Preternaturally Lovely: Britain’s Queen Alexandra of Denmark

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Albumen carte de visite (CDV) of future Queen Alexandra when Princess of Wales, taken at Sandringham in 1863. This image was marketed by the London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 54 Cheapside and 110 Regent Street. There is also a sticker on CDV’s reverse: “Juvenile Book Depot and Passport Agency, C. Goodman, bookseller and stationer, 407 Strand.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia of Denmark as a young woman, circa 1860. She was born 1 December, 1844, in the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen, the daughter of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (later King Christian IX of Denmark) and Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel. Her upbringing was not extravagant and she remained close to her parents and siblings, even after marrying Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and taking up her new life in Great Britain. Library of Congress.
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September 1862: A group photograph to mark the engagement between the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra. Included are members of the Princess’s family including Prince Christian of Denmark, later King Christian IX; Princess Louise, later Queen of Denmark; Leopold, Duke of Brabant; Marie Henriette, Duchess of Brabant; and Princess Dagmar of Denmark. According to an 1879 issue of the magazine Harpers Bazaar, “A younger generation are fond of recalling the April morning when the young Princess of Wales reached England. The boat touched the shore, and the multitude crowding the quay saw a mere slip of a girl nervously clinging to the railing on the deck, and looking with a pale, pretty face at the new country, her dress plain almost to shabbiness, and her bonnet of so old-fashioned a make that a London milliner was hurriedly telegraphed to for a more lilting head-gear for the future queen’s entry into London. A wave of applause and cheers went up as the Prince of Wales embraced his betrothed and conducted her to the shores of her new home. The same day she was driven through London in great state, and a lady near enough socially to be good authority has told us of her pretty, girlish timidity when the crowd stared at her, with cheers and wild demonstrations of delight.” Courtesy Royal Collection.
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The Dagmar Necklace, a wedding gift given to Princess Alexandra in 1863 by her father, King Christian IX of Denmark. It was created by court jeweler Julius Dideriksen to include 118 pearls and 2,000 diamonds set in gold. It features a replica of an 11th Century Byzantine cross found in the grave of Queen Dagmar of Denmark, the wife of medieval King Valdemar II. The original cross is considered a Danish national treasure. The Dagmar Necklace is occasionally worn by British Queens to this day. Royal Collection.
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10 March, 1863: A hand-tinted albumen print of the Prince and Princess of Wales after their wedding at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. Queen Victoria watched the service from the Queen Catherine of Aragon Closet. The monarch, whose adored husband, Prince Albert, was dead not yet two years and who still deeply mourned him, burst into tears during the service. Royal Collection.
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September 1863: The new Prince and Princess of Wales a few months after their marriage. “I frankly avow to you that I did not think it possible to love a person as I do her,” he wrote to his mother. Alexandra penned, “If he were a cowboy I should love him just the same and marry no one else.” Despite his constant affairs, she never stopped loving him, nor he, her. Royal Collection.
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1864: Alexandra with her firstborn child, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, called Eddy, who was second in line for the throne after his father, the Prince of Wales. Prince Eddy died of influenza in 1892, leaving his mother heartbroken. Royal Collection.
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1869: An intimate albumen CDV of Alexandra, her long hair loose, with the Prince of Wales and their first three children. Alexandra was a hands-on mother who loved to care for her children. Mrs. Blackburn, the royal nursery’s head nurse, recalled that the Princess of Wales “was in her glory when she could run up to the nursery, put on a flannel apron, wash the children herself and see them asleep in their little beds.” Alexandra suffered from rheumatic fever during the birth of Louise, Princess Royal, seen in her mother’s lap in this CDV. The illness combined with labor almost killed Alexandra, and although she recovered, the rheumatic fever left her with a permanent limp. Her gait was later emulated by other women to whom she was a style and fashion icon. Royal Collection.
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A tartan gown worn by Alexandra in 1870. Bath Fashion Museum.
Alexandra's Family
