VICTORIA MELITA OF SAXE-COBURG AND GOTHA
Victoria Melita, known as Ducky, grew up in England and Malta until the family moved to Coburg when her father was stationed to Devonport, however the family moved into Schloss Ehrenburg when Alfred became the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1893. As a child, Victoria Melita was said to have had a difficult temperament and was often moody in comparison to her older sister, Marie, who had a far sunnier disposition. However, Marie maintained her sister was just shy and they two would remain close throughout their lives.
When the family moved to Coburg, the Duchess immediately tried to Germanise her daughters by having them confirmed into the German Lutheran church and making them wear plain clothes. Victoria Melita and her siblings were not happy at the changes and would open rebel until their mother lifted some of the restrictions she had imposed. The Duchess was determined to ready her daughters for early marriages before they could become too independent.
In 1891, Victoria Melita traveled to Russia with her mother for the funeral of Grand Duchess Alexandra Georgievna of Russia, formerly Alexandra of Greece and Denmark, and she met her maternal first cousin, Kirill Vladimirovich. Victoria Melita and Kirill fell in love but the Russian Orthodox Church forbade marriage between first cousins so they were prohibited from marrying. A similar fate would befall Victoria Melita’s youngest sister, Beatrice, who fell in love with Michael, the younger brother of Tsar Nicholas II, however Maria Alexandrovna did not want her daughters marrying into the Imperial Russian Family as the grand dukes were not known for their fidelity.
On a trip to Balmoral in 1891, Victoria Melita met her paternal first cousin Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse, and when it seemed the two were getting along, their grandmother, Queen Victoria, was keen to see them married. Both Victoria Melita and Ernst Ludwig bowed to family pressure and were married on 9 April 1894 at Schloss Ehrenburg in Coburg. Victoria Melita became Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine but the marriage proved to be an unhappy one as the couple didn’t have as much in common as it seemed. Victoria Melita gave birth to a daughter, Elisabeth, on 11 March 1895 and a stillborn son on 25 May 1900.
While Victoria Melita liked to entertain their friends with lavish parties it was obvious Ernst Ludwig did not like them and he preferred to spend his time with his daughter whom he adored. Victoria Melita also confided to close family members that Ernst Ludwig preferred the company of men and she had caught him in a compromising situation with one of their male servants. While Ernst Ludwig doted on their daughter, Victoria Melita began to spend more time abroad but what she really wanted was a divorce. Queen Victoria prevented the couple from divorcing as they had a young child, however Victoria Melita went ahead with it as soon as the Queen died in 1901. Once the divorce was finalised, Elisabeth lived between them until she died of typhoid in 1903.
On 8 October 1905, Victoria Melita defied everyone by marrying her first love, Kirill Vladimirovich, without the permission of the Tsar who then banished the couple from Russia. The couple soon settled in Paris where Victoria Melita decided to convert to Russian Orthodoxy to the delight of her mother and husband. In 1907, Victoria Melita gave birth to the couple’s first child, Maria Kirillovna, who was soon followed by Kira Kirillovna in 1909.
In May 1910, Victoria Melita and Kirill returned to St. Petersburg after the Tsar was forced to reinstate Kirill’s titles after a series of deaths in the family had brought him closer in the line of succession. Victoria Melita enjoyed her new status as Grand Duchess of Russia and enjoyed entertaining society with lavish balls, although she did not become close to her cousins, Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra.
Along with the rest of the nobles, Victoria Melita and Kirill grew very concerned with Grigori Rasputin’s influence over Nicholas and Alexandra, and were both involved in discussions on how best to save the monarchy when the Imperial couple refused to listen to reason. In 1917, as revolution spread over Russia, Victoria Melita discovered she was pregnant again at the age of forty-one. When Nicholas was forced to abdicate, Kirill swore loyalty to the Duma, hoping to save the monarchy, but it was seen as treason by the rest of the family. Victoria Melita stood by Kirill, believing he had made the right decision, but he was still forced to resign his commission in the navy, although his men remained loyal to him and continued to protect the couple.
In June 1917, Victoria Melita and Kirill decided to flee Russia and headed for Finland with whatever possessions they could risk taking with them. Finland was still a territory under Russian rule but it had its own government and indeed would declare independence by the end of the year. In August, Victoria Melita gave birth to her son, Vladimir, but was so destitute, she had to beg her cousin, Margaret of Connaught, for food for the baby. Victoria Melita was estranged from her British family because she felt they had not done enough to help the Romanovs.
In 1919, Victoria Melita and Kirill left Finland and travelled to Germany where they were reunited with Victoria Melita’s mother, Maria, before they all moved on to Zurich. After Maria’s death, Victoria Melita inherited her mother’s villa in Nice and her residence in Coburg, and the family divided their time between the two. Throughout the years, Victoria Melita and Kirill never gave up trying to restore the Russian monarchy and Victoria Melita nurtured Kirill’s dreams of becoming tsar. As Germany and Russia grew closer, the couple became an embarrassment and were forced to move to France.
The family settled in Saint-Briac where they soon became part of the community and were deferred to by their royal titles. Victoria Melita insisted her son, Vladimir Kirillovich, be raised in the manner of the Grand Dukes Romanov as was befitting for a future tsar. In 1933, Victoria Melita discovered Kirill had been unfaithful to her on his frequent trips to Paris and was devastated but she kept up the appearance of a dutiful wife for the sake of her son.
In February 1936, Victoria Melita suffered a stroke soon after attending the christening of one of her grandchildren but it was obvious nothing could be done. Victoria Melita died on 1 March 1936 with her sister, Marie, by her side. Despite the distance that had grown between them, Kirill still loved his wife and was inconsolable after her death, dying just two years later.
Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine
Elisabeth was the only surviving child from Ernst Ludwig’s first marriage and her father doted on her. She died of typhoid on 16 November 1903, aged 8 years.
Maria Kirillovna of Russia
Maria married Karl, Prince of Leiningen, and they had seven children. Karl was killed in the Second World War and Maria died five year later.