Thursday, May 28, 2020

A Natural child: Valerie Marie zu Schleswig-Holstein

all images  Marlene A Eilers Koenig collection

My book, Queen Victoria's Descendants, was the first to include complete genealogical information about Valerie Marie zu Schleswig-Holstein, the natural daughter of Duke Albert of Schleswig-Holstein, a grandson of  Queen Victoria.  I was fortunate to have the assistance of the late HH Prince Friedrich Ferdinand of Schleswig-Holstein and the Duke of Arenberg's archivist, both of whom provided me with documents as well as other contacts to fill in the missing pieces. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation (and disinformation), including one opportunist who created a fake noblewoman, stating she was the mother of Valerie Marie.  For the record, her mother's name is not known. All we know  -- according to Duke Albert's letter to Valerie  -- was that she was a "lady of very high rank."

Valerie Marie was mentioned in several genealogical references but the information was incomplete until I was able to obtain the missing information, including the details on her first marriage, when she was able to change her surname, and even about her death.

In a letter to me in August 1980,  Prince Friedrich Ferdinand said that the Duke of Arenberg had made a similar request more than 20 years earlier.   Here is the text from my book:

"Like his cousin, the Duke of Albany, Prince Albert transferred his residence to Germany when it became clear that the marriage of his cousin Duke Ernst Gunther of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg would be childless.  He succeeded to the Augustenburg estates upon his cousin's death in 1921.

Prince Albert never revealed to anyone, not even his daughter, the name of her mother, although he did tell his two sisters that the woman was of high birth.

Born in a part of Hungary now in Czechoslovakia in 1900, Valerie Marie was raised by a Jewish family named Schwalb, whose name she bore until her first marriage to lawyer Johann Wagner.  In 1939, she acquired by registration the surname zu Schleswig-Holstein and her birth registration was also changed to include the fact that Prince Albert was her natural father.

Valerie Marie knew nothing of her parentage until she received a letter from Albert in 1931 only a few days before his death.

The change of her name was necessary because Valerie Marie was engaged to marry Duke Engelbert-Charles of Arenberg. As her maiden name was of Jewish origin, Valerie Marie was thought to be Jewish, and under Nazi law, mixed marriages were not permitted.  Although her foster parents were Jewish, Valerie Marie was a Roman Catholic.

In July 1938, Valerie Marie's two aunts, Princess Helena Victoria and Princess Marie Louise co-signed a letter acknowledging their niece and attesting to the fact that Valerie Marie was not Jewish.

"We hereby acknowledge and declare that Valerie Wagner is the illegitimate daughter of our brother His Highness Duke Albert of Schleswig-Holstein, who died on the 27th of April 1931.  We are entirely ignorant of the names and identity of Valerie Wagner's mother, but we understand that she was a lady of very high rank.  Our brother in order to shield this lady's honour never divulged her name to anyone.  Valerie Wagner's foster parents, in whose name she was registered, were of Jewish descent, but we desire to emphasize the fact that Valerie Wagner herself is not of Jewish birth.  Our brother, the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, in a personal letter to Valerie Wagner, deplored the fact that she had been entrusted to the care of a family of a different race and faith to her own."

Valerie Marie's first marriage ended in divorce in 1938 and was annulled by the Catholic Church two years later.  She married the Duke of Arenberg in a civil ceremony in Berlin in 1939.  A Roman Catholic ceremony was performed in October 1940 following the annulment.

In April 1945, the American 9th Army requisitioned the Arenbergs' 300-room castle on the Rhine river.  The Duchess was indignant when the officers asked her to give up most of the rooms in the 200-year-old castle.  `I wouldn't put servants in the quarters the Americans asked me to live in.  Imagine me getting along in fourteen rooms,' she told an Associated Press reporter.

The Duchess of Arenberg died in 1953.  Her aunt, Princess Marie Louise, attended Valerie Marie's funeral at Enghien, Belgium.  Born illegitimate, her mother's name unknown, Valerie Marie died a duchess with the style of Serene Highness."

Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise's notarized statement was written on  July 26, 1938.  Valerie Marie had divorced her first husband, Ernst Johan Wagner in 1938.  They had married in civil and Roman Catholic ceremonies, the divorced applied to the civil marriage.  The Roman Catholic wedding was annulled.  Valerie Marie was engaged to Duke Engelberg-Charles of Arenberg, but the German authorities were not going to allow the marriage to take place as Valerie Marie had been raised by a Jewish family named Schwalb.  She was not Jewish but Roman Catholic.  Valerie Marie had to prove to the German authorities that she was not Jewish.

 When she married Ernst Johann Wagner, MD  in 1925, she used the name, Valerie Marie Schwalb. When the marriage was annulled in October 1940, she used the name Schleswig-Holstein, although she was using Schwalb when she was granted a civil divorce in 1938.

Valerie Marie was born on April 3, 1900, at Liptovsky Svaty Mikulas, Hungary.  Her birth was registered the following day: Valerie Maria Schwalb, girl Roman Catholic.

(Liptovsky was a part of Hungary until 1920, then Chechoslovakia until 1938, when it became Slovakia, from 1945 until January 1, 1993, again in Czechoslovakia, and now Liptovský Mikuláš in Slovakia).

Duke Albert's letter to Valerie Marie was written on April 15, 1931.  He died on April 27.  Valerie Marie did not change her birth registration until May 5, 1939.  This was done at the District office in Liptovsky Svata Mikulas.  The name Valerie Maria Schwalb was erased and replaced with "Natural father of the child is Albert Herzog zu Schleswig-Holstein.  As the name of the girl the family name is specified as zu Schleswig-Holstein."

the official letter from Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise

During the second world war, Valerie Marie and her husband, Engelbert-Charles, had lived in Germany, although  Prince Engelbert-Charles was a Belgian national.  In March  1945, the U.S. 2nd Armored division captured the family's 200-year-old castle, Schloss Nordkirchen in Westphalia. The Duke claimed that he was not a Nazi, and had not fought in the war, but the American military noticed an autographed photo of Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister. 

