|Victoria Melita of Edinburgh (1876-1936)|
|Victoria Melita (sitting right) with her husband and cousin Ernst Ludwig of Hesse, and the Russian Imperial couple, Nicholas II and Alexandra (Ernst's sister)|
| Victoria Melita was born on Saturday, November 25, 1876 in the San Antonio Palace in the Island of Malta, where her father, Alfred, Duke of Edimburgh, an officer of the British Royal Navy, had been temporarily stationed. The Duke was Queen Victoria's second son and fourth child; his wife was Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, the only daughter of Alexander II, so the newborn, who was her parent's third child and second daughter a granddaughter of bothe, Queen Victoria and Tsar Alexander. She was named Victoria after her grandmother and Melita becuase of her birth place, Malta. She woul be called Ducky in the family.
Ducky was the only in the family who closely resembled her father; she inherit his clear olive skin, his blue eyes his fine features and his chestnut hair. She was tall and slim in the contrary to her sisters who had inherited their mother's bulky figure. Ducky and her elder sister Marie (called Missy) were deeply attached to each other . Missy was physically opposite to Ducy; she was blonde and her skin was pale. Altough being younger that Missy, Ducky was taller and looked older; she was the dominant character of the two sisters.
When Ducky was nine, her father was again appointed to Malta so the entire family returned to Ducky's birthplace. There, she and Missy used to ride the Arab horses of the isalnd at fast gallop. Ducky and her siblings grew up without her father's constant presence, since the Duke was at service most of the time, so they grew up only under the severe viilance of their mother. One constant companion for Ducky and Missy during their years in Malta was their cousin George (future George V of Great Britain), who was fond of them specially of Missy. George and Missy used to take long walks around the island. Ducky resented this relation; she felt that George was replacing her as Missy's favourite mate.
The Edimburgh family lived for three years in Malta. In 1889 they went to live to Coburg where the Duke should inherit the ducal throne at his uncle's death. In the fall of 1891, Missy and Ducky accompanied their mother to Russia to attend the funeral of Princess Alexandra who was the Duchess' s brother's wife. The girls saw their mother's country as they had never done before, which mo┐cuh mature eyes and they found it fascinating. Ducky met her cousin Kirill, who was the eldest son of her mother's brother, Grand Duke Vladimir. Kirill and Ducky felt mutual attraction, but the Duchess of Edimburgh didn't want a Romanov husband for any of her daughters, and it was clearly to Ducky so altough the deep attraction she felt for Kirill, she had to forget about him.
In the spring of 1892, the Duchess of Edimburgh carried out her plans of finding a suitable husband for her eldest daughter: Missy became engagged to Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania. Ducky was jelous and resented it; she didn't understood how Missy could accept so easy an almost unknown man for husband, without feeling love for him. A couple of years later, Ducky woul find herself in a similar situation. She and her future brother in law compete for Missy's time altough Missy was beginning to fell in love with Ferdinand, she felt that part of her was satying behind with Ducky, who had gradually come to accept her sister's future marriage.
Missy and Ferdinand got married on January, 1893 at the castle of Sigmaringen, and Ducky had to say ggodbye to her beloved sister. A year and a half before Missy's wedding, during a journey Ducky made to Balmoral in Scotland to visit Queen Victoria, she had met her cousin Ernest Ludwig of Hesse. They both found that they had much in common and shared many interests, they even shared birthday, being Ernest 8 years older than Ducky. Queen Victoria, who was their common grandmother, observed that the pair of cousins made a fine couple. She waited for a year and a half for Ducky to grow up to an appropiate age for courtship and meanwhile, she encouraged Ernie to considered her cousin as a prospect of marriage. And now, at the proximity of Ducky's 17th birthday, her family began to arrenge her engagement to Ernie. The Duchess of Edimburgh at first had opposed the match but now that Ernie had succeded his father as Grand Duke of Hesse, she had changed her mind, since with this marriage Ducky would enjoyed a sovereign role; furthermore, the Royal house of Hesse was one of the most ancient dynasties in Europe, and the Duchess's mother had been also a Princess of Hesse.
A short time after Missy's wedding, Queen Victoria invited Ducky and her parents to Osborne; Ernie was invited too. The two cousins were thrown together the most of the time; they did as much as they could together and enjoyed their mutual company, but neither Ducky nor Ernie were romantically interested in each other. Queen Victoria was frustrated by her grandchildren's lack of enthusiasm; nevertheless she didn't give up. Ducky was still sad by Missy's departure, so when she returned to Coburg, the Duchess took her to St. Petersburg in order to cheer her.
In Russia, Ducky finally got out from her depression, thanks to the presence of her cousin Kirill, with whom she had fallen in love and engagged in secret.
Meanwhile in Darmstadt, Ernie was having serious doubts about marrying Ducky. Queen Victoria was still pressuring him to courtship his cousin. Ducky, by her side, had mixed feelings about Ernie. Altough he seemed to her so clever and handsome and she enjoyed his company, Ernie was oversahdowed by the tought of Kirill in Ducky's mind. But finally Queen Victoria would suceed; both, Ernie and Ducky, had to submit to their grandmother's will. Ernie proposed and Ducky accepted.
The wedding was held on Thursday April 9, 1894 at Schloss Ehrenburg in Coburg. A marriage between two of Queen Victoria's grandchildren became a hopeful symbol of the era that was approaching to its end. It was one of the greatest gatherings of royalty in History. Almost every member of Queen Victoria's large family was in Coburg to attend the wedding: Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother the Empress Frederick, the Duke of Connaught and his family, Prince and Princess Henry of Battenberg, Ernie's sisters, including Alix, who in this ocassion became engagged to the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and the Duchess of Coburg's Russian family.
Hesse was rejoiced with its new Grand Duchess. Ducky and Ernie made a great entrance to Dramstadt in an open carriage, smiling and waving their hands to the crowd tah acclaimed them. they traveled to Wolfsgarten to spent their honeymoon. That night, when Ernie and Ducky retired to their bedroom, they discovered they were sexually incompatible. Her first sexual experience with Ernie left Ducky "completely shattered and disillusioned". In other aspects their marriage was acceptable; they joked and laughed together and they did what they pleased. Instead of bringing peace and responmsability to her husband's life, Ducky only encouraged his fun-loving way of life. So Ducky's days were filled with amusement and fun while her nights were full of frustration.
Altough her difficulties in her marital life, Ducky was pregnant within three months of her wedding. She spent her pregnancy resting in Darmstadt, having a relatively quiet life. She found her confinement boring and difficult to take over. Ducky had to endure some differences with her sister-in-law, Alix, who desliked having been replaced by her brother's new wife as first lady of Hesse.
On the night of March 10, Ducky went into labour. The baby was born before noon on March 11. It was a girl, the first royal baby born in Hesse in almost twenty years. Ernie was a proud father; he had succesed in fathering a child, a matter he always feared he would fail in. The girl was named Elizabeth, after her Hessian great-grandmother. She was very look alike Ducky, with violet-blue eyes and lush chestnut hair. Ducky adored her daughter, but it was so painful for her to see how Ernie gave the girl the tenderness and affection he denied his wife. Ducky tried to compete with Ernie for the girl's affection but it was in vain. It was obvious that Elizabeth preferred her father. So besides her dissapointing marriage , Ducky found out that motherhood was also dissapointing for her.
In the summer of 1895, Ducky joined Missy and her children in the Isle of Wigh in England. She took the 3-month-old Elizabeth with her. The two sisters attended the Ascott Races and enjoyed themselves as if they were children again. When Ducky sadly returned to Darmstadt, Missy stayed with her for several days. It was of much help for her to have her sister with her. After Missy's departure Ernie and Ducky continued with their active social life. They took it as an escape from their sad reality. They constantly organizaed parties and hosted royal guests at Wolfsgarten.
