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Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh (25 November 1876 – 2 March 1936), was a member of the British Royal Family, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Victoria held the titles of Grand Duchess of Hesse (1894–1901) and Grand Duchess Viktoria Feodorovna of Russia.

Victoria scandalized the royal families of Europe with her divorce and remarriage in the early 20th century.

Early life

Victoria was born on 25 November 1876 in the San Antonio Palace in Maltamarker, hence her second name, Melita. Her father, who was stationed on the island as an officer in the Royal Navy, was Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second-eldest son of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort. Her mother was Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, a daughter of Alexander II of Russia and his first Empress Consort Marie of Hesse. As a grandchild of the British monarch, she was styled Her Royal Highness Princess Victoria of Edinburgh. To her family, she was always known as Ducky. At the time of her birth, she was tenth in the line of succession to the British throne.

"Ducky" had a difficult temperament, according to her elder sister Marie, Queen of Romania. When they were children, Victoria was shy, serious and sensitive and incapable of being dishonest or insincere, in the judgment of her sister. "This passionate child was often misunderstood," Marie of Romania wrote. Her mother raised the children to ignore illness and to be active physically. To help Victoria overcome her shyness, Marie forced the little girl to spend part of each afternoon walking around a circle of empty chairs, pretending to chat with invisible company under her mother's guidance. Her mother also insisted that the children eat anything put before them, no matter how awful it tasted.

Father becomes Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha

As a son of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Victoria's father was in the line of succession to the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Alfred became the heir apparent to the duchy, when his older brother and Victoria's uncle, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) renounced his succession rights. Subsequently, the family moved to Coburgmarker, Germany in 1889. Their pro-German mother immediately began attempting to Germanise her daughters by installing a new governess, buying them plain clothing, and having them confirmed in the German Lutheran church, even though they had previously been raised in the Anglican church. The children rebelled and some of the new restrictions were eased.

Romantic interests

The teenage Victoria was a "tall, dark girl, with violet eyes ... with the assuredness of an Empress and the high spirits of a tomboy," according to one observer. Victoria had "too little chin to be conventionally beautiful," in the opinion of one of her biographers, but "she had a good figure, deep blue eyes, and dark complexion." In 1891, Victoria travelled with her mother to the funeral of Grand Duchess Alexandra Georgievna of Russia, the wife of her mother's brother Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich. There Victoria met her first cousin Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich. Although the two were deeply attracted to each other, Victoria's mother was reluctant to allow her to marry him because the Russian Orthodox religion forbids the marriage of two first cousins. She was also suspicious of the morality of the Romanov men. When her teenage daughters were impressed by their handsome cousins, their mother told them, "Don't you know that the cousins who seem so charming were also kissing the maid behind the parlour door?"

Soon after her sister Marie was married to the Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, a search was made for a suitable husband for Victoria. Queen Victoria observed that Victoria had good relations with her cousin, Prince Ernest Louis of Hesse, heir to the grand ducal throne of Hessemarker and eldest son of Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine, Queen Victoria's second eldest daughter. Queen Victoria was very keen for her two grandchildren to marry. However both Victoria and Ernst were reluctant; Victoria had also met Kirill again in St Petersburgmarker and had fallen in love.

Grand Duchess of Hesse

Eventually, Victoria and Ernst bowed to their families' pressure and married on 9 April 1894 at Schloss Ehrenburg in Coburgmarker. The wedding was a large affair, with most of the royal families of Europe attending. Victoria was now titled The Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine. Her wedding is also significant since at the same time the official engagement of the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia to Ernst's younger sister, Alix, was proclaimed. Together Victoria and Ernst had two children, a daughter, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, whom they nicknamed Ella, born on 11 March 1895, and a stillborn son, born on 25 May 1900.

