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Victoria and Louis of Battenberg lived in a succession of houses at Chichester, Sussex, Walton-on-Thames, and Schloss Heiligenberg, Jugenheim. When Prince Louis was serving with the Mediterranean Fleet, she spent some winters in Malta. In 1887, she contracted typhoid but, after being nursed through her illness by her husband, was sufficiently recovered by June to attend Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in London .

She was interested in science and drew a detailed geological map of Malta and also participated in archaeological digs both on the island and in Germany. In leather-bound volumes she kept meticulous records of books she had read, which reveal a wide range of interests, including socialist philosophy.

She personally taught her own children and exposed them to new ideas and inventions. She gave lessons to her younger son, Louis, until he was ten years of age. He said of her in 1968 that she was “a walking encyclopedia. All through her life she stored up knowledge on all sorts of subjects, and she had the great gift of being able to make it all interesting when she taught it to me.

She was completely methodical; we had time-tables for each subject, and I had to do preparation, and so forth. She taught me to enjoy working hard, and to be thorough. She was outspoken and open-minded to a degree quite unusual in members of the Royal Family. And she was also entirely free from prejudice about politics or colour and things of that kind.”

In 1906, she flew in a Zeppelin airship, and even more daringly later flew in a biplane even though it was “not made to carry passengers, and we perched securely attached on a little stool holding on to the flyer’s back.” Up until 1914, Victoria regularly visited her relatives abroad in both Germany and Russia, including her two sisters who had married into the Russian imperial family: Elisabeth, who had married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, and Alix, who had married Emperor Nicholas II.

Victoria was one of the Empress’s relatives who tried to persuade her away from the influence of Rasputin. On the outbreak of World War I between Germany and Britain in 1914, Victoria and her daughter, Louise, were in Russia at Yekaterinburg. By train and steamer, they travelled to St Petersburg and from there through Tornio to Stockholm. They sailed from Bergen, Norway, on “the last ship” back to Britain.

Later life

Prince Louis was forced to resign from the navy at the start of the war when his German origins became an embarrassment, and the couple retired for the war years to Kent House on the Isle of Wight, which Victoria had been given by her aunt Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll. Victoria blamed her husband’s forced resignation on the Government “who few greatly respect or trust”. She distrusted the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, because she thought him unreliable—he had once borrowed a book and failed to return it.

Continued public hostility to Germany led King George V of the United Kingdom to renounce his German titles, and at the same time on July 14, 1917 Prince Louis and Victoria renounced theirs, assuming an anglicised version of Battenberg—Mountbatten—as their surname. Four months later Louis was re-ennobled by the King as Marquess of Milford Haven.

During the war, Victoria’s two sisters, Alix and Elisabeth, were murdered in the Russian revolution, and her brother, Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, was deposed. On her last visit to Russia in 1914, Victoria had driven past the very house in Yekaterinburg where Alix would be murdered. In January 1921, after a long and convoluted journey, Elisabeth’s body was interred in Jerusalem in Victoria’s presence. Alix’s body was never recovered during Victoria’s lifetime.

Victoria’s husband died in London in September 1921. After meeting her at the Naval and Military Club in Piccadilly, he complained of feeling unwell and Victoria persuaded him to rest in a room they had booked in the club annexe. She called a doctor, who prescribed some medicine and Victoria went out to fill the prescription at a nearby pharmacist’s. When she came back, Louis was dead. On her widowhood, Victoria moved into a grace-and-favour residence at Kensington Palace and, in the words of her biographer, “became a central matriarchal figure in the lives of Europe’s surviving royalty”.