Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse

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Ernest Louis Charles Albert William (German: Ernst Ludwig Karl Albrecht Wilhelm; 25 November 1868 – 9 October 1937) was the last Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine from 1892 until 1918.[1] His nickname was "Ernie".

Early life[edit]

Ernest in early 1879 with his grandmother Queen Victoria and sisters Victoria, Elizabeth, Irene and Alix two months after the deaths of their mother and his youngest sister. All are wearing mourning clothes.

Ernest Louis was the elder son of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine and his wife Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was an older brother of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (née Alix of Hesse), wife of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

Ernest Louis's early life was shrouded with death. When he was five, his brother Prince Friedrich died. The two boys had been playing a game when the younger boy, who suffered from haemophilia, fell through a window onto the balcony twenty feet below. Ernest Louis was inconsolable. "When I die, you must die too, and all the others. Why can't we all die together? I don't want to die alone, like Frittie," he told his nurse. To his mother he said, "I dreamt that I was dead and was gone up to Heaven, and there I asked God to let me have Frittie again and he came to me and took my hand."

In 1878, an epidemic of diphtheria swept through Darmstadt. All the children (except Princess Elisabeth who was sent to stay with their paternal grandmother Princess Elizabeth of Prussia) and their father fell ill. Princess Alice cared for her sick husband and children, but on 16 November, the youngest of them, Princess Marie, died. Alice kept the news from her family for several weeks, until Ernest Louis, who was devoted to little Marie, asked for his sister. When his mother revealed Marie's death, Ernest Louis was overcome with grief. In comforting her grieving son, Alice kissed him, and within a week, she fell ill and soon died, on 14 December.


On 9 April 1894, Ernest Louis married his maternal first cousin, Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha ("Ducky"), in Coburg, on the encouragement of, and in the presence of, their mutual grandmother, Queen Victoria, an event which was overshadowed by the engagement of Ernest's youngest surviving sister, Alix, to the Tsarevich Nicholas of Russia. The marriage was not a happy one. They had two children:

Ernest was still devastated by the memory of his daughter's death thirty years later. "My little Elisabeth," he wrote in his memoirs, "was the sunshine of my life."[2]
  • a daughter, Elisabeth, born on March 11, 1895, who died of typhoid fever on November 16, 1903 at age eight,
  • and a son, stillborn on 25 May 1900.

Queen Victoria was saddened when she heard of the trouble in the marriage from Sir George Buchanan, her chargé d'affaires, but because of their daughter, Elisabeth, she refused to consider permitting her grandchildren to divorce. Efforts to rekindle the marriage failed, and so when Queen Victoria died in January 1901 her significant opposition to the end of the marriage was removed.[3] The couple had become estranged and were divorced 21 December 1901 on grounds of "invincible mutual antipathy" by a special verdict of the Supreme Court of Hesse.

Ernest Louis remarried in Darmstadt, on 2 February 1905, to Princess Eleonore of Solms-Hohensolms-Lich (17 September 1871 – 16 November 1937), with whom he had two sons:

Grand Duke of Hesse[edit]

In 1892, Ernest Louis succeeded his father as grand duke.

Throughout his life, Ernest Louis was a patron of the arts,[4] founding the Darmstadt Artists' Colony, and was himself an author of poems, plays, essays, and piano compositions.

Ernest Louis commissioned the New Mausoleum in 1903. It was consecrated on 3 November 1910, in the presence of the Grand Duke and his immediate family, that is to say, his wife Eleonore, Tsar Nicholas II and his two sisters, the Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna (Ella), Victoria Princess Louis of Battenberg and her daughter, Louise, and Princess Heinrich of Prussia accompanied by her husband. The remains of Grand Duke Ludwig IV, Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine along with their children 'Frittie' and 'May' were re-interred in the New Mausoleum.[5]

First World War[edit]

During World War I, Ernest Louis served as an officer at Kaiser Wilhelm's headquarters. In July 1918, roughly sixteen months after the February Revolution, which forced his brother-in-law, Nicholas II from his throne, Ernst's two sisters in Russia, Elizabeth, who had become a nun following the assassination of her husband, Grand Duke Sergei, in 1905, and Alexandra, the former tsarina, were killed by the Bolsheviks. At the end of the war, he lost his throne during the revolution of 1918, after refusing to abdicate.[6]


In October 1937, Ernest Louis died after a long illness at Schloß Wolfsgarten, near Darmstadt. He received what amounted to a state funeral on 16 November 1937 and was buried next to his daughter, Elisabeth, in a new open air burial ground next to the New Mausoleum he had built in the Rosenhöhe park in Darmstadt.[7]



  1. ^ "EX-RULER OF HESSE DEAD IN GERMANY; Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig Was Ousted in 1918 After Reign Praised for Its Wisdom.". The New York Times. 10 October 1937. p. 29. Retrieved 8 December 2008.  Paid subscription required to read the full article.
  2. ^ Van der Kiste, John. Princess Victoria Melita, Grand Duchess Cyril of Russia, 1876–1936, p. 64, Sutton Publishing, 1991, ISBN 978-0-86299-815-8
  3. ^ See Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
  4. ^ Stopes, Charlotte C. (10 May 1914). "ART AT HOME AND ABROAD; American Paintings at Reinhardt Galleries – Sale of Modern Pictures in Paris – Important Art Exhibitions Abroad." (PDF). The New York Times. pp. SM11. Retrieved 8 December 2008.  See section titled Two Important Art Exhibitions in Darmstadt (Hesse) Under the Patronage of the Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt
  5. ^ Christopher Warwick, author of the biography of Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna, entitled 'Ella Princess, Saint & Martyr' published in hardback the United Kingdom by John Wiley & Sons.
  6. ^ "TWO MORE RULERS GIVE UP THRONE; Republics Proclaimed in Wurttemburg and Hesse—Ducal Lands Seized" (PDF). The New York Times. 14 November 1918. p. 1. Retrieved 8 December 2008.  Hesse mentioned toward the middle of the article
  7. ^ Grand Duchy of Hesse webside, discussing burials of the grand ducal family (Retrieved 8 December 2008).
Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse
Born: 25 November 1868 Died: 9 October 1937
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Louis IV
Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine
Political offices
Preceded by
Louis IV
as Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine
Head of State of Hesse-Darmstadt
Succeeded by
Carl Ulrich
as President of the People's State of Hesse
Titles in pretence
Loss of title
Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine
Succeeded by
Georg Donatus