by Scott Mehl
Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein
Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein (Franziska Josepha Louise Augusta Marie Christina Helena) was born August 12, 1872, at Cumberland Lodge. She was the fourth child and second daughter of Princess Helena of the United Kingdom (third daughter of Queen Victoria) and Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. She had four siblings:
- Prince Christian Victor (1867-1900) – died while serving in the Boer War, unmarried, no issue
- Prince Albert, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein (1869-1931) – unmarried, illegitimate issue
- Princess Helena Victoria (1870-1948) – unmarried, no issue
- Prince Harald (1876-1876) – died at just 8 days old
As a child, Louie (as she was known affectionately within the family) enjoyed a quiet family life with her parents and siblings. Educated privately at home, the young princess enjoyed close relationships with many of her cousins, both within the United Kingdom and abroad. The family often spent summer holidays with the Grand Ducal Family of Hesse, and Marie Louise was particularly close to her cousin Alix of Hesse (later Empress of Russia). The two were only two months apart in age, and were, in Marie Louise’s own words, “… more like sisters than cousins.”
From a young age, Marie Louise and her sister were brought up to appreciate the needs and sufferings of those less fortunate. They often accompanied their mother on visits to hospitals and clinics, and for the rest of her life, Marie Louise would support various charities in this area. One, in particular, was the Princess Christian’s Nursing Home in Windsor, founded by her mother. Marie Louise and her sister Helena Victoria would be involved with the organization their entire lives.
According to her memoirs, Marie Louise met her future husband, Prince Aribert of Anhalt, at the wedding of her cousin Viktoria of Prussia to Adolph of Schaumberg-Lippe. She states this was in the fall of 1889, but the wedding actually took place in the fall of 1890. It’s likely that she simply stated the wrong year in her book. Prince Aribert, born in Wörlitz, Germany on June 18, 1866, was a younger son of Friedrich I, Duke of Anhalt and Princess Antoinette of Saxe-Altenburg. He served in the Prussian military and was close friends with Kaiser Wilhelm II, Marie Louise’s first cousin. Kaiser Wilhelm strongly encouraged the relationship, and it was at a family luncheon at his Neues Palais in Potsdam that the engagement of Marie Louise and Aribert was announced in December 1890. The couple married the following July at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, in the presence of Queen Victoria.
Although Marie Louise at first seemed deeply in love, cracks quickly began to appear in the marriage. Aribert’s primary focus was his military career and gave little interest in having a life at home. Fortunately for Marie Louise, they spent little time in Anhalt itself, as Aribert was based primarily in Berlin. This allowed her a bit of freedom from the stifling protocol of the Anhalt court. But it soon became obvious that the couple had little, if anything, in common, and they would often go days without seeing each other, even while living in the same home. Often suffering from ill health in the cold weather, the Princess traveled extensively. It was while on one of these trips, to the United States and Canada, that her marriage ended… without her knowledge. In December 1900, while in Canada, Marie Louise received a cable from her father-in-law, demanding that she return home immediately. Just an hour later, she received another cable, this time from Queen Victoria – “tell my granddaughter to come home to me. V.R.” Upon arriving back at Cumberland Lodge, she was told that her marriage had been dissolved by her father-in-law, at her husband’s insistence. It has been speculated that the marriage was never consummated, and implied that Aribert was homosexual, and had been caught in a delicate situation by either his wife or his father. In her memoirs, Marie Louise states that even though her marriage was annulled, she maintained the vows she had made at her wedding, and would never remarry.
Marie Louise soon set up house at 21 Queensberry Place in London, where she would live until the onset of World War I. At that point, she lived with her aunt, Princess Beatrice, at Kensington Palace. Following the war, she returned to Cumberland Lodge and Schomberg House with her mother and sister. She also threw herself into charity work, becoming involved with numerous organizations throughout Britain.
In July 1917, her cousin, King George V, requested that all of his extended family relinquish their German titles. Most of them lost their princely titles completely and were given peerages in the United Kingdom. Perhaps out of respect to Prince Christian, who was the only remaining son-in-law of Queen Victoria, the family retained their princely titles and simply stopped using the Schleswig-Holstein designation.
One of her best-known contributions was the creation of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. She worked tirelessly with craftsmen and noted artist and authors to create a scaled replica of a royal palace. It was presented to Queen Mary in 1924 and displayed at the British Empire Exhibition of 1924-1925. It is now on display at Windsor Castle, where it draws thousands of visitors each year.
After World War II, Marie Louise and her sister moved to 10 Fitzmaurice Place in Berkeley Square. She continued to participate in most family functions and remained very close to the King and Queen and their family. Following her sister’s death in 1952, one of her last major appearances was the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Then, at the suggestion of the Queen, she began to write her memoirs. My Memories of Six Reigns was published in 1956. Being a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and having lived to 84 years old, Marie Louise had experienced a significant amount of history. She had lived during the reigns of six monarchs, attended four coronations, and countless family functions throughout Europe, lived through two World Wars and seen major changes in the Royal Family – particularly in the way it interacted with the British people.
Soon after the book was published, Princess Marie Louise died at her home on Fitzmaurice Place, on December 8, 1956. Her funeral was held at St. George’s Chapel, and she was then buried with her parents and sister in the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore.