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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

The life of Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

On 25 November 1876, Princess Victoria Melita was born at San Anton Palace in Malta, where her father had been stationed in the Navy. She was the third child of Prince Arthur Duke of Edinburgh (later, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) and his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna Russia. The Princess was christened at the palace on New Year’s Day 1877 by a Royal Navy Chaplain. She was given the names Victoria Melita (German for Matilda), although she was known as ‘Ducky’ by her immediate family.

Victoria Melita in August 1883 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Although their official residences were Clarence House and Eastwell Park, Victoria and her four siblings often moved home depending on where their father was stationed. For example, in 1886 Alfred was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Naval Squadron in Malta so the whole family returned to San Anton Palace, where they remained for three years.

In 1889 it became apparent that Prince Alfred would one day inherit the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. As a result, the family made another, more permanent, move to Germany. With their new homes, Palais Edinburg and Schloss Rosenau, came a completely new way of life for Victoria Melita. Her mother became much stricter than she had before and forced all of her children to convert to the German Lutheran Church, despite their Anglican beliefs. Marie also made them wear plain clothing and employed a strict German governess to take care of the children. However, Victoria Melita and her siblings soon began to rebel and forced the restrictions to be eased.

Princess Marie, Princess Victoria Melita and Princess Alexandra in 1891 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Whilst attending the Funeral of Grand Duchess Alexandra Georgievna of Russia in 1891, Victoria met her cousin, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich. The two immediately got along and soon wished to marry. However, Maria was firmly against her daughters marrying Russian Grand Dukes. On top of this, Russian Orthodoxy (Kirills religion) was against the marriage of first cousins, making a union between the two impossible.

Following the wedding of her eldest sister, Princess Marie, all eyes turned to Victoria to find a husband and while the young Princess still hoped to marry Kirill but Queen Victoria had other plans. In Autumn 1891, Victoria Melita was visiting Queen Victoria at the same time as her cousin, Prince Ernst Louis of Hesse and by Rhine. During their time there, the Queen noticed how well the two seemed to get along. Not only did they happen to share the same artistic tastes, but also a birthday. Before long, the couple were engaged and Queen Victoria’s matchmaking plan had worked once again! Their wedding took place three years later, on 19th April 1894, at Schloss Ehrenberg. The ceremony itself was large and hosted most members of European royalty. Amongst the guests were the grooms sister, Princess Alix, and Tsarevich Nicholas (later Tsar Nicholas II), who announced their own engagement during the celebrations. As you can probably imagine, Victoria Melita was not impressed!

Victoria Melita and Ernst Louis on their wedding day, 19 April 1894 © National Portrait Gallery, London

At first the marriages appeared to be happy and within a year Victoria gave birth to the couples only daughter, Princess Elizabeth. Almost every night the couple hosted lavishly extravagant house parties. However, that soon became a public front as their marriage slowly crumbled behind closed doors. Despite her new position as Duchess of Hesse and By Rhine, Victoria would do anything she could to avoid her duties. She would often find excuses not to respond to letters, put off visiting elderly relatives that she found boring and would only speak to people she liked at official functions, often ignoring people of higher ranks. Instead, she continued to party. Naturally, Ernst Louis was not impressed by his wife’s lack of dedication and soon arguments began. To make matters worse, Victoria Melita had inherited Queen Victoria's temper, which would often lead to her throwing things at Ernst and also smashing china plates against walls. Besides this, her only release for her anger was to go on long horse rides.

Victoria Melita by Heinrich Vin Angeli, dated 1896 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

During the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II on 14th May 1896, Victoria became reacquainted with Grand Duke Kirill. Throughout the celebrations the two flirted just as that had in 1891 and all of Victoria's old feelings came flooding back. The relationship between Victoria and Ernst Louis worsened in 1897 when Victoria claimed to have returned home from a trip to find her husband in bed with a male servant. However, this cannot be proven. Following the birth of an unnamed stillborn son in 1900, both parties were unhappy and divorce seemed their only option. There was just one small problem, their mutual grandmother, Queen Victoria. As head of the Church of England and as a true Victorian, the Queen had didn’t agree with divorce, even more so when there were children involved. As a result, their request for permission was dismissed.

Luckily (and also sadly) for the two, Queen Victoria died soon after in January 1901. With no one left to prevent their separation, the two were able to formally divorce in the December that same year. As their home belonged to the Duchy of Hesse, Ernst was allowed to keep it as his own and Victoria mwlita was forced to move in with her mother in Coburg. Victoria and Ernst shared custody of their daughter, who would spend six months at a time with each of her parents, although she often dreaded seeing her mother.

Victoria Melita with Princess Elizabeth in 1898 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

All this changed in 1903 when Princess Elizabeth died of typhoid while visiting her paternal family in Russia. During her final illness, doctors suggested that Victoria be sent for but the Tsarina knew that Victorias presence would distress Elizabeth so delayed sending the telegram until it was too late. While Victoria was upset by her daughter’s passing, she certainly wasn’t as distressed as her ex husband. During the Princess’s funeral, Victoria removed her Hessian Order and placed it on top of the small coffin as to show that all ties with her past life had now been cut.

Group photograph of (from left to right): Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, Princess Victoria Melita, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, Queen Victoria, Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein and Prince Maurice of Battenberg. Taken in 1899 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

With Victoria now free to remarry, hope grew over a possible match with Kirill. As before, another wall was put in their way as his mother was firmly against the match and continued advising him against marrying her. Instead, she suggested that her son marry someone else but keep Victoria as his mistress. Once again there was another barrier when war broke out between Russia and Japan. As a senior member of the Royal Navy, Kirill was sent to fight on the frontline. While he was there his ship was blown up. Somehow Kirill managed to escape with his life and was sent home to recover. Despite opposing the match, Tsar Nicholas II granted Kirill special permission to got to Coburg so he could recover with Victoria by his side.

Following his brush with death, the couple became even more determined to marry and finally tied the knot on 8th October 1905 in a small service in Tegernsee. Unlike Victoria’s first wedding, the only people in attendance were here mother, sister Beatrice, a close friend and a few servants. Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich had also been invited but o my arrived after the ceremony ended. Still against the match the Tsar stopped Kirills Imperial allowance and dismissed him from the navy. While they weren’t happy by thy is, Victoria and Kirill were greatful to finally be together and moved into a house off the Champs-Élysées in Paris with their income coming from their parents. In 1907 Victoria gave birth to the couples first child, Maria Kirillovna.

Victoria Melita and Grand Duke Kirill in 1906 Source: Wikimedia Commons

When Kirill was promoted to third in line to the Russian throne, Tsar Nicholas felt it appropriate to reinstate all of his Russian titles. Having already converted to Russian Orthodoxy, Victoria was now a Russian Grand Duchess and changed her name to Victoria Feodorovna. With their new titles, the couple returned to Russia, arriving in May 1910. Victoria immediately got on with Russian high society and although she never learnt French, most of there Russian court spoke French so language had never been a barrier. Just as she had in her previous marriage, Victoria loved entertaining guests and hosting balls. In her free time she enjoyed much simpler activities like decorating, gardening, painting and, of course, horse riding.

Princess Victoria Melita and her sister, Princess Marie, in April 1896 Source: Pinterest

During World War One Victoria worked as a nurse for the Red Cross and helped organise the motorised ambulance unit. On one occasion she also visited the front line near Warsaw, where she worked under fire. Throughout her life Victoria maintained a close relationship with her mother and sister, Marie, who she would visit in Romania every winter. It was during two of these visits that she volunteering aid to war victims. When she returned to St Petersburg in February 1917, fears were rising over the stability of the Russian monarchy. The revolution itself put Victoria and Kirills lives in danger as trouble slowly surrounded their home. Luckily for them, the provisional government allowed them to leave for Finland in they leave all of their belongings behind. As a result, they arrived at Haikko with just the clothes they were wearing and a few jewels that Victoria had managed to stitch inside. Two weeks later, Victoria, Kirill and their two children moved into a rented house in Porvoo. It was here where Victoria would soon give birth to the couples third and final child, Vladimir.

With no money and five mouths to feed their supplies soon began running low and they had no choice but to ask for help. Victorias cousin, Margaret, Crown Princess of Sweden, played a particularly important role in supplying the family with baby food. In autumn 1919 the family left Finland and moved to Munich in Germany before making their way to Zurich. When Victorias mother died the following year she inherited her French villa, Chateau Fakron, and Edinburgh Palace in Coburg, which soon became the family’s main home.

Victoria Melita with daughters, Princess Marie (right) and Princess Kira (left) in 1913 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Over the next few years, Victoria began supporting the Nazi party for its anti-Bolshevik views. In 1922 she attended a rally as she believed they could help reinstate the Russian monarchy. However, like so many others she was oblivious to the parties more sinister side. In 1923 Kirill suffered a nervous breakdown and writhing a year began claiming that he was the guardian of the Russian throne. The couple tried to gain support to make Kirill Tsar but their efforts proved unsuccessful. By 1926 they had given up all hope and moved to Saint-Brian, where Victoria focused on bringing up her children. Despite years fighting to be together, Victorias view of Kirill changed forever when his sister informed her of his countless Parisian affairs. While she was angry with her husband and rightfully never forgave him, Victoria wanted to protect her children and refused to file for divorce.

Victoria Melita and Kirill with two of their children: Kira and Vladimir Source: Wikipedia

In February 1936, Victoria suffered a stroke while at the christening of one of her grandchildren in Amorbach, Germany. She died soon after in 2nd March, aged 59. She was buried on 10th March at Friedhof am Glockemberg in Coburg. Sixty years later, on 7th March 1995, her body was moved and reburied at the Grand Ducal Mausoleum in the Peter and Paul fortress in St Petersburg.

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