The daughter of our Scotch duke will become a sovereign princess. Her future Kingdom, it is true, is scarcely as extensive as is one of her brother’s estates, but, nevertheless, the Principality has maintained its independence for many centuries. The fair and amiable Lady Hamilton is the Emperor’s cousin.1
Lady Mary Victoria Douglas-Hamilton was born on 11 December 1850 as the daughter of William Hamilton, 11th Duke of Hamilton and his wife, Princess Marie Amelie of Baden.
Maria Caroline, the dowager Princess of Monaco, was most keen to see her grandson, Albert, the Hereditary Prince of Monaco, marry into the British royal family. When this turned out to be an impossible dream, she turned to Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, who suggested another option – his second cousin Lady Mary Victoria. This was an offer she could not refuse. Albert was less enthusiastic and promptly sailed off on a yacht for a three-month cruise. Lady Mary Victoria was also less than amused at the prospect, and they hadn’t even met yet. When Albert returned home, a marriage contract was drawn up.
On 21 September 1869, the wedding took place at the private chapel at the Château Marchais. The Emperor and Empress of the French were supposed to attend, but the Emperor had fallen ill. Their wedding gifts more than made up for their absence; Lady Mary Victoria received an emerald and brilliant bracelet, a diamond thistle brooch and a suite of sapphires. She wore a white satin gown, designed by Worth, with a white tulle veil and a 16-feet-long train. She wore a pearl tiara. Over the course of the day, she would change three times. During the signing of the marriage contract, she wore pink poult-de-soie with a demi-train and a pouf just below the waist. After the ceremony, she wore a blue gown trimmed with velvet. Albert soon found he had little in common with his glamorous wife and he wrote he found her, “sadly deficient in even the most basic of common knowledge.”
After attending the Paris Autumn Races, they went on a honeymoon to Baden-Baden in the black forest. They arrived in foul weather and as a war between France and Prussia lay looming. Mary Victoria discovered she was pregnant and was soon in bed with severe morning sickness. They returned to Monaco in even worse weather and to a Palace in mourning for Albert’s uncle, Wilhelm, 1st Duke of Urach. His devastated aunt Florestine dominated the princely palace to the horror of her mother, Maria Caroline. In January 1870, Mary Victoria’s mother planned to return to Baden-Baden, and Mary Victoria wanted to go with her. Albert was almost glad to see her go, and he refused to accompany her. Maria Caroline did see the danger ahead and wrote to Mary Victoria, “My dear Mary, my grandson’s grief has so saddened me that I’m writing directly to you to make an appeal to your heart. Can you not forgive Albert for what you reproach him with [not being attentive enough]? The tender love you have aroused in him will give him the strength to change his ways, he has assured me, and to do all he can to make you happy… I’m sure that for your part, my dear Mary, you must feel that a wife is the link of her family…” Mary Victoria wrote back, “My dear grandmother. I was greatly touched by your letter, and I thank you for all its affection for me. The best memory I have of the recent sad time is the kindness you showed towards me. I am most grateful for this memory, which eases the bitterness of the weeks I spent at Monaco…” Saying no more, Mary Victoria continued her travels towards Baden-Baden. On 12 July 1870, she gave birth to a son who was christened Louis-Honoré-Charles-Antoine. Albert did not go to see his son and instead signed up with the French Navy as the war was declared.
For five years, Albert and Mary Victoria did not have any contact though she did write to Maria Caroline. Mary Victoria had fallen passionately in love with a dashing Hungarian Count named Tassilo Festetics de Tolna. She refused to see her husband and applied to the Vatican for an annulment of their marriage. Albert, though shocked, agreed to this but it would take another four years before all the financials matters were settled. Their son was also a future Prince of Monaco and Albert insisted that he should be educated in France. On 28 July 1880, the Vatican finally annulled their marriage while declaring their son legitimate. Mary Victoria had already moved on and had married her count in June, despite going against church law. She was already carrying his child. They would go on to have four children: Mária (born 1881), Georg (born 1882), Alexandra (born 1884) and Karola-Friederika (born 1888).
They spent part of the year on her husband’s estates in Hungary and also often visited France. On 21 June 1911, her husband was made a Prince with the style Serene Highness by Emperor Franz-Joseph I of Austria – making Mary Victoria a Princess once more.
Albert and his son were never close. Albert’s great-grandson Baron Christian de Massy later said, “Albert despised Louis… He poured upon him all of the ill-feeling he had for Lady Douglas-Hamilton, whom he never forgave for the humiliation she had caused him by fleeing in the middle of the night, nor for his doubts about his son’s origins. The fact that Louis did not in the least resemble Albert had never helped.”
Mary Victoria died on 14 May 1922 at the age 71, and she was buried in the family mausoleum on the Festetics Palace estate. Her son would succeed as Prince of Monaco just one month later.2