Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was born on 8 May 1878 as the daughter of Adolf Friedrich V, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Princess Elisabeth of Anhalt. She was their eldest daughter, and she had a younger sister named Jutta and two younger brothers named Adolphus Frederick (who would later succeed their father) and Karl Borwin. She and Jutta were raised by governesses, and she had little contact with her parents. They were very ignorant of how the world worked and when she was told of the birth of Prince of Edward of York (later King Edward VIII), she thought it very odd that Mary (his mother) should have a baby.
Probably because of her ignorance of the world, her youth became marked by a scandal. She became pregnant by a palace servant named Hecht, who was responsible for turning off the gas lights in her bedroom and those of her siblings. It was only brought to her mother’s attention when Marie was about to have the baby. The story quickly spread around the royal courts of Europe after Hecht consulted a lawyer because of his dismissal.
Marie’s parents refused to have anything to do with her and insisted on her being sent away. Even Queen Victoria had an opinion, “It is too awful & shameful & almost sinful to send the poor Baby away. I hear fm (sic) a reliable source that the family have forbidden that poor unhappy girl’s name ever being mentioned in the family… I think it is too wicked.” Marie’s grandmother Augusta (born Augusta of Cambridge – a granddaughter of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz) believed she had been terrorised by Hecht or even drugged or hypnotised. The Duchess of York, the future Queen Mary, who also happened to be Marie’s cousin, supported Marie by publicly appearing with her, driving around. Her husband, the future King George V, later wrote, “I certainly think the English relations have behaved better & are more sensible about it all. The parents are the worst and ought to be ashamed of themselves.”1
A daughter was born to Marie in 1898, and she was raised under the protection of her grandmother Augusta.
On 22 June 1899, Marie married a Frenchman, Comte Jametel, but her parents refused to attend her wedding. Her father did settle $200,000 on her, and they lived off the interest in Paris. They went on to have two children George and Marie Auguste, but the marriage was unhappy. It soon became apparent that he had only married her for her money and went on to have a very public affair with Infanta Eulalia of Spain, a daughter of Isabella II of Spain.
Marie sought to divorce her husband in 1908 and paid for it with nearly her entire fortune. Her younger brother Karl Borwin challenged Comte Jametel to a duel in defence of her honour, and Karl Borwin was killed.
She remarried to Prince Julius Ernst of Lippe on 11 August 1914, and this marriage was much happier, and they too had two children together: Elisabeth and Ernst August. Julius Ernst was the uncle of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands – the consort of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands and she and her husband were among the guests at their wedding.
She died on 14 October 1948 of pneumonia.