Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Marriage of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Princess Ingrid of Sweden.

All images  Marlene A. Eilers Koenig collection

Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, the heir to the Danish throne, married Princess Ingrid of Sweden, only daughter of Crown Prince Gustav Adolf Sweden and his first wife, the late Princess Margaret of Connaught, were married today - May 24, 1935, at the Stockholm Cathedral.

Frederik IX (1899-1972) succeeded his father, King Christian X in April 1947.  He and Queen Ingrid (1910-2000)) had three daughters, Queen Margrethe II (1940), Princess Benedikte (1944), and Queen Anne Marie of the Hellenes (1946). 

Ingrid's father succeeded to the Swedish throne in 1950 as King Gustav VI Adolf.  He died in 1973 and was succeeded by his grandson, King Carl XVI Gustaf.





engagement announced on March 25, 1935






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THE MARRIAGE OF VICTORIA LUISE OF PRUSSIA AND PRINCE ERNST AUGUST OF HANOVER



All images from the Marlene A Eilers Koenig collection



Although one newspaper described the marriage of Princess Victoria Luise of Prussia to Prince Ernst August of Hanover as "an affair of the first magnitude, "  Kaiser Wilhelm II considered his only daughter's marriage to be a private family affair.  The wedding, which took place in Berlin on May 24, 1913, was not a grand dynastic alliance, but a love match that piqued the media's interest on both sides of the Atlantic. For more than a week, The New York Times paid special attention to the Prussian-Hanover nuptials including front-page coverage of the wedding, and a major profile in the previous Sunday's magazine.  The New York Times' Berlin correspondent was one of several English-language journalists who were invited to the gala events that preceded the wedding, and the wedding, as well.

The marriage was an important event on several levels.  The bride was the Kaiser's only daughter, and she was marrying the son of a royal house that was largely swindled out of its kingdom due to Prussian dominance.  It was a marriage of the heart, and a turning point for the House of Hohenzollern, a moment frozen in time when the German Emperor, the British King, and the Russian Czar were together for one last time.  Although no one would have considered it possible at the time, this royal wedding was a swan song of pre-war European royalty. Thirteen months later, Europe was at war; and by November 1918, Germany would suffer defeat, and Kaiser Wilhelm II would spend his final years in exile in the Netherlands; revolution would sweep through Germany and Russia, and in July 1918, Nicholas II and his family would be murdered by Bolshevik thugs.  Of the three, only George V would retain his throne, although, he, too, would wonder how long the House of Windsor (as named by the king in 1917) would reign.



In its coverage of the Imperial wedding, The New York Times noted that Nicholas' visit to Berlin "has aroused little real public enthusiasm as that of the King and Queen of England. The police are having their own troubles in guaranteeing the safety of so many exalted foreign crown heads. In the case of the Czar, they are on the lookout for bomb-throwing Anarchists.  In the case of King George and Queen Mary the Kaiser's sleuths are watching for bomb-throwing suffragettes. "

But in May 1913, the talk was not of war, but of the wedding of a lovely princess and her handsome prince.  Hardly a private family affair.  King George V and Nicholas II were first cousins, as their mothers were sisters; and, as George and Wilhelm II were grandchildren of Queen Victoria, they, too, were first cousins.  But one must not forget the fact that the bridegroom was also a first cousin of the British and Russian sovereigns.  Ernst August's mother, Princess Thyra, was the younger sister of Queen Alexandra and Empress Marie of Russia.

Born in May 1892, Victoria Luise was her father's favorite child.  According to one of the Kaiser's more recent biographers, Victoria Luise "had a happier relationship with the Kaiser. Unlike her brothers, none of whom were in any way remarkable, Victoria Luise matured into an attractive and likable woman.  Wilhelm adored her, a love that she fully reciprocated, and the crown prince [Wilhelm] noted with envy that of his siblings, she alone was close to her father ."
As the only daughter of the German Emperor, Victoria Luise was one of the most eligible young princesses in Europe.  She was fair, slender, attractive, and adored by her father's subjects, many of whom called her "Our little Princess."

Because she was the only daughter of the Kaiser, Victoria Luise had been expected to marry for dynastic purposes.  No one, not even the princess herself, assumed that she would marry for love. In 1911, she accompanied her parents to England for an official state visit, and, she charmed everyone she met.  At a ball, she danced with George V; and, according to her mother, Victoria Luise was "highly thought of by everybody."  There were rumors of engagements, which, according to the princess, "fortunately were not true."

Victoria Luise was Protestant, and thus, a possible bride for the Prince of Wales.  At least that was the rumor making the rounds during the state visit.  But George V's eldest son was only 17 years old and Victoria Luise, nearly 20. In her memoirs, Victoria Luise described the future Duke of Windsor as "nice, but he looked so terribly young ." 

The rumor was not confined to the British media.  The British-born Princess of Pless had received a letter from her sister-in-law, Lulu, the Princess of Solms-Baruth.  "Do you go to England for the Coronation?... Do you believe the Prince of Wales is to marry our Princess? He is so young; but they hint at it in the papers. I don't believe it.... "


The Daily Express also considered Victoria Luise's prospect for marriage. "Certainly her marriage would be one of the most important events imaginable, fraught with tremendous consequences for the whole of Europe.  One thing is certain and that is that the Kaiser would have some weighty words to say on the subject...."

As it turned out, Wilhelm II had little to say about his daughter's marriage.   She fell in love with a very handsome German prince, and she never considered any other suitor.

There was one major problem:  the prince - Ernst August - was a scion of the House of Hanover; and, it was an understatement to say that the families loathed each other. A better description: a royal Hatfields vs the McCoys.  The Hanovers had good reason to hate the Prussians. In 1866, Prussia had annexed the kingdom of Hanover due to the latter's support of Austria in the Diet of the German Confederation.  Prussia's Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, furious with the Hanoverian monarch's defiance, insisted that Hanover remain neutral in Prussia's war with Austria.  An impossible demand.  King Georg V of Hanover had no choice but to acquiesce.  Prussian troops moved into his kingdom, and he and his family were forced into exile.


Thus, it seemed improbable that a member of the Hanoverian royal family would meet, fall in love with, and marry the daughter of the German emperor.  It was an extraordinary circumstance and a tragedy that led to the first meeting between the princess, known in the family as Sissy, and Prince Ernst August, who was the youngest son of the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland.  The duke was the only son of the last king of Hanover, Georg V.

On May 20, 1912, Ernst August's older brother, Prince Georg Wilhelm, was killed in an auto accident.  The young prince was driving to Denmark to attend the funeral of his uncle, King Frederik VIII, when his car ran off the road, and hit a tree.  The impact killed both the prince and his valet.  Georg Wilhelm's skull was fractured when his head hit the steering wheel.

