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Darmstadt’s dynastic web

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Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hessen und bei Rhein (1868–1937), was a grandchild of Queen Victoria, as was his first wife Princess Victoria of Edinburgh, but the marriage was an unhappy one and ended in divorce. In 1931 Georg Donatus, Ernst Ludwig’s son by his second wife Eleonore, married Cecilia of Greece, a member through the maternal line of the Battenberg family, whose family seat, Schloss Heiligenberg, is just south of the city. Shortly after Ernst Ludwig’s death in 1937, the young couple were killed in a plane crash en route to a wedding in London. But the connection to Britain lived on: the wedding – of Georg Donatus’s brother Ludwig to Margaret Geddes, daughter of the British politician and businessman Auckland Geddes – went ahead; the bride wore black. After the war, Cecilia’s brother Philip married the future Queen Elizabeth II, becoming Duke of Edinburgh. Philip’s uncle Louis Mountbatten was the son of the German-born British admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg – who anglicizsed the family name during World War I – and of his wife Viktoria, Ernst Ludwig’s sister.

The Russian connection

The anglophile Hesse-Darmstadts remained close to the British royal family until Margaret’s death in 1997. Yet the family’s dynastic links were not only with Britain. Another of Ernst Ludwig’s sisters married Tsar Nicholas II to become Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, notorious for her friendship with Rasputin. The dynastic links between Darmstadt, London and Russia explain why, when the Russian royals’ remains were rediscovered in Yekaterinburg in the early 1990s, a DNA sample from the Duke of Edinburgh helped to identify them.

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