Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg – Queen Victoria’s mother-in-law

louise altenburg
Louise and her two sons (public domain)

Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg was born on 21 December 1800 as the daughter of Augustus, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg and his first wife Louise Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Her mother never recovered from the childbirth and died just 11 days later on 4 January 1801. Her father remarried on 24 April 1802 to Karoline Amalie of Hesse-Kassel, but Louise was destined to remain an only child. Her father’s second marriage was as unhappy as his first, but despite this, Karoline Amalie was a devoted stepmother.

On 31 July 1817, Louise married the 33-year-old Ernst III, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, later Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha at Gotha. Their first child, a son named for his father, was born on 21 June 1818. A second son, Prince Albert, the future consort of Queen Victoria, was born on 26 August 1819. Louise wrote gushingly of her second son to a friend, “You should see him, he is pretty like an angel, he has big blue eyes, a beautiful nose, quite a small mouth and dimples in his cheeks. He is friendly and smiles the whole time, and he is so big that a cap which Ernst wore when three months is too small for him, and he is only seven weeks yet.”1

Countess Augusta Reuss of Ebersdorf, the Dowager Duchess of Coburg-Saalfeld and Ernst’s mother, wrote to the Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria’s mother) the following day, “The date will itself make you suspect that I am sitting by Louischen’s bed. She was yesterday morning safely and quickly delivered of a little boy. Siebold, the accoucheuse, had only been called at three, and at six the little one gave his first cry in this world and looked about like a little squirrel with a pair of large black eyes. At a quarter to seven, I heard the tramp of a horse. It was a groom who brought the joyful news. I was off directly, as you may imagine, and found the little mother slightly exhausted, but gaie et dispos (cheerfully and willing). She sends you and Edward (the Duke of Kent) a thousand kind messages.”2

louise saxe coburg altenburg
(public domain)

Louise’s stepmother extended her affections to her stepgrandsons, and they would maintain an extensive correspondence until her death. When Louise and Ernst were away in 1822, Karoline Amalie invited the boys to her home in Gotha, writing, “I need not tell you, my dearest son, that while they are with me, dear to me as they are, they would be the object of my life; not can I say how much such a mark of confidence would touch me.”3

Louise and Ernst were divorced in 1826 after she allegedly committed adultery with Lieutenant Alexander von Haustein, who was created Count Pölzig when they married later that same year. Louise never denied or admitted to the charges and wrote to a friend, “I am to separate from the Duke… We came to an understanding and parted with tears, for life.” Ernst himself had, of course, not been faithful to her either. She later wrote, “Leaving my children was the most painful thing of all.”4 In March 1831, Louise and Alexander went to see a performance at the theatre, and she fainted after suffering a haemorrhage and had to be carried out.

Louise’s stepmother wrote on 27 July 1831, “The sad state of my poor Louise bows me to the earth… The thought that her children had forgotten her distressed her very much. She wished to know if they ever spoke of her. I answered her that they were far too good to forget her; that they did not know of her sufferings, as it would grieve the good children too much.”5

Louise dictated a final message for her husband to her maid, “The feeling that my strength is sinking every hour and that perhaps this illness will end only with my death induces me to make one more request of my deeply beloved husband. If it is God’s wish to call me away in Paris, I wish my body to be taken to Germany, to my husband’s estate, in case he intends to live there in future. Should he choose another place, I beg to be taken there. I was happy to have lived by his side, but if death is going to part us, I wish my body at least to be near him.”6

She never recovered and died of uterine cancer on 30 August 1831. She had collapsed with Alexander in the next room. On 13 December 1832, she was buried in the churchyard at Pfesselbach, but she was moved 14 years later by her sons to the Ducal tomb in the Church of St Moritz in Coburg to lay by her first husband’s side in defiance of her last wishes.

After her death, Louise’s stepmother wrote to Louise’s former husband, “My dear Duke, this also I have to endure that that child whom I watched over with such loved should go before me. May God soon allow me to be reunited to all my loved ones… It is a most bitter feeling that that dear, dear house (of Gotha) is now quite extinct.”7

In 1864, Queen Victoria wrote, “The Princess is described as having been very handsome, though very small; fair with blue eyes; and Prince Albert is said to have been extremely like her. An old servant who had known her for many years told the Queen that when she first saw the Prince at Coburg in 1844, she was quite overcome by the resemblance to his mother. She was full of cleverness and talent, but the marriage was not a happy one, and a separation took place in 1824 when the young Duchess finally left Coburg and never saw her children again. She died in 1831, after a long and painful illness, in her 32nd year.”

Prince Albert, “never forgot about her, and spoke with much tenderness and sorrow of his poor mother, and was deeply affected in reading, after his marriage, the accounts of her sad and painful illness. One of the first gifts he made to the Queen was a little pin he had received from her when a little child. Princess Louise (Albert and Victoria’s fourth daughter) is said to be like her in face.”8

  1. Victoria and Albert by Hector Bolitho ch. 2
  2. The Early Years of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort by Charles Grey p.32
  3. The Early Years of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort by Charles Grey p.39
  4. Uncrowned King by Stanley Weintraub
  5. The Early Years of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort by Charles Grey p.30
  6. Albert and Victoria by Françoise de Bernardy p.13
  7. The Early Years of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort by Charles Grey p.31
  8. The Early Years of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort by Charles Grey p.30

About Moniek Bloks 2747 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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