On This Day: 125 Years Since The Death of Hesse’s Ludwig IV

  March 13, 2017 at 3:00 am by

125 years ago, on March 13, 1892, Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse passed away in the early hours of the morning at the age of fifty-four. He had been the Grand Duchy’s ruler since 1877, following the death of his uncle, Ludwig III.

Born in September 1837, the Grand Duke was the eldest son of Prince Karl of Hesse and by Rhine and his Prussian wife, Elisabeth. It was expected that Ludwig would one day become Grand Duke as his uncle had a childless first marriage, and his second was morganatic. He studied at the University of Göttingen and the University of Giesse alongside his younger brother Heinrich, with whom he also undertook his military training that would later see him command the Hessian army in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars.

Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse

Ludwig’s 1862 marriage to Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, improved his standing and further linked the Hessian Grand Ducal Family to the ‘main players’ amongst Europe’s royal elite. Queen Victoria had a positive opinion of her son-in-law-to-be, thinking of him as “sensible and intelligent”,  with a “warm and nobel heart” [1] and quite handsome: “Beauty I don’t want, though I shd be glad of it when it was there” she wrote of Ludwig to her eldest daughter, Vicky [2]. The wedding ceremony was held with a severely despondent mood at Osbourne House, as the bride’s father had died seven months earlier (Queen Victoria herself described the ceremony as “more of a funeral than a wedding”).

Ludwig and Alice would have seven children during their 16-year marriage: Victoria (the grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh), Elisabeth (who married a Russian Grand Duke), Irene, Ernst Ludwig (the last reigning Grand Duke of Hesse), Friedrich, Alix (who became the last Tsarina of Russia), and Marie.

A sketch of the wedding ceremony of Prince Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom

His and Alice’s married life in Darmstadt was not an easy one: the Grand Duchy was not wealthy, which placed limitations on their ability to live as was expected of their station, the couple found they had differing interests over the years leading to arguments, Alice’s relationship with her mother broke down, and two wars in 1866 and 1870-1871 separated the couple as they had different roles to play. Despite this, when Alice died in December 1878, Ludwig felt her loss deeply.

In April 1884, on the evening of his daughter Victoria’s wedding, the Grand Duke morganatically married Countess Alexandrine de Kolemine,  a Russian aristocrat who ws seventeen years his junior and had previously been married to the Russian chargé d’affaires to Hesse, in a secret ceremony at the Grand Ducal Palace. When news of Ludwig’s marriage broke to the royals who were in Darmstadt – including his mother-in-law Queen Victoria – there was nothing but shock and disbelief that the Grand Duke would even consider such an act. The British Queen decreed the marriage must be annulled at once, and Ludwig – like all others in Victoria’s family – went along with her decision, separating from Alexandrine within days, their marriage annulled a short time later.

Grand Duke Ludwig was succeeded to the Hessian throne by his only surviving son, Ernst Ludwig.

His descendants can be found today in the royal families of Britain, Hesse, Baden, Hohenlohe-Langenburg, Yugoslavia, Hanover and Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse


[1] K Sell, Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, Princess of Great Britain and Ireland – Biographical Sketch and Letters, Adamant Media Corporation, Great Britain, 2005, p. 16.
[2] E Longford, Queen Victoria: Born To Succeed, Harper & Row, United States of America, 1964, p. 285.

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