A lesser known story than that of the romances of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra, is the equally lovely story of Queen Victoria’s cousin, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Kohary. At one time the Prince had been a potential candidate for the hand of the Queen of Spain but he would eventually marry for love a former child prodigy, actress, soprano and concert pianist, Constance Geiger. This account of their story is taken from my book “Queen Victoria’s Cousins.”
“Miss Geiger, however, did not fit the popular image of a disreputable actress, for, as a highly gifted musician, she had been viewed as a child prodigy and had progressed from acting to performing as both a soprano and concert pianist. To supplement her income she also gave music lessons in Vienna but, when her father died, her mother opened a dressmaker’s shop in which Constance was forced to work as a saleswoman.
By chance, one of her regular clients was the wife of the proprietor of a local hotel where Prince Leopold regularly dined. One day, the two men fell into a conversation about music, during which the proprietor mentioned his wife’s connection to the former child prodigy, Constance Geiger. Intrigued, Leopold visited the shop and, after speaking with Constance, was so enamoured that he made many more visits until a liaison developed, resulting the birth of a son in April 1860.
Constance’s many accomplishments could not compensate for her lack of royal blood, and the Austrian court was aghast when Leopold chivalrously announced his intention of marrying her. When his request for a title for her was denied, he demonstrated his respect and love for his bride, by arranging a lavish public wedding, presided over by Joseph Rauscher, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna. On the way to the church, Leopold rode proudly beside Constance’s carriage, which was emblazoned with his coat of arms and surrounded by footmen and outriders; and, once inside, he further asserted her right to be viewed as his equal by offering her his right hand, rather than the left, which was the usual custom in the case of a morganatic marriage. When questioned about this, he boldly replied that, since his own mother was not of royal blood, he and Constance were equal in the sight of God, and, by rights, in the eyes of society.Fifteen months later, Constance was granted the title Baroness Ruttenstein, but, while Queen Victoria and Leopold’s brother, the former King Ferdinand of Portugal, welcomed her into the family, his other brother, Gusti, was pressed by his wife, Clementine of Orléans, to refuse to acknowledge her. Viennese society was equally disdainful of the dressmaker’s daughter so the couple lived mainly in Paris, where Leopold purchased a villa near the Bois de Boulogne. There, they formed a cultured and lively circle of friends, including such luminaries as the actress, Sarah Bernhardt, and the Swedish soprano, Christine Nilsson.”