Princess Marie of the Netherlands was born on 5 July 1841 as the daughter of Prince Frederick of the Netherlands, second son of King William I of the Netherlands, and his wife and first cousin Princess Louise of Prussia. She was born on her parents’ estate of Huize (House) De Paauw in Wassenaar near The Hague. She would be the youngest of their four children. Her elder siblings were Louise (born 1828), William (born 1833 – died in infancy) and Frederick (born 1836 – died in childhood).
Marie was known as Mené in the family. The two sisters were taught French, German and a little bit of English and Russian. They also practised their painting, needlework and maths. They were given instruction in music by the director of the The Hague music school.1 Frederick had been unhappy with the way his nephews were being raised and was looking for a more conservative tutor for his own son. He found one in Major Ernest van Löben Sels.2 Marie’s first governess was her sister’s former English teacher Maayke Petronella à Lavoine, followed by Jacoba Cecilia van Door, the daughter of the court marshall. Tragedy struck in 1846 when the 10-year-old Frederick fell during a gymnastic exercise. He died ten days later.
Sophie of Württemberg, wife of the future King William III, wrote, “I am deeply saddened. The poor Prince Frederick has lost his only son. He died this morning after being ill for over a week, ten years old. With him, the future of the Prince is destroyed – everything he has gained, built, the ties with this country – everything is gone. He is desperate. She is very controlled, I would say – cold. But I think she is hiding her grief. During the illness of his son, Prince Frederick aged a lot, that’s how much it affected him. The child was the apple of his eye, not very sweet but still intelligent and promising. Saturday. After writing the above, yesterday, I went to see Prince Frederick and his wife. They took me to the little body. I had never seen a dead child before, it is awful. […] Frederick sobbed like a little child and said, ‘There is all my love, it is over now.'”3 The devastated parents kept the boy’s room as it was.
In 1850, Louise married the future King Charles XV of Sweden, leaving Marie as the only child at home. She had been just four years old when Frederick died and only 9 when her sister married. She essentially grew up as an only child. Marie was diagnosed with profound hearing loss from an early age, but she was known to be especially cheery and happy. Shortly after her confirmation in 1858, her parents began looking for a husband for her. Several candidates were considered, such as Frederick Francis II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who was widowed in 1862 and Prince Albert of Prussia – her first cousin through Princess Marianne of the Netherlands. She was even briefly considered for the future King Edward VII before being vetoed as “too plain” by Queen Victoria.4 In any case, none of those matches went anywhere. Despite her enormous wealth which would have made her an attractive bride, Marie was not known to be beautiful, and Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter described her as an “ugly monkey”5, though she liked her.6 Marie spent the following years travelling around with her mother to various spas.
In the summer of 1869, Marie received an offer of marriage from William, Prince of Wied. She was by then 28 years old, and he was four years younger. William no longer had any actual land to rule, as his principality of Wied had been annexed by Prussia. There were soon rumours that Marie’s father thought very little of his future son-in-law as he hoped for a Crown Prince for Marie as well. William was distantly related to the Dutch royal family (as a descendant of Carolina of Orange-Nassau), and his uncle would eventually succeed King William III of the Netherlands as Grand Duke of Luxembourg.
The engagement was celebrated on 8 December 1869, followed by the approval of parliament on 20 December. The actual wedding was postponed twice – once by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War as William was a serving officer in the Prussian army – and the second time by the deaths of Marie’s mother and sister. They were finally married on 18 July 1871 in Wassenaar in the village church. Reports of the wedding tell us that the preacher – invited for a brief wedding speech – launched into an endless sermon with Marie becoming paler and paler as it went on. The wedding breakfast took place on her father’s estate, followed by a reception. Marie proudly showed off her dress, and the many jewels she was wearing. By eight in the evening, the situation became a bit awkward as – per protocol – the King should be the first to leave. However, Queen Sophie had left first, and William had to wait for the carriage to return to pick him up. Nevertheless, it had been a grand wedding.
- Prins Frederik der Nederlanden 1797-1881. Gentleman naast de troon by Anton van de Sande p.54
- Prins Frederik der Nederlanden 1797-1881. Gentleman naast de troon by Anton van de Sande p.55
- Prins Frederik der Nederlanden 1797-1881. Gentleman naast de troon by Anton van de Sande p.56
- Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion by Helen Rappaport p.23
- Dearest Mama edited by Roger Fulford p.181
- Dearest Mama edited by Roger Fulford p.184