by Susan Flantzer
On December 5, 1916, Her Royal Highness The Dowager Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz died at the age of 94. She had been born a British princess on July 19, 1822, and was the longest-lived grandchild of King George III of the United Kingdom and the last link to the British branch of the House of Hanover. Her Royal Highness Princess Augusta Caroline Charlotte Elizabeth Mary Sophia Louisa of Cambridge was the elder daughter and the second of three children of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (the seventh son of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz) and Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel. At the time of her death, Augusta was 94 years, 4 months and 16 days old which made her the longest-lived British Princess of the Blood Royal. Princess Alice of Albany, Countess of Athlone, the daughter of Queen Victoria’s son Prince Leopold, became the longest-lived British Princess of the Blood Royal in 1977 and died four years later at the age of at age 97 years and 313 days.
Princess Augusta was born at the Palace of Montbrillant in Hanover, where her father was serving as Governor-General and later Viceroy of the Kingdom of Hanover for his brothers King George IV and King William IV. When Augusta’s first cousin Queen Victoria succeeded their uncle William in 1837, their uncle Ernest became King of Hanover because the Salic Law did not allow female succession in Hanover. Augusta’s family then returned to England and lived at Cambridge House in Piccadilly, London.
Augusta had two siblings:
- Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (1819 – 1904), married 1847, Sarah Louisa Fairbrother; had issue (marriage was in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act and was not recognized as being legal)
- Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge (1833 – 1897), married 1866, Francis, Duke of Teck; had issue, including Mary of Teck, later wife of King George V of the United Kingdom
On June 28, 1843, Augusta married Frederick William, Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz at the Private Chapel in Buckingham Palace. The bride and groom were first cousins through their mothers and second cousins through their fathers. This marriage meant that Augusta would live in Neustrlitz, the capital of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, but the couple visited London frequently, staying with the Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace, and Augusta retained close ties with the British Royal Family. The couple had two sons, but only one survived to adulthood.
- Frederick William (born and died in London, 13 January 1845)
- Adolphus Frederick (1848 – 1914), married Princess Elisabeth of Anhalt, had issue, succeeded his father as Grand Duke Adolphus Frederick V in May 1904
In 1860, Frederick William succeeded his father as Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Augusta became Grand Duchess. Because she had no daughter of her own, Augusta became very close with her niece Mary (May) of Teck, later the wife of King George V of the United Kingdom, and the two corresponded regularly until Augusta’s death. In 1887, Augusta took part in the Golden Jubilee celebrations of her first cousin Queen Victoria. When Augusta’s mother died in 1889, Augusta purchased a home near Buckingham Palace and stayed there for a portion of each year until her infirmity made it difficult to travel. Augusta also attended Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897 and was heard to say in a loud voice, “Why is she thanking God in the street?” as Queen Victoria sat in her carriage in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral for a blessing because she was too infirm to enter the cathedral.
Prior to the coronation of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom and his wife Queen Alexandra in 1902, Augusta was consulted on matters of ceremony and attire as she was almost the only person alive who could remember the coronation of King William IV and Queen Adelaide. Her recollection of Queen Victoria’s coronation also proved invaluable.
1904 was not a good year for Augusta as both her brother and husband died. Augusta had been on a visit to England when her husband died. Their son succeeded his father as Adolphus Frederick V, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Unfortunately, due to old age, Augusta was not able to attend the coronation of her niece May (Queen Mary) and her husband King George V of the United Kingdom in 1911.
In August of 1914, Augusta was 92 when World War I started. Her only child had died two months earlier and now her grandson Adolphus Frederick VI was the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Adolphus Frederick was devoted to his grandmother, but the war was stressful to both of them. Because Augusta was living in an enemy country, the British government suspended paying her pension. Sadly, two years after Augusta’s death, her grandson committed suicide. During the war, Augusta was able to keep up her correspondence with her niece May through Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, born Princess Margaret of Connaught, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
In autumn of 1916, Augusta’s health began to fail. She lay in her bed for a month, sleeping most of the time. When she was awake, she was lucid, and listened to letters or newspapers read aloud to her. Augusta sent a message to King George V: “Tell the king that it is a stout old English heart which is ceasing to beat.” She died in Neustrelitz in the morning of December 5, 1916. Her last word was “May,” the name of her beloved niece. Augusta was interred in the New Crypt at Johanniterkirche in Mirow, now a small town in northeastern Germany, in the State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The church, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, has two crypts which have been the burial place for the Mecklenburg-Strelitz family for the past 300 years.