Friday, August 20, 2010

Consort Profile: Alexandra of Denmark

One of the most beloved consorts of the recent British monarchs was surely Alexandra of Denmark, the Queen consort of King Edward VII. She had everything going for her as a royal bride. She was beautiful, opinionated but not intrusive, dutiful, fertile and compassionate. The people adored her and yet it is easy to ignore or gloss over the amount of hardship she had to endure in her marriage because she handled it all in the most time honored, stiff upper lip, aristocratic fashion. It may have been easier for others to think that if it did not bother the queen it should not bother them. However, Alexandra was the sort who, even if it bothered her terribly (as it surely did) she never would have showed it. She was born HRH Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Gluecksburg at the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen on December 1, 1844 to Prince Christian of Denmark and Princess Louise von Hessen-Kassel. They had a happy but not lavish life (their only income was her father’s army salary) though not every child could boast of having Hans Christian Andersen reading them bedtime stories.

Princess Alexandra had to share a very modest attic bedroom with her sister Princess Dagmar (future Tsarina of Russia) and she had to make her own clothes. She had an English chaplain and grew up to be a very religious young lady with noticeably “high church” sympathies. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Great Britain began looking for a suitable bride for the Prince of Wales amongst the princesses of Germany they came up empty-handed. Somewhat reluctantly they then turned to Denmark and the lovely young Princess “Alix”. In 1862 Prince Albert Edward (who already had the reputation of something of a playboy) proposed to Alexandra at Laeken Castle, the home of his great-uncle King Leopold I of the Belgians. The next year the couple were married at Windsor Castle. Within the next year Alexandra’s father had become King of Denmark, her brother George became King of Greece and her sister Dagmar became Crown Princess of Russia. Prussia and her German allies also invaded Denmark which set in Alexandra a lifelong dislike of Germany and the Prussian royal house in particular.

Alexandra, Princess of Wales, also did her royal duty by giving the British monarchy a future heir, Prince Albert Victor, in 1864 with five more children to follow. Giving birth was not easy for Alexandra, all were born premature and her youngest, Prince John, was born handicapped and did not live long. Still, she was a devoted mother and was happiest when taking care of her children. She also enjoyed dancing, ice skating, riding and hunting. Queen Victoria disapproved of these pursuits for a Princess of Wales just as she disapproved of her hostility toward the Germans. Yet, as formidable a presence as the Queen could be she never managed to change Alexandra. Those who knew her had nothing but praise for the Princess of Wales who was regal and dignified in public and very affectionate, warm and friendly in private. Along with her husband she traveled extensively visiting Austria, Egypt, Greece the Crimea and had the distinction of being the woman to have dinner with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. She seemed the ideal royal wife and was much beloved by the public but behind the glittering fa├žade she had many burdens to bear.

While Alexandra was faithful and quite religious, the Prince of Wales never changed his colorful lifestyle and took a succession of mistresses. None of this was a secret to Alexandra but she chose to ignore it rather than make a scene or cause further scandal. In 1867 rheumatic fever left her moderately crippled and she walked with a limp thereafter. Otosclerosis, a bone growth of the middle ear, caused her to slowly lose her hearing and brought an end to the social life she so enjoyed though she was certainly happy to spend more time with her children. Although never shown in public she was naturally distressed by the neglect of her husband during her worst bouts of illness and his frequent adultery. Eventually they lived fairly separate lives for the most part. The Prince stopped taking her with him on his foreign tours and Alix spent more time with her own relatives. She did accompany him to Russia in the aftermath of the regicide of Alexander II to comfort her sister (the new Tsarina) and as Queen Victoria became less able to get about Princess Alexandra was called upon to take up the slack. When Tsar Alexander III died the Princess of Wales again went to comfort her sister who depended greatly on her immense patience and compassion.

In 1901 Alexandra became Queen-empress as her husband became King Edward VII and the two were crowned the next year. Her life did not change very much and she was often called upon to look after her grandchildren, something she always enjoyed. At times she has been accused of trying to meddle in foreign affairs (one area where the King was most prominent) but this is really not the case. Naturally she favored the cause of her native Denmark and she never lost her hostility toward the Germans, particularly her nephew-by-marriage Kaiser Wilhelm II. However, this had no real bearing on foreign policy or the King who disliked his nephew in any event regardless of what his wife thought. She warned against trading Heligoland to Germany (probably a wise warning) and we know she disapproved of the bill aimed at revoking the veto power of the House of Lords. However, there is no indication that her views influenced any decision-making. She was in Greece when word came that Edward VII was near death and she rushed home to care for him in his last day of life.

Now Queen Mother, Alexandra was always supportive of her son King George V, even when she disagreed with the actions he took. When World War I came there was no more ardent patriot that Queen Alexandra who felt her previous warning about the Germans being the “enemy” had been vindicated. The revolution in Russia was naturally deeply distressing to her and after the war her health, already rather frail, declined rapidly. Toward the end she was partially blind, could no longer speak clearly and suffered a failing memory. She died on November 20, 1925 at Sandringham as a result of a heart attack. Remembered for her picturesque appearance, regal fortitude and fashion sense (she was something of a trend-setter) Queen Alexandra was also much more. She endured a great many personal hardships, she was dutiful, generous to a fault and never backed down on her convictions. She was, in many ways, an ideal queen consort who had a less than ideal life.


  1. The ideal consort, indeed. She was the daughter of a King, the sister of two kings, the wife of a King, mother of a king and a queen, grandmother of three kings and sister of an empress. Few people, even among royalty, had such credentials.

    Regarding the Heligoland case, I read her biography and it seems she studied the situation and become a little bit of an expert. I don't know if her views were listened, but she was certainly right.


  2. She was and, though looking at it from a distance with the benefit of hindsight, I have a hard time understanding how there could have been much argument about it. Queen Alexandra was right about a number of issues though yet her advice was seldom taken.

  3. Another of Alexandra's 'burdens' was that she had a scar on her neck that made her very self-conscious so she always wore high-neck blouses or multi-strand pearl choker necklaces to hide it. Since she was so popular and considered very beautiful, high necks and chokers became very fashionable. Likewise, the limp you mentioned also became fashionable as young ladies tried to walk with the "Alexandra limp."

  4. That's interesting, I'd never heard that before. I knew she was a trend-setter but I never knew it went as far as that!

  5. If only she had a better quality Husband. I find Philanderers to be rather distasteful. Young Edward would have been best if he appreciated her more, just as others to heed her advise.

  6. I always read that Alexandra wasn't initially favored as a consort to the POW due to her not being German, and that she had anti-German sentiments. But unless I am reading her family tree completely wrong, it appears that ethnically she had mostly German roots. Her father's father was born in Prussia. Her mother was born in Germany, and so was her mother's father and mother's grandmother.
    While I can understand her Danish nationalism since both side of her family had roots in the formerly Danish Schlesweig, I can't imagine how she could hide her anti-German bias against her own mother or various German relatives.

    If I were Queen Victoria and were searching for a German princess for my son and the Danish Alexandra were offered, my reaction would be "of course, she's every bit a German as any Prussian or Hessian". I would imagine German was a court language in Denmark alongside Danish, and she probably was raised speaking German in addition to Danish.

  7. Her son, George V (who adored her) nevertheless said she was the most selfish person he had ever known. She held onto her daughter's and resisted their marriages. In fact, she made them into her personal maids. She was also quite unkind as a mother-in-law and both her and her 3 daughters frequently gave Queen Mary a difficult time. When the time came for her to move from houses following the death of her husband, she was resistant to this and, in general, had trouble allowing Queen Mary to assume her titles (both POW and queen.) This is not to deny her very strong points, but is necessary to recognize in order to see her as a whole person.


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