Pax Britannica was the term applied to the century of “peace” in European history from the defeat of Napoleon I at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the beginning of the First World War in 1914. It was essentially a policy imposed on the continent by Great Britain, a nation whose power was firmly re-established by their capturing and exiling the French Emperor, Napoleon I who had dominated the continent since 1800.
The main aim of the policy was to establish a balance of power in Europe which would mean that no one state could again become strong and pre-eminent and attempt to dominate the others as Napoleon had done. A key factor in this strategy was the hegemony of the United Kingdom as the controller of world trade routes by having the Royal Navy deployed in all of the far flung corners of the world. This absolute superiority in the sphere of maritime power was able to project British rule around the globe and helped to rapidly expand the size of the British Empire.
It would be wrong to suggest that were no major wars on the continent at all during this 100 year period. At the end of the day British sea power was unable to project itself any further inland than the cannons onboard the ships were able to fire their ammunition. Major powers still found reasons to pick a fight, the Crimean War between Russia and a Franco-British Alliance, The Second Italian War of Independence in 1859, the Austro-Prussian War in 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71, it was after this that the continent did settle down into a much more war free existence until 1914, and this period is known as the La Belle Époque (Beautiful Era) in Europe, similar to the Gilded Age in America.
Whilst the success of the British Empire was resented by some European states which envied the wealth flowing into British coffers it was reassuring to them also that Britain had no interest in power in Europe and seemed set to look to the wider world for its interplay. For all of Britain’s global outlook, there was still one area of policy (and it was policy back then) which they had to look to Europe to satisfy, and that was the royal marriage market. Marrying into European dynasties had long been considered as the best way to seal the deal as it were when it came to a new diplomatic alliance, and that had still not changed by the 19th century.
Queen Victoria grabbed the chance to create dynastic marriages and in doing so, in her mind she would be guaranteeing a perpetual peace, because she thought that her children and grandchildren would never fight each other in war. She never took much notice of the fact that history was littered with examples of these unions which had done nothing to prevent conflict between rival relatives. Instead of helping to stop the commencement of hostilities it was sometimes more likely to exacerbate them, if you add family jealousy and competition into the affairs of nations then is a fight not increasingly likely to happen since there are more antagonistic factors to deal with.
The Queen, as ever guided by her husband Prince Albert, did not seem to have any of those concerns about their children’s fate and assured themselves that they were playing a very personal part, a very central part in Pax Britannica by arranging these marriages for their children to the various royal courts of Europe.
Victoria was not bereft of European connections to begin with, so it was not starting the job from scratch but instead consolidating and expanding the strength of the links which her family tree already afforded her. Through her mother’s siblings, Queen Victoria had an uncle who reigned as King Leopold I of the Belgians until 1865, he was succeeded by his son Leopold II who was first cousins to Queen Victoria. Albert himself was a continental cousin of the Queen, his father was Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha who was another brother of Victoria’s mother.
With 9 children of their own Albert and Victoria started to plan out which useful alliances could be made by the marriage of one of their offspring into the right royal house. Sadly for Victoria, Albert died in 1861 from typhoid fever, a death for which she never stopped mourning until her own passing in 1901. Prince Albert only lived to see one of his children married off, and that was their eldest, and by far his favourite, Princess Victoria (Vicky), Princess Royal.
Since 1714 with the accession of the House of Hanover, Germany had been a very popular place to go searching for a royal spouse for the British royal family. Why? First and foremost they were the right religion, most of them were Protestant. Secondly, because prior to 1871 there was no such country as Germany, there were instead twenty-five individual sovereign states which unified to form one country. In all, there were 4 Kingdoms, 6 Grand Duchies, 5 Duchies, 7 Principalities and 3 Hanseatic cities which came together to form Germany. So on this basis there was a plethora of royal and ducal families ruling these entities and they provided heirs who needed wives, and daughters who needed husbands, so the supply of potential royal brides was never in short supply from Germany. In fact so comfortable was the British monarchy with marrying Germans that almost every royal marriage in Britain between 1714 and the reign of Queen Victoria were between a British Prince or Princess to a German royal, occasional exceptions were Danish and Dutch matches. This is not surprising when you understand that from George I to George IV, these Kings of Britain were also the rulers of Hanover, one of the sovereign German states, so they had a vested interest in maintaining strong connections to the German ruling families.
