While royal houses are often insular and even incestuous (at least at the cousin-marrying level), new blood does manage to enter those gene pools from time to time. Meet the Mountbattens! The family’s story begins in Russia, circa 1850, where the orphaned daughter of a Polish general named Julia von Hauke was serving in the household of Maria Alexandrovna, future wife of future Tsar Alexander II. Maria’s brother, Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine, fell hard for the common-born Julia, a romance that was seemingly halted by Emperor Nicholas I, who wanted Prince Alexander to marry his niece.
Unable to shake off their love, the two eloped, which left Alexander persona non grata in the Russian court. Returning to his native Hesse, Prince Alexander’s brother, Grand Duke Louis III of Hesse-Darmstadt, granted Julia the title of Countess of Battenberg, named for a town in the north of the duchy, and later, Princess of Battenberg.
But Europe’s royal houses have both a long memory and an enormous snobbery, meaning that when Alexander and Julia’s sons, The Battenberg Boys, began pursuing the granddaughters of England’s Queen Victoria for marriage a generation later, the courtships – successful and unsuccessful – were rife with intrigue and scandal. But it was the marriage of Louis Battenberg to Queen Vic’s granddaughter Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine that would eventually transform the family from a tainted, common-born Battenberg lineage to the British Mountbattens, the house of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. But that’s a story for next week.
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