“An alliance with Denmark would be a misfortune for us here”: Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales, and Notions of European Monarchy

In 1860 the Crown Princess of Prussia wrote to her mother, Queen Victoria, about her concerns over her brother’s proposed match with Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Stating that “an alliance with Denmark would be a misfortune for us here”, the Crown Princess was uneasy about a partnership between Britain and Denmark upon the marriage of the Prince of Wales to the Danish princess.[i] As tensions between Prussia and Denmark were rising, attempts to align Britain and Prussia’s political preferences, whilst also considering the Prince of Wales’s own inclinations, occupied Queen Victoria and her daughter greatly.[ii] Searching for a suitable Princess of Wales, and a future queen of Britain, therefore became a considerable task.

The marriage of Princess Victoria to the German Crown Prince of Prussia pleased Queen Victoria as it tightened the affiliation between Britain and Germany.[iii] Celebrating her German heritage which had dominated the British monarchy since 1714, Queen Victoria desired for the Prince of Wales to marry one of the Prussian princesses lined up for him.[iv] Elizabeth of Wied, Anna of Hesse, Princess Marie of Saxe-Altenburg, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Meiningen, and Princess Alexandrine of Prussia were atop the list of some of the brides Prince Edward declined, and all shared one commonality: their German heritage.[v] From this list of princesses and elite ladies, there can be no doubt that a German bride would have been preferred by Queen Victoria, but even more so by her daughter. With Prussia being on the verge of war with Denmark over the Schleswig-Holstein question, Crown Princess Victoria had concerns regarding her brother’s love match which far exceeded those of her mother’s, particularly with a Danish princess.

The unification of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein dates back to 1386 when the Count of Holstein also became the Duke of Schleswig.[vi] From this date onwards, the affairs and administration of Schleswig and Holstein were governed by the same body, and the introduction of the dukedom of a united Schleswig-Holstein in 1460 rested on the condition of their union.[vii] The union remained untouched and undisputed until the wave of revolutions swept Europe in 1848, which resulted in rising tensions over the duchies between Denmark and the German Confederation, headed by Prussia, due to its geographical location between the two kingdoms.[viii] With the Crown Princess of Prussia also belonging to the British royal family, a marriage uniting Britain with Denmark would have certainly been a misfortune for Prussia. As a result, a union between Princess Alexandra of Denmark, considered the most beautiful princess in Europe, and the Prince of Wales, the brother of the Crown Princess of Prussia, was seen as undesirable.

Despite the political strife between Denmark and the German Confederation, and therefore Prussia, Alexandra was still considered a bride for the future King of England because of her renowned beauty and grace. Embodying many of the attributes admired by Queen Victoria and the Crown Princess, Alexandra became a strong contender for the hand of Prince Edward. Queen Victoria and the Crown Princess were in search of a bride who had “good looks, health, education, character, intellect, and a good disposition”, perhaps with a slight emphasis on “good looks” due to the Prince of Wales’s infamous admiration of many English ladies.[ix] After several meetings between Alexandra, the Crown Princess, Queen Victoria, and the Prince of Wales, the Crown Princess’s opinion on the marriage between the pair changed. After being charmed by the young Danish princess, the Crown Princess acknowledged her brother’s happiness took precedence over politics. Rather than being a marriage of convenience, the relationship between the prince and princess was, at first, a love match, and was to be free of political strife despite the tensions between Denmark and Prussia.

Upon Alexandra’s marriage to the Prince of Wales, she brought her Danish identity and therefore a connection between Britain and Denmark and extended the relations of the British monarchy to those across Europe. Her sister, Dagmar, married Nicholas Alexandrovich, Tsarevich of Russia, and adopted the name Marie Feodorovna when she became empress in 1881. One brother remained as Prince of Denmark, whilst Alexandra’s two other brothers became King of Denmark and King of Greece.[x] Although Queen Victoria is rightfully known as the “grandmother of Europe” due to so many of her children and grandchildren marrying into different European royal families, Alexandra’s parents, King Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel, also boasted their connections. Their daughters married into the royal families of Britain and Russia, becoming queen and empress, and their sons became kings of Denmark and Greece. Therefore, the Danish royal family was pushed to the forefront of European relations.

