Often when I think of monarchy I envision a family, royal family, or, if you will, a national family. In the context of a national family which represents the nation it leaves out a part of their story and who they are. Throughout history royal families have been large extended families that often transcend national boarders. We can see this played out during the Victorian era when the numerous descendants of Victoria and Prince Albert were scattered about Europe. With centuries of inter-marriage the royal families of Europe, were in truth a grand family with many branches. Although we mere commoners may not have the degrees of consanguinity that the royals have, we too often belong to large extended families that may be scattered about all over the globe. We also, through our ethnic heritage may share kinship with more people than we are aware of. A problem that occurs when large extended families are separated by geography and culture and nationality it can place family members in conflicting positions both socially and politically.
One of the examples of that was during the 1866 War between Prussia and Austria. This war was part of the plan in uniting Germany under Prussian leadership that Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismark had constructed. The origins of the war are complex and worthy of a series of blog posts of its own, so I will only give you a brief synopsis. In 1864 there was a great controversy over the ownership of the thrones of the united Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. When the succession to that throne was contested between Denmark and Prussia war ensued with Denmark being easily trounced by Prussia. At this time both the Hohenzollerns of Prussia and the Habsburgs of Austria were wrestling for supremacy over the German nation and to see who would become the central power within Germany. Bismark desired a Germany with Prussia as its head and he found no room for Austria in this system. After the 1864 war with Denmark both Austria and Prussia took jurisdiction over the twin duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. The next step in German unification for Bismark was to remove Austria from German interests and to do this he goaded them into War. With Prussia at war with Austria many of the smaller, or lesser, German states in southern Germany, sided with Austria. Like the US Civil War which happened in that same decade, this conflict divided families, even royal families.
This conflict affected two sisters specifically, Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, and Hereditary Grand Duchess Alice of Hesse and By Rhine. Prior to their marriage they were both princesses of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Victoria, was the Princess Royal, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, and Princess Alice was their second daughter. In 1858 Victoria married the future German Kaiser and King of Prussia, Friedrich III. In 1862 Alice married the future Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and By Rhine. Crown Prince Friedrich of Prussia was commander of one of the three division sof the Prussian Army and he was an essential leader in the Prussian victory at the Battle of Königgrätz on July 3, 1866. Prince Ludwig of Hesse and By Rhine found himself on the side with Austria and pitted against Prussia. He was a front line officer in a Hessian Regiment. With Prussia easily winning this war, Vicky was proud of the victories and accomplishments of her husband. However, Ludwig was feared for his life as Prussian troops marched into Darmstadt, the capital of the Hessian Grand Duchy.
Vicky and Alice, despite being on opposite sides of the war did have a strong relationship through the short conflict. Although Crown Prince Friedrich was a succesful leader during the conflict he was personally against the war. That did have some solace in easing family tensions. All of the parties mentioned wanted Great Britain to mediate the conflict but all efforts were squashed by Bismark. during this time Vicky had a tragedy. Days prior to her husband’s triumphant victory at the Battle of Königgrätz their son, Prince Sigismund, died of meningitis at 21 months and was the first grandchild of Queen Victoria to die. Therefore this tragedy also helped to detract Vicky from the war.
Another aspect of their relationship which helped them through the war was the fact that both being intellectual they were brought together over recent developments in both science and philosophy that made them both question their Christian faith. Liberal Biblical scholarship was in its infancy in 1866 but it had left the sisters to question some of the historical accuracy of the faith. They were also interested Darwin’s book, Origin of the Species, published in 1859. Their enlightened attitudes put them in disfavor with their mother, Queen Victoria, who could easily show favoritism or displeasure not only her children but anyone who displeased her and these new attitudes of her daughters did just that. It is interesting to see that royal families have petty squabbles just like the rest of us.