Dukes of Mecklenburg

Lovers of British royal history are familiar with the period when royal brides were regularly imported to England from small German principalities with intriguing names: Ansbach, Saxe-Gotha, Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The last of these was the native land of Queen Charlotte, consort of George III—she is probably the most familiar of these consorts, in part due to her brilliant portrayal by Helen Mirren opposite Nigel Hawthorne in the 1994 film The Madness of King George. For me, I remember Charlotte of Mecklenburg mostly as one of the two imposing portraits in the state rooms of the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia, where I went to university.

studio of Allan Ramsay (1762)

A wider knowledge about Mecklenburg-Strelitz itself, however, is almost completely lacking. When you start to take a look more closely at this region, the northernmost part of the former East Germany, its history is far more fascinating than merely the birthplace of Queen Charlotte, as one of only two ducal families in the Holy Roman Empire with Slavic origins (the other being Pomerania), and one of very oldest and longest-lasting ducal dynasties in Germany, with continuous rule from the 12th century until the fall of the German monarchies in 1918, and representative claimants to the title still today. They had one of the more distinctive symbols on their coat-of-arms, the bull’s head, and a bull acted as a ‘heraldic beast’ alongside another creature typical of heraldry in this region, the griffin (or gryphon).

And although never remembered as one of Germany’s major princely houses, the Mecklenburgs managed to give their name to a county in western North Carolina (whose capital, Charlotte, is named for the queen-consort), and another, extremely rural county in southern Virginia. The rural nature of this county seems appropriate. The area ruled by the dukes of Mecklenburg (today’s German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), with a long coastline along the Baltic Sea, is mostly rural, with a few historic towns, but no major cities. Rostock is the largest, with just over 200,000 people, followed by the state capital, Schwerin, at just under 100,000. The terrain is flat and sandy or marshy, with soil not renowned for fertility, nor was it ever a major industrial centre. Yet its palaces look spectacular, particularly Ludwigslust, the region has not one but two of the oldest universities in Europe (Rostock, 1419, and Greifswald, 1456), and its dukes were amongst the wealthiest in the Empire at the start of the 20th century. I was therefore intrigued to learn more about their story, and as this is an area of Germany I have never visited, this short history will be as much a virtual tour for me as it is for my readers.

The House of Mecklenburg is sometimes referred to as the Nikotlings, named for Niklot, an early 12th-century chief of the region’s Slavic tribes, known as the Obotrites (or Abodrites), whose base was a fortress called ‘Mikla Burg’ (given as ‘big fortress’ in Old Saxon—but could it not be a corruption of not Niklot’s Burg, much like Nikolai becomes Mikołaj in Polish?). The Obotrites were also known to their German neighbours as Wends, a confederation of Slavic tribes living along the banks of the River Elbe (which gives them another name, Polabians, which means those who live ‘along’—po in most Slavic languages—the Elbe, or Laba). In their ongoing struggles against their Germanic neighbours to the west, the Saxons, they sometimes aligned with other powers, the Franks under Charlemagne, the Polish princes to the east, or the kings of a newly emergent power in the Baltic, Denmark. And sometimes they adopted Christianity and sometimes they rejected it, to best suit their shifting alliances. An earlier Obotrite prince (sometimes called ‘king’), Gottschalk, whose German name means ‘servant of God’—he doesn’t seem to have a Slavic name—married a Danish princess, established a much larger and more autonomous principality—stretching into what is now Holstein, with a capital at Liubice, today’s Lübeck—and tried to convert his people before he was murdered in 1066.