And so it was to Germany that Victoria and Albert turned naturally, to make their first power pairing for the wedding of the Princess Royal. The cream of the extensive German crop of regal houses had to be the family of the King of Prussia. In the 18th century Frederick the Great had established the country as a great power in Europe with a very effective army. In the 19th century the influence of Prussia over the rest of the German states continued to grow and so it was being taken seriously as an emerging presence in the wider politics of the continent.
Victoria had already cultivated some family niceties with the Prussians; King Frederick William IV had been made godfather of Victoria and Albert’s eldest son Albert Edward (Bertie, the future King Edward VII). Frederick William IV had no children of his own; he was to be succeeded by his brother Prince Wilhelm, and then Wilhelm’s son Prince Frederick William (Fritz) who had been named after his uncle the King.
In 1851 the great Exhibition was taking place at the purpose built Crystal Palace in London, an event which showcased art, industry and manufacture from all over the world, there was everything on show from the Koh-i-Noor diamond to kitchen appliances. Prince Albert was quite rightly proud of the exhibition as he had been one of the key organisers of the whole event. A proud wife and a shrewd match maker Victoria invited Prince Wilhelm of Prussia and his son Fritz (who happened to be of marriageable age) over to London for the opening of the exhibition. It was on this occasion that the young Princess Royal first met Fritz, her future husband. Marriage was not quite on the cards yet though, Vicky was only 10. Queen Victoria would have been more interested in meeting and judging the young prince for herself at this stage, but it does illustrate the level of pre-planning that went into these dynastic unions.
In 1855 the Queen invited Frederick William who was by now 24 to visit the royal family at their new Highland home, Balmoral Castle. This was the encounter where Frederick William dutifully asked the young Vicky, at only 14 if she would marry him. The Princess readily agreed, and by sheer luck she did grow to love her husband but that would have been of little consequence in the grand scheme of things, plenty marriages were made amongst the upper class where there was no love at all and that was almost expected. One only had to look at King George IV’s disastrous marriage to Caroline of Brunswick to serve as a stark reminder of that fact, but few people would have used it as an excuse to stop a marriage from going ahead under similar circumstances to that one.
Luckily for Princess Victoria, she had the more unusual example of her own parents the Queen and Prince Consort, who despite the arranged nature of their own nuptials grew to love each other deeply, and their eldest daughter was to grow in time to enjoy the same sort of close and loving relationship with her own husband.
The marriage itself was not an entirely smooth ride to begin with however. Once the engagement was agreed to, the Prussian royal house demanded that the Princess would travel to their capital Berlin to get married. It was recognised that the current King was unlikely to produce heirs by his own wife and that in turn Fritz’s father then he would follow onto the throne, as an heir presumptive the Prussians felt strongly that he should marry in his own country.
Queen Victoria is quoted as saying, “It’s not every day that one gets to marry the eldest daughter of the Queen of England.” Meaning that in no uncertain terms was the Princess going to marry in Berlin, the Queen felt that it was impertinent of so small a nation as Prussia to think that it had sufficient rank to demand where her daughter was to marry, Victoria did after all see herself as the head of a growing worldwide Empire, whilst Prussia was ranked as only the fifth power in Europe and was entirely bereft of any colonies around the globe.
Queen Victoria won, she rarely lost. The marriage took place in the Chapel Royal at St. James Palace in London on the 25th of January 1858. The marriage itself was met with much jubilation throughout the country and was popular amongst the British public. The real reason probably being that they thought that Britain would have a stronger influence in the destiny of Germany moving forward, as German national unification was on the horizon if not yet entirely worked out. And most importantly it was imagined that this influence would create a clearly friendly disposition from Prussia towards Britain. As the royal couple departed London at the end of January during a heavy snowfall, the populace of that city still turned out onto the streets to cheer and chant, “God save the Prince and Bride! God keep their lands allied!”
This auspicious start to the union must have given Princess Victoria some comfort and confidence about starting a new life in a foreign country of which she knew she would one day be Queen. Her arrival was met with jubilation amongst the common people through their progress from Brussels to Berlin and Victoria was often reported as looking well and happy. But her arrival in Berlin was greeted with far from jubilation from the political classes; many at the royal court and in the government were very conservative and were suspicious of Victoria’s liberal views which had been instilled in her by her father Prince Albert.
Fritz supported his wife in her liberal political outlook and they quickly left themselves isolated from the establishment who were in charge in Berlin. In 1861 the stakes were raised further still as King Frederick William IV died that year to be succeeded by his brother as King Wilhelm I. This meant now that Fritz and Vicky were now the Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia and their politics started to be taken more seriously, those who disagreed became enemies. Wilhelm I appointed the ultra-conservative Otto von Bismarck to be his prime minister and refused to part with him even when there was a majority of liberal politicians in the parliament. The new Crown Prince was openly critical of some of Bismark’s more totalitarian policies such as curbing the freedom of the press; this gained both Fritz and Vicky the enmity of this powerful maneuverer. Bismarck blamed the Princess in particular for corrupting her husband’s politics with British style liberalism and making him forget true Prussian values and the two really became lifelong enemies.
None the less this was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s first piece of the jigsaw in terms of building a royal network of family ties in every court in Europe. With the birth of a son, Prince Wilhelm in January 1859 almost a year after the royal wedding the Prussian Crown Prince and Princess were playing their part and Queen Victoria could tick the throne of Prussia off of her list, her eldest grandson would one day be King.
The Queen and Prince Albert moved on with their project and began to think about the marriages of their next couple of children. She had professed a belief that her children should be able to marry for love; however there was no doubt in her mind that the opportunities for finding that love match were to go no further the royal houses of Europe. Why waste an opportunity for a useful alliance? And to raise a British subject to the royal family was seen as politically delicate, so was best avoided.
The Queens next child after Victoria had been Bertie, but boys were to be educated for longer than girls and so he was not quite ready to marry yet. Victoria wasted no time at all in moving on to the next daughter, Princess Alice, and she asked her eldest daughter in Berlin to prepare a list of all of the most eligible Princes in Europe.
Perhaps there was a genuine lack, or perhaps her efforts were lacklustre but Vicky only managed to come up with two potential suitors for her sister’s hand in marriage. Princess Vicky’s candidates were William, Prince of Orange and Prince Albert of Prussia, a cousin of Vicky’s husband Fritz. The Prince of Orange was invited to Windsor to be inspected by Queen Victoria, but it all transpired that he was besotted with a young Countess and that he was therefore no good for Princess Alice, in the end the Prince of Orange never married and lived most of his days in a disreputable state in Paris. Alice was in no way attracted to either candidate and so she spurned them both.
This meant that the Queen had to rethink the plan and look again, this time her eldest daughter made the suggestion of either Prince Louis or Prince Henry of Hesse, whom she had met when travelling to Hesse a minor German state to inspect their sister Princess Anna as a potential bride for her brother Bertie. She informed the Queen that Anna was no good for Bertie but that she was impressed by her brothers Louis and Henry. So, Queen Victoria invited the two Hessian Princes over to Britain, with the cover story that they were invited to watch the Ascot races in the royal families company, Victoria obviously wanted to take a look at them herself. She was impressed by both, but she noted how close Louis and Alice looked when together and there was a clear attraction.
This was enough for the Queen to act; she had found another love match for one of her children and gave her consent in April 1861 for Alice and Louis to wed. The Queen managed to persuade the British parliament to vote a £30,000 (£2.1 million in 2012 using real price calculations) dowry to Alice, which her father scoffed that she would be able to do little with in Hesse compared to the wealth her elder sister would come into as Queen of Prussia. Also, the Grand Ducal palace in Hesse was not considered to be suitable and Queen Victoria insisted that a new one was to be built for the comfort of her daughter, which was agreed to, but the people of Hesse were not keen to shoulder the expense and so Alice was unpopular before she even arrived in the state.
Before the wedding could take place, Queen Victoria’s beloved husband the Prince Consort died of typhoid fever, a passing which sent the monarch into a spiral of grief from which she never recovered in the rest of her long life. Despite this unhappiness the Queen ordered the wedding to take place as planned, but it took place privately in the dining room of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in what the Queen later described as, “more of a funeral than a wedding.”
Despite the rather demure beginning to the nuptials it did seem as though another love match had been formed and the couple went on to have 7 children together. The happiness shared by the couple did not please Queen Victoria who became annoyed and jealous that her daughter had that which she had lost forever.
