Feodora of Saxe-Meiningen – The unloved and misunderstood Princess

feodora meiningen
(public domain)

Princess Feodora of Saxe-Meiningen was born on 12 May 1879 as the daughter of Bernhard III, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, and his wife, Princess Charlotte of Prussia. She was Queen Victoria’s first great-grandchild. She would turn out to be their only child – her mother simply declared she would have no more.

Feodora was close to her grandmother, Victoria, Princess Royal and later Empress Frederick. Even Queen Victoria found her daughter’s fussing over Feodora a bit much and wrote, “As regards the baby I think you are hardly a fair judge. Hardly anyone I know has such a culte for little babies as you have.”1 Nevertheless, after Queen Victoria met Feodora during her Golden Jubilee in 1887, she too became fond of her, calling her “sweet little Feo.”2

The relationship with her mother never quite materialised, and she often went to stay with her grandmother at Friedrichshof. As an only child, she probably had quite a lonely childhood. She didn’t even have her cousins as playmates as her mother did not get along with her brother Emperor Wilhelm II. By 1890, Feodora began to display some of the same health problems that plagued her mother. She was often violently ill, with diarrhoea, shivering, headaches and pain in her limbs. Her grandmother wrote, “I find dear little Feo hardly grown, she is very plain just now, especially in profile – a huge mouth & nose & chin – no cheeks, no colour – the body of a child of 5 and a head that might well belong to a grown-up person!”3 By 1893, she was still “the shortest child I ever saw.”4 However, she was “a good little child & far easier to manage than her Mama was & makes one far less anxious.”5 She had inherited her mother’s love of gossip though and her grandmother wrote, “I am afraid she will be her Mama all over again!”6

Charlotte was only too happy to let Feodora stay with her grandmother as it meant more freedom to travel. Feodora’s first offer of marriage came when she was 16 years old. The 52-year-old exiled Prince Peter Karageorgevich – later King of Serbia – asked for her hand in marriage. Her mother proudly declared, “for such a throne, she is far too good.” The large age gap was probably also considered. The next prospective bridegroom was Prince Alfred, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the son of Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia but nothing came of it, and Alfred committed suicide in 1899. In October 1897, Feodora became engaged to Prince Henry XXX of Reuss, who was 15 years older than her. Her grandmother wrote, “It is of course not an advantageous marriage in terms of rank or position, but if Feo is happy, which she really seems to be, and the parents are satisfied, one ought to be glad. I am very glad he is older than she is, and if he is wise and steady and firm, he may do her a vast deal of good, and it may turn out very well, but she has had a strange example in her mother, and is a strange little creature.”7

Their wedding was postponed after Henry’s father died early in 1898, but they eventually married on 24 September at the Lutheran Church at Breslau. Feodora wore a gown of white satin, trimmed with myrtle and orange blossom and lace. She also wore her mother’s wedding veil and diamonds pins that belonged to her grandmother. They left for their new home at Schloss Neuhoff later that afternoon. Henry soon returned to his duties with the army while Feodora joined a reading circle and regularly visited the opera and the theatre in Berlin. Feodora had wanted to have children of her own, but they would never have any. Feodora and Henry travelled to England in July 1900 where the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha wrote of her, “Feo and her uninteresting husband are here. She looks hideous, a dried-up little fashioned chip, with hair à la madone.”8

Around this time, Feodora also suffered a period of serious ill-health. She suffered severe pains, and her legs were partially paralysed. Feodora herself believed she suffered from a virulent form of malaria. Her mother, who suffered similar symptoms, was completely unsympathetic and would not hear of her daughter. Recent analysis suggests that both women were suffering from porphyria, a disease that was little understood at the time. In December 1900, Charlotte wrote Feodora was, “pale, thin, ugly, all freshness gone, funnily dressed, hair parted on the forehead (like a dairymaid), talking of dancing, acting, Lieutenants, not looking at anything, inquiring after nobody!! I could hardly believe this curious, loud personage had been my Child!! I cannot love her! & my heart seemed & felt a stone.”9 She went on a few months later, “How can a Child’s mind be so poisoned & totally changed in 2 years by such a stupid man?”10 A reconciliation seemed further away than ever. Charlotte even spread the rumour that Feodora was suffering from a venereal disease and took her refusal to be examined by a doctor as an admission of guilt.

In 1903, Henry was transferred to Flensburg, close to the Danish border. They moved into a small house there with a garden. They bought horses so they could go riding together and Feodora’s health vastly improved. Feodora continued to try and conceive, and she also spent four weeks at a sanatorium in Langenschwalbach. She also visited private clinics, and although the various treatments were painful, she wrote, “the more I suffered, the happier I was, as it was for Haz (her husband), for his future happiness, I should gladly have born more & the greater the pains, the surer I felt, that Döderlein (the doctor) was getting at the root of all evil & I nearer my prize.”

In February 1910, the doctor tried to inseminate her artificially, but a mistake made during the treatment nearly cost her her life. She forgave the doctor, writing, “a Professor is human & mistakes are human too.” A second operation the following year left her very weak, and she even begged her parents to come visit her. Charlotte hadn’t written to her daughter in nearly ten years and was bewildered by the dangerous treatments her daughter had undergone. Nevertheless, she did come to see Feodora.

In 1914, her parents finally succeeded as Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen. However, the First World War would leave her father as the last reigning Duke, and the monarchy was abolished in 1918. During the First World War, Henry served on the western front. Feodora was still often ill, and even her husband called her “operation mania.” She wanted to undergo another operation, but he refused to let her do it, until 1916, when she was suffering from vomiting and severe pains. He was clearly losing patience with her never-ending list of complaints. In October 1919, Feodora’s mother passed away after a heart attack.

After the First World War, Feodora and Henry paid occasional visits to England, but otherwise, the couple seemed to disappear from the world. Feodora became a long-time patient at the Buchwald-Hohenwiese sanatorium. Henry died on 22 March 1939, and now Feodora truly had nothing left to live for.

On 26 August 1945, Feodora made a suicide pact with a friend named Meta Schwenck and put her head in the gas oven. She was buried in the woods near the clinic, where her husband had also been buried. Her grave was subject to graverobbers, and several bones were missing when her grave was opened some 50 years after her death to investigate the possibility of her having had porphyria.

  1. John van der Kiste – Charlotte and Feodora p.28-29 (US & UK)
  2. John van der Kiste – Charlotte and Feodora p.31
  3. John van der Kiste – Charlotte and Feodora p.38
  4. John van der Kiste – Charlotte and Feodora p.53
  5. John van der Kiste – Charlotte and Feodora p.53
  6. John van der Kiste – Charlotte and Feodora p.53
  7. John van der Kiste – Charlotte and Feodora p.55
  8. John van der Kiste – Charlotte and Feodora p.61
  9. John van der Kiste – Charlotte and Feodora p.67
  10. John van der Kiste – Charlotte and Feodora p.67

About Moniek Bloks 2732 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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