Alexandra of Denmark (December 1, 1844 – November 20, 1925) was Queen of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Empress of India from 22 January 1901 to 6 May 1910 as the wife of King-Emperor Edward VII.
Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia, or “Alix”, as her immediate family knew her, was born at the Yellow Palace, an 18th-century town house at 18 Amaliegade, immediately adjacent to the Amalienborg Palace complex in Copenhagen. Her father was Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and her mother was Princess Louise of Hesse-Cassel.
Louise of Hesse-Cassel the daughter of Prince Wilhelm of Hesse-Cassel and Princess Charlotte of Denmark (herself a daughter of Frederik, Hereditary Prince of Denmark and Norway, and Sophia Frederica of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Charlotte of Denmark’s father was a younger son of King Frederik V of Denmark and Norway, while her mother was a daughter of Duke Louis of Mecklenburg-Schwerin).
Louise of Hesse-Cassel siblings included Princess Marie Luise of Hesse-Cassel, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Hesse-Cassel and Princess Auguste Sophie of Hesse-Cassel. Louise of Hesse-Hesse-Cassel lived in Denmark from the age of three.
As a niece of King Christian VIII, who ruled Denmark between 1839 and 1848, Louise was very close to the succession after several individuals of the royal house of Denmark who were elderly and childless.
Alexandra had five siblings: Frederik, George (Wilhelm), Dagmar, Thyra and Valdemar.
Her father’s family was a distant cadet branch of the Danish royal House of Oldenburg, which was descended from King Christian III. Although they were of royal blood, the family lived a comparatively modest life. They did not possess great wealth; her father’s income from an army commission was about £800 per year and their house was a rent-free grace and favour property. Occasionally, Hans Christian Andersen was invited to call and tell the children stories before bedtime.
In 1852, her father, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, was chosen with the consent of the major European powers to succeed his second cousin Frederik VII as king of Denmark. Shortly, I will be doing on this blog an in depth examination of the Danish succession crisis and the London Protocol that appointed her father to the Danish throne.
Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and her husband, Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, were already concerned with finding a bride for their son and heir, Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales. They enlisted the aid of their daughter, Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, in seeking a suitable candidate. Alexandra was not their first choice because the Danes were at loggerheads with the Prussians over the Schleswig-Holstein Question, and most of the British royal family’s relations were German. Eventually, after rejecting other possibilities, they settled on her as “the only one to be chosen”.
On September 24, 1861, Crown Princess Victoria introduced her brother Albert Edward to Alexandra at Speyer. Almost a year later on September 9, 1862 (after his affair with Nellie Clifden and the death of his father) Albert Edward proposed to Alexandra at the Royal Castle of Laeken, the home of his great-uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium.
A few months later, Alexandra travelled from Denmark to Britain aboard the royal yacht Victoria and Albert and arrived in Gravesend, Kent, on March 7, 1863. Sir Arthur Sullivan composed music for her arrival and Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote an ode in Alexandra’s honour:
Sea King’s daughter from over the sea,
Saxon and Norman and Dane are we,
But all of us Danes in our welcome of thee,
— A Welcome to Alexandra, Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Thomas Longley, the Archbishop of Canterbury, married the couple on 10 March 10, 1863 at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. The choice of venue was criticised widely. As the ceremony took place outside London, the press complained that large public crowds would not be able to view the spectacle.
The year in which couple married, was the year in which her father became King of Denmark as Christian IX and her brother was appointed King of the Hellenes as George I, a few months prior to his father’s accession to the throne.
Alexandra was Princess of Wales from 1863 to 1901, the longest anyone has ever held that title, and became generally popular; her style of dress and bearing were copied by fashion-conscious women. Largely excluded from wielding any political power, she unsuccessfully attempted to sway the opinion of British ministers and her husband’s family to favour Greek and Danish interests. Her public duties were restricted to uncontroversial involvement in charitable work.
On the death of Queen Victoria on January 22, 1901, Albert Edward became King-Emperor as Edward VII, with Alexandra as Queen-Empress. She held the status until Edward’s death in 1910.
Despite being queen, Alexandra’s duties changed little, and she kept many of the same retainers. Alexandra’s Woman of the Bedchamber, Charlotte Knollys, the daughter of Sir William Knollys, served Alexandra loyally for many years.
On December 10,1903, Knollys woke to find her bedroom full of smoke. She roused Alexandra and shepherded her to safety. In the words of Grand Duchess Augusta of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, “We must give credit to old Charlotte for really saving [Alexandra’s] life.”
Alexandra again looked after her grandchildren when George and Mary, the Prince and Princess of Wales, went on a second tour, this time to British India, over the winter of 1905–06. Her father, Christian IX of Denmark, died that January. Eager to retain their family links, both to each other and to Denmark, in 1907 Alexandra and her sister, the Dowager Empress of Russia, purchased a villa north of Copenhagen, Hvidøre, as a private getaway.
Alexandra greatly despised and distrusted her nephew, German Emperor Wilhelm II, calling him in 1900 “inwardly our enemy”.
In 1910, Alexandra became the first Queen Consort to visit the British House of Commons during a debate. In a remarkable departure from precedent, for two hours she sat in the Ladies’ Gallery overlooking the chamber while the Parliament Bill, to remove the right of the House of Lords to veto legislation, was debated. Privately, Alexandra disagreed with the bill.
Shortly afterwards, she left the United Kingdom to visit her brother, George I of the Hellenes, in Corfu. While there, she received news that King Edward VII was seriously ill. Alexandra returned at once and arrived only the day before her husband died.
On May 6, 1910, Edward suffered several heart attacks, but refused to go to bed, saying, “No, I shall not give in; I shall go on; I shall work to the end.” Between moments of faintness, his son the Prince of Wales (shortly to be King George V) told him that his horse, Witch of the Air, had won at Kempton Park that afternoon. The king replied, “Yes, I have heard of it. I am very glad”: his final words. In his last hours, Queen Alexandra personally administered oxygen from a gas cylinder to help him breathe.
At 11:30 p.m. he lost consciousness for the last time and was put to bed. He died 15 minutes later.
After King Edward VII died She told Frederick Ponsonby, “I feel as if I had been turned into stone, unable to cry, unable to grasp the meaning of it all.” Later that year she moved out of Buckingham Palace to Marlborough House, but she retained possession of Sandringham.
From Edward’s death, Alexandra was queen mother, being a dowager queen and the mother of the reigning monarch. She did not attend her son’s coronation in 1911 since it was not customary for a crowned queen to attend the coronation of another king or queen, but otherwise continued the public side of her life, devoting time to her charitable causes.
One such cause included Alexandra Rose Day, where artificial roses made by people with disabilities were sold in aid of hospitals by women volunteers. During the First World War, the custom of hanging the banners of foreign princes invested with Britain’s highest order of knighthood, the Order of the Garter, in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, came under criticism, as the German members of the Order were fighting against Britain.
Alexandra joined calls to “have down those hateful German banners”. Driven by public opinion, but against his own wishes, the king had the banners removed; but to Alexandra’s dismay, he had taken down not only “those vile Prussian banners” but also those of her Hessian relations who were, in her opinion, “simply soldiers or vassals under that brutal German Emperor’s orders”.
On September 17, 1916, she was at Sandringham during a Zeppelin air raid, but far worse was to befall other members of her family. In Russia, her nephew Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown and he, his wife and their children were killed by revolutionaries. Her sister, the Dowager Empress, was rescued from Russia in 1919 by HMS Marlborough and brought to England, where she lived for some time with Alexandra.
Alexandra retained a youthful appearance into her senior years, but during the war her age caught up with her. She took to wearing elaborate veils and heavy makeup, which was described by gossips as having her face “enamelled”. She made no more trips abroad, and suffered increasing ill health. In 1920, a blood vessel in her eye burst, leaving her with temporary partial blindness. Towards the end of her life, her memory and speech became impaired. She died on November 20, 1925 aged 80 at Sandringham after suffering a heart attack, and was buried in an elaborate tomb next to her husband in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle