Though Alexander is best known for the scandal caused by his marriage, also his parentage was subject of scandal, as it was openly rumoured that his and his sister Marie's father was actually Baron Augustus de Senarclens, their mother's chamberlain.
As a younger son of the Grand Duke, Prince Alexander followed the martial tradition of his family, and served in the Russian Army, where he became a distinguished soldier with a glittering career ahead of him. He had a regiment of lancers named after him and was awarded the Cross of St. George. The fact that his sister Marie was the Tsarevna (Crown Princess) of Russia (i.e., wife of the future Tsar Alexander II) was not a disadvantage to his prospects. Many, however, thought it odd that he did not serve in a Hessian calvary unit or at least a German one.
This promising career however was cut short by a scandal, as Alexander fell in love with Countess Julia von Hauke, a lady-in-waiting to his sister Maria Alexandrovna. The Countess was an orphaned German-Polish ward of the Tsar, and daughter of the Tsar's former Minister of War. At that time, Tsar Nicholas I was considering Alexander as a possible husband for his niece and as he heard of the romance, the Tsar forbade the couple to marry; it was unthinkable at that time that a person belonging to any ruling house could marry a mere countess. The Almanach de Gotha, lexicon and guide of continental Europe's titled classes, was very clear on the subject of who could marry whom.
They returned to Hesse where his older brother Grand Duke Louis III was displeased by the lowly dynastic status of his brother's wife. Julia was created Countess of Battenberg (named after a small town of Battenberg in the north of Hesse where they first lived in seclusion), but their children would remain excluded from the line of succession and would always bear the slight stigma of being styled "Serene Highnesses" rather than "Royal Highnesses". The Countess was later elevated to the rank of a Princess (Fürstin), and the couple eventually returned to Darmstadt.
Alexander of Hesse and Julia of Battenberg had five children, and they inherited their mother's title and surname. The children were:
Prince Alexander of Hesse died in 1888, Princess Julia of Battenberg died at Schloss Heiligenberg in 1895 at the age of 70.
Despite these scandalous origins, the family of Battenberg quickly was accepted into Europe's nobility, forming marital ties with the British royal family. Alexander's second son Alexander became the first prince of modern Bulgaria.
In the 20th century, the descendants of Prince Alexander have been the consorts of three European sovereigns:
Prince Alexander's descendants currently occupy the Spanish throne and descendants of Elizabeth II by her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, will, in time, sit on the thrones of the United Kingdom.