Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was born on 20 September 1886 as the third child of Frederick Francis III, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna of Russia. She spent most her childhood at Ludwigslust Palace. Due to her father’s health, the family also often travelled to Cannes in France. After her father died, she would travel to Russia every summer to the country home of her maternal grandfather, Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich of Russia.
On 4 September 1904, the engagement between Cecilie and Wilhelm, the German Crown Prince was announced. They had met for the first time in July during the wedding of Cecilie’s brother Frederick Francis to Princess Alexandra of Hanover. Cecilie and Wilhelm married on 6 June 1905 with Cecilie’s brother toasting the following,
At such a moment our thoughts are directed above all to the dear family members who are no longer with us, and we must imagine today with emotion in our hearts with what inner joy His Majesty the late Kaiser Wilhelm would have greeted the news that his great-grandson should have taken as his wife the great-granddaughter of both of his beloved sisters, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (Charlotte of Prussia) and Grand Duchess Alexandrine.
The formidable Grand Duchess Louise of Baden wrote, “Both you and the land will be happy with her. Young Princess Cecilie has more of the world about her and broader horizons than most German Princesses, while no German Princess of my acquaintance can surpass her for heart and character.” After taking off her wedding gown at the end of the day, Cecilie recalled, “After all the strenuous festivities, we breathed in deeply as we reached the idyllic peace of the Huberusstock where we were to experience the great joy of our young marriage. A profound gratitude to God, who had led us together, filled our heart.”
The newlyweds moved into the Marble Palace in Potsdam, where Wilhelm’s parents had also spent the first years of their marriage. In July 1906, Cecilie gave birth to their first son who was also to be named Wilhelm. Several other siblings follow quickly; Louis Ferdinand in 1907, Hubertus in 1909, Frederick in 1911, Alexandrine, who had Down’s syndrome, in 1915 and Cecilie in 1917. The growing family moved to Danzig (Gdańsk) when Wilhelm was posted there. They were at first not happy with the move but would later admit that those were the happiest years of their marriage.
We were living in a small villa that scarcely had enough room for what was by that time my already considerable family. However, we furnished it really comfortably and led a harmonious and happy life.
At the end of 1913, Wilhelm was recalled to Berlin to the General Staff. They once again moved into the Marble Palace. “I cannot imagine settling forever in Potsdam, Potsdam is in my eyes so terribly petty as regards nature and life within it. I come here as if I am a visitor.” The start of the First World War saw Cecilie’s dream of moving into the Cecilienhof crumble. Cecilie and her mother-in-law threw themselves into charity work and Cecilie transformed Oels Castle into a military hospital. “During these years I approached an understanding of the great world structures by sharing thoughts, reading and making my own observations, all without ever wanting to take on the role of a political woman.”
The abdication of her father-in-law reached her in Potsdam, and while the Empress decided to follow the Emperor into exile to the Netherlands, Cecilie did not consider leaving Germany a possibility.
We are German, and we have spent happy years in the fatherland; now we also wish to share the time of need.
Cecilie’s husband was also in the Netherlands, where he was staying on the island of Wieringen. Cecilie settled in the Cecilienhof with her children and her sons Wilhelm and Louis Ferdinand went the local grammar school. In 1923, the Crown Prince escaped his exile and returned home to his family and the years apart had made Cecilie an independent woman.
It was finally agreed that the family should have a lifelong right to Oels Castle and Cecilienhof. Life finally had some normality again, and Cecilie took up traveling. The rise of the Nazis and the start of the Second World War would have tragic personal consequences for Cecilie. Her eldest son was killed in action in May 1940. He had given up his succession rights to marry Dorothea von Salviati and had two young daughters with her. In 1941, the ex-Emperor died in his place of exile, and so Cecilie was now Empress in pretence. The Cecilienhof was put under observation. Just before the war was over, Cecilie’s husband left to take a cure at Oberstdorf while Cecilie went to Oels. In Kissingen, Cecilie was met by the American army and then learned that her husband was a prisoner at Hohenzollern Castle. At Kissingen, Cecilie lived in small accommodations, and perhaps spirits were lifted somewhat when her daughter Cecilie married Clyde Kenneth Harris, an American architect. In 1951, Wilhelm died while still under house arrest.
From 1952, Cecilie was able to live in Stuttgart in a small house, but her health had begun to decline. She died on 6 May 1954 in the presence of three of her children. Her body was transferred to Hohenzollern Castle to be buried next to her husband. Her sister-in-law Viktoria Luise wrote of Cecilie,
I remembered my father’s word of welcome to her, how he reminded us of the great Queen Luise and other princesses on the throne of Prussia and held them up to his daughter-in-law as a standard for her future life and its work, like a question he asked of the future. Now in the hour of farewell, I knew the answer. The Crown Princess had grown in stature, beyond any comparison. She was without peer. Amongst all of the personalities of the deposed royal family, she takes first place. She understood how to live in Prussia style and thus was a role model for many. 1
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