Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Britishness (And Left Arm)

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On January 27, 1859 Queen’s Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria, gave birth to her first child at the Crown Prince’s Palace in Berlin. The birth was difficult: There was a delay in alerting doctors that the princess was in labor, doctors were hesitant to physically examine her and the baby was in breach. After a long and complicated labor, during which the lives of both mother and child were in danger, a son was delivered.

Unfortunately, it soon became clear that the baby’s left arm had been badly injured at birth due to Erb’s palsy, a condition that causes paralysis from nerve  damage. Victoria, known as “Vicky” to her family, and her husband, Prince Frederick of Prussia, “Fritz,” were horrified – delivering a less than physically perfect heir to the Prussian throne was viewed as a personal failure by Vicky and raised concerns about the ability of their son to thrive in a masculine, militant court atmosphere.

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The English Duke & the Romanov Bride

On January 23, in 1874, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria, married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Alexander II, Emperor of Russia at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Queen Victoria didn’t attend the ceremony  – indeed, she had been against the match during the marriage negotiations, as was the Russian Emperor -and was instead represented by her eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (“Bertie”) and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales.

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The Winter Palace

The couple originally met during a trip to Germany in the summer of 1868, when Alfred was visiting his older sister, Alice, married to Prince Louis of Hesse. They wouldn’t meet again until the summer of 1871, again in Germany, where Marie had accompanied her parents and Alfred had Bertie and Alexandra. There the couple had the opportunity to spend substantial time together and apparently fell in love. They were reported to share a passion for music – Marie played the piano and Alfred the violin –  and spent a remarked-upon amount of time in each other’s company.

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Marie of Russia in her youth

By the end of the visit, the couple had apparently told their families they wished to marry, but no engagement announcement would be forthcoming. Alexander II was extremely close to his daughter and was loath to lose her, while his wife, the Tsarina, formerly known as Marie of Hesse, thought the British cold and strange. Meanwhile, Queen Victoria’s sentiments weren’t any friendlier: Mutual mistrust of both cultures still existed from the Crimean War, which had ended in Russian defeat in 1856. Added on to those sensitivities was Marie’s Orthodox faith, which would be entirely foreign to the House of Hanover.

Negotiations begun in 1871 stalled in 1872, but were re-started in January 1873. Rumors circulated through Europe that Marie had “compromised herself” with one of her father’s aides-de-camp, though Alfred refused to believe the stories. Instead, he jumped through every hoop the Romanovs put before him, while both mothers worked fruitlessly to distract their children with other suitors.

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Queen Victoria’s Third Son: Arthur, Duke of Connaught

On January 16, in 1942, Arthur, Duke of Connaught died at Bagshot Park in Surrey, the current home of Edward, Earl of Wessex and his family. Arthur was the third son, seventh child of Queen Victoria and her husband, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the Prince Consort. As a member of the British royal family and the British Army, he held a number of posts throughout the Empire, most notably as the Governor General of Canada from 1911-1916, covering the first two years of World War I.

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Prince Arthur with his younger brother, Leopold, the future Duke of Albany

Arthur was born at Buckingham Palace in London on May 1, 1850. At the time of his birth his parents had been married for 10 years and his mother had been queen for 13. During his childhood, the royal family established a familiar domestic routine, moving between Buckingham Palace in London, Osborne House on the Isle Wight and Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. In 1866 he enrolled at the Royal Military College at Woolwich, from which he graduated two years later, before moving on to the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the Rifle Brigade. As an army officer, he would go on to serve throughout the Empire, including stints in South Africa, India, Canada, Egypt and Ireland.

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He was promoted to the honorary rank of Colonel in 1871, Lieutenant-Colonel in 1876, Colonel in 1880 and General in 1893. From 1886 to 1890, he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Bombay army. Notably, in 1870, while working in Canada, he made a visit to the United States, meeting President Ulysses S. Grant in Washington, D.C.

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