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Victoria, Duchess of Kent, Mother of the Queen. And her famous Royal Feud with King William IV

 

How this minor German princess rose to prominence in European royalty and became the grandmother of all of Europe, is one interesting royal story to tell. 

Before the death of Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only legitimate grandchild of King George III of the United Kingdom, no one would ever believed Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld would become the mother of one of the most celebrated British queens in history.

Portrait of Princess Victoria, Duchess of Kent

Early life of Princess Victoria

She was born on August 17, 1786, in Coburg, Germany, as the fourth daughter and seventh child of Franz Frederick Anton, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Saalfeld, and Countess Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf. 

The House of Saxe-Coburg and Saalfeld became Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1826 through the personal union of the two duchies of Saxe-Coburg and Saxe-Gotha (in the process, they lost the Saalfeld duchy).

Two of Princess Victoria's brothers were Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the father of Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria), and Prince Leopold, the widower of Princess Charlotte of Wales who would become the first King of Belgium in 1831.

One of Princess Victoria's older sisters, Princess Juliane, became Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna of Russia when she married Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich of Russia (son of Tsar Paul I of Russia). But the marriage was annulled later and did not produce any children.

First marriage

At the age of 17 in December 1803, Princess Victoria became the second wife of Prince Charles of Leiningen (1763-1814). She bore him two children, Prince Carl, and Princess Feodora.

Through this marriage, she became the direct ancestor of King Carl XVI Gustaf, King Felipe VI of Spain, and Constantine II, former King of Greece, 

Princess Feodora married Ernest I, Prince of Hohenloe-Langeburg, whose great-grandson, Prince Gottfried of Hohenloe-Langeburg married Princess Margarita of Greece and Denmark, the older sister of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Princess Victoria became a widow in 1814 upon the death of her husband, Prince Charles. Two years later, in 1816, her younger brother, Prince Leopold, married the future British queen, Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only child of George, Prince of Wales. 

Portrait of the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria of kent

Her brother's marriage to a British heiress would change the course of her life forever. In 1817, Prince Leopold became a widower when his wife, Princess Charlotte, tragically died while giving birth to their first-born son.

Princess Charlotte had difficult childbirth, and although she was able to give birth to a son, she died due to massive blood loss. Her son died with her.

Second Marriage

Princess Charlotte's death devastated the British throne. It triggered a succession crisis as King George III was left without a legitimate heir. 

To ensure the continuation of the House of Hanover in the United Kingdom, he offered his bachelor sons, who were buried in debt, to clear them of their debts, if they would marry a royal princess.

version by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
oil on canvas, circa 1857

In 1818, all the king's unmarried sons scrambled to find royal princesses to provide the British throne with legitimate heirs. 

Prince Leopold, who was close to his wife's uncle, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, moved to introduce him to her widowed sister, Princess Victoria.

The Duke of Kent, who was already 50, wasted no time and proposed to Princess Victoria. They wed first on May 29, 1818, and later had a joint wedding ceremony with his older brother, Prince William, Duke of Clarence, to Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen. 

Princess Victoria became Duchess of Kent following the wedding. She gave birth to their only child, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, on May 24, 1819, in Kensington Palace.

However, eight months after the birth of Princess Victoria of Kent, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, died suddenly in January 1820 from pneumonia, just days before the death of his father, King George III.

Widow for the second time

The Dowager Duchess of Kent planned to move back to Germany to raise Princess Victoria. She found life in Coburg more comfortable than her miserable life in England, living in the dilapidated apartment of Kensington Palace. 

By then Princess Victoria was only third in the line of succession to the British throne below her two paternal uncles, the Duke of York and the Duke of Clarence. And she would be displaced further if her two uncles would produce legitimate children.

The British parliament too had little sympathy for impoverished members of the Royal Family, who were not in direct succession to the throne. Thus, providing only the Duchess of Kent a meager allowance.

However, the circumstances in which the new King, George IV, and his heir-presumptive, the Duke of York, would be unlikely to have children, and the Duke of Clarence's legitimate children died in infancy, gave a ray of hope to the Dowager Duchess of Kent. 

She decided to remain in England to raise her daughter, in the hope that one day she would mount the British throne. She relied mostly on the financial assistance provided by her younger brother, Prince Leopold, whose annual allowance from the British government, was not cut off even after the death of Princess Charlotte of Wales.

In 1827, the Duke of York died without legitimate heirs, placing Princess Victoria of Kent second in line to the throne below her uncle, the Duke of Clarence. She moved closer to the throne when in 1830, her uncle, King George IV died and the Duke of Clarence ascended the throne as King William IV.

The Famous Royal Feud

The famous "royal feud" between royal brothers, Prince Harry and the Royal Family, and royal sisters-in-law, Meghan and Kate, and Queen Alexandra and Grand Duchess Maria, were not the first in the British royal family.

The Duchess of Kent and her brothers-in-law came first.

Fiercely protective of the upbringing of her daughter, Princess Victoria of Kent, and her future position in the British monarchy, the Dowager Duchess of Kent had a fractured relationship with her brothers-in-law, King William IV and Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, who believed their stubborn sister-in-law had a romantic relationship with her close aide, John Conroy.

Princess Victoria of Kent resented her mother for her strict discipline. She also did not like her mother's open feud with her uncles, which prevented her from getting close to her royal relatives.

The Duchess of Kent prevented her daughter to be close to King William IV, his wife, Queen Adelaide, and other royal relatives. She also did not allow the young princess to attend parties in the presence of the king because she detested his illegitimate children with actress Dorothy Jordan.

King William IV and Queen Adelaide, however, were fond of the future Queen Victoria and wanted to be close to her, but they were in constant conflict with the Duchess of Kent that the attempt to build a close relationship with the heir-presumptive, met with little success.

King William IV struck revenge against his sister-in-law by making sure he would live long enough until his niece turned 18 years old so that the Duchess of Kent would never become a Regent. 

He made sure the Duchess knew it.

In August 1836, the king had a banquet for his birthday where the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria were attending. He gave a speech laced with an open attack on the Duchess of Kent:

"I trust to God that my life may be spared for nine months longer. I should then have the satisfaction of leaving the exercise of the Royal authority to the personal authority of that young lady, heiress presumptive to the Crown, and not in the hands of a person now near me, who is surrounded by evil advisers and is herself incompetent to act with propriety in the situation in which she would be placed".

We're wondering how the Duchess of Kent reacted to her brother-in-law's speech. 

It appears that the British royal family's Royal feud in the past was actually more blatant than today.

King William IV indeed held on to his dear life. He died on June 20, 1837, just a month after Princess Victoria turned 18 years old and no longer required to have regents ruling under her name.

When Queen Victoria ascended the British throne at the age of 18, she blocked her mother's close aide, John Conroy, from yielding power in the royal court. 

Queen Victoria of UK

The new Queen thought Conroy had so much negative influence on her mother, preventing her from forging a close bond with her deceased uncle. Queen Victoria also did not give her mother a considerable influence in the royal court, which strained their relationship further.

Their mother-and-daughter relationship, however, improved when the young queen married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a nephew of the Duchess of Kent. The marriage was arranged by their uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium.

Death

The Dowager Duchess of Kent died on March 16, 1861, a year before her daughter, Queen Victoria, became a widow herself. She was buried at the Mausoleum in Frogmore grounds, Windsor Home Park. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert dedicated a window in the Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor Great Park to her memory.

Legacy

The Dowager Duchess of Kent became the grandmother of all European monarchy through the intermarriages to other European royal houses of her grandchildren from her three children: Prince Carl Leiningen, Princess Feodora Leiningen and Queen Victoria.

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