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In March 1877, Ludwig IV became heir presumptive to the Hessian throne when his father, Prince Charles of Hesse and by Rhine, died, and less than three months later, found himself as the reigning grand duke upon the demise of his uncle, Ludwig III, on June 13, 1877.

A year and a half later, November 1878, the Grand Ducal household fell ill with diphtheria. Ludwig’s eldest daughter Victoria was the first to fall ill, complaining of a stiff neck in the evening of November 5. Diphtheria was diagnosed the following morning, and soon the disease spread to Ludwig’s children Alix, Marie, Irene, and Ernst.


Ludwig himself became infected shortly thereafter. Elisabeth was the only child to not fall ill, having been sent away by Alice to the palace of the Princess Charles, Ludwig’s mother.

Marie became seriously ill on November 15, and Alice was called to her bedside, but by the time she arrived, Marie had choked to death. A distraught Alice wrote to Queen Victoria that the “pain is beyond words”. Alice kept the news of Marie’s death secret from her children for several weeks, but she finally told Ernst in early December.

Ernst’s reaction was even worse than she had anticipated; at first he refused to believe it. As he sat up crying, Alice broke her rule about physical contact with the ill and gave him a kiss. At first, however, Alice did not fall ill. She met her sister Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia as the latter was passing through Darmstadt on the way to England, and wrote to her mother with “a hint of resumed cheerfulness” on the same day.

However, by Saturday, December 14, the anniversary of her father, Prince Albert’s death, she became seriously ill with the diphtheria caught from her son.

Grand Duchess Alice’s last words were “dear Papa”, and she fell unconscious at 2:30 am. Just after 8:30 am, she died. Alice was buried on 18 December 1878 at the Grand Ducal mausoleum at Rosenhöhe outside Darmstadt, with the Union Flag draped over her coffin. A special monument of Alice and her daughter Marie was erected there by Joseph Boehm.

From then on, Grand Duke Ludwid IV reigned and raised his five surviving children alone.

When looking for a husband for Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, the Prince of Wales suggested that Beatrice marry their sister Alice’s widower, Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse of Hesse and by Rhine.

The Prince of Wales argued that Beatrice could act as replacement mother for Louis’s young children and spend most of her time in England looking after her mother. He further suggested the Queen could oversee the upbringing of her Hessian grandchildren with greater ease.

However, at the time, it was forbidden by law for Beatrice to marry her sister’s widower. This was countered by the Prince of Wales, who vehemently supported passage by the Houses of Parliament of the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill, which would have removed the obstacle.

Despite popular support for this measure and although it passed in the House of Commons, it was rejected by the House of Lords because of opposition from the Lords Spiritual. Although the Queen was disappointed that the bill had failed, she was happy to keep her daughter at her side.

Grand Duke Ludwig IV contracted a morganatic marriage on April 30, 1884 in Darmstadt (on the eve of the wedding of his eldest daughter, for which Queen Victoria and other relatives of his first wife were gathered in the Hessian capital) with Countess Alexandrine Hutten-Czapska (September 3, 1854 –May 8, 1941), daughter of Count Adam Hutten-Czapski and Countess Marianna Rzewuska.

She was the former wife of Aleksander von Kolemin, the Russian chargé d’affaires in Darmstadt. But the couple, facing objections from the Grand Duke’s in-laws, separated within a week and the marriage was annulled within three months. As a compensation, she received the title Countess von Romrod on 31 May 1884. Alexandrine later married for the third time to Basil von Bacheracht.


Grand Duke Ludwig IV died on March 13, 1892 of a heart attack in the New Palace in Darmstadt and was succeeded by his son, Ernst-Ludwig. His remains are buried at Rosenhöhe, the mausoleum for the Grand Ducal House outside of Darmstadt.