George II, Duke of Saxony-Meiningen, was the penultimate Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, ruling from 1866 until his death. Reformer of his state and remarkable politician of his time, he became known in particular as a promoter of theatrical arts, director, director, set designer and music patron, to the point of earning the nickname of Theaterherzog ("Duke of the theater").
George was the only son of Duke Bernard II of Saxony-Meiningen and his wife, Princess Maria Federica d'Assia-Kassel. His birth was greeted with great relief by his father's subjects, as the succession to the duchy was in danger due to the lack of male heirs in the family. Giorgio would have remained an only child for seventeen years, until the birth of his sister, Princess Augusta in 1843.
Giorgio spent his first years under the supervision of his parents and his grandmother, the duchess mother Luisa Eleonora. It was the latter that instilled in Giorgio the patriotic virtues of his legacy, as well as the sense of duty necessary to govern a duchy. He had leading figures such as Friedrich Fröbel and Moritz Seebeck as educators. From 1844 he studied art history, history and law with Ernst Moritz Arndt, Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann and Gottfried Kinkel at the University of Bonn, finishing his studies in 1847 in Leipzig. Passionate about painting, he learned the rudiments with the painter Paul Saet, thus coming into contact with the main artists of his time, in many cases he became a patron.
In 1862, his only sister married Prince Maurice of Saxony-Altenburg, a minor son of Duke George of Saxony-Altenburg. they were the parents of Ernesto II of Saxony-Altenburg, the last ruling duke of Saxony-Altenburg.
Giorgio succeeded his father as Duke of Saxony-Meiningen when he was forced to abdicate on 20 September 1866 following the defeat of Austria, of which he was an ally, in the Austro-Prussian war.
He was one of the greatest intellectuals among the principles of the high nobility of the second Empire. He is known in particular for having supported the Meiningen Orchestra, granting it court theater. Using his knowledge of art history and his drawing skills, he has left us detailed tables of scenarios for theaters, costumes and details. He was also the choreographer of several traveling theater plays in Europe. For this his commitment in the theater is known as the first modern theater director, inspiring the Stanislavski theater.
Giorgio married for the first time in Charlottenburg on 18 May 1850 with Princess Charlotte of Prussia, eldest daughter of Prince Albert of Prussia and Princess Marianna of the Netherlands, and nephew of both Frederick William III of Prussia and William I of the Netherlands .
The couple had a short engagement, it was a marriage of love. Among the wedding gifts was an old and opulent villa on Lake Como by the mother of the bride. It was renamed Villa Carlotta in honor of the bride. They spent the next five years in Berlin and Potsdam, but returned to Meiningen for the birth of their children.
On January 27, 1855, their second son died. Carlotta would have followed him two months later, dying in childbirth and leaving Giorgio inconsolable. He succeeded his father as Duke of Saxony-Meiningen in 1866, eleven years after Carlotta's death.
Giorgio's second wife, Feodora di Hohenlohe-Langenburg, c. 1860. Despite his recent widowhood, Giorgio went in search of a new wife, if only to provide a mother for his two children. He met his second cousin, Princess Feodora of Hohenlohe-Langenburg while he was traveling to Italy; they got engaged almost immediately. Feodora was a niece of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, being a daughter of the half-sister of the queen, Princess Feodora of Leiningen and her husband Ernesto I, prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. On October 23, 1858, they married in Langenburg.
Their marriage was however unhappy. Giorgio had never recovered from Carlotta's death and Feodora was not characteristically suited to the life he was expected to lead. He had no intellectual or artistic achievements; even worse, he had no interest in developing any. Despite this fact, Giorgio tried to educate her, since he was a great lover of the arts, particularly theater. His mother approved, stating that it was "very reasonable to him to actually organize for his bride to be very busy with classes, taking drawing lessons, and listening to history lessons." Giorgio soon realized, however, that she would never be as brilliant and intelligent as Carlotta. After the death of their third son, Feodora remained as far away from Meiningen as possible. In 1866, he succeeded as Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, making her the duchess consort of Saxony-Meiningen.
Feodora contracted scarlet fever in January 1872, and died the following month. Despite the many differences between them, Giorgio had remained fond of her; when he fell ill, he was really upset and sent telegrams to his parents twice a day.
He married a third time, and unequally in Liebenstein on March 18, 1873 with Ellen Franz, a former actress. Le Le was given her treatment, being known as Helene, baroness of Holdburg shortly before their wedding and after their marriage. This marriage was morganatic, and greatly irritated the Kaiser Wilhelm. Giorgio, in turn, became increasingly angry and suspicious of those who failed to recognize his wife and treat her equally. Many Germans supported George's decision to marry, but William felt particularly shaken because George's first wife had been a relative of his. William was not the only one to object to the marriage; Giorgio's father, the former reigning duke Bernard, was equally angry and threatened to appeal directly to the people with the wrong view that they would support his opinion. Officials and ministers of the court of Saxony-Meiningen also contested the union. Many resigned from their positions and their wives insulted Ellen openly. The army also refused to offer them the salute, further annoying Duke George. He sent an emissary to Berlin with a complaint to William, who answered by ordering that all the officers should in the future salute Ellen as a baroness from Heldburg. She was never appointed Duchess of Saxony-Meiningen as her second wife. The couple had no children. Much loved by the people, she and the duke George created and developed the progressive Meiningen theater.
In his last years of life, Giorgio suffered from acute deafness and withdrew from active life. He had been keen on hunting and traveling, and was a collector of antiques and manuscripts. He died on 25 June 1914 and was succeeded by his eldest son Bernardo.