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Wedding of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and Stéphanie of Belgium

Stephanie and Rudolf during their engagement. Photo credit: Wikipedia

May 10, 1881 – Wedding of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria & Stéphanie of Belgium

Wikipedia: Stéphanie of Belgium
Wikipedia: Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria

Rudolf was the third child and only son of Austrian Emperor Franz Josef and his wife, the former Elisabeth of Bavaria. Stéphanie was the second daughter of Leopold II of Belgium and Marie Henriette of Austria. Like her future husband, Stéphanie’s parents were deeply unhappy together, making for a difficult home life.

As the expected future Austrian Emperor, Rudolf’s marriage was of utmost concern. A marriage between Rudolf and Mathilde of Saxony was tentatively planned, but Mathilde’s unattractive appearance caused Rudolf to refuse the match. Rudolf was similarly unimpressed by the younger daughters of Isabella II of Spain or Miguel, the deposed king of Portugal. Franz Josef suggested additional possible brides for his son, but Rudolf rejected each one. The parents of another possible bride caught Rudolf with another woman during a visit, eliminating yet another candidate. Running out of available Catholic princesses from which to choose, Rudolf made a visit to the court of Stéphanie’s father in early 1880.

Leopold was already tied to the Austrian imperial family through his wife, although Marie Henriette was a rather minor princess. A marriage between Rudolf and one of Leopold’s daughters would bring prestige to the rather new Belgian royal family, as well as tie Belgium to the powerful Austria Empire. Leopold’s own offspring could not succeed to the Belgian throne (his only son had died as a child and his daughters were prohibited by law from succeeding), so the marriage of his daughters was one of the few ways Leopold could spread his influence. Stéphanie’s older sister Louise was already married, and her younger sister Clementine was not yet eight years old. It was up to 15-year-old Stéphanie – a tall, gangly adolescent – to charm Rudolf into marrying her. She wore her hair and dress in an adult style for the first time during the visit in hopes of enticing Rudolf.

On March 7, just a few days into his visit, Rudolf proposed to and was accepted by Stéphanie. As Stéphanie later claimed, “He asked me for my hand so prettily that I could not possibly refuse it to him.” Rudolf’s parents were not especially impressed with Stéphanie’s lineage (the Coburg line was considered too new and minor for a match with the mighty Habsburgs), but were somewhat content at knowing Rudolf had found a wife. Preparations were made for a December 1880 wedding.

Shortly after the engagement was announced, Stéphanie was sent to Vienna to learn the ins and outs of the imperial court. A few weeks later, it was discovered that Stéphanie had no knowledge of and had not yet started puberty. The wedding was postponed twice as Stéphanie was not yet able to bear children. In the meantime, Stéphanie carried on her studies of politics, religion, history, and the Hungarian language. She was also fitted with an exquisite trousseau, created to be – oddly enough – as “costly as possible.”

The wedding finally took place on May 10, 1881, eleven days before Stéphanie’s seventeenth birthday. The ceremony was held at St. Augustine’s Church in Vienna by candlelight. Stéphanie was outfitted in a dress of heavy silver brocade trimmed with silver roses. It was said that the bride moved down the aisle with the “daintiness of a dragon.” The new couple honeymooned at Laxenburg Castle, the antiquated and outdated imperial summer retreat.

Following the wedding, Stéphanie began her rounds of usual state visits and official appearances expected of an imperial Crown Princess. Although Empress Elisabeth thought little of her daughter in law – calling her “ugly” and a “lout” – Elisabeth was more than happy to pass all of her official duties onto Stéphanie. Although it wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven, Stéphanie and Rudolf seemed to view one another with affection in the first few years of marriage. The couple’s only child, Elisabeth Marie, was born at Laxenburg in September 1883.

Shortly after the birth of their daughter, Stéphanie’s and Rudolf’s marriage began to unravel. Whereas Rudolf was charming, liberal, intellectual, and at times unbalanced, Stéphanie was conservative, arrogant, and highly regimented. No further children were born (possibly due to Rudolf infecting Stéphanie with a sexually transmitted disease), and the two pursued separate lives. Although talk of annulment or divorce was raised, Franz Josef refused to permit serious consideration of ending the marriage.

In January 1889, the situation sadly resolved itself when Rudolf was found dead at Mayerling, an imperial hunting lodge. The body of his mistress, Mary Vetsera, was found with him. It remains unclear (and controversial) whether the deaths were a result of murder, suicide, or a combination. Stéphanie later married a Hungarian count; Elisabeth Marie married a minor German prince followed by a noted socialist.

As Stéphanie later said of her marriage to Rudolf:

“Two quite young persons see each other for the first time, know each other a quarter of an hour, and speak the binding word which death alone can untie. If there is something beautiful in the thought that two human beings who love and respect one another are joined before God in holy matrimony, so there is something uncommonly repulsive in the idea that such a union can be formed without any preparation and remain a lie from the altar to the grave.”