During the nineteenth century, as a result of the multitude of inter-monarchical marriages the royal family created an internationalised identity. David Cannadine has written extensively about the internationalisation of the British monarchy during this period, stating that the British Empire became “a great global family, with the monarch at its head,” and that the continental connections “were essential to the identity and functioning of the British monarchy.”[xi] It was an identity that the British royal family revelled in sharing and was celebrated widely across the nation. Highlighting the extensiveness of Britain’s international connections and in anticipation of the royal wedding, The Times wrote of their admiration of Denmark in 1863 which “produced some of the best and bravest seamen in the world.”[xii] Alexandra even curated a book in partnership with The Daily Telegraph in 1908,which included photographs taken by the Queen Consort of her and her family as an amateur photographer. Titled Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book: Photographs from My Camera, Alexandra shared intimate images of immediate and extended family members, such as her husband, children, parents, and siblings. With images titled ”King of Denmark and his two grandsons”, ”The little Cæsarevitch with his Sailor Friend”, “Empress of Russia and her son Michael at Hvidore”, “My brother George of Greece”, and “My Sister the Empress, Victoria, Maud and Charles”, it was no secret that the royal family, Alexandra in particular, wanted to broadcast their international relations.[xiii] In this photo book, the reader truly sees the world from Alexandra’s point of view; her sister was the Empress of Russia, her nephew ‘the little Cæsarevitch’, her father King Christian of Denmark, and her brother King of Greece.

Queen Alexandra, “My Sister the Empress, Victoria, Maud and Charles (Haakon), Norway”, 1908, black and white photograph from Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book: Photographs from my Camera (The Daily Telegraph, London: 1908). Author’s own collection.
Queen Alexandra, “King of Denmark and his two grandsons”, 1908, black and white photograph from Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book: Photographs from my Camera (The Daily Telegraph, London: 1908). Author’s own collection.

There can be no doubt about Cannadine’s argument with Alexandra’s connections linking the British royal family to those of Denmark, Russia, and Greece, which were further entrenched when her husband’s relatives married into the royal families. Cannadine emphasizes the international identity of the monarchy before 1914. This was threatened by the commencement of the First World War, as several monarchies around Europe fell including those of Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Germany.[xiv] The once truly international identity built up by the British royal family, predominately in the nineteenth century, was therefore not to be celebrated for long. War and revolutionary sentiment against the monarchies of Europe were inseparable occurrences, and they impacted Alexandra directly. Her brother, King of Greece, was assassinated in 1913, and her niece and nephew were likewise assassinated during the Russian Revolution in 1918.[xv] With the outbreak of the war, it quickly became imperative for the British royal family to begin distancing themselves from their once-celebrated international identity. This is a notion that began as early as the war started.

Queen Alexandra, “My brother George of Greece and Chevalier Martino, at the Empress of Austria’s Villa, “Achilles”, Corfu”, 1908, black and white photograph from Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book: Photographs from my Camera (The Daily Telegraph, London: 1908). Author’s own collection.
Queen Alexandra, “The little Cæsarevitch with his Sailor Friend”, 1908, black and white photograph from Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book: Photographs from my Camera (The Daily Telegraph, London: 1908). Author’s own collection.

By 1914, Alexandra had been the Queen Mother for four years and had retreated from public life after the heartbreak of losing her husband in 1910.[xvi] Despite this, even she was not exempt from showing support for British soldiers. Frank Prochaska reported that all members of the royal family played a role in volunteering for the war effort, with the women primarily focusing on raising funds for charities, an act which concerned Alexandra’s Comptroller who thought she would bankrupt herself.[xvii] As Alexandra’s support for the war was so admired by the British peoples, upon her death in 1925, The Times noted that her visits to soldiers in hospitals were some of her most favourable moments, something that multiple members of the royal family participated in.[xviii] By supporting British soldiers who had fought on the front line, the monarchy condemned the actions of their relatives abroad, and in doing so this simple act was one step taken by the monarchy to distance themselves from their international identity.

