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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 262 pages of information about Queen Victoria.

IV

The new Duchess of Kent, Victoria Mary Louisa, was a daughter of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and a sister of Prince Leopold.  The family was an ancient one, being a branch of the great House of Wettin, which since the eleventh century had ruled over the March of Meissen on the Elbe.  In the fifteenth century the whole possessions of the House had been divided between the Albertine and Ernestine branches:  from the former descended the electors and kings of Saxony; the latter, ruling over Thuringia, became further subdivided into five branches, of which the duchy of Saxe-Coburg was one.  This principality was very small, containing about 60,000 inhabitants, but it enjoyed independent and sovereign rights.  During the disturbed years which followed the French Revolution, its affairs became terribly involved.  The Duke was extravagant, and kept open house for the swarms of refugees, who fled eastward over Germany as the French power advanced.  Among these was the Prince of Leiningen, an elderly beau, whose domains on the Moselle had been seized by the French, but who was granted in compensation the territory of Amorbach in Lower Franconia.  In 1803 he married the Princess Victoria, at that time seventeen years of age.  Three years later Duke Francis died a ruined man.  The Napoleonic harrow passed over Saxe-Coburg.  The duchy was seized by the French, and the ducal family were reduced to beggary, almost to starvation.  At the same time the little principality of Amorbach was devastated by the French, Russian, and Austrian armies, marching and counter-marching across it.  For years there was hardly a cow in the country, nor enough grass to feed a flock of geese.  Such was the desperate plight of the family which, a generation later, was to have gained a foothold in half the reigning Houses of Europe.  The Napoleonic harrow had indeed done its work, the seed was planted; and the crop would have surprised Napoleon.  Prince Leopold, thrown upon his own resources at fifteen, made a career for himself and married the heiress of England.  The Princess of Leiningen, struggling at Amorbach with poverty, military requisitions, and a futile husband, developed an independence of character and a tenacity of purpose which were to prove useful in very different circumstances.  In 1814, her husband died, leaving her with two children and the regency of the principality.  After her brother’s marriage with the Princess Charlotte, it was proposed that she should marry the Duke of Kent; but she declined, on the ground that the guardianship of her children and the management of her domains made other ties undesirable.  The Princess Charlotte’s death, however, altered the case; and when the Duke of Kent renewed his offer, she accepted it.  She was thirty-two years old—­short, stout, with brown eyes and hair, and rosy cheeks, cheerful and voluble, and gorgeously attired in rustling silks and bright velvets.

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