While the manner in which Queen Victoria emotionally abused her son and heir, the future King Edward Vll, is well known and documented, less attention has been paid by historians concerning her dysfunctional relationship with her first born child and namesake daughter, Victoria, the Princess Royal, later crown princess of Prussia and finally Empress Frederick of Germany. For while Princess Victoria, nicknamed Vicky, was the undisputed favorite of her father, Prince Albert, the same couldn’t be stated regarding her mater. Though Queen Victoria’s love for the future empress is beyond dispute, and mother certainly came to emotionally rely on daughter from time to time throughout her widowhood, theirs was still a relationship fraught with occasional psychological abuse, neglect and tension, all of it coming from the Queen and being directed toward her daughter. According to biographer and history professor Robert G.L. Waite in his comparative study, Kaiser and Fuhrer, the trouble between them began when Victoria became jealous of Vicky’s closeness to the Prince Consort once she’d reached her teens, and wrote to a friend at the time of her marriage that now her eldest daughter had her own husband, hopefully she could leave her mother’s spouse alone.
Victoria, however, decided her daughter’s new life in Prussia was no excuse not to write her mother as much as possible, and when she found Vicky to be remiss in keeping the lines of communication open she subjected the new crown princess to a barrage of hateful, abusive letters that put an extreme emotional strain on Vicky during her first pregnancy. Charles Greville writes in the 2nd volume of The Greville Diaries that the Queen’s rage was further compounded by her daughter’s unwillingness to keep her informed concerning internal Prussian governmental affairs, which she wasn’t privy to at the time, and would’ve constituted an act of espionage regardless. He states that Lord Clarendon, the British foreign secretary at the time, was approached by Baron Stockmar, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s former physician and lifelong friend, to speak with the Prince Consort concerning the matter as his eldest daughter’s first pregnancy wasn’t going well, and his wife’s long distance abuse was adding to the strain to such an extent that Stockmar feared for the expectant mother’s life.
Those readers of this blog who’ve read the author’s previous post concerning Kaiser Wilhelm ll’s birth defect might recall the testimony given by the attending midwife, Fräulein Stahl, at his birth, as recalled by the courtier who penned the memoir, Private Lives of Kaiser William ll and His Consort, stating her opinion that one of the reasons why his entry into the world went so horrifically awry was because of the despondent mental state his mother was in at the time. Stahl chocked it up to Vicky being homesick and lonely at a court that treated her with coldness and suspicion. Greville, however, clarifies that much of the Crown Princess’s anguish was a direct result of her relationship with her mother. While Clarendon did meet privately with Albert concerning the matter, the Prince Consort at that point was barely on speaking terms with his wife, and decided it was best not to get involved. Greville does clarify, however, that no one informed Victoria how serious her daughter’s condition was during her first pregnancy.
While the marriage of Germany’s Emperor Frederick lll and his consort, Britain’s former Princess Royal, Victoria, has been rightly portrayed by historians as an arranged union that blossomed into a love match, Charles Greville clarifies in his diary’s 2nd volume the exact, spontaneous circumstances under which the couple became betrothed. Prince Albert had long envisaged his favorite child, who was easily the smartest and most similar to him in character among his progeny, as being the linchpin in his long term foreign policy strategy for all of German territory becoming united under the rule of a politically liberal Prussia, thus insuring peace in Europe. To that end, he began shortly after his eldest child’s birth to negotiate a possible marriage between Vicky and the heir presumptive to the Prussian throne, who was almost a decade her senior. The Prussian Crown Princess was especially enthusiastic about the match, despite her husband’s preference for their son to marry a Russian grand duchess, and when Prince Frederick was 21 he was sent to London ostensibly to represent Prussia at the opening of the Great Exhibition, but in reality to meet his 11 year old prospective future bride. While this might seem disturbing to post Victorian sensibilities, he apparently became smitten with her, and four years later returned to Britain with the expressed intent upon proposing to Vicky, who was now only 14. During a stroll on the grounds of Windsor Castle he proposed and she accepted. Greville writes that while her parents desired this marriage, neither of them expected the engagement to happen so soon, referring to it as a nursery romance. Albert and Victoria resolved from that point forward not to allow their daughters’ suitors anywhere near them until the girls were at least of appropriate marriageable age. The Princess Royal was also taken aback by her own ardor, and immediately begged her parents’ permission to wed once she’d returned to the castle. They granted it, but they resolved with their future in-laws the actual marriage wouldn’t take place until the bride was 17.