In 1917, King George V decided to distance the British royal family from Europe even further by changing the family name. Prince Albert’s marriage to Queen Victoria meant that the royal family went by the German name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha which was seen as inappropriate by the time of the war.[xix] Not only was this a German name, but “Gotha” was the name of a German aviation company that made history by building the first German military aircraft, the Gotha Taube LE 2, to fly over the English Channel where it bombed the port city of Dover.[xx] Not only was association with Germany unsuitable, but it was now also offensive, and action needed to be taken by the monarchy to dismantle and obscure their German heritage. Announcing that the royal family would go by the name of Windsor, King George V distanced family connections and began to create a British identity that was separate from his predecessors.[xxi] In doing so, King George V created a new era in British history, which exists to the present day and will continue to exist with the future heir to the throne.

Further to this is the Prince of Wales’s involvement in the First World War. Fighting in both France and Italy, King George’s son, the future King Edward VIII, connected with veterans once the war was over by forming a comradeship over a shared experience.[xxii] The future king of England had fought for his country alongside his countrymen, something that resembled a medieval past, and encouraged British patriotism against his European cousins.

These steps taken by the British royal family ensured their survival for the long term and went further to assist with forming British patriotism. With their relatives in other monarchies falling across Europe, the monarchy needed to adapt during a period of unprecedented change. Alexandra’s entrance into the British royal family in 1863 was clouded with similar context at the time of her death in 1925. In both instances, the British monarchy was apprehensive over who they would form international alliances with, and by the end of Alexandra’s life, the need to be associated with other nations completely ceased to exist. The British royal family took necessary and cautious steps to preserve their positions by changing their name, supporting wounded soldiers, and sending the heir to the throne to fight alongside his countrymen. The steps taken by the British monarchy discussed in this blog post contributed towards their survival during a time of political turmoil at home and abroad, and its remnants can be seen in how the royal family operates today. Concerning themselves with charitable endeavours to benefit society is a means of proving their position, an act with its history laying in the face of the rise of democracy and revolutionary sentiment which resulted in the downfall of their relatives.

Alexandra’s contribution to the British royal family and their European identity cannot be underestimated. In bringing together multiple European royal families and celebrating their connections publicly, Alexandra formed part of a royal network that was dismantled by the time of her death. Rather than highlighting Alexandra’s nationality in news coverage of her death, she was simply referred to as “queen”. The Daily Mirror referred to her as “the beloved Queen Mother”, The Times issued several images of Alexandra which included a portrait from when she was still a princess of Denmark, but it is captioned “Queen Alexandra in the year of her marriage”.[xxiii] Reynold’s Newspaper also referred to Alexandra as “Queen Alexandra” and highlighted her personality in several speeches made by MPs.[xxiv] Alexandra’s once celebrated nationality was now hidden from view, no longer being Danish, or British; simply, Queen Alexandra.

Lucy Haigh

Lucy Haigh is a first-year history PhD student at the University of Sheffield where she is studying the portrayal of Alexandra, Princess of Wales in the political press from 1863 to 1925, whilst also considering the national and international context of the period. This blog post focuses on part of Lucy’s doctoral thesis which discusses Alexandra’s role in developing a European monarchy in the nineteenth century, which had to be redacted during and after the First World War. Wider topics covered in Lucy’s doctoral thesis that are not included in this blog post are the rise of democracy, gender debates in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the development of the political press. Although the function of the monarchy changed throughout the period with the establishment of a “welfare monarchy”, her blog post focuses on the monarchy’s international identity.

