Friday, August 29, 2008

Max and Helen

So what happened? Why didn't they marry? On paper, the marriage between a Russian Grand Duchess and Prince Max of Baden was a stellar arrangement. Max's maternal grandmother was a Romanov, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna. Although Max was a member of a collateral line, it was apparent that he would eventually succeeded as grand duke. Friedrich I was in his seventies, and his only son, the future Friedrich II's marriage to Hilda of Nassau was childless. Thus, Max, whose father was a younger son of Grand Duke Leopold, was seen as a good prospect for Helen.

The engagement was announced in October 1898, with a wedding scheduled for early 1899. Helen had only just turned sixteen when she became engaged. The Baden engagement was a coup for Helen's formidable mother, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, who was born a Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. She had ambitions for her only daughter, who had little say in the marital arrangement.

But just before the marriage was to take place, Max broke off the engagement, according to the recent book, The Grand Duchesses. Grand Duchess Marie was "shamed," and Helen was utterly bereft, saddened, and unsure why Max had changed his mind.

Grand Duke Kirill, who served in the Russian navy, was in the US on January 1, 1900, en route home to attend his sister's wedding, according to several US papers. The Grand Duke had been on duty with the United States' Navy Pacific squadron.

According to the Chicago Daily News, the Baden-Russia nuptials were seen "as an additional guarantee of peace with Russia." Helen and Max would celebrate their marriage with ceremonies in Baden and St. Petersburg, according to the paper's reporter.

On June 9, 1899, a Berlin dispatch reported that the engagement between Max and Helen "had been definitely broken off."

But was Max responsible for the break-up? A great deal of preparation had gone into this wedding. Grand Duke Kirill had made it home in time. Was there a cover-up to protect Max's reputation at the expense of Helen's? Or vice-versa. On August 25, 1899, the Marquise de Fontenoy wrote: "Grand Duchess Helen of Russia must be congratulated on her escape from Prince Max of Baden." The Marquise -- Marguerite Cunliffe-Owen -- stated that Helen jilted Max. She claims that Prince Max "is at the present moment under restraint at the same lunatic asylum" in Vienna where Princess Louise of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha had been confined.

Max had shattered "not only his nervous system, but likewise his mind by his excesses and dissipation." Because of his "misconduct," Helen was obliged to end the engagement. This final action "proved the blow that wrecked what remained of his reason."

The insanity, according to the Marquise, was genetic, as the elder brother of Grand Duke Friedrich, had been deposed because he was insane. The Marquise does note that there was no truth in the story that the engagement was broken so that a marriage could be arranged between Helen and her first cousin, Grand Duke Michael of Russia. (A marriage between first cousins was not permitted by the Orthodox church, as the Marquise states in her column.) The Marquise said she was not surprised that the engagement came to an end. The Prince is a "dull and dissipated man of 35, who has lived fast, and who represents not what is, best but what is the worst in the German cavalry officer." Max is described as "slightly bald," and a heavy drinker. Helen is a "thoroughly spoiled child, impulsive, clever, brilliant, [and] hot-tempered." It was said that Russian police were ordered to confiscate all photographs of the young couple.

Religion did not play a role in the break-up. Prince Max is Lutheran, as is Helen's mother, Marie, who is described by the Marquise de Fontenoy as a "rabid Lutheran," who has refused to "assume the religion of her adopted country. Grand Duchess Helen is Russian Orthodox, but a mixed marriage would not have been a problem.

Princess Margarete of Prussia was fond of Max, and wanted to marry him, but he was not interested in her. She eventually married his best friend, Friedrich Karl of Hesse. Max, however, had proposed to Princess Sibylle of Hesse, but she turned him down, and married Baron Friedrich von Vincke.

In early 1898, Princess Pauline of Württemberg was reported to be engaged to Prince Max, but she declared that she "will never give her hand where she cannot give her heart." The Marquise de Fontenoy, who wrote a column that appeared in US newspapers, noted that Pauline "rejected the suit of Prince Max," because she had "fallen violently in love" with Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein, a grandson of Queen Victoria. But the prince, a mere second son, was considered "impecunious" by the King and Queen of Württemberg, and, thus, not a good match for their only daughter. (In October 1898, Pauline married the Prince of Wied.)

Three months after the official announcement that Max and Helen were not going to marry, another dispatch was denied. Helen was not engaged to the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Nor was she going to marry Prince Albert of Belgium, although Helen had hoped for this match as Albert was the heir to the throne. But Helen was an afterthought for Albert who was interested in marrying Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria.

By February 1900, the Marquise was reporting there was talk in Greece that Prince George of Greece was going to marry Helen, "who last year jilted that dissipated and prematurely aged Prince Max of Baden." In the same month, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Max was in Vienna "in quest of a bride." And the bride in question: Archduchess Maria Annunciata "Miana" of Austria. Perhaps. Perhaps not. The Archduchess was a devout Roman Catholic, and unlikely to marry a Lutheran prince. Miana, however, was not the reason for Max's trip to Vienna. In March, Max became engaged to Princess Marie Louise of Cumberland, the elder daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland, the de jure King and Queen of Hanover. It is unlikely that the Duke would have agreed to a marriage between his daughter and a dissipated former mental patient, who was also heir to a Grand Duchy.

By the end of World War I, Max was one of the few respected German royals who served briefly as Kaiser Wilhelm II's last chancellor.

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