Marie-Adélaïde of Luxembourg was born on 14 June 1894 as the eldest daughter of Grand Duke William IV and his wife, Marie Anne of Portugal. She was to be the first of six daughters. The House Law of Nassau provided for the succession of a woman in the event of extinction of the males. Marie-Adélaïde was the heiress of the last male and as such could succeed her father as Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.
Marie-Adélaïde’s childhood was mostly spent in Hohenberg, in almost total seclusion. She was a favourite of her grandfather, who called her “Maus”. One of her first surviving letters is to him.
“Schloss Berg, le 25,-2,-1901
Mon cher grand papa, reviens bientôt avec ta femme. J’ai reve que nous avons dine avec toi dans notre chambre a Luxemburg et que Loti a dit Grandpapa est-ce que tu aimes ça? Et que tu a répondu ça m’est egal. Mille baisers de moi et de Loti aussi a Grand mama. Ta petite Maus”
“Schloss Berg, 25 February 1901
My dear grandfather, come back soon with your wife. I dreamed we dined with you in our room in Luxemburg and that Loti (her sister Charlotte) said Grandpapa do you like it? And that you answered it is all the same to me. A thousand kisses from me and from Loti also to Grand mama. Your little Maus”
Her education was severely limited for a future head of state. She had stereotype lessons in history, chemistry, natural sciences, English, Luxembourgish and German. She was naturally shy, but no effort was made to overcome that for her future public life. She did not enjoy the prospect that lay ahead, once whispering to her mother “Mother, there is something I must tell you before I can sleep. I shall never marry, Never ask it of me. And I do not wish to reign. Lotty can take my place. If I were the only one it would different.” When her mother protested, claiming she was just tired, she added “It has nothing to do with that. I wish to enter a convent.”
But the thing she perhaps even feared was rapidly approaching, her father was dying. He had been suffering from cancer of the tongue for a while, and in those last few weeks, Marie-Adélaïde’s mother rarely left his side. His entire family was with him when he finally passed on 25 February 1912. Marie-Adélaïde was just 17 years old. Despite her initial reluctance, she seemed to have accepted her destiny as ruler of the duchy. The one thing she kept from her earlier statement was her reluctance to marry. She figured with five sisters, at least one would provide them with an heir. Her days followed a routine. She rose early and went to church at half-past seven. After church, she had breakfast with her mother and sisters and fed her animals. At ten she received her ministers until around 1 in the afternoon. She then ate again with her family. In the afternoon she walked with her mother, a walk which often ended at the cathedral. She made many visits, showing herself as the ruler, but was often embarrassingly quiet during these visits. She said, “I shall never be any good at le cercle if I live for a hundred years!”
Marie-Adélaïde was at mass on the Sunday morning on 2 August 1914 when word came that the German army was approaching. She immediately went to council with her ministers and a formal protest was made against the violation of the neutrality of the duchy. She could not or would not resist the invading army and soon wounded men came flooding into the duchy. Marie-Adélaïde worked for both fronts, made beds, scrubbed floors and carried food, together with her mother and sisters. Criticism began slowly at first. Marie-Adélaïde’s piety was considered to be excessive and out of date. New elections in 1916 increased her unpopularity. Marie-Adélaïde left the duchy for the first time since the outbreak of the First World War, her grandmother Princess Adelheid-Marie of Anhalt-Dessau was dying at Königstein im Taunus in the German Empire. She died on 24 November 1916. The visit only seemed to make things worse. As Marie-Antoinette was once called L’Autrichienne (the Austrian), Marie-Adélaïde was called L’Allemande (the German). She was now persona non grata.
As the First World War drew to a close Marie-Adélaïde appealed to Pope Benedict XV for his help in safeguarding the independence of her land, but her own person was regarded with suspicion. She had invited the Kaiser to tea, dinner and supper. She had given consent to her sister’s marriage to the Crown Prince of Bavaria. Luxembourg needed a scapegoat, and they had found one in her. Marie-Adélaïde was mostly silent on the matter, except for “My good Luxembourgers are like all other peoples inconstant and uncertain in their judgments of their rulers. They blame me for having received German generals who were already in the country as war occupants and against whom our little army was powerless, and now they would have me receive the Allied generals come into the Duchy who are practically in the same position in Luxembourg, viewed from the standpoint of our neutrality and our independence. There is no reason to it all.”