Alexandra gave birth to Prince Albert Victor in 1864, Prince George in 1865, Princess Louise in 1867, Princess Victoria in 1868, Princess Maud in 1869, and Prince Alexander John, who lived only one day, in 1871. “The Princess’s children were born in such rapid succession that much of her time has been spent in their nurseries; and as a mother, she has excelled even the proverbial English standard. The three nurseries at Marlborough House are fitted up in no way luxuriously, but with every possible contrivance for the comfort and pleasure of the little inmates, and the Princess herself visits them night and morning. Every want is made known to her, every order given by her in person; and looking at the recent picture of her, with her five children grouped about her, one can see her at her best—the happy, loving mother,” reported Harper’s Bazaar. Royal Collection.
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1881: Alexandra, Princess of Wales, wearing the Dagmar Necklace given to her by her father. Royal Collection.
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27 July, 1889: Alexandra posed with her sons George, Duke of York, and Eddy, Duke of Clarence, on the wedding day of Louise, Princess Royal, to Alexander Duff, Duke of Fife. Royal Collection.
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This embroidered silk dress, worn by Alexandra in 1893, proves her figure remained virtually unchanged by six pregnancies during 30 years of marriage. Bath Fashion Museum.
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A smiling Alexandra, Princess of Wales, captured outdoors when in her late 50s, circa 1900. A keen amateur photographer herself, the Princess of Wales holds a Kodak Brownie camera. Collection unknown.
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April 1901: This illumination of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra was part of the Federation Celebrations in Brisbane, Australia. The royal couple had became king and queen on 22 January, upon the death of Queen Victoria. Courtesy Aussiemobs.
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Obverse, commemorative coronation medal for King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, 9 August, 1902, at Westminster Abbey. The coronation had to be postponed for several months after the king suffered appendicitis and required emergency surgery. Mark Etheridge Collection.
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Queen Alexandra dressed in coronation robes.  She was Queen Consort during her late 50s and 60s, until 6 May, 1910, when King Edward passed away and her second son ascended the throne as King George V. Royal Collection.
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1901: King Edward and Queen Alexandra dressed for the opening of Parliament. Alexandra wears black mourning for her late mother-in-law Queen Victoria. Courtesy Royal Collection.
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A late-stage mourning gown worn by Queen Alexandra for her mother-in-law in 1902. (In the background is a mannequin dressed in a mourning gown and widow’s cap worn by Queen Victoria.) This photo was taken by the author at “Death Becomes Her,” an exhibition of mourning costumes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, January 2015.
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The Family Order badge of Queen Alexandra. Royal Collection.
1904: A caricature of the Queen during a trip to Norway. She is portrayed carrying her camera. From one of Alexandra’s personal scrapbooks. Royal Collection.
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Queen Alexandra and her younger sister, Dowager Tzarina of Russia Marie Feodorovna (formerly Princess Dagmar of Denmark), ride in the funeral procession of King Edward. Postcard, collection unknown.
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1913: Alexandra, Queen Dowager, dressed in state eveningwear and jewelry, including sash with Royal Family Orders. Library of Congress.
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1915: A sepia-toned bromide print of Queen Mary of Teck (left) and Dowager Queen Alexandra. The image is an early copy of a photo now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London, taken by Christina Livingston Broom. Whether this vignetted image was sold by the National Portrait Gallery or originated with Christina Broom is unknown. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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Dowager Queen Alexandra, her daughter Maud, Queen of Norway, and her grandson Crown Prince Olaf,  from “Court Life from Within,” by Eulalia, Infanta of Spain, published 1915.
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Alexandra lived to see the birth of her great-grandson George Henry Hubert Lascelles on 7 February, 1923. This postcard shows four generations together: Queen Alexandra; King George V; Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood; and baby George Lascelles.
Alexandra of Denmark, Queen Consort to Edward VII of the United Kingdom
The Dowager Queen in her late 70s, just a few years before her death. As Alexandra grew older, she became the victim of increasing hereditary deafness. Toward the end, she developed mild dementia. Alexandra suffered an unexpected heart attack and died at 5:25 p.m., 20 November, 1925, at Sandringham, Norfolk. Library of Congress.
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A postcard of the tomb of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. She was buried there on 28 November, 1925, after a royal funeral at Westminster Abbey, London.

