British Royalty: Edward VII--Queen Alexandra (1844-1925)


Figure 1.--Alix and Dagmar are seen here as young girls in a painting by E. Jerichau-Baumann. Alix wears long ringlets, Damar shorter curls. Both have a center part. Alix also wore ringlets at her wedding. Later she would wear her hair up. I believe ringlets were seen as a fashion for a child or very young woman. Note the stylilized leading strings.

Alexandra was born in 1844, only a few years after her future husband, the Prince of Wales. Her father was Christian IX (1818- ) of Schleswig-Holstein, King of Denmark. Her mother was Princess Louise Wilhelmina of Hesse-Cassel (1818- ). Alexandria as a girl was raised in rather frugal circumstances in Copenhagen. She and her sisters sewed many of their own clothes. Occasionally they would wait on tables and perform other household chores. It was a very hapy family. She was a naural athelete and the children practiced gymastics. She loved to ride and a very proficient horsewoman. She grew up to be a beautiful woman and like her husband had no interest in intelectual pursuits--she "had no brain" as one historian rather ineligantly phrased it. Her engaging personality and lack of pretense made her a favorite of her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria. She also was a great favorite of the British people. Her children, horses, and dogs became the center of her life. Her husband who liked not only beautiful, but also witty women would seek their companionship. The Prussian war with Denmark and the loss of Scheswig-Holstein engenderd a life-long distaste for the Germans. Her husband after the assumption of his nephew Wilhelm to the German imperial throne had his own difficulties with the Germans. Alix and her husband became King and Queen of England in 1901 and were crowned in 1902. The fashions of the entire era were named after them, the Edwardian Era. Their son George V succeed to the throne. George's children (her grandchildren) loved to visit as both grandparents doted on them in contrast to their father's strict discipline.

Childhood

Alexandra was born in the Yellow Palace (not a palace in the popular sence) in Copenhagen during 1844. We have been able to find little information about Alexandra's childhood. We know ge was raised in frugal, but comfortable middle class suroudings. The Danish royals did not have the wealth of some European royals. This was especially true of Alix's family as her father while of the bluest of royal blood had no family inheritance and was not initially in line to inherit the Danish Crown. The family lived on his small incomne as an army officer. They lived in a moderate mansion and could not afford many of the glamorous trimmings often associated with royals. Alix and Dagmar were plainly dressed, primarily because money was scarce, and as teenagers they learned the best way to get a new frock was to sew one. Alix as a girl wore her hair in long ringlet curls. One painting shows Dagmar with shorter curls. Alix's family was not noted for its intellectual pursuits. There was little money for tutors. Their mother taught the children music and dance. Their father focused on gymastics which the children loved.

Family

Alexandra's father was Christian IX of Schleswig-Holstein, King of Denmark. King Christian is often called the grandfather of Europe because of the number of his discendents who became monarchs. Although poorly educated, King Christian was a man of high morals and a devoted husband and father. Her mother was Princess Louise Wilhelmina of Hesse-Cassel (1818- ). Princess Christian was very different from her husband. She was much more lively and forceful. From all accounts her husband and children were devoted to her. She suffered from otosclerosis, a hereditary form of deafness, which she passed on to Princess Alexandra. Denmark at the time was not a very important country, but two King Christian's daughters marries into two of the most important dynasties in Europe, the English and Russian royal families. And boh became devoted wives. A son becane king of Greece.