Wilhelm, Crown Prince of Germany

The three Wilhelms, from left to right: Crown Prince Wilhelm, former Emperor Wilhelm II, and Prince Wilhelm, son of the former. Photo credit: Wikipedia

May 6, 1882 – Birth of Wilhelm, Crown Prince of Germany
Wikipedia: Wilhelm, Crown Prince of Germany

Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst was born on in Potsdam on May 6, 1882, a little over a year after the wedding of his parents, the future Wilhelm II, German Emperor and the former Augusta Victoria (Dona) of Schleswig-Holstein. The younger Wilhelm was born during the reign of his great-grandfather, Wilhelm I. When both his great-grandfather and grandfather (Friedrich III) died in 1888, Wilhelm became Crown Prince of the German Empire. No one could have known at that time that he would be the last person to hold the title.

It was expected that Wilhelm would be called Fritz as it was a common nickname of Friedrich, also the name of both of his grandfathers. The fact that he was called Wilhelm instead did not go unnoticed by his maternal grandmother and great-grandmother, Empress Friedrich and Queen Victoria. During his childhood, Wilhelm and
his five younger brothers and one younger sister were kept from the Empress Friedrich, as both of his parents disliked her.

Wilhelm attended school in Plön and later at the University of Bonn. During his teen years and young adulthood, he gained the reputation as a ladies’ man, and he would carry on a number of notable affairs during his lifetime. Wilhelm’s father looked on his son’s promiscuity with strong dislike, at one point more or less banishing young Wilhelm to Danzig to ease the gossip at court. Among Wilhelm’s alleged mistresses were American singer Geraldine Farrar and Mata Hari, a dancer and World War I spy.

Wilhelm spent his time in Danzig playing tennis and bedding various women. He also developed an interest in football (soccer), which was a new sport in Europe. As he became bored at Danzig, Wilhelm began to speak out publicly against his father’s political acumen (or lack thereof). This did not improve the relationship between father and son.

Wilhelm married Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a sister of the Crown Prince of Denmark, in June 1905 in a lavish ceremony. The couple had met at the wedding of Cecilie’s brother the previous year. Cecilie had been effectively selected for Wilhelm by his father due to her close associations to Russia (through her mother) and because of her noted beauty. Although he did initially take interest in his wife, Wilhelm soon resumed his affairs with other women.

Wilhelm and Cecilie had their first child the following year, a son also named Wilhelm. Three more sons – Louis Ferdinand, Hubertus, and Georg Friedrich – and daughters Alexandrine and Cecilie, followed Wilhelm. Alexandrine had Down’s Syndrome, but unlike most disabled royal children of the time, she was not separated from the family nor was her education neglected. Alexandrine appeared in most family photographs and attended a special school for girls with learning difficulties.

Despite his place in the German militaristic culture, Wilhelm had little interest in the military. He was named commander of the 5th Army at the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914, a post he held for two years. He was also the commander of the Army Group German Crown Prince until the end of the war. For the most part, Wilhelm remained under the tutelage of more experienced military commanders during his tenure.

Wilhelm went into exile in the Netherlands with much of the rest of the German imperial family following the abolishment of the monarch in 1918. Wilhelm and Cecilie returned to Germany five years later after promising to remain out of politics. The family was able to retain much of its wealth and even some former residences, allowing them to live a comfortable life in Germany. By this time Wilhelm and Cecilie had separated, but did maintain friendly relations and reunited during family events.

Wilhelm did not entirely remain out of politics despite his promise, as he met with and supported Adolf Hitler in his early days of power. He also joined Stahlhelm, a German paramilitary organization, and considered a run for President of Germany until he was discouraged from doing so by multiple individuals. Following the Night of the Long Knives in which many political figures were murdered, Wilhelm stayed out of politics permanently.

Wilhelm became head of the House of Hohenzollern in 1941, upon the death of his father. He did not support Hitler’s activities after 1934, and lived a quiet life. After Cecilienhof, the family home, was seized by the Soviets following World War II, Wilhelm moved to a small house in Hechingen, near Stuttgart. He died of a heart attack there in 1951. Wilhelm is buried with his wife at Hohenzollern Castle.

Fuad I, King of Egypt

Fuad I, King of Egypt. Photo credit: Wikipedia

April 28, 1936 – Death of Fuad I, King of Egypt

Wikipedia: Fuad I, King of Egypt

Born in Cairo, Fuad was the son of Ismail the Magnificent, Khedive of Egypt and Farial Kadin, one his wives. As a younger son, Fuad was not expected to become Khedive of Egypt; he instead devoted most of his attention during his younger years to the establishment of Cairo University. Fuad was the first rector of the university, taking the position at the time of its founding in 1908 until 1913.

Fuad married his cousin, Princess Shwikar Khanum Effendi, in 1895. The marriage was a deeply unhappy one. The couple had a son, Ismail Fuad, who died in infancy, and a daughter Fawkia. Within three years the marriage was effectively over and the couple made plans to divorce. This led to a dispute between Fuad and Shwikar’s brother, who shot Fuad in the throat. Fuad survived his injury, and he and Shwikar divorced in 1898.

In 1913, Fuad made an ill-fated attempt to seize the throne of Albania, which had recently gained independence from the dying Ottoman Empire. Fuad was a descendent of Muhammad Ali Pasha, a Greek-Albanian general who took control of Egypt following French occupation of the country. Fuad’s Albanian blood and the vulnerability of the country prompted him to seek the throne. Instead, the Great Powers chose William, Prince of Weid as the ruler of a new Albanian monarchy. The outbreak of World War I cut William’s kingship very short.

At the beginning of World War I, Fuad’s nephew Abbas II was Khedive of Egypt. Abbas was in Turkey when the war broke out and did not immediately return to Egypt. The British were deeply distrustful of Abbas; when Britain declared war on Turkey in November 1914, they placed Egypt under a protectorate headed by Fuad’s brother Hussein. When Hussein died in 1917, his only son Kamal declined to succeed him due to his opposition the British presence in the country. Fuad was then chosen as the new Sultan of Egypt.

Fuad was without an heir at this time, having a single surviving daughter. In 1919, he married again to Nazli Sabri, a daughter of the Minister of Agriculture and Governor of Cairo. Fuad got along with his second wife just as poorly as he had with his first, with Fuad at one point restricting Nazli to the palace. Nevertheless, the couple had four daughters Fawzia (a future Queen of Iran), Faiza, Faika, and Fathiya, and a son, Farouk.

Shortly after the conclusion of World War I, a revolution broke out in Egypt opposing the British occupation. Britain had relied on Egyptian troops and supplies throughout the war, despite promising the contrary. Egyptian nationalism swept citizens tired of their lack of opportunity to govern their own country and revolted. The movement was so popular that Egyptian daily life was all but brought to a standstill. The British finally concluded that future control over Egypt was futile and declared the country an independent kingdom.

A new constitution written in 1923 gave Fuad considerable powers, including the ability to dissolve parliament. Fuad made frequent use of this power, as well as his ability to dismiss cabinet members. For a time Fuad even cut the power of the parliament to serve only as an advisory board to the king, although the move proved unpopular and Fuad eventually abandoned this.

Fuad died at Cairo’s Qubba Palace 1936 and was succeeded by his son Farouk, a notorious spendthrift and a con man. In a final act of hatred against her husband, Queen Nazli sold all of his clothes to a local secondhand store. Fuad is buried at the Khedival Mausoleum in the ar-Rifai Mosque in Cairo.

Irene of Greece, Duchess of Aosta

Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Wikipedia: Irene of Greece, Duchess of Aosta

Born in Athens in February 1904, Irene was the fifth child and second daughter of the future Constantine I of Greece and Sophie of Prussia. Irene may have been named as such due to the so-called Macedonian Struggle, a period of violent skirmishes, guerilla warfare, and political assassinations in the Balkans that began the year of her birth. Irene’s siblings included three Greek kings (George II, Alexander, and Paul) and Helen, a future Romanian queen. Irene remained the youngest child in her family for over nine years until the birth of her younger sister Katherine in 1913. Irene was very close to Helen throughout their lives.

The Greek royal family spent a significant amount of time in exile during Irene’s childhood. After her father’s death in 1922, Irene moved with her mother and younger sister permanently to Italy. Irene lived in Florence with her mother and younger sister in a somewhat ordinary villa. During Irene’s time in Florence, she trained as a nurse in a local hospital. She was also seen out at local dance halls and cafes, and generally living the life of a typical young adult of the time. She was fond of the Scottish Highlands, regularly taking trips there with Helen. In late 1926, Irene and Katherine simultaneously came down with appendicitis, but both made quick recoveries.

Irene was linked for some time to Boris III of Bulgaria. Following her sister Helen’s disastrous experience as the wife of Carol II of Romania, Irene was said to have declared that she would not marry a Balkan royal. Irene was engaged to Christian of Schaumburg-Lippe, her distant cousin, in October 1927. The engagement was broken off reportedly due to Irene’s dislike of Germany.

Irene and her sister Katherine served as bridesmaids for their cousin Marina when she married George, Duke of Kent in 1934. As royal weddings tend to encourage gossip about other possible couples, talk of a future husband for Irene began to simmer again. She was mentioned as being linked to Nicholas of Romania, a family with whom her own already had two links (her sister Helen and brother George both married into the Romanian royal family). In the late 1930s, Irene was named as a possible bride to the widowed Leopold III of Belgium. Neither of these prospective marriages progressed beyond talks.

Irene was also instrumental in encouraging “Green Week” in Athens, a time when a large amount of trees were planted on the streets of the city to encourage natural beauty and shade. Her brother George II liked the idea and appealed to ambassadors of several different countries for donations of trees.

Irene again became engaged in May 1939 to Aimone, Duke of Spoleto (later Apulia). Aimone was the son of Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Aosta and Hélène of Orléans, once a bridal candidate for both Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Nicholas II of Russia. Aimone was descended from Ferdinand VII of Spain, Louis-Philippe of France, and Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, and was at one time thought to marry Infanta Beatriz of Spain. The engagement between Irene and Aimone was considered to be “a love match without political significance,” although there was some speculation that the marriage was arranged to ease tension over Italian troops being stationed near the Greek border. The two had known one another for some time, as the Greeks in exile in Italy had become close with the Savoy family.

The couple married in Florence at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore on July 1, 1939, in the company of numerous other royals. The ceremony was said to have been gorgeous, with the streets filled with flowers and scores of spectators. Aimone’s and Irene’s wedding was one of the last royal weddings before the outbreak of World War II in Europe.

Aimone was named King of Croatia in 1941; Croatia had been established as a puppet monarchy in control of Italy and Greece. He intended to rule under the name Tomislav II, but Aimone accepted the throne mostly out of duty. The region was unstable due to border disputes and the war in Europe; the theoretical monarch of Croatia also held little power as the Ustaše fascist organization controlled the country.

At the beginning of World War II, Irene began serving with the International Red Cross in the Soviet Union. She ended her tenure there when she became pregnant.
The couple’s only child, Amadeo, was born in September 1943 in Florence. Amadeo’s birth occurred shortly after Italy’s armistice with the Allied powers during World War II and his father’s abdication of the Croatian throne. As a result of Aimone’s ties to Croatia, Amadeo received the Croat name of Zvonimir as one of his given names.

Early in 1944, Irene and several other Italian royals were arrested and sent to concentration camps. This was done Irene and Amadeo were dispatched first to Sartirana, near Pavía, and then later to Austria, Germany, and Poland. The two were liberated in May 1945 at the end of the war in Europe.

After the fall of the Italian monarchy in 1946, Irene and Amadeo escaped to Switzerland while Aimone fled to Argentina. The couple was effectively separated after this time, having spent little time together during the preceding years. Aimone died in Buenos Aires in 1948.

Following her husband’s death, Irene established herself in Villa Domenico (Fiesole), near her sister Helena, who lived in Villa Sparta. Irene died on April 15, 1974, at her home in Fiesole, Italy. She is buried at the Basilica of Superga in Turin.

Anna Pavlovna, Queen of the Netherlands

Anna Pavlovna, Queen of the Netherlands. Photo credit: Dutch Wikipedia

Wikipedia: Anna Pavlovna, Queen of the Netherlands

Born at sumptuous Gatchina Palace just south of St. Petersburg, Anna was the eighth child and youngest daughter of Tsar Paul of Russia and his second wife, Maria Feodorovna (formerly Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg. Among Anna’s nine siblings were two future Russian Tsars, a Queen of Württemberg, and a Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar. Like her siblings, Anna received an excellent education in the arts, mathematics, foreign languages, and sciences.

Once Anna hit adolescence, stiff competition began for her hand in marriage. She was considered as a possible wife for both Napoleon I of France and of the future William IV of the United Kingdom, but Anna’s family rejected them as being unsuitable. Anna was instead engaged to the future William II of the Netherlands, then Prince of Orange. The marriage had been arranged by Anna’s brother and sister, Tsar Alexander I and Catherine, Queen of Württemberg. William and Anna married at the Chapel of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg on February 21, 1816. With no pressing need to immediately return to the Netherlands, the couple spent about a year living in Russia after their marriage.

Anna and William moved to the Netherlands shortly before the birth of their first child. She became known in the Netherlands (which at that time included present-day Belgium) by the Dutch version of her name, Anna Paulownia. Between 1817 and 1824, the couple had five children – William, Alexander, Henry, Ernst, and Sophie. Of those, their eldest three sons and their daughter survived to adulthood. Although she took an interest in Dutch history and learned to speak the language quite well, Anna was very homesick for her family and for Russia. She compensated by remaining in constant contact with her family and recreating bits of Russia in the Netherlands.

Anna became especially dismayed when in 1840 the family was forced to leave Brussels due to the revolution and formation of Belgium. Always very observant and proud of her impressive position, Anna found the more relaxed social constraints in Amsterdam very tough to weather. Anna and William also separated around this time due to differences in personalities and his affairs with both men and women.

Anna became Queen of the Netherlands in October of 1840 after her father-in-law’s abdication. She and William came to something of an understanding in their relationship early in his reign and lived together after that time. However, Anna never really connected with the Dutch public and was not a popular queen. She did found several orphanages in the Netherlands, and did not meddle in politics.

William died in 1849 and was succeeded by his son, William III. Anna had already disliked court life for years, and during her son’s reign she left it completely. Although she discussed returning to her native Russia, Anna stayed in the Netherlands. She died on March 1, 1865 in The Hague.

Anna is remembered particularly for her association with a genus of plants named in her honor by a Dutch botanist. Paulownia, which is native to Southeast Asia, is a fast-growing plant; its wood is used in making musical instruments and some furniture. Charcoal made from Paulownia wood is used in fireworks, cosmetics, and by artists for sketching.

