Suprise, surprise, who’s in this picture? Heinrich von Mecklenburg-Schwerin
The Grand-Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerins’ marriage policy
For centuries marriages between important families were dictated by economic and power politics. Love was not an issue. Sometimes a gift, but mostly a mariage de raison offered friendship and mutual respect in the best cases. The Good of The Family and The Country were paramount. This is certainly the case at the House of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in the late 19th century. With whom were the offspring of Friedrich Franz II, Grand-duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1822-1883) paired of? Three marriages provided multiple sons and daughters.
Mecklenburg is a prestigeous noble family with its roots in the 12th, 13th century. Schwerin forms the heart of the count(r)y, situatied in the North of wat is now called Germany. Those geographic interest are of importance when chosing partners for the children. Feudal powers and the complex relations between them only disappeared at the conclusion of the Great War. History with many shortcuts, I know.
The final decades of the long 19th century provided few honorable jobs for the supernumerary sons. The army, diplomacy or the colonies were the only options, and those jobs were limited. Daughers were parked strategically to strengthen the position of the Grand Duchy. The sons also, but that was a bit more complicated. A well provided bride would be preferred. How did this work out in Mecklenburg?
Four children from Franz Friedrich II and princess Augusta Reuss von Köstritz reached a marriable age. The eldest son would of course follow in his fathers footsteps as Franz Friedrich III. In 1879 Franz Friedrich III married Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailova of Russia. A well chosen bride. Paul Friedrich weds his Austrian cousin, princess Marie von Windisch Graetz, in 1881. Daughter Marie is married off to Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, also a good strategic choice. Johann Albrecht and Elisabeth von Sachsen-Weimar Eisenach are married in 1886. Elisabeth is the daughter of the puissant rich Sophie of the Netherlands, sister to king William III of the Netherlands. She married (it is said for love) with Karl Alexander von Sachsen-Weimar Eisenach. The ties with the Dutch royal family remained strong.
The daughter from the second marriage of Friedrich Franz II with the princess Anna von Hessen und bei Rhein died at the age of 16. His third marriage, with the princess Marie von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, in 1868 results in numerous offspring; three will reach adulthood.
Daughter Elisabeth Alexandrine marries Frederick Augustus II, Grand Duke of Oldenburg in 1896, a good position. Adolf Friedrich weds Victoria Feodora von Reuss-Schleiz in 1917. Their youngest son, Heinrich will marry queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in 1901.
Are you still with me? Because the next generation continued with the ‘sensible’ marriages.
The daughter of Friedrich Franz III, Alexandrine, is the bride of the heir of the heir to the throne of Denmark, Christian, in April 1898 in Cannes. This is the event I wanted to blog about. Unusual but nice, the wedding did not take place in Schwerin, but at the Mecklenburg villa Wenden in Cannes. While googling for Mecklenburgian history I found this wonderful photo of the bridal couple and wedding guests. At the far right, last row we see duke Heinrich of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. According to the newspapers he accompanied his mother the dowager grand duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Here we find the future spouse of queen Wilhelmina three years before the wedding. Witnesses for the bride her are uncle grand duke and regent Johann Albrecht, the husband of Elisabeth. Née von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, and grand prince Michael Nikolajewitsch, the husband of her aunt Marie. The identification of the persons in the picture is not quite clear or accurate, but the witnesses and their spouses and duke Heinrich are certainly there. As is her mother Anastasia, who lived at villa Wenden, and her brother, heir to Mecklenburg-Schwerin, but still a minor.
Now for the other surprise. In April 1898 queen Emma and queen Wilhelmina travel to Paris. It’s not an official visit, but the start of an educational and enjoyable roundtrip through Europe. In September Wilhelmina will be inaugurated and become the official head of state of the Netherlands. All festivities clearly require a couple of well-chosen outfits for the festivities. From Paris the queen and her companions travel to Cannes, where they arrive a few days before the actual wedding of Christian and Alexandrine. At the station a reception committee awaits the royals. Helena, the Duchess of Albany, sister to queen Emma, the duke of Nassau, the Dutch vice-consul and the prefect of Cannes. The ladies settle in Hotel de la Grande Bretagne, according to the newspapers. Of course, being in Cannes in April is a great moment to show of the latest Parisian fashion and meet quite a few important members of the European nobility, family or otherwise. The intent is to ensure recognition of the young queen in the uppermost circles of Europe. This is the right moment and place to do so. Besides, after a harsh winter, Cannes in April is a lovely place to recuperate.
Did queen Wilhelmina meet duke Heinrich? It’s certainly a possibility, the ties with cousin Elisabeth, his sister in law, were warm. She was a regular guest – together with her father and/or husband – at the royal palaces in the Netherlands. It’s not a wild guess that the ladies will have met, and probable that the dowager duchess von Mecklenburg-Schwerin was present, with her son dancing attendance. Sharing a déjeuner or tea, or even a promenade along the Boulevards would not be impossible. The word ‘marriage’ will probably not have been uttered. The forthcoming inauguration of the young queen was paramount. But it was – strategically seen – a splendid occasion for the Mecklenburgs to further their marriage policy. Young people meeting in the context of a royal marriage, it’s so romantic! And for Heinrich a suitable bride still had to be found.
For now it’s all supposition, and I am trying to unravel this thread. But due to Covid archives are difficult to consult. One thing I’m sure of. Heinrich was not a rabbit to be conjured out of a hat in 1900, surprise, hey presto, a bride groom for our young queen. It took careful planning and prudent strategy and the ability to play a long game.
© Lizet Kruyff march 2021 This publication is part of my forthcoming book on the culinary culture at the court of Queen Wilhelmina 1880-1918
I will be looking for the wedding menu of Christian and Alexandrine, but for now this menu will have to do. Source Das Menu, Ernst von Malortie, 1888, Dritte bedeutend erweiterte Ausgabe
Diner chez S.M. le Roi de Danemark
pour la Fête de S.M. l’Empereur de Russie,
au chateau de Fredensborg. Dimanche le 11 Sept.1887
Potage à la julienne
Sandat à l’eau de sel
Selle d’agneau, haricots blancs
Truffes à la serviette
Petites sarcelles rôties
Artichauts au beurre
Pouding à la Cambacerès
Fromage de Brie, de Hollande etc.,
paille au parmesan
Glace à la Sicilienne
Fruits et dessert
The wines: Oporto, Xérès, Johannisberger Cabinet, Château Margaux grand cru, Romanée, Champagne crêmant, vieux Madère, vin de Chypre.
Read more about the genealogy of the Mecklenburg-Schwerin-family, click here.
Read more about Villa Wenden, Cannes, click here.