Monday, 2 January 2012

The Saxe-Coburg and Gothas

I was very lucky to get a box full of books for Christmas, and one that I was very excited to read straight away was We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill. It turns out that it is filled with characters in history that I hadn't given much thought to, not to mention that it talks in some detail about the naming of Queen Victoria.  

The author gives a great insight into the importance of names in Georgian England. When Victoria was born her father had planned to name her Victoire Georgina Alexandrina Charlotte Augusta. But relations between the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father, and her uncle, George IV, were never very good. Her father was in fact the king's least favourite brother. As a way to further annoy and humiliate Kent, George IV forbade the use of Georgina, then the use of Charlotte and Augusta, all names that were considered de rigueur for royal Hanoverian women. In the end, the little girl who was to be queen was named Alexandrina Victoria, after the Russian Tsar and her mother.

Nook of Names did a wonderful post titled The Ultimate British Sibset about the names of Queen Victoria's children, so I won't go into them. Rather, I'm ignoring Victoria and her side of the family and going straight to Prince Albert. He was a Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the rulers of two small German duchies. German royalty, and there seems to be an endless number of them, were by and large poor, trying to keep their royal houses alive by marrying their offspring into wealthier and more powerful dynasties. Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was lucky that he sired beautiful, lively and charming children, making it easier for him to accomplish the above. His three sons, Ernest, Ferdinand and Leopold, were described as Adonises. His four daughters, Sophie, Antoinette, Juliane and Marie were seen to have beautiful countenances and amiable personalities, qualities desirable in a royal wife at the time.

File:Leopold I, King of the Belgians.JPGOf his three sons, Leopold George Christian Frederick was the most successful. Not only did he manage to win the heart of Princess Charlotte of England (although that ended in tragedy), he was also made King of Belgium and was one of the principal orchestrators of Victoria and Albert's marriage. He seems to have been a captivating character, a brilliant strategist and a visionary of sorts. His second marriage to Louise Marie Thérèse Charlotte Isabelle, daughter of the king of France, bore four children: 

Louis Philippe Léopold Victor Ernest
Léopold Louis Philippe Marie Victor 
Philippe Eugène Ferdinand Marie Clément Baudouin Léopold Georges 
Marie Charlotte Amélie Augustine Victoire Clémentine Léopoldine 
Ernest I was nowhere near as successful as his younger brother, although he did father Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, better known to the world as Albert, Prince Consort. His marriages were a failure; his first because of his infidelity (something the Coburg men were known for, with the exception of Albert) and his second because he married his niece, something which was looked down upon even then. His many extramarital affairs resulted in three known illegitimate children: Berta Ernestine, Robert Ferdinand and Ernst Albert Bruno, who to his horror, and his mother's, was named after him. He was succeeded by his eldest legitimate son Ernest Augustus Charles John Leopold Alexander Edward as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

The other brother, Prince Ferdinand, is not very connected with English history or to the story of Victoria and Albert. He made his fame in the army and married a Hungarian noblewoman. He is perhaps best remembered for being the father of Ferdinand II of Portugal. Of the girls, Juliane Henriette Ulrike (better known as Anna Feodorovna) had the most misfortune. Catherine the Great chose her as the wife for her grandson, Grand Duke Constantine. He was known to be cruel, violent and as the author of We Two puts it, he was a strong contender to being 'the Caligula of his generation'. Juliane was pretty, kind, energetic, quick-witted and no fool; she left the marriage after three years of misery, only eighteen years old. She refused any reconciliation with her husband. She is known to have had two illegitimate children after her separation from Constantine, Eduard Edgar and Louise Hilda Agnes.

Sophie Fredericka Caroline Louise was not as easily pushed into marriage as her younger sister. She waited until her twenties and then married a 'mere' soldier, Emmanuel de Pouilly, for love. He turned out to be a brilliant catch, becoming a powerful man in the army. Together they had a son, Alexander, who became Prime Minister of Austria.  Her other sister Antoinette Ernestine Amalie also married a military man, Duke Alexander of Württemberg. Her life must not have been very happy, scandalous, dramatic or tragic because not much is made of the match. They had five children, Antoinette, Paul, Alexander, Ernest, Alexandra and Friedrich.

Marie Louise Victoire, the youngest of the four sisters, made perhaps the biggest impact in British history. She first married a poor prince with whom she had two children, Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Emich and Anna Feodora Auguste Charlotte Wilhelmine (who went by Feodora). She later reluctantly married the Duke of Kent, one of George III's sons, and gave birth to Queen Victoria. Her marriage to her second husband was actually a good one. History does not remember her kindly, though. She is seen as weak-willed woman, not particularly intelligent, easily manipulated and  as a bad mother who failed to protect her vulnerable daughter when she needed it most.

Other interesting names from the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family include:


The Saxe-Coburg and Gothas are fascinating characters in history that are often overlooked, but their descendants still occupy thrones all over the world. How a small, poverty-ridden family was able to build such a legacy is a marvel.

Images: King Leopold I of Belgium by George Dawe, Anna Feodorovna of Russia.