Alexandrine of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Queen of Denmark

photo: Wikipedia

Wikipedia: Alexandrine of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Queen of Denmark

Born on Christmas Eve in the city of Schwerin, Germany, Alexandrine was the eldest child of the sickly Friedrich Franz III, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Anastasia Mikhailovna, a Russian grand duchess and a granddaughter of Nicholas I of Russia. Alexandrine’s two siblings were Friedrich Franz IV, Mecklenburg-Schwerin’s last grand duke, and Cecilie, the wife of Wilhelm, German Crown Prince.

Grand Duchess Anastasia had a poor reputation for her dislike of her adopted country and her extravagances; she also had an illegitimate child during her widowhood. Although concern was held about Alexandrine’s and Cecilie’s futures due to their mother’s lifestyle, both made impressive marriages. It was Anastasia who urged Alexandrine to marry the future Christian X of Denmark, to which Alexandrine complied. The two were married in Cannes, France (her mother’s preferred residence) in 1898. The couple had also first met in Cannes. Alexandrine was 18 at the time of the wedding.

Christian and Alexandrine received the newly built Marselisborg Palace in Aarhus as a wedding present from the Danish public, but the home was not completed until 1902. Marselisborg is now used by Queen Margarethe II as her summer residence. The two made Christian VIII’s Palace at Amalienborg their Copenhagen base. The couple also spent a considerable amount of time at Sorgenfri Palace just outside Copenhagen. It was at Sorgenfri that both of the couple’s children, the future Frederik IX and Knud, were born.

Christian and Alexandrine were devoted to one another and enjoyed a happy marriage. The couple became king and queen of Denmark in 1912. While their popularity waxed and waned throughout Christian’s rule, he and Alexandrine are generally viewed as a successful king and queen. Prior to the World Wars, Alexandrine and Christian traveled extensively, often returning to Cannes where they met and married.

Alexandrine was somewhat shy and disliked the ceremonial and public aspect of being queen. She preferred more solitary activities, and was known for her talents in needlework and for her avid interest in gardening. She also had a deep appreciation for music and was patron of several musical organizations. Her eldest son Frederik shared his mother’s passion for music.

At the start of the German occupation of Denmark during World War II, it was unknown whether Alexandrine’s sympathies would ally with her native country or her adoptive one. Alexandrine proved herself loyal to Denmark by working with various relief organizations to bring aid to Danes affected by the occupation. She also received General Kaupisch, the German head of the occupation, with a less than warm welcome. Alexandrine and her husband were lauded by the Danish public for their devotion to the country during wartime. Alexandrine was also able to save the sizable Danish royal jewel collection from Nazi looters by hiding it in churches and even farmhouses.

Alexandrine was widowed in 1947. During her time as dowager queen, she devoted most of her time to charitable causes, particularly those dedicated to children. She was known simply as Queen Alexandrine until her own death in 1952, being the first former queen to forgo the title of Dowager Queen.

Alexandrine died in her sleep four days after her 73rd birthday. She had undergone an intestinal operation a week and a half before her death. At her funeral, her son Frederik conducted her favorite song, Grieg’s “Springtime.” Alexandrine is buried with her husband at Roskilde Cathedral beside her husband.

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Maria de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Countess of Barcelona

Maria de las Mercedes, Countess of Barcelona at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Source: Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor

Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies was born in Madrid on December 23, 1910, the daughter of Carlos of Bourbon-Two Sicilies and his second wife, Louise of Orléans. Maria Mercedes had a very impressive royal lineage – on her father’s side she was descended from multiple branches of the Bourbon-Two Sicilies family who ruled in Italy until the late 19th century. On her mother’s side, Maria Mercedes was descended from both recent Spanish and French royalty. Maria Mercedes’ father had previously been married to Mercedes, Princess of Asturias (a sister of Alfonso XIII of Spain), giving the family a further tie to the Spanish monarchy. These connections made Maria Mercedes a very desirable potential royal bride, particularly to the Spanish royalty.

Maria Mercedes spent a large part of her childhood in Seville, and she remained fond of the city for the rest of her life. However, like her future husband Maria Mercedes and her family were exiled from Spain at the start of the Second Spanish Republic. During her time in exile in France, Maria Mercedes studied art and nursing.

Maria Mercedes attended the wedding of her second cousin, Infanta Beatriz of Spain (a daughter of Alfonso XIII of Spain) to Italian count Alessandro Torlonia of Civitella-Cesi in January 1935. It was there that she became reacquainted with Beatriz’s brother Juan, Count of Barcelona, also the heir to the defunct Spanish throne. The two quickly began a romance and married the following October, settling initially in Cannes and later in Italy, Switzerland, and Portugal.  Maria Mercedes and Juan had four children:

Maria Mercedes’ adult life was dominated by the actions of Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator. It was Franco who kept the family from living in Spain, Franco who was constantly at odds with Don Juan, and Franco alternately named Juan Carlos his successor and refused consider the monarchy restored. In 1949, when Maria Mercedes’ father was terminally ill in Seville, Franco denied her entrance into Spain. Maria Mercedes’ father died before she could visit, and she was said to have never forgiven Franco for this action.

