Schönberg Castle plays a part in our story, not only because it was for many decades the residence of Princess Marie of Erbach-Schönberg, whose three-volume memoirs have been quoted so often in the book “Coburg Darmstadt Windsor”, but also because Queen Victoria visited Schönberg Castle on 29th April 1885, when she spent several days in Darmstadt to be present at the confirmation of her grandson Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine and, at the same time, at the christening of her great-granddaughter Alice, Princess of Battenberg. This Princess Alice was the daughter of Victoria, née Princess of Hesse and by Rhine, and Prince Louis of Battenberg. Many years later the only son of this Princess Alice was later to marry the British Queen Elizabeth II and to adopt the title of Duke of Edinburgh.
Princess Marie of Erbach-Schönberg was born as a Princess of Battenberg and was thus one of little Alice’s aunts. It was therefore natural that they should invite Queen Victoria to Schönberg Castle for tea.
As always, Queen Victoria gave a vivid and detailed description of this visit:
“At 3 we started with Ella & Louis for Schönberg, Gustaf Erbach’s place. It is a most beautiful drive through the Bergstrasse, where the Odenwald commences. We had of course 4 horses. Went through Seeheim, & Jugenheim, the pretty village below the Heiligenberg Pce Alexander’s property. Everything so green & a profusion of lilacs everywhere. The fruit trees which line the road, looked as if they were covered with snow, & the apple blossom with its pink buds and petals, quite exquisite. At Thalhof (1), a farm belonging to Pce Alexander, we changed horses, & went through various villages, & steep roads in the woods. One catches sight of the Schloss of Schönberg, from some distance, as it stands right among the hills, with wood ones immediately above it, though it stands very high on a rocky eminence overhanging the small village of the same name. It is a regular old Burg & one drives in under an archway, on to a sort of terrace, which goes the whole length of the house, & is planted with flowers & shrubs. Gustaf, Marie, & Liko (2) (who had proceeded us) met us at the entrance, & took us up the winding corkscrew staircase, reminding me of the Rosenau (3). The house is very old, the most ancient part dating from the 12th & 13th centuries, & the latest being 200 years old. Here my great grandmother, Pss Caroline of Erbach (4), who married Pce Reuss Ebersdorff was born. She was the mother of my dear Grandmama (5) of Coburg Saalfeld, & sister to Gustaf Erbach’s grandfather.” (6)
Queen Victoria continues her report:
“We had tea in a fine dining room with a vaulted roof. Most of the rooms are small & low, but very comfortably & nicely arranged. There are many family portraits in the house, amongst them a full length portrait of Pss Elisabeth daughter of Elisabeth of Bohemia, & sister of the Electress Sophia. We went out to look at the beautiful view from the Terrace, & walked in the gardens, where I planted a tree. Left soon after, by the Garden Gate, & drove down a steep winding road, through Auerbach, passing the curious little house (8) in which dear Alice & Louis lived, during the first year of their marriage. It was a beautiful hot evening. Got home by 7.” (9) (10)
(1) near Balkhausen
(2) Prince Henry of Battenberg was always called “Liko”. Marie was his elder sister. Later Liko married Princess Beatrice, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria.
(3) Rosenau Castle in Coburg, the birthplace of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, Queen Victoria’s deceased husband.
(4) Duchess Caroline Ernestine of Erbach-Schönberg (1727 – 1796) married Duke Henry XXIV Reuss-Ebersdorf. One of his daughters was Princess Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf who married the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and plays an important part in the book “Coburg Darmstadt Windsor”.
Queen Victoria was however mistaken when she stated that Caroline of Erbach-Schönberg was born in Schönberg Castle. She grew up there, but actually she was born in Gedern. Her mother was originally a Princess of Stolberg-Gedern and in those days it was normal for a married daughter to give birth to her first child in her mother’s home.
(5) Duchess Augusta of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, née Princess of Reuss-Ebersdorf, was the grandmother of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
(6) Queen Victoria’s Journals, entry dated 29th April 1885
(7) A nice collection of photos of Schönberg Castle in the year 1903 from the private photo album of the last Russian Tsar can be found here.
(8) When Queen Victoria’s daughter Alice moved to Darmstadt in 1862 after her marriage to Prince Louis of Hesse and by Rhine (later Grand-Duke Ludwig IV) there was no suitable residence available for the young couple, so that they spent their first weeks in a house in the “Fürstenlager” (“Princes’ Camp”) near Bensheim-Auerbach.
(9) Queen Victoria’s Journals, entry dated 29th April 1885
(10) It is quite surprising that the whole journey from Darmstadt to Schönberg and back took only 4 hours. As the crow flies the distance from Darmstadt to Schönberg is 20 km and the actual distance over steep paths through the woods and with a change of horses on the way would have been even more. No wonder that Queen Victoria emphasises that they “of course” had 4 horses.