Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine (1863-1950)

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– Victoria

Maternal Princess

Victoria Alberta Elisabeth Mathilde Marie was born at Windsor Castle on 5 April 1863 and was the eldest daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse, and Alice of the United Kingdom.

A heavily pregnant Princess Alice was visiting England when she went into labour and the baby princess was born in Windsor Castle in the presence of her grandmother, Queen Victoria, after whom she was named. Victoria was christened in the Green Drawing Room at Windsor Castle on 27 April and her godparents were Queen Victoria (her grandmother); Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, (maternal cousin); Louis III, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine (paternal great-uncle); Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales (maternal uncle); and Heinrich of Hesse and by Rhine (paternal uncle).

When Victoria was three, her family moved into the New Palace at Darmstadt where the princess shared a room with her younger sister, Elisabeth, who was born on 1 November 1864. Victoria and her siblings were well-educated, however their childhood years were marred by war and tragedy, and they were sent to live with their grandmother during the Prussian invasion of Hesse in June 1866. Four years later, the Franco-Prussian War broke out and military hospitals were set up in the palace grounds at Darmstadt where Victoria helped nurse the wounded. That same year, Victoria’s younger brother, Friedrich, was born on 7 October 1870 and a few months later, he was diagnosed with haemophilia which was the first indication the order was hereditary in the British Royal Family. The family were devastated when the boy died on 29 May 1873 after falling out of a low window and suffering a brain haemorrhage.

In early November 1878, Victoria contracted diphtheria and it quickly spread through the other children, except for Elisabeth who was sent away. Alice nursed the children, however she was unable to save the life of her youngest daughter, Marie, who died on 16 November 1878. Alice kept the news of Marie’s death to herself for as long as she could but when the other children seemed to be recovering, she finally told them the devastating news. Alice’s son, Ernest, burst into tears and Alice broke her own rules by kissing him as a comfort. Days later, the princess herself became gravely ill and died on 14 December 1878 which was also the anniversary of Prince Albert’s death. The coincidence of the date was not lost on Queen Victoria who was devastated by Alice’s death.

Princess of Battenberg

After the loss of their mother, Victoria tried to take on the role of mother and she lamented how her childhood had came to a sudden end. At a family gathering, Victoria met Prince Louis of Battenberg, who had adopted British citizenship and was serving as an officer in the Royal Navy, and they were married on 30 April 1884 at Darmstadt. Victoria’s father had not approved of the match, knowing it would take his daughter away from him, however Victoria knew her own mind and paid her father no heed. That same evening, Louis secretly married his mistress, Alexandrine Hutten-Czapska, and the news shocked everyone as Alexandrine was a divorcee and of unequal rank. Louis eventually had the marriage annulled.

Due to his naval career, Victoria and Louis lived in a variety of places, however they spent the winter months in Malta where Victoria participated in archaeological digs and drew detailed geological maps. The couple had four children and Victoria became their main educator, exposing them to new ideas and inventions, and sharing the knowledge she had stored on all sorts of subjects.

Victoria’s sister, Elisabeth, had married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich on 15 June 1884, and while attending the wedding, their other sister, Alix, had fallen in love with Tsar Nicholas II and married him on 26 November 1894. Victoria and her daughter, Louise, were visiting Russia when the First World War broke out and they just managed to catch the last ship to sail to Britain from Bergen. Louis was forced to resign from the Royal Navy due to his German connections and the family moved to Kent House on the Isle of Wight.

In January 1921, Victoria travelled to Jerusalem to witness the internment of her sister, Elisabeth, in the Church of Mary Magdalene at Gethsemane. Sadly, the bodies of Alix and her family were never found during Victoria’s lifetime.

Marchioness of Milford Haven

On 14 July 1917, George V renounced the royal family’s German titles and the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha became the House of Windsor. Louis and Victoria anglicised their name to Mountbatten and four months later, Louis was made Marquess of Milford Haven.

After Louis’s sudden death in 1921, Victoria moved into an apartment at Kensington Palace where she took over the upbringing of her grandson, Philip, after his mother was diagnosed as schizophrenic and was frequently institutionalised. Tragedy seemed to never be far away from Victoria though as her brother,  Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, died in 1937, and a few months later, a plane crash claimed the lives of her widowed sister-in-law, nephew, granddaughter and two of her great-grandchildren.

Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Cecilie of Greece and Denmark, had married Ernest Louis’s son, George Donatus of Hesse. The family were on their way to a wedding in London when it is believed Cecilie went into labour, forcing the plane to divert in bad weather, however it crashed. Cecilie and Georg Donatus’ two sons, Louis and Alexander, were killed with them. The only child to survive was two-year-old, Johanna, who had been too ill to travel, and she was adopted by her uncle, Prince Louis of Hesse and by Rhine, but the little girl died of meningitis in 1939.

On 8 April 1938, Victoria’s son, George, had died of bone cancer and it was almost too much grief for one person to bear. As the Second World War broke out, Victoria moved to Windsor Castle as she watched her British and German relatives fight on opposite sides once more. Victoria’s youngest son, Louis, and two of her grandsons served in the Royal Navy and she was separated for her eldest daughter, Alice, who was trapped in Greece for much of the duration of the war. When the war ended, Louis was offered the post of Viceroy of India to which Victoria was deeply opposed but he accepted anyway.

After the war, Victoria’s health began to decline and she moved back to Kensington Palace where she died on 24 September 1950. She was buried in the grounds of St. Mildred’s Church, Whippingham, on the Isle of Wight.

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