Alexandra of Denmark (1844–1925)

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Alexandra of Denmark (1844–1925)

Queen-consort of King Edward VII of Great Britain, remembered for her classical beauty and her interest in charities and social relief programs. Name variations: Princess Alexandra of Schleswig-Holstein-Sönderborg-Glücksborg; Alexandra Oldenburg; Queen Alexandra; Alix, Princess of Wales. Pronunciation: AL-ig-ZANdra. Born Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia on December 1, 1844, at Gule Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark; died at Sandringham, Norfolk, England, on November 20, 1925; eldest daughter of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sönderborg-Glücksborg (future Christian IX) and Louise of Hesse-Cassel (daughter of the Landgrave William of Hesse-Cassel); sister of Thyra Oldenburg and Marie Feodorovna (1847–1928, Russian empress and wife of Tsar Alexander III of Russia); her education was simple; she was taught foreign languages including English, and had a marked aptitude for music; married Albert Edward, prince of Wales (and heir to the British throne as Edward VII), on March 10, 1863; children: (two sons) Albert Victor (duke of Clarence, who predeceased his father), and George (duke of York, prince of Wales, and King George V); (three daughters) Louise Victoria (1867–1931, princess royal and duchess of Fife); Victoria (1868–1935); Maud (1869–1938, queen of Norway).

Met the Prince of Wales (1861); betrothed (1862); married (1863); official trips with her husband to several countries (1864–81); became queen-consort to King Edward VII on his accession to the throne (1902); granted Order of the Garter (1902); established Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (1902); became dowager queen following Edward VII's death (1910); "Alexandra Day" established in her honor (1913).

Princess Alexandra of Denmark was carefully selected to marry Albert Edward, crown prince of Great Britain (the future Edward VII). The time had passed when a princess was chosen for a large dowry or to satisfy diplomatic necessities, but it was essential that she be beautiful, cheerful, and dignified. Alexandra was a breathtakingly handsome woman with a graceful demeanor that even impressed a dour Queen Victoria when she first met her in 1862. Alexandra became an immediate and lasting favorite of an admiring British public.

Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia was born on December 1, 1844, at Gule Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark. She was the eldest daughter and second of six children of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sönderborg-Glücksborg and Princess Louise of Hesse-Cassel , daughter of landgrave William of Hesse-Cassel. Alexandra's parents lived in modest surroundings in Copenhagen, but Louise's mother, a niece of King Christian VIII (r. 1839–1848), was the natural heiress to the Danish throne, one step removed from her childless cousin, King Frederick VII (r. 1848–1863). When a succession struggle became imminent, several European nations reached an agreement in 1852, known as the London Protocol, which established the borders of Denmark and named Prince Christian and Princess Louise as heirs to the crown of Denmark.

Alexandra spent her youthful years living in the Yellow Palace, an unpretentious home provided by her maternal grandfather, on a street lined with similar houses near the Copenhagen harbor. She shared a room with her sister, Dagmar, who later married the crown prince of Russia and became Marie Feodorovna (1847–1928). Prince Christian, only a captain in the Danish Guards, had a small income. To make ends meet, the girls sewed their own clothes and knitted their own stockings. Though they were taught foreign languages and learned English from English nannies, to save money on their education their mother taught them music and religion and their father looked after their physical training. Sometimes the girls spent the summers at the 18th-century château of Bernstorff, ten miles from Copenhagen. Hans Christian Andersen was a family friend and visitor whom Alexandra and her siblings knew well.

Alexandra was a beautiful young lady. She had blue eyes, light brown hair, and a tanned, dark complexion. Possessing an excellent, athletic figure, she was an outstanding equestrian and a graceful dancer. A pleasant child of good temperament, affection, honesty and tact, Alexandra was also impulsive, somewhat unsophisticated, and passionate. Her beauty and personality offset her weaker qualities, which included an inherited deafness, a lack of clever intelligence, and a proclivity to be late for ceremonies or appointments.

In 1858, while Alexandra was still a child, the British royal family was intent on selecting a bride for Albert Edward, prince of Wales. King Leopold I of Belgium, on whose advice the English monarchs, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, heavily relied, provided a list of seven eligible and prospective brides. Leopold, who was Victoria's uncle, strongly favored Alexandra and even underlined her name on the list. The desire of the royals to procure a suitable bride for Prince Albert Edward was a pragmatic decision. Bertie, as he was known, was extremely well-educated in a formal way, fluent in three languages, had traveled extensively and was an avid, competent sportsman. Though he was charming and handsome, he had a gourmet's love of food and was highly susceptible to women's charms with a careless attitude towards the consequences of scandal. His parents concluded that marriage would curb his overexuberant appetites. The prospective bride must be of royal blood, Protestant, attractive, healthy, and of good disposition. After discarding several European princesses for a variety of reasons, Alexandra, not highly considered at first, gained in status after it was learned that her photograph had been forwarded to the Russian court as a possible bride for Alexander III, the Romanov heir. On viewing her picture, Queen Victoria and Bertie were impressed, and Bertie declared that he would immediately marry Alexandra. Much of the matchmaking was performed by Bertie's older sister, Vicky (Victoria Adelaide , 1840–1901), wife of the crown prince of Prussia, who arranged a secret meeting for Alexandra and Bertie in Speyer, Germany, on September 24, 1861, and a few days later in Heidelberg.

Following the German gatherings, Bertie, who had been impressed with Alexandra's beauty, hedged on the marriage plans. Prior to their rendezvous, the fickle Bertie had entered a liaison with Nellie Clifton (or Clifden), an actress he had met at Curragh, Ireland. Because Clifton bragged about their affair, the story spread throughout London and left Prince Albert heartbroken over his son's behavior. In the midst of this family crises, Prince Albert died of typhoid fever on December 14, 1861. Queen Victoria would always blame Bertie and the Clifton affair for his death. Determined to carry out her late husband's wishes, Victoria set in motion the plans for Bertie to marry Alexandra. More inquiries were made about the young woman, and Queen Victoria traveled to Brussels to meet her on September 2, 1862. In sympathy to the queen's mourning, Alexandra wore a plain, black dress without jewels to the engagement. Her loveliness and simplicity captivated the queen and formal arrangements were made with Alexandra's parents. The betrothal was announced at Laeken Palace near Brussels on September 9, 1862.

The wedding took place on March 10, 1863, in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, amidst uniformed officers, diamonds, robes, feathers, and lace. Bertie wore the uniform of a general and the robes of the Order of the Garter. Alexandra wore a silver-tissue dress, trimmed in an ornate Honiton lace, and the skirt was garlanded in orange blossom loops. It took eight bridesmaids to bear her long train. Queen Victoria, who had taken Bertie and Alexandra to Prince Albert's mausoleum at Frogmore for her deceased husband's approval the day before, wore black widow's weeds and watched the service from the privacy of Catherine of Aragon 's closet. The newlyweds honeymooned at Osborne on the Isle of Wight for a week before returning to Buckingham Palace.

The self-imposed seclusion of the queen at Windsor gave the young prince and princess of Wales the only available sway over the social world of Britain. The aristocracy flocked to this new younger circle of court gaiety and youthful excitement that had been missing since Prince Albert's death. Both of the royals delighted in entertaining, but their court was unrecognizable from previous entourages. Prior to this time, the aristocracy had been one of political ambition and power, but those surrounding Alexandra and Bertie were the "idle rich" pursuing a life of ease and pleasure. The young couple had the Norfolk estate of Sandringham, their elegant London home of Marlborough House, and were well off financially. Although they had the revenues from the duchy of Cornwall and a sizable stipend voted to them by Parliament, they often overspent their incomes. Bertie showered Alexandra with jewels and generally spent money extravagantly with his wealthy friends. Alexandra wildly donated to charities and exhibited no money sense at all.

During the first year of her marriage, in 1863, Alexandra's father became king of Denmark as Christian IX (r. 1863–1906) and her brother was elected king of Hellenes (Greece) as George I. By the end of the year, Alexandra's happiness was shattered by the outbreak of war between Denmark and Prussia over the duchies of Schleswig-Holstein, which were claimed not only by her father, but also by Wilhelm I of Prussia on behalf of his son, who was Bertie's brother-in-law. Alexandra's emotions were divided between sympathy for her family and the Danish people or loyalty to her new family and the strong-willed mother-in-law who forcefully supported Prussia. Denmark eventually lost the war and its territorial claims. When the conflict ended, Alexandra and Bertie, while on a tour of Europe, visited her family in Denmark. On Queen Victoria's insistence, the visit had to be private, because a state visit would have suggested support for the Danes. An added insult by Queen Victoria was the arrangement of a marriage between her daughter, Helena , and the duke of Schleswig-Holstein, who had fought Alexandra's parents in the recent war. Bertie joined Alexandra in an unsuccessful opposition to the marriage. Alexandra refused to attend the wedding, but Bertie, who had initially refused, gave in to his mother and family and reluctantly showed up.

During the time of the Danish war, Alexandra had been pregnant with her first child. On January 7, 1864, after two days of watching ice-hockey and attending skating parties on frozen ponds, she went into labor two months early. The baby, weighing only three and three-quarter pounds was wrapped in flannel purchased from a draper in Frogmore. The child, named Albert Victor, managed to survive, but the premature birth resulted in oxygen deprivation to the brain. As he grew, he had learning disabilities and was unable to concentrate, which would raise doubts about his suitability to serve as king of England. Alexandra's other four children—George (born in 1865), Louise Victoria (in 1867), Victoria (in 1868), and Maud (in 1869)—suffered no complications and were normal.

Alexandra was a religious woman and her interest in the church increased as she grew older and sought comfort. Her deafness, probably hereditary, worsened as her life progressed. She tried unsuccessfully to learn lip-reading but shunned the rather obvious devices of the time such as ear-trumpets. Following the birth of Louise, Alexandra became very ill with leg pains and high fever. Diagnosed as having rheumatic fever but possibly polio, she took months to recover from the excruciating pain and would remain permanently lame in one leg. Bertie continued to live a luxurious life and never lost his eye for women. Alexandra could do little but ignore the gossip about his numerous affairs, which included actresses like Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry , and the Moulin-Rouge cancan dancer, La Goulue . Others were with society women such as Frances Evelyn Greville , countess of Warwick, Alice Keppel , and Miss Chamberlayne , the daughter of a millionaire from Cleveland. Bertie was once involved, though not as co-respondent, in the Mordaunt public divorce case. He was also accused, but found not guilty, in a card-sharking scandal and was even threatened by a prominent politician with blackmail for his earlier affair with Lady Aylesford . Alexandra tolerated his many liaisons and even stood by his side in scandals. She never forgave him for his insensitive neglect of her when she was ill but never tried to beat him at his own promiscuous game. Bertie was rapidly destroying all public support for the royal family when a near-fatal typhoid fever attack swung popular support back to him.

Alexandra turned to her children for solace and emotional satisfaction. She continued to fulfil her social obligations and even accompanied her husband on four state visits to Ireland and a foreign tour to Egypt and Greece in 1868–69. As the years passed, she made several state trips abroad. She refrained from foreign policy statements unless it involved Denmark or Greece. She fearlessly traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, in March 1881 to be at the side of her sister, Empress Marie, following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II.

Meanwhile, Alexandra's children were growing up. In 1889, her eldest daughter, Louise, was married to Alexander, earl of Fife. Alexandra's major concern, however, was finding a suitable bride for Prince Albert Victor, duke of Clarence. Eddie, as he was called, was very charming but was overly interested in sexual matters and very fickle toward women. Feeling that marriage might be a positive experience for him, Alexandra and Bertie selected Princess Mary of Teck , an Englishwoman by upbringing who was related to the English ruling family. Eddie and Mary became engaged in December 1891 but a few weeks before the scheduled wedding, Eddie died of influenza on January 13, 1882. His death at the age of 28 was a crushing blow to Alexandra who had held his hand as he died.

