I love reading other people’s letters. A long correspondence between two people is even better. If one of the correspondents is Queen Victoria, it’s irresistible. This sumptuous volume was the main reason that I renewed my Folio Society membership. I wish I could show you some of the plates, they are so lovely & include several photos of the Royal family I hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take decent photos of them as the paper is quite shiny. So, you’ll just have to take my word for it. The treasure of this book isn’t in the plates anyway, it’s in the words.
These letters are a selection of the enormous correspondence between Queen Victoria & her eldest daughter, Vicky. Vicky married Frederick (Fritz) of Prussia in 1858 when she was only 17. The letters begin immediately after the ceremony & don’t stop until just before Queen Victoria’s death in 1901. Vicky was her parents’ pride & joy. Their eldest child, her father, Prince Albert’s, favourite, Vicky was intelligent, clever & beautiful. She was everything that the Prince of Wales, Bertie, was not. Bertie was always compared with Vicky & always to his disadvantage. Surprisingly, Vicky & Bertie had a loving relationship & remained friends, apart from a few political differences, for the rest of their lives.
Vicky & Fritz’s relationship was a true love match which was becoming less of a rarity in royal circles as the 19th century wore on. Both liberals & patriotic Prussians, they were at odds with Fritz’s father, the King of Prussia (later Emperor of a united Germany) & his chief minister, the militaristic, reactionary Otto von Bismarck. Prussian society was suspicious of Vicky as an Englishwoman & always suspected her of influencing her husband in the interests of England.
People spread at Berlin that I was unhappy at the success of our troops. They comment on everything I say, do, and put on, to my disadvantage. I cannot do the simplest thing without its being found to be in imitation of something English, and therefore anti-Prussian… I feel as though I could smash the idiots; it is so spiteful and untrue. I am sure I would almost quarrel with my real and best friends in dear England rather than forget that I belong to this country, the interest of which I have so deeply at heart – more deeply, I venture to say, than a great many born and bred here. Vicky to Queen Victoria May 11, 1864
Vicky & Fritz had a long, frustrating wait for the throne as Fritz’s father lived until he was 90. Tragically, Fritz’s reign lasted only three months as he was suffering from throat cancer. All his liberal plans for his country ended in nothing. He was succeeded by his eldest son, William II, best known for his role in WWI. Wilhelm had become estranged from his parents & was completely under Bismarck’s influence so Germany’s road to militarism & an arms race with Great Britain was set.
The relationship between Vicky & her son is full of misunderstandings & thwarted love. William (Willy) had a damaged arm, the result of his difficult birth, & Vicky’s attempts to find a cure for his disability fill her letters to her mother during his childhood. Her love for her son is obvious as she & the doctors try treatments from sea bathing to physical manipulation of the limb.
I have written to the King begging him to allow me to send Willie to Osborne (to stay with Queen Victoria for the sea bathing) and I hope to have the answer tomorrow, and in that case would send him next week. I am so grateful to you for receiving him; though he looks much better now – I am sure it will do wonders for him! Vicky to Queen Victoria July 2, 1864
Unfortunately as Willy grew older, he came under the influence of his grandfather & Bismarck & grew to despise his father’s liberalism as soft & blame his mother for his disability.
Willie goes daily to his Grandpapa for all he wants and cuts his Papa, because it is a great deal more convenient for them but for us it is most painful and disagreeable. Please keep this to yourself, dearest Mama. I am not complaining of them but, our life and position which never was easy at Berlin has only become more difficult and more complicated in consequence, and I dread going back there very much. Vicky to Queen Victoria December 1, 1883
He grew more resentful as he grew older &, by the time of his marriage to Augusta (Dona) of Schleswig-Holstein, he was barely polite to his parents although his grandmother still had the ability to shame him into good manners. On the birth of Willie’s first child, Queen Victoria wasn’t above a little sly manipulation,
How absurd of Willie and Dona to call the child William. As they have not told me, when I write to Dona to thank her for her letter and some of the child’s hair I shall say ‘Of course you will call him Fritz after his two Grandpapas,’ and shall see what they answer. Queen Victoria to Vicky June 22 1882
Queen Victoria’s letters are a fascinating mixture of royal dignity, neediness & common sense. When Vicky first goes to Prussia, her mother bombards her with letters demanding to know everything she wears every day & wants to know the arrangement of her rooms, her health etc in a mixture of imploring & reproach.
Pray do answer my questions, my dearest child, else you will be as bad as Bertie used to be, and it keeps me in such a fidget.
I asked you several questions on a separate paper about your health, cold sponging – temperature of your rooms etc and you have not answered one!… My good dear child is a little unmethodical and unpunctual still. Fritz always answers all questions. Just write them down on a bit of paper – when you have time – and put them in your letter; never mind if they are old – only pray do answer them. Queen Victoria to Vicky February 22, 1858
Queen Victoria soon had Vicky on the lookout for a suitable wife for Bertie. Vicky had to inspect every Protestant princess in Germany & her comments on these poor girls are often very sharp but also shrewd. She knew that her brother would never be happy with a plain wife & she worked very hard to overcome her mother’s objections to beautiful Alexandra of Denmark whose family Queen Victoria did not approve of.
We are anxious to know as much about Princess Elizabeth of Wied and Anna of Hesse as possible, I think future choice of Bertie must lie between them… You know, dearest, we must feel very anxious about this choice and the beauty of Denmark is much against our wishes. I do wish somebody would go and marry her off – at once. If Bertie could see and like one of the others first then I am sure we should be safe.
Queen Victoria to Vicky December 18, 1860
In answer to your question about Anna of Hesse. I do not think her pretty – she has not a fine figure but a passable one. She has a very flat, narrow and upright forehead…She has an incipient twitching in her eyes… and her teeth are nearly all spoilt… she was too awfully dressed. She has a very deep voice, and rather a gruff, abrupt way of speaking, frowning when she speaks, partly to conceal her shyness and partly to conceal her eyes which are perpetually twitching while she is talking. Vicky to Queen Victoria December 21, 1860
Bertie did marry Alexandra & Queen Victoria grew to love her dearly although she wasn’t able to restrain Bertie’s love of frivolous society.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of this fascinating book. I could quote passages endlessly about all sorts of subjects. I haven’t even mentioned politics, although I must admit I find all the family relationships much more interesting. There are births, deaths, marriages, scandals & Victoria & Vicky have opinions on them all. Victoria was very supportive of Vicky through all the stresses of her life in Germany, the death of her beloved Fritz & her growing estrangement from Willy. Vicky is patient with her mother’s eternal complaints about her poor health & sympathetic about the Queen’s often strained relations with her Governments & her heir. Vicky is homesick for Osborne & Balmoral. They grieve together over the deaths of the Prince Consort & other close family & friends.
I must just quote one more letter from Queen Victoria. She had published a volume of reminiscences, Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands from 1848-1861, and was very proud of it.
I have such quantities of beautiful and touching letters from people whom I don’t know, or have ever heard of – all about my little book, but I send you none, and indeed have been doubtful of sending you the Quarterly with a review by the Bishop of Oxford as you seem to take so little interest in it and only mentioned it once. Queen Victoria to Vicky January 29, 1868
I do not know why you should think I am indifferent about the appearance of your book and what is said about it in the press – whatever concerns you and our home is of vital importance and greatest interest not of indifference. Vicky to Queen Victoria February 1, 1868
That mixture of hurt pride & neediness from the Queen & soothing love from Vicky is very typical of the letters. To the end of their lives, they wrote regularly & always with great affection & love.
The ending of Victoria’s last letter to her daughter, just three weeks before she died is moving in its simplicity, “I must, I fear, end for today to save the post. God bless you, darling child.” Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901 & Vicky, already suffering from cancer, died on August 5 of the same year.