Victoria and Ernst's marriage was an unhappy affair. Victoria despaired of her husband's lack of affection towards her, while Ernst devoted much of his attention to their daughter, whom he adored. Elisabeth, who physically resembled her mother, preferred the company of her father to Victoria. Ernst and Victoria both enjoyed entertaining and frequently held house parties for young friends. Their unwritten rule was that anyone over thirty "was old and out." Formality was dispensed with and royal house guests were referred to by their nicknames and encouraged to do as they wished. Victoria and Ernst cultivated friends who were progressive artists and intellectuals as well as those who enjoyed fun and frolic. Victoria's cousin Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark remembered one stay there as "the jolliest, merriest house party to which I have ever been in my life." However, Victoria was less enthusiastic about fulfilling her public role. She avoided answering letters, put off visits to elderly relations whose company she didn't enjoy, and talked to people who amused her at official functions while ignoring people of higher standing she found boring. Victoria's inattention to her duties provoked fights with Ernst. The young couple had loud, physical fights. The volatile Victoria shouted, threw tea trays, smashed china against the wall, and tossed anything that was handy at Ernst during their battles. Victoria sought release in her love for horses and long gallops over the countryside on a hard-to-control stallion named Bogdan. While she was in Russia for the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II, Victoria's passion for Kirill was also rekindled. She enjoyed flirting with him at the balls and celebrations that marked the coronation.

Her marriage to Ernst suffered a further blow in 1897, when Victoria returned home from a visit to her sister Queen Marie of Romania and reportedly caught Ernst in bed with a male servant. She did not make her accusation public, but told a niece that, "no boy was safe, from the stable hands to the kitchen help. He slept quite openly with them all." Queen Victoria was saddened when she heard of the trouble in the marriage from Sir George Buchanan, her chargé d'affairs, but refused to consider permitting her grandchildren to divorce because of their daughter, Elisabeth. Efforts to rekindle the marriage failed and, when Queen Victoria died in January 1901, significant opposition to the end of the marriage was removed. The Supreme Court of Hesse dissolved the marriage on 21 December 1901. Ernst, who had at first resisted the divorce, came to believe it was the only possible step. "Now that I am calmer I see the absolute impossibility of going on leading a life which was killing her and driving me nearly mad," Ernst wrote to his elder sister Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg. "For to keep up your spirits and a laughing face while ruin is staring you in the eyes and misery is tearing your heart to pieces is a struggle which is fruitless. I only tried for her sake. If I had not loved her so, I would have given it up long ago." Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg, later wrote that she was less surprised by the divorce than Ernst was. "Though both had done their best to make a success of their marriage, it had been a failure," she wrote. "Their characters and temperaments were quite unsuited to each other and I had noticed how they were gradually drifting apart. The divorce of the reigning Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Hesse caused scandal in the royal circles of Europe. Tsar Nicholas wrote to his mother that even death would have been better than "the general disgrace of a divorce."

After her divorce, Victoria went to live with her mother at her house in the French Rivieramarker. She and Ernst shared custody of Elisabeth, who spent six months of each year with each parent. Elisabeth blamed Ducky for the divorce and Ducky had a difficult time reconnecting with her daughter. Ernst wrote in his memoirs that Elisabeth hid under a sofa, crying, before one visit to her mother. Ernst assured the child that her mother loved her too. Elisabeth responded, "Mama says she loves me, but you do love me." Ernst remained silent and didn't correct the child's impression. Elisabeth died at age eight and a half of typhoid fever during a November 1903 visit to Tsar Nicholas II and his family at their Polish hunting lodge. The doctor advised the Tsar's family to notify the child's mother of her illness, but the Tsarina delayed in sending a telegram. Victoria received the final telegram notifying her of the child's death just as she was preparing to travel to Poland to be at her bedside. At Elisabeth's funeral, Victoria removed her Hessian Order, a medallion, and placed it on her daughter's coffin as a final gesture "that she had made a final break with her old home." Her action was criticized by observer Count von Bülow as "melodramatic" and showing bad taste.

Weeks after the child's funeral, Victoria was infuriated by the Tsar's refusal to permit her younger sister Beatrice, who was known in the family as "Baby Bee," to marry her first cousin, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia. The Tsar's sister Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia wrote in her diary on 21 December 1903 that she had received a "terrible" letter from Victoria in which Victoria made accusations of "ugly and dishonourable" behaviour and, Xenia felt, falsely claimed that Beatrice never hoped to marry Michael. Beatrice cried, lost weight and became so sick that she had to be sent on a trip to Egypt to recover.


After Victoria's divorce from Ernst, Ernst's sister, Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, persuaded her husband, Nicholas II, to exile Kirill to the Far East. Kirill's parents, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, also tried to discourage the relationship. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna told Kirill to keep Victoria as his mistress and marry someone else. Later in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, Kirill survived an attack on the Russian fleet, and returned to Moscowmarker a war hero. The Tsar finally allowed him permission to leave Russia and he left for Coburgmarker to be with Victoria. The narrow escape from death had hardened Kirill's determination to marry Victoria. "To those over whom the shadow of death has passed, life has a new meaning," Kirill wrote in his memoirs. "It is like daylight. And I was now within visible reach of fulfilment of the dream of my life. Nothing would cheat me of it now. I had gone through much. Now, at last, the future lay radiant before me."

The couple married on 8 October 1905 in Tegernseemarker. It was a simple ceremony, with Victoria's mother, her sister Beatrice, and a friend, Count Adlerburg, in attendance, along with servants. The couple's uncle Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia was invited, without being told the reason, but did not arrive until after the ceremony. Tsar Nicholas II responded to the marriage by stripping Kirill of his royal allowances and expelled him from the Russian navy. The Tsarina was outraged and said she would never receive Victoria, "a woman who had behaved so disgracefully," or Kirill. The couple retired to Parismarker, where they purchased a house off the Champs-Élyséesmarker and lived off the income provided by their parents.

Victoria, who had matured as she entered her thirties decided to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1907, a decision that thrilled both her mother and her husband. Victoria's first child with Kirill, Maria Kirillovna, was born in 1907. She was named after her grandmother and nicknamed "Masha." Their second daughter, Kira Kirillovna, was born in 1909. Victoria and Kirill, who had hoped for a son, were disappointed to have a girl, but named their daughter after her father.

Grand Duchess of Russia

Nicholas II was forced to reinstate Kirill after deaths in the Russian royal family had promoted Kirill to third in the line of succession to the Russian throne. Kirill and Victoria were brought back to Russia, with Victoria granted the title of Grand Duchess of Russia. Victoria enjoyed entertaining at evening dinners and lavish balls attended by the cream of Saint Petersburg society. Victoria had an artistic talent that she applied to home decoration. According to her sister, Queen Marie of Romania, she arranged her home attractively and amassed a large collection of jade that was beautifully arranged. She also enjoyed painting dramatic portraits of friends, such as the one she painted of Meriel Buchanan "kneeling by a stone sarcophagus covered with white roses" or posed in front of black draperies with her face hidden in her arms. "Ducky had perfect taste and a passion for arranging her rooms in a rather unusual and uncommon way," wrote her sister Marie of Romania. They also had a close relationship with their daughters, Maria and Kira. Their aunt Queen Marie of Romania wrote that the two girls were "two splendid children, well-grown, solid, with lovely hair and perfect skin and as superlatively groomed as English ponies."


When World War I struck, Victoria worked as a Red Crossmarker nurse and organized a motorized ambulance unit that was called "one of the most efficiently run services in Russia." Kirill and Victoria had always shared their relatives' distaste for the Tsar and Tsarina's friendship with the starets Grigori Rasputin. The Tsarina believed Rasputin healed her son of his haemophiliac attacks with his prayers. Victoria told her sister, Queen Marie of Romania, that the Tsar's court was "looked upon as a sick man refusing every doctor and every help."

When Rasputin was murdered in December 1916, Victoria and Kirill signed a letter along with other relatives asking the Tsar to show leniency to Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia, one of those implicated in the murder. The Tsar denied their request. Weeks later, the Tsar abdicated and the country exploded into pandemonium. Kirill led his naval unit to the Duma on 14 March 1917 and swore his loyalty to the Duma, hoping to restore order and preserve the monarchy. It was an action which provoked criticism from other members of the family, who viewed it as treason. Victoria supported her husband and felt he was doing the right thing. She also sympathized with the people who wanted to reform the government. Victoria wrote to Queen Marie of Romania in February 1917 that their home was surrounded by a mob, "yet heart and soul we are with this movement of freedom which at the time probably signs our own death warrant ... We personally are losing all, our lives changed at one blow and yet we are almost leading the movement."


Their hopes failed and they were forced to flee to Finlandmarker, then Coburg, Germanymarker. The Provisional Government permitted them to leave, though they were not allowed to take anything of value with them. They sewed jewels into the family's clothing, hoping it would not be discovered by the authorities. They were permitted to board a train without incident. Their daughter, Kira, who was eight at the time, recalled that "for the first time there were no royal trappings .... i.e. red carpets, special comforts, etc."

In August 1917, at Haiko, a friend's country estate in Finland, the forty-year-old Victoria gave birth to Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich of Russia, her only son and the heir to the dynasty. The family remained in Finland, a former Grand Duchy under Russian rule, which had declared its independence in December 1917. They hoped that the White Russians would prevail. They gradually ran out of supplies and had to beg for help from family. In July 1918, Victoria wrote her first cousin, Margaret, the Crown Princess of Swedenmarker, begging her to send baby food so she could feed Vladimir. She was alienated from England because she felt her English relatives had not done enough to help the Romanovs.

She pleaded with her cousin, George V, to help the White Russians retake the country. The British did help the White Russian side, the King responded, but ships were too scarce and there didn't appear to be united action among the Russians against the Bolsheviks. Therefore, Great Britain didn't support a military action against St Petersburg at a time when it might have been possible to crush the Bolsheviks. In a letter to the King, Lord Acton, the British ambassador in Helsinki, noted the toll the revolution had taken on Victoria. She "looked aged and battered and has lost much of her beauty, which is not astonishing considering all that she has gone through,".

The exiled family moved to Coburgmarker and then to Saint-Briac in France where they stayed for the rest of their lives. While in Germany, Victoria had shown an interest in the Nazi Party, which appealed to her because of its anti-Bolshevik stance and her hope that the movement might help restore the Russian monarchy. She and Kirill attended a Nazi rally in Coburg in 1922 and Victoria donated money to the party. She was likely unaware of the most sinister aspects of the Nazi Party. Kirill suffered a nervous breakdown in 1923 and Victoria nursed him back to health. She encouraged his dreams of restoring the monarchy in Russia and becoming Tsar. At Saint-Briac, Kirill officially declared himself the Guardian of the Throne in 1924. Victoria went on a trip to the United States in 1924, hoping to raise American support for restoring the monarchy. Her attempt did not meet with success, due to the isolationism prevalent in the United States during the 1920s. She continued in her efforts to help Kirill restore the monarchy and also sold her artwork to raise money for the household. Kira wrote to Marie of Romania of her mother's hard work:

Last years

the mid 1920s Victoria was worried over the marriage prospects of her two daughters. Blonde, blue-eyed Maria, her elder daughter, took after her maternal grandmother in appearance, with a wide, round face and a tendency to be overweight and to look older than her actual age when she was still a teenager. She was described as "shy and easy-going" but also had her share of mishaps. In 1924, when she was seventeen, the "flighty" Maria visited her aunt Queen Marie of Romania and carried on a flirtation with the son-in-law of a lady-in-waiting at the Romanian court. Her fifteen-year-old cousin, Princess Ileana of Romania, spread rumours about the flirtation when Maria returned home, resulting in strained relations between Marie of Romania and Victoria. Eventually the conflict was smoothed over. The following year, Maria was engaged to a relatively minor prince, Friedrich Karl, the Hereditary Prince of Leiningen. Victoria was at her daughter's bedside when she gave birth to her first child, Emich Kirill, in 1926. She also attended the subsequent births of Maria's children.

