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.
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 (April 23, 1809 – March 20, 1877) and Princess Elisabeth of Prussia (June 18, 1815 – March 21, 1885), granddaughter of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia.
Prince Charles’ older brother was Ludwig III (1806-1877), the reigning Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, who had been married to his first wife since 1833. Ludwig III’s first wife was Princess Mathilde Caroline of Bavaria, eldest daughter of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (1792–1854), the daughter of Friedrich, Duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Their wedding was the occasion of the first-ever Oktoberfest.
The marriage of Ludwig III of Hesse and by Rhine and Princess Mathilde Caroline of Bavaria, produced no children. Princess Mathilde Caroline died in 1862, and in 1868 the Grand Duke remarried, morganatically, to Magdalene Appel who was created Baroness of Hochstädten. This union also did not produce children either. Also, since the union was morganatic any children would not have had succession rights. Without legitimate children Prince Ludwig was from birth second-in-line to the grand ducal throne, after his father.
On July 1, 1862, Ludwig 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. 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 they 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.
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, although dutiful and benevolent, was bluff in manner and conventional in his pursuits. The death of the younger of their two sons, Friedrich (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.
During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Ludwig the Hessian cavalry in support of the Austrian side. The Austrians were defeated in the War, and the Hessian grand duchy 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). Hesse-Darmstadt appears to have been spared this fate 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, Prince Friedrich of Prussia. He had good relationship with Prince Friedrich of Prussia and his wife Victoria, the Princess Royal, all of his lifetime. He also visited him on his deathbed in 1888.
Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine
In March 1877, Ludwig became heir presumptive to the Hessian throne when his father died and, less than three months later, found himself as the reigning grand duke upon the demise of his uncle, Ludwig III.
A year and a half later, however, Grand Duke Ludwig IV was stricken with diphtheria along with most of his immediate family. He recovered; but his four-year-old daughter Marie succumbed, along with his wife of 16 years. From then on, he reigned and raised his five surviving children alone. His daughter Alix married Emperor Nicholas II of Russia two years after his death in 1894.
The marriage of Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria was problematic. The Queen was so set against her youngest daughter marrying that she refused to discuss the possibility. Nevertheless, many suitors were put forward, including Louis Napoléon, Prince Imperial, the son of the exiled Emperor Napoleon III of France, and Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, the widower of Beatrice’s older sister Alice.
Grand Duchess Alice having died in 1878, 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 13, 1854 – May 8, 1941), daughter of Count Adam Hutten-Czapski and Countess Marianna Rzewuska.
Countess Alexandrine 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 May 13, 1884 and a financial compensation. 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. After his second marriage, he was largely excluded from his first wife’s British royal family, but his funeral was attended by Victoria, the Empress Dowager of Germany, by the Dowager Duchess of Albany, and by the Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, by the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, by the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augusterburg and by the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. It was not attended by his other two surviving in-laws, the Prince and Princess of Wales or by Queen Victoria due to her poor health. His remains are buried at Rosenhöhe, the mausoleum for the Grand Ducal House outside of Darmstadt