The accident occurred near Nackel, a small village less than 50 miles from Berlin. The Prince had died in Prussia. The New York Times acknowledged that his death would "likely have the effect of putting an end to the long-standing quarrel between the Duke [of Cumberland] and the Emperor."   A rather prescient statement, although the newspaper (or others, for that matter) would not have known that the quarrel ended with a marriage.

Never one to stand silent, Wilhelm II made the most of the situation by sending two of his sons, Princes Eitel-Friedrich and August Wilhelm, and a guard of Hussars to form an honor guard at the dead prince's bier.  Wilhelm also offered his condolences to the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland, having sent them a private telegram to their home in Gmunden, Austria.

Victoria Luise would later describe Georg Wilhelm's death on Prussian soil as "a remarkable caprice of fortune ."   After the Kaiser's telegram had arrived at Gmunden, the Duke of Cumberland's son-in-law, Prince Max of Baden, telephoned the Kaiser and asked if the Duke's son, Prince Ernst August, could come to Berlin to offer his parents' thanks for the Kaiser's actions and concern after Prince Georg Wilhelm's death.

It was the first meeting between the two families in nearly 50 years. Prince Ernst August arrived with Prince Max (married to Ernst August's sister, Marie Louise) in time for tea.  Ernst August was, according to Victoria Luise, "very quiet and aloof," until the Princess, learning that Ernst August, 25, was a Lieutenant in the Bavarian 1st Heavy Cavalry Regiment, asked her parents if she could show her "beautiful thoroughbreds" to the prince.  "The ice had melted... the conversation became light-hearted and the tea a cheerful affair ." 

The impression Ernst August made was a favorable one.  He "looked splendid, and had a distinguished appearance."  It was, for Victoria Luise, a "unanimous verdict," as her mother also liked the Hanoverian heir.  She thought he had a "sympathetic nature," and noted that "his beautiful eyes were so much like his mother's."

"For me, it was love at first sight. Suddenly, I was all fire and flame," Victoria Luise would write in her memoirs, The Kaiser's Daughter.  Her mother was certainly aware of Sissy's feelings, noting in her diary that the prince "certainly made an impression on my child from the first.  God knows whether it will ever come to anything ."

There would be problems, largely due to the uncomfortable history between the two families. The Kaiser was aware of his daughter's feelings for Prince Ernst August, but he was not convinced that the Duke of Cumberland would look favorably toward marriage between their children.  Wilhelm adored Sissy, and her happiness was a paramount issue.  He made arrangements to meet with Prince Max of Baden, who offered to act as an intermediary between the two families. Max and his wife, Marie Louise, spoke with her parents, offering support to both families in what could have become a difficult situation.  No one knew how the Duke of Cumberland would react to a marriage between his son and Wilhelm II's daughter.  Even more important, at least for the love-struck princess, was not knowing how Ernst August felt about her.  Since their meeting in Berlin, the prince and princess had not been in contact.

The negotiations were fraught with difficulty. The main sticking point remained the question of Hanover because the Duke of Cumberland refused to renounce his claim to the Hanoverian throne.  This was a sensitive issue for Ernst August's father.  He was justifiably proud of his heritage, including his position as a member of the British royal family, although he and his children had no real roles at the British court.

In January 1913, Prince Max returned to Potsdam to meet with the Kaiser.  His news was not good.  The Duke of Cumberland remained obstinate; he would not renounce his claim. Victoria Luise "remained very calm and brave," when she heard what Prince Max had to say.  Any despair she felt, she kept to herself.

She was not about to give up, and she took her sister-in-law, Crown Princess Cecilie, into her confidence.  Cecilie's brother, the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, just happened to be married to one of Ernst August's sister, Alexandra.  Here was another important relationship between the two families.  Cecilie could speak to her brother and sister-in-law, who, just as the Badens, could speak with the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland.  Victoria Luise's brother, Prince Adalbert, also joined the negotiations; and, without the knowledge of the Emperor and Empress, he and Cecilie discreetly arranged to meet Ernst August in Partkenkirchen.  Victoria Luise soon would learn if Prince Ernst August shared her feelings.  Cecilie sent her a telegram, in English: "Just had tea and a long talk with somebody dining with Adalbert stop we three thinking all the time of you darling stop tender love Cilly."

Sissy was thrilled.  She now knew that her love was reciprocated.  But the hurdles still seemed insurmountable.  According to Victoria Luise, Prince Adalbert "used all of his powers of persuasion ... to further my ends."  But without Prince Max's diplomatic efforts, Victoria Luise acknowledged that her goal would never have been achieved.

Prince Adalbert arranged for his sister to talk with Ernst August on the telephone.  "It was all very secret and nobody else knew about it, not even my parents," Victoria Luise wrote in memoirs. 

Max's diplomatic efforts paid off. Prince Ernst August was able to speak directly and confidentially to his father about his feelings for the Prussian princess.  The prince finally convinced his father that he was in love with Wilhelm's daughter, and he wanted to marry her. On January 20th, Victoria Luise received a telegram from Prince Adalbert with the good news.  Empress Auguste Victoria wrote in her diary: "My child, her father, and I were radiantly happy."


Several dynastic and constitutional impediments were resolved.  The Duke of Cumberland would renounce his claim to the Duchy of Brunswick, to which he was the heir, thus allowing a future succession by his son and daughter-in-law.  But he would not need to renounce the claim to Hanover.  Ernst August, as the future son-in-law of the German Emperor, joined the Prussian army and swore allegiance to the Prussian king.  He, too, was not required to offer a renunciation to his family's former kingdom.


It was decided that Victoria Luise and Ernst August could meet in Karlsruhe, the seat of the Badens, which, according to Victoria Luise, "would be more suitable in which to bind the Houses of Hohenzollern and Guelph together."   Prince Max was commended for his role in bringing the couple together.  Equally important was the presence of the Dowager Duchess Luise of Baden, who was a Prussian princess by birth, the only daughter of Wilhelm I. It was during her father's reign that Hanover had been annexed on Bismarck's orders.



Accompanied by her parents and her brother, Oscar, Sissy arrived in Karlsruhe on February 10th, for what was described as a private visit to a beloved family member.  But the German media, hearing rumors from court officials, believed that Victoria Luise would soon marry.  The following morning's newspapers headlined the princess' forthcoming marriage, although no official announcement had been made.

Ernst August had arrived, unseen by the press, and, according to Victoria Luise, he met with her father shortly after the Imperial family had arrived.  For the first time Wilhelm II and Prince Ernst August could discuss privately the political and dynastic concerns that had caused so many problems.   The two men spent nearly an hour together and were eventually joined by the Empress and Victoria Luise.

The princess, wearing a "bright red silk gown," was excited, but nervous and pale.  Her parents exchanged a few words before leaving the room.  For the first time, the prince and princess were alone: "Alone. An indescribable moment," that the princess remembered for the rest of her life.

