20 November 2015

Princess Spotlight: Alexandra of Denmark, Queen of the United Kingdom

Sisters: The future Queen Alexandra of
England and Empress Marie of Russia
On November 20, 1925, the Dowager Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom (1844-1925) passed away at her Sandringham home. Just five months later, her first great-granddaughter was born and was given the second name Alexandra in her memory. Ninety years later, the baby girl sits on the throne as Queen Elizabeth II.

Despite the many privileges of her life, the woman who was born Princess Alexandra of Schleswig Holstein Sonderburg Gluckburg also faced many challenges. Some of these were common to many women of her day, some were inherent in her royal status at a time of great international turmoil, and some were specific to her.

Although she became incredibly wealthy and is remembered today as a glamorous figure dripping in jewels, Alexandra was born into a relatively poor and minor branch of the Danish royal family. She and her sisters shared a chilly room in the attic and even made their own clothes. Then, when she was eight, she underwent an incredible change of fate when the vagaries of succession laws made her father heir to the throne and future King Christian IX of Denmark. This raised his six children to the top of the royal European marriage market; Alexandra's siblings made brilliant marriages with the royal families of Sweden, France, Hanover, and Russia. One of her younger brothers was even selected to be the King of Greece, and one of her nephews was presented with the throne of Norway.

Admired for her beauty and quiet charm, Alexandra caught the attention of the Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia who was on the hunt for a bride to help curb her brother's "wild" ways. The Crown Princess arranged a meeting for the couple, and within no time, Alexandra was on her way to England to become the Princess of Wales in a wedding ceremony where the gloomy widow Queen Victoria and the ghost of Prince Albert loomed over the limited festivities.

Despite her new mother's funereal spirit, Alexandra soon found herself caught up in the exuberant and exciting whirlwind lifestyle of her groom, Prince Albert Edward, better known as Bertie and she as Alix in the family. Their first child was born 10 months after the wedding and seven more babies followed within five years. With the arrival of her last child, Prince Alexander John, Alix suffered like so many other nineteenth century mothers with the loss of her baby before she had even recovered. Twenty-one years later, she lost her firstborn to influenza. Then, 23 years later, her beloved youngest grandson, also named John, died at the age of 13.

Alix also suffered the humiliating philandering of her husband. Always faithful to him and always graceful, she epitomized the ideal of the "good wife" who turned a blind eye. She even invited his final mistress to visit his deathbed.

She was greatly admired by the public, where she was lauded as a beauty and a leader of fashion. Everything she wore and everything she did was copied. Most people didn't realize and or didn't think about the pain that was behind some of her fashion sense. They simply adopted her high collars and layers of choker necklaces, little realizing that she adopted this style to hide a childhood scar. When the ladies of high society adopted her limp, perhaps she was flattered and this brought her some comfort from the painful condition that had been caused by rheumatic fever; she had to learn to walk again while also carrying her fourth pregnancy. The general public was certainly unaware that Alix also had inherited a form of hearing loss from her mother that caused increasing deafness throughout her life.  Toward the end of her life, she was even burdened with temporary blindness.

These various disabilities reinforced her charitable nature and she was highly supportive of various charities for people with disabilities. These characteristics, especially her hearing issues, probably also contributed to her extreme shyness, a trait she passed on to her children, who were collectively referred to as the "whispering Waleses." Nevertheless, Alexandra was very close to them, taking a hands-on role atypical of a princess of her day. It was she who gave baths and put her children to bed. In return, they absolutely adored her, calling her Motherdear all of their lives. She even managed to keep her middle daughter, Princess Victoria unmarried and at her side until her death in 1925.

Alix spent a decade as the Queen Consort, and maintained her enviously youthful appearance after she was widowed in 1910. In 1912, her oldest daughter Louise Princess Royal and her two oldest granddaughters barely survived a shipwreck which ultimately caused the death of her son-in-law. A year later, her brother King George I of Greece was assassinated.

Alix at age 79, two years before her death
With the conflagration of World War I, however, she endured innumerable heartaches as the royal families of Europe were torn apart. Her sister Marie, Dowager Empress of Russia, with whom she shared an almost twin-like relationship escaped the revolution there, but her nephew Tsar Nicholas and his entirely family were brutally murdered after Alix's son King George V stopped British plans to rescue them for fear that the British would not welcome a despot to their shores. He had already undertaken the difficult decision of changing family names and titles to distance the British royal family from its many family ties across enemy lines. Her nephew-in-law Grand Duke George Mikhailovich was also executed by the Bolsheviks in Russia. In 1917, her nephew King Constantine I of Greece was overthrown.  Three years later, his successor, her nephew and namesake King Alexander died after being bitten by a pet monkey, bringing her deposed brother back to the throne until his death in 1923. His oldest son, George II inherited the crown but was exiled within just two years. In the middle of the Greek turmoil, her great-nephew Prince Philip of Greece was rescued by a British warship and a makeshift cradle was made for him out of an orange crate--he would grow up to be Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh.

Fortunately, things were much more stable for Alexandra's immediate family in Britain. Increasingly frail and visibly aging (at last), she lived quietly surrounded by family and her pets. At the time of her death, she was survived by her three daughters, one of her three sons, three granddaughters, five of six grandsons, and four great-grandsons. The current King of Norway, Queen of the United Kingdom, and the new Duke of Fife are descended from her.

