, , , , , , ,

On this date in History: April 14th 1857 the birth of Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, (April 14, 1857 – October 26, 1944) the fifth daughter and youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Prince Albert with Princess Beatrice.

The birth caused controversy when it was announced that Queen Victoria would seek relief from the pains of delivery through the use of chloroform administered by Dr John Snow. Chloroform was considered dangerous to mother and child and was frowned upon by the Church of England and the medical authorities. Queen Victoria was undeterred and used “that blessed chloroform” for her last pregnancy. A fortnight later, Queen Victoria reported in her journal, “I was amply rewarded and forgot all I had gone through when I heard dearest Albert say ‘It’s a fine child, and a girl!” Albert and Queen Victoria chose the names Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore: Mary after Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, the last surviving child of King George III of the United Kingdom; Victoria after the Queen; and Feodore after Feodora, Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, the Queen’s older half-sister. She was baptised in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace on June 16, 1857. Her godparents were the Duchess of Kent (maternal grandmother); the Princess Royal (eldest sister); and the Prince Friedrich of Prussia (her future brother-in-law).

Queen Victoria with Princess Beatrice

Beatrice’s childhood coincided with Queen Victoria’s grief following the death of her husband Albert, the Prince Consort on December 14, 1861. As her elder sisters married and left their mother, Queen Victoria came to rely on the company of her youngest daughter, whom she called “Baby” for most of her childhood. Beatrice was brought up to stay with her mother always and she soon resigned herself to her fate. Queen Victoria was so set against her youngest daughter marrying that she refused to discuss the possibility.

Queen Victoria came to rely upon her youngest daughter, who had declared from an early age: “I don’t like weddings at all. I shall never be married. I shall stay with my mother.” As her mother’s secretary, she performed duties such as writing on the Queen’s behalf and helping with political correspondents. These mundane duties mirrored those that had been performed in succession by her sisters, Alice, Helena and Louise.

Princess Beatrice as a teenager

Although the Queen was set against Beatrice marrying anyone in the expectation that she would always stay at home with her, a number of possible suitors were put forward before Beatrice’s marriage to Prince Henry of Battenberg. One of these was Louis-Napoléon, the French Prince Imperial, son and heir of the exiled Emperor Napoleon III of France and his wife, Empress Eugénie. After Prussia defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War, Napoleon was deposed and moved his family to England in 1870. After the Emperor’s death in 1873, Queen Victoria and Empress Eugénie formed a close attachment, and the newspapers reported the imminent engagement of Beatrice to the Prince Imperial. These rumours ended with the death of the Prince Imperial in the Anglo-Zulu War on June 1, 1879. Queen Victoria’s journal records their grief: “Dear Beatrice, crying very much as I did too, gave me the telegram … It was dawning and little sleep did I get … Beatrice is so distressed; everyone quite stunned.”

After the death of the Prince Imperial, the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII) suggested that Beatrice marry their sister Alice’s widower, Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse. Alice had died in 1878, and the Prince argued that Beatrice could act as replacement mother for Ludwig’s young children and spend most of her time in England looking after her mother. He further suggested the Queen could oversee the upbringing of her Hessian grandchildren with greater ease. However, at the time, it was forbidden by law for Beatrice to marry her sister’s widower. This was countered by the Prince of Wales, who vehemently supported passage by the Houses of Parliament of the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill, which would have removed the obstacle. Despite popular support for this measure and although it passed in the House of Commons, it was rejected by the House of Lords because of opposition from the Lords Spiritual. Although the Queen was disappointed that the bill had failed, she was happy to keep her daughter at her side.

Princess Beatrice in her twenties.

Other candidates, including two of Prince Henry’s brothers, Prince Alexander (“Sandro”) and Prince Louis of Battenberg, were put forward to be Beatrice’s husband, but they did not succeed. Although Alexander never formally pursued Beatrice, merely claiming that he “might even at one time have become engaged to the friend of my childhood, Beatrice of England”, Louis was more interested. Queen Victoria invited him to dinner but sat between him and Beatrice, who had been told by the Queen to ignore Louis to discourage his suit. Louis, not realising for several years the reasons for this silence, married Beatrice’s niece, Princess Viktoria of Hesse and by Rhine (daughter of Princess Alice of the United Kingdom and Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse – Paternal grandmother of the Duke of Edinburgh). Although her marriage hopes had been dealt another blow, while attending Louis’s wedding to Princess Victoria at Darmstadt, Beatrice fell in love with Prince Henry, Louis’ younger brother, who returned her affections.

Prince Henry of Battenberg.

When Beatrice, after returning from Darmstadt, told her mother she planned to marry, the Queen reacted with frightening silence. Although they remained side by side, the Queen did not talk to her for seven months, instead communicating by note. Queen Victoria’s behaviour, unexpected even by her family, seemed prompted by the threatened loss of her daughter. The Queen regarded Beatrice as her “Baby” – her innocent child – and viewed the physical sex that would come with marriage as an end to innocence.

Subtle persuasions by the Princess of Wales and the Crown Princess of Prussia, who reminded her mother of the happiness that Beatrice had brought the Prince Consort, induced the Queen to resume talking to Beatrice. Queen Victoria consented to the marriage on condition that Henry give up his German commitments and live permanently with Beatrice and the Queen.

Wedding of Prince Henry of Battenberg and Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom.

Beatrice and Henry were married at Saint Mildred’s Church at Whippingham, near Osborne, on July 23, 1885. Beatrice, who wore her mother’s wedding veil of Honiton lace, was escorted by the Queen and Beatrice’s eldest brother, the Prince of Wale. Princess Beatrice was attended by ten royal bridesmaids from among her nieces: Princesses Louise (18), Victoria and Maud of Wales; Princesses Irene and Alix of Hesse and by Rhine; Princesses Marie, Victoria Melita and Alexandra of Edinburgh; and Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein. The bridegroom’s supporters were his brothers, Prince Alexander of Bulgaria and Prince Franz Joseph of Battenberg.

The addition of Prince Henry to the family gave new reasons for Beatrice and the Queen to look forward, and the court was brighter than it had been since the Prince Consort’s death. Even so, Henry, supported by Beatrice, was determined to take part in military campaigns, and this annoyed the Queen, who opposed his participation in life-threatening warfare. Conflicts also arose when Henry attended the Ajaccio carnival and kept “low company”, and Beatrice sent a Royal Navy officer to remove him from temptation. On one occasion, Henry slipped away to Corsica with his brother Louis;the Queen sent a warship to bring him back. Henry was feeling oppressed by the Queen’s constant need for his and his wife’s company.

Despite suffering a miscarriage in the early months of her marriage, Beatrice gave birth to four children: Alexander, called “Drino”, was born in 1886; Ena in 1887; Leopold in 1889 and Maurice in 1891. Following this, she took a polite and encouraging interest in social issues, such as conditions in the coal mines. However, this interest did not extend to changing the conditions of poverty, as it had done with her brother, the Prince of Wales.

Henry, increasingly bored by the lack of activity at court, longed for employment, and in response, the Queen made him Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1889. However, he yearned for military adventure and pleaded with his mother-in-law to let him join the Ashanti expedition fighting in the Anglo-Asante war. Despite misgivings, the Queen consented, and Henry and Beatrice parted on December 6, 1895; they would not meet again. Henry contracted malaria and was sent home. On January 22, 1896, Beatrice, who was waiting for her husband at Madeira, received a telegram informing her of Henry’s death two days earlier.

Princess Beatrice in old age.

Beatrice remained at her mother’s side until Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901. Beatrice devoted the next 30 years to editing Queen Victoria’s journals as her designated literary executor and continued to make public appearances. She died at 87, outliving all her siblings, two of her children, and several nieces and nephews including George V and Wilhelm II. In the case of Wilhelm II Beatrice was only 1 year, 9 months, 13 days older than her nephew.

She died at Brantridge Park, the home of her niece, Princess Alice of Albany and her husband, the Earl of Athlone, at the time serving as Governor General of Canada. Osborne House, her mother’s favourite home, is accessible to the public. Her Osborne residences, Osborne and Albert Cottages, remain in private ownership after their sale in 1912. At her death, Beatrice was the only surviving child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The future Elizabeth II, Beatrice’s great-grandniece, was eighteen years of age at that time.