Christian IX (1818-

Alexandra's father was Christian IX of Schleswig-Holstein, King of Denmark. King Christian is often called the grandfather of Europe because of the number of his discendents who became monarchs. Christian was born in 1818. Christian's father was Duke Frederick William of Schleswig-Holstein (1785- ). His mother was Princess Louise Wilhelmina von Hessen-Cassel (1789- ). By his father, he was a direct descendant of King Christian III of Denmark and his mother was a granddaughter of King Frederik V. Prince Christian studied at the Militar Academy of Cophenagen and he entered the Danish army in 1837. That same year he persued the young Queen of Engalnd, Victoria, who had just acceded the throne. He was, however, judged rather a "country bumkin" because of his poor education and the view of Copenhagen as rather a backward corner of Europe. Victoria instead chose Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg. Christian then married Princess Louise Wilhelmina of Hesse-Casselin 1842. Christian produced three kings and a queen. His son Frederick succeded him as King of Denmark in 1906. His son Charles became King Haakon VII of Norway in 1905. Another son William became king of Greece. His daughter Alexandra married the Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) and became Queen of England. Although poorly educated, King Christian was a man of high morals and a devoted husband and father.

Mother

Her mother was Princess Louise Wilhelmina of Hesse-Cassel (1818- ). Princess Christian was very different from her husband. She was much more lively and forceful. From all accounts her husband and children were devoted to her. She suffered from otosclerosis, a hereditary form of deafness, which she passed on to Princess Alexandra. Louise was the kindness of mothers. She helped instill a love of misic in her children. She was also strict in many ways such as threatening to box Alix's amd Dagmar's ears if they acted like a flitatious young woman they had met socially.

Siblings

Alix certainly grew up in a star-crossed family. It is interesting that the children from such a minor European royal family could have risen to the thrones of such major countries. Alix, as she called in the family, was deeply attached to her brother William (future King of Greece) and to her sister Dagmar (future Empress of Russia). She was less close to her elder brother or her younger siblings. Alix's time was almost entirely spent in the company of Dagmar, with whom she shared a small barely-furnished bedroom, since the Yellow Palace was so small that it didn't allow the children to have rooms of their own.

Denmark

Denmark was different than most European countries in that there was a personal relationship between the Crown and the people. The country had been so reduced by the Bapoleonic Wars that in the 19th century it was possible for soverign and subjects to know each other persinally. There was not the distance that seperated soverigns and subjects in the larger, more important European countries. Subjects would appeal directly to their king for aid. When a peliness Hans Christian Anderson, for example, as a youth asked Frederick VI for aid, the king saw to his eduaction. The Danish way of life was essentially democratic even before democratic constitutional changes were made. Denmark was not as clannish as many other countries and in fact saw itself as one large family. (This was best seen in how the Danes managed to save their Jewish citizens from the NAZIs during World War II.) This was the Denmark in which Princess Alexandra was raised and in which her cahracter was shaped. And even after marrying the Prince of Wales she never lost her fierce devotion to Denmark and the Danish people. [Battiscombe, pp. 2-4.]

Personality

Princess Alexandra was a beauty girl. She is said to have been quick tempered and passionate. She was deplorably unpunctual. She was, however, affectionate and honest. She was one of the most kind and giving people to reign as Queen of England. This was was noticed by her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria, while Alix was still Princess Of Wales. Princess Alix inherited her mother's slim, exquisite figure, her taste for music as well as her religious faith. As a woman she also inherited her mother's deafness too. She grew up to be a beautiful woman and like her husband and no interest in intelectual pursuits--she "had no brain" as one historian rather ineligantly phrased it.

Name

We have generally seen Alexandra refered to as "Alix" within in the family. A reader asks, "I note that Eric R. Delderfield who wrote books on the genealogical trees and coats of arms of the Royal Family noted that Princess Alexandra 's name was shortened to Alex (As the boy's name) when referenced."


Figure 2.--Alix and Bertie were married at St. George's Chapel, Windsor and not Westminster Abby like his parents. Note Queen Victoria in black in the Catherine of Aragon closet. I thought the boy in the painting might be Prince Leopold, but it also could be Prince Wilhelm (the future Kaisser) who appears to be wearing a kilt. He is holding on to his mother the Crown Princess Victoria. The little girl os probably Princess Beatrice. The artist was W.P Frith who encountered considerable difficulties with young Wilhelm. Click on the image for more details.

