Alfred Duke of Edinburgh, Duke of Edinburgh, Emperor Alexander II of Russia, Emperors of Russia, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, Grand Duke Ludwig II of Hesse and by Rhine, Marie of Hesse and By Rhine, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom
During a visit to her maternal relatives, the Princes of Battenberg, at Jugenheim in August 1868, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, then fifteen years old, met Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, was a shy and handsome young man, with a career in the British navy. He was visiting his sister, Princess Alice, who was married to Maria Alexandrovna’s first cousin, Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine
Alfred’s voyage around the world with the Royal Navy kept him away, traveling for the next two years. Maria and Prince Alfred saw each other again in the summer 1871, when Emperor Alexander II and his wife visited the Battenbergs again at their schloss, Heiligenberg. The Emperor and his wife were accompanied by seventeen-year-old Maria and her two elder brothers.
Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia
Alfred also happened to be there, along with the Prince and Princess of Wales. During that summer, Maria and Alfred felt attracted to each other, spending their days walking and talking together. They had a common love of music; Alfred was an enthusiastic amateur violinist, while Maria played the piano. Although they wished to marry, no engagement was announced, and Alfred returned to England.
Their parents were against the match. Emperor Alexander II did not want to lose his daughter, to whom he was deeply attached. He presented his daughter’s youth as the main obstacle and suggested a waiting period of at least one year before any definitive decision should be taken. The Emperor also objected to a British son-in-law, due to the general anti-English feeling in Russia following the Crimean War.
The Empress regarded the British customs as peculiar and the English people as cold and unfriendly. She was convinced that her daughter would not be happy there. However, marriage negotiation began in July 1871, only to be stalled in 1872.
Queen Victoria was also against the match. No British prince had ever married a Romanov, and she foresaw problems with Maria’s Orthodox religion and Russian upbringing. The Queen considered that Russia was generally “unfriendly” towards Britain. Victoria was also suspicious about Russian moves in the direction of India.
The Queen was dismayed, therefore, when she heard that official negotiations had restarted in January 1873. There were rumors going about St Petersburg that Maria Alexandrovna had compromised herself with Prince Golitsyn, the Emperor’s aide-de-camp, and her family were anxious to see her settled.
Alfred refused to believe those rumors and he was prepared to fight to marry the woman he loved. Queen Victoria therefore swallowed her pride and said nothing. Both mothers continued to look for other partners for their children, but Alfred and Maria would not have anyone else.
Marie liked neither the Prince of Württemberg nor the Prince of Mecklenburg-Strelitz that were presented to her as alternatives. As the Empress failed to find a German prince acceptable for her daughter, a meeting among Alfred, the Empress and her daughter took place in Sorrento, Italy in mid April 1873.
The reunion did not go as planned because Marie came down with fever and Alfred could spend only a short time with her. That year, there was an Anglo-Russian dispute over the Afghan border. The Queen’s ministers thought that a marriage might help to ease the tension between the two countries, if only by putting the monarchs into closer contact with one another.
In June 1873, Emperor Alexander II joined his wife and daughter at Ems, and Alfred was invited to meet them at Jugenheim. Alfred arrived in early July. On July 11, he Officially asked for Maria Alexandrovna’s hand In marriage and she accepted him. He was nearly twenty-nine; she was nineteen. He sent a telegram from Germany back to his mother: “Maria and I were engaged this morning. Cannot say how happy I am. Hope your blessing rests on us.”
The Queen sent her congratulations, but confined her misgivings to her diary on July 11, 1873: “Not knowing Marie, and realizing that there may still be many difficulties, my thoughts and feelings are rather mixed.” When breaking the news to her eldest daughter, Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, Queen Victoria simply said: “The murder is out.”
On January 23, 1874, the Duke of Edinburgh married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, the second (and only surviving) daughter of Emperor Alexander II of Russia and his first wife Marie of Hesse and by Rhine, daughter of Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine and Wilhelmine of Baden, at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg.
To commemorate the occasion, a small English bakery made the now internationally popular Marie biscuit, with the Duchess’ name imprinted on its top. The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh made their public entry into London on March 12, The marriage, however, was not a happy one, and the bride was thought haughty by London Society.
Maria, the new Duchess of Edinburgh, was surprised to discover that she had to yield precedence to the Princess of Wales and all of Queen Victoria’s daughters and insisted on taking precedence before the Princess of Wales (the future Queen Alexandra) because she considered the Princess of Wales’s family (the Danish royal family) as inferior to her own. Queen Victoria refused this demand, yet granted her precedence immediately after the Princess of Wales. Her father gave her the then-staggering sum of £100,000 as a dowry, plus an annual allowance of £32,000.
For the first years of her marriage, Maria Alexandrovna lived in England. She neither adapted to the British court nor overcame her dislike for her adopted country. She accompanied her husband on his postings as an Admiral of the Royal Navy at Malta (1886–1889) and Devonport (1890–1893). The Duchess of Edinburgh travelled extensively through Europe. She visited her family in Russia frequently and stayed for long periods in England and Germany attending social and family events.