Edward VII, Nellie Clifden & a Huge Overreaction

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If there was one element that impacted the psychological makeup of Edward VII more than any other it was the fact that he was a disappointment to his parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. That’s not conjecture – it was something they took pains to verbalize to him, write to him and discuss about him to others. His complete and total failure to meet their exacting and lofty standards for a perfect prince and heir was so plainly understood by the entire Royal Family and the Queen’s government that it practically howls off the historical record.

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The Elder Daughters Who Could Have Ruled

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Recently we discussed changes to the succession laws in 2013 that allow the eldest child, not just the eldest male, to inherit the crown. Because the rules aren’t retroactive, Princess Charlotte is the female member of the British Royal Family to directly benefit from the rule change, meaning that even if she is followed up by a younger brother, he won’t trump her in the line of succession.

So, in honor of that, we’re going to go back and look at the elder daughters who could have ruled if absolute primogeniture had been in place from the get-go – well, from the Norman Conquest.

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The Middle Child: Helena, Princess of Schleswig-Holstein

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Some of Queen Victoria’s children are burned into history books via their dynastic importance. Others are referenced as mere links between Britain and the continent, becoming the parents of later European rulers who were key to World War I. The middle of these nine children, Princess Helena, was not one such person. To me, she stands out as the child who looks the most like her mother.

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Baby Gets Married: Princess Beatrice & the Battenberg Line

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Queen Victoria’s youngest child, Princess Beatrice, essentially grew up as a parental afterthought. The last of nine children, she was both the beneficiary and victim of a mother who had more pressing issues on her mind than paying close attention to a young child, particularly when her eldest were approaching marriageable age and causing so many more problems.

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Victoria Eugenie: The English Queen of Spain

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In honor of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia’s upcoming trip to the UK for an official state visit at the invitation of the Queen, we’re taking a beat to take a look at the ties between the two royal families, of which there are a few. While French and German blood have permeated the English line far and above everything else, there have been a few notable Anglo-Spanish alliances over the course of history.

The first was that of Eleanor of Castile to Edward I in 1254. Then there was the famous union of Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, cemented in 1509. Finally, there was the inauspicious marriage of their daughter, Mary I, to Philip II of Spain in 1554. These were supplemented by the reverse, too – English princess who became Castilian or Spanish queen consorts. Henry II’s daughter, Eleanor, married Alfonso VIII in 1177. And Edward III’s granddaughter, Katherine of Lancaster, ended a civil war by marrying  Henry III in 1388.

The last of these matches worth noting was not between an “English princess,” per se, but she was an Englishwoman all the same, and one with deep-rooted familial ties to the Houses of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Windsor. Her name was Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg and she was the only daughter of Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria. She was born on October 24, 1887 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the same year her grandmother was celebrating 50 years on the throne. Victoria referred to her as “my little Jubilee grandchild.”

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Congratulations & Condolences: Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse

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And so we pick up with yet another of Queen Victoria’s children: Princess Alice, her third child and second daughter. Alice is less famous than her two elder siblings, Vicky and Bertie (aka Empress Frederick of Germany and Edward VII), but that fact doesn’t necessarily align with her dynastic importance.

Have you ever heard it said the Queen and Prince Philip are cousins? Well, they are, albeit distantly. Queen Elizabeth is descended from Queen Victoria through her son, Edward VII, while Philip is descended from her via Alice. Alice’s eldest daughter, Victoria of Hesse, married Prince Louis of Battenberg and her eldest daughter, Princess Alice of Battenberg, is Philip’s mother. So, there you go.

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The Beat of Her Own Drum: Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll

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Louise has always been my second-favorite of Queen Victoria’s daughter (the first being Vicky) and all of her daughters hold a special place in my heart since they’re some of the first figures in British history in which I became interested. I still distinctly remember reading Jerrold M. Packard’s book on all of them for first time when I was about 10 and it’s been re-read many times since. The length of their mother’s reign and the unprecedented change that Western Europe went through over the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century put them at the epicenter of the dramatically changing role that Europe’s Royal Families held (if they made it through without being abolished). Indeed, many of Queen Victoria’s daughters would make dynastically significant marriages, their own children ruling or taking places of prominence at courts around the globe.

Louise wouldn’t be one of them, but her uniqueness in shying away from that fate, frankly, makes her interesting.

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The Marriage of Bertie & Alix

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There have been comparisons made between Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of Denmark to Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Like Charles, Edward, or Bertie as he was known intimately, found himself waiting for the throne far longer than anticipated. Both men are the eldest sons of monarchs with the longest-running reigns in British history, Elizabeth II only having surpassed Queen Victoria in 2015.

Both men had to create some semblance of a life for themselves from within a role that dictated and entitled them to nothing, while still constricting their movements and options. Setting aside fortune, it’s service with tepid reward. Both men caused embarrassment to the monarchy with their personal lives. And both men showed themselves quite capable of rising to the occasion, showing an astute comprehension of what skills they brought to the table and how best to wield them.

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Vicky, Fritz & the Fate of the German Empire

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Vicky and Fritz at Windsor Castle on their wedding day in 1858

For those that saw the finale of the ITV series “Victoria,” you saw the birth of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s first child. That infant would grow up to be one of the most accomplished princesses that the UK ever turned out, one groomed to take on the role of bridge between Britain and Germany and hopefully facilitate an understanding between the two growing empires.

That she failed was through no fault of her own, but rather a series of developments neither she nor her parents foresaw before her arrival at the Prussian court in 1858. Remarkably intelligent, painstakingly well-educated and thoughtful, it remains a tragedy that Vicky and her husband, Emperor Frederick III, “Fritz,” would only sit on the German throne for 99 days after a 30-year wait. Even more so when one looks back with hindsight, knowing that the crown would be inherited by their son, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who would shove the empire into World War I and eventually bring about the monarchy’s abolishment.

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The Edwardian Princess Royal: Louise of Wales, Duchess of Fife

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The title “Princess Royal” was introduced to England by Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria, in the 17th century, a spin-off of France’s “Madame Royale” title given to the monarch’s eldest unmarried daughter. The first Princess Royal was Henrietta Maria and Charles’s daughter, Princess Mary, and it has subsequently been handed out to the monarch’s eldest daughter at their discretion. A key point of distinction with the French title, however, was that the princess’s marital status was irrelevant to her holding the title.

In 1905 King Edward VII named his eldest daughter, Louise, the Princess Royal and also moved to style her two daughters as princesses despite the fact that as daughters of a duke, they would not have otherwise. This allowed Louise’s children to have precedence immediately after other members of the British Royal Family styled as “Royal Highness.” It was an interesting move that protected the prestige of Louise in comparison to the families of her brother, the future George V, and her younger sister, Maud, who became queen consort of Norway the same year.

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