When Prince Albert died in 1861 he had only two weeks previously been down to Cambridge to issue a reprimand to his eldest son Bertie, the Prince of Wales who was there attending the university. Bertie had been making a name for himself as something of a playboy Prince after taking up with an actress whilst he had been on military manoeuvres in Ireland. Albert was ill when he went down to Cambridge and should never have travelled, it became clear over the coming days that he was sick with typhoid, when he died the Queen blamed Bertie for having made his father so ill and she almost never wanted to see him again.
Prior to the Prince Consorts death he had sent his son to Germany to look at military manoeuvres, but Albert and the Queen had shortlisted a wife for him, Princess Alexandra of Denmark (Alix) the daughter of Prince Christian, heir to the Danish throne. They had arranged for the Danish royals to ‘bump into’ Bertie in Speyer. The two were not opposed to one another and the marriage plans began to advance. Before he died Albert had told Victoria that it should be so for definite, and after his death the Queen treated these words a sacrosanct.
Victoria wanted Bertie out of the way, so shortly after the Prince Consort’s funeral she packed her son and heir off on an extensive tour of the Middle East and when he returned to England the Queen practically had all of the arrangements in place for the wedding. He was married to Alix in St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle on the 10th of March 1863, bringing another protestant European royal house into the family. A further useful connection was made when 1866 Alix’s sister Dagmar married the future Tsar Alexander III of Russia. Meaning that one day when Alix and Bertie’s child was on the throne he would be the counterpart of a first cousin on the Russian throne in the child of Dagmar and Alexander.
Twenty days after Bertie and Alix were married, her brother George was nominated by the superpowers and the Greek parliament as the new King of the Hellenes (Greece). So through just this one marriage Queen Victoria had secured future blood relations to the British monarch would be occupying three thrones; Russia, Denmark and Greece. Victoria and Albert’s plan was already going well after marrying off only three of nine.
Next to marry was another daughter, this time it was the turn of Princess Helena, a middle daughter, and the Queen began to find that her remaining daughters were not quite as highly prized as the elder two had been on the royal marriage market.
She did not help her chances of landing a good match by her own behaviour either, between 1859 and 1863 she was romantically linked to her father’s librarian, Carl Ruland, a German native who was also German tutor to Helena’s brother Bertie. When Queen Victoria found this out, Ruland was packed off to Germany before he could say as much as goodbye and Helena’s marriage became a priority for the Queen.
The Queen obviously wanted to keep an eye on this wayward daughter, and she was starting to feel lonely as she kept sending her children overseas, so she decreed that Helena’s husband would have to be prepared to live near the Queen. In some ways it seemed as though Victoria was losing sight of the long term goal of a grand European union of royal families by setting these stipulations.
The choice of husband which the Queen made for Helena was even more confusing and it sent something of a wrecking ball through the carefully constructed, Europe wide family harmony which she and her late husband had planned. For Helena was to be married in July 1866 to Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, this was a severely politically sensitive choice. The Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were claimed by Denmark but Prussia and Austria had ganged up on Denmark in previous wars to invade and take control of these territories. Then in the Austro-Prussian War the Duchies had gone to Prussia.
Prince Christian’s family were close friends with the Prussian royal house and were seen as being mired by their acceptance of the Prussian conquest of the Duchies. Bertie’s wife Alix was distraught by this marriage and was mortally offended at what she regarded as an affront to Danish sovereignty. She was supported by her husband Bertie and her sister-in-law Alice of Hesse, Alice went as far as to openly claim that her mother was sacrificing Helena for her own convenience. The Queen took this comment from Alice badly, and she was very unforgiving towards Alix too for her part.
The Prince of Wales refused to attend the wedding at first, but in the name of family harmony Alice prevailed upon her brother Bertie to be present. The Queen allowed the ceremony to be held in the private chapel at Windsor, rather than St George’s due to the political controversies she had caused by agreeing to the wedding.
Due to the fact the Christian had no responsibilities to which he needed to attend to he was happy to stay on in Britain as had been the condition of his marriage to Helena. The couple settled into a quiet life in Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park and they were happy together for the rest of their lives. Victoria had found another love match, but it had brought no prestige at all on the international stage, only confusion from some quarters and despair from others.
Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh was older than Helena, but as he was a serving in the Royal Navy which took him to the far side of the world and so any plans for a marriage for him were put on hold. So it was another of his younger sisters who was to be wed next.
Queen Victoria’s most beautiful daughter according to contemporaries was Princess Louise, Victoria and Albert’s sixth child. Her good looks led some of the less respectful press to suggest without any proof that she must be involved in romantic liaisons. Reading this in the papers and knowing of Louise’s feminist tendencies the Queen decided that the time had come for her daughter to marry.
Princess Alix proposed her own brother the Crown Prince of Denmark as a husband for Louise, had Victoria accepted this then it may have healed some of the pain still felt by Alix over the marriage of Helena. The Queen was having none of it though; she put it bluntly and said that a Danish match was out of the question as that may antagonise Prussia, this only furthered Alix’s annoyance.
Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia had ideas for her younger sister too; she proposed an old and rich Prussian, Prince Albert. The Queen blocked this move too however by stating that no further Prussian matches would be stomached by the British populace at this time. Also Prince Albert refused to be domiciled in Britain as the Queen now seemed determined to demand for her remaining children, so that was Albert firmly off the list of suitors. Even the Prince of Orange idea was trotted out again but the Queen vetoed that as his life had become dissolute in the aftermath of his being jilted by Princess Alice.
Instead Louise had fallen in love with a Scottish aristocrat, the Marquess of Lorne who was heir to the Duke of Argyll. It must have been with some trepidation that Louise brought the suggestion to her family, as the grand plan had been to create family alliances across the continent through royal marriages. Bertie was wholly opposed to the idea, the Argyll’s were a political family and he feared the monarchy being dragged into party political squabbles, not to mention the fact that although he was to be a Duke when his father died, Bertie regarded him as a commoner.
Victoria revealed to her eldest son just how much her opinions had shifted with regard to her children’s marriage in a letter which she wrote to him:
That which you object to [that Louise should marry a subject] I feel certain will be for Louise’s happiness and for the peace and quiet of the family … Times have changed; great foreign alliances are looked on as causes of trouble and anxiety, and are of no good. What could be more painful than the position in which our family were placed during the wars with Denmark, and between Prussia and Austria? … You may not be aware, as I am, with what dislike the marriages of Princesses of the Royal Family with small German Princes (German beggars as they most insultingly were called) … As to position, I see no difficulty whatever; Louise remains what she is, and her husband keeps his rank … only being treated in the family as a relation when we are together
She told the Queen Augusta of Prussia (Fritz’s mother) in another letter that she was keen to bring in new blood, as she felt that it would be for the greater benefit of the royal family as all of Europe is now closely related. The monarch felt that foreign princes were not as worthy in the eyes of the British public as they once were, they were often too poor to keep the royal bride in suitable style and she felt as though they were getting more out of these matches than she was. She went on by telling the Queen Augusta that a Duke in Britain with a private fortune was not really of any lower rank than a minor German royal with a fancy title but no money to support it. Little did she know that the Duke of Argyll was heading for financial troubles over the next few decades.
So Louise married Lord Lorne at Windsor Castle in 1871 and the two lived happily for many years. Lorne was appointed by Queen Victoria as Governor-General of Canada and the couple lived over there for the duration of his tenure and were based at Rideau Hall. Louise’s full name was Louise Caroline Alberta, and the province of Alberta in Canada is named in her honour because she became very popular throughout the country and maintained an interest in the nation even after her husband had been recalled by the British Government. Whilst in Canada her favourite sister, Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse died, which made Louise melancholy and homesick for a time.
In the 1880’s the couple moved back to Britain and took up residence in Kensington Palace in a suite of rooms which had been granted to them by the Queen. Louise was politically mined on and had opinions on a wide variety of policies, a trait which was considered undesirable in a Princess, indeed it still is. Louise’s husband was a Liberal, but not liberal enough for her, she was disappointed when he became a Unionist Liberal as she was very much in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. The two started to drift apart in politics and in their private lives. Rumours of affairs began to attach themselves to Louise again, but none of these were ever substantiated, it was most likely just gossip mongers spreading their own imaginings based on the tiniest acknowledgement given by Louise to just about any man.
In 1900 Louise’s father in law died and she became Duchess of Argyll upon her husband inheriting the dukedom. Then in 1901 her mother the Queen passed away, Victoria left to Louise a house on the Isle of Wight so she would have a retreat. Louise was very fond of her brother Bertie and was close to him during his reign as King Edward VII.
