Historical Royal of August: Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein
August 12th, 1872. Queen Victoria is marking the birth of another grandchild, her thirteenth granddaughter. Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, the Queen’s fifth child, had given birth to her fourth child. Princess Franziska Josepha Louise Augusta Marie Christina Helena, to be known as Marie Louise – Louie to her family, has been born at Cumberland Lodge.
The infant Princess had two elder brothers – Princes Christian Victor and Albert – and an elder sister, Helena Victoria (two younger brothers – one who died shortly after birth and one stillborn – followed). She was christened on September 18th, with the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph I (her namesake), and the Queen of Hannover, Marie (another namesake), as her godparents. She and her siblings were raised in England, where her parents resided at the behest of Queen Victoria.
Princess Marie Louise is a remarkable character in more recent royal history for several reasons: she witnessed the reigns of six British monarchs, the circumstances surrounding the dissolution of her marriage, and the fact that after 1917, she was simply Princess Marie Louise of, well, nowhere.
Let us begin with her marriage. A match between Princess Marie Louise and Prince Aribert of Anhalt, the youngest son of the Duke of Anhalt, was pushed by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, the Princess’s first cousin. They had first met in autumn 1889 at the wedding of a Prussian cousin, and according to Marie Louise’s memoirs, she fell “completely under his charm”. The pair were married at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, on July 6th, 1891 shortly before Marie Louise’s nineteenth birthday. The marriage was a disaster. The Princess severely disliked living in Anhalt, with its strict court etiquette, and her initial fondness of her husband quickly dissipated.
No children were born of the marriage, and while Princess Marie Louise was on an official visit to the United States (where she met President McKinley) and Canada in 1900, it came to a dramatic end – her father-in-law annulled her marriage. Queen Victoria was said to be furious at the treatment of her granddaughter, and fired off a telegram immediately reading, “Tell my granddaughter to come home to me. V.R.” Marie Louise returned to England, where she lived for the rest of her life, never remarrying as she believed her marriage vows to be solemn and binding according to the Church of England.
After her annulment, the Princess spent much time working with charitable organisations in England, most notably the Princess Christian Nursing Home in Windsor which was founded by her mother in 1904. She also was interested in the arts, to the extent that she set up a small workshop where she created enameled pieces of jewellery. To showcase British design, Princess Marie Louise commissioned Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House to be made for her cousin-in-law.
The Great War saw changes within the family dynamic of the British Royal Family – many of their relations were German, and subsequently they found themselves on opposing sides of the war (Marie Louise’s own brother Albert was a member of the German Army). As there were a number of the family living in England with German titles, and the Royal House itself fell under a German moniker, King George V decided in 1917 to change the House name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor, and ordered the disuse of German titles by members of the family. As such, Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein became no more, from then on forward, she was known just as Princess Marie Louise, with no designation of a royal house.
A poignant memory written by Marie Louise in her memoirs relates to the summer of 1918. She volunteered to deliver the news to Victoria, Marchioness of Milford-Haven of the murders of the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia and their children. The Tsarina, Alexandra, was the Marchioness’s younger sister. Victoria’s response to the news was to garden: “I soon realized that the only thing that could in some measure lessen her agony and sorrow was to employ every moment of the day with definite hard work.” So, the two Princesses gardened every day for three weeks.
Princess Marie Louise lived to see six reigns of British monarchs: Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II; attending four coronations. At these coronations, she wore “pink powder” to give her face some colour, make-up which the Princess found to be quite vulgar. Her fond memories of each of these monarchs are shown in her memoirs, in which she says of the current Queen – “I do wish Queen Victoria could have known this great-great-grandchild of hers; they would have had so much in common.”
The Princess passed away at the age of eighty-four on December 8th, 1956. She is buried at the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore.Filed under British Royals, German Royals, Historical Royals
Tagged Anniversary, Biography, Birth, Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein, Schleswig-Holstein.