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Alexandra of Denmark: From Minor Royal to Princess of Wales

Princess Alexandra of Denmark's journey to becoming a Princess of Wales and future queen consort was unexpected for her.

Alexandra of Denmark when she was the Princess of Wales.

Alexandra of Denmark when she was the Princess of Wales.

Alexandra of Denmark: Minor European Royal

Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, known to family and friends as Alix, was born on the 1st December 1844 in the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was the eldest daughter and the second child of six born to Prince Christian (1818-1906) and his wife Princess Louise of Hesse-Cassel (1817-1898).

The family lived well on Prince Christian's army wages but not splendidly by royal standards. Education was not a priority in the household, particularly for the girls, Alix, Dagmar and Thyra. Pretty Alix was never inclined to read or sit quietly when she could romp with her siblings and wreak havoc. Each summer from 1854 Prince Christian and his family could be found relaxing in the 18th century Bernstorff Palace in Gentofte, Copenhagen.

A Suitable Royal Bride For Bertie

At her birth there was little expectation that Alix's junior branch of the family would rule Denmark, however Prince Christian became the heir to the Danish throne in 1853 and he ascended to the throne ten years later when his second cousin King Frederick VII (1808-1863) died without issue despite his three marriages.

By the early 1860's Alix was on the marriage market and on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's daughter Vicky's shortlist of potential brides for Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, otherwise known as Bertie, the future King Edward VII.

Victoria and Albert much preferred a German match but conceded that Vicky or Victoria, Crown Princess of Prussia was in a better position to assess what the European courts had to offer. Vicky championed Alix because she seemed the most likely of the candidates to calm Bertie, perhaps even make him the model family man and a devoted husband. What was Alix's special quality? She was the most attractive of the eligible princesses. The German options would not, Vicky was confident, excite Bertie's interest.

Alix's childhood home was the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen, down the road from King Frederick's Amalienborg Palace.

Alix's childhood home was the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen, down the road from King Frederick's Amalienborg Palace.

Bertie and Alix Meet at Speyer Cathedral

In September 1861 Bertie travelled to Germany on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's instructions. Officially he was there to observe the country’s military but unofficially he was to meet Princess Alexandra of Denmark for the first time with a view to marriage.

Bertie and Alix with Vicky as their chaperone met on the 24th September 1861 at Speyer Cathedral in southwest Germany. The meeting went well and so in truly unromantic style, the Danish and British governments set to work negotiating a marriage. The Danes were informed of Bertie's indiscretion with actress and good-time-girl Nellie Clifden whilst on his army training in Ireland but they were happy to proceed. Bertie seemed amenable to the marriage but he was not in love with Alix; she seemingly complied with everyone else's wishes.

An Unusual Royal Wedding

As the governments agreed on a deal the couple met again on the 9th September 1862, this time at Laeken Palace, Bertie’s great uncle Leopold I of Belgium’s palace just outside Brussels. The engagement ring that Bertie gave to Alix boasted the precious stones beryl, emerald, ruby, turquoise, jacinth and another emerald. The first letter of each of the gems’ names almost spelled “Bertie.” If only jacinth had started with an I. It was a thoughtful gesture but we don't know that it was Bertie's.

Alix arrived in England on 7th March 1863 and at noon on the 10th March, the marriage ceremony took place in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. The queen, in mourning for her beloved Prince Albert, wore black and a widow’s cap and ordered all of the women except for Alix to wear mourning colours. Alix wore a British-made white silk dress with a train over 20 feet long. Bertie wore his British Army General dress uniform and his Order of the Garter robes.

St. George's Chapel, Windsor. The scene of Bertie and Alix's wedding on the 10th March 1863.

St. George's Chapel, Windsor. The scene of Bertie and Alix's wedding on the 10th March 1863.

The official portrait of Bertie and Alix's wedding by William Powell Frith.

The official portrait of Bertie and Alix's wedding by William Powell Frith.

The Funereal Wedding Photos

Queen Victoria sat away from the congregation in the private Catherine of Aragon Closet near to the altar. Unseen, she returned to Windsor Castle before the bride and groom arrived with the guests.

This marriage was remarkable for its comparatively small guest list; most Princes of Wales were married in London, spectacularly and with as many heads of state present as could be crammed in. The ceremony was painted in oil by Sir William Powell Frith.

The wedding photographs featured a sombre queen, an unsmiling Bertie and Alix and a bust of dear departed Albert. At 4 p.m. Bertie and Alix left Windsor for the Isle of Wight and a short honeymoon at Osborne House. Victoria recorded in her diary that she was relieved when the day was over.

Queen Victoria Versus the Prince and Princess of Wales

Within months of their wedding, Bertie and Alix were supporting King Christian of Denmark as he fought Prussia for the Danish territories of Schleswig-Holstein. Queen Victoria was pro-Prussia so acrimony and queenly sulks prevailed. The Wales’ refused to switch allegiance from her father, his father-in-law. Victoria lamented that if only Bertie had married a nice German princess then they wouldn't have had a problem.

When the couple had their first child, it was Queen Victoria who told the parents what they would call their son and heir. She chose Albert Victor, Edward and Christian were graciously permitted as his third and fourth Christian names.

Queen Victoria did not approve of the Wales’ approach to raising their five surviving children, she viewed these grandchildren as wild and unruly. They grew up in a similarly boisterous atmosphere to the one Alix had enjoyed and Bertie wished he’d been able to have.

Marlborough House. London. This was the Prince and Princess of Wales official residence and home to the scandalous Marlborough House Set.

Marlborough House. London. This was the Prince and Princess of Wales official residence and home to the scandalous Marlborough House Set.

The Wales' Marlborough House Set

As Victoria faded from public view, the Prince and Princess of Wales became the visible and newsworthy royals. They undertook royal engagements at their London home Marlborough House and at Sandringham in Norfolk and travelled around the country. They were young and attractive. The Wales’ socialised, danced, played cards, they lived and in the public’s minds the queen had given up her job and joy.

There were affairs in the “Marlborough House Set” and as one scandal after another found its way into the press Queen Victoria criticised from Balmoral or Osborne House. Very rarely was Alix implicated in any of the less desirable occurrences. Alix forged roles as a stoic royal wife, a tactful daughter-in-law and an overly attentive mother.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle