Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Prince Maurice of Battenberg


It was at Balmoral Castle where Princess Beatrice, youngest of Queen Victoria’s nine children, gave birth to her fourth and last child, a son, on October 3, 1891.  In a letter to her granddaughter, Princess Louis of Battenberg (nee Princess Victoria of Hesse and By Rhine), a few days before the birth, Queen Victoria wrote that “Auntie” was doing well in the final days of her pregnancy, and has been “well & active doing everything, but since Sunday it may be any day & we hope this week.”

It was 6:45 a.m. when Beatrice “gave birth to a Prince,” and, according to the Court Circular’s announcement, “both are going on admirably.”

The Court Circular also noted that the new prince was “Her Majesty’s 34th grandchild and 12th grandson.”   

Queen Victoria and Prince Henry of Battenberg were present for the birth.

Daily bulletins regarding the condition of the Princess and her infant son were published in the Court Circular.  Two days after the birth, it was reported that “Her Royal Highness (Princess Henry of Battenberg) and the Infant Prince are making very satisfactory progress.”  The bulletin was signed by John Williams, MD, and James Reid, MD.

The Home Secretary was at Balmoral, as it was the “custom for the birth of a member of the Royal Family;” and he “communicated officially” to the Lord Mayor of London that the Princess’s accouchement and the birth of a son.  A copy of the official letter was “at once posted on the wall of Mansion House.”

A 21-gun salute was fired by the Royal Artillery at St. James’s Park in honor of the birth of the infant Prince.

Embed from Getty Images  

 Princess Beatrice was married in 1885 to Prince Henry of Battenberg, one of four sons of Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine and his morganatic wife, Julie von Hauke.    In 1858, Alexander’s brother, Grand Duke Ludwig III of Hesse and By Rhine raised Julie and her children to the Princely title of Battenberg with the rank of Serene Highness. (Queen Victoria bestowed the HRH on Prince Henry on the occasion of his marriage to Princess Beatrice.)

The couple’s first child, Prince Alexander Albert, was born at Windsor Castle on November 3, 1886.  He was born with the rank of Serene Highness, but on December 13 of that year, Queen Victoria issued a Royal Warrant, granting Beatrice's children the rank of His/Her Highness.  Eleven months after the birth of Alexander, Beatrice gave birth at Balmoral on October 24, to a daughter, Victoria Eugenie Ena Julia.   A second son, Prince Leopold Arthur Louis was born at Windsor Castle, on May 21, 1889.   It was soon discovered that Prince Leopold was a hemophiliac, having inherited the gene from his mother.

The final medical bulletin was issued on October 11 from Balmoral.  “Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice (Princess Henry of Battenberg) is convalescent, and the infant Prince is quite well.  No further bulletins will be issued.”

Embed from Getty Images

“Dear Auntie seems to get better & stronger each time tho’ I hope she will stop for many reasons – she is moving abt. now & has sat up since Saturday.  She never has had a single drawback.  The baby (who out to have been a girl) is a big fine strong Child & dark.” 

  Embed from Getty Images

The Queen did not express her reasons to her granddaughter, who was not only Beatrice’s niece but also her sister-in-law, as she was married to Prince Henry of Battenberg’s older brother, Prince Louis.

She may have been concerned about reports in the “gutter press” about the growing size of Beatrice’s family.

The baptism of Prince and Princess Henry’s son took place at Balmoral on November 1.  Queen Victoria invited “guests, together with the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Household in waiting and the principal servants and tenants on the Balmoral, Albergeldie and Birkhall estate” to attend the service, in the castle’s drawing room.

The Queen entered the drawing room at 1:00 p.m., accompanied by Prince and Princess Henry and their two eldest children, Prince Alexander Albert, nearly five, and four-year-old, Princess Victoria Eugenie, and Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein.

They were followed by Princess Christian (Princess Helena) of Schleswig-Holstein, Queen Victoria’s third daughter, who represented one of the infant prince’s godmothers, Her Grand Ducal Highness the Princess of Leiningen.  The other godparents were the Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, the Dukes of Clarence & Avondale, Prince Franz Joseph of Battenberg, and the Duchess of Connaught, none of whom were present for the ceremony.  The Queen represented the Duchess of Connaught.

The service was led by the Very. Rev. James Cameron Lees, D.D., Dean of the Thistle and of the Chapel Royal of Scotland, and the Chaplain to the Queen.

The ceremony opened with the baptismal hymn “Lord Jesu Christ, our Lord most dear,” sung by the Aberdeen Madrigal choir.  During the singing of the hymn, the Acting Master of the Household, Major-General T. Dennehy, “conducted the infant Prince, who was carried by his nurse,” and attended by Princess Beatrice’s lady-in-waiting, Miss Minnie Cochrane, “to the places assigned to them.”

  Embed from Getty Images

Miss Cochrane carefully handed the baby to Queen Victoria, who held him at the baptismal font as the “Holy Sacrament of Baptism was administered.”   The baby was named Maurice (Prince Henry’s second name, in honor of Julie von Hauke’s father, Moritz), Victor (for Queen Victoria), and Donald (in honor of Maurice’s birth in Scotland.)

After Maurice was received into the church, the choir sang another hymn, “O Father, Thou who has created all,” written by the English composer, Arthur Sullivan.

The newly baptized Prince Maurice was handed back to his nurse, and taken to the nursery, as the Queen and her guests went to the Drawing Room, where the luncheon was served.  The servants and tenants who attended the service were invited to have lunch in the ballroom.

Prince Maurice and his three older siblings grew up in a “privileged, protected world,” coddled by servants, nannies, and cousins.   Princess Beatrice was not particularly maternal, and most of her time was spent with her mother’s companion, while her four children were raised mainly by nannies.   Maurice was only four when his father, Prince Henry, died of fever while serving in the Ashanti campaign.   Beatrice’s biographer, Matthew Dennison, wrote that Beatrice submitted to Henry’s death “without complaint to the loss of all that had made her life happiest.”   

Princess Beatrice left the court for a month, to “grieve alone,” resisting Victoria’s view that Henry’s death was a “shared tragedy, our great sorrow.”    Following the funeral and burial at Whippingham, Beatrice and her four children left the Isle of Wight on February 13 for Cimiez in the South of France.  Her sister, Louise, and her mother joined her in March.   

Henry was the “joy of my life, whom I never cease to miss, however, many years have passed by, since he was taken from me,” Beatrice wrote in 1926.   

When Maurice and his siblings joined their grandmother for tea at Osborne, Victoria wrote in her journal: “little Maurice is a delightful child.”

On January 22, 1901, Beatrice was freed from her nearly lifelong duties as her mother’s companion and secretary, when her mother died, and her eldest brother, Edward succeeded to the throne.  Beatrice and her children were with her mother during Victoria’s final hours. Leopold “played his violin, offering soothing music,” but 9-year-old Maurice “cried so loudly” that he was taken from the room.  Victoria’s death did not mean that Beatrice would be providing her own children with a “permanent loving presence.”  She did not have the parenting skills or the ability to deal with her children, especially the three eldest, all of whom were described as “lazy and unfocused.”

Only young Maurice, who resembled his father, was “too young to give trouble.  As a child, he grew close to his cousin, Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein.   As she was 21 years older than her first cousin, Helena Victoria ‘Thora’ was more like a fun aunt, playing games with Maurice.   When her oldest brother, Prince Christian Victor, died of enteric fever in October 1900, while serving in South Africa, Maurice offered comfort, “promising one day” to serve in Christian Victor’s regiment, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

One of Victoria’s devoted Maids of Honour, Marie Mallet (nee Adeane) saw little Maurice often.  In November 1896, she wrote in her diary: “I took Victor [her son] to the Royal Nursery where he had an excellent lunch with the two little Princes Maurice and Leopold who was most kind to him, giving him toys and other treasures.”

At age 12, Maurice was sent to Locker’s Park, a boarding school at Hemel Hempstead. He relished school life, was popular with classmates, and was called ‘Plumpy.’   While his mother and his older siblings spent six months in Egypt, he divided his holidays with his uncle, Prince Louis of Battenberg, and his family or with his cousin, Thora.  

The news that Prince Leopold had become ill in Egypt caused concern for Prince Maurice.  His cousin, Princess Irene, who was married to another first cousin, Prince Henry of Prussia, was visiting London, and Maurice was “Careful not to tell Irene a word about Leo.”  He was only 12 years old, but the young Maurice understood the seriousness of his brother’s illness.  He did not want to upset Irene with news of Leopold’s health as he knew her eldest son, Prince Waldemar, was also a hemophiliac.

He transferred to Wellington College in 1905, and four years later, he was sent to Sandhurst.

It was at school where Maurice began to experience life outside the royal cocoon, where the only playmates he had were his three siblings, several cousins, and children at court, including Victor Mallet. Before being sent to boarding school, Maurice and his older brothers were taught by governesses, “first in French, then German and finally English.”

In 1905, Princess Victoria Eugenie, known as Ena, was the chosen bride of King Alfonso XIII of Spain.  He was determined to marry the radiant Ena, a Protestant princess, although his mother, Queen Maria Cristina wanted him to marry a Roman Catholic princess.  Alfonso was deeply in love with Ena and remained persistent in his desire.  After eight months of holding out, Maria Cristina gave in.  She wrote to Princess Beatrice and asked for an “unofficial approach” to be made to King Edward VII.

This was done in January 1906, when Beatrice and her family were present at Windsor Castle for the official visit of King George I of the Hellenes.  Ena watched as her mother took the king into a small drawing room, where Beatrice gave her brother the news of Alfonso’s proposal.  Ena, sensing what was about to happen, “went out to the terrace to hide her excitement.”  She was soon joined by her uncle who “patted her check,” and gave his approval to her marriage.

The engagement was officially announced several weeks later after Ena’s conversion to the Roman Catholic Church and traveling to Spain to meet Queen Maria Cristina.   

In early May, King Alfonso XIII came to England for an official visit, where Maurice and his brother, Leopold, got to know their future brother-in-law, as they accompanied him on several engagements.

On the evening of May 23, 1906, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra gave a farewell dinner in honor of Princess Victoria Eugenie.   Prince Maurice and his brothers were among the guests at the formal dinner.    The following day, Ena and her family left for Spain.  They were accompanied by King Edward VII to Victoria Station.  Thirteen-year-old Maurice witnessed the enthusiastic welcome that his sister received when she entered Madrid.  The cheering crowds gave no hint of what was to come on Alfonso and Ena’s wedding on May 31, when an assassin threw a bomb, disguised as a bouquet, at Alfonso and Ena’s carriage as they rode back to the palace.   More than 100 people were injured, and 24 were killed in the attack.  Neither the king nor his new bride sustained serious injuries, although Ena’s veil was singed and her wedding gown was covered in bloodstains.

One can only imagine how Maurice reacted to the attack, perhaps thankful that his sister and her husband were all right, albeit shaken up by the event.  He and his brothers and Princess Beatrice were seated in the middle of St. Jeronimo Church, behind “the rows of princes attending the wedding as representatives of Europe’s crowned heads.”

Before returning to London, Prince Maurice and Prince Leopold traveled to Schloss Rosenau, near Coburg, to visit their widowed aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Duchess of Edinburgh), presumably to provide all the details about Ena’s wedding. 

Two years later, Alfonso and Ena returned to England, where they spent time at Osborne.  Princess Beatrice hosted a garden party for more than 200 guests in honor of the King and Queen.  Maurice was present for the family occasions and accompanied the king and queen on their engagements.

Embed from Getty Images

Maurice emerged from his teenage years with a reputation for being “reckless,” having become “passionate about driving.”   He loved to drive fast, which lead to two speeding tickets in 1910 and 1914, respectively.  In October 1911, Prince Maurice crashed into another car, causing serious damage to both cars.   No one was hurt, including Prince Leopold, who was in the car with his brother.   

When he was summoned to the Felham Police Court on May 25, 1914, for driving a “motor car along Hampton Court Road, Hampton, on May 8,” at the rate of 34 miles per hour. It was noted in court at the time of being pulled over, Prince Maurice told the police officer: “You fellows are always out trapping on race days.”  

He was a first cousin of King George V, but that did not prevent Prince Maurice from being fined £3.00 for his speeding conviction.  His address was listed as Kensington Palace.

Although Prince Maurice was destined for a military career, there was a report in the New York Times in 1910 that Sir Thomas Lipton had taken the young Prince “into his employ.”  Sir Thomas was made aware of Prince Maurice’s “promising business capacity” by King Alfonso, when the king was a guest on Sir Thomas’ yacht, Erin.   However, the employment appears to have been brief, as there were no further reports of Maurice’s alleged business acumen. 

Unlike his older brothers, he was a “stronger character,” and was very protective of the hemophiliac Prince Leopold.   He did not forget his promise to his cousin, Princess Helena Victoria.   He joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and in March 1911, received the rank of second lieutenant.  This announcement was made in the London Gazette, after passing out from Sandhurst.  He was promoted to lieutenant in February 1914.

Maurice celebrated his 21st birthday on October 3, 1913.  He was a handsome young man, popular in London society, often attending balls and other social events.   He loved to fly, and in April 1914, “made a flight a Bournemouth with the late Gustave Hamel, in which he ‘twice looped the loop.’”

He was also a Freemason and served as the Master of the Twelve Brothers Lodge No 785 in Southampton, and was a member of the Old Wellingtonian Lodge, No. 3404 in London.

Great Britain’s entry into what would become the first world war changed everything.  There would be no more balls, no more opportunities to meet eligible young women.   A week after the war began, Maurice left England for France with the 1st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on August 12.  

This was followed by a ten-day march toward Mons.   It was not a successful march and the British troops were forced into a dangerous retreat, as he wrote to his mother: “I shall always look back on that forced march as a nightmare.”

Maurice wrote to his mother that the “retreat was a nightmare.”  It would only get worse.  He wrote to King George that “no words can describe how unpleasant that retreat was. Nothing but march, march, and fight rearguard actions all the time.”

By September 5, the British and French troops managed to halt the German advance.  The news continued to be good: German troops were being pushed back.   It would not last.  Five days later, Maurice’s battalion, as the advance guard, met a German column in retreat.  After a two-and-a-half battle, the Germans surrendered.    Several of Maurice’s soldiers were killed.  He had a “lucky escape,” as a bullet went right through his cap.

The fighting increased.  On the 14th, Prince Maurice learned that his brother, Alexander, had been wounded in battle.    As September turned into October, the nights became older and longer in the trenches.  “The thing we all fear and hate is the German artillery.  It must be admitted that they are really good,” Maurice wrote to King George.

[It is unlikely that Prince Maurice was told of the death of Prince Maximilian of Hesse, the son of his son, Princess Margarete of Prussia, the youngest sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II.  Only a few miles from where Prince Maurice was based, Prince Max was killed on October 13.  He was an officer with the Prussian 1st Life Hussars.]  

As the battles continued, and the British and French armies made advancements, Maurice believed that he and his troops would be moving toward Belgium.  The 36-hour journey on a cattle truck brought the prince and his soldiers to Hazebrouck on October 17.   Prince Maurice went on ahead to arrange accommodation, but after expecting to receive orders to move to Lille, they were ordered to Ypres.   

As Prince Maurice’s King’s Royal Rifle Corps marched toward Ypres, they realized they were “heavily outnumbered” by German troops.

The march came to a halt.  Two days later, the Germans began a “concentrated bombardment and attack” on Ypres.  The 1st KRRC battalion remained in the background until October 26, when they were ordered to “attack in the area of Polygon Wood.”   The troops came under heavy fire, forcing the battalion to stop and move to Zonnebeke.   Several hours later, the battle resumed, and Prince Maurice led his men toward the Kleiburg Spur “when a shell burst near him.”

Prince Maurice of Battenberg died from his wounds on October 27, 1914, less than a month after being mentioned in the dispatches for “gallantry.”  He was 23 years old.   

Britain's National Archives has the war diaries for the 1st Battalion. On October 27, 1914, the war diary recorded:  "During the advance eastwards from the ridge the battalion came under terrific shell fire as well as rifle fire… Poor [Prince] Maurice was killed outright just on top of the ridge."