Feeling that Mary of Teck had been the ideal wife for one son, it seemed logical to the family that she would be an excellent choice for George, duke of York. The wedding took place in 1893 and Alexandra entered a new phase of her life. Still beautiful, although much older, deaf and partially lame, she was now caught in a situation between the elderly Queen Victoria and the young Mary, duchess of York. Though Alexandra and Bertie were still heirs to the throne, Alexandra withdrew more and more to Sandringham. Bertie continued his profligate and lavish lifestyle while being totally excluded by his mother from national affairs and politics.

Louise Victoria (1867–1931)

Princess Royal and duchess of Fife. Born Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar Saxe-Coburg on February 20, 1867, in London, England; died on January 4, 1931, in London; daughter of Edward VII, king of England (r. 1901–1910), and Alexandra of Denmark (1844–1925); married Alexander Duff, 1st duke of Fife, in 1889; children: three, including Alexandra Victoria (1891–1959, Princess Arthur of Connaught) and Maud Duff Carnegie .

Victoria (1868–1935)

Princess Royal. Name variations: Victoria Saxe-Coburg. Born Victoria Alexandra Olga Mary on July 6, 1868, in London, England; died on December 3, 1935, in Iver, Buckinghamshire, England; daughter of Edward VII, king of England (r. 1901–1910), and Alexandra of Denmark (1844–1925).

Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901, with Alexandra, Bertie and the family in attendance. At Westminster Abbey, on August 9, 1902, Bertie succeeded to the throne as Edward VIII and Alexandra was crowned as queen consort. In one of his first acts as monarch, Edward bestowed upon Alexandra the Order of the Garter. Always interested in charity, improved medical care, and helping the poor, Alexandra doubled her efforts in those matters. She was instrumental in founding the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service in 1902. She raised large amounts of revenue to help the unemployed workmen during the economic crisis in 1906.

Alexandra was queen for a very short time. Edward VII died on May 6, 1910. Her devotion to her husband was so complete that she even invited Edward's current mistress, Alice Keppel, to visit him during his fatal illness. Alexandra withdrew into virtual retirement at Sandringham but returned to comfort her people and the wounded soldiers during the First World War. In 1913, the 50th anniversary of her arrival in Britain, "Alexandra Day" was established for the sale of roses to benefit British hospitals.

The last two years of Alexandra's life were quietly passed at Sandringham. She actively followed the lives of her grandchildren and her favorite was King George's son Edward VIII. It is doubtful that she would have approved of his love affair and abdication for Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson (duchess of Windsor) in 1936. Alexandra died suddenly and peacefully of a heart attack at Sandringham on November 20, 1925, and was interred beside her husband in St. George's Chapel at Windsor. She was solemnly mourned by a nation that remembered her for her charity, beauty, and patience.

sources:

Battiscombe, Georgina. Queen Alexandra. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.

Cook, Petronelle. Queen Consorts of England. NY: Facts on File, 1993.

Fisher, Graham, and Heather Fisher. Bertie and Alix: Anatomy of a Marriage. London: R. Hale, 1974.

St. Aubyn, Giles. Edward VII: Prince and King. NY: Atheneum, 1979.

suggested reading:

Argy, Josy, and Wendy Riches. Britain's Royal Brides. London: David & Charles, 1975.

Arthur, George C.A. Queen Alexandra. London: Chapman & Hall, 1934.

Gernsheim, Alison, and Helmut Gernsheim. Edward VII and Queen Alexandra: A Biography in Word and Picture. London: Muller, 1962.

Madol, Hans Roger. The Private Life of Queen Alexandra As Viewed by Her Friends. London: Hutchinson, 1940.

Trowbridge, William R.H. Queen Alexandra: A Study of Royalty. London: T.F. Unwin, 1921.

Phillip E. Koerper , Professor of History, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama