More pretenders: the obscure claims to the kingdoms of Finland and Lithuania

Not many people know this, but there was once a plan to make Finland a kingdom.

Before World War I Finland was owned by Russia. It declared itself an independent republic on December 6th, 1917, and after a brief civil war its parliament elected Prince and Landgrave Frederick Charles of Hesse-Kassel the King of Finland on October 9th, 1918. He was directly descended from George II of Britain:

George II > Princess Mary > Landgrave Frederick of Hesse-Kassel > Landgrave William of Hesse-Kassel > Landgrave Frederick William of Hesse-Kassel > Landgrave Frederick Charles of Hesse-Kassel.

His wife, Margaret, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria:

Victoria > Victoria, Princess Royal > Princess Margaret of Prussia.

There is some speculation that Frederick Charles would have taken the regnal name of Väinö I, after a hero from a Finnish epic poem. It was more or less common practice for foreign-born kings to take names befitting their new kingdoms at the time; most famously, Prince Carl of Denmark took the newly-independent throne of Norway in 1905 as King Haakon VII. However, Finnish archives state his name was planned as being Charles I (“Kaarle I” in Finnish) and his titles would be “Charles I, King of Finland and Karelia, Duke of Åland, Grand Duke of Lapland, Lord of Kaleva and the North”.

However, before Frederick Charles could even get to Finland the Armistice of November 11, 1918, laid the burden of villainy squarely on Germany. Having a German as king suddenly became untenable, and Frederick Charles, in a true act of noblesse, abdicated on December 14th of that year. The Republic of Finland was proclaimed on July 17th, 1919.

Frederick Charles died in 1940. The question of his heirs, and the pretenders to the crown of Finland, is an interesting one.

In 1918 Frederick Charles’s eldest heirs were his twin sons, Philipp and Wolfgang. Ordinarily, Philipp, the older twin, should have been Crown Prince, but he was in the German Army at the time and incommunicado. It was then put into practice that Wolfgang would be the heir: he was preparing to move to Finland with his family and plans were being made for him to marry into the Finnish nobility. After Frederick Charles’s death in 1940, royalists proclaimed Wolfgang the pretender, even though Wolfgang himself never made any claim to it.

Meanwhile, Frederick Charles became the head of the princely House of Hesse in 1925 when his older brother Alexander abdicated the position. Philipp, being Frederick Charles’s eldest son, inherited the Hessian headship. After Wolfgang died without children in 1989, the pretension to Finland passed to Philipp’s children. It was then decided that instead of one person being both the Finnish pretender and the house head of Hesse, the royal claim would go to the second heir, a practice of inheritance known as secundogeniture.

Thus, when Philipp died in 1980 his eldest son Moritz became Hesse’s house’s head; and when Wolfgang died in 1989, the shadow crown was passed to Moritz’s brother Henry. Henry died in 1999; the claim then went to Moritz’s second son, Philipp II. Considering that both Moritz’s heir Henry Donatus and Philipp II now both have sons, the problem of that titular overlap seems to have resolved itself, and the succession of the Finnish pretenders can finally revert to some sort of normalcy.

Likewise, after its independence near the end of World War I the country of Lithuania had plans for a monarchy. Independence was declared on Februrary 18, 1918, but couldn’t do anything due to the occupation of Lithuania by German troops. Worried about the prospect of German annexation, on June 4th they voted to create a constitutional monarchy. On July 11th, they elected Prince William, 2nd Duke of Urach, as King, taking the name Mindaugas II. Mindaugas I was a medieval grand duke who had been the only other King of Lithuania, coronated in 1253 and reigning until 1263. Mindaugas II was a descendant of George I of Great Britain:

George I > Princess Sophia Dorothea of Hanover> Princess Sophia Dorothea of Prussia > Margravine Friedrike Dorothea of Brandenburg-Schwedt> Duke William of Württemburg > Prince William, 1st Duke of Urach > Prince William, 2nd Duke of Urach.

The unilateral declaration by the Council of Lithuania created strained relations with the German government, and was widely denounced by the public, who wanted closer ties with the Allied Powers and not Germany. The Council of Lithuania met on October 28th to reconsider their position, whereupon William sent a message indicating his willingness to abandon the throne, having never even set foot in Lithuania. The Council suspended the monarchy on November 2nd, and never again considered the creation of a monarchy.

This wasn’t the only time William of Urach almost became a sovereign. Through his mother he had been the legitimate heir of Prince Louis II of Monaco. However, not wanting a German ruling Monaco, the French government forced Louis’s father Albert I  to recognize Louis’s illegitimate daughter Charlotte as his heir in 1911, who was mother to Ranier III. William was also considered as the Prince of Albania, before being passed over in favour of William of Wied.

Presuming the holder of the title of the Duke of Urach is the pretender to the Lithuanian throne, the succession has been thrown off numerous times by morganatic marriages, which disqualify heirs from succeeding due to unequal status between husband and wife. William was succeeded on his death in 1928 not by his eldest son William (who married morganatically) but by his second son Karl Gero, who died childless in 1981. Skipping the heirs of his next brother Albrecht, the dukedom passed to Karl Anselm, eldest son of Karl Gero’s dead brother Eberhard. Karl Anselm renounced his titles upon marrying morganatically in 1991, passing to his brother William Albert, 5th Duke of Urach, an engineer who lives in a castle near Dusseldorf. His heir is his son Karl Philipp, who is 20 years old.

As a side note, Karl and William’s brother Inigo visited Lithuania in 2009, which attracted local media. Inigo took the opportunity to say at the time that if he were offered the crown of Lithuania today, he wouldn’t refuse it.


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