In May 1896, Ducky and Ernie attended the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II and Ernie's sister, Alix. Ducky had again the opprtunity to see Missy who was also in Russia for the ocasion. She also saw her handsome cousin, Grand Duke Kirill, in whom Ducky had been constantly thinking of. Neither of them had forgot their previous afection; now in their mutual presence, their passion revived.
Ducky did her best to hide her feelings. She knew that it was impossible to have a relation with Kirill; her divorce was out of question and besides, the Russian Imperial law and the Orthodox Church forbade the marriage between first cousins. Kirill was born on October 13, 1876, a month and a half before Ducky. He was the eldest son of Grand Duke Vladimir, the Tsar's eldest uncle and brother of Ducky's mother. Vladimir was an "erudite and a culture and worldly man, with a loud ringing voice". Before the Tsarevitch Alexis was born in 1904, he was the second in the succesion to the Russian throne, after the Tsar's brother, Grand Duke Mijhail (that put Kirill in third place to the succesion). Kirill adored and admired his father; he was very fond of him and he always remembered him as "his dearest friend". Kirill's mother was Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, daughter of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg Schwerin. She was jelous of Nicholas and Alexandra and resentful of her husband's secondary position.
When he was 15, Kirill began his naval career. In the summer of 1892 he became a midshipman in His Imperial Majesty's Ship Manak. When Nicholas II ascended the throne, he and his cousin Kirill were the best friends. That autumn, after Nicholas's coronation, Kirill paid a visit to his aunt Marie, Ducky's mother, at Coburg, where he again met his beloved cousin. Ducky's farewell to Kirill after the Cobug visit was very hard for her. She returned to her dfficult life at her husband's side while Kirill began his life at the Naval Guards.
In early 1897 it became more difficult for Ducky and Ernie to keep on hiding the true; they had to face the failure of their marriage. Trying to soften the situation, they decided to visit Missy in Romania. They satyed in Buchrest for some months and afterwards Ernie returned to Darmstadt alone. During her visit to Romania, Ducky spent her days full of diversions. She and Missy took long horserides and attended to several court balls
Three months after Ernie's departure, Ducky decided it was time to return home; she had been away too much time and her prolonged absence from Darmstadt would be difficult to explain. Missy encourage her sister to try to improve her relations with Ernie. But any good intentions Ducky might had have would be in vain. At her return she was shocked with wich she discovered. She found Ernie in bed with a young boy employed in the palace kitchen. Being alone had helped Ernie to face his homosexuality. Ducky was so shocked that she was ill for several days, being unable to face her husband. Some days later a telegram arrived from Romania; Missy said that her husband, Crown Prince Ferdinand, had fell ill with typhoid fever and was at the doors of death. It was the perfect excuse for Ducky to pack her bags and leave for Bucharest.
She arrived to the Romanian capital on the last days of May. She spent there a couple of weeks and then, in mid-June, she decided to return to Darmstadt. Her grandmother, Queen Victoria, was celebrating her Diamond Jubilee in London and there would be a hugh family gatheirng for the ocassion. As soon as Ducky arrived at Darmstadt, she packed up again and left for London, quietly followed by Ernie. Kirill was also in London for the celebration. he stayed at Clarence House with Ducky's parents. it was awkward for Ducky to be under the same roof with her husband and the man she truly loved. Each minute she and Kirill spent together, they came to a closer undrrstanding. At the end of the Jubilee festivities, Ducky and Kirill were deeply in love than they were before. Now she had decided she wanted to divorce Ernie. She even wanted to approach her grandmother to ask for her permission, but it would be in vain since the Queen would never alow a divorce in the family.
By his side, Kirill had been introduced to the Queen by Ducky's father, Prince Alfred, Duke of Saxe Coburg, who said: "May I present to you my you nephew who is on a Russian battleship?". The old Queen smiled at Kirill who had to stoop down to hear at her. Kirill was impressed by Victoria's distinctive and striking personality.
At her return to Darmsatdt, Ducky felt more miserable and frustated than ever; she was trapped in a marriage that she detested and had to hide her passion for her Russian cousin. Soon the rumours of the failure of the Hesse marriage spread all around the continent and they finally reached Queen Victoria, who with tears in her eyes exclaimed: "I arranged the marriage; I will never try to marry anyone again".
Nevertheless the Queen would not hear of a divorce., even when Ernie and Ducky asked for her permission.. The Queen's great joy was Ducky and Ernie's daughter, Little Elizabeth. She thought that the girl's happines must no be jeopardize by the selfishness of her parents who must never get divorced.
Ducky had to accept he defeat and resigned herself to go along with her marriage, but, from then on, she would try to stay the less possible in the Hessian court. She spent her time rather in Coburg with he rparents or in Langenburg with her sister Sandra, having her beloved Kirill constanly in mind.
In May 1899, Ducky's only brother, Prince Alfred, died tragically in Merano, Italy. Ducky and Ernie were at Coburg when his body was brought back home. After the tragedy, both Ducky and Ernie made up their minds and tried to made their marriage work. When they returned to Wolfsgarten, Ducky tried to be with her husband as much as possible, and Ernie, for his paret, tried to control his sexual preferences. Some days later they went with their daughter to Windsor for Queen Victoria's 80th birthday. The Queen was glad to see her grandchildren trying to rebuild their marriage.
After the birthday festivities The Hessian couple went with the Queen to Balmoral in Scotland. Ernie returned to darmstadt the first week of June and Ducky's plans were to follow him a few days later, stopping first at London for shopping. On Saturday, June 10, she received a urgent telegram announcing her that Ernie had fallen ill with smallpox; she hurried to returned home inmediately. When she arrived Darmstadt, she was not allowed to see her hudsabnd and was vaccinated in order to prevent her to contract the disease. Anyway, Ernie began to recover quickly. For June 27, he was completely restablished. His illness had helped the couple to get closer and Queen Victoriawas quite glad, But it would not last too long. After his illness, Ernie returned to his old ways, having sex with the more comely young men employed in the palace; this time, he was more discret.
Despite her husband bisexuality, in the spring of 1900, Ducky discovered she was pregnant again. Because she had already had a miscarriage, this time she tried to lead a quiet life during her pregnancy, but she couldn't avoid to continue with her horse rides through the woods. On May 25 Ducky gave birth to a stillborn son.
A few days later she lerned that her father had an incurable cancer on the larynx. When the Duke's death was near, Ducky and her sisters summoned up at Coburg. He died on July 30, 1900. On January 1901, Queen Victora's health had began to decline too. Ducky's mother rushed to Osborne, taking with her her five year old granddaughter Elizabeth, giving the girl a last chance to see her "Granny Gran" as she used to call the Queen.
The Queen finally died on january 22. Ducky and Ernie were in Russia visiting their relatives. Ernie attended the funeral alone; Ducky stayed behind in an extraordinary imission by her part. During the funeral little Elizabeth sat next to Prince Eward of York, the future Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor; their aunt, Princess Maud (the future Queen of Norway) observed they made a "delightful lttle couple". With Queen Victoria's death, a whole era had come to an end and Ducky was now free to do what she pleased.
After the funeral the Duchess of Coburg went to Chateau Fabron, her home at the French Riviera; Ducky, as well as Missy and their youngets sister Beatrice, joined her. Ny casuality, Grand Duke Kiril had obtained permission to visit his aunt Marie so he and Ducky met again at Chateau Frabron. For the first time they could talk openly about thier love and thier future. Ducky was decided to leave Ernie and ask him to divorce.
Ducky returned to Darmsatdt where the groeing tension of her marriage became obvious to everyone. During the late summer of 1901, Kiril visited her in Wolfsgarten to say good bye because he was going on a trip to the Far East that would last a year. His presence gave Ducky the strenght she needed to finally leave her husband.
One morning she got up early and quickly packed most of her clothes. She told Ernie that she was going to Coburg; he didn't seemed to take particular care. Ducky hold her daughter tight and with tears in her eyes, she left the girls behind.
Supported by her mother, Ducky wrote Ernie from Coburg telling him she wanted to divorce; surprisingky he refused. For Ernie, the mask of respectavility must be kept. But at last he accepted; he had realized that he and Ducky were opposite to each other and both of them had the right to live their lifes on their own. On December 21, 1901 Ducky and Ernie were legally divorced by a special veredict of the Supreme Court of Hesse, under the grounds of "invincible mutual antipathy". In the divorce settlement it was established that Princess Elizabeth would spend six months a year wityh each parent, and upon her 18th birthday she would remain permanently in Dramsatdt.
Must of Ducky's royal relatives in Europe reacted against her divorce. Tsar Nicholas II wrote to her mother: "I must inform you of a terrible and unexpectedly grave event. Can you imagine ? Ernie and Ducky are getting divorce....All of this appeared to us so dreadfully sad... I am intensely grieved and sorry for poor Alix; she tries to hide her sorrow. In a case like this, even the loss of a dear person is better than the general disgrace of a divorce...How sad to think of the future of them both, their poor little daughter..."
Only Ernie's eldest sister, Princess Victoria, understood the situation; she wrote: "...Though both had done the best to make a success of their marriage, it had been a failure...Their characters and temperaments were quite unsuited to each other and I had noticed how they were gradually drifting appart...I can only say that I thought then and still think, that it was best for both that they should part from each other."
Ducky was blamed for the failure of her marriage by most of her royal relatives, since she was the one who requested the divorce and only a few people knew the real reason, so she became a royal pariah. The person who most blame and judged Ducky was her cousin and sister-in-law, the Empress of Russia, the neurotic Alexandra, who considered the divorce as an insult to her brother and to herself, and from then on, she displayed a deep hatred for Ducky.
On the other hand, Ducky was unconditionally supported by her sister Missy and by her mother the Duchess of Coburg., who never made any effort to hide her preference for her second daughter over the other ones. She found herr dreams fullfilled in Ducky an don the contrary she constantly critisized her frivoulous eldest daughter Missy.
In order to help Ducky out of her depression, the Duchess decided to take her out of Rosenau and along with her younger daughter Beatrice, they went to Chateau Fabron at the French Riviera. Here the two sisters spent their time riding in the woods and driving along the Grand Corniche.
One winter morning Kirill's ship, the Peresviet, in transit to Asia, docked at the Fremnch naval base at Villefranche, only four miles away form Chateau Fabron, where Kirill visited Ducky and her mother. The couple spent as much time together as they could and the Duchess discretly left them alone. They had a special farewell dinner together. Kirill wrote in his memoirs: "She was in exile and I was going to the unknown, to the uncertainty of a blank future. About one thing, both of us had no illusion whatever that a mountain of obstacles to our happiness would arise, that every conceivable wheel of intrigue, coterie and vetoes would be put into motion agaisnt us and the two would be left to fight that sea of troubles alone, with thousand of miles between us. By that time I would be at the other end of the world and the woman I cared for would have to defend herself as well as she could and I would be unable to come to her aid."
After dinner they went for a walk beneath the full moon and just before midnight Kirill left to joined his ship again. The next morning Ducky and her sister Beatrice drove to the docks to say farewell to Kirill and after the peresviet had left, she saddly returned to Cahteau Frabron. In the spring of 1902, Ducky, her mother and sister returned to Coburg to await for the first time the six monts visit of her little daughter Elizabeth.
Her daughter's visit was not as joyful as Ducky had expected. As she had left the girl behind, to Elizabeth's eyes she was a deserter and her hurt at her mother's departure had been increased by Ernies's influence. According to Ernie, when the time came for Elizabeth to visit her mother, she had hidden under a sofa, sobbing in despair. When her father found her, he assured her that her motherloved her too, but the girl had replied: "Mamma says she loves me but yo do love me."
When Elizabeth arrived at oburg, Ducky did great efforts to made the girl enoy herself, but Elizabeth remained distant and reserved. When Ducky had almost gained her daughter's conf9dence it was time for the girl to return to her father's side and the next year Ducky would have to start all over again.
For his side, kirill had been having trouble in Russia. His relation with Ducky was considered by Empress Alexandra as a supreme affront to the Tsar and to the throne, and an insult to herself; she had convince her husband to send Kirill permanently to the Far-East. So in the summer of 1902, Kirill received a letter from the Tsar announcing him his exile and without setting clear how long would it last. He wrote in his memoirs: "My situation amounted to exile. I was desperate and great gloom fell on me, life seemed to have lost its purpose... I had no means of knowing what stringent meassures of suppression would be brought inmy absence against the woman I cared for...Twelve thousand miles separated us..."
Kirill was a man of honour and he was incapable to disobey his beloved cousin the Tsar, so he had to accept his fate and reconcile with his situation. Soon afterwards, his uncle Grand Duke Alexis, who was also Ducky's maternal uncle and Grand Admiral of the Russian Navy, arranged for him to be appointed lieutenant commander of the Nahimov, a cruiser of the Pacific squadron, which was to return to St. Petersburg, via the Mediterranean. The Nahimov made its way through Greece, where Kirill recieved the visit of his brother Boris, who had been sent by the Tsar to prevent Kirill from deserting the ship. Kirill was outraged for the little faith his cousin had in him; for much as big his love for Ducky was, he was too honourable to desert his duty and soon Boris realized it. The two brothers made peace but the fact left Kirill sad and deppressed.. When his ship arrived in Naples, he receivedd a message notifying him that the Nahimov was to be put under the command of his own father, Grand Duke Vladimir, when it arrived at Villefranche. At first Grand Duke Vkadimir tried to persuade his eldest son about marrying Ducky, but when he realized Kirill's truth love for his cousin, he supported him. Meanwhile, Ducky, who was staying at Switzerland, went to met Kirill at the Italian border and they spent some wonderful days together in Nice. Grand Duke Vladimir favoured the meeting between his son and Ducky; he loved Kirill above all
and was decided to be the best friend to him. When Ducky and Kirill separated, new hopes had born between them. Kirill promised Ducky that he would plead their case to the Tsar. At his return to St. Petersburg, he indeed had an interview with Nicholas, who did not gave his cousin any clear indication of a future prospect for Ducky and himself, but Kirill tought that here could be some hope that the situation could somehow be solved. Anyway he got the Emperor's permission to visit Ducky during the summer.
During the autumn of 1903, when Kirill had returned to Russia, Ducky satyed at her mother's home in Coburg. Meanwhile, her daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was living with her father in Hesse. In November Ernie took the girl with him to spend some days with Nicholas and Alexandra at the Imperial hunting lodge at Skierniewice in Poland. Elizabeth became friend of the Tsar's four daughters; she was the same age of Olga, the eldest sister. The five girls enjoyed picnics and games and spent a nice time together. But on the morning of November 16, Elizabeth awoke early, complaining of a "dry thioat and severe pains in her chest". Within a few hours she was in agony, breathing with panting. Doctors and specialists were inmediately called, but they couldn't do nothing for the poor child. They warned Alexandra that Ducky must be called inmediately, but the Empress ignored the advice until the girl's condition became even worse.
When Ducky received the announcing of her daughter's illness, she hurried to go to Skierniewice, but at the moemnt she was leaving for the train station, she received a telegram announcing Elizabeth's death. She was shocked; she hadn't been with her litttle dear one at her last moments. But she decided not to go to Poland, instead she prepared herself for going to Darmsatdt for the funeral. A later authopsy revealed that Elizabeth had died form an unusual virulent case of typhpoid fever, probably contracted from drinking unsanitary water.
It was teh first time Ducky was at Darmstadt since her divorce; anyway she was receivd by the Hessian people with sympathy and affection and she was treated with great respect during the funeral. Elizabeth was interred in teh Rosenhohe cemetery and after leaving her daughter in her grave, Ducky left Darmstadt, breaking completely her ties to her past.