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Queen Victoria's Grandchildren- the effect on World War One
A short but happy marriage
Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe- Coburg in 1840 was the start of a happy marriage cut short by the Prince Consorts sudden death in 1861. That they were in love for their whole marriage cannot be denied and they produced between them nine children, who in turn produced 36 grandchildren .Whilst it was not unusual for a Victorian marriage to produce this many children it was unusual that they all survived and lived on to marry. It is these marriages that helped to determine the shape of Europe. In this article I intend to examine the impact of these 36 grand children during world war one. I have concentrated on those grand children who played major roles in World War One.
The Princess Royal- Victoria
The eldest child was the Princess Royal, also named Victoria, who was born on 21st November 1840, a honeymoon baby. Just after her seventeenth birthday Victoria married Frederick, the heir to the Prussian throne. At the time it was a diplomatic coup as it was hoped that the marriage would lead to peace in Germany and Europe. In 1861 when her husband became Crown Prince, Victoria became the Crown Princess of Prussia. The couple favoured a liberal type of government modelled on British systems and were at odds with the Prime Minister Bismarck. Germany was unified by a series of wars and on the death of his father her husband Frederick became Emperor of Germany, though he reined only a few months. Their son Wilhelm favoured the Germanic autocratic approach and relations were strained between the two before he inherited his father’s title in 1888. It is this son who was the Emperor of Germany during the First Word War- Queen Victoria’s Grandson. The Empress’s daughter, Sophia married King Constantine of Greece in 1887 which although neutral accommodated the English and French forces. The King and his wife were unpopular because of their pro German views and he was forced to abdicate leaving Greece in June 1917, returning briefly until he was forced to abdicate again in 1922.
King Edward VII
The second child was Edward Prince of Wales who was born just one year later on 9th November 1841. He had a lifetime of leisure as he was his mother’s heir for most of his long life. In March 1863 the Prince of Wales married Princess Alexandra of Denmark, whose father was heir to the throne of Denmark. It was a difficult time for the marriage as in February 1864 the Prussian army invaded Schleswig-Holstein which was part of Denmark, and annexed the territory. One wonders on the amount of letters that Victoria and her daughter, the Crown Princess of Prussia would have exchanged over this marriage. Edward became King in 1901 and was succeeded upon his death in 1910 by George V who was King of Britain and its dominions during the First World War- he was also Queen Victoria’s Grandson. King Edward’s daughter Maud married Prince Carl of Denmark, who was elected crown prince of Norway by a national plebiscite in 1905 becoming King Haakon V11 in 1906. During the war Norway was neutral, but a friendly neutral delivering supplies to Britain in exchange for coal deliveries from British mines.
Princess Alice was born on 25th April 1843 and was the Royal couple’s third child. She married shortly after the death of her father to Prince Louis of Hesse, but hers was not to be a happy marriage. The court at Hesse was impoverished and she was not a favourite with either her husband or her mother in law. A caring woman she did much to promote health care within Hesse and encouraged efficiencies and good care in the military hospitals. Alice became Grand Duchess of Hesse in 1877, but died in 1878 from diphtheria. The daughter of Alice and Louis was Alexandra Feodorovna who was later Empress of Russia as she married Emperor Nicholas II of Russia; the couple were subsequently murdered along with their family. Alexandra Feodorovna was Queen Victoria’s granddaughter.
Prince Alfred or just “Alfie “ to the family was born on 6th August 1844, Created the Duke of Edinburgh in 1866 he inherited the dukedom of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, which was in the German empire in 1893. In 1874 Alfie married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia the daughter of Tsar Alexander of Russia. Alfie retained his duchy until his death from cancer in 1900. His only son had killed himself the previous year and the duchy succession passed to Prince Charles Edward the son of his younger brother Prince Leopold who was already dead. Prince Charles Edward was active in his support of Germany during the first world war and was stripped of his peerage (he was the Duke of Albany) in 1919. The duke of Saxe Coburg was the grandson of Queen Victoria. Alfies daughter Princess Marie married Prince Ferdinand of Romania and did not have a happy marriage. The paternity of some of her children is questioned and at times during their tempestuous marriage she was said to have declared that he was not the father of her children. In 1914 Marie became the Queen of Romania, a strong woman who over ruled her husband and gained support for the allies despite the fact that her country was partially invaded by the German army.
Princess Helena was born 25th May 1846 and married Prince Christian of Schleswig Holstein. Following the invasion of his country the Prince was impoverished and the couple lived near the queen. There was friction between Princess Helena and her sister in law Princess Alexandra, the Princess of Wales as Prince Christian’s family laid claim to the title of Schleswig Holstein which Princess Alexandra argued was her father’s; the family friction that it caused did not endear Princess Alexandra to her mother in law Queen Victoria. Princess Helena lived a long productive life and was one of the founder members of the Red Cross and the British School of Needlework. Bizarrely the Prince and princess received a congratulatory telegram on the occasion of their golden wedding in 1916, from their nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany! Helena’s surviving son, Prince Christian Albert , Queen Victoria’s grandson, was serving in the Prussian army but was excused war service and was given a desk job in Berlin for the duration..
Princess Louise was born on the 18th March 1848. Previously born children of the Queen and Prince Albert had been married to people from the European monarchy. The queen is purported to have wanted fresh blood within the family and allowed Princess Louise to marry for love to the heir to the Duke of Argyll. In 1878 her husband became governor general of Canada but Louise did not like living there and returned home to her brother’s lively social circle upon the death of the queen. Princess Louise did not have any children
Prince Arthur was born on the 1st May 1850 and was trained as a soldier. Prince Arthur was governor general of Canada from 1911-1916 and was the first governor general of royal blood. The couple’s daughter Princess Margaret of Connaught was married to Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden and in 1907 they became the Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden. During the war Sweden was officially neutral but it was clear that the Crown Princess favoured the British whilst her in laws favoured the German side. Princess Margaret encouraged sewing for the allies and acted as a letter box, passing on letters from concerned families to captured troops. She is credited with encouraging her husband to accept reform and thereby preserving the Swedish monarchy. Their son Prince Arthur, Queen Victoria’s grandson, passed through Sandhurst and fought in the Boer war. During the First World War he was aide de camp to Sir John French and Sir Douglas Haig, leaders of the British Expeditionary force in Europe
Prince Leopold was born on 7th April 1853 and was created the Duke of Albany in 1881. The prince did not enjoy good health and suffered from haemophilia and possibly from epilepsy- although this is not confirmed, thus he could not take the traditional younger sons role of a military career and therefore became known as a patron of the arts. In 1882 on his mothers insistence after a number of unsuccessful attempts at marriage, Prince Leopold married Princess Helene Friedrike daughter of the reigning prince of Waldeck Pyrmont, a small country that was soon to be absorbed into the Prussian empire. The couple had two children Princess Alice and Prince Charles Edward whose father died as the result of a fall, four months before he was born. In 1903 Albert became the Duke of Saxe Coburg and Gotha and joined the German cause. Princess Alice married Prince Alexander of Teck but in 1917 when George V changed the family surname to Windsor , Prince Alexander followed him and was granted the title the Earl of Athlone.
Princess Beatrice in was born on the 14th April 1857 and it was rumoured that the queen was not happy at being pregnant again. She had been pregnant for almost all of their marriage or so it must have seemed to the Queen. Beatrice was the Queens comfort, her “baby “after the death of her husband Albert and she sought to keep her close, discouraging any question of marriage. However love found a way and in 1885 Beatrice married Prince Henry of Battenburg, but agreement was given on the condition that the princess maintained her home with the queen. The couple had four children. Alexander Mountbatten who fought in the war for the British. Princess Victoria Eugenie who married King Alfonso of Spain in 1905. During the First World War Spain remained neutral although the country did lose ships to German u boats it would not be dragged into the war. The third child was Lord Leopold who suffered from haemophilia and as such could not contribute any physical effort to the war unlike his other brother, Prince Maurice of Battenburg who was educated at Wellington College and met his death at Ypres in 1914.
So many countries
The happy couple, Victoria and Albert who produced so many healthy children , had a major impact on the shape of Europe during the first world war. Their grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm led the German nation as their emperor supported by his cousin the Duke of Saxe Coburg against his cousins in Britain , Russia and Romania. Other cousins in countries such as Sweden, Norway,Spain and Greece remained neutral but a neutrality biased to their home country, Britain. It is interesting to speculate what would have been the outcome had Princess Victoria not married Prince Albert or if she had been unable to bear so many children. There are so many variables but the main item must be that the number of children and grandchildren stemming from Victoria and Albert had a profound effect on early twentieth century Europe.