the Wends lived in the uncoloured area in the northeast

The eastward march of German and Christian colonisation was relentless, and eventually the rulers of the Wends turned to the Holy Roman Emperor for protection: Niklot’s son Pribislav, ruler of the eastern Obotrites, with his capital in Schwerin (Zuarin), was recognised as a prince of the Empire in the 1160s, formally converted to Christianity, endowed the bishopric of Schwerin, founded a major abbey at Doberan, and even went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But this came at a price: Mecklenburg was formally put under the feudal overlordship of the Duke of Saxony, then of the King of Denmark, until the 1220s when they freed themselves of any vassalage except the emperor himself. By this point they were becoming Germanised—I would be curious to know exactly when these princes and their high nobility stopped speaking a Slavic language—and adopted names like Heinrich and Johann, though interestingly, one of the most repeated dynastic names, up to the present day, would remain Borwin (from Buriwoj). Traces of Slavic origins are also still present in the names of towns in the region, like Stargard (stari, old, gorod, fortress), or other place names ending in ‘itz’ or ‘ow’. It is clear, however, that the Mecklenburg princes adopted the Germanic practice of partible inheritance. This meant that all sons inherited a claim to rule, and the territory was sometimes ruled jointly by brothers, and sometimes partitioned into smaller territories. From the 1230s, there were four Mecklenburg principalities: Schwerin, Werle, Rostock and Parchim. The latter two of these were soon reincorporated, but the line of Werle remained distinct until 1436. The senior line was elevated by Emperor Charles IV from princes to dukes in 1348, but this aggrandisement was immediately followed by another partition, and the line of Mecklenburg-Stargard would remain separate until 1471.

Marriage patterns in the fourteenth century for the new dukes demonstrate a balance between older alliances with other Slavic princes in Pomerania or Poland, with German neighbours in Brandenburg or Holstein (with whom they were also frequently at war), but also with their Baltic neighbours to the north, Denmark and Sweden. In the 1350s, the ambitious first Duke of Mecklenburg, Albert II, involved himself more directly in the internal politics of the Scandinavian kingdoms, using his wife’s connections, as sister of King Magnus IV of Sweden, and grand-daughter of Haakon V of Norway. With the support of disaffected nobles, he led a coup that allowed his son Albert to take the throne of Sweden in 1364. His grandson, also called Albert, claimed the Danish throne in 1375. King Albert of Sweden was never popular, seen as far too German, and after 8 years of civil war, his noble supporters turned on him, deposed him in 1389, and imprisoned him for five years. Still, he and his remaining allies held Stockholm, and his son ruled the island of Gotland, until 1398. The rule of the Mecklenburgs in Sweden and Denmark was short lived.

Duke Albert II (right) and King Albert of Sweden

Returning focus to Mecklenburg itself, Albert’s successors developed their capital cities in Schwerin, Stargard and Rostock, and founded the universities noted above. Brothers continued to rule jointly, with varying degrees of success, and reunified the duchy by the 1470s, only to divide it again in the partition of 1520, into Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Güstrow. Both branches, senior and junior, retained the title ‘duke of Mecklenburg’, and both were considered of equal rank as princes of the Empire, though the eastern part, governed from Güstrow (apparently from the Polabian ‘lizard place’ Guščerov), was smaller. Their biggest concern in the fifteenth century was keeping control over the port towns of Rostock and Wismar, who wished to increase their independence as members of the Hanseatic League of German trading cities in the Baltic. The dukes were not keen to let such a major source of tax revenue slip out of their control.

Bigger troubles came, of course, in the sixteenth century, with the outbreak of the reform movement led by Martin Luther. Duke Henry V was an early supporter and personal correspondent with Luther, but earned his nickname ‘the Pacific’ by trying hard not to get swept into the violence that engulfed Germany in the 1520s and 30s. He remained loyal to the Emperor. His brother (another Albert, of Güstrow) was even more loyal, and resistant to the new ideas, and fought on the Emperor’s side, but the family as a whole remained committed to the Protestant cause—Henry’s sons and nephews became the first Lutheran bishops of Schwerin and Ratzeburg, and both territories would eventually be secularised and incorporated into Mecklenburg territory. These two ecclesiastical principalities had often been useful to the dynasty to give younger sons territories to govern, so now there was even more pressure to divide up the duchy according to Germanic custom. Yet the leading female monastic establishment, Ribnitz, remained headed by Catholic Mecklenburg princesses until the last one died in the 1580s. It is important to remember that confessional divides in this period were not as clear cut as we like to think. Nevertheless, the Lutheran state church of Mecklenburg was formally established and recognised by the territorial diet in 1549.

In the midst of all this, dynastic aspiration remained an important part of the lives of the dukes of Mecklenburg, with Albert of Mecklenburg-Güstrow making one last bid for the Danish throne in the 1530s. His sons reunified the two duchies in 1557, and began to develop the territory after the tumults of the German religious wars came to a pause after the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. Güstrow and Schwerin were transformed into more fashionable Renaissance palaces, and the brother dukes John Albert I and Ulrich III became collectors of books, founders of institutions of higher learning, and educated themselves in the emerging fields of cartography and astronomy.

Duke Johann Albert

The Palace of Güstrow, built by Duke Ulrich, is the best remaining example of Renaissance Mecklenburg, its new building from the 1560s reflecting a fusion of Italian, French and German styles.

Schloss Güstrow today

Though devout Lutherans, the Mecklenburg brothers loyally furnished men and money to the Catholic Emperor to wage war against the Ottoman Turks in the 1590s. This unity and prosperity was continued for two generations more, until the brothers Adolph Frederick and John Albert II once more partitioned the duchy, again into Schwerin and Güstrow, in 1621, before being caught up in the Thirty Years War. They attempted to remain neutral in this conflict between the northern Protestant princes and Emperor and his Catholic allies, but they quietly supported the invasion of the King of Denmark (whose mother, Sophie, was their cousin), for which the Emperor deprived them of their ducal titles in 1627 and granted the Duchy of Mecklenburg to his leading general, Wallenstein. This act prompted the Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, to invade the north coast of Germany, restoring the two Mecklenburg dukes in 1631, and leading a lighting invasion of central Germany in 1632 that changed the course of the war. In the peace settlements of 1648, Mecklenburg was successful in formally incorporating the former bishoprics of Schwerin and Ratzeburg into its territory, but was not successful in claiming some of the lands of the dukes of Pomerania, to the east, following the extinction of that ruling house in 1637. These lands went instead to Sweden, as ‘payment’ for liberating the Protestant German princes, and this part of the Baltic would remain Swedish territory until the settlements following the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, when Western (or ‘Hither’) Pomerania was given to Prussia. As further insult, the important and wealthy Mecklenburg port town of Wismar was also given to Sweden.

The rest of the 17th century was pretty quiet for the dukes of Mecklenburg. Of particular interest to me is the appearance in 1662 of Duke Christian Louis at the court of Louis XIV. He had divorced his wife (a Mecklenburg cousin), converted to Catholicism (or ‘abjured heresy’ in the parlance of the day), then married a prominent French widow, Elisabeth-Angélique de Montmorency, Duchess of Châtillon. She remained, now as the ‘duchesse de Mecklembourg’ a prominent figure at the French court, and although I know he died nearly 30 years later in the Hague, I know almost nothing else about his life. Certainly a future research project for me.

Christian Louis

At the end of the century, the last duke of the Güstrow line died, and the succession was squabbled over until a new partition agreement was hammered out in 1701, by which Frederick William was granted the central lands of the Duchy, based around Schwerin, and his uncle, Adolph Frederick II, was given an oddly formed non-contiguous territory called Mecklenburg-Strelitz, with lands in the east (Strelitz, from the Polabian word strelci, meaning ‘shooters’), as well as the lands of the former bishopric of Ratzeburg, in the west. Though called collectively, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the two pieces would be governed separately by its dukes. The other important detail of the 1701 agreement was the introduction of primogeniture in both duchies—there would be no more splitting of the territory or confusing successions leading to fraternal or uncle-nephew strife.

Schwerin in pink, Strelitz in purple

And so we come to the eighteenth century and the twin duchies as they are mostly remembered today: Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Right away, the larger of the two, Schwerin, began to emerge as the more actively reformist state: Duke Frederick William I set out plans that would abolish serfdom and establish taxes on the privileged groups of society, the knights and the clergy. His brother and successor, Duke Charles Leopold, pressed it further, and wanted to develop an absolutist state to control the old feudal nobility, notably with a standing army, and also with increased independent income derived from allowing Russia to station troops in Mecklenburg to fight in the Northern War (1700-21) against Sweden. To seal the alliance, he married the Tsar’s niece, Catherine Ivanovna (daughter of Ivan V, half-brother of Peter the Great) in 1716. The local nobility were not about to lose their tremendous power, however, and appealed to the Emperor, Charles VI, who judged in their favour and placed Mecklenburg under Imperial ban in 1719. The Duke went into exile and his Duchy was governed by deputies from neighbouring Hanover and Prussia until the ban was lifted, Charles Leopold deposed, and his brother Christian Ludwig II named as ruling duke in 1728, though with heavily restricted powers. In the late 1740s, he attempted once more to rein in the unfettered powers of the nobility, but was again defeated, and in a new government agreement of 1755, the nobles were formally assured of the freedom to rule their estates as they pleased unfettered, a situation that would remain in Mecklenburg, in sharp contrast to much of the rest of Germany, until 1918.

Christian Ludwig II

Meanwhile, Catherine Ivanovna had returned to Russia, with her only child, a daughter Elisabeth Catherine (renamed Anna Leopoldovna when she converted to Orthodoxy), and was considered briefly for the Imperial throne, but passed over in favour of her sister Anna, after the death of Tsar Peter II in 1730. A decade later, Empress Anna died, and Anna Leopoldovna was named regent for her infant son, Tsar Ivan VI, though his ‘reign’ lasted less than a year, and he and his mother would spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Anna Leopoldovna

Duke Christian Ludwig II, disappointed with his failed reforms in government, spent time building a country retreat called Ludwigslust (‘Ludwig’s pleasure’). About 40 km south of the capital, it is surrounded by rolling countryside and forests, not far from the Elbe Valley. The Duke’s son, Frederick II, moved the ducal government there and built a new, large palace in the 1770s, which is what is seen today, and a large country park, modelled after the then fashionable ‘English Garden’ style.

Duke Frederick was also interested in reforming the morals and education levels of the Duchy, abolishing torture and building schools. His son, Duke Frederick Franz I, was less of a reformer, and more concerned with paying for his father’s palaces, churches and schools. He made a deal with the Dutch Republic in 1788, to sell 1000 fighting men to supply their army (much like his neighbour the Landgrave of Hesse had done for Great Britain during the American War of Independence). And when the Revolutionary Wars broke out in Europe in the 1790s, he tried to remain neutral, but was exiled by Napoleon in 1806, and his duchy occupied. He reluctantly joined the Confederation of the Rhine in 1808—one of the last princes to do so, but was one of the first to leave in 1813, when his territories were liberated by Russian armies, in which one of his sons served as a general. Frederick Franz’s heir, Frederick Louis, was less a soldier, but a talented diplomat, and acted as a representative of Mecklenburg at the Congress of Vienna, 1815, where he pressed for territorial acquisitions in formerly Swedish Pomerania. These were given instead to the ever-expanding Prussia, and in compensation, both of the Mecklenburg duchies were elevated to the status of grand duchies, with the style of ‘royal highness’.

Meanwhile, 18th-century Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a much smaller affair, but went through similar transformations. Duke Adolph Frederick III rebuilt his capital, Neustrelitz, in the 1730s, after the old town had been destroyed in a fire. The castle at Neustrelitz was built in the imposing late Baroque Neo-Classical style by architect Christoph Julius Löwe, and remained at the centre of government affairs until it was destroyed in 1945.

