It’s fitting to acknowledge Maud of Wales this winter as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge prepare to visit Oslo for the first two days of February. The Norwegian Royal Family is an interesting one, and while we’ve acknowledged them in passing here on this site, we’ll follow up with a more in-depth look later this month in preparation of the tour. In the meantime, it’s worth taking a look at the familial ties between Norway and Britain thanks to the marriage of Edward VII’s youngest daughter.
Maud was born the fifth child of Prince Albert (“Bertie”), the Prince of Wales and Alexandra (“Alix”) of Denmark, the Princess of Wales, at Marlborough House in London on November 26, 1869. She made up the older set of her grandmother, Queen Victoria’s grandchildren and joined two older brothers, Albert Victor (“Eddy”) and George, and two older sisters, Louise and Victoria. When she was two years old, a sixth child, John, died in infancy. She was christened at Marlborough House soon after her birth, with her aunt, the Crown Princess of Prussia, serving as godmother by Proxy. Vicky, as she was known to her family, was unable to attend – she was pregnant with her seventh child, who would grow up to become Queen Sophie of the Hellenes.
Maud’s upbringing was mostly dictated by her mother, who was a hands-on parents thanks to a largely unhappy marriage. While Bertie and Alix had the makings of a solid relationship – and were fond of one another – Bertie was a pathological philanderer, which Alix ignored by focusing almost obsessively on her children. The atmosphere at Marlborough House and the family’s country estate of Sandringham was fun and informal, especially in comparison with the atmosphere in which Bertie was raised by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
As a result, despite close proximity to their august grandmother, none of the Wales children were particularly keen to visit Buckingham, Windsor or Balmoral, which had essentially been turned into mausoleums as the Queen mourned her late husband. In one letter, Alix reported that the children had started crying when they were preparing to depart for Balmoral, and Maud stamped her foot and flat out refused to go.
Maud grew up spirited and a bit of a tomboy, perhaps as a result of her closeness with her brothers, particularly George. She kept up a correspondence throughout her life with both George and their cousin, Nicholas of Russia. The trio often referred to themselves by nicknames – George was “Musie,” Nicholas was “Mr. Toad” and Maud was “Stumpy.”
Thanks to their mother, the Wales children were also first cousins with the Danish Royal Family, but despite semi-regular visits to Copenhagen, Maud was never particularly fond of them. Crown Prince Frederick was Alix’s brother, and when his second son, Charles*, joined the Navy in 1886, Maud remarked in a letter to George that she was glad since she thought the experience would make him less “daft.”
In 1889, when Maud was 20, her elder sister, Louise, married Alexander Duff and the couple were created the Duke and Duchess of Fife by Queen Victoria shortly after their wedding. The marriage disrupted the Wales household, which had already seen the departure of Eddy and George as they finished their educations and began their military careers. It left Victoria and Maud as the only “children” Alix had to dote on, and despite being young adults, their mother continued to treat them as they were still in the nursery.
Alix had little interest in either of her younger daughters marrying, a situation which annoyed Queen Victoria and exasperated Vicky from Berlin. Bertie responded to nagging letters from both that there was nothing he could do and neither showed much inclination to wed. To this the Queen remarked to her eldest daughter that while that might be the case with Victoria, she highly doubted it was true of Maud. On that point she was correct – Maud spent most of her young adulthood completely besotted with Prince Francis (“Frank”) of Teck, brother to Mary of Teck.
The two families became significantly closer when Mary became engaged to Eddy in 1891, but the experience was cut short when Eddy took ill and died suddenly in January 1892. Happily for Mary, she grew closer to George, now poised to become king one day, and the two married in 1893. But while Mary was focused on her new marriage and the quick succession of two sons, David and Albert, Maud continued to complain to her about Francis’s lack of attention. “Frank promised to write to me, but he has not done so; if you ever write him, you may remind him of that promise,” Maud wrote to her sister-in-law.
Why that was the case remains a mystery given that Francis was perpetually broke, his social status was far beneath Maud’s and at one point he was even forced to take a brief sabbatical outside of England due to mounting gambling debts. While marriage to the Prince of Wales’s daughter would have solved pretty much all of those problems, perhaps there is some respectability to be gleaned from the fact that Francis never entertained Maud’s affections or led her on. Her letters remained unanswered, but not for a lack of trying.
As late as September 1895, Maud wrote to Mary:
“Imagine, I wrote to F. and he has never answered. And also right before we traveled abroad and still no answer, dreadful I call it! When you write to him, tell him that I it is extremely unfriendly: I am genuinely hurt!”
With no budding relationship with Frank on the horizon, Queen Victoria and Vicky worked to find Maud an appropriate husband. Several German options were put on the table, including Princess Alice’s son, Ernest, the future Grand Duke of Hesse. Unfortunately, Alix had raised her children with strong anti-German feelings – Maud seems to have absorbed some of her mother’s prejudice and was horrified by the idea of marrying and living in Germany. At one point she wrote to a friend: “You never saw such frights (just like Germans always are!) I hate everyone sort of German and I must say they are such vulgar people I think.”
At one point, Prince Nicholas of Greece – yet another cousin since George I of Greece was also Alix’s brothers – expressed interest, but it was a no-go. Nicholas would go on to marry a Russian princess and become the father of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent.
But soon after Maud wrote that last plaintive missive to Mary, her engagement was announced to none other than her “daft” first cousin, Prince Charles of Denmark. We don’t know too much, unfortunately, about the nature of their “courtship,” except that there wasn’t much of one. Charles was three years younger than Maud, but had grown into a tall and good-looking young man, and though Maud had never thought much of him, he had fallen in love with her as early as 1892. The two spent time together regularly, but with Mary besotted with Francis of Teck, it wasn’t until a cycling trip through Denmark in the autumn of 1895 that the mood seems to have changed and when Charles plucked up the courage to propose, Maud accepted.
That October he wrote to a friend:
“I will tell you that I honestly suffering from a terrible disease. I am very much in love, you know that I for many years have esteemed one of my English cousins, and now she is more charming than ever.”
Two weeks after the engagement he was able to follow up:
“I proposed to my cousin Maud and she was so sweet and charming and said yes … [I am the] happiest individual who exists on this earth.”
Perhaps there is something to be said, after years unrequited love, for Maud having a taste for what it felt like to be pursued. In a letter to Francis’s brother, she wrote:
“Everything happened very suddenly; my cousin Charles has really liked me for three years, but I never thought it would last and that he would forget me when he went back to sea; instead the opposite happened; when he me again this autumn, it got stronger, and in the end it had this happy ending!”
The match had the approval of the three people who mattered the most – Alix, who was overjoyed one of her daughters was marrying a Danish prince, Queen Victoria, who was pleased another granddaughter was settled and Bertie, who frankly did as the first two told him when it came to domestic matters.
On July 22, 1896 – at the ripe old age of 26 – Maud and Charles were married in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace. At the end of the ceremony, the couple knelt before Queen Victoria to receive her blessing. To mark the occasion, Bertie bestowed on his daughter Appleton, a house on the Sandringham estate, for the couple to use when they were in England. She wrote of the gift:
“I was talking alone with my Father [Bertie], and he suddenly said to me ‘My wedding present to you is – Appleton.’ I scarcely realized all that he might mean. I was quite silent, I believe white, with surprise & pleasure. He laughed & said to me again quite plainly: ‘Yes, I give to you Appleton.’ I went as fast as possible to find Charles, and I said to him: ‘Oh, is it not kind of Papa; he has given to us Appleton as a wedding present.’ So you see, Appleton is really mine. Of course we both thanked him at the time.”
Three years later, she wrote:
“Our little house is a perfect paradise, it all seems like a dream, that we are here at last, that it is so beautiful and light, every single room is so clean and fresh and such wonderful care has been taken of my things, as we have two very able maids who are here year-round.”
Immediately after their wedding, Maud and Charles spent their honeymoon at Appleton, but weeks quickly turned to months as Maud postponed the inevitable: moving to Copenhagen. The couple finally made their debut in Denmark that December – and were warmly received by both the public and Charles’s family – but Maud never took to the country. At best, she found her new home tolerable, at worst she found it dark, cold, gloomy and cramped. She quickly fell into a pattern of escaping the winter months for Norfolk.
Her family was a bit of a mixed bag when it came to finding comfort, though. Alix had become inured to homesickness after 30+ years in Britain and she felt strongly that a princess’s duty first and foremost was supporting her husband, his family and his country. As for Maud’s unmarried sister, Victoria, she used her as an excuse to make frequent trips to England to help relieve her stress at dealing with Alix alone, but their lives were certainly diverging. Maud was also closer to Victoria than she was to Louise.
In January 1901, Queen Victoria passed away on the Isle of Wight after nearly 64 years on the throne. Bertie and Alix became King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, and Maud and Charles were in London for their coronation in August 1902. Just a few months later, the couple learned that after six years of marriage, Maud was finally pregnant with their first child. When Maud traveled to England that winter as usual, it was deemed acceptable that she stay there until the baby was born. The decision was based on the fact that a child of Charles’s was unlikely to ever sit on the Danish throne. Their son, Alexander, was born on July 2, 1903 at the beloved Appleton.
And then fate intervened to what had all the makings of a quiet life. Sweden and Norway dissolved their union in 1905 and the question was posed, would Norway become a monarchy or a republic? Without getting too into the weeds into the issue – mainly because it’s off-topic a bit, but also because we’re going slightly outside of my wheelhouse – a monarchy was settled on so as to reassure Europe that Norway’s independence wasn’t too radical a movement. There was also the matter of soothing ruffled feathers with Sweden – the Bernadotte Offer was put out to Sweden’s King Oscar II, but it was rejected. Finally, the Norwegians landed on Charles.
In many ways, Charles made perfect sense. His upbringing in Denmark made him familiar with Norway’s situation, while his mother, Louise, was a Swedish princess. His marriage to Maud provided Norway links to the British Royal Family, which was considered a massive benefit, and the couple had a health young son, thus securing the succession. While Charles was flattered by the offer, he insisted on a referendum that ensured a monarchy was in fact the choice of the Norwegian people; when 79 percent of them voted that they did, Charles was elected king on November 18, 1905.
Edward VII played not a small role in ensuring his daughter and son-in-law ended up on the throne. There were a limited number of viable princes from whom to choose and Bertie was terrified that if Charles dropped the ball, Norway would turn to his nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who would quickly offer up one of his younger sons. For Maud, however, the move was a mixed bag – she well understood it was an important offer, and a flattering one, but she was terrified of not being able to return to England as often as she wanted and by the massive responsibility and publicity that would face her. Indeed, all three of the Wales princesses were shy by nature. Her father’s response was, “Princesses have duties and not hobbies.”
To Charles, he wrote:
“The moment has now come for you to act or lose the Crown of Norway. On good authority I am informed your sister in Sweden [Crown Princess Ingeborg] is intriguing against you. I urge you to go at once to Norway, with or without the consent of the Danish Government, and help in negotiation between the two countries. Maud and Baby [Alexander] would do well to follow a little later. The Queen is of the same opinion.”
In the end, of course, Charles accepted the crown and he and Maud traveled to Christiania. He took the name King Haakon VII, while Alexander became Prince Olav. Maud, typically, preferred to keep her British moniker instead of adopting a Norwegian one. That December, she wrote to Mary:
“Behold! I am a Queen!!! Who would have thought it! And I am the very last person to be stuck on a throne! I am actually getting accustomed to be called ‘Your Majesty!’ and yet often pinch myself to feel if I am not dreaming!”
But to be queen meant to be crowned alongside Charles, a ceremony she was dreading. A few months later she wrote again to Mary:
“Think of me alone on my throne, having a crown to be shoved on my head which is very small and heavy by the aged Bishop, and a Minister and also has to be put on by them before the whole crowd! And oil to put on my head, hands and bosom!! Gracious, it will be awful!”
Nevertheless, both she and Charles were crowned without incident on June 22, 1906 at Nidaros Cathedral.
The couple established an extremely democratic court, informal, welcoming and in keeping with the kind of monarchy the Norwegian people wanted. Maud, to her credit, did her bit to establish herself as a good queen – she learned the language, took up skiing and even found herself liking Bygdøy, the closest thing to Norfolk she could find in Norway. While Charles became exceedingly popular, Maud had a slightly tougher time. Her extreme reserve in public could be off-putting and there were times when she embraced the informality too aggressively for some, such as taking up and championing the cause of unwed mothers. Even so, she was by no means unpopular, but she failed to become the beloved figure her husband did.
On May 6, 1910, Edward VII died in London and was succeeded by Maud’s brother as George V. She and Charles hurried to England to grieve privately with their family and play their part publicly as the king and queen of Norway. Though the youngest, she now outranked both of her sisters and played a key role alongside her newly widowed mother as a sister queen. Bertie’s death signified the end to a certain period of European politics and it was within four years of his death that World War I began.
