Victoire, Duchess of Kent (1786-1861)
Marie Louise Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was born on 17 August 1786 and was the fourth daughter of Franz Frederick Anton, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and his second wife, Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf.
Victoria’s older brother was Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who would eventually become the father of Albert, Prince Consort, the future husband of Victoire’s daughter, Queen Victoria. Victoire’s younger brother, Leopold, would also have a role to play in the British monarchy as he married Charlotte of Wales, the only daughter of the King George IV. It would be Charlotte died in childbirth which lead to the succession crisis and Victoria’s second marriage.
On 21 December 1803, Victoire married Emich Carl, 2nd Prince of Leiningen, who had previously been married to her maternal aunt, Henriette of Reuss-Ebersdorf. Carl and Henriette had one son, Friedrich, who was born on 1 March 1793 but he died in childhood. After Henriette’s death in 1801, Carl eventually married Victoire and they had two more children, Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Emich (12 September 1804) and Anna Feodora Auguste Charlotte Wilhelmine (7 December 1807). Victoire was widowed when Carl died on 4 July 1814, leaving her as regent of the Principality of Leiningen during the minority of their son.
After her second marriage, Carl and Feodora travelled to England with their mother for the birth of their younger half-sister, and lived with their mother at Kensington Palace. Carl eventually returned to Germany in 1821 to attend private school in Switzerland and then went on to University of Göttingen. He married Countess Marie von Klebelsberg in 1829 and they had two sons. When Carl died in 1856, Queen Victoria mourned his death and wrote in her diary how she would miss his dear face and joyous laugh.
Feodora remained at Kensington Palace, where she found the atmosphere stifling, until her marriage to Ernst I, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. The couple lived at Schloss Langenburg where they raised their six children with the help of a stipend received from Queen Victoria. Feodora and Victoria maintained a close relationship throughout their lives and the Queen was distraught when Feodora died in 1872.
It was Victoire’s second marriage which would ensure her place in the history books. With the line of succession in Great Britain severely compromised after the death of Charlotte of Wales, the only legitimate grandchild of George III, the king’s unmarried sons suddenly found themselves in need of wives.
Edward, Duke of Kent, had already begun looking for a suitable wife and had been encouraged to consider Victoire by his niece, Charlotte, before her death. The couple were married on 29 May 1818 at Schloss Ehrenburg, Coburg, and again on 11 July 1818 at Kew Palace, Surrey, in a joint ceremony with Edward’s brother, William, Duke of Clarence, who was marrying Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen.
After the marriage, the couple settled in Germany, however when the new Duchess of Kent fell pregnant, it was vital for the baby be born in Britain, so they returned to England a month before the birth. On 24 May 1819, the Duchess gave birth to a girl, Alexandrina Victoria, who was fourth in the line of succession behind her father and his brothers. Tragically, the Duke of Kent died of pneumonia in January 1820, leaving Victoire a widow for the second time in a country she barely knew. A month later, George III died and was succeeded by his eldest son, George IV.
After the Duke’s death, Victoire briefly considered returning home to Germany but with the succession in such a precarious state, she gambled on her daughter becoming heir to the throne and decided to stay in England. Unfortunately, the Duchess was only given a minor stipend by the British government which was nowhere near enough to support her family and pay off the substantial debts accrued by her late husband, so she was forced to rely on the generosity of her brother, Leopold. After the death of George IV and the succession of William IV, Alexandrina Victoria became heiress presumptive, so the duchess was given a larger income as it was unseemly for a British heiress to be receiving support from a foreign national, especially one who was now King of the Belgians.
The Duchess, an overprotective mother, was determined to keep her daughter away from the more salacious aspects of court life but it caused an irreparable rift with William IV. In addition, the Duchess’ secretary, John Conroy, was bargaining on Alexandrina Victoria being a minor when she succeeded and was manoeuvring himself into a position where he could influence both mother and daughter. As it turned out, Conroy’s schemes backfired as William lived long enough for Alexandrina Victoria to reach her majority and Conroy’s attempts at forcing her to make him her secretary failed. The Duchess was banished from her daughter’s inner circle and was not allowed to return until after the birth of her first grandchild, probably at the instigation of Prince Albert who was keen for mother and daughter to reconcile. Over time, the Duchess’ relationship with her daughter improved and she was content to play the role of doting grandmother to Victoria’s ever increasing brood.
The Duchess died on 16 March 1861 and was buried at Frogmore, near Windsor Castle. The Duchess’ death hit Queen Victoria hard but it would be nothing in comparison to the loss of her beloved Albert later that same year.