Dark-haired Kira, high-spirited and straightforward, had a somewhat more even temperament than her older sister. She was intelligent, curious, and interested in the arts like her mother, with whom she worked in the art studio at Saint-Briac. Kira also frequently visited her cousins at various Royal courts or attended house parties in the United Kingdom. She became far closer to her cousin Ileana than her sister Maria had. Kira also had more difficulty finding a suitable husband than Maria did, which caused Victoria concern. As he grew up, Vladimir, her only son, bore a strong resemblance to his great-grandfather Tsar Alexander II. Victoria was exceedingly protective of Vladimir, upon whom her hopes for the future rested. She wouldn't let him attend school because she was worried about his safety and because she wanted him to be brought up as Romanov Grand Dukes were prior to the revolution. Instead, she hired a tutor for him. She also refused to let him be educated for a future career. In return for her devotion, Vladimir loved and respected his mother. "We adored our parents and their love for us was infinite," Vladimir wrote after their deaths. "All the hardships and bitterness we had to endure in the years were fully covered by our mutual love. We were proud of (them.)"

Grand Duchess Victoria with her husband and their two youngest children Kira and Vladimir, Saint-Briac, 1935.
The resort town of Saint-Briac was a favourite retirement spot for retired British citizens who wanted to live well on a limited income. Victoria made friends among the Britons as well as the French and other foreign residents of the town, who enjoyed associating with a Royal. Though at first her manner could seem haughty, residents soon discovered that Victoria was more approachable than her husband. Their friends treated them with deference, curtsying or calling them by their Royal titles. Victoria enjoyed organizing amateur theatrical productions, among them a performance of Sleeping Beauty with the help of a Russian ballet teacher who lived in a neighbouring community. However, it was rumoured in town that Kirill went to Paris "for the occasional fling." Victoria, who had devoted her life to Kirill, was devastated when she discovered in 1933 that her husband had been unfaithful to her, according to her sister Marie of Romania's letters. She kept up a façade for the sake of her children, including her teenage son Vladimir, but was unable to forgive Kirill's betrayal. Victoria suffered a stroke soon after attending the christening of her fifth grandchild, Mechtilde, in February 1936. Family and friends arrived, but nothing could be done. When her closest sister, Marie of Romania, reached her bedside, Victoria was asked if she was glad Marie had come. Victoria haltingly said, "It makes all the difference." However, she "shuddered away from Kirill's touch," wrote Marie of Romania. She died on 1 March 1936. Her sister Marie of Romania eulogized her sister in a letter after her death:

Victoria was buried in the family mausoleum in Coburg, Germanymarker until her remains were transferred to the Peter and Paul Fortressmarker on 7 March 1995. Her husband was intensely lonely after her death. The marriage of their daughter, Kira, to Louis Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia, in 1938 was a bright spot for Kirill, who saw it as the joining of two dynasties. However, Kirill died just two years after his wife. Kirill, though he had been unfaithful, still loved and missed the wife he had depended so much upon and passed his remaining years writing memoirs of their life together. "There are few who in one person combine all that is best in soul, mind, and body," he wrote. "She had it all, and more. Few there are who are fortunate in having such a woman as the partner of their lives -- I was one of those privileged."

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Grand Duchess Viktoria's arms until 1917

Titles and styles

  • 25 November 1876 – 22 August 1893: Her Royal Highness Princess Victoria of Edinburgh
  • 9 April 1894 – 21 December 1901: Her Royal Highness The Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine
  • 21 December 1901 – 1908: Her Royal Highness Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
  • 1908 – 2 March 1936: Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna of Russia

British arms

As a male-line grandchild of the British monarch, Victoria Melita bore the royal arms, with an inescutcheon for Saxony, the whole differenced by a label argent of five points, the outer pair bearing hearts gules, the inner pair anchors azure, and the central point a cross gules. In 1917, the inescutcheon was dropped by royal warrant. Her arms from that point on are duplicated in the arms of Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy.



  • Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra: Their Own Story, Doubleday, 1997, ISBN 0-385-48673-1
  • John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov, The Flight of the Romanovs, Basic Books, 1999, ISBN 0-465-024620-9
  • Michael John Sullivan, A Fatal Passion: The Story of the Uncrowned Last Empress of Russia, Random House, 1997, ISBN 0-679-42400-8
  • John Van der Kiste, Princess Victoria Melita, Sutton Publishing, 1991, ISBN 0-7509-3469-7
  • Charlotte Zeepvat, The Camera and the Tsars: A Romanov Family Album, Sutton Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0-7509-3049-7
  • Victoria Melita of Edinburg, by Jesus Ibarra

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