In 1911 the Duke of Argyll began a long illness which persisted until his death in 1914, it was during this time that the couple became close again and Louise dutifully nursed him as best she could. After his death she was genuinely distraught and felt very alone, but she refused to be so encumbered by her grief as her mother had been in her mourning. Louise lived on until 1939 and is fondly remembered by her great great niece Queen Elizabeth II who had met her several times in her childhood. Having had no children with the Duke, Louise left nothing in the way of a bloodline legacy as her sisters had done on the continent so perhaps it was for the best that she was never sent to play her part in Victoria and Albert’s dynasty building game, as to have had no children in one of those marriages she would have been seen as a failure.
In 1874 Prince Alfred (Affie) was finally able to get married, but before we talk about that we should look at the outcomes of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Bismarck had managed to provoke France into declaring war on Prussia, this made France the aggressor and most of the German states rallied round to help Prussia against the French Emperor, Napoleon III. The war was a huge success for Prussia, and throughout the closing stages of the war Bismarck had negotiated with the lesser German states to bring about national unification under the hegemony of Prussia. The talks worked and in January 1871 at the palace of Versailles, the King Wilhelm I of Prussia was declared Kaiser (Emperor) of the German Empire. This meant that the Fritz and Vicky as Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia were now also the heirs to the Imperial throne of Germany. The potential for more family rifts here grew, Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse was torn. She was proud to see German’s unified, but she disliked that her husband was fighting for the Prussian’s at their command. Alix, Princess of Wales was not terribly enamoured by a strong Germany on the border with her beloved and native Denmark.
In 1874, a German marriage was cleverly avoided for Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. He was ready to settle down after a long and full military career and the chosen bride this time reflected a return to the dynastic matches of his eldest siblings. This was to be first direct marriage between the royal house of Great Britain and the imperial house of Russia, the Duke of Edinburgh was married in St. Petersburg in January 1874 to Grand Duchess Maria, the only surviving daughter of Tsar Alexander II. As Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh the couple returned to London in March 1874. The marriage was not a very happy one, Maria was thought of as haughty by London society, which in itself says something, because London society were hardly a self-effacing and humble bunch themselves. She also demanded to be ranked as higher than the Princess of Wales because as a member of the Russian royal family she felt that she was far superior to a Danish Princess. Queen Victoria did not allow her precedence over Alix, but did grant her precedence over everybody else behind Alix. Despite this the couple did have several children together and in 1893 he inherited the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from his paternal uncle, Ernest II.
The Duchy was now in reality a part of Germany, but still retained a degree of autonomy, Alfred and Maria now moved to Coburg where they lived out the rest of their days performing their various royal duties. The couple’s only surviving son died in 1899 to be followed in 1900 by Alfred himself, so the succession to the Duchy went to Alfred’s nephew, the son of his youngest brother Prince Leopold.
The next to marry was Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught. Arthur was the 7th child of Victoria and Albert and he like his elder brother Alfred enjoyed a career in the military before he settled down to married life. He was allowed by his mother to marry a Prussian Princess, Louise Margaret in 1879 and together they had three children. This Princess was only a grand-niece of the Kaiser Wilhelm I, so it had practically no political impact in terms of alliance building. As such it was purely made out of the affection the couple had for each other. The marriage continued to go well, even though over the years Arthur was romantically linked with Sir Winston Churchill’s mother and her sister.
In later years after his brother the King died in 1910 he was appointed by his nephew King George V as Governor General of Canada, somewhat emulating the life of his sister Princess Louise and her husband the Duke of Argyll. After his years in Canada he settled down to a more quite life, still maintaining his interest in the military and continued to perform minor royal duties. He died in the middle of World War Two at his country home, Bagshot Park.
Prince Leopold was the second last child born to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; he was the only one who suffered from the hereditary disease of haemophilia which is normally carried by mothers and passed to their children. Haemophilia was almost the curse that went with Victoria’s bloodline as the Queen had become a carrier of the disease and through her children was potentially spreading it into different European Royal families.