Ω

Buntings for a Bon Vivant King

“For to him above all was life was good,
Above all he commanded, her abundance full-handed.”—Rudyard Kipling, 1910

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Albumen print of the Windsor, Ontario Post Office, in May 1910. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

In 1910, Dr. William L. Bates of Sioux City, Iowa, took the boat The Florida on a meandering holiday. One of his stops was Windsor, Ontario, Canada. While there, he photographed the Windsor Post Office, located at Ouellette Avenue and Pitt Street. Bates found the public building draped in mourning after the death of British King Edward VII, who had passed away 6 May. A ladder was propped against one side of the building indicating that the mourning swags were in of the process of being raised, so likely this image was captured within a day or so of the king’s demise.

King Edward VII was born Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, second child and eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, on the morning of 9 November, 1841. “Our little boy is a wonderfully strong and large child, with very large dark blue eyes, a finely formed but somewhat large nose, and a pretty little mouth,” wrote Victoria to her uncle, Leopold, King of the Belgians, on 29 November. “I hope and pray he may be like his dearest Papa.”

Sadly, “Bertie,” as he was known amongst his family, was little like his erudite, brilliant, moral father or his paragon elder sister, Princess Vicky. Bertie strove to please his parents, who had devised a strict educational program for the heir to the throne, but the boy could never rise to the tonnage of their expectation. Once the grown prince matriculated to Oxford and Cambridge, however, he performed well as a student, giving the lie to his family’s belief that he was somewhat mentally deficient.

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Alexandra and Bertie on their wedding day. Carte de visite courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust.

Bertie was personable, genial, and inclined to a military life that his mother flatly vetoed. He did not protest his parents’ wish that he marry the beautiful and fashionable Princess Alexandra of Denmark, but he chose to lose his virginity in Ireland to actress Nelly Clifden, earning a scalding rebuke by his ailing father, “To thrust yourself into the hands of one of the most abject of the human species, to be by her initiated into the sacred mysteries of creation, which ought to be shrouded in holy awe until touched by pure & undefiled hands!”

Prince Albert died only a fortnight later and the devastated Queen blamed her son for godlike Albert’s ultimate mortality. She wrote of Bertie to her daughter Vicky, “I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder.”

The Prince of Wales married his Danish bride in 1863, and the affection between them resulted in the birth of six children. However, Bertie was incapable of fidelity and took a series of mistresses whom his wife appeared to accept—possibly because Alexandra’s health was badly compromised by childbirth. A post-natal case of rheumatoid fever left her with a limp and hereditary deafness increasingly set in. This did not stop her, however, from undertaking royal appearances for her mother-in-law and being adored by the British people.

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Four generations of British monarchs (left to right): Bertie’s son, Prince George (the future King George V); Queen Victoria; Bertie’s grandson Prince Edward (the future King Edward VIII); and Bertie (the future Edward VII).

Edward traveled extensively as Prince of Wales, greatly enjoying his good will missions and state visits and generally winning hearts. The conasseur of good times put on weight as he aged and by his mother’s death, 22 January, 1901, Bertie had become a portly, dapper, silver-bearded gentleman with his own grandchildren around him. In an early act as king, he donated his childhood home, Victoria and Albert’s Osbourne on the Isle of Wight, to the British people—almost certainly because the place revived unpleasant memories—and chose to reign as Edward VII rather than Albert Edward I, as his mother had desired.

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In 1907, the King posed for an autochrome image in Strathspey, Scotland. He was the first British monarch to be photographed in color. Courtesy Rothschild Archives.

Bertie and his wife were crowned King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra 9 August, 1902. His reign lasted just nine years and a few months, but the time came to be defined by his name—the Edwardian era. It is today recalled fondly as a golden age before two world wars radically reshaped both the map and the souls of humanity.

By 1907, decades of smoking had ruined the King’s lungs and he had developed cancer on his nose that was treated with radium. In May 1910, he had one or more heart attacks and died at the approach of midnight on the 6th, aged 69. Two weeks later, his funeral was the last great gathering of European royalty, many of whom would not survive the coming decade with their kingdoms intact. Bertie was buried in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, and there lies today with Alexandra at his side.

As the king reposed in state at Westminster, a poem by Henry Scott-Holland was read for the first time during a sermon at St. Paul’s, encapsulating the affable man to those he loved:

“Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.

“Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

“Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

“Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.”Ω

V0042567 King Edward VII on his deathbed in Buckingham Palace in 1910
Edward on his deathbed, drawn by Sir Luke Fildes.