On this day, 19th April 1894, Princess Victoria Melita, daughter of Prince Alfred, and Prince Ernst Louis, son of Princess Alice, got married at Schloss Ehrenburg, Coburg
In Autumn 1891, both Ernst Louis and Victoria Melita visited their grandmother, Queen Victoria, at Balmoral. During their visit the two cousins, who shared a birthday, bonded over their fun loving personalities and shared interest in art. Noticing this, Queen Victoria was determined that they should marry.
After three years of courting, Victoria and Ernst got married at Schloss Ehrenburg, Coburg. The ceremony was attended by royalty and dignitaries from all over Europe, including Tsar Nicholas II, who on the same day got engaged to Ernst Louis’ youngest sister, Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine.
Less than a year after their wedding, on 11th March 1895, Victoria Melita gave birth to their first child, Princess Elizabeth. However, she would be their only surviving child together after Victoria gave birth to a stillborn son in May 1900.
As a couple, Victoria and Ernst were known for their extravagant house parties. They invited anyone they deemed interesting, including young relatives, artists and intellects on the condition they they liked having and were under the age of 30 as anyone above that age was considered “too old” by Victoria! During the parties, almost all rules were abolished. Guests were allowed to do whatever they wishes and only nicknames were to be used. However, despite their lighthearted appearance amongst friends, both Victoria and Ernst were deeply unhappy in their marriage.
When she and Ernst married, Victoria assumed the title of Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine, which had been inherited by Ernst Louis after the death of his father in 1892. Soon after their marriage, it became clear that Victoria didn’t take her role seriously. She rarely responded to important letters, often delayed seeing elderly relatives and also avoided officials and people of a higher rank at events simply because she found them boring. It wasn’t long before Victoria’s lack of interest caused tensions between the couple, which quickly escalated into shouting and physical fights. Like Queen Victoria, Victoria Melita was extremely volatile and in arguments would easily resort to throwing anything within her reach at Ernst.
After visiting her sister Marie in 1897, Victoria claimed to have caught Ernst in bed with a male servant, later telling one of her nieces that “no boy was safe, from the stable hands to the kitchen help. He slept openly with them all”. Although it’s difficult to say if this definitely did happen, it seems possible after he had a close friendship with known bisexual, Karl August Lingner, who left Tarasp Castle for Ernst after his death.
Queen Victoria was shocked upon hearing about their turbulent relationship. Despite suggestions of a divorce, the Queen refused in order to protect their daughter, Elizabeth. Ernst, who doted on his daughter, agreed with Queen Victoria. However after her death in 1901, he wrote to his sister that he “saw the absolute impossibility of going on leading a life which was killing her and driving me nearly mad”, later adding “If I had not loved her so, I would have given up long ago”.
On 21st December 1901, they were divorced on the grounds of ‘invincible mutual antipathy’. Victoria Melita moved in with her mother in Coburg, while Ernst stayed in their home. They shared custody of Elizabeth, who spent six months at a time with each parent. Although the arrangement provided her with some stability, Elizabeth blamed her mother for the divorce. On one occasion, Ernst Louis caught his daughter hiding under a sofa and crying because she didn’t want to stay with her mother, complaining that Victoria didn’t love her. Ernst didn’t say anything as Victoria had always resented Elizabeth for taking up so much of his time.
Elizabeth died of typhoid in 1903, aged eight, while visiting Tsar Nicholas II and his family in Poland. The Tsarina, Ernest’s sister Alix, delayed sending the telegram summoning Victoria to be with her daughter. By the time she was preparing for Poland, Elizabeth had already died. Thirty years later, Ernst wrote about Elizabeth in his memoirs, describing her as “the sunshine of my life”. While Ernst never seemed to fully move on from her death, during her funeral, Victoria removed her Hessian Order and placed it on Elizabeth’s coffin to show that her ties to the past were over. Both Ernst Louis and Victoria Melita remarried. On 2nd February 1905, Ernst married Princess Elenore of Solms- Hohensolms- Lich, who he went on to have two sons with. On 8th October 1905, Victoria Melita married Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of Russia, who she had two daughters and a son with.