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In this post of examining the connections depicted in the book The Camera and the Tsars by Charlotte Zeepvat, I will look at how the Romanovs and the British Royal Family are connected. As I stated last week the only survivng daughter of Tsar Alexander II, Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, married HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Britain’s Queen Victoria.

HRH The Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha & Duke of Edinburg

Grand Duchess Marie at the time of her wedding, 1874.

The marriage between the two was not a happy one. I think you had two very strong personalities involved. The new Duchess of Edinburgh was not popular in Britain. She was seen as rather arrogant. The squabble with her mother-in-law on how she should be address may be evidence of that haughtiness. From her birth she was an Imperial Highness as the daughter of an Emperor. However, once she married her husband she was only entitled to the style Her Royal Highness. Her father was not helpful in this instance for he also supported that his daughter should be continued to be styled as an Imperial Highness and that she should have precedence over the Princess of Wales. This attitude outraged Queen Victoria. Marie, Duchess of Edinburgh had a difficult time accepting the fact that Princess of Wales had precedence over her, even though the Princess of Wales was the daughter of a mere King (Christian IX of Denmark) while she was the daughter of an Emperor of Russia. Marie seems to have been most content when in 1893 her husband succeeded his uncle, Ernst II, as the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Marie was eager to be out of England and as the daughter of a sovereign duke she would now outrank her sister-in-law.

Marie and Alfred had five children, one boy and four daughters (there was a still born son in 1879). I will briefly discuss the three eldest.

Hereditary Prince Alfred of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha

The eldest son, Alfred (1874-1899), became the Hereditary Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha upon his father’s accession to the Ducal throne. He does not seem to have had a happy life. In 1995 his engagement to HRH Princess Elsa Matilda Marie of Württemberg, elder twin daughter of the late Duke Wilhelm Eugene of Württemberg and his wife Grand Duchess Vera Constantinovna of Russia. Vera was a first cousin to Marie and the grand daughter of Tsar Nicolas I of Russia. The marriage between young Alfred (called Affie) and Princess Elsa never happened and in 1899 suffering from syphilis and sever depression Alfred shot himself on his parents silver wedding anniversary. He survived the initial gun shot but died three days later at the Martinnsbrunn Sanatorium in Gratsch near Meran in the South Tyrol. He was only 24 years old.

HRH Princess Marie of Edinburgh, Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha

The next child was Marie (1875-1938) who at one point was thought of being a suitable candidate to marry the future King George V of Great Britain. The fathers of the prospective couple favored the match, Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh and Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, while the mothers, Alexandra, Princess of Wales and Marie, the Duchess of Edinburgh did not. Marie did not care for the British Royal Family and Alexandra hated Germans because of how they defeated Denmark in an unjust war in 1864. Marie eventually married Ferdinand, King of Romania a member of the Catholic branch of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen line.

HRH Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh, Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine with her daughter, Elizabeth

The next daughter, Victoria-Melita, called Ducky within the family, was first married to her paternal first cousin, Ernst-Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. They had one daughter Elizabeth, who died in 1903 from typhoid after drinking from a contaminated stream two years after her parents divorce. They were only able to divorce after the death of Queen Victoria who did not support their divorce. Ducky had known her second husband, her maternal first cousin, Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich of Russia, for a long time but Kirill’s mother did not support the match. After a close call where Grand Duke Cyril almost lost his life in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 decided to marry Ducky. The couple were married on 8 October 1905 in Tegernsee with few family members in attendance. The marriage outraged Tsar Nicolas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. The primary issues with the marriage was that Cyril and Ducky were first cousins and the Russian Orthodox Church forbade marriages between first cousins.

However the real reason the marriage was controversial and angered the Tsar and Tsarina was that Ducky’s first husband was the brother of Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. The Tsarina did not like her former sister-in-law and first cousin and she greatly disapproved of the marriage. For his behavior Nicholas II had his cousin Cyril stripped of his title of Grand Duke and his style His Imperial Highness and all other royal orders and his position in the Russian Navy and was banished from Russia. In 1908 when his Cyril’s uncle, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia died he became third in line to the Russian throne behind the Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, eldest son of Nicholas II, and Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, the Tsar’s brother. Cyril was restored to all his former titles and styles and welcomed back to Russia. His wife was given the title Grand Duchess of Russia and was styled as Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Viktoria Feodorovna. 

HRH Dowager Grand Duchess Maire of Saxe-Coburgh-Gotha & Dowager Duchess of Edinburgh shortly before her death. 

Now back to Marie. Her husband died July 30, 1900 from throat cancer. Since their younger son Affie had died the previous year this left a vacancy for the throne of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The Duke’s older brother was the Prince of Wales and he had already renounced his place in the succession in order for Alfred to succeed. After Alfred came his next brother, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and his son, also called Prince Arthur, and both of these individuals renounced their claims. The succession finally went to Charles Edward, Duke of Albany the son of Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold who died from hemophilia in 1884.

Marie remained in Coburg even during the first World War in which she became increasingly pro-German. She did not live long past the war. Even though she was pro-German and the wife of a German sovereign she was still treated with contempt. At one point on her way home from a meeting with the Red Cross her car, containing her and her two young daughters, was stopped when a mob recognized her and despised her for her Russian heritage. It took the police over an hour to extricate her safely from the situation. After that incident she went to live in exile in Switzerland where she died on October 24 at the age of 67.

I do feel bad for Marie despite her poor reputation. I have read that was not all of who she could be. It is said that she truly had a kind heart and George V was said to have been fond of her. She lost her German titles at the end of the war and with the revolution in Russia she lost her Imperial titles as well. The only titles she held was that of HRH The Dowager Duchess of Edinburgh from a country that she never considered home.