In October 1918 she wrote to her Minister of State,
“In any new arrangements necessitated by the probable end of war, there is no need to show consideration for my person; I am contemplating abdication. For the future of the Luxembourg dynasty, the securing of heirs is an essential condition. I shall never marry. My sister Charlotte has entered into an engagement with her cousin Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma. An early marriage is desirable.”
The only solution was the abdication of Marie-Adélaïde and the recognition of her sister Charlotte. On 14 January 1919, the Minister of State read the following letter,
“By virtue of the report submitted to me by the Government concerning the conference recently held in Paris between them and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I have decided to renounce the crown of the Grand Duchy.
In the fulfilment of my duties, I have always been animated by love for my country and by the desire to further its material and spiritual welfare. I wish to spare the Luxembourg people any difficulties which might hinder the Government in the adjustment of the economic future of the country with the neighbouring nations.
The Government will convey my decision to the Chamber of Deputies, and my abdication will be ratified by them at the next meeting of Parliament. Conscious of the obligations I assumed upon accepting the crown of the Grand Duchy and on swearing the oath of the Constitution, I now charge the Government to undertake the requisite measures to establish the succession to the throne and to safeguard the independence of the country.
At this moment, when the end of the World War has brought the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to a new chapter in its history, I make known my intention of placing the fate of the country in the hands of the Luxembourg people. In exercising the right assured to the small nations by the principle of the new League of Nations, it will be possible for the Luxembourg people to give to any measures chosen by them that permanent basis which can only be assured by a common feeling of responsibility.
May the Luxembourg people, with the aid of Divine Providence, advance towards a future of peace and prosperity; may they retain inviolate their national traditions and the immeasurable treasure of their independence.
On 15 January 1919 at 4 pm Charlotte was sworn in as the ruler of Luxembourg. Marie-Adélaïde could only ask her sister’s forgiveness for placing such a heavy burden on her.
Marie-Adélaïde departed into exile later that same month. She wrote one final goodbye to her people, “From all parts of Luxembourg there have come to me countless proofs of remembrance and devotion. They have filled my heart with happiness and gratitude as it is impossible for me to tell each and every one, as I would wish, what joy and satisfaction these words have occasioned me. I desire in this way to lighten my heart and at the same express my warmest, most fervent gratitude. I thank from my innermost soul all those who during my reign, and especially those who in these last days, in word and act, in thought and prayer, have stood faithfully by my side, who have striven with me for the good of our beloved Fatherland. May God and the Blessed Virgin, patroness of our country, refuge of the afflicted, reward you. I myself will never forget.
That love for my country and my people which has ever been the guide to all my acts, which has even made easy the last great sacrifice can never, through any circumstance nor any event, be lessened. My thoughts, my prayers will ever be for my beloved home.
To my thanks, I add one last wish – that all who were once my faithful subjects will, from this day on, show to their new ruler, my sister, the same fidelity, the same self-sacrifice as to me. With entire confidence, I have placed in her hands the destinies of my country. In your loyalty to her, I shall find my greatest earthly joy.
My last fervent recommendation to all is: Hold aloft the good traditions of our fathers, remain forever faithful children of Holy Church, continue to be true, free Luxembourgers!”
She then drove to the border town of Diederhofen with her mother and three of her sisters where a train stood waiting. For a while, she wandered around Europe, but she could not get used to the prying eyes in hotels. In the autumn of 1919, she had an audience with Pope Benedict XV, and it’s probably on his advice that she chose the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites in Modena. She now cared for nothing but the salvation of her soul. She entered the Convent in late 1920, but it soon had an effect on her health. In April 1922 she returned to Luxembourg on account of her ever-declining health. She grew increasingly listless and was often physically exhausted.
She took to her bed, and people watched over her day and night. She quietly said to her mother one night, “Mother, thou knowest that my only desire is to be obedient to thee even in thought and wish, to act only according to thy will in all things. Mother me now thy permission to die.” Her mother was shocked but eventually said, “If it be God’s will, go, my first-born”. On 24 January 1925, she spoke her final words, “Do not weep for me. Be happy with me. Joy, joy, Oh, to be happy.”
She was still only 29 years old. 1