He also told the American authorities that he had met Hermann Goering once.  This happened in 1939 when he married the daughter of the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein.  As she was part English, the British Ambassador Neville Henderson had introduced them to Goering, who "had arranged the necessary papers for them."

Living with Valerie and Engelbert Charles was the prince's cousin, Karl Rudolf, the Duke of Croy, whose home had been destroyed by a bomb ten days earlier.  (The Duke was married four times.  His first wife was American, Nancy Leishman.  They divorced in 1922.)

Valerie Marie never met her father, but she did have a relationship with her two aunts, which lead to meeting other cousins, including Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, who lived in exile in Switzerland.

"My mother loved "the Schleswig-Holstein bastard" who smothered her with lovely presents," Infanta Maria Cristina of Spain wrote to me in July 1988.  "But Aunt Louie [Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein] wasn't amused by this intimacy between the cousins.  She was always known as the bastard.  Poor Valerie,  very smart, pretty & fickle.  She killed herself one night with every pill she found.  Depression I suppose and an impossible love.  It was a general shock.  Her father must have been a crashing pompous bore!"

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Ron said...

Interesting the Helena Victoria and Marie Louise are referred and sign as "Princess of Schleswig-Holstein." In Britain at this time they had long ceased to use their territorial designation.

BlueSaphire70 said...

"Imagine me, getting along in 14 rooms." Seriously? As an illegitimate child raised by a Jewish family, she had surely been saved from a concentration camp (and possibly death) by her well-connected royal relatives, and she says she can't abide living in only 14 rooms. She must have been joking, right? I am quite impressed not only by her father's admission of fatherhood, but also by his sisters' subsequent verification of the fact. Even today royals are loathe to admitting illegitimate children- look at King Albert of Belgium. I wonder if Valerie tried to help her adopted family during the war. Somehow, I don't think she did, but I could be wrong. It's still a very interesting story.

Marc23 said...

Well, I don't think Prince Albert would entrust her daughter to a "poor" family. Even if so, I think he would anonymously provide for her and her foster parents, so I don't think she or parents that adopted her were living in poor circumstances. So, I can assume that she was accustomed to relatively comfortable life even before the letter of her father came.

Nevertheless, I find articles and information about her most interesting. I also thought that maybe the place of her birth (Liptovský Mikuláš) could bring us closer to the family from which her mother comes from. It would be interesting to know what noble families lived or had properties in this area. But on the other hand, at that time, girls from noble families where sent far away from their home to deliver illegitimate children, so that could't be a clue.

Somehow, I think that somewhere there exists someone who knows (maybe a descendant of a relative) who Marie Valerie's mother is, but in effort to protect her mother's family (or his/her family name) will not reveal it. Maybe, just maybe, one day we will know more.

Again, thank you Marlene for this interesting article. Lesser known royals are always more interesting as not much is known about them.

Marlene Eilers Koenig said...

It is more likely that the foster family had no idea about the parentage. My gut feeling tells me that in the summer of 1899, in Berlin or somewhere else in Germany, he got a woman pregnant, single or married. He may have made arrangements for her to have the baby in an obscure place where no one would know her. Easy to go away for a trip, for health, say one thing, go somewhere else, then gave a baby, arrangements made, a few weeks later, return to a normal life. perhaps later married or not ... But it is clear that the name was kept secret, that Albert told no one, and in fact, never told anyone until he was dying. The mother went on with her life .. or died early.

Marc23 said...

Thank you Marlene for an interesting insight, regarding her foster parents. It makes sense what you assume, but I still somehow feel that someone else might have known...If not the girl's immediate family, than somebody who was involved in helping her get away and safely deliver a child.

For years I have been intrigued who could be her mother, or at least to identify her family and their status, especially since Prince Albert stated that she was from "very high birth", not just "high birth", but "VERY high birth"...does it mean that she was a Princess, Duchess, mediatized Princess, mediatized Countess or just Countess, Baroness...?

Sorry for spamming, but I just love this mystery around Marie Valerie. I wonder, if somehow Prince Albert knew Marie Valerie was going to become a Duchess and that Nazis would make fuss about her background and her parents, maybe he would at least reveal something more, in order to make her life easier in Germany at that time...Just a thought.

Marlene Eilers Koenig said...


Albert died in 1931, 2 years before the Nazis came to power. Her first marriage was to an Austrian medical doctor in 1935, four years after Albert's death. They were divorced in 1938. She married the Duke of Arenberg in 1939, 8 eight years after Albert's death. I cannot answer the question about very high birth, but it would not be a baroness or even a countess. The fact is that Albert took the secret to the grave, the woman could have used an assumed name, and gave birth in total privacy with no one she knew. The point is ... the mother is lost to the mists of time.

Marc23 said...

Well, your answer makes sense. It seems she was indeed of very high birth and Albert protected her and her family by hiding her name. I understand the very high probability that the "mother is lost to the mists of time", but that at that time someone else, other than Albert might have known the truth about her identity. P.S. Love these kind of articles where mystery makes it more interesting.

Unknown said...

What a pity she had no offspring so that DNA could track down the mother.

Unknown said...

Hi always awesome research!!! I was always intrigue about Valerie zu Schleswig and the mistery about her birth mother...sadly she took her own life according to the letter transcribed here...about a mitocondrial DNA could be performed in her remains and perhaps the mistery could be solved!! Imagine that!!!