third cousin once removed, Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia, the only daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II, on May 24, 1913. They had five children, including: Prince George William, who married Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark (another daughter of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg), and Princess Frederica, who married King Paul of Greece.

    While Thyra’s youngest daughter, Princess Olga, never married or had children, her second daughter, Princess Alexandra, married Frederick Francis IV, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin on June 1, 1904. They had five children together. Nine years after her husband’s death, Princess Thyra died in Gmunden on February 26, 1933 at the age of seventy-nine. She was buried beside her husband in the Hanoverian family mausoleum of Gmunden. 

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