German Royalty: Saxe Coburg Gotha

Figure 1.--.

The Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gortha is probably reconizable to many Brits as the family of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Any assessment of boys' clothing styles have to give considerable attention on Albert and Victoria because of their and the influence of their descendents on boys' fashions. Not only was Albert von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha the husband of Queen Victoria, hiscousin Leopold von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha became Leopold I, King of Belgium. The family also provided a Bulgarian royal line. The present prime minister of Bulgaria is Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Cradle of Kings

The small German principlaity of Saxe-Coburg has produced an amazing number of monarchs. The name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha evokes old notions of royal power. The first, and very promising, years of the 20th century saw five members of this family occupying various European thrones. The little known German principality lost in the Thuringian woods had become, as Bismarck rather crudely called it, "the stud farm of Europe." From Coburg came Prince Albert, the treasured husband of Queen Victoria. Other family members ascended to the thrones of Belgium, Portugal, and Bulgaria, as well as the ducal throne of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. World War I brought the German Empire to a sad close, and the last reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Charles-Edward, lost his throne in November, 1918.


The duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was formed by two separate, neighboring,principalities. The principality of Coburg had been inherited by members of the Saxe-Altenburg family in the 17th century.


The duchy of Saxes-Coburg (Sachsen-Coburg) is located in central Germany. In 1920 Saxe-Gotha was incorporated into Thuringia, and Saxe-Coburg into Bavaria.


Historical era

Saxe Coburg has been a possession of the Ernestine branch of the house of Wettin, it was given by Ernest the Pious (d. 1675) of Saxe-Gotha to his son Albert. On Albert's death (1699) it passed to his younger brother, John Ernest, duke of Saxe-Saalfeld, whose descendants ruled the duchy of Coburg until 1918 and the duchy of Saalfeld until 1826. The extinction (1825) of the related line of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg resulted in a general redivision of the Ernestine possessions in 1826. The duchy of Saalfeld passed to the duke of Saxe-Meiningen, while Ernest III of Saxe-Coburg received the duchy of Gotha and assumed the style Ernest I, duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Ernst I (182?-44)

The principality of Gotha came under the family's control in the 1820's after the death of the last reigning duke. His only daughter, Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha, was the wife of Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. In exchange for Gotha, a much more desirable principality, Duke Ernst gave away the Duchy of Saalfeld. From that date on, the family was known by the name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Louise and Ernst had a very unhappy marriage. Ernst was very cruel to her. Louis out of desperation and loliness had an affair and was banished from the Duchy. Ernest I's brother Leopold I, was crowned King of the Belgians in 1831. Thus the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became the ruling dynasty of Belgium and of England (where the name was changed to Windsor in World War I). They had two children who were never allowed to see their mother after her banishment. In one of the ironies of history, the great promoter of rectitude and family values of the Victorian age, Prince albert, came out of a dysfuctional family and promiscuous parents. The boys were brought up and educated together as if they were twins.
Ernest: Their eldest son Ernest inherited his father's inclintions and the duchies in 1844.
Albert: Their youngest son Albert, mairred Queen Victoria of Great Britain who through his wife and eight children helped father soverigns throughout Europe. Albert was a remarkable man. Although he died at a young age, he helped his young, poorly prepared wife become one of Britain's most remarable soverign.

Ernst II (1844-93)

Ernest II was the eldest son of Ernst I and Princess Louise of Saxe-Gothane. He was also the nephew of Leopold I. His brother Prince Albert who caught the eye of the young Queen Victoria would play an important role in British history. The two brothers while close in age could not have been more different in temperment. Ernst and Albert grew up in their father's dysfunctional household. Both parents were promiscuous. At the time that was acceotavle for men, but not for women, especually royl women. H=Their father eventually drove their mother from court and th boys grew up without a mother. Perhaps this is why personal rectitude and fmily values were so important to Albert. Ernst took after his father who took them to brothels. Ernst took to the lifstyle. Albert was horrified. At the time Victoria became Queen, both Ernst and and Albert were possible marriage partners, promoted by their uncle, Belgian King Leopold I. Victoria took to Albert. Apparently the ravages of veneral disease was already affecting Ernst's appearance. Ernest married 21-year-old Princess Alexandrine of Baden. She was the eldest daughter of Leopold, Grand Duke of Baden and Princess Sophie of Sweden. There were no children. It is thought that Ernst infected her with venerial disease rendering her sterile becaiuse he would later father iligitimate children. He was a strong proponent if a united Germny. He sided with Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War (1866). Duke Ernst died without legitimate issue (1893). He was succeeded by Albert's offspring--Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. He was the father of Queen Marie of Romania. On Alfred's death (1900) the duchy passed to his nephew, Charles Edward, who abdicated (1918).

Alfred (1893-1900)

Upon the death of Duke Ernst, the ducal title was inherited by Prince Albert's second son, Prince Alfred of Great Britain. {The Prince of Wales had renounced his rights.) A great deal is known about how how the British royals were dressed as boys. Presumably Alfred wore the kilts and sailor suits favored by his Grandmother Queen Victoria. The new Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had only one son, Alfred. It have no details, however on the family or how the boy was dressed. Sadly, Alfred lost his only son in tragic circumstances during 1899. Alfred at this time was not well and a new heir had to be found.


Queen Victoria without consulting her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II, gave permission for her third son. Arthur, to inherit the ducal title. Prince Arthur had been given the title of Duke of Connaught. Wilhelm was affronted that he had not been consulted in the matter, Saxe-Coburg now being part of the German Empire. Wilhelm thus decided to make an issue of the succession, even though Arthur was the clear dynastic heir. Wilhelm demanded that if Arthur was to accept the title, he and his sons would have to live in Saxe-Coburg and serve in the German Empire. Arthur by this time was 40 years old, thorouhly British, and had no desire to become German. He was not about to accept such a drastic change in his life.

Charles-Edward (1900-18)

The vacant title of the title of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was the subject of consultations between Queen Victoria, Prince Arthur and Kaiser Wilhelm II. They eventually decided to convey the principality to Carl-Edward, prince of Great Britain, Duke of Albany, who was the posthumous son of Victoria's youngest son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. Leopold had died a victim of hemophilia in 1884. Charles became Duke when his uncle Prince Alfred died. He was only 15 years old at the time. Court sources record that he was bullied by the Kaiser in reputedly "playful" sessions. One witness reported an incident where the Kaiser pinched and slapped so violently that it was more like a beating. Charles-Edward married a niece of the Emperess Augusta of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, wife of Kaiser Wilhelm II. His wife was von Princess Schleswig-Holste (Schleswig-Holstein) Victoria Adelheid. They married in 1905 at Glücksburg Castle in Holstein. They had five children: The oldest was Prince Johann Leopold Wilhelm Albert (1906- ). Princess Sibylla Calma Marie Alice (1908- ) married into the Swedish royal family. Prince Hubertus Frederick William (1909-43) became a Luftwaffe pilot during World War II and in 1943 was killed in Romania, presumably defending the Ploieste oil fields from Allied bombing. The two youngest children were: Princess Caroline Mathilde Ludwige Helena (1912- ) and Prince Friedrich Josias Carl Eduard (1918- ). During World War I (1914-18), the Duke remained loyal to the Kaiser Wilhelm II. This allegiance cost Carl-Edward his English titles. In fact his situation was even more complicated because his only sister, Princess Alice of Albany, was married to the Duke of Teck, Queen Mary's brother. The malestorm of World War I eventually cost him in crown. Carl-Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha abdicated on November 14, 1818. Carl-Edward and Wilhelm II were first cousins, both being grandsons of Queen Victoria. Carl-Edward's wife was a niece of the Kaiser's wife. Nevertheless, the last one to abdicate on November 14, 1918 was His Serene Highness Adolph II of Schaumburg-Lippe. Prince Ersnt-Leopold was their eldest grandchild.

Prince John-Leopold

Prince Charles-Edward's son Prince John-Leopold, lost his dynastic rights in 1932 when he contracted a non-royal marriage with a young German woman, Feodora van der Horst. This morganatic marriage went against family tradition and denied the couple's children any right to succeed to the ducal throne of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Prince Hubertus

John-Leopold's brother, Prince Hubertus, became the next heir to the family's royal traditions. After Hubertus' death during the Second World War, the family inheritance passed to the last brother, Prince Friedrich-Josias.


Prince Friedrich-Josias was born in 1918. In fact, Friedrich-Josias remains the family head to this day.

Prince Ernst-Leopold

Prince Charles-Edward was Prince Ernst-Leopold's grandfather. The eldest male member of the Coburg family, Prince Ernst-Leopold was unable to inherit the ducal throne because his father through a morgantic mairrage lost his inheritance. His father, Prince John-Leopold, lost his dynastic rights

As with his father, Prince Ernst-Leopold became a black-sheep to many of his royal cousins by marrying and divorcing successively. In 1961 he wed Ingeborg Henig, whom he divorced in 2-years time. One son, Hubertus, was born of this brief union. Close friends of the couple have argued that lively, charming Ingeborg could not stand a retired existence at her husband's property outside of the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. They lived a simple existence without luxury, away from the mundane distractions of society. Ernst-Leopold and Ingeborg divorced after just a couple of years of marriage.

Yet, this first divorce deeply bothered the Coburgs and was the cause of the family rift which would forever divide Ernst-Leopold and his family. The developing family rift was increased when soon after his first divorce, Ernst-Leopold found yet another bride, Gertrude Pfeiffer. Five children where born of this union: Victoria, Ernst-Josias, Charles-Edward, Ferdinand and Alice. Nonetheless, the children were not a strong enough reason to keep the couple from divergent paths and indifference between Ernst-Leopold and Gertrude set in. Financial difficulties became a constant problem for Ernst-Leopold. The prince worked for an insurance company and also received revenues from his properties, yet the money never seemed sufficient to pay for the family's upkeep. Ernst-Leopold's reserved and austere character was continually spoiled by his monetary chagrin, and his wife found itincreasingly difficult to remain in the marriage. Divorce was declared not longafter.

The second marital collapse faced by Ernst-Leopold further estranged himfrom the Coburg family. Soon after, not much was ever said of him. Ernst-Leopold had become a marginal character, a social outcast. Ernst-Leopold expressed his resentment against the Coburgs in correspondence he maintained with his brother. He complained about never being invited to attend family gatherings, receptions or parties. "I'm the non-existent prince," Ernst-Leopold exclaimed.

When Ernst-Leopold married Sabine-Margarethe Henning, the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha showed little interest in the non-existent prince's endeavors. A prominent member of the family is alleged to have said that " one does not worry much about non-existent princes." The third marriage of Ernst-Leopold to sweet, charming, understanding Sabine-Margarethe seems to have restored peace to the prince's life. He is said to have recovered his smile and enjoyed life's pleasures.

Then, if Ernst-Leopold and his third wife had discovered happiness, whywould they resort to a gruesome suicidal pact? Could his intentions to reclaim some of the Coburg inheritance given away by his father in the 1930's have made him to despair life again? Or could he have fallen into financial penury one more time? Some have even wandered if the prince was a victim of an incurable and painful disease, which in turn could have wanted Ernst-Leopold to bring a quick end to his suffering. If this is the case, then the couple's suicidal pact can reveal itself as a tragic and dramatic last demonstration of love, uniting the lovers for eternity.

In the last few years, Ernst-Leopold and his wife had had very little contact witthe Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family, said Prince Andreas, the ducal heir. "We ignore the circumstances that could have driven my cousin and his wife to such a tragic act...once again German nobility is overcome by mourning," Prince Andreas declared to the German press. The prince was certainly alluding to the tragic drama that touched the Coburgs in September, 1987, when young Prince Johannes-Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha suffered a deadly 500 meters fall while mountaineering in Italy. The doomed prince was barely 18 years of age. The Coburg ducal motto, "True und Fest," meaning "loyal and constant," seems to have had an empty meaning for poor Ernst-Leopold. Yet, one is left to wonder if Prince Ernst-Leopold still considered himself a Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

A farmer discovered the gruesome deed. Upon arriving at "Am Sonnenbichl," a restaurant in Bad Wiessee, a small town in the environs of Munich, the farmer parked his car next to a Mercedes. Two hours later, the farmer, after a hearty meal, returned to his car and realized that something was wrong inside the Mercedes. The spectacle he found, as he told the Munich police, "froze my blood."

Two lifeless and bloodied bodies sat inside the Mercedes. Next to each body was found a rifle, which the couple used to put an abrupt and sorry end to their existence. Munich police quickly identified the remains: the man, elegant, bearded and with a well-kept mustache, was none other than Prince Ernst-Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, 61 years of age. The woman, with long, flowing hair partially covering her face, was Sabine-Margarethe, third wife of the prince.

What could have driven this couple, who were known to have a quiet, placid existence, to suicide on June 27, 1996? Initial police investigations have not provided a precise response thus far. People close to the prince have said that this desperate act was caused by Prince Ernst-Leopold's overwhelming financial problems. This seems to have been a dishonor that the descendant of the illustrious house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha could not endure.


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Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: 4:13 AM 8/5/2017