Bertie

Bertie was a bit of a problem in the early 1860s. He was increasingly difficult to control. In fact his father was not at all well and he made a trip to discuss his son's indistretion. The exposure and poor medical attention soon resulted in his death. Both his parents thought that marriage might settle him down. He was not a particularly handsome youth and his behavior did not endear him to some perspective brides--especially the very high opinion he had of himself. His sister Victoria, then Crown Princess of Prussia tried to find a German princess, but first rejected them as to plain. Largely for diplomatic reasons, none wanted to see a marriage with a Danish princess--given the problems over Scheswig-Holstein. The Queen and Prince Albert at first objected because Denmark was not a very important country and they did not approve of some of her realtives. Prince Albert is reported to have said, "We take the Princess, but not her relations." A major factor had been the growing dispute between Prissia and Denmark. At the time Albert had been trying to forge stringer bonds with Prussia and influence the develoopment along moderate, democratic lines. This is why they married Crown Princess Victoria to the Prussian Crown Prince. Vicky did obtain a photograph and was impressed. Victoria and Allbert at first objected, but eventually consented. Vicky arranged a meeting in Germany, but Alix was not told about it and thought that her family just bumped into Berie by accident. (She presumably figured it out as her mother had insisted she wear her best dress even though they were going on a train, a dusty undertaking at the time.) After the meeting Berie delayed, probably because an affair with Nelly Clifden surfaced in the press. It was this affair that caused Prince Albert to go to Cambridge and speak with his son. He got drenched. After returning home he fell sick and died of typhoid fever in December 1861. The Queen blamed her son. After his father's death, the wedding had to be further delayed.

Marriage

Bertie and Alexandria mairred in 1863. He was 21 and wed Danish Princess Alexandra Oldenburg, age 18. She was delivered to London aboard the royal yacht. The British public was relieved to find it was not another royal marriage to a German royal family and were delighted with the Princesses' beauty and charm. It was a time of great celebration in Britain, finally emerging from the gloom surrounding the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Mairrage into the British royal family was quite a change for Alexandra, despite her royal heritage, she had been raised in great frugality. Marriage to Bertie, however, was no picnic. She had to contend with many infidilities. One author called him a prodigious philanderer. Her husband who liked not only beautiful, but also bright, witty women would seek their companionship. Alix while charming, was totally unable to conduct any kind of intellectual converstion. Bertie was a philanderer, although he did become more discrete after marriage. Alix knew of this, but tolerated it. She expalained, "He always loved me the most". Her tolerance and forebarence no doubt helped to endeared her to the British people who loved her from the first day she set foot on English soil.

Queen Victoria

The Queen's initial reluctance vanished even before she had met Alix. After they met, Alix's engaging personality and lack of pretense charmed the Queen and made her a favorite of her mother-in-law. Alix had the ability to light up any room she entered. Although Victoria's meddling caused priblems, the bonds between the two were never broken. In large measure this was due to Alix. She was able to charm the Queen when ever they were together. It is quite amazing how often she refused to acede to Victoria's constant interfearing on her private life and in raising the children, yet avoid any open break in their relationship. Queen Victoria complained about Alix, primarily because she did not duifully follow a never ending stream of instructions. The Queen wrote to her daughter Vicky in Prussia, "Alix and I never will or can be intimate; she shows me no confidence whatsoever especially about the children..." Some letters were even more severe, at times bringing Alix to tears. In this regard Berie, despite his many failings as a husband, would stand up for his wife. The Queen always was swayed by Alix's charm when she visited.

Popularity

Alix from the beginning was enormously popular with the British public. In many ways it was much like the devotion that Princess Diana sparked. Alix's beauty was one factor, but it was her enormous charm that sealed the relationship. For many years she and Bertie were the public face of monarchy in Britain. The Queen secluded herself and did not attend public functions. She refused to give Bertie ant real responsibility, but it was Alizx and Bertie that the public saw. The public adulation must have affected how Victoria regarded Alix. There must have been an element of jealousy in their relationship with the Queen resenting her daughter-in-laws great popularity. In later years, the dignity with which Alix conducted herself regarding her husband's philandering added even greater luster to her public image. Alix was for a long time the only really popular member of the royal family. There were times as Princess of Wales that crowds would cheer her, but hiss when her husband arrived.