More about Alexandra:

Alexandra of Denmark on British Express
Alexandra of Denmark on English Monarchs
Alexandra of Denmark, Queen of Great Britain on Freelance History Write
Alexandra of Denmark, Queen of the United Kingdom on Unofficial Royalty
Consort Profile: Alexandra of Denmark on The Mad Monarchist
Deaf History: Queen Alexandra on BSL Zone
The First Queen of Hearts on Sunday Express
HM Queen Alexandra on Museum Victoria
The Last Marriage of a Prince of Wales on History Today
Princess of Wales on Queen Victoria
The Princess of Wales' Feast for the Outcast Poor on History 250 
Queen Alexandra on IMDB
Queen Alexandra of Great Britain on Windows to World History

More about Alexandra's Fashion and Jewels:
Flashback Friday: The Splendor of Queen Alexandra on Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor
Queen Alexandra and Face Enameling on Cosmetics and Skin
Queen Alexandra - Fashion Icon on The Enchanted Manor
Queen Alexandra's Royal Bosom on Lisa's History Room 
Queen Alexandra's Wedding Parure on From Her Majesty's Jewel Box
Tiara Time: Queen Alexandra's Amethyst Tiara on Tiaras and Trianon
Tiara Timeline: Queen Alexandra's Kokoshnik Tiara on Court Jeweller

More about the Alexandra Limp:
The Stupid Limping Fad of Victorian Britain on Knowledge Nuts
Victorian Strangeness: The bizarre tale of ladies who limped on BBC Magazine Monitor no twitter

More about Alexandra as an Artist and Photographer:
Alexandra's Photo Book I on Glucksburg
Alexandra's Photo Book II  on Glucksburg
Queen Alexandra, when Princess of Wales on Royal Collection Trust

More about Alexandra's Wedding
Alexandra of Denmark Marries Albert Edward, Prince of Wales on About Royal Weddings
British Royal Wedding Look-Back: Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark on The Royal Forums

Portraits of Alexandra:
Children of Alexandra of Britain, Life at Sandringham on Glucksburg
Engagement: Alexandra to Edward VII of Britain on Glucksburg
Queen Alexandra on National Portrait Gallery
Queen Alexandra of Britain, Her Early Years in Denmark on Glucksburg
Wedding: Alexandra to Edward VII of Britain on Glucksburg

Books by Alexandra:

Books about Alexandra:

12 November 2015

Princess Spotlight: Charlotte of Belgium, Empress of Mexico

Named for the unfortunate first wife of her father, King Leopold I of the Belgians, Charlotte of Belgium (1840-1927) was born 175 years ago to a German dynasty in a new Belgian kingdom and grew up to marry an Austrian archduke and become Empress of Mexico before returning to Belgium where she died and was buried in the royal crypt at Laeken.

Charlotte's life was marked by tragedy almost from the beginning. Her mother, Louise of Orleans, died of tuberculosis when she was barely ten, and young Charlotte grew up to be unusually close to her maternal grandmother, the Queen of France, who had been born Maria Amalia of Two Sicilies.
At the age of 17, she married the gorgeous and charming Archduke Maximilian, younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph II of Austria. In Austria, the lovely young bride found it hard to compete with her famously beautiful sister-in-law, Empress Elisabeth, who had also developed a close and playful relationship with Maximilian. However, their domineering mother-in-law Sophie of Bavaria did prefer Charlotte over Elisabeth, even though Elisabeth was her own niece.

Nevertheless, Charlotte was glad to move to Italy, where her husband served as governor of the Austrian provinces of Lombardy and Venetia. The couple enjoyed a happy marriage, but they had no children, an unfortunate situation for any wife of the day and especially for a royal/imperial wife. Slowly, life began to seem rather empty. They both wanted something more.

So, when the French Emperor Napolean III offered Maximilian the crown of Mexico, they were eager to take it, even though Emperor Francis advised them that Mexico was too politically unstable. Their idealistic dreams of bringing peace and European civilization were short-lived; within three years Napolean had withdrawn his support, Maximilian was deposed, and executed by firing squad.

Charlotte, who was in Europe at the time trying to raise support for her husband, suffered a complete mental and emotional breakdown. She had just turned 27. She was declared insane and sent back to Belgium, where she lived in seclusion for the next 60 years.

My Profile of Charlotte:
Belgian Highnesses Part I Mad Carlota

Other Profiles of Charlotte:
Carlota, Empress of Mexico on Historical Text Archive
Charlotte of Belgium on Mad Monarchs
Consort Profile: Empress Carlota (in two parts) on The Mad Monarchist
The Curse of Charlotte of Belgium on Tiaras and Trianon
Empress Carlota of Mexico on About Women's History
Max and Carlota on Mexconnect

More Resources on Charlotte:
Charlotte and Maximilian Collection at Rice University

Movies about Charlotte:
Carlota: A Serpentine Crown (2009), musical by Marcel Wick
Maximiliano y Carlota (1965), telenovela

Books about Charlotte: