Victoria Adelaide of Schleswig-Holstein was born at Grünholz Castle on 31 December 1885 as the daughter of Frederick Ferdinand, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and his wife Princess Karoline Mathilde of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg. She would be the eldest of six children and was followed by Alexandra Victoria (born 21 April 1887), Helena Adelaide (born 1 June 1888), Adelaide (born 19 October 1889), Wilhelm Friedrich (born 23 August 1891) and Karoline Mathilde (born 11 May 1894). Her mother was a younger sister of Augusta Victoria, the last German Empress.
Unfortunately, not much is known about her youth. At the age of 19, she was introduced to her future husband, Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, by her uncle Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany at a winter ball in Berlin. They apparently enjoyed spending time together and soon agreed to marry. In May 1905, the engaged couple travelled to England to visit Charles Edward’s uncle King Edward VII, and Charles Edward was appointed to be Colonel in Chief of the Seaforth Highlander Regiment. Charles Edward was the posthumous son of Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria, and was not initially meant to be the heir to the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. When fate changed, his mother commented bleakly, “I have always tried to bring Charlie up as a good Englishman, and now I have to turn him into a good German.”1 And a good German needs a good German wife.
They were married at Victoria Adelaide’s ancestral home of Schloss Glücksburg with the Emperor in attendance on 11 October 1905. Prince Arthur of Connaught represented the British royal family. The newlyweds would make a routine of spending December to April living in Gotha and May to November living in Coburg. They also had a hunting lodge in Reinhardsbrunn and mountain retreats Schloss Greinburg and Schloss Hinbterriss. They also made many trips to royal relatives in Germany and had yacht cruises from the harbour at Kiel. It was said to have been a happy marriage.2 Victoria Adelaide’s nickname in the family was “Dick.”3
Their first child, a son named Johann Leopold, was born on 2 August 1906, followed by Sibylla (born 18 January 1908), Hubertus (born 24 August 1909), Caroline Mathilde (born 22 June 1912) and Friedrich Josias (born 29 November 1918). As was usual, Victoria Adelaide left the raising of her children to nannies and governesses.
Victoria Adelaide, as opposed to her husband who preferred to socialise in his own circles, often walked through the towns and listened to the concerns of the people of the duchy. She soon appeared to know everyone personally.
The family often spoke English at home, and they spent several weeks a year in England. They were at Windsor and Edinburgh in 1907. In December 1908, they spent the holidays at Claremont House and then travelled to Sandringham to visit King Edward VII and to hunt pheasants. In 1910, they once again travelled to England to attend the funeral of King Edward VII and Victoria Adelaide’s husband marched behind the King’s coffin in the funeral procession. They returned in 1911 to visit Charles Edward’s mother and to participate in the coronation parade for the new King George V. In 1913, they visited Charles Edward’s mother again with their two eldest children.
By 1914, life as they knew it was coming to an end and they would soon find themselves on opposing sides of a world war. The family was in England because Charles Edward had been awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated in Sarajevo. Charles Edward, who was also a German Army officer, returned to Germany with his family on 9 July. The next four years would prove devastating for not only the family relations, but it would also prove to be the end of the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was forced to abdicate as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in November 1918, but he delayed it as Victoria Adelaide was pregnant and he feared his family would suffer the same fate as the Romanovs. He was eventually convinced when it was reported that the citizens had no ill will against the family. They were ultimately allowed to keep many properties and were able to preserve much of their wealth. Charles Edward was also deprived of his English titles in 1919.4
Despite no longer reigning, the family remained a political influence, and nationalistic views became very prominent in the following years. In October 1922, Victoria Adelaide and Charles Edward were the honoured guests at a gala dinner of the Deutscher Tag where Charles Edward also met Adolf Hitler. The couple became enthusiastic supporters of the Nazis in the following years. They were known to have anti-Semitic opinions and actively supported organisations whose aim it was to remove Jews from German society. By 1933, the swastika flag was flying over Veste Coburg. But while Charles Edward rose in the Nazi ranks, Victoria Adelaide became disillusioned with the Nazis and began to defy her husband. The Confessing Church, which she supported, was adamantly opposed to the killing of the handicapped in the euthanasia program. It is unclear if she knew of her relative being gassed at Schloss Hartheim in 1941.
After the Second World War, the Allies began a process called “denazification”, and many expected that Charles Edward, who had held high positions during the war, would be classed as a category 1 offender, which was considered the “most guilty.” Other categories were 2: heavily involved, 3: members, less involved, 4: fellow travellers, 5: non-members. Victoria Adelaide was called to testify against her husband, and she said that he had agreed with Hitler’s efforts to lead the German people out of their misery. He stayed loyal because he believed peace would eventually be achieved. He did not abandon Hitler even after the original goals had been compromised. The trial was eventually suspended because Charles Edward was diagnosed with a malignant tumour near his left eye, which required radiation therapy. This left his skin severely burned, and he often wore an eye patch after this. In 1948, he was finally classified as a category 3, and he was fined 2000 Reich marks. He was classified as a category 4 offender after his appeal. Victoria Adelaide later said in an interview that her husband had “stumbled over his own idealism.”
Disillusioned and ill, Charles Edward lived in seclusion at Coburg until his death on 6 March 1954. Victoria Adelaide and four of their children survived him. Prince Hubertus had been killed in 1943. Not much is known of Victoria Adelaide following the Second World War. She moved to Austria where she still owned Schloss Greinburg, and she died there on 3 October 1970.5
- For my grandchildren: some reminiscences of Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone p.84
- For my grandchildren: some reminiscences of Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone p.105
- For my grandchildren: some reminiscences of Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone p.xi
- The London Gazette
- Read more: Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg: the German Red Cross and the plan to kill “unfit” citizens 1933-1945 by Alan R Rushton