In addition to her studies, Lucy is on the committee for History Lab as a Publicity Officer, which is part of the Institute of Historical Research and has been a Postgraduate Member of the Royal Historical Society since February 2022.

[i] Frances Diamond, Queen Alexandra: Loyalty and Love (History and Heritage Publishing, 2022) p. 8.

[ii] Diamond, Queen Alexandra, p. 8.

[iii] Richard Hough, Edward and Alexandra: Their Private and Public Lives (Hodder and Stoughton, Kent: 1992) p. 29.

[iv] Hough, Edward and Alexandra, p. 17.

[v] Diamond, Queen Alexandra, p. 13.

[vi] Francis Prange, Germany versus Denmark: A Short Account of the Schleswig-Holstein Question by a Liverpool Merchant (Liverpool: Printed at the Daily Post Steam Printing Works, 1864) p. 5.

[vii] Prange, Germany versus Denmark, pp. 5, 6.

[viii] Prange, Germany versus Denmark, pp. 5, 6, 7.

[ix] Georgina Battiscombe, Queen Alexandra (London: Constable & Company LTD, 1969) p. 17 quoting Fulford, Roger, ed., Dearest Child (Evans) p. 187.

[x] Battiscombe, Queen Alexandra, pp. 60, 159, 221.

[xi] David Cannadine, History in Our time (Penguin Books, London: 2000) p.4; Cannadine, Making History Now and Then, p. 54.

[xii] The Times (London, England) issue 24505, p. 12. Gale Primary Sources. Accessed on 07/02/2024.

[xiii] Photobook by Queen Alexandra, Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book: Photographs from my Camera (The Daily Telegraph, London: 1908).

[xiv] Cannadine, Making History Now and Then, p. 54.

[xv] Battiscombe, Queen Alexandra, pp. 281, 291.

[xvi] Battiscombe, Queen Alexandra, p. 271.

[xvii] Frank Prochaska, Royal Bounty: The Making of a Welfare Monarchy (Yale University Press, New Haven & London: 1995) pp. 181, 182.

[xviii] The Times (London, England) issue 44125, p. 16. Gale Primary Sources. Accessed on 09/02/2024.

[xix] Cannadine, Making History Now and Then, p. 54.

[xx] Andreas Metzmacher, Gotha Aircraft: From the London Bomber to the Flying Wing Jet Fighter (Fonthill Media, eBook: 2021) Part of chapter ‘Aircraft 1913-1918’, page number unknown.

[xxi] Cannadine, Making History Now and Then, p. 54.

[xxii] Frank Mort, ‘On Tour with the Prince; Monarchy, Imperial Politics and Publicity in the Prince of Wales’s Dominion Tours 1919-1920, Twentieth Century British Politics 29.1 (2018) p. 32.

[xxiii] Monday 23rd November 1925, Daily Mirror, p. 3. Available online: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000560/19251123/027/0003 Accessed on 16/05/2024; Saturday 21st November 1925, The Times, p. 16. Available online: https://go-gale-com.sheffield.idm.oclc.org/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=Newspapers&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&searchResultsType=SingleTab&retrievalId=eb9d04d6-a472-49e8-90c6-f354e7e78227&hitCount=13&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&currentPosition=11&docId=GALE%7CCS268638581&docType=Article&sort=Pub+Date+Forward+Chron&contentSegment=ZTMA-MOD1&prodId=TTDA&pageNum=1&contentSet=GALE%7CCS268638581&searchId=R2&userGroupName=su_uk&inPS=true&aty=ip Accessed on 09/2/2024.

[xxiv] Sunday 29th November 1925, Reynold’s Newspaper, p. 9. Available online: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001034/19251129/115/0009?browse=False Accessed on 16/05/2024.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
courtstudies (May 24, 2024). “An alliance with Denmark would be a misfortune for us here”: Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales, and Notions of European Monarchy. The Court Observer. Retrieved July 17, 2024 from https://courtstudies.hypotheses.org/1277

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