 Unable to keep their love a secret, their engagement -- much to the surprise of Great Aunt Luise -- was announced later in the day.  "Our happiness simply could not be kept secret," was how Victoria Luise described the event.

Not long afterward, Victoria Luise and Ernst August received a congratulatory telegram from his parents.  Victoria Luise spoke on the telephone to her future mother-in-law. It was the first time that the princess had been in contact with her fiancé's family.

"The weather wasn't very good to us: clouds hung over the city and it rained, but the Berliners had nevertheless insisted on turning out to greet us" ,  Victoria Luise wrote in her memoirs, describing when she and Ernst August returned to Berlin on February 13th.

That same day, Ernst August took the oath of loyalty to the King of Prussia. He was also invested with the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle, but he was not required to renounce his claim to Hanover.


It was also time for Victoria Luise to meet Ernst August's family. A few weeks after the announcement of the engagement, the princess and her mother went to Gmunden for an official introduction to the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland and other members of the Hanover Royal Family.  It was a difficult time for both mother and daughter, especially the Empress.  According to Victoria Luise, their fears were "groundless."  Nearly the entire Hanover royal family was present at the train station to welcome Victoria Luise and her mother; the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland; the Duke's sister, Princess Friederike; Ernst August's sisters, Olga, Alexandra and Marie, the latter two with their husbands, Grand Duke Friedrich Franz of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Prince Max of Baden.

It was a successful visit.  Victoria Luise grew to love her future in-laws.  She described the duchess "as a small, elegant, and efficient woman with proverbially beautiful eyes....One loved her immediately. "    The princess got along well with all of her future husband's family, although his aunt Friederike, whose own marriage to a minor German baron had met with family disapproval some years before, caught Victoria Luise off-guard one afternoon when she started talking about the marriage in "the English way."   The princess had no idea what Friederike was talking about.  "The English way?" Victoria Luise asked her fiancé.

The Duke of Cumberland explained to Victoria about the Royal Marriages Act, which was promulgated in 1772 during the reign of George III.  The law, he said, stated that members of the British royal family -- and this included his own family, due to the direct male line of descent from George III -- needed the permission of the British sovereign to marry.   The duke decided that he would not request permission from George V for Ernst August's marriage.  Instead, he told the engaged couple that he would send the British king a formal notification of the wedding.

Victoria Luise related these events to her former English governess, Anne Topham.  The author of three books on her time in Berlin, Topham offered readers a unique perspective on the Imperial Family's domestic life.  According to Topham, Victoria Luise was bemused that her fiance, as a British prince, needed the permission of King George V, to marry.  "Fancy asking the King of England if Pol and I can marry each other,"  Victoria Luise had told Miss Topham.  (Pol was Victoria Luise's nickname for Ernst August).

The Prussian and Hannoverian royal families would meet again in Bad Homburg before the wedding as Kaiser Wilhelm also wanted to get to know his daughter's future in-laws.  Earlier, the princess and her fiancé were able to spend some time together in Berlin before he had to leave for Athens to attend the funeral of his uncle, King George I, who had been assassinated in Salonika.

Much to Victoria Luise's dismay, several political questions had yet to be resolved, namely the Hanoverian succession.  Several members of the Kaiser's cabinet wanted the princess to persuade Ernst August to renounce Hanover.  Victoria Luise refused, but she told Ernst August about the request.  "I have here a document which I am going to read to you, I'm certain that you won't acknowledge what's in it, and I wouldn't expect anything else of you."

The heated conversations did not take place between the Kaiser and the Duke of Cumberland, but by their supporters.  Thankfully, Prince Max of Baden used his diplomatic skills to maintain order, and a compromise was reached: Ernst August would not be required to renounce his claim to Hanover.  At Homburg, the duke of Cumberland received the Order of the Black Eagle, and his wife was invested with the Order of Queen Luise.  At this time, the marriage contract was drawn up and signed.  The marriage would take place in the Lutheran church (both families were ardent Lutherans), and Victoria Luise's dowry was set at 150,000 Marks.
The Kaiser also would provide his daughter "with princely dresses, jewels, gems and other things executed in such a manner as a Princess of Our Royal House selects or is her due." The Kaiser also gave his daughter 450,000 Marks from his Privy Purse, a "special fatherly favour."

In the weeks before the wedding, the young couple looked for a house in Rathenow, where Ernst August would be stationed until his succession in Brunswick was duly recognized.  They found an eight-room house, "very nice, but hardly a showplace," according to Victoria Luise.  "It was really very small, but I thought it was wonderful."

At least, as newlyweds, Victoria Luise and Ernst August, would be able to spend the first weeks of their marriage largely alone.

Prince Ernst August wrote to his fiancee nearly every day; he shared her concerns and frustrations.  Too many people were providing unwarranted advice, some of which was well-meaning, and others given "out of sheer vanity and pomposity."   Victoria's mother was nearly at her wit's end with all the stress.


"I'm sorry for your mother," Ernst August wrote. "Do try to keep her calm.  I'm very angry with these ladies for they are to blame for making her so nervous.  When you consider that none of these women is married, how can they want to involve themselves in such affairs....You know, I understand your mother perfectly.  She naturally wants the best for you, but she is an Empress, and want to have you just as she is, but she forgets that she is an Empress.  Do you understand what I mean?  I have no use in my life for an Empress as a wife, because I'm not an Emperor.  I want to stand outside that sort of life, and want my wife, too.  You're going to take your place as my wife, and will certainly fulfill your role, of that I am strongly convinced."

In another letter, Ernst August wrote to his future wife: "Soon we will be together, and we will have peace and quiet."

The wedding was to take place on May 24, 1913.  But the festivities had begun more than a week before and would culminate six weeks later with the celebration of the Kaiser's Silver Jubilee.  Victoria Luise, being the Kaiser's only daughter, would have her wedding celebrated in great style.

King George V and Queen Mary were among the first royal guests to arrive in Berlin.  But Wilhelm II and his government stressed that this wedding was a family affair.  The North German Gazette published a note about the nuptials: "Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress will upon the occasion of the marriage of their only daughter be surrounded by a brilliant circle of exalted guests.  Together with the august parents of the bridegroom we welcome with special pleasure the King and Queen of England and the Emperor of Russia. Though their presence is due to a family festival, yet the cordiality between the three Monarchs" which is thus signified constitutes valuable imponderable for the security of the undisturbed progress of the great nations of Europe ."

The British sovereigns arrived in Berlin on May 21st.  They alighted from the train and were greeted by the Emperor and Empress, Crown Prince Wilhelm, and Princess Victoria Luise.  Other members of the Prussian royal family were also present.  The British king and the Kaiser jointly reviewed a guard of honor before a carriage procession brought the royal guests into Berlin for further celebrations.