Edwardian Fashion

Edwardian fashion aactually appeared in the late 19th century. Edwardian styles were not, of course, limted to Edward VII himself. The combined fashion influence of Edward VII and his beautiful Danish bride Alexandra was felt years before Edward became king. It is in fact difficult to determine just when the Victiorian era ended and ahe Edwardian era began. They both encouraged fashions that were exuberant but disciplined, gay but certainly not wanton. The Edwardian style is often said to have a more cosmopolitan flavor than Victorian fashions which were generally more formal and impressive. One observer reportsm "Pictures of her as a young woman show a sad, soulful look in her eyes." She reportedlty walked with a limp which was imitated by society. Many phitographs show her wearing quite a bit of jewelry.

Royal Homes

Bertie had of course grown up in Windsor, Osborne, and Balmoral. Marlborough House was settled on Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), with a view to it becoming his official residence on his reaching age 18. Alix enjoyed social occassions, but she was at heart a home body. She loved Marlborough House from the beginning and came feel the same about Sandringham.

Social Life

Alix and Bertie never tired of attending parties. Even before Edward became king, they led the way for Society. Their glitering social life could not have been any more different than the perpetual gloom suounding Victoria after her husband's death. Their older grand children, David and Bertie (George V's sons), in particular were struck by the difference.


Figure 3.--The Prince and Princess of Wales are seen here in 1876 with Prince Victor Albert (Eddy) and Princess Louise. I'm not sure why Prince George is absent. The painting is by Heinrich von Angeli.

Children and Parenthood

Edward VII is probably one of the most well-know royal princes. Much has been written about his upbringing. Some contend that he was not raised in a very sympathetic environment. Certainly none of his chiildren posed the problems that he as a boy had been to his parents. His children were well grown before he became king in 1901. His oldest son, Albert Victor, died much to the relief of many before Bertie became king. The most famous son was his second boy who became George V. He was to lead Britain through World War I and was much criticised for the way he raised his children. Alexandra is said to have been a very good mother. Alix was one of the very few mothers in privlidged circumstances who actually plauyed an important part in raising her own children. She did not just hand them over to nannnies and forget about them. Motherhood was Alix's principal interest, along with her horses and dogs. We have little information on Alexandra's thoughts on clothing fashions for the children. HBC also has little information on what Bertie felt about his boyhood clothes or the clothes selected for his children. Available images provide some information.

Clothing

The Princess was not extravigant concerning clothes, no doubt an affect of the precarious finances of her youth. She even had her maids darning handkerchiefs and socks. She mostly bought from Englis dressmakers in London for poltical reasons. Redfern was her favirite. There were occasional trips to Paris where she would shop at Doucet, a famous shop. He also bought at the lesser known form of Fromont on the Rue de la Paix. We have no information as to where she bought the children's clothes and to who may have advised her on the matter. We know that her husband was very ibnterested in his own clothes. We do not know if he took a personal interest in the children's clothes.

Illness

Alix's first two pregancies were relatively uneventful except for the premature deliveries. Princess Louise's pregnancy was very different. Alix became very sick, especially after the delivery. Her husband did not appear to take it seriously. The Queen did and Alix's parents were asked to come to her bed side. There was real concern for her life. She suvived, but emerged as quite a changed person. This was the first time this active, outgoing young woman had exoerienced such intense pain and such a severe illness. She must have been hurt by her husband's behavior. Rather than remain at her bed side, he continued his social life, including flirtations with several beautiful women. She also was left with a noticeable limp, which must have had a great impact on such an athletic young woman. Worse still was that her otosclerosis which is often activated by illness and pregnancy. Alix became increasingly deaf. Otosclerosis was untreatable at the time. It was a terrible handicap fox Alix. She was clever enough to deal with it. Her charm and grace helped. But as she was not an active reader and well educated, her deafness cut her off from the conversation that would have exposed her to the great issues of the day. It also limited her ability to share in her husband's active social life which only incouraged his indiscretions.

Egypt

Alix's many pregancies prevented her accompanying her husband on many of his European trips. One trip they did take together was an epic 6-month journey to Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna, Trieste, Egypt, Istambul, the Crimea, and Greece. One of the purposes was to show her mother Princess Louise, her name sake. Here the Queen's rudely expressed objections brought Alix to tears, but it was finally agreed that the boys and Louise would join up with their parents in Denmark to visit with their grandparents. After the visit the children tearfully returned to England and their parents continued on. The official visits wee extensive in Berlin and Vienna. They were fascinated by Egypt. The boys wrote hoping that they would not be eaten by "Crokkydiles". Berie of course shot one. Alix brought back two live trophies. One was Ali Achmet, a Nubian orphan boy, who attached himself to the expedition and became a kind of mascot. He was installed at Sandringham and baptised with Nertie and Alix as godparents. He could, however, not be disuaded from stealing things. The other was a black ram who she rescuced from the butcher and also installed at her menagerie at Sandringham. Finally they visited Alix's brother King George in Greece. [Battiscombe, pp. 104-105.]

Good Works

Alexandra was an extemely generous individual on both the personal and public level. She was consantly sending small gifts both to friends and staff. The gifts and acquaintences were often charmingly inappropriate. At Sanbdringham she founded a carving school for the boys of the estate workers. Her primary public works were long association with the Red Cross and the Army Nursing Services. Alexandra helped to found the Red Cross in England. She also started several nursing programs in her own name. She helped outfit a hospital ship to hep the soldiers wounded in the Boer War. There were many smaller public charitable activities, such as a banquet for the poor boys of London.

Animals

Besides her children, Alix's great passion in her life was for her animals. The menangere at Sandriham which delighted her children and grand children was a testimnony to that. A good example was an incident at Vicoria Station on the way to comfort her sister Dagmar after the assasination of Tsar Alexander II, her father-in-law. She hated to be separated from her children or animals and had brought along Joss, an especially dear pet as far as Victoria Station. Joss for his part did not want to be separated from his misstress and took off down the track as Alexandra was still waving from the window. Joss and the train disappered in the darkness. Princess Louise was, however, able to report to her grandmother Queen Elizabeth that Joss had been found. [Battiscombe, p. 159.]

Art and Photography

Alexandra dabbled with painting in both water colors and oil. She showed no great aptitude here. Her biographaer notes considerable differences between her own works and those supervised by a drawing master. Her photography was much more interesting. She took up photography and here showed some talent. She called her camera a "photography machine". [Battiscombe, p. 204.] Given her position she was able to photograph many of the greats of the age such as Queen Victoria and Admiral Sir John Fisher who many credit for preparing the British fleet to fight World War I. She must have taken many photographs of her grandchildren, but I do not have any information on such photographs at this time.

The Germans

Alexandra was not a person greatly concerned with history or European power politics. The Prussian war with Denmark in 1864 and the loss of Scheswig-Holstein, however, intensified a life-long distaste for the Germans. Her dislike was sometimes irrational and she would often not heed even the diplomatic nicieties. For her it was a very personal matter. As Princess of Wales, she played a small, but not unimportant role in helping to reshape English opinions toward the Prussians/Germans. Alix had little influence on the British Foreign Office, but the English people's Danish Princess was enormously popular and the some of this popularity affected how many viewed Denmark. Prussia was seen as bullying and agressive. (Victoria at this stage still favored the Prussians and it was a source of irritation between them. It was only after the Prussians attacked Austria that Victoria's opinions began to change.) Alix's influence was one of many factor's that was bringing about a major shift in British public opinion. The English had traditionally viewed France as their mortal enemy and the Prussians as potential allies. This view lasted well into the 19th century, as it was the Prussians under Blutcher that had saved Wellington at Waterloo in his 1815 stand against Napoleon. This shift in attitudes toward the Prussians was to have enormous consequences in the 20th century. Alexandra's husband after the assumption of his nephew Wilhelm to the German imperial throne had his own difficulties with the Germans.

