Monday, December 5, 2016

Remembering Grand Duchess Augusta (1822-1916)

One hundred years ago today, on December 5, 1916, Grand Duchess Augusta of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1822-1916) (born Princess Augusta of Cambridge) died at the remarkable age of 94. One of my favourite royal personalities of the 19th century, she was known within the family for her strong opinions. Among the things she disapproved of were her cousin Queen Victoria's refusal to go inside St. Paul's Cathedral for her own Diamond Jubilee service in 1897 ("thanking God in the street?!") and the democratic origins of the new Norwegian monarchy in 1905 ("a Revolutionary Coronation!"; her niece the Princess of Wales wrote back, "it is strange, but these are very modern times.") (Sometimes when I disapprove of something I say to myself, "what would Grand Duchess Augusta say?")

During the preparations for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, 64 years after the last such ceremony, Grand Duchess Augusta was frequently consulted as she was one of the few living people who could remember the coronations of not only Victoria but also her uncle William IV. Born just two years after the death of her grandfather King George III, she lived through the reigns of George IV, William IV, Victoria, Edward VII, and into the reign of George V. Close to her niece Queen Mary, she regretted being too old to travel to London for their coronation in 1911. In the last years of her life, the Great War divided her from her beloved England. But as she wrote to Queen Mary (via neutral Sweden) not long before her death, "it is a stout English heart that beats beneath these old bones." Sadly, she had outlived her son Grand Duke Adolf Friedrich V (1848-1914), though she was spared the mysterious suicide of her grandson Adolf Friedrich VI (1882-1918). Grand Duchess Augusta was the longest-lived member of the British royal family ever until Princess Alice of Athlone (1883-1981) broke her record; she remains its second-longest-lived member by birth.

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