When Princess Alice, the second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, arrived in Darmstadt on 13th July 1862 as the newly-wed wife of Prince Louis of Hesse and by Rhine, there was no suitable residence available for the young couple. After a temporary solution in the “Fürstenlager” (Princes’ Camp) at Bensheim-Auerbach the young couple were given the Hunting Lodge of Kranichstein to live in as long as their new home, the “Neue Palais” (“New Palace”) was under construction.
Princess Alice in Kranichstein
In June 1863 the small family, consisting of Alice, Louis and the little Princess Victoria who had been born shortly before during a visit to England, moved in. Alice wrote to her mother that the Hunting Lodge had been uninhabited for the past eighty years. They seem to have felt very much at home there. Alice, a passionate horsewoman, could go out riding through the extensive woods and even went swimming in the little pond next to the Hunting Lodge. Swimming was certainly an unusual pastime for a Princess in those days, but Alice, like all of Queen Victoria’s children, was accustomed to swimming in the sea at Osborne on the Isle of Wight, so that for her bathing was quite normal. On 27th June 1863 she wrote to her mother:
“I bathe every morning and swim about; there is a nice little bathing-house.” (1)
A few weeks later, on 15th July 1863, Alice told her mother about a tragic event on this little pond:
“Two nights ago a horrid and schauerliches [appaling] event took place here. I went out about eight down to the pond, which is close to the house, to meet Louis. I met an odd-looking pale man, who neither bowed nor looked about, walking slowly along; and when I joined Louis he asked me if I had seen him as he had been prowling about all the afternoon. We stopped a little longer, when at the end our grooms were running. We rowed on to see what was the matter, and on coming near, a body was floating in the water, the face already quite blue and lifeless. I recognized him at once. Louis and the others with trouble fished him out and laid him in our boat to bring him on shore. It was very horrid to see. We brought him on shore, tried all means to restore him to life, but of no avail … He had committed suicide, and we heard afterward that he was a very bad character. You can fancy that it was very unpleasant to me, to have that disfigured corpse next me in the boat; it haunts me now, – for a violent death leaves frightful traces, so unlike anything else.” (2)
When the “Neue Palais” was completed, the Kranichstein Hunting Lodge continued to be used in summer as a country residence. And in winter the little pond was used for ice-skating. That was not without danger: In March 1875 the Hereditary Grand Duke Louis almost drowned when he broke through the ice while skating at Kranichstein.
In the 1860’s and 1870’s the Hunting Lodge of Kranichstein hosted many prominent visitors: Queen Victoria, the Austrian Emperor and the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia. And in the 1890’s one newly-wed royal couple spent their wedding night there.
On 19th August 1863 Alice wrote to her mother:
“The Emperor came all the way to Kranichstein to pay us a visit and is very aimable, though not very talkative. Archduke William. King Max, and the Duke of Brunswick were also here yesterday.” (3)
On 8th September 1863 Queen Victoria stopped at Kranichstein on her return journey from Coburg to England. She wrote in her Journal:
“At 7 we passed Aschaffenburg … & at near 8 we stopped at a station just outside the splendid Park of Kranichstein, where dear Alice & Louis stood to receive us. We instantly got out of the train & I with Lenchen & the 2 little ones got into a Barouche with 4 fine horses, Affie following with Alice & Louis, in her carriage. Drove through the fine Park or rather more woods … to the Jagdschloss of Kranichstein. It is a curious old house with gable ends, built round 3 sides of a court, with a pond near it. It is very comfortable inside & has many long corridors, full of magnificent stags’ horns … We breakfasted in a curious little room in a turret, a few steps up, out of the Drawingroom … At 1/2 p. 9 we left Kranichstein, driving straight to the station, where we took leave of dear Alice & Louis.” (4)
Queen Victoria was accompanied by the 19-year-old Prince Alfred (“Affie”) and by the three princesses Helena (aged 17), Louise (aged 13) and Beatrice (aged 6)
On 4th October 1864 the Russian Tsar and Tsarina visited Kranichstein for breakfast and on the following day King Leopold I of Belgium (Alice’s great-uncle) came for a brief visit.
Two years later, on 10th August 1865, Queen Victoria again spent a few hours in Kranichstein on her way from England to Coburg, despite the fact that Alice and Louis were away on a holiday visit to Switzerland. Queen Victoria writes:
” … at 1/2 p. 9 got to Darmstadt … & I and the girls got into an open Landau with 4 horses & postillions, & drove through the outskirts of the town, & through part of the fine woods to Kranichstein … At 20 m. p. 10 we left Kranichstein.” (5)
A few weeks later, on 6th September 1865, on the way back from Coburg, Queen Victoria stopped again in Kranichstein. The King of Prussia wanted to speak to her, and they had agreed on Kranichstein as a meeting-place. But because the King did not have much time the meeting in the end took place in Darmstadt in the “Alte Palais” (“Old Palace”) after all. Queen Victoria continued her journey back to England the same evening.
AFter the death of her daughter Alice on 14th December 1878 Queen Victoria came more frequently to Darmstadt and stayed longer. A drive to Kranichstein, in remembrance of old times, was a frequent outing. On 24th April 1884 Queen Victoria notes in her Journal:
“Drove in the afternoon with BEatrice, Ella, & Louis, in the landau & 4 to Kranichstein, where we got our, & went over the curious old house where, on 3 occasions, I had spent the day, going to & returning from Coburg 19 years ago. I recognized the quaint old rooms & remembered all, & the people I saw there.” (6)
Ernst Ludwig and Victoria Melita
On 19th April 1894 in Coburg Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine married his cousin Victoria Melita, a Princess of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha. On the same evening they drove from Coburg to Kranichstein where they spent the night before making their formal entry into Darmstadt the following day.
Picture Gallery Kranichstein Hunting Lodge
(1) Sell, Carl: Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse. New York & London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1885. P. 57
(2) Sell, Carl: Op. cit. P. 60
(3) Sell, Carl: Op. cit. P. 64
(4) Queen Victoria’s Journals, entry dated 8th September 1863
(5) Queen Victoria’s Journals, entry dated 10th August 1865
(6) Queen Victoria’s Journals, entry dated 24th April 1884