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Victoria’s move to Berlin began a large correspondence between the princess and her parents. Each week, she sent a letter to her father that usually contained comments on German political events. The majority of these letters have been preserved and have become a valuable source for knowing the Prussian court.

But these letters also show the will of Queen Victoria to dictate her daughter’s every move. She demanded that Victoria appear equally loyal to her homeland and her new country. But this quickly became impossible, and the most insignificant events confronted the princess with insoluble problems.

For example, the death of the Duchess of Orléans, a distant relative of the British and Prussian royal houses, brought a month of mourning in London, while in Berlin the mourning period lasted only one week. Victoria was bound to respect the period of mourning in use among the Hohenzollerns, but this earned her the criticism of her mother, who believed that, as a Princess Royal and daughter of the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Victoria should follow the custom in use in England.

Concerned about the effect of the continual maternal criticism on Victoria’s psychological health, Baron von Stockmar asked Prince Albert to intervene and ask the queen to moderate her demands. However, the baron was unable to reduce the attacks that the princess suffered from the Russophilic and Anglophobic circles of the Berlin court.

For most of the 19th century, Russia and Britain were not just geopolitical rivals in Asia, but also ideological opponents as many in both nations believed autocratic Russia and democratic Britain were destined to battle each for world domination. In Prussia, the Junkers tended to see much in common with the ordered society of Imperial Russia, and disliked British democracy. She was often hurt by unkind comments from the Hohenzollern family.

A keen amateur gardener, Victoria’s attempts to import English-style gardens into Prussia prompted what became known as the “Anglo-Prussian garden war” as the court fought from 1858 onward against Victoria’s attempts to change the gardens at the Sanssouci palace into something more English. The simple, unadorned English-style geometric garden designs favored by Victoria were out of favor with the Prussian court which favored the Italianate style, and which ferociously resisted Victoria’s attempts to create English-style gardens.

Official duties

At 17 years old, Victoria had to perform many tedious official duties. Almost every evening, she had to appear at formal dinners, theatrical performances or public receptions. If foreign relatives of the Hohenzollerns were located in Berlin or Potsdam, her protocolary duties widened. Sometimes she was forced to greet guests of the royal family at the station at 7:00 in the morning and be present at receptions past midnight.

Upon the arrival of Victoria in Berlin, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV gave to Friedrich and his wife an old wing of the Berlin Royal Palace. The building was in very bad condition, and it did not even contain a bathtub. The couple moved to the Kronprinzenpalais in November 1858. In summer, they resided at the Neues Palais.

First childbirth

A little over a year after her marriage, on January 27, 1859, Victoria gave birth to her first child, the future German Emperor Wilhelm II. The delivery was extremely complicated. The maid responsible for alerting doctors to the onset of contractions delayed giving notice. Moreover, the gynecologists hesitated to examine the princess, who was wearing only a flannel nightgown. The baby was in breech, and the delayed delivery could have caused the death of both the princess and her son.

Finally, doctors managed to save both mother and child. The baby, however, suffered damage at the brachial plexus, and the nerves in his arm were injured. As he grew, it failed to develop normally, and by the time Wilhelm was an adult, his left arm was fifteen cm shorter than his right. There is also speculation that the difficult labour caused fetal distress, which deprived the future emperor of oxygen for eight to ten minutes and might have brought about other neurological problems.

The doctors tried to calm both Victoria and Friedrich, affirming that their baby could recover fully from his injuries. Still, the couple chose not to inform the British court of Wilhelm’s condition. However, over the weeks it became clear that the child’s arm would not recover, and, after four months of doubts, Victoria decided to give the sad news to her parents. Fortunately for the princess, the birth of her second child, Princess Charlotte, on July 24, 1860, took place without difficulty.