The entire ceremony was repeated when Tsar Nicholas II of Russia arrived the next day.  He was not accompanied by his wife, Alexandra, and he had traveled from Russia in an armored train.  In the evening, everyone attended a state dinner held in the White Hall at the royal palace in Berlin. More than 250 guests attended,  including at least 100 royals.  Several journalists were also invited, including three London correspondents and The New York Times. The guests were gathered around a "quadrangular table, which ran the full length of each side of the banqueting chamber. "

The New York Times' correspondent provided a first-hand account of the state dinner.  "The company displayed a dazzling medley of resplendent uniforms, glittering jewels, and beautiful gowns."

The dinner started at 8 p.m., when guests began to enter the hall to the strains of the Brunswick Military March, a good choice of music, due to the news that Ernst August and Victoria Luise would soon take up residence in the Duchy of Brunswick.

Perhaps wanting to impress his British and Russian cousins, Wilhelm II wore the full-dress uniform of the British Royal Dragoons and the Russian Order of St. Andrew.  He was accompanied by Queen  Mary.  King George V, accompanied by Empress Auguste Victoria, wore a Prussian Dragoons uniform and the Order of the Black Eagle.  Dona wore " strawberry colored court gown, with emerald, pearl and diamond ornaments."  The Tsar also wore the uniform of a Prussian Dragoon and the Order of the Black Eagle, and he escorted the Dowager Grand Duchess of Baden into the dinner. They were followed by the Duke of Cumberland and Crown Princess Cecilie, and Crown Prince Wilhelm and the Duchess of Cumberland.

"Prince Ernest Augustus, looking every inch a soldier-lover, was radiantly smiling as he entered with Princess Victoria Louise, who looked very girlish in a pretty dress of brocade pale blue, her fiancé's favorite color. "

The Times noted that no toast was made at the dinner.  It was also the first time that the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland had attended an official event in Berlin.

It comes as no surprise that the Princess received "presents galore".  Ernst August presented her with a complete jewelry set.  Her father gave her a diadem and a pearl necklace, and the Empress' gift to her daughter was a diamond tiara.  Queen Alexandra of Great Britain sent her nephew's future wife, an emerald brooch.  King George and Queen Mary's presents included a gold goblet and a diamond brooch.  Nicholas II's gift was a diamond and aquamarine necklace. There were other gifts as well from royals who did not attend the wedding: an antique clock from Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and silver vessels from the Italian king and queen.  Perhaps, the most important gift was the diadem that once belonged to Empress Josephine, a gift from the duchy of Brunswick.

The evening before the wedding, the young couple and their families attended a gala event at the Royal Court Opera.  The opera was a perfect choice: Richard Wagner's Lohengrin. The royal box was decorated with Victoria Luise's favorite flowers, pink carnations. Before taking their seats, the young couple bowed to the standing audience, and members of the audience bowed back.

Berlin held great affection for Princess Victoria, described by her father as the "sunshine of my house."

The marriage took place at sundown on May 24th.  Victoria Luise had spent much of the day preparing for her wedding.  The Empress helped her daughter dress.  "Then we repaired to the Chinese Room [in the Berlin Schloss], and we found that a unit of soldiers had formed lines throughout the castle and taken up sentry posts everywhere....At 4 p.m. members of the staff of the Royal Privy Purse came by, carrying the bridal crown of the Princess of Prussia. Then the Mistress of the Empress's Household, Therese, Countess von Brockdorff, picked up the crown and ceremoniously handed it to my mother who carefully placed it on my head. "

The bride wore the crown diamonds, which included a necklace and brooch and the "Princess of Prussia Crown, "of large diamonds, resting on a purple velvet base. "

The bridal party then made its way to the Elector's Room where the Kaiser and the Marshall of the Court, Count August zu Eulenberg, other family members, court officials, and the bridegroom awaited them.  Following the civil registration of their wedding, Victoria Luise and Ernst August made their way to the royal chapel, which had been decorated by the Empress and the Crown Princess with the bride's favorite flowers, including carnations, roses, and wreaths.

The bride and bridegroom, the latter wearing the uniform of the Zieten Hussars, were followed into the chapel by the Kaiser and the Duchess of Cumberland, dressed in a gown of lavender satin trimmed with lace with a lilac train embroidered in gold.  Her jewels included a tiara, collar, and a diamond brooch.

"The Kaiserin entered on the arm of the Duke of Cumberland. The bride's mother was a regal figure in green satin embroidered with silver. Her train was of green velvet with old silver embroidery, bordered with sable ."   The New York Times also noted that the Empress wore "her famous five rows of pearls and a collar of emeralds and a glittering diadem of diamonds."

But it was Queen Mary, normally not the fashion maven, whose gown caught the admiration of one reporter.  She was "a most striking figure", who entered the chapel, on the arm of the Russian emperor, wearing a "gold dress designed and made in India, with colored flowers worked in colored diamante embroidery.  Her train was of Irish lace, lined with cloth of gold, and had a deep embroidered border of leaf design."

The Queen's jewels were also noteworthy.  She wore "a large necklace, made of the lesser stars of Africa from the Cullinan diamond....On her head rested a diamond crown while her neck was hidden beneath rows of diamonds, forming a collar ."

Crown Princess Cecilie had chosen a gown of silver brocade with a pink velvet train, embroidered in silver.  Her jewels included a diamond tiara, and "the crown sapphires, forming a necklace and brooch."

The New York Times's correspondent also paid special attention to "two of the most beautiful women in the German court," the Princess of Salm-Salm (the former Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria), "charmingly in pink," and the Princess of Pless, born Mary-Theresa Cornwallis-West, "who wore a Byzantine costume embellished with precious stones."

The Princess of Pless described the wedding as "really charming and the Emperor was sorry to lose his only daughter, to whom he was devoted. "  Known to nearly everyone as Daisy, the princess, who was not well, did not attend the church service because she would have had to stand. She watched the procession "and then sat down under the shadow of the big staircase to wait for its return. Two men-at-arms crossed their swords for me to rest my foot upon," she wrote in Daisy Princess of Pless.  "For the Court after the wedding ceremony I had made a special effort and put on all my best clothes in honour of King George V and Queen Mary.  I wore my cloth-of-gold train...my best crown and jewels and course all my Orders."
wedding banquet

It was also noted by The New York Times that six American women had been invited to the wedding, including the wife of the U.S. ambassador, John Leishman, and their daughter Nancy (who was engaged to marry the Duke of Croy); and Miss Yvette, who attended school with the Princess in Potsdam.


"Bright sunlight filtered through the chapel cupola" as the bride and groom made their way to the altar.  The royal chaplain, Dr. Ernst Dryander, who had baptized and confirmed the princess, gave a sermon of "earnest and worthy words" about the seriousness of life.  He also described the Princess as "the Sunshine of the Royal House."

The New York Times noted that "the bride, looking even paler than she is ordinarily, was an entrancingly pretty girlish figure in her magnificent gown of cloth of silver and decorated with old lace.  Her train, carried by four bridesmaids in pale blue, was of the same material as the dress and lined with ermine ."



