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Ludwig IV (September 12, 1837 – March 13, 1892) was the Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, reigning from June 13, 1877 until his death. Through his own and his children’s marriages he was connected to the British Royal Family, to the Imperial House of Russia and to other reigning dynasties of Europe.

Early life

Ludwig was born at the Prinz-Karl-Palais in Darmstadt, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine in the German Confederation, the first son and child of Prince Charles of Hesse and by Rhine (1809 – 1877) and Princess Elisabeth of Prussia (1815 – 1885), granddaughter of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia.

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As his father’s elder brother Ludwig III (1806-1877), the reigning Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, had been married to his first wife since 1833 without legitimate children and from 1868 was married morganatically, Prince Ludwig was from birth second-in-line to the grand ducal throne, after his father.

First marriage

On July 1, 1862, Louis married Princess Alice, a daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. On the day of the wedding, the Queen issued a royal warrant granting her new son-in-law the style of Royal Highness in the United Kingdom. In the German Confederation his style remained Grand Ducal Highness. The Queen also subsequently made Prince Ludwig a knight of the Order of the Garter.

Although an arranged marriage orchestrated by the bride’s father Albert, Prince Consort, the couple did have a brief period of courtship before betrothal and wed willingly, even after the death of the Prince Consort left Queen Victoria in a protracted state of grief that cast a pall over the nuptials.

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Becoming parents in less than a year following their marriage, the young royal couple found themselves strapped financially to maintain the lifestyle expected of their rank. Princess Alice’s interest in social services, scientific development, hands-on child-rearing, charity and intellectual stimulation were not shared by Ludwig who, although dutiful and benevolent, was bluff in manner and conventional in his pursuits.

The death of the younger of their two sons, Frittie, who was afflicted with hemophilia and suffered a fatal fall from a palace window before his third birthday in 1873, combined with the wearying war relief duties Alice had undertaken in 1870, evoked a crisis of spiritual faith for the princess in which her husband does not appear to have shared.

In 1866 the Austrians suffered defeat in the Austro-Prussian War and the Hessian grandduchy was in jeopardy of being awarded as the spoils of war to victorious Prussia, which annexed some of Austria’s other allies (Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, Nassau), a fate from which Hesse-Darmstadt appears to have been spared only by a cession of territory and the close dynastic kinship between its ruler and the Emperor of Russia (Alexander II’s consort, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, was the sister of Hesse’s Grand Duke Ludwig III and of Prince Charles).

In the Franco-Prussian War provoked by Bismarck’s manipulation of the Ems telegram in 1870, Hesse and by Rhine this time found itself a winning ally of Prussia’s, and Prince Ludwig was credited with courageous military service, especially at the Battle of Gravelotte, which also afforded him the opportunity of mending the previous war’s grievances with the House of Hohenzollern by fighting on the same side as his brother-in-law and future emperor, Crown Prince Friedrich of Prussia.