King George commanded that the Court “wear mourning for three weeks for Prince Maurice.”   After they were informed of Maurice’s death, George and Mary were driven to Kensington Palace to offer consolation to the grieving Princess Beatrice.   Lord Tennyson received a telegram from Princess Henry of Battenberg, Governor of the Isle of Wight.  

“I am telegraphing you as my deputy on the island to tell you that I have just heard of the death of my beloved son Maurice, who died of wounds received in action yesterday.  Beatrice.”

 Lord Tennyson responded to the telegram, assuring Princess Beatrice of “the deepest sympathy of the whole island in her loss of a brave and noble son.”

Maurice’s first cousin, Prince Arthur of Connaught, was in St. Omer, France, as the aide-de-camp to Sir John French.  He was able to visit Ypres and see where Maurice was killed.  Lord Kitchener offered to make arrangements to bring Maurice’s body back to England for burial, but Princess Beatrice declined. She believed her son should lie with his fallen comrades.

Prince Maurice was buried at Ypres on October 30.  Prince Arthur, the only son of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, attended the funeral.  He wrote to his mother about the funeral.  It “was most impressive in its way, as there was a very heavy attack going and the parson’s voice was nearly drowned by the noise of the guns, and the German shells kept creeping nearer and nearer.”

Queen Victoria Eugenia, King Alfonso, and other members of the Spanish royal family attended a memorial service in the royal palace’s chapel on October 31.   Protestant churches throughout Spain also held memorial services in honor of Ena’s youngest brother.  Ena felt her brother’s death keenly.  She wrote to Queen Mary in 1915: “It is very hard to be away from my old home at such a time as this and especially so since Maurice’s death when I know Mama is so sad and needs me so much. I would give anything to be able to go to her but that I fear will not be possible for a long time to come.”

King George, Queen Mary, and Queen Alexandra were among the members of the British Royal Family to attend a private memorial service at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace on November 5.  Empress Eugenie of France also attended, along with the Prime Minister and two Field Marshals, Kitchener and Grenfell.   The Archbishop of Canterbury presided at the service and gave the benediction.

It is not known if Princess Beatrice ever visited her son’s grave, as there are no news reports nor is the topic mentioned by her biographers.   Less than a month after the Armistice, King George V, the Prince of Wales, and Prince Albert paid an official visit to Ypres on December 9, 1918.  They attended a short service at Lille, before traveling to Ypres, where the King visited two cemeteries.  At the second cemetery, he stopped at a “cross marking the last resting place of Prince Maurice of Battenberg.”

King George returned to Ypres on May 11, 1922.  The first grave he visited was Prince Maurice’s, represented by a “plain wooden cross, but is planted with beautiful flowers and bore a large wreath presented by the town of Ypres.”   A year later, in April 1923, the Prince of Wales, traveling incognito, visited the Belgian battlefields and graves, including the Communal Cemetery in Ypres, where he paid his respects at Prince Maurice’s grave.

On May 6, 1923, after an official visit to Belgium, King Alfonso and Queen Ena left Brussels by train to return to Spain.  The Royal train stopped at Ypres, where Queen Ena got out and was taken to her brother’s grave.  It was her first visit to Maurice’s final resting place.

There may be a sense of the absurd with the fact that Prince Maurice, the youngest of Queen Victoria's youngest grandchildren, died in a battle fighting the enemy, the armies of his first cousin, Queen Victoria's eldest grandchild, Kaiser Wilhelm II.

It is unlikely that Wilhelm would have understood or appreciated Maurice's epitaph: "Those who shared with Prince Maurice of Battenberg, the perils and glories, the happiness and the miseries of life at ‘the front", will retain memories of his pluck, his lovable nature, and his good comradeship.  For all, he had a cheery, kindly word, and all had a kindly word for him."

If you liked this article, perhaps you can buy me a coffee.  Thanks!


Unknown said...

Very good article!

rvchua said...

I always find interesting the anecdotes of the relationships of Queen Victoria's grandchildren especially those who are not famous.

Andrea said...

R.i.p. He died too young.