It was left to the bride's maternal aunt, Princess Louise Sophie, who was married to the Kaiser's second cousin, Prince Friedrich Leopold of Prussia, to provide a note of negativism.  The relationship between the two families was strained even though Louise Sophie was the Empress' younger sister.  The week before Sissy's wedding, Louise Sophie's only daughter, Victoria Margarete, had married Prince Heinrich XXXIII of Reuss. But the couple did not get to know each other well before Wilhelm II had ordered her parents to announce the engagement. Louise Sophie believed that the Emperor wanted her daughter out of the way, "obviously because she was far more beautiful than his only daughter, Victoria Louise,"  whose own engagement was announced not long afterward.  Victoria Margarete's marriage ended in divorce in 1922.

Prince and Princess Friedrich Leopold and their family were required to attend the Emperor's daughter's wedding. "It could not be truthfully said that Victoria Louise was a lovely bride.  Small, strangely pale and fair, with level set eyes, the poor thing seemed crushed by her bridal train of frap d'argent lined with ermine; probably the Emperor had insisted on the ermine ."

Ernst August's response, "Ja!" "rang so loudly and clearly" that the princess noted she had to follow suit, and "when we joined hands in front of the altar he clasped mine very firmly, insisting that his thumbs were on top of mine."  The princess stated in her memoirs that "there's an old folk-tale which says if the husband does not have his thumbs above those of his bride at the wedding ceremony then he will have no say during his marriage."

Pastor Dryander was taken aback by this behavior.  The princess and her husband smiled at each other. 


After the couple had exchanged their vows and rings, and were pronounced married in the simple Lutheran ceremony, they heard a 36-gun salute fired by the 1st Guards Artillery regiment, which was followed by the peal of the chapel bells.  The newlyweds and the bridal party made their way back to the White Hall, where the bride and groom stood under a canopy to receive their guests.  An orchestra played "The Wedding March," from Lohengrin's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

More than 1,000 guests attended the wedding banquet.  The White Hall was not large enough to accommodate all the guests so tables and chairs were set up in adjoining rooms.

The Kaiser offered a toast to his daughter and new son-in-law.  "My darling daughter, today as you leave our house, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the joy you have given me and your mother. You have given your hand and your heart to a man who comes from an honourable German sovereign house and from an old German stock. As long as the German tongue is spoken and as far away as it will sound, it will tell of the prominent role played by the Guelphs and Hohenzollerns in the historical development of our Fatherland.  You do not have to be told that you are free to follow the dictates of your heart, and to choose the man you loved."

To Ernst August, the Kaiser proposed: "I hereby entrust our child to you.... Above all things, however, despite your youth, you will come to serve and care for others.  May this duty be the finest accomplishment of your life and the love of other people warm your heart.  May you both, and my daughter above all, be loyal to your new House."

According to The New York Times' reporter, this final statement meant that "the supreme war lord's wedding gift to his daughter and her soldier lover is the throne of a future independent Brunswick."  (On May 27th, the Federal Council of the Empire decided to end Brunswick's Prussian regency since 1866 and announced that on October 31, 1913, Prince Ernst August and Princess Victoria Luise "would make their formal entry into the capital, Brunswick, as reigning Duke and Duchess of an independent Federal State the next day."  The new Duke of Brunswick would reign for a mere five years before abdicating in November 1918).

Victoria Luise's former governess, Anne Topham said that "it was a marriage which filled the German people with joy... "  "The marriage turned out very happily.  It was the last of the Hohenzollern weddings to be celebrated with the ancient Torch dance and picturesque old-world ceremonial so long and wearisome for the bride and bridegroom."

Topham alluded to the traditional Torch dance, a polonaise that ended every Hohenzollern wedding.  At 8 p.m., the Kaiser ordered the Chief Marshal, the Prince zu Fürstenberg, to commence the dance.  The prince came up to the newlyweds, "bowed, and invited us to dance."   The dance took place in the White Hall, and it is said that no one below a royal highness could take part.  According to The New York Times, "the dance consists of a series of grand marches around the hall with 12 scarlet and gold-clad pages at the head, bearing thick candlesticks two feet long.  The bridal pair attach themselves to the procession, and the bride and groom, in turn, lead around the hall two gentlemen and two ladies, respectively."

The Princess first danced with her father and father-in-law, and her husband danced with his mother and new mother-in-law.  "It was a picturesque moment when the time came for the pale silver bride to take the Czar and King by the hand, while the bridegroom followed with Queen Mary and the Crown Princess.  The torch dance ended with the pages escorting the bridal pair to the nuptial chamber...."

At the end of the dance, Nicholas turned to Victoria Luise, and told her "My wish is that you will be as happy as I am."  The Tsar was referring to his happy marriage to the former Princess Alix of Hesse and By Rhine.   It was the last conversation that Victoria Luise had with the Russian Emperor.

The Torch Dance culminated with the distribution of pieces of Victoria Luise's garter, bearing the arms of the newlyweds.  But the distribution was hardly dignified.  There was a scramble for the pieces of garter that left many guests, including the Grand Duke of Hesse and By Rhine, with scratched faces. "The nuptial apartments of the newly married Prince and Princess Ernest Augustus of Cumberland in the Royal Castle in Berlin were the scene after last night's wedding of a scramble for souvenirs which would have done credit to an American crowd,"  wrote the usually august New York Times.

It was a free for all for the "hundreds of bejeweled ladies and gentlemen, representing the cream of Germany aristocracy," as they scrimmaged for the bits of ribbon.  One who survived described the scene as "a cross between a Bank Holiday frolic on Hampstead Heath and a football riot."

The prince and princess had been escorted to their room by the Kaiser and his wife.  "The Prussian Princess's Crown was taken away from me and given back for safekeeping to the officials of the Privy Purse.  Then my mother lifted off my bridal wreath.  The hour of parting had struck ."

The couple changed their clothes and were driven to the railroad station, accompanied by the Kaiser and four of the princess' six brothers.  Princes Oskar and Adalbert had remained behind with their mother, no longer able to cope with the loss of her only daughter.  The ever-sensitive bride had left a letter in her mother's room, which Auguste Victoria found when she went to bed.


At the station, Victoria Luise said good-bye to her father. She curtseyed to the Kaiser and then kissed his hand. Wilhelm embraced his daughter, and kissed her "affectionately."  Victoria Luise then said good-bye to her brothers.  Prince Eitel Friedrich threw rice, a symbol of good luck, over his sister.  The couple boarded the train, and Victoria Luise had one final moment with her beloved father.  She kissed his hand once again; he alighted from the train, and then signaled the train to leave.  He stood on the platform, not as the supreme warlord, but a devoted father, waving good-bye until the train was no longer in view.


