The Grandmother of Europe: Queen Victoria's family ties across the continent

Queen Victoria in her official Diamond Jubilee photograph
Queen Victoria reigned for nearly 64 years and was the first British monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee | Shutterstock

As a child learning about human anatomy, you may have come across the song ‘Dem Bones’. The catchy tune lyricises about how ‘the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone’ and so on. It certainly makes for easy remembering. If only there were a version about Queen Victoria, whose nine children married into royal families throughout Europe. It’s no wonder she earned the nickname ‘the grandmother of Europe’ for she connects most of the continent via bloodlines.

Born in London on 24th May 1819, Victoria was the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of George III. She was never meant to ascend the throne being so down in the order of succession. However, her three uncles had no legitimate children who survived and so Victoria was crowned in 1837.

She sat atop the throne for nearly 64 years, making her Britain's second longest-reigning monarch. Her reign was synonymous with Britain’s industrial development, economic progression, and imperial expansion. When she died the British Empire was almost at its peak, covering a quarter of the world and nearly half a billion people.

Victoria’s husband was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who happened to be her first cousin. The pair married on 10th February 1840 and remained together for some 21 years before Albert passed away from illness.

The nine children of Victoria and Albert went on to produce 42 grandchildren, all of whom shaped and altered the makeup of the royal dynasties across Europe and even faced off against one another in warfare.

Britain

Although Victoria and Albert's firstborn was a girl, constitutional law at the time dictated the line of succession followed male-preference primogeniture. This meant Victoria and Albert’s firstborn son should inherit the throne, which he did upon Victoria’s death in 1901.

Born Albert Edward, and nicknamed ‘Bertie’, he chose to reign as King Edward VII. In 1863, he married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. If Edward’s mother was the ‘grandmother of Europe’, Edward was the ‘uncle of Europe’ since he was related to nearly every other European monarch.

Although he died in 1910, before the outbreak of WWI, his poor relationship with his nephew Wilhelm, strained connections between the two countries.

Edward's firstborn son passed away from influenza and so his second, George V, inherited the throne in 1910. After war descended on Europe in 1914, three royal cousins found themselves in direct conflict with each other. King George V of Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

When King George died in 1936, his eldest son, Edward VIII, succeeded him. Young Edward's reign was short-lived after he caused a constitutional crisis by abdicating the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. His younger brother, George VI, took his place as king in late 1936. George's eldest daughter, Elizabeth II, went on to become the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

Germany

The firstborn child of Victoria and Albert was Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise, otherwise known as Victoria, Princess Royal. At the age of 17, she married Prince Frederick of Prussia who became German Emperor and King of Prussia in 1888.

Their eldest son, Wilhelm, was Germany’s last Emperor and his militaristic ambitions played a key part in bringing Europe to war in 1914. Although Wilhelm was in direct conflict with Britain, he’d not only been awarded the Order of the Garter by Queen Victoria but was also present at her deathbed.

Greece

Victoria, Princess Royal and Frederick had eight children, one of which was a daughter called Sophie. Sophie married her third cousin, Constantine, the heir apparent to the Greek throne.

She became Queen of Greece upon Constantine’s ascension in 1913. Sophie became the grandmother of the last King of Greece, Constantine II, who reigned until the monarchy’s abolition in 1973.

Russia

The third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria was Alice Maud Mary. Princess Alice married the minor German Prince Louis IV, the Grand Duke of Hesse. She was the first of Victoria and Albert’s children to die, succumbing to diphtheria at the age of just 35.

Her daughter, Alix, who was said to be Queen Victoria’s favourite granddaughter, married Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, a first cousin of King George VI via his mother, Princess Dagmar of Denmark.

Nicholas, who was said to look uncannily alike to George, was the last Tsar of Russia after the Communist uprising of 1917/18. Both Nicholas, Alix, and their children suffered a grisly end, being shot and bayoneted to death by Bolshevik revolutionaries.

Romania

Alfred was the second son of Queen Victoria to marry into Russian royalty, after tying the knot with the daughter of Emperor Alexander II of Russia. The couple’s daughter, Marie, married the heir apparent to the Romanian throne. She became the last Queen of Romania as the wife of King Ferdinand I.

Scandinavia

After a multitude of marriages to Danish princesses, Queen Victoria’s children and grandchildren also married into both Norwegian and Swedish royalty.

Maud of Wales, the youngest daughter of King Edward VII, married Danish Prince Carl of Denmark. After the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway, Carl was offered the Norwegian throne, which he accepted in 1905.

Maud became queen consort of Norway, and Carl was crowned King Haakon VII. The current king of Norway, Harold V, is the grandchild of Maud and Carl.

The seventh child and third son of Queen Victoria was Prince Arthur. He married Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia and their daughter, Princess Margaret of Connaught, married the future king of Sweden. Margaret’s grandchild, Carl XVI Gustaf, is the current King of Sweden.

Spain

Queen Victoria’s youngest child was Princess Beatrice Mary Victoria who married Prince Henry of Battenberg. Their daughter, Victoria, became Queen of Spain as the wife of King Alfonso XIII.

The current king of Spain is the great-grandson of Alfonso and Victoria. Princess Beatrice was a known carrier of the haemophilia gene and is believed to have passed it into the Spanish royal bloodline.