Still, the family lived in relative comfort in Estoril, Portugal, alongside other deposed royalty. Maria Mercedes represented the Spanish royal family at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Maria Mercedes and her family were among the royals who sailed on the 1954 Agamemnon cruise through Greece, where her son Juan Carlos first met his future wife Sofia. It was also Maria Mercedes’ nursing training that saved Juan Carlos who, while sailing home after the trip, developed appendicitis. While the crew wanted to keep Juan Carlos warm, Maria Mercedes knew that an inflamed lower right quadrant should be iced until medical help could be sought. Juan Carlos had his appendix removed during an emergency stop in Algeria.

In 1969, Franco ultimately decided that the Spanish monarchy should be restored following his death. As suspected, Franco passed over the Count of Barcelona for his successor in favor of Juan Carlos. The Count was furious and cut off all communication with his son. It was up to Maria Mercedes to enable communication between her husband and son for several years. The two finally reconciled in 1976, the in which Maria Mercedes and her husband finally returned to live in Spain.  In 1977, the Count of Barcelona formally renounced his rights to the Spanish throne.

The last twenty years of Maria Mercedes’ life was spent in relative ill health due to a broken hip and femur. She still attended family events whenever possible, including the marriages of her grandchildren and baptisms of her great-grandchildren. Maria Mercedes died at La Mareta at Lanzarote in the Canary Islands of a heart attack on January 2, 2000. In accordance with her son’s wishes, Maria Mercedes was buried in El Escorial with the rites of a Queen of Spain.

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King Willem I of the Netherlands

photo: Wikipedia

Wikipedia: William I, King of the Netherlands

William was the eldest son of William V, Prince of Orange, the last stadtholder of the Dutch Republic and Wilhelmina of Prussia. The younger William was descended from the British Hanoverian royalty through both his mother and his father. William received an education with a strong military focus, something that would aid him when he later had to fight to win back control of the Netherlands.

William married his cousin, Wilhelmine of Prussia, in October 1791 in Berlin. Although it was a political match intended to strengthen Dutch ties to Prussia, the marriage was also a very happy one. The couple had three surviving children – the future William II, Frederick, and Marianne – and remained married until Wilhelmine’s death in 1837.

In 1795, William and his family were driven into exile following the Dutch Republic’s loss to the First French Republic during the War of the First Coalition. The family first fled to Britain, then Germany where they stayed for four years. William participated in an Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland during the War of the Second Coalition in 1799, but the invasion was quelled by French-Dutch forces intent to keep the Oranges out of the country. Following a meeting with Napoleon in 1802, William was given the new (and small) principality of Nassau-Orange-Fulda as compensation for his lost lands. The principality existed until 1806.

The Dutch public was content to govern themselves in the short-lived Batavian Republic, a result of the Dutch loss to the French in 1795. The Dutch tolerated French involvement in the formation and loose supervision of the republic – until Napoleon created the Kingdom of Holland for his brother Louis in 1806. Meanwhile, William was fighting with his Prussian relatives against Napoleonic forces in Germany. William was briefly taken prisoner of war following the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt; although he was freed, he lost the principality of Nassau-Orange-Fulda.

Even after his imprisonment and the loss of his territory, William was not through with jumping armies to fight against the French. He joined the Austrian army in 1809, where he served as an aide to commander and Archduke Charles of Austria.

Aware of the discontent of the Dutch under French rule, William met with Alexander I of Russia for assistance in 1813 to appeal for help in restoring him to the Netherlands. Alexander agreed to help, and following Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig later that year, the Dutch provisional government agreed to accept William as King following the departure of the French. He was also proclaimed Grand Duke of Luxembourg and Duke of Nassau, uniting the Low Countries. The Netherlands was formally proclaimed a kingdom at the Congress of Vienna.

William worked toward furthering economic progress in the Netherlands, concentrating on industry in present-day Belgium. He also increased educational opportunities, founding the University of Leuven, the University of Ghent, and the University of Liege. The increase in industry and knowledge along with flourishing trade in the north and from the colonies resulted in great wealth for the new kingdom – and resentment in the south (Belgium), which saw the fewest benefits from the economic growth. This eventually led to revolution in the south and the creation of the Kingdom of Belgium.

The loss of Belgium and resulting constitutional change left William, who had been focused on keeping the Low Countries together, dejected. William abdicated in October 1840, after a controversy arose when he declared his wish to marry Belgian noblewoman Henriette d’Oultremont. His eldest son succeeded him as William II.

William married Henriette in 1841, and the couple settled in Berlin. William died two years later and is buried in Nieuwe Kerk in Delft. William was the first modern-day monarch of the Low Countries to abdicate. Although not all monarchs following William have abdicated, the trend more accepted than in other parts of the world. William’s descendants Wilhelmina, Juliana, and Beatrix of the Netherlands have all abdicated, as well as non-descendants Charlotte and Jean in Luxembourg and Albert II in Belgium.

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Prince Peter of Greece


October 15, 1980 – Death of Peter of Greece and Denmark

Wikipedia: Peter of Greece and Denmark

With its many overthrows and exiles during the 20th century, the Greek royal family does not lack for interesting stories or unusual characters. However, history has largely forgotten Peter, a French born Greek prince who was a cousin to Kings George II, Alexander, and Paul as well as the current Duke of Edinburgh. But Peter led a very unusual life that led him from India to Egypt to Denmark (with several stops in between), studying various foreign cultures. Peter weathered a morganatic marriage that left him estranged from much of his family, and in his later life shot criticism at his cousin Constantine II for what Peter felt was an illegal change to the Greek succession laws.

Peter was born in Paris, France on December 3, 1908. He was the first child of George of Greece, the second son of George I of Greece, and his French wife Marie Bonaparte. Peter’s sister and only sibling Eugenie was born a little over a year later. The family divided their time mostly between homes in France and Denmark, spending little time in Greece. Peter was educated in London and Paris, where he had planned to study law and politics but instead became interested in anthropology and cultural studies. Peter finally returned to Greece in the 1935 following the restoration of his cousin George II. He served in both the Greek and French armies during his young adulthood.

Due to his royal heritage and place in the line of succession to the Greek throne (he was third in 1935), Peter was considered as a possible husband for at least two European princesses. Peter was said to be a favorite of Juliana of the Netherlands, but Queen Wilhelmina desired a Protestant son-in-law and disliked that Peter’s mother’s fortune had been made through the development of the Monte Carlo casinos. Frederika of Hanover was also suggested as a possible wife for Peter, but she eventually married his cousin Paul in 1938.

Around this time Peter entered into a relationship with Irina Aleksandrovna Ovtchinnikova, a divorced Russian woman separated from her second husband. Peter’s family greatly disapproved of the relationship due to Irina’s commoner status and marital history. Nevertheless, Peter embarked on a trip through present-day India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Sri Lanka with Irina, studying the various groups of people they met. Peter was particularly interested in the polyandry practiced in some areas of the region. Peter and Irina were civilly married September 1939 at the Danish consulate in Madras, India.

The marriage cost Peter both his dynastic rights and his relationship with his father, who swore off contact with his son. Peter maintained contact with his mother and sister, but the onslaught of World War II prevented a long reunion. Peter escaped Greece with the rest of the royal family, settling in Cairo with Irina. The two married religiously in Jerusalem in 1941.

Peter hoped to return to Greece after World War II and the 1944-5 Greek civil war. Peter’s cousin Paul, now king, recognized Peter’s marriage to Irina and offered to let the two return to Greece, but only if Peter renounced his right to the Greek throne, something he had not done despite his marriage to commoner Irina. When Peter refused, Paul barred him from re-entering the country.

After spending a short time in both Denmark and the United States, Peter and Irina returned to India in 1949. The two spent nearly a decade collecting data and traveling around India, Tibet, and Sri Lanka. The two settled for several years in Kalimpong, India, near the borders with Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Tibet. During that time, Peter accused the government of India of helping Communist China in its attempt to overthrow Tibet. Peter was asked to leave India in 1957 after some of his activities were, according to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, “considered undesirable.” Peter resumed his studies in London upon his return, and received a doctorate in anthropology in 1959. His thesis focused on his interest in polyandry and was published as A Study in Polyandry in 1963.

Following his cousin Paul’s death in 1964, Peter entered into a feud with Paul’s son and successor Constantine, who had named his younger sister Irene his successor should he die childless. Peter, who was Constantine’s nearest male relative, was livid and lashed out at Queen Frederika for influencing Constantine into making decisions that (Peter believed) violated Greece’s constitution. Peter called a press conference to air his grievances, also accusing the royal family of extravagance with public money. He continued his fight to be recognized as crown prince of Greece until the birth of Constantine’s son Pavlos in 1967. Peter later apologized for his actions.

After the fall of the Greek monarchy, Peter sold his Greek properties and divided his time between London, Paris, and Copenhagen. He and his wife Irina
separated in the mid-1970s when she relocated to Hong Kong. Peter received an invitation from the Chinese government to resume his studies in Tibet in 1978, which he accepted. Peter was planning a second trip when he died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage in London.

Peter’s memorial mass was held at St. Sophia’s in London. No one in his family reportedly spoke to Irina before or after the service. He requested in his will to be buried at the family cemetery at Tatoi Palace only if Irina could be buried there as well. Although the Greek royal family agreed, the Greek government prohibited a burial at Tatoi. Peter is buried at his Danish home, Lille Bernstorff. Irina was buried next to him after her death in 1990.