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Thursday, May 21, 2020

Alex Wernher - A close friend of the Duke of Edinburgh




It is a simple white grave marker at the Medjez-el-Bab War Cemetery in Béja, Tunisia, that marks the final resting place of George Michael Alexander Wernher.  A plaque on Alex’s grave reads: “In ever loving memory of George Michael Alexander (Captain 17/21 Lancers), only son of Sir Harold Wernher, K.C.V.O., who died on active service at Béja. 4 December 1942.  Aged 24.  Buried in Military Cemetery Medjez-el-Bab Cemetery.”


Alex Wernher took part in several battles that began in mid-November 1942 when a German military delegation arrived in Béja and issued an ultimatum to the city’s mayor: surrender the city.  The mayor was able to get word to a civil governor who sent the message to British military officials in Algiers.  The following day, November 17, British battalions began parachuting into the hills, just north of the city.    Two days later, the Germans began bombing Béja.  For the next three months, fierce battles ensued, as the Allied forces were determined to defend the city.  The Germans began their final assault on February 28, 1943, to no avail.  They were forced to surrender in April.         
                          
The British sustained 1,800 casualties including Captain Wernher, whose death was reported on December 24, 1942, in The Times’ “On Active Service.”

Alex’s death was a “cruel blow to his many friends,” a friend wrote in personal tribute nearly six weeks later.   The friend noted that Alex was a “keen soldier, and was loved and respected by all who served with him.  His buoyant spirits and charm of manner were among his finest qualities.  Invariably cheerful, even under the most difficult conditions, he had the gift of inspiring others and was equally at ease with young and old in all walks of life.  He seemed to radiate an atmosphere of sunshine and happiness.”


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What Alex’s friend (the writer is not identified) did not mention was the young man’s illustrious and well-connected family. His uncle, Sir Derrick Wernher, was the second Baronet, and the father of a daughter, who could not succeed to the title. Alex’s father, Sir Harold, who was Derrick’s younger brother, was the heir presumptive to the title – and already in control of the family’s vast fortune.   And then there were Alex’s royal connections.   He was a descendant of Nicholas I of Russia.   One of his godfathers was King George V, who happened to be a friend of his maternal grandfather, Grand Duke Michael of Russia.
His mother, Zia, was born Countess Anastasia Torby, the elder daughter of Grand Duke Michael and his morganatic wife, Countess Sophie von Merenberg, whose maternal grandfather was the acclaimed Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin. Sophie was a child of a morganatic marriage, as well. She was the eldest of three children of Prince Nikolaus of Nassau and Natalia Alexandrovna Pushkina.  Sophie’s paternal uncle was  Grand Duke Adolphe of Luxembourg and her paternal aunt was  Queen Sophia of Sweden, the consort of King Oscar II. First cousins on her father’s side included Princess Elisabeth of Wied, who married King Carol I of Romania,  the Duchess of Albany (Princess Helen of Waldeck und Pyrmont), and her sister, Queen Emma of the Netherlands, widow of Willem III and mother of Queen Wilhelmina.



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Grand Duke Michael was one of seven children of Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich of Russia and Princess Olga of Baden, and  a grandson of Nicholas I.  Michael’s siblings included Grand Duchess Anastasia, who married Grand Duke Friedrich Franz III of Mecklenburg-Schwerin ( mother of Queen Alexandrine of Denmark and Crown Princess Cecilia of Prussia), Grand Duke George, who married Princess Marie of Greece, and Grand Duke Alexander, who was the husband of Grand Duchess Xenia, sister of Nicholas II.   (These family connections were important in Alex’s family.  Grand Duchess Marie (nee Greece) and Grand Duchess Xenia were King George V’s first cousins.)

Michael’s morganatic marriage led to exile in France and England.  The family leased Kenwood House in Regent’s Park until the Russian Revolution.  Exiled saved his life, but  Michael lost property that had provided him with a more than comfortable income.  Michael and Sophie had never known what it was like to be poor.  With few resources apart from a gracious loan from King George V (£10,000), the Grand Duke and his wife had to move out of Kenwood House to a smaller residence.  It was imperative that their two daughters, Zia and Nadejda (Nada), marry well.

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Nada was the first to marry.  In July 1916, she wed Prince George of Battenberg, the second of four children of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and Prince Louis of Battenberg, a child of another morganatic marriage.   Louis was one of four children of Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine and a Polish countess, Julia von Hauke, who was created Princess of Battenberg, by her brother-in-law, Grand Duke Ludwig II of Hesse and By Rhine.


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 The princely title of Battenberg was also carried by Julie and Alexander’s children and male-line descendants.   Prince Louis of Battenberg served in the Royal Navy, and he and his wife, Victoria, divided their time between homes in Germany and in England.  The couple’s first child, Alice, was born in 1885 at Windsor Castle.  She married Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, whose sister,  Princess Marie, married Grand Duke George, brother of Grand Duke  Michael.

Alice and Andrew were the parents of five children, four daughters, and, a son, Philip, born in 1921. 

In 1917, Louis renounced his German titles and was created Marquess of Milford Haven, Earl of Medina, Viscount Berkhamstead, by King George V, with the surname Mountbatten, an anglicized version of Battenberg.   Their elder son, Prince George, was styled as the Earl of Medina, while the two younger children were now the Lady Louise and Lord Louis Mountbatten.

Prince George's parents were also worried about money, as most of Prince Louis' property was in Germany. Due to these straitened circumstances, Louis could give George only £350 per year as a wedding gift.  Michael was able to purchase a small home for the newlyweds at Rosyth, as George was attached to Admiral Beatty, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet.

Zia had known her future husband, Harold Wernher (1893-1973) since they were children in Cannes, where Sir Julius and Lady Wernher first met Grand Duke Michael and Countess Sophie von Merenberg.  The two families became close friends. Harold Wernher was the second of three sons of German-born financier Julius Wernher, who made his fortune in diamonds in South Africa, and Alice Mankiewicz, whom he had met and married after he had moved to England.   I 19He was created a baronet in 1905.   Sir Julius was one of England’s richest men. When he died in 1912, he left an estate worth £12 million ($60 million today).   His eldest son, Derrick, succeeded to the baronetcy, but Harold was the primary beneficiary of Sir Julius’ immense wealth.

After a two-month engagement, Zia and Harold were married on July 20, 1917, at the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, and other members of the Royal Family. That September.  Countess Zia became the Lady Zia Wernher when George V gave Royal Assent to her new precedence as a daughter of an earl. 

Alex was born on August 22, 1918, in Edinburgh.  Nada sent a telegram to her sister: “Congratulations.  Tell Harold he is a good shot.”