Due to his delicate condition the Prince was totally cosseted by his mother and she did not want him to leave home or do anything that may even put him at slight risk. Leopold felt as though his only way to gain freedom was to find a wife, but there was to be no question of him finding an important dynastic alliance due to his haemophilia, no foreign monarch wanted that sort of blight getting anywhere near their bloodline.
He was rejected by several heiresses and royal cousins and second cousins, and so possibly to stave off any further embarrassment to her beloved youngest son Queen Victoria stepped in. She declared that the children of the British monarch should be marrying into other ruling Protestant families. The Queen found Princess Helene a daughter of the reigning Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont and she was basically given her instructions to marry him. The wedding took place in St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle in April 1882 and the next year they had a child together, Alice.
The following year Leopold’s Prussian wife was again pregnant. In the winter time Leopold usually went abroad as the cold climate was bad for him. His wife stayed behind as she was pregnant, but he went on to his villa in Cannes. Whilst there he slipped and hurt himself, there was a cerebral haemorrhage and nothing could be done to stop the bleeding and he died not long afterwards. His son Prince Charles Edward was born four months later, and it was he who inherited the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg Gotha from his uncle Affie after his death in 1900.
Last but not least was Queen Victoria’s youngest child, Princess Beatrice. Like many noble families of the time a younger daughter was often held back from marriage so that she could keep the mother company in her dotage and do the sort of personal things for her that a servant could not do. Victoria intended this to be the fate of Princess Beatrice; she was to hang on in a sort of unpaid companion and secretary’s role at her mother’s side as a spinster.
But this proved not to be the destiny which Beatrice ended up by following, and she was subjected to the suits of several men. After 1871, the Bonaparte monarchy in France came to an end and the Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugenie had come to live in Britain in their exile. Also with them was their son and heir, Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial, would be heir to the Imperial throne of France. Despite the undoubted Roman Catholicism of these French royals Queen Victoria made a very close friendship with the ex-Empress and thought highly of her son.
Beatrice and Louis Napoleon grew close to one another, and the press was full of stories of their imminent engagement, one has to assume that the French prince had agreed to convert to Anglicanism for Victoria to have even allowed talk of such a match to go ahead at all. Tragedy struck however when the Prince Imperial, serving in the British Army was killed in action against the Zulu in June 1879. Beatrice was distraught and the Queen confided to her diary that she was too.
After his death Beatrice’s eldest brother Bertie decided that he would weigh in with his suggestion, he advised their late sister Alice’s widower, Louis of Hesse. The Queen saw the advantage of this in terms of providing the right sort of step-mother for her Hessian grandchildren as they approached marriageable age. The House of Lords however blocked the move by confirming that it was illegal to marry ones sister’s widower. By this stage Beatrice must have begun to think that she was indeed going to end up a spinster by her mother’s side.
Two further German Princes were suggested, Alexander or his brother Louis of Battenberg. Alexander never pursued his suit, but his brother Louis did. Queen Victoria decided to invite Louis to dinner and she sat herself between him and Beatrice. Beatrice had been instructed before going into dinner not to even speak to Louis and to discourage his suit. Louis was somewhat perplexed by this and in the end he married Beatrice’s niece, Princess Victoria of Hesse, the eldest daughter of Louis and Alice. Victoria thought that she had won, but when Beatrice attended the wedding of Louis of Battenberg to her niece Victoria there she fell in love with another Battenberg Prince, Prince Henry and he loved her in return.
Upon her return to Windsor Beatrice informed Queen Victoria of her desire to marry Prince Henry. The monarch just said nothing, absolutely nothing and received the news with utter silence. Victoria did not speak a single word to her youngest and in her eyes most innocent child for seven months. She was finally coaxed out of this attitude by her eldest daughter the Crown Princess of Germany and by the solicitations of the Princess of Wales, until that point she had communicated with Beatrice by notes sent to and fro. Eventually the Queen relented and agreed to the marriage on the condition that Prince Henry renounced all of his commitments in Germany and agreed to live permanently with Beatrice with the Queen. He agreed to do so and in July 1885 they were married at St Mildred’s Church on the Isle of Wight.
This union brought to an end the weddings of Queen Victoria’s children, and although she had given up on her husband’s master plan of having all of their children married into foreign royal houses, she had none the less created an impressive network of family connections. These connections allowed the aged monarch to rest in the knowledge that Europe would evermore be at peace with itself and that consequently the vast British Empire over which she presided was secure also. Victoria died in 1901 as the longest ever serving sovereign in the history of the British Isles at a time when it was heading towards the zenith of its power in the world.