By that time Queen Victoria had grown jealous of what she considered her first born daughter’s over fondness for her husband, and expressed relief upon her marriage and departure for Berlin. Still, as Greville makes clear, the Queen expected her daughter to remain her dutiful servant, and when Vicky expressed reticence to share Prussian government information with her mother, and furthermore became neglectful of writing her as frequently as Victoria would’ve wished, the Queen flew into a blinding rage. In all fairness to her, one of the reasons why the new crown princess’s marriage was allowed to happen in the first place was in order for Her Majesty’s government to keep tabs on the wily Prussians. Charles Greville’s passage in his diary dated September 4, 1854 states that at the height of the Crimean War the king of Prussia, and Prince Frederick’s childless uncle, Frederick William lV, wrote Prince Albert inquiring about British and French naval fleet movements to take place that winter. His expressed intent was to find out in case Prussia’s navy was attacked by Russia and needed French and British help. Viscount Clarendon and the Prince Consort both called bullshit on what was an obvious, and thinly veiled, attempt on Frederick William’s part to obtain British and French naval intelligence so he could pass the info along to his brother-in-law, Czar Nicholas l of Russia, who was Britain and France’s enemy combatant at the moment. Prince Albert wrote back revealing nothing. In light of this recent history, and the fact that correspondence between interrelated European royal families was often times utilized as a diplomatically acceptable form of espionage, Queen Victoria’s request of her eldest daughter wasn’t unreasonable, but her response to her daughter declining said request was extreme, but as Greville points out earlier in his memoir, not unexpected coming from a mother like her.
In the chapter entitled, King Edward’s Boyhood, Viscount Clarendon recalls to Greville a conversation he had with the Prince Consort concerning the upbringing of the royal children which took place at Windsor in December of 1858. Clarendon tells Greville that in his opinion Queen Victoria had never been especially fond of her eldest daughter, thinking her daughter “ugly and course,” and always finding fault with her appearance. Clarendon also revealed that Prince Albert had told him much of his parenting consisted of him trying to protect his children from their mother’s near psychotic temper tantrums, hence he was the one who disciplined them.
Albert certainly was treading carefully around his wife during their eldest daughter’s first pregnancy, when the very mention of the princess’s name could induce the Queen to fly into a rage. Despite Clarendon’s entreaties to the Prince Consort to ask his wife to ease up on the mean spirited letters that were causing the Prussian crown princess such distress, per his previous conversation in Berlin with Baron Stockmar, Greville writes Albert had reached a point of near no return with his wife by then, chose not to get involved, and simply hoped the conflict would resolve itself. Once again, it should be noted that Queen Victoria wasn’t informed concerning the severity of her daughter’s condition, and likely Albert wasn’t informed of it either.
Of course, the situation did work itself out, though not in the manner everyone involved would’ve hoped. The Crown Princess gave birth to a son who, according to the attending midwife, was born dead, had to be revived, and was also deformed. While his mother’s state of mind during the pregnancy likely played a minimal role in his birth defects, it couldn’t have helped. In keeping with her mercurial personality, the Queen’s rage at her eldest daughter was quickly replaced with jubilation over the birth of her first grandchild. All was momentarily forgiven. This episode, however, was far from the last time Queen Victoria would declare war on her namesake daughter. The melodramatic tale of Queen Victoria’s dysfunctional relationship with her husband’s favorite child shall be explored in a series of future posts.