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The Matrimonial Diplomacy of the Grand Ducal House of Mecklenburg

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By Michael Duke of Mecklenburg

To introduce the House of Mecklenburg (-Strelitz), one has to know that it is of Slavic decent; the only one amongst the formerly reigning German princely houses.

The first time the name Mecklenburg is documented was on September 10th 995.  In the 12th century at the time of tribal leader Niklot (100-1160), Prince of the Obotrites, the princely family and its tribe were Christianised by Heinrich the Lion (1129-1195), Duke of Saxony and Bavaria. Mecklenburg became a part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1170; it became a Dukedom in 1348. As time passed on (1621) the house was split into the branch of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Güstrow. The line of Mecklenburg-Güstrow died out in 1695 and the main ducal line Mecklenburg-Schwerin was split a last time into the branches of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1701.

The line Mecklenburg-Strelitz had great difficulty to find its way, due to the burning down of their first castle in Strelitz in 1712, creating a great amount of debt. As it was a small state of approximately 3.000 square kilometres, it was not politically important and had only a little income. Nonetheless, at the end of the 18th century the situation changed dramatically. Duke Carl (1741-1816) became an influential prince of the Holy Roman Empire through par alliance. His sister, Duchess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) married King George III. of Great Britain, Hannover and Ireland (1738-1820). Later his own daughters Luise (1776-1810) and Frederike (1778-1841) married the crown prince and later King Friedrich Wilhelm III. of Prussia (1770-1840) and his brother Friedrich Ludwig. However, later Frederike married Ernst August (1771-1851), later King of Hannover. The Congress of Vienna raised the Mecklenburg-Strelitz monarch to the rank of Grand Duke on June 28th 1815. As Grand Duke Carl died in 1816, his son Georg (1779-1860) continued the line.

The close family and diplomatic relations between Mecklenburg (-Strelitz) and Prussia made it possible for the Prussian Kingdom to build a railway through Mecklenburg-Strelitz on costs of the Prussian state. At the time, the latter helped Mecklenburg-Strelitz to decrease its debt and taxes as well as to industrialise.

Grand Duke Georg’s children further enlarged the importance. His second son, Georg August (1824-1876) married into the Russia Imperial Family becoming son in law of Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich (1798-1849), brother of Emperor Nikolas I. of Russia (1796-1855). Georg August’s brother, the Hereditary Grand Duke Friedrich Wilhelm (1819-1904) married the Princess Augusta of Cambridge (1822 –1916), granddaughter of the British monarch George III. – further deepening the ties between Britain and Mecklenburg-Strelitz. At that time, the family became well off becoming one of the top ten richest families in Europe.

Duke Heinrich of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1876-1934) married Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) of the Netherlands in 1901, and thus became Prince Consort of the Netherlands; he is the Great-grandfather of the present King of the Netherlands.

Often the members of the Grand Ducal House went abroad for education. For instance, the last reigning Duke Gustav Adolph of Mecklenburg-Güstrow (1633-1695) was a student in Leiden approximately 1649/1650, Duke Georg August of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1748-1785) was a student at Leiden University approximately 1764 (at which I am currently studying as well) before serving in the Royal Navy and the Austrian army. Grand duke Friedrich Wilhelm of Mecklenburg-Strelitz studied and became Doctor of civil law of the University of Cambridge. Duke Carl Michael of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1863-1934) studied and became Doctor of Philosophy of the University of Strasbourg.  Additionally, Duchess Donata of Mecklenburg-Schwerin’s daughter Alix von Solodkoff studies in Maastricht.

Studying the connections to other reigning houses gives an impression of the diplomatic relevance of the Mecklenburg House.

The territorial sovereignty was lost party in 1871, completely in 1918. The Grand ducal family of both lines were exiled in Denmark and went back to Mecklenburg in the 1920s. In the period of the Third Reich (1933-1945) the Mecklenburg-Strelitz family endured great difficulties again as private property was intentionally burned down by Nazi sympathisers, or bombed during the war. The head of the house (my great-grandfather) was imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen-Concentration Camp (KZ) in 1944. His son was captured (my grandfather) by the Gestapo.

Nonetheless, as the situation has cleared up, the family is again reinforcing old connections as well as making new ones.

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