  The Aberdeen Daily Journal noted that Lady Zia’s newborn son will “eventually be the heir to the immense fortune of the late Sir Julius Wernher.”  The baptism took place on October 22 at the Boothby Parish Church, near Grantham.  King George V was one of the sponsors at the baptism but was unable to attend the ceremony. He was represented by Sir Harry Verney, Bt.  The other sponsors were the Grand Duke Michael, the Marquess of Milford Haven, the Earl of Medina, Major W.R. Styles, Lady Victoria Primrose, the Countess of Medina, and Miss Margaret Pryce.

The three names were in honor of King George V,  Count Michael Torby (Zia’s brother), and Harold’s younger brother, Alexander Pigott Wernher, who had been killed in action in France in September 1916.

Alex and his two younger sisters, Georgina (Gina) and Myra grew up at Thorpe Lubenham Hall in Leicestershire, which Harold purchased after the Armistice.   Lubenham’s “stream of visitors” was described as  “positively endless.” 
Princess Elizabeth, a year younger than Myra, first came to tea when she was two and a half years old – “two little things running around.”   The young princess would have swimming lessons with Gina and Myra   Time was also spent at Luton Hoo, first rented by Sir Harold’s father, Sir Julius, in 1899, and purchased outright four years later.

Summers were spent in Scotland at Downie Park and Invermark, where Alex honed his hunting skills. He resembled his mother, “fair with slightly Slavic eyes.”  Unlike Lady Zia, whose passion for horses and racing was well known, Alex was more interested in the arts and music.   He did not share his parents’ enthusiasm for equine pursuits, but eventually got over his “nervousness with horses.”   At Eton, Alex was a “prominent member of the shooting eight,” and gained a “remarkable record as a crack rifle shot.”  After Eton, he attended Sandhurst where he received the ‘Saddle’ award for best rider.   He also played golf very well.

By all accounts, Alex Wernher was a “delightful, unspoilt boy,” despite his father’s wealth, his mother’s heritage, and his royal connections.  His life, albeit shortened by war, would have a profound impact on a cousin, three years younger, who saw Alex as a mentor and the “older brother” he never had.
Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was the youngest child and only son of Princess Alice of Battenberg and Prince Andrew of Greece.  The young prince, who was born in June 1921 at Mon Repos in Corfu, spent most of his formative years in exile in Germany and Britain.  By the early 1930s, Philip’s parents’ were living apart.  Alice suffered from mental illness and underwent treatment in several sanatoriums.   Prince Andrew (and his mistress) headed for more a sunny clime in France and Monaco, where he enjoyed the casinos.

It was Alice’s brother, George, the 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven, who stepped in to become Philip’s guardian. 

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Prince Andrew wanted his son to attend an English school, and George chose to send Philip to his prep school, Cheam, where his only son, David, Earl of Medina, two years’ Philip’s senior, was a pupil. It was Philip’s first introduction to an extended family that included his grandmother, Victoria, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven, who lived in a grace and favor apartment at Kensington Palace, Uncle George, and Aunt Nada, and their two children, Lady Tatiana, who was mentally disabled,  and David,  who would become one of Philip’s closest friends, and their cousins, Alex, Gina, and Myra Wernher.  This small circle of young children also included two more first cousins, Patricia and Pamela, the daughters of Philip’s maternal uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose of York.


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[Lord Louis (later the Earl Mountbatten of Burma), would play a role in Philip’s life, but this would not happen until after the death of his brother, George Milford Haven, in 1938, when   Philip chose to join the Royal Navy.] 

 George Milford Haven was Philip’s official guardian although other family members, including the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven, were more involved in the raising of the young prince.  Philip spent school holidays with his sisters in Germany or at Lubenham with his “honorary uncle and aunt,” Sir Harold and Lady Zia.

The Wernhers provided a “useful corrective” in contrast to the “louche milieu” that the young Philip found with Uncle George and Aunt Nada at Lynden, their country home.  Lady Zia was said to be shocked by her sister’s behavior in Cannes, where she frequented lesbian bars, and acquired several women friends, including Gloria Vanderbilt, the young widow of Reginald Vanderbilt, and mother of a young daughter, also named Gloria. [Gloria was also a friend of Prince Gottfried (Friedel) of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, who married Philip’s eldest sister, Princess Margarita.]

The Wernhers offered Philip the stability of a happy family life. Alex adored his younger cousin.  Philip was “particularly close” to Alex, and looked up to him as an older brother.  After spending three years at Cheam, Philip returned to Germany to attend school at Schloss Salem, which was the home of his sister, Theodora, and her husband, Berthold, the Margrave of Baden.  The school was opened in 1923 by Berthold’s father, Prince Max of Baden, and was run by the respected educator, Kurt Hahn, a German Jew.  But as National Socialism began to creep into Germany’s social fabric, including education, Hahn was forced to seek refuge in Britain.  In the spring of 1934, he opened Gordonstoun, based on Salem, in Morayshire, and plans were made for Prince Philip to leave Salem and join Hahn’s new school in September, a month before Philip’s cousin, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, married Prince George, Duke of Kent, the youngest surviving son of King George V.

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 The royal wedding may have been the first occasion where eight-year-old Princess Elizabeth, one of Marina’s bridesmaids, met her thirteen-year-old third cousin, Prince Philip.   As they grew older, there were other occasions where their paths would cross due to their mutual circle of cousins and friends. Childhood games and tea parties led to life long friendships.  Philip’s two closest friends were his first cousin, David (who succeeded his father as 3rd Marquess of Milford Haven in 1938, when George succumbed to cancer), and Alex Wernher.

   As war loomed in Europe, all three young men joined the British military.  Lord Louis largely persuaded his nephew to join the Royal Navy.   He passed the entrance exams for the Royal Britannia Naval College (Dartmouth) and entered the school as a cadet after finishing his education at Gordonstoun.  It was at Dartmouth in July 1939, where it has been alleged that Prince Philip, 18-years-old, first met 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth. The heiress presumptive to the throne and her younger sister accompanied their parents on an official visit to Dartmouth, where Prince Philip was asked to entertain the young princesses.
There are at least a half dozen different versions of what has been called the first meeting between the future Queen and her husband.  It is entirely possible, due to the family connections - and the same circle of friends – that Elizabeth and Philip had already met  – but this meeting certainly sealed their fates.    Before he left Dartmouth, Prince Philip was invited by Queen Elizabeth to a party at Royal Lodge at Windsor, which was one of the last royal parties before the war.  Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten, Nada Milford Haven, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Sir Harold and Lady Zia were among the guests.  Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth were able to meet again.

Prince Philip would be the first to acknowledge that Sir Harold and Lady Zia were major influences in his life.   He spent many of his school holidays at Thorpe Lubenham or Luton Hoo.  Holidays with the Wernhers were “fun and games,” where everyone rode and fooled around, especially the three Wernher children, their cousin, David, and David’s cousin, Prince Philip.