Victoria survived long enough to play her part the arrangements for some of her grandchildren’s marriages too. For example Bertie’s eldest son Prince Albert Victor was known as a bit of a rake and rumours of alleged homosexuality surrounded him. In light of this talk both his grandmother and his father thought that it was high time the heir presumptive to the British throne should be married off. A number of possible candidates were lined up. His cousin Princess Alix of Hesse, one of Alice and Louis’s daughters, she was not interested however and she preferred to marry the young Tsarevich Nicholas of Russia.
As young Alix was another grandchild of Victoria’s she felt she had the right to be involved in her choice too, but in the end she told Alix that she was proud of her for standing up to her which many people were too afraid to do. Alix had met the Tsarevich on several occasions and they had fallen in love with each other. Tsar Alexander III was unimpressed by his son’s choice as he was aiming for a more prominent match than a German Princess, he especially despised Germany. And as for Queen Victoria she had grave concerns about her granddaughter climbing onto “that tottering throne” which was how she regarded the security of the Russian monarchy in light of Alexander II’s assassination in 1881 after several previous attempts had failed.
None the less the young Alix went ahead and married Nicholas and in 1894 the couple became the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, their fate is a tragic one and is worth of a blog entry all of its own and it is surely famous enough for me not to have to repeat it here.
Going back to Prince Albert Victor, he found a love match for himself in Helene, daughter of the Count of Paris who was a claimant to the French throne. She was Roman Catholic and so the Queen was dead set against it, but she later came round to the idea and on condition that Helene converted to the Anglican faith, then she was able to marry Albert Victor. Her father however disbarred her from converting and Pope Leo XII stood by that decision, the affair had to end with that.
Princess Mary of Teck was the daughter of the Queen’s first cousin and she decided that this was a good match for her grandson, the wedding was set for February 1892 and he was to be appointed as Viceroy of Ireland to give him something serious to focus on and practice at being monarch, which is more than the Queen ever allowed for Bertie. As the day of the wedding approached Albert Victor contracted a serious flu and then pneumonia from which he died in January 1892.
In monarchy however sad the circumstances, that was never a good enough reason to abandon an advanced plan. Albert Victor was replaced by his younger brother George as heir to the throne, and Mary was set to marry George instead so that her future would not be altered. Heartless as it seems, George and Mary grew to love each other and were probably better suited to one another than Mary and Albert Victor would have been.
So Queen Victoria was playing her private part in the great game of nations and empires right up to the last decade of her life. In the end though politics, pride and jealousy of some of her family members led to the ultimate failure of the perpetual peace she and Albert had dreamed of in the early years of their marriage.
In 1914 when the peace broke, war erupted on the continent and around the world; this was the death knell for Pax Britannica. Victoria’s eldest grandchild by this point had become the Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm II son of Vicky and Fritz. He was fighting against his own cousins, Nicholas and Alix as Tsar and Tsarina of Russia and against Britain which had Wilhelm’s 1st cousin as its King, George V.
King George V dropped all associations with Germany and in 1917 he even ventured as far as to change the name of the royal dynasty to Windsor so as to downplay any connections to Germany. His cousins who were living in Britain were also given new names, for example Princess Beatrice’s children the Battenberg’s became the Mountbatten’s. These renames although almost trivial and populist looking today were considered by the upper classes at the time to be an extreme move by the King. Even his cousin the Kaiser was surprised that George would turn his back on such a carefully plotted out pedigree and its prestige. It was a sign of very changing times; the Kaiser noted sneeringly that he was going to attend a performance of the Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Goth.
By 1918 the Allies had won the war and the European political landscape was altered forever. The Russian Empire although on the victorious side underwent a revolution which swept the Tsar off the throne. The Kaiser was next to go, but he was spared execution and merely sent into exile in the Netherlands. Over the next few decades many more royal houses connected by blood to the British throne were toppled and the almost medieval idea that family dynasties at the top of nations were able to actually keep peace was washed away forever. This was an early version of European Union, constructed upon the marriages of Princes it was left existing only in the memories a few survivors. Over the next century for better or worse the rules for royal marriage relaxed and alliances with foreign powers are now much less simple to construct.