|Princess Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Hereditary Prince Alfred of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and his then fiancee, Duchess Elsa of Württemberg|
It was seen as an attempt, a hope, when young Hereditary Prince Alfred of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha's engagement was announced on January 28, 1895 in the Court Circular. “We are informed that a marriage has been arranged between his Royal Highness Prince Alfred of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, only son of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and grandson of her Majesty, and her Royal Highness the Duchess Elsa Matilda Marie, elder twin daughter of the late Duke William Eugene of Württemberg by his marriage with the Grand Duchess Vera of Russia. The Duchess Elsa attains her 19th year on March 1 next, and Prince Alfred, who is a lieutenant à la suite in the German army, comes of age in October this year.”
Two days earlier, the New York Times reported from London that “the Central News learns that Prince Alfred, only son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, is betrothed to the Duchess Elsa of Württemberg.”
HRH Prince Alfred Alexander William Ernest Albert of Edinburgh was born on October 15, 1874 at Buckingham Palace, the first child and only son of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, fourth child of Queen Victoria, and Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia.
The Duke of Edinburgh succeeded to the Coburg duchy in 1893 following the death of his uncle, Duke Ernst II. Young Affie was now the Hereditary Prince. His young life was without proper guidance, and, when joining the military and moving with a fast circle certainly led to a dissipated life. At some point, he acquired syphilis, which went untreated.
Unable to understand or treat the root causes of Affie's problems, his parents were at a loss as to what to do. One solution for royal parents was to find a suitable bride for a wayward son, believing that a loyal, well-bred wife would make all the difference, and help guide young Affie toward the responsibilities of his position.
Duchess Elsa Mathilde Marie of Württemberg (1876-1936) was the elder twin daughter of Duke Eugen of Württemberg (1846-1877) and Grand Duchess Vera Constantinova of Russia (1854-1912.) Elsa's younger twin sister was Duchess Olga Alexandrine Marie of Württemberg (1876-1932).
An older brother, Duke Karl-Eugen died at age seven months in November 1875.) Duke Eugen was only 30-years-old when he died on January 27, 1877, leaving behind a young widow and twin daughters.
Grand Duchess Vera was the daughter of Grand Duke Konstantin Nicolaievich of Russia and Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Altenburg. As as child, she suffered from behavioral issues, and her father, then the Viceroy of Poland, decided to send the young grand duchess to her paternal aunt, Olga, the wife of King Karl of Württemberg. The couple had no children.
She eventually thrived and outgrew the behavioral issues, and, in 1871, she was adopted by her aunt and uncle. They arranged her marriage to Duke Eugen.
Vera was only 23-years-old when she was widowed. She never remarried. A bit of an eccentric, Vera was close friends with her first cousin, Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna. Her ties to the Russian court were limited, and, by 1909, she converted to the Lutheran faith. Vera's older sister, Olga, was the wife of King George I of the Hellenes.
In 1891, Vera inherited a large fortune from her uncle Karl, the King of Württemberg. Arranging a good marriage for both her daughters was important, and she and her cousin, Marie Alexandrovna, certainly championed and encouraged a marriage between their children. Elsa would become the wife of the future Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and the Duke of Edinburgh. She would be marrying the grandson of Queen Victoria.
On paper, the match was made in heaven. Reality was another matter.
But by 1895, young Affie's health was severely diminished, physically and mentally. He was not a candidate for marriage, and both families soon realized this, and the engagement, made with little fanfare, was ended rather quietly, and without an official announcement. There is no doubt that the engagement was ended when Vera realized that Affie's condition was not conducive to a marriage.
|Princess Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duchess Elsa of Württemberg and Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. (both images Marlene A. Eilers Koenig Collection)|
Another fiance was soon found for Duchess Elsa. On May 6, 1897 at Stuttgart, she married Prince Albrecht of Schaumburg-Lippe.
Young Affie's health continued to deteriorate. He would travel to Russia and at least twice to Romania to visit his sister, Crown Princess Marie, in attempts to regain his health and live a more responsible life. It didn't work.