Alex had “all the charm in the world.”   He never “boasted about his grand connections,” but loved telling funny stories about his mother.  He also knew that Lady Zia would not approve of some of the “girls he courted.”  He shared “digs, tents and girlfriends,” with Bobby Peacock, a friend since Eton.  Lady Zia would have been “horrified” if she knew that her good friend, Cecil Boyd-Rochfort had arranged for Alex and Bobby to have dinner with some of the young women from the Windmill Theatre.

He was also not one who stood on ceremony.   He celebrated his Russian heritage, and on occasion, he would break into a Cossack.   A family friend said of Alex: “Once he was in the Army, he took life with both hands.”  For his 21st birthday, Alex received a large car from his father.  He said to Sir Harold that he did not want the car.  He had wanted a small car.   Sir Harold gave him an annual allowance of £500 a year, which was more than enough for Alex to “keep three polo ponies,” when he stationed in Meerut, India.

Sir Harold and Lady Zia were in London on September 3, 1939, when Britain declared war on Germany.  They decided to “drive immediately to see Alex,” who was based in Colchester.  During the first World War, Harold had served in the trenches.  The memories of war still haunted him.  He and Zia feared for their son, whom they “idolized.”

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After he joined the army, Alex proclaimed “My Life is Good.”  Following the German invasion of Russia in 1941, Alex wanted to volunteer to fight on the Russian front.  His mother was “nearly frantic” with his suggestion. Sir Harold knew this would not happen. His connections in the War Office informed him that Alex’s regiment, the 17/2st Lancers were to be the “spearhead of the 1st Army in Algeria and Tunisia.    In 1942, he was stationed in Tunisia with the 17/21 Lancers.

According to Raleigh Trevelyan’s largely official history of the Wernher family, Grand Duke and Diamonds, he wrote about Alex’s final days, based on his final letters to his mother. Two days before his death, he wrote to Zia about the ten days of fighting he had witnessed, as he saw shells coming straight at him,
“Well Ma, so far all is well, and I hope my luck goes on. I feel it will somehow, as I seem to come out of all our engagements better than most.   I think of you all a great deal. Give my best love to Pa, Gina, and Myra. I will write again soon.  Much love, Alex.”

That evening as Alex’s squadron headed back to the harbor, he suffered a fatal injury.  He got trapped between two tanks as they were being pulled out of a gully.  One of his legs and hip were crushed.  He “remained amazingly cheerful” but without any proper medicines, such as penicillin, “gangrene soon set in.”    The military doctor donated a pint of his own blood to Alex, who “drifted in and out of consciousness,” for some hours.

Alex Wernher’s last words were to send his family “all his love.”   He died the following morning.

Lady Zia was at her desk in the drawing-room at Thorpe Lubenham and Myra was playing the piano when the butler brought in the telegram with the news of Alex’s death.   Harold and Zia were “devastated” by the news, and were never able to talk about it in public. Harold’s mother, Lady Ludlow, wrote separate letters to Harold and Zia, describing the “special bond,” she had with her only grandson.  She understood the loss.  Her youngest son, Alexander, was killed in the first world war at age 19, and now, her only grandson, who was named for his late uncle, killed in the second world war at 24 years old. 

“Seeing the disparity in our ages, our relationship was extraordinary and the most precious thing in my life. We had much in common, not only in our tastes but in our outlook in life and he liked to discuss those with me and never felt I was too old to understand.”

 Alex’s friend Bobby Peacock arrived in Tunisia two days after his death and took part in three weeks of “hectic fighting.”   It was not until the end of the year that he was finally able to visit Alex’s simple grave, “marked with a wooden cross and stones.’   Bobby, who had known Alex since both were boarders at Eton, placed flowers on the grave.  He also took a photograph, and sent it to the grieving Lady Zia, unable to fully understand the “realities of war.”  Her response to Bobby was: “Is this the best you can do?”   It was.

The one person who had not heard about Alex’s death was Prince Philip, who was serving as second-in-command on the HMS Wallace, a destroyer patrolling the “particularly dangerous waters” of the North Sea and the English Channel.   He had sent a Christmas card to Harold and Zia, signed “Love, Philip.”   Zia could not understand that Philip had not been told about Alex’s death.  She “complained bitterly” to Lord Louis Mountbatten.

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Lord Louis sent a telegram to Philip with the bad news, and Philip wrote to Zia on January 10, 1943.  “Ever since I got the telegram from Uncle Dickie, I have been in a daze.  Alex filled a place of a brother and for that alone I am eternally grateful to him. As the older boy he was the guide and the pillow and in a great many ways I tried to model myself on him. As I grew older, I was able to find many of my shortcomings by just comparing myself to him and in some cases, I managed to them right.

“It is not easy for me to try and say what I thought of him because there are no words which can describe a friendship between two boys, those things just are and one does not stop to think why.

“Dear Zia, I know you will never think very much of me. I am rude and unmannerly and I say many things out of turn which I realize afterwards must have hurt someone.  Then I am filled with remorse and I try to get matters right....”

Alex’s will was made public in April 1943.  Lord Louis was one of the two executors of Alex’s estate.   He left an estate worth £30, 906 (£1,205,334 in 2016) with the primary bequests to his cousin, the Marquess of Milford Haven (£5000) and the London Clinic (£2000), with several smaller “personal legacies” to several others including Miss Bonner, a former nurse.


 Philip remained close to Sir Harold and Lady Zia, who was among the first to know about his engagement to Princess Elizabeth.   Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were favorite visitors to Luton Hoo, where they often spent their wedding anniversary.  They, however, did not spend their honeymoon at Luton Hoo.

 Lady Zia and the Queen shared a passion for horses and horse racing.

Alex Wernher was only 24 years old when he died in Tunisia.  He was an adored son, and much loved by his parents, his sisters, and his close friends.  Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has rarely talked about his friendship with Alex, apart to say that he thought of Alex as his “mentor.”  Alex certainly played an important role – the older brother – in Philip’s life.   There is no doubt in my mind that if Alex had survived the war, he would have returned home to take on the responsibilities of his inheritance.  He would have married, and perhaps, the Wernher baronetcy might have remained extant, rather than become extinct in 1973 when Sir Harold died.   Prince Philip chose their mutual first cousin, David, as his best man, but it may have been Alex who would have received that honor had he survived the war.
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Their friendship was based on mutual respect, something that Philip has treasured for his entire life.  One can only imagine how Alex would have reacted to Philip’s love for his sisters’ friend, Princess Elizabeth.  David had blotted his copybook with Prince Philip, by using his position as his best man to “advance his business career.”   It would be some years before David was welcomed back to Buckingham Palace. Alex would not have needed to exploit his relationship with Philip for financial gain.

Of all of Philip’s biographers, only Tim Heald and Philip Eade have written about his friendship with Alex Wernher.   Philip was a young boy from a broken home in desperate of friends and family.  His extended family embraced him, gave him stability, and Alex Wernher, nearly three years his senior, offered friendship. 

It was a friendship that HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh has never forgotten.
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