Marie Luise Viktoria 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.
On 21 December 1803, Victoria married Charles, Prince of Leiningen, but he died on 4 July 1814, leaving her a widow with two young children, Carl and Feodora. However, it was Victoria’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 brothers suddenly found themselves in need of wives.
Edward, Duke of Kent, had already been looking for a suitable wife and had been encouraged to consider Victoria by his niece 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 married Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen. After the marriage, the couple settled in Germany, however when the new Duchess of Kent fell pregnant, it was vital 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 Victoria a widow for the second time in a country she barely knew. Barely a month later, George III died and was succeeded by his eldest son, George IV.
Victoria 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 backfired badly as it caused a 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.