by Scott Mehl
Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Grand Duchess of Russia
Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh (known as ‘Ducky’ in the family) was born on November 25, 1866 at the San Anton Palace in Malta, where her father was stationed at the time. She was the second daughter of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (later Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia. She was a granddaughter of both Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Tsar Alexander II of Russia.
Ducky had four siblings:
During her childhood, the family’s primary homes were Clarence House in London and Eastwell Park in Kent. They also spent several years at the San Anton Palace in Malta when her father was stationed there with the Royal Navy. In addition, they had homes in Coburg – Palais Edinburg and Schloss Rosenau – where her father was heir to his childless uncle, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
In 1891, Queen Victoria began promoting the idea of a marriage between Ducky and her first cousin, Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine. He was the son of Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, and Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and by Rhine. The two were both visiting The Queen and she saw that they got along well and, coincidentally, even shared the same birthday.
Victoria Melita and Ernst Ludwig, 1894. source: Wikipedia
In 1893, her father succeeded to the ducal throne, and she became Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The following year, on April 9, 1894, she and Ernie (who was now Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine) married at Schloss Ehrenburg in Coburg. The couple had two children:
Despite the Queen’s observations, the new Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine and her husband were horribly mismatched. She craved her husband’s attention, while he focused more on their daughter than his wife. For a few years, they seemed to make the best of it, enjoying each others company as well as entertaining friends and family from around Europe. But by the late 1890s, it was clear that the marriage was a mistake. Allegedly, the final blow for Ducky was finding her husband in an intimate situation with a male servant. Despite this, Queen Victoria would not permit a divorce and the two continued on with their unhappy lives. Following the Queen’s death in 1901, there was no longer any obstacle in ending their marriage, and they divorced on December 21, 1901. Ducky returned to her mother in Coburg, and she and her former husband shared custody of their young daughter. Two years later, while on a visit to the Russian Imperial Family, Princess Elisabeth fell ill with typhoid. Before Ducky could arrive, the young princess died. Her daughter’s death finally severed the connection that Ducky had with her former husband and her former home.
On October 8, 1905, she married for a second time. This time her husband was another first cousin, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of Russia, with whom she had had a mutual attraction for many years. They had first met in 1891 when Ducky traveled to Russia to attend the funeral of her aunt, Grand Duchess Alexandra Georgievna (the former Princess Alexandra of Greece). However, while the two were attracted to each other, her mother made every effort to dissuade Ducky from the thought of marrying him, as the Russian Orthodox Church did not permit marriages between first cousins.
Despite this, the two maintained their attraction for each other and eventually decided to marry. Upon finding out about the marriage, Tsar Nicholas II stripped Kirill of his royal funding and titles as well as his military appointments. He also banished him from Russia, so the couple settled in France. They had three children:
Victoria Melita with her husband and two daughters, c.1912. source: Wikipedia
In 1908, Tsar Nicholas II put personal feelings aside and permitted Kirill and Victoria Melita to return to Russia. Recent deaths in the Imperial Family brought Kirill to thrd in the line of succession, and it was deemed necessary to allow his retu , and restore his funding and military appointments. Victoria Melita was given the style Imperial Highness and created Grand Duchess Viktoria Feodorovna.
During World War I, Ducky worked as a nurse with the Red Cross. Soon after the Tsar’s abdication in 1917, she and Kirill decided it was best to leave Russia, and traveled to Finland where they would remain for over two years. In the fall of 1919, they moved on to Munich where they reunited with her mother, and then all moved to Zurich.
After her mother’s death in 1920, the family now had two homes at their disposal – her mother’s villa in Nice and the Villa Edinburg in Coburg (which later became known as the Kirill Palace) – and for the next several years, split their time between the two. In 1926, they settled for the last time in France, purchasing a villa in Saint-Briac. Here they settled into a more quiet life, while Victoria Melita put her energies into raising her son and ensuring her daughters made significant marriages.
with her husband and two younger children, 1935. source: Wikipedia
In February 1936, while attending the christening of her fifth grandchild, Victoria Melita suffered a stroke. She passed away on March 1, 1936 at the age of 59. She was buried in the Ducal Mausoleum at the Glockenburg Cemetery in Coburg. In March 1995, her remains, as well as those of her husband, were moved to the Grand Ducal Burial Vault at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia.
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