Norway remained neutral during the war, but that didn’t stop Maud from harboring her prejudices and sharing them with Mary. At one point she wrote:
“Altogether ‘they’ [the Germans] behave too abominably in every way and are more like mad beasts than ordinary human beings … How appalling this war is, and how all my thoughts naturally return to ‘home’ and all you dear ones. I feel so far away and lonely, it is terrible being away from one’s own beloved country such a ghastly moment – With what pride one reads of the splendid way the dear old country has behaved.”
Maud devoted herself to fundraising and was horrified by the war itself, which more directly impacted so many of her cousins, not to mention her brother and sister-in-law in Britain. Day-to-day, however, she was unable to visit England for both safety and so as to display perfect impartiality during the conflict. Towards the end of 1917 she wrote again to Mary:
“I fear we will all suffer this winter in many ways, but do pray for better & happier times in the spring, there is so much one longs to talk about but daren’t write it is all very hard being separated so long, I am dying to see you all again.”
The war ended in November 1918 with victory to the Allies. Maud was once more able to return to England and see her family, but her extended, uninterrupted time in Norway had gone a long way in cementing her brand of queenship. In many ways, she lived an even simpler life there than she would have been able to had she been splitting her time in London, for while queen consort she could frequently be spotted out and about in town without much fuss. At one point she told a fellow princess, “I always do my own shopping. For one thing, it’s easier, and for another, it amuses me. In any case, I’ve no one to send.” It is difficult to imagine Mary of Teck saying the same.
Her love for home unabated, it was particularly special for Maud when her son enrolled at Oxford University in 1924 after graduating from the Norwegian Military Academy. While in England, he studied economics and jurisprudence, and from there returned to the Norwegian armed forces for a career that sustained him through the 1930s and into the chaos of World War II. After winning gold medals at the 1928 Summer Olympics for skiing, on March 21, 1929, he married his first cousin, Princess Martha of Sweden, in Oslo, and settled into a harmonious home life. Maud spent considerable time with her eventual three grandchildren, Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald (the future Harald V and current king of Norway).
And when she wasn’t with her family in Norway, she was back at Appleton, spending as much time as possible with her sisters, mother, George and Mary. She was mollified that her son happened to be in England when Alix passed away in 1925, and that the two had been able to spend time together while he was at Oxford. Alix’s passing, particularly given how dominant a force she was in her children’s lives, only bonded the siblings closer together. Maud was in London for George’s Silver Jubilee in 1935, taking her place on the famous Buckingham Palace balcony to acknowledge the cheering crowds. It would be one of the last happy times she had in England.
In December 1935, Victoria passed away at Marlborough House in London, a death quickly followed by that of George in January 1936. Maud attended both funerals and was on hand to mourn with Mary as the last remaining Wales child. She was also there for the disaster that was the reign of George and Mary’s son, Edward VIII, and was shocked by his decision to abdicate that December. She wrote to Mary:
“It makes me quite low to think of him banished out there and that he has given up everything of his own free will all on account of one bad woman who has hypnotized him – I hear that every English and French person gets up at Monte Carlo when she comes in a place. Hope she will feel it.”
Maud visited England for the last time in October 1938, traveling to Sandringham before moving on to London. While there she took ill and was admitted to a private nursing home to undergo an operation. Charles flew to England to be by her side, but though she survived the procedure she died of heart failure two days later on November 20. Though it was illegal for Nowegian papers to publish on Sunday, an exception was made so that the public could be informed of their queen’s death.
Maud’s body was transported back to Oslo and laid to rest at Akershus Castle, though Appleton might have been more fitting.
The timing of her death may well have been a blessing, for it spared Maud the panic and tragedy of the next war. She missed, however, Charles’s deft handling of it or the way in which he became beloved by his people. When Charles’s tenure as Haakon VII ended in 1957 when he was succeeded by his son as Olav V.
As for Appleton, two days after Maud’s death, Charles wrote to her nephew, George VI, and formally returned the house to the British Royal Family since it was only to be held during her lifetime. The house remained empty for years, though it was briefly visited by George VI and Queen Elizabeth during World War II. Eventually it fell into disrepair and was deemed too costly to renovate. It was torn down in 1984.
*Charles was the anglicized version of “Carl,” however since Maud referred to him as Charles throughout her letters, I have done so here. Charles, Carl, Haakon – it was a tossup.
(Quotes are pulled from Julia Gelardi’s excellent, Born to Rule)