Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Royal Profile: Princess Victoria Melita

Queen Victoria had many granddaughters named after her, but few stand out more than Princess Victoria Melita, who was to create a scandal in the royal courts of Europe with her divorce and remarriage.

Princess Victoria Melita was born on November 25, 1876 in the San Antonio Palace in Malta, where her father, an officer in the British Royal navy, had been temporarily stationed. She was the third child of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and son of Queen Victoria, and Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. She was named Victoria after her grandmother and Melita after her birthplace, but to her family she was known as “Ducky”. She had four siblings: Alfred, Marie (later Queen of Romania), Alexandra, and Beatrice. Her early years were spent in England, where the family lived at Clarence House in London. When she was nine, her father was stationed in Malta, where the family was to remain for three years. While there Victoria learnt to ride and horse riding would become a passion she shared with her sister Marie.

When her father became heir to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg, the family moved to Coburg, Germany in 1889. She was confirmed on May 15th 1891 in the village church of Oeslau, near Scholl Roseau. On a trip to Russia later that year, Victoria Melita met Grand Duke Kyril Vladimirovich, a cousin on her mother’s side. Although there was a mutual attraction, the Russian Orthodox Church disallowed marriage between first cousins. Instead Queen Victoria steered Victoria Melita towards her cousin, Prince Ernst Ludwig (Ernie), Grand Duke of Hesse (brother of Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven). Other than the same birthday, the cousins shared little in common and were incompatible. Despite this the couple bowed to pressure from Queen Victoria and the family and was married on April 9, 1894 at Schloss Ehrenburg, in Coburg. The marriage produced two children, Elisabeth born in 1895, and a stillborn son in 1900. Their daughter was to die of typhoid at the age of eight in 1903.

With Prince Ernst Ludwig rumored to be bisexual, and Victoria Melita in love with another man, the marriage became increasingly untenable. They made attempts to make it work for the sake of appearances, but the marriage was finally dissolved on December 21, 1901 by the Supreme Court of Hesse on the grounds of “invincible mutual antipathy”.

After her divorce, Victoria Melita went to live with her mother. Victoria Melita resumed her relationship with Kyril, something which caused a scandal in the Russian courts as Empress Alexandra was the sister of Prince Ernst Ludwig. In 1902 Kyril was exiled to the Far East by Nicholas II. In 1904, Kyril returned to Moscow and the Tsar gave him permission to leave Russia to be with Victoria Melita. They were married in secret on October 8, 1905 in Tegernsee. As a result of their marriage, the Tsar stripped Kyril of his rank, decorations and privileges and the couple went into exile in Paris. The couple would have three children, Maria (born 1907), Kira (born 1909), and Vladimir (born 1917).

After several deaths in the Russian royal family made Kyril third in line to the throne, Nicholas II allowed the couple to return to Russia in 1909 and granted Victoria Melita the title of Grand Duchess.

In 1917, during the Russian revolution, the couple and their children fled to Finland. They spent some time in Coburg, Germany before eventually settling in France.

Victoria Melita died in Amobach on March 1 1936 and is buried in the family mausoleum in Germany.

© Marilyn Braun