Many of the objects Peter collected during his studies in Asia are now held at the National Museum of Denmark and in the Danish Royal Library.

List of Peter’s publications available through the Danish Royal Library

Thyra of Denmark, Crown Princess of Hanover

Thyra of Denmark as a young woman. Photo credit:

Wikipedia: Thyra of Denmark, Crown Princess of Hanover

Thyra was the youngest daughter and fifth child of the future Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel. She was born at the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen (like all of her siblings save her younger brother Valdemar), where the family was living at the time in relatively humble circumstances. Christian had been chosen as the heir to the childless Frederik VIII shortly before Thyra’s birth.

Thyra’s four older siblings all became monarchs in their own right or consorts: Frederik succeeded his father as Frederik VIII, Alix became the consort to Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, William accepted the throne of Greece and ruled as George I, and Dagmar married the future Tsar Alexander III and became known as Maria Feodorovna.
Encouraged by the prominent marriages her elder daughters had made, Louise had the same hopes for Thyra.

But before any serious marriage negotiations could take place, Thyra had fallen in love with a Danish cavalry officer, Vilhelm Frimann Marcher. Louise evidently knew of Thyra’s attachment to Marcher, but considered it a harmless adolescent flirtation. However, by the summer of 1871 it was clear that the “flirtation” had blossomed into a full-blow affair – and that Thyra was pregnant with Marcher’s child.

News of Thyra’s pregnancy was restricted to the family as it could be lethal to her reputation. Arrangements were made to send Thyra to Greece to visit her brother George, where she could have the baby in relative anonymity and be given to a Greek family. Thyra gave birth to a daughter at in Greece (some claim Glücksburg Castle in Germany) on November 8, 1871. It is believed that Thyra convinced her family to let the baby be adopted by a Danish couple, rather than a Greek one.

Marcher was allegedly distraught over losing Thyra and his child. Though he was said to have proposed marriage to Thyra’s father, this was refused due to Marcher’s low rank. Marcher may have had a second confrontation with Christian in early 1872 that resulted a verbal altercation. Whatever the case, March committed suicide on January 4, 1872. There is no record of Thyra’s reaction to his death.

Following her involvement with Marcher, Thyra was one of the leading candidates for a bride for Arthur, Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria. The two had met as children in the early 1860s when Thyra’s sister Alexandra married Arthur’s brother Bertie. Thyra’s sister and brother-in-law strongly supported the match, with Alexandra cleverly mentioning that Thyra treasured a note Arthur had given her in 1863. Although the Thyra and Arthur met a few times in preparation for a possible engagement, Queen Victoria eventually decided that a second British-Danish union would interfere with her pro-German leanings. Arthur went on to marry a Prussian princess in 1878.

Thyra traveled to the United Kingdom during the winter of 1875 to spend Christmas with the Wales family at Sandringham. Also visiting the family was Ernst Augustus, Crown Prince of the defunct throne of Hanover. Although he was without a throne and not considered handsome, Ernst Augustus had a kind and easygoing manner. He was also lucky enough to keep the large amount of his fortune despite his exile from Hanover. However, the Prussians did not view a union between Denmark and Hanover favorably at that time. Both had lost considerable (or all, in the case of Hanover) territory to Prussia in the aftermath of the war.

After meeting Ernst Augustus, Thyra was considered as a second bride of William III of the Netherlands. William’s first wife, Sophie had died in 1877, leaving him with two surviving sons who had not (and would not) produce children. In his sixties at this time, William needed a younger princess who could bear him further children. William, however, had a reputation as a shameless womanizer. His questionable moral character coupled with his age led Thyra to refuse William. He did find his younger princess in Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont, who married William and became the mother of his successor, Wilhelmina.

Thyra’s hopes of marriage kept coming back to Ernst Augustus, who apparently knew of Thyra’s illegitimate child and still wished to marry her. Thyra’s parents, along with Princess of Wales were able to arrange a meeting in Frankfurt between Thyra and Ernst Augustus in early 1878, where the two became engaged.

In December 1878, Thyra and Ernst Augustus were married at the chapel at Copenhagen’s Christianborg Palace. Following the wedding, Thyra and Ernst Augustus made their home in exile in Gmunden, Austria, where they raised six children:

– Marie Louise (1879-1948)
– George William (1880-1912)
– Alexandra (1882-1963)
– Olga (1884-1958)
– Christian (1885-1901)
– Ernst Augustus (1887-1953)

According to some sources, Thyra struggled with periodic bouts of mental illness during her marriage. Additionally, Ernst Augustus was somewhat asocial and disliked gatherings, which isolated the family. Nonetheless, the marriage was a happy one that lasted until Ernst Augustus’ death in 1923.

Although she never officially became a queen like her sisters, Thyra was the titular queen consort of Hanover as her husband had never renounced his rights to the throne. She also counts among her descendants several current royals, including Constantine II of Greece and his sister, Sofia of Spain. Thyra died in 1933 and is buried with her husband in the family mausoleum in Gmunden.