Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia was born at the Yellow Palace, an 18th century town house, in Copenhagen, on 1 December 1844 and was the eldest daughter of Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel.
Alexandra’s family lived a modest life on their father’s insubstantial army income, although they were allowed to live at the Yellow Palace rent-free. However, the family’s status changed in 1848 when the childless Frederick VII ascended the throne and there was little prospect of him producing an heir despite three marriages. Since Alexandra’s mother was Frederick’s cousin, she was in line to succeed but her gender was a problem since Frederick also ruled the twin duchies of Schleswig-Holstein who excluded females from the line of succession. After much discussion, it was agreed Alexandra’s father, Christian, would be named as Frederick’s heir instead of his wife.
Christian was given the title of Prince of Denmark and the family moved into Bernstorff Palace but life continued as before as there was no increase in income and the family chose to stay away from court as Frederick’s third wife, Louise Rasmussen, had an illegitimate child. Alexandra shared a room with her sister, Dagmar, the future Maria Feodorovna of Russia, and they learned how to make their own clothes. She was taught how to speak English by an English chaplain and remained devoutly religious her whole life.
Princess of Wales
When Queen Victoria began to consider wives for her eldest son, Albert Edward, the Danish princess was brought to her attention but was summarily dismissed due to the ongoing issues between Denmark and Prussia over Schleswig-Holstein. However, it soon became apparent Alexandra was the only prospect. Bertie and Alexandra were introduced to each other by his sister, Victoria, the Crown Princess of Prussia, in 1861, however he did not propose to her until the following year when they met again at the Royal Castle of Laeken, the home of his great-uncle, Leopold I of Belgium.
Bertie and Alexandra were married on 10 March 1863 at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, however it was a sombre affair as the court was still mourning the death of Prince Albert and ladies were only allowed to wear lilac, mauve or grey. The choice of venue was also criticised as it meant fewer guests could attend and only the closest members of Alexandra’s family were invited. The public were also disappointed as they had fallen in love with their beautiful new princess and the size of the area around the castle meant most would have to stay away.
In 1864, Alexandra’s father ascended the Danish throne as Christian IX of Denmark; her brother, George, became King of the Hellenes; and her sister, Dagmar, was engaged to the Tsarevitch of Russia. Alexandra also gave birth to her first child, Albert Victor, who was born two months prematurely. Not long after the prince’s birth, the German confederation invaded Denmark, causing a rift between Alexandra and her mother-in-law as Alexandra did not hide the fact she hated Germans.
Alexandra’s marriage seemed to have been a happy one, despite the fact Bertie continued to have affairs, and she relished her new role as a mother. Alexandra loved playing with her children and she could often be found in the nursery readying them for bed which was a task often left to the nanny. Bertie and Alexandra had six children, all premature births, however it has been suggested the princess deliberately misled the Queen on her due dates so she couldn’t be there. During the birth of her third child in 1867, Alexandra’s life was threatened by a bout of rheumatic fever which left her with a permanent limp. However, the Princess of Wales was such a fashion icon, notable ladies began imitating her gait.
Although Alexandra was at her happiest at home with her children, she was a physical person who loved skating, dancing, riding and even hunting much to the horror of her mother-in-law. Alexandra also had an active social life and continued to attend parties long after her children were born. Alexandra was so well-loved, Bertie received a lot of criticism for his perceived neglect of her while she was pregnant, particularly when she was suffering from the after-effects of rheumatic fever. However, Alexandra was well aware of her husband’s infidelity but chose not to confront him about it.
As Alexandra grew older, she spent less time socialising as she was becoming increasingly deaf due to an hereditary condition known as otosclerosis. Alexandra’s final child, a son, died a day after his birth and the distraught mother begged Queen Victoria not to announce his death at court so she could mourn him in private. However, the Queen insisted on announcing a period of court mourning even though the baby was buried privately in the churchyard at Sandringham. Alexandra was a strict parent who dominated the lives of her children but her favourite by far was her second son, George.
In 1892, Alexandra was devastated when her eldest son died of pneumonia after being ill with influenza, and she refused to have his possessions removed from his room. Albert Victor had been engaged at the time to Mary of Teck and their wedding date had been set for 27 February. Mary ended up marrying Albert Victor’s brother, George, the following year, and would eventually become Queen Mary.
Two years later, Alexandra’s sister, Maria Feodorovna, lost her husband, Tsar Alexander III, to nephritis and the Prince and Princess of Wales travelled to Livadia to be with her. While Bertie busied himself in the preparations for the funeral, Alexandra spent her time comforting Maria Feodorovna by praying with her and sleeping at her bedside. A week after the funeral, on Maria Feodorovna’s birthday, her son, Nicholas, married Alix of Hesse, the daughter of Bertie’s late sister, Alice.
When Queen Victoria died in 1901, Bertie became Edward VII but the coronation planned for June 1902 had to be delayed when the King became ill with appendicitis, forcing Alexandra to perform many of his royal duties. Little changed for Alexandra once she became queen and she spent most of her time caring for her grandchildren, particularly those of George and Mary when they went abroad. When Alexandra’s father died, she and her sister bought a private house in Copenhagen to maintain their Danish roots. Alexandra’s dislike of Germans never changed and she was often accused of meddling in affairs that were none of her concern. Alexandra had a deep mistrust for her nephew, Wilhelm, who was now German Emperor and her fears were justified when the First World War broke out.
In 1910, Alexandra was in Greece visiting her brother when she received word Edward was seriously ill and she returned to England the day before his death. Alexandra was said to have been devastated and was numb with grief. Alexandra’s second son, George, was now king and she moved out of Buckingham Palace, although she found it hard giving up her status as queen.
In 1916, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks but Alexandra’s sister, the Dowager Empress, was rescued and brought to England. The war years took their toll on Alexandra’s health and she suffered frequently from bouts of illness before eventually dying from a heart attack on 20 November 1925. Alexandra was buried next to her husband in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.