On This Day In History: The Death of Prince Ludwig, The Last of the Hesse and by Rhine

Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duchess Eleonore, and Hereditary Grand Duke Georg Donatus and Prince Ludwig


The Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine with their two sons


Eleonore with Georg Donatus and Ludwig

Prince Ludwig Hermann Alexander Chlodwig of Hesse and by Rhine was born on 20 November 1908 as the second son of Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine (25 November 1868–9 October 1937) and his second wife Grand Duchess Eleonore (17 September 1871–16 November 1937; née Solms-Hohensolms-Lich). Ludwig joined an older brother, Hereditary Grand Duke Georg Donatus (8 November 1906–16 November 1937). From his father’s first marriage to Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1876-1936), Ludwig had one half sister, Princess Elisabeth (1895-1903), who he never met as a result of her untimely death.

Prince Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine

Together with his brother Georg Donatus, who was two years older, Prince Ludwig grew up alternately at Schloß Wolfsgarten and the Neuen Palais in Darmstadt. At the time of the First World War, he began to be privately tutored. Ludwig, in the family circle called “Lu,” was like his brother almost entirely educated at home. Ludwig finished his primary studies in 1926. Then Ludwig went on to study archeology and art history with a specialisation in ornamentation at the Universities of Darmstadt, Lausanne and Munich.

Announcement of the Hesse/Geddes engagement on 17 July 1937


Prince Ludwig and his fiancée the Hon. Margaret Geddes


Report on the death of Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine on 10 October 1937

After graduating, the trained art historian served as an attaché at the German Embassy in London. In Upper Bavaria, Ludwig met Margaret Campbell Geddes (18 March 1913-26 January 1997), the daughter of British diplomat and professor Sir Auckland Campbell Geddes (1879-1954) and American Isabella Gamble Ross (1881-1962). After having met in 1936, Ludwig and Margaret announced their engagement on 16 July 1937. The wedding was postponed after Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig died on 9 October 1937. At this point, it was decided that Ludwig and Margaret should marry on 20 November 1937, the groom’s twenty-ninth birthday.

However, further tragedy was to intervene. On 16 November, Eleonore, along with her son Georg Donatus, his pregnant wife Cecilie and his two sons, went to London by plane in order to attend Ludwig’s wedding. The plane crashed near Oostende in Belgium and all the passengers were killed. The only one of Georg Donatus and Cecilie’s children not aboard the flight was their daughter Johanna.

In London, it was decided that Prince Ludwig and Margaret Geddes should marry without delay in the face of this loss. The couple were married on 17 October 1937, a day after the plane crash, in quiet wedding ceremony at St Peter’s Church, Eaton Square. Ludwig’s best man was Lord Louis Mountbatten. The wedding was attended by the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia (née Greece), Countess Elisabeth of Törring-Jettenbach (née Greece), the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven, Lady Louis Mountbatten, and Mr and Mrs von Ribbentrop. After the marriage, Ludwig and Margaret traveled to Ostend to see the remains of the groom’s family. Ludwig never completely recovered from the death of his family; it was later remarked that “a disciplined sadness marked him.”
Princess Johanna of Hesse and by Rhine
Prince Ludwig and Princess Margaret with their niece/adopted daughter Princess Johanna

After the accident, Prince Ludwig and Princess Margaret adopted Johanna, their orphaned niece, and planned to raise her as their own daughter. Sadly, Johanna developed meningitis and died twenty months later at the age of two and a half on 14 June 1939. The little girl’s maternal grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece (née Battenberg), said later that the unconscious Johanna so closely resembled her mother at the same age that it felt like losing her daughter Cecilie all over again. Following Johanna’s death, she was buried with her parents and brothers at the Rosenhöhe.

Peter Pears, Prince Louis of Hesse and by Rhine, Princess Margaret of Hesse and by Rhine, and Benjamin Britten
Lu and Peg of Hesse
Prince Ludwig and Princess Margaret “Peg” were never able to have children of their own. After the end of World War II, the couple engaged in the reconstruction of Darmstadt, supporting such institutions as Alice Hospital, the Eleonorenheim and the Red Cross. As a lover of classical music, the prince promoted the Ansbach Festival and the Aldeburgh Festival. As a friend of the British musician Benjamin Britten, Ludwig translated his lyrics and invited the English composer come to Wolfsgarten, where parts of Britten’s opera Death in Venice were created.
Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine in later life
Lu and Peg of Hesse with The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh 
In 1964, Ludwig became of the godfathers of Prince Edward, youngest child of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. Ludwig died in 1968 at the age of 59 years. The funeral service took place on 6 June 1968 at Darmstadt in the presence of the European royals and aristocrats. Ludwig is buried together with his wife Margaret (1913-1997) in a simple grave at the Rosenhöhe, in the immediate vicinity of his parents and his brother’s family.

The late Landgraf Moritz of Hesse as a young man

In 1960, Prince Ludwig adopted Prince/Landgraf Moritz of Hesse-Kassel (1926-2013), in whose person the two separate lines of the House of Hesse were reunited from the first time since 1567 after Prince Ludwig’s death in 1968.

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