Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine (1823–1888)

Prince Alexander
Prince of Hesse and by Rhine
Born (1823-07-15)15 July 1823
Darmstadt, Hesse
Died 15 December 1888(1888-12-15) (aged 65)
Seeheim, Hesse
Burial Rosenhohe, Darmstadt
Spouse Countess Julia Hauke
Issue Marie, Princess of Erbach-Schönberg
Louis Mountbatten, Marquess of Milford Haven
Alexander, Prince of Bulgaria
Prince Henry
Prince Francis Joseph
House Hesse-Darmstadt
Father Grand Duke Louis II of Hesse
Mother Wilhelmine of Baden
Grand Ducal Family of
Hesse and by Rhine
Louis II
Louis III
Prince Charles
Princess Elisabeth
Prince Alexander
Maria Alexandrovna, Empress of Russia
Louis IV
Prince Heinrich
Anna, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Prince Wilhelm

Prince Alexander Ludwig Georg Friedrich Emil of Hesse, GCB (15 July 1823 – 15 December 1888) was the third son and fourth child of Louis II, Grand Duke of Hesse, and Wilhelmina of Baden.

Questioned parentage

Though Alexander is best known for the scandal caused by his marriage, his parentage also was the subject of scandal, as it was openly rumoured that his and his sister Marie's father was actually August Ludwig, Freiherr von Senarclens de Grancy, their mother's chamberlain. His mother, although consort of the grand duke, lived apart from her husband, who eventually divorced her but did not repudiate paternity of any of the four children born during the marriage. Thus, when the future emperor Alexander II of Russia, as tsarevich, chose the sixteen-year-old Marie as consort, his parents consented to the match. Because of her youth, Alexander escorted his sister to Russia for her wedding, remaining at the Russian court and joining the inner circle of his brother-in-law the tsarevich after Marie's entourage returned to Hesse.

Alexander's marriage

This promising career was cut short by a scandal, as Alexander fell in love with Countess Julia Hauke, lady-in-waiting to his sister (known, since her conversion to Orthodoxy, as Maria Alexandrovna, ranking only after her mother-in-law Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna). The countess was an orphaned German-Polish ward of the tsar, and daughter of the tsar's former minister of war. At that time, Tsar Nicholas I was considering Alexander as a possible husband for his niece and, when he heard of Alexander's romance, he forbade the couple to marry.

Alexander left for England to contemplate his future, but then returned to Russia and eloped with Julia from St. Petersburg, being stricken by the tsar's orders from the roll of the Russian imperial army for insubordination. The two were married in Breslau in 1851.

Alexander's older brother Louis III, Grand Duke of Hesse, allowed him to re-patriate to Hesse with his bride, although he did not recognize their marriage as dynastic. He granted her the new, hereditary title of Countess von Battenberg (Battenberg was a small town and ruined castle in the north of the grand duchy which, according to the memoirs of their eldest child Marie, the family visited once during her youth, although it never became their residence).

Alexander's wife would deliver his first child barely six months after their elopement. Nonetheless, Julia Hauke was a countess in her own right, as well as a former ward of the tsar whose husband retained, despite exile from Russia, the sympathetic support of the tsarevich and tsarevna. Grand Duke Louis III therefore chose to distinguish her from several non-royal wives of other Hessian princes by conferring upon her, along with the Battenberg countship, the style of Erlaucht (Illustrious Highness), usually reserved in Germany for counts of mediatized (i.e., dynastic) rank.


As a cadet of the Hessian grand ducal dynasty Prince Alexander had followed the martial tradition of his family by offering his sword to the military service of a Great Power while still a teenager, having accompanied his sister to St. Petersburg. He became a respected commander in the Russian army, with the prospect of a distinguished career. He had a regiment of lancers named after him and was awarded the Order of St. George 4th class. His elopement, in sending him abroad AWOL, terminated his military career and made him, initially, a fugitive from Russia.

But once his elder brother recognized his wife, he was able to obtain an appointment in the Austrian army, where he resumed his military career, although remaining sufficiently in disgrace never to be billeted in Vienna. Each of his children would be born in a different city, depending upon where in the Austro-Hungarian empire Prince Alexander was stationed.

After serving Austria with distinction in several battles, he was given a major command in Hesse's small army in its war, as an ally of Austria, with Prussia in 1866. By this time his wife and children had taken up their home at Alexander's small castle at Seeheim-Jugenheim in Hesse, to which he retired after Prussia defeated Austria and Hesse. Although the electorate of Hesse-Kassel, ruled by another branch of Alexander's family, was annexed by Prussia for adhering to the losing side, the fact that Hesse-Darmstadt's grand duke was the brother-in-law of the Russian tsar saved its independence, although not without loss of territory. Henceforth, Alexander and his family alternated between their castle in the grandducal capital of Darmstadt, and their country home a few hours away by carriage.

Alexander was often in attendance at his elder brother's court. But a shift occurred when his sister, now Empress of Russia, began to pay annual visits to her brother in the 1870s along with her husband, children, and a large entourage. Louis III, while benefitting from his kinship to the tsar, preferred to defer entertaining him to Alexander and Marie at Heiligenberg. These annual visits had the twofold effect of enhancing the international prestige of the grandduchy while socially rehabilitating Alexander's morganatic household. Marie of Battenberg's memoirs document the cordiality between Alexander and his eldest brother, while also recording the growing importance of her own family's household as diplomats who wished to pay court to the Russian emperor would await his annual visit to the Hessian countryside to do so discreetly in the more intimate setting of Alexander's home.


Although Prince Alexander retained his own dynastic rights and appanage, his morganatic wife lived a quiet life. Their family lived primarily at Heiligenberg Castle, in southern Hesse. In 1858 Grand Duke Louis III raised his sister-in-law from "Countess" to "Princess" (Prinzessin) von Battenberg, her children sharing in the princely title, and accorded them the style of Serene Highness (Durchlaucht).

Alexander of Hesse and Julia of Battenberg had five children. The children were:

Prince Alexander of Hesse died of cancer in 1888; Princess Julia of Battenberg, having converted to Roman Catholicism, died at Schloss Heiligenberg in 1895 at the age of 70. They lived to see four of their five children, who had no rights of succession to the Hessian throne, mount a throne or marry dynastically, and to become welcome in-laws to Queen Victoria, whose correspondence reflected a consistent respect and fondness for the Battenberg family.


Prince Alexander's children formed marital ties with several reigning families.


Media related to Prince Alexander of Hesse at Wikimedia Commons

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