Queen Victoria’s half-brother Charles was born on 12 September 1804 as the son of Emich Carl, 2nd Prince of Leiningen and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Victoria herself married at the age of 17 to the widowed Emich Carl, 2nd Prince of Leiningen who was then 40 years old and had previously been married to Victoria’s aunt Henriette of Reuss-Ebersdorf. A daughter named Feodora followed in 1807.
Victoria spent most of her time with her lady-in-waiting, Baroness Späth. Her husband’s death in 1814 probably came as a relief to her and Victoria welcomed her newfound independence. Victoria adored her son, and she had initially not wished to remarry to the Duke of Kent as she might have lost the guardianship over Charles. She was eventually persuaded by her brother, who would later become King Leopold I of the Belgians. As his mother began her new adventure, Charles was away at school in Switzerland. His half-sister was born on 24 May 1819, and for his stepfather’s birthday in November, Charles wrote a congratulatory letter from Geneva. They would not see much of each other as the Duke of Kent died on 23 January 1820, and his mother was widowed once more. From 1821, Charles studied law at the University of Göttingen.
However, Charles was a grown man when he finally met his half-sister for the first time. In the summer of 1825, the family – including Charles and their mutual grandmother Augusta – travelled to Claremont. They celebrated the Duchess of Kent’s birthday there. Victoria and her half-brother were not close in her youth as he had allied himself with the much-hated Sir John Conroy – on whom he depended for money. On 13 February 1829, Charles married Maria von Klebelsberg who had been a lady-in-waiting to Prince Albert’s mother, Princess Louise. His family had not been amused by his choice for a bride. He moved with his new wife to Amorbach and began wildly expensive renovations, the money for which appeared to have come from the Duchess of Kent’s accounts. On 9 November 1830, Marie gave birth to their first child named Ernst Leopold – who would later succeed him as Prince of Leiningen. A second son named Eduard Friedrich was born in 1833.
For Charles, a regency by his mother over Victoria would prolong financial support, and so he turned on his half-sister, and she grew to hate him. She often railed against “the wickedness of the Prince of Leiningen and his friend S.J. (Sir John).” Baron Stockmar – an advisor to the then Princess Victoria – warned him to stop his bullying behaviour and that “treachery, lies and fraud” were not “the weapons of success.” Charles refused to back down and told his half-sister, “Do you think the native hails your reign with unparalleled joy, calls you their hope because you will be a Queen of eighteen years? Oh no! They expect that you will follow the path of your mother.” Praising John Conroy, he added that he had “worked hard many a year to create this enormous popularity for you.”
Charles was in London when his half-sister turned 18, and he, Victoria and their mother rode through the parks that afternoon. Despite her hatred for her half-brother, Victoria gave her brother the Order of the Garter upon her accession. Perhaps she had begun to thaw somewhat, and it appeared their relationship would improve over the years. Charles often visited – like in summer of 1848 when he joined Victoria, Albert and their two eldest children in Scotland. Charles was briefly named President of the Reich Ministery that same year.
In 1855, he suffered an apoplectic attack and a second attack the following year proved fatal. He died on 13 November 1856 with Feodora by his side. Victoria was pregnant with her final child and was also suffering from a bad cough and exhaustion. She was now also grieving the loss of her half-brother. Charles was succeeded by his eldest son as Prince of Leiningen.1