Born in 1872, Princess Marie Louise was the daughter of Danish Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein and his wife Princess Helena of the United Kingdom who was a daughter of Queen Victoria. Marie Louise grew up at Cumberland lodge near to Windsor Castle with her parents and siblings.
Marie Louise was close to her siblings and also her cousins, who were dotted all around Europe. Her closest bond was with her cousin Princess Alix of Hesse, and the pair were said to be as close as sisters.
Marie and her siblings were brought up in a relaxed manner and were educated at home. They often wore hand-me-down clothes at home and spent plenty of time outdoors gardening and playing with local children. Marie was also taught the importance of charity work and good deeds from a young age and often accompanied her mother on visits to nursing homes, hospitals and other organisations.
In the autumn of 1890, Marie Louise attended the wedding of her cousin Viktoria of Prussia, and it was there that she first met her future husband. Prince Aribert of Anhalt was the son of the Duke of Anhalt and served in the Prussian military. He was a close friend of Marie’s cousin the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II who was said to have encouraged the match. Marie quickly fell head over heels in love with Aribert, and the pair were wed at St George’s Chapel in Windsor in July 1891. “He was very tall and good-looking and a very striking personality, and I suppose, to a young girl of 18, he was the beau ideal of a cavalry officer. I have no hesitation in saying that I fell completely under his charms, – in other words, fell in love.” 1
Despite the initial love match, the marriage of Marie and Aribert was not a success. They spent a lot of time apart and grew to dislike each other as they had very little in common. Marie was isolated in their German Duchy when her husband was away with the military, and she had to follow strict rules and protocol which she was not used to, meaning she could not form close friendships. Marie herself wrote that her presence was not wanted at the family home and so she travelled as much as possible. On one such trip to Canada in 1900, Marie received a shocking telegram from Queen Victoria urging her to return home. “About an hour afterwards Lord Minto again knocked on my door and said, ‘Ma’am, I have a cable in code from the Queen in which she says “Tell my granddaughter to come home to me. V.R.” 2 Her husband had filed for divorce and had summoned her back to Dessau in a separate telegram, but Queen Victoria did not want her granddaughter to have to face the humiliation. “He had written that life with me as his companion was intolerable (I refrain from using the much stronger expression written by him), and he had, therefore, requested his father to exercise his sovereign right and declare the marriage null and void. In this extraordinary letter, he states that he was a young man and had the right to live his life in his own way, and at the end, he signed himself, “Your devoted and obedient son-in-law Aribert, Prince of Anhalt.” Truly, Germans have no sense of humour!” 3
Queen Victoria made sure that the divorce was quickly and quietly rushed through to preserve her granddaughter’s dignity. It is believed that Aribert and Marie’s marriage had never been consummated. Marie continued to wear her wedding ring after the divorce and never married again because she honoured the vow she had made to Aribert.
Marie lived a full and happy life after her separation; she travelled extensively, became a patron of the arts and threw herself into charitable work. Marie even became involved with the Cub Scouts. Despite this newfound freedom, Marie was always close to the royal family and famously attended four coronations in her time!
She died aged 84 after writing her gripping autobiography “My memories of six reigns”. The Princess was buried close to her childhood home in Windsor.
- Princess Marie Louise (née Princess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenberg), My Memories of Six Reigns p. 54-55
- Princess Marie Louise (née Princess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenberg), My Memories of Six Reigns p.89
- Princess Marie Louise (née Princess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenberg), My Memories of Six Reigns p. 90