Marie-Adélaïde of Luxembourg isn’t a name you might have heard. This woman did a ton of stuff, though — including pretty much running away from her own country. I’ll try my best to tell this crazy story.
Marie Adelheid Therese Hilda Wilhelmine, whom I’ll call Marie (even though there’s a ton of other Maries in this story) because I don’t want to type the accented letters, was born on June 14th, 1894. She was the daughter of a guy called William, then the heir to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Marie’s grandfather and William’s father, Adolphe of Nassau, was never supposed to be Grand Duke. Before Adolphe, the Grand Dukes of Luxembourg were also Kings of the Netherlands. King William III of the Netherlands, who also ruled Luxembourg, had three sons, and all of them died before him. He did have one daughter, Wilhelmina, but because she was a woman, she couldn’t inherit Luxembourg. That throne went to a distant cousin, Adolphe of Nassau. He became Grand Duke of Luxembourg in 1890 when he was already in his seventies.
Adolphe’s first wife, Grand Duchess Elizaveta Mikhailovna, died while giving birth to a stillborn daughter. Adolphe’s second wife, Adelheid-Marie of Anhalt-Dessau, gave birth to five children, two survived to adulthood: a son, William, Marie-Adélaïde’s father, and a daughter, Hilda, who later became the last Grand Duchess of Baden. Anyway, Adolphe managed to live until Marie was eleven years old, and his throne passed to Marie’s father, William IV.
Marie’s mother was Infanta Marie Anne of Portugal. Let’s call her “Mom” because there are way too many Maries already. Mom was the daughter of King Miguel I of Portugal, and trust me, there was a lot of drama in her family. But it’s too confusing, and I can barely explain it, so let’s not talk too much about that whole mess. By the way, if you trace Mom’s family tree back a few generations, you get to Maria I of Portugal (Maria the Mad). Maria’s family descended from the Habsburgs, and Maria married her uncle, so yeah, inbreeding. Spoiler: Marie didn’t go mad if that’s what you’re wondering.
And yes, Mom’s mother was named Adelaide, and Mom’s mother’s mother was named Marie Agnes Henriette. These names are going to get tricky. For right now, though, things won’t be too confusing because most of these Maries aren’t that important to the story, except for Mom.
Because Marie was a royal child, she had a ton of siblings. Marie was the eldest child, and after Marie, Mom gave birth to another daughter, Charlotte. Charlotte is going to be super important to our story later on. Among other things, Charlotte married her maternal cousin, because yes, there’s inbreeding in this story too. After Charlotte, Marie gave birth to daughter #3, Princess Hilda. Remember: Luxembourg still didn’t allow women to inherit the throne, so this must have been a terrible situation for Mom and Marie’s father, William. Hilda married the Prince of Schwarzenberg, so she became the Princess of Schwarzenberg. Guess what? Mom and William had a fourth daughter, Antonia. Antonia was the second wife of Rupprecht, the Crown Prince of Bavaria. Oh, and there’s a fifth daughter, too: Elisabeth, later a Princess of Thurn and Taxis. You might think that finally, Mom and William would have a son. Nope. Daughter #6 was on the way. Princess Sophie was Mom and William’s last child. She married the son of Frederick Augustus III of Saxony, so she became a Princess of Saxony.
Now that we’ve met Marie’s many, many sisters, you must be thinking: isn’t Salic Law still a thing in Luxembourg? Who’s going to become Grand Duke? Well, first, Marie’s father, William IV of Luxembourg, in 1905. So, what did William do? He said, “meh,” and named Marie his heir presumptive in 1907. Presumptive? Well, yeah, Mom could still have a son, she was about forty-five, so there was still a chance.
William IV was terminally ill, so Mom served as his regent from 1908 to 1912. In 1912, William IV died, so Marie became Grand Duchess. One problem: Marie was 17, so she was still considered a minor. For the next few months, Mom served as regent, until a few days after Marie’s 18th birthday. So, Marie was now Luxembourg’s first reigning Grand Duchess. Things should go just fine for her, in the relatively stable 1912…
At her swearing-in ceremony thingy, one of her ministers said:
Consider it, gentlemen, as a happy moment for the future of the country, the fact that the Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde is the first of our sovereigns to have been born on the Grand Ducal soil, the first to have been raised there, and who, from her earliest childhood has breathed the air of our native land and learnt the ideas, the aspirations and the traditions of the people to whom she has been called reign over.Auguste Laval
That was pretty true, actually: Marie’s grandfather, Adolphe of Nassau, was never expected to be Grand Duke, so he obviously wasn’t raised all Luxembourg-y. Same with Marie’s father. And before them, Luxembourg was ruled by the monarchs of the Netherlands, who rarely set foot in the Grand Duchy. Before Adolphe, the last Grand Duke to be born in Luxembourg was John the Blind, back in 1296.
But the thing is — because there’s always a thing — Marie was definitely not educated for the role of Grand Duchess. Her father was like, “sure, I only have a daughter, and I’m like, fifty-something, but like, still, I can have a son.” It wasn’t exactly like that, but you get the idea. Her father never saw a need to educate Marie the way she should’ve been. At first, Marie couldn’t do anything by herself, and, much like her grandfather, who didn’t know anything about Luxembourg when he became Grand Duke, she had to leave most of the ruling to her ministers.
She had this Prime Minister called Paul Eyschen. Eyschen was that one guy who was super-powerful while Marie’s father was terminally ill, and while Mom was regent. Marie didn’t like Eyschen, and he was like, “someone doesn’t like me?? Oh, well” and continued with his day. Marie and Eyschen had multiple fallings-out as Marie increasingly participated in politics. “A woman participating in politics?? Burn the witch!” yelled some idiots, and Marie quickly became unpopular.
So, World War I came along pretty quickly, and suddenly, the world was ending. “Oh, no,” said Luxembourg, “let’s stay neutral and try not to die.” So, that’s what the little country did. But like, Luxembourg is tiny. Really tiny. Remember that, it’s really important.
So, Germany invaded Luxembourg because what else is Luxembourg for if not invading? So, Luxembourg couldn’t really do anything about this, because they were a neutral country. Even though Germany had violated their neutrality, Luxembourg still wanted to stay neutral. What did this mean? It meant they had to cozy up to the Germans, whether they wanted to or not.
When Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany made a trip to Luxembourg, Marie met him at her palace. Marie’s little sister, Princess Antonia, was betrothed to Rupprecht, the Crown Prince of Bavaria, and she would become his second wife. The important thing is that Rupprecht was German: he was a German field marshal. One more thing: Marie was pretty German herself.
Since forever, France and Belgium had wanted to add Luxembourg to their countries. Now that Marie-Adélaïde was being nice to the Germans, they decided that the worse they could make her look, the better for them because it would increase their chances of getting Luxembourg. France said this about Marie:
The French Government does not consider it possible to have contact or negotiations with the Government of the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, whom it considers as gravely compromised…
France said stuff like that, while Belgium just tried to bad-mouth her all she could. “Oh look!” they said, “Marie-Adélaïde is German! She’s literally sooo German, I can’t tell you how German she is!” Belgium thought that some good propaganda would give them a nice big Luxembourg for dinner. There was nothing else Marie could do, though. She could either fight the Germans and possibly lose everything, or do what she was doing right now. Not everyone saw it that way, even her own people. To win popularity, Marie did what pretty much every other royal woman did during this time: she helped Luxembourg’s Red Cross. Marie was truly a dedicated nurse.
Marie went through Prime Ministers the way I go through a 20-pack of seaweed: quickly. After Marie’s first Prime Minister, Eyschen, died, her new one, Mathias Mongensat, must have been happy in his new position. But Mathias was only Prime Minister for 25 days. Her third one lasted six weeks. I guess the third time’s not the charm. The next one served for a year and a few months, and so did Prime Minister #5.
Prime Minister #6, a guy named Émile Reuter, grew a lot of white hairs during his service. World War I was coming to an end, sure, but that’s a bad thing. The Germans had been defeated, and Marie had tried to be friends with them. Obviously, Luxembourg, who had been pretty nice to the Germans, was going to have to suffer. Royalists thought Marie should abdicate, and everyone else was like “wow! Look at all these revolutions! How about we try it?”
A few months after the war’s end, in January of 1919, Marie asked Reuter if she was doing the right thing. He said yes. And so, 24-year-old Marie abdicated on January 14th in favor of her younger sister, Charlotte. Charlotte would reign until 1964, and her son, Jean, reigned until 2000. Jean’s son, Henri, is the current Grand Duke of Luxembourg. If everything goes according to plan, Henri’s son, William, will become Grand Duke after Henri’s death.
And what happened to Marie? Well, she didn’t stick around. She traveled Europe, and settled in a convent in Italy. But her health didn’t allow her to stay there. She soon had to move to Schloss Hohenburg, a palace in Bavaria. There, she died at the age of 29 of Influenza on January 24th, 1924, 5 years and 10 days after abdicating.