Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Marie Luise Viktoria, Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duchess in Saxony (August 17, 1786 – March 16, 1861) was the daughter of Duke Francis Frederick of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield (1750-1806) and Countess Auguste Reuss of Ebersdorf and Lobenstein (1757-1831) and the mother of Queen Victoria.
After the death of the Duke of Kent, his widowed Duchess had little cause to remain in England, not speaking the language and having a palace at home in Coburg, where she could live cheaply on the incomes of her first husband, the late Prince of Leiningen. However, the British succession at this time was far from assured: the only other son of George III who had a viable marriage, the Duke of Clarence (the future William IV) had yet to produce any surviving legitimate children. The Duchess decided that she would be better served to gamble on her daughter's accession than to live quietly in Coburg, and sought support from the British government, having inherited her husband's debts. At the time, Princess Victoria was only fourth in line for the throne, and Parliament was not inclined to support yet another impoverished royal. The Duchess was allowed a suite of rooms in the dilapidated Kensington Palace, along with several other impoverished nobles. There she brought up her daughter, Victoria, who would become Queen.
Victoria, who barely spoke English, relied heavily on John Conroy, an Irish officer whom she engaged as her private secretary. Perhaps due to Conroy's influence, the relationship between Victoria's houshold and King William IV soon soured. William was denied access to his young niece as much as Victoria dared. Victoria further offended the King by taking rooms in Kensington Palace that the King had reserved for himself. This led to a scene at a dinner when the King, again feeling offended by Victoria and Conroy, publicly hoped that his reign would continue until Princess Victoria was of age, and decried the influence on the young princess by those around her.
There has been some speculation, not only that Victoria and Conroy were lovers, but that Victoria had been unfaithful to the Duke of Kent and that Victoria was not his daughter. Those who promote this position point to the the absence of porphyria in the British Royal Family among the descendents of Queen Victoria--it had been widespread before her--and the rise of hemophilia--unknown in that family before her. They also note that the Duke, despite his several mistresses, was not known to have fathered any other children. There is little to no historical evidence for either position.
Conroy had high hopes for his patroness and himself: he envisioned Victoria succeeding the throne at a young age, thus needing a regency government, headed by the princess's mother. As the personal secretary of the Duchess, Conroy would be the veritable "power behind the throne". He did not count on Victoria's uncle, William IV, surviving long enough for Victoria to reach her majority. He had cultivated her mother as his ally, and ignored and insulted Victoria. Now he had no influence over her, and thus tried to force her to make him her personal secretary upon her accession. This plan too backfired, as Victoria came to associate her mother with Conroy's schemes, for pressuring her to sign a paper declaring Conroy her personal secretary. When Victoria became Queen, she relegated the Duchess to separate apartments away from her own.
When the Queen's first child, the Princess Royal, was born, the Duchess unexpectedly found herself welcomed back into Victoria's inner circle. It is likely that this came about as a result of the dismissal of Baroness Lehzen at the behest of Victoria's husband (and Victoria's nephew), Prince Albert. Firstly, this removed Lehzen's influence, and Lehzen had long despised the Duchess and Conroy, suspecting them of an illicit affair. Secondly, it left Victoria wholly open to Albert's influence, and he likely prevailed upon her to reconcile with her mother. Lastly, Conroy had by now exiled himself to Europe, and that divisive influence was removed. Victoria's finances, which had been left in shambles by Conroy, were revived thanks to her daughter and her daughter's advisors. She became a doting grandmother, by all accounts, and was closer to her daughter than she ever had been.
Victoria died on 16 March, 1861. She is buried in the Duchess of Kent's Mausoleum at Frogmore, Windsor Home Park.
The Queen was much affected by her mother's death. It was the start to a disastrous year, which would end with Albert's death.
Titles from birth to death
Here is a list of titles Victoria held from birth to death in chronological order:
- Her Serene Highness Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duchess in Saxony
- Her Serene Highness The Princess of Leiningen
- Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Kent and Strathearn