Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, German Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany, German Empress and Queen of Prussia, Great Exhibition of 1851, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Princess Royal, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, St. James Palace, Victoria of the United Kingdom
Victoria, Princess Royal (Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa; November 21, 1840 – August 5, 1901) was German Empress and Queen of Prussia by marriage to German Emperor Friedrich III. She was the eldest child of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and was created Princess Royal in 1841.
Princess Victoria was born on November 21, 1840 at Buckingham Palace, London. She was the first child of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and her husband, Prince Albert ofSaxe-Coburg-Gotha. When she was born, the doctor exclaimed sadly: “Oh Madame, it’s a girl!” The Queen replied: “Never mind, next time it will be a prince!”.
She was baptised in the Throne Room of Buckingham Palace on February 10, 1841 (on her parents’ first wedding anniversary) by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howley. The Lily font was commissioned especially for the occasion of her christening. Her godparents were Queen Adelaide (her great-aunt), the King Leopold I of the Belgians (her great-uncle), the Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (paternal grandfather, for whom the Duke of Wellington stood proxy), Prince Augustus Frederick, the Duke of Sussex (her great-uncle), Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester (her great-aunt) and the Duchess of Kent (her grandmother).
As a daughter of the sovereign, Victoria was born a British princess. On January 19, 1841, she was made Princess Royal, a title sometimes conferred on the eldest daughter of the sovereign. In addition, she was heir presumptive to the throne of the United Kingdom, before the birth of her younger brother Prince Albert Edward (later King Edward VII) on November 9, 1841. To her family, she was known simply as “Vicky”.
Precocious and intelligent, Victoria began to learn French at the age of 18 months, and she began to study German when aged four. She also learned Greek and Latin. From the age of six, her curriculum included lessons of arithmetic, geography and history, and her father tutored her in politics and philosophy. She also studied science and literature. Her school days, interrupted by three hours of recreation, began at 8:20 and finished at 18:00. Unlike her brother, whose educational program was even more severe, Victoria was an excellent student who was always hungry for knowledge. However, she showed an obstinate character.
In the German Confederation, Prince Wiilhelm of Prussia and his wife Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach were among the personalities with whom Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were allies. The British sovereign also had regular epistolary contact with her cousin Augusta since 1846. The revolution that broke out in Berlin in 1848 further strengthened the links between the two royal couples by requiring the heir presumptive to the