Schloss Neustrelitz in about 1920

But Queen Charlotte of Great Britain was not born in Neustrelitz. She and her five siblings were born in Mirow, further south in Mecklenburg’s ‘Lake District’. The principality of Mirow had for many centuries been the headquarters for the local branch of the Knights of St. John (aka the Order of Malta), secularised in the 16th century, and used as an apanage for younger sons ever since. Duke Adolph Frederick’s younger brother, Charles Louis, rebuilt Mirow castle, also designed by Löwe, as a baroque palace in the 1740s.

Schloss Mirow

The Prince of Mirow’s son, Adolph Fredrick IV, succeeded his childless uncle as Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, in 1752. Nine years later, the new duke’s youngest sister, Sophie Charlotte, was married to King George III, and the ducal family would remain closely tied to Great Britain and Hanover for the rest of the century. Charlotte’s younger brothers all visited their sister in England, studied, and found employment in the British army. Charles was named governor of the Electorate of Hanover, 1776 to 1786 (and later succeeded as ruling duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), while Ernst was governor of one of the chief towns of the Electorate, Celle, from 1763, and while there, acted as protector (ie, jailer) of George III’s sister Caroline Matilda, the disgraced Queen of Denmark. Ernst would later succeed his brother as governor of Hanover, 1802, and was named a Field Marshal of the Hanoverian army in the same year. The youngest brother, Georg August, took a different path: after he too briefly served in the British forces, he moved to Vienna and joined the Imperial army, rising to the rank of brigadier general in 1780, before dying in Hungary aged only 37.

Charles II in British uniform

As the Napoleonic Wars engulfed the region, Duke Charles II managed not to be exiled like his cousin in Schwerin, but was as reluctant to join the Confederation of the Rhine and just as eager to leave it. Charles had also recognised the need to balance dynastic relations, so while maintaining the link with Hanover and Great Britain, he encouraged his younger son, Karl Friedrich, to join the Prussian army, and by the end of the war he had risen to the rank of lieutenant-general (and would later go on to lead the Prussian government as President of the State Council, 1827-37). Charles II also solidified marriage ties with the Hohenzollerns in Prussia, and with other German dynasties in Hesse and Saxony. His youngest daughter Frederica married in 1815 Prince Ernst August of Great Britain, Duke of Cumberland, and therefore in 1837 became first queen of Hanover, now separated from the United Kingdom. Many years before, however, her sister Louise had become one of the most famous women in Germany, as Queen of Prussia, who met with Napoleon at Tilsit in 1807 to plead for favourable terms after Prussia’s disastrous defeats. When she died in 1810, she was commemorated with the creation of the Order of Louise, and even in the 20th century, Queen Louise was held up in Nazi propaganda as the ideal of the virtuous German woman. Mecklenburg-Strelitz had thus shown the interesting large role a small state could play in placing its daughters on three of the thrones of Europe: Great Britain, Hanover and Prussia.

Louise, Queen of Prussia

As Europe began to re-assemble itself after 1815, the two new Grand Duchies tried to catch up in reforms. Both finally eradicated serfdom, but both were unable to shake off the power of the ancient feudal nobility. Grand Duke Paul (named for his grandfather, the Tsar Paul) moved the capital back to Schwerin, where he built a new official residence (now the State Museum), and modernised the legal system and the military. Grand Duke George in Strelitz, was initially also interested in reform, but grew more conservative as he got older and as Europe descended into a dangerous time for princely rule. When Paul’s son Frederick Franz II introduced a constitution in Schwerin following the wave of revolutions in 1848, it was George in Strelitz who led the opposition, and helped the old nobility bring down the constitution in 1850. Further attempts in Schwerin in 1909 would also be blocked, and by 1914, the two Mecklenburgs were the only member states of the German Empire with no written constitution guaranteeing legal freedoms to its citizens.

Frederick Franz II

Like so many German princes of this era, Frederick Franz II sponsored the rebuilding of the main grand ducal buildings in the 1840s to create a new neo-Gothic German style. The rebuilt palace in Schwerin is stunning, and almost completely unknown outside Germany. The original fortress had been built on an island in a lake, and the new palace, the masterpiece of architect Georg Adolph Demmler, draws on French Renaissance châteaux of the Loire valley like Chambord and Blois.

In this period of revival, Neustrelitz Palace would retain its 18th-century look, but new palaces were built nearby in the 1850s, the Marienpalais, for Grand Duchess Marie, and the Carolinenpalais for the divorced Crown Princess of Denmark, Caroline Marianne, both built in a more sober style than the Romantic fantasy in Schwerin.

Carolinenpalais, Neustrelitz

The last generations of ruling grand dukes in Mecklenburg-Schwerin were prominent servants of the crown of Prussia and the emerging German Empire: Frederick Franz II was a general in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars that built that empire; while his younger sons were active in constructing a German empire overseas, Johann Albrecht as President of the German Colonial Society, and Adolf Friedrich as Governor of Togo in West Africa, 1912-14. Johann Albrecht also acted as regent of Schwerin after his oldest brother, Frederick Franz III, committed suicide in Cannes in 1897. His homosexuality had been an open secret at the Prussian court, and although male same-sex relations had an oddly prominent place in the social sphere of Kaiser Wilhelm II, as the Eulenberg scandal would show in 1906, it could also lead to personal disaster. The Regent Johann Albrecht was also selected by the Kaiser to act as regent of the Duchy of Brunswick in Wolfenbüttel in 1907, until this territory was granted to the House of Hanover in 1913. But not everything was so Prussian: the youngest brother, Heinrich, married the Queen of the Netherlands in 1901, and he and Wilhelmina tried the best they could to defend Dutch independence during the Great War. Their daughter, Queen Juliana (whose dynastic name should have technically been Mecklenburg-Schwerin) would reign over Dutch hearts until 1980.

Meanwhile, affairs in Mecklenburg-Strelitz were quieter. Frederick William II was blind from the 1860s, and had a temperament of severe economy to the point of avarice. He failed to develop his country’s industry or infrastructure, but left behind one of the biggest private fortunes in the Reich, second only to the Kaiser’s. The Grand Duke owned up to a third of the land in the duchy outright. In this era of German Romantic revivalism, he re-created a chivalric order, recalling the dynasty’s ancient Slavic past, the Order of the Wendish Crown (1864), while Mecklenburg-Schwerin would also institute a new order, that of the Griffin (1884), using another visual symbol of the ancient Slavic tribes. The newly refashioned palace of Schwerin would also feature a heroic statue to the original Slavic chieftain and founder of the dynasty, Niklot.

Despite its relative backwardness, Mecklenburg-Strelitz was seen by some as a kingdom of fairytales, ruled by gentlemen and chivalry, in comparison to the hard military state in next-door Mecklenburg-Schwerin. This Strelitzian fantasy was not shared by the Grand Duke’s wife, Augusta of Cambridge, Princess of Great Britain, a grand-daughter of George III, who continued to maintain close ties with ‘liberal’ Britain, and a house in London, until communication (and her British pension) were cut off by World War I. Her son, Grand Duke Adolf Frederick V had tried and failed to liberalise the state in the early years of the 20th century, and died just before the war broke out, leaving his son, Adolf Frederick VI to scramble for a wife in wartime, and dogged by a scandalous past as a crown prince playboy. Dragged into despair, he committed suicide in February 1918, as the Reich was beginning to collapse, and a succession crisis arose.

Adolf Frederick VI, last Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin

His younger brother Karl Borwin (a name that re-emerged in this period of historical revival) had been killed in a duel in 1908, and their cousins were living in Russia and trying to survive the Revolution there. The ruling Grand Duke of Schwerin, Frederick Franz IV, was therefore named regent in Strelitz, unifying the two Mecklenburgs for the first time since 1701, but of course he, with all the other German princes, abdicated in November 1918. In the chaos of the last weeks of the German Empire, there had been some fairly odd proposals: one was to name the Grand Duke’s uncle, Adolf Friedrich (the one who had been in Togo) as ‘Duke of the United Baltic Duchy’ (or ‘Grand Duke of Livonia’), but this ephemeral state only lasted from 5 to 28 November 1918.