Grandmother

Alexandra is said to have been a doting grandmother. She waa always more prone to spoiling rather than disciplining her own children, but this is often more of a virtue for a grandmother. Prince George children grew up next door in York Cottage. Their parents, now the Duke and Duchess of York, did not especially approve of Alix's endulgences with the children, but neither was about to make a strong issue of it which would have terribly upset Alexandra. She was allowed to have the children when ever she wanted. The young princes and princess loved to visit their grandmother who spoiled them terribly, in contrast's to their fathers' strict navy routein. The children quickly learned that the excuse, "but grandmama said we could" often got them out of difficult situations. Their grandfather was also quite endulgent, but not as engaged. Alix developed an especially close relationship to Prince John, the youngest child. Her relationship with her other grandchildren was more distant. Not only were they in Scotalnd, but daughter Louisa now Duchess of Fife was not nearly as willing for Alexandra to have the children as often as Alexandra would have wanted. The Princess was hurt by the differing attitude of her own daughter compared to her daughter-in-law.

Alexandra Becomes Queen

Edward was crowned in 1902 after Victoria's death. He refused to be take his first name and be crowned Albert I--in deference to his father. Instead he was crowned Edward VII.

Reign


Later Years

When her husband died in 1910, Queen Alexandra became Queen Mother. She bought a house in Denmark with her sister Dagmar so they would hve a place to stay when they visited Denmark as their parents had died.

World War I

Like many women of he social class, especially essentially uneducated women like Alix. With her anti-German sentiments she was a strong supporter of the War effort and engaged in many home-front activities. She was not untouched by the War. There were German Zephin raids. Her first thoughts were for the villagers. She wanted to take pot-shots at them. She enjoyed recounting the story as it made her feel that sge had actually joined the fight against the Germans.

Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution was terrifing for the Royal family. Knocking the Russians out of the War allowed the German to mount a massive new assault on the Western Front. Had Kaissr Wihelm II not acquiesed in military demands for unconditional sunmarinr warfare in 1917 brining America into the War, they probably would have succeeded. More directly for Alix, were family ties to the Tsar's family. Tsar Nicholas was her nephew. He and his family were assasinated in 1918, but his mother, Alix's sister Dagmar managed to get to areas controlled by the white forces in the Crimea. She was eventually rescued there by a Royal Navy ship. She refused to board until they agreed to take her family and friends. Once safely in England she was installed at Frogmore House.
Final Years

As Queen Mother towards the end of her life she became almost completely deaf and suffered from mild senile dementia. Her deafness was getting worse and her son, George V, on the wishes of his wife Mary, pushed his mother to the background. She resided chiefly at Sandringham House, Norfolk, which Edward VII had purchased as Prince of Wales. In her drives about the countryside she would graciously wave and bow to the cows in the fields, the faithful Princess Victoria always in attendance.

Sources

Research on Queen Alexandra is complicated by the fact that, like her husband, she ordered the destruction of her letters and papers after her death.

Battiscombe, Georgina. Queen Alexandra (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1969).

Bennett, Daphne King Without a Crown: Albert Prince Consort of England, 1819-1861 (New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1977).

Bradford, Sarah. The Reluctant King: The Life and Reign of George VI, 1895-1952 (New York: St. Marin's Press, 1989), 506p.






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Created: September 14, 2001
Last updated: 11:13 PM 9/14/2009