by Emily McMahon
Thyra was the youngest of the three daughters and fifth child of the six children of King Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel. She was born on September 29, 1983 at the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen where the family was living at the time in relatively humble circumstances. Her father Christian had been chosen as the heir to the childless King Frederik VIII shortly before Thyra’s birth.
Thyra had five siblings:
- King Frederik VIII of Denmark (1843 – 1912), married Princess Louise of Sweden, had issue
- Princess Alexandra of Denmark (1844 – 1925), married King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, had issue
- Prince Vilhelm of Denmark, King George I of Greece (1845 – 1913), married Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia, had issue
- Princess Dagmar of Denmark, Maria Feodorovna after marriage (1847 – 1928), married Emperor Alexander III of Russia, had issue
- Prince Valdemar of Denmark (1858 – 1939), married Princess Marie of Orléans
Encouraged by the prominent marriages her elder daughters had made, Louise had the same hopes for Thyra. However, 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-blown 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 then the baby could be given to a Greek family. Thyra gave birth to a daughter 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. Although he was said to have told Thyra’s father he would marry Thyra, this was refused due to Marcher’s low rank. Marcher may have had a second confrontation with Christian in early 1872 that resulted in 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, the Prince of Wales. 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 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 family of her sister Alexandra 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 a 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 King Willem III of the Netherlands. Willem’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, Willem needed a younger princess who could bear him further children. Willem, 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 Willem and became the mother of his successor Queen 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 and the two became engaged.
On December 21, 1878, Thyra and Ernst Augustus were married at the chapel in Copenhagen’s Christianborg Palace. Following the wedding, Thyra and Ernst Augustus made their home in exile in Gmunden, Austria, where they raised six children:
- Princess Marie Louise of Hanover (1879 – 1948), married Prince Maximilian of Baden, had two children
- Prince Georg Wilhelm of Hanover (1880 – 1912), unmarried, killed in a car accident
- Princess Alexandra of Hanover (1882 – 1963) married Friedrich Franz IV, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, had five children
- Princess Olga of Hanover (1884 – 1958), unmarried
- Prince Christian of Hanover (1885 – 1901), died from peritonitis
- Ernst Augustus, Duke of Brunswick (1887 – 1953), married Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia, had five children including Frederica of Hanover who married King Paul of Greece
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 King Constantine II of Greece and his sister Queen Sofia of Spain. Thyra died on March 7, 1933, and is buried with her husband in the family mausoleum in Gmunden.