Frederick Franz IV, last Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

After the war, Frederick Franz IV and his wife Alexandra of Hanover lived for a time with his sister, Alexandrine, Queen of Denmark, then were allowed to return to their properties, and to visit their other sister, Cecilie, Crown Princess of Prussia, who lived in the Cecilienhof in Potsdam. The Grand Duke’s son, Frederick Franz V, rose in the new order to become a captain in the Waffen-SS. His father did not approve (and was himself detained by Nazis towards the end of the war), but it was the wider family’s disapproval of a marriage to a non-royal woman in 1941 that led a dynastic council to legally pass the role of head of the family to his brother Christian Ludwig in 1943. The latter was imprisoned by the Soviets in Russia from 1945 to 1953, then acted as head of the family, though all their properties were confiscated, until his death in 1996. The family’s personal properties were restored in 1997, to his two daughters and their distant cousin of Strelitz, while their uncle, Frederick Franz V, died in 2001, the last male of this branch of the Grand Ducal House.

It was therefore the head of the House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz who took over as chairman of the family foundation. Grand Duke Borwin (b. 1956) is the great-great-grandson of Prince Georg August who moved to Russia in the 1850s after marrying Grand Duchess Catherina Mikhailovna. Their son Georg Alexander was a Russian general but also a well-regarded composer and cellist in St. Petersburg, who married his mother’s lady-in-waiting, Natalia Vanliarskaya, who was created Countess of Carlow in 1890, as was usual for the wife of an unequal, or morganatic marriage. Their children were called count and countess von Carlow (more properly, Karlovka, in Poltava Province of Russia, now Ukraine) and were not entitled to the Mecklenburg succession. Given the lack of males in the Schwerin branch following the suicide of 1918, however, the last fully ‘dynastic’ male in the house, Grand Duke Karl Michael, who had himself been a lieutenant-general in the Russian imperial army, adopted his nephew in 1928, before dying in 1934. Count Georg Alexander thus became titular Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, confirmed by Grand Duke Cyril of Russia (as self-proclaimed head of the Imperial dynasty) and confirmed by the titular Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He returned to Mecklenburg in the 1930s, trained as a political scientist, was held by the Nazis then fled to the west in 1945, married a daughter of the last Austrian emperor (Archduchess Charlotte), and died in Sigmaringen in 1963. Their son, another Georg Alexander, who also married a Habsburg Archduchess (Ilona), moved into an apartment in 1990 in the old Mirow Palace to help with its reconstruction, and died in 1996, on the eve of the family’s restitution of their properties. His son, Borwin, therefore manages what is left of the Mecklenburg estates, with an aim to revive some of the Grand Ducal charitable institutions (like the Order of the Griffin) and renovate remaining built heritage.

Full titles: Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, Prince of the Wends, Schwerin and Ratzeburg, Lord of Schwerin, Lord of the Lands of Rostock and Stargard.

For a really interesting look at the lives and careers of the brother of Queen Charlotte, see the chapter by Clarissa Campbell-Orr, “Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain and Electress of Hanover: Northern Dynasties and the Northern Republic of Letters”, in Campbell- Orr, ed., Queenship in Europe, 1660-1815. The Role of the Consort (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

(images from Wikimedia commons)

Published by Jonathan Spangler

I am a historian of monarchy and the high aristocracy of Europe. I focus primarily as an academic on the early modern period and France, but my interests range from early medieval Ireland to 20th-century Russia. I teach history at Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester, England, and am the senior editor of The Court Historian, the journal of the Society for Court Studies. I am also a musician and an avid traveler. I love heraldry and genealogy. My ancestors came from Germany to the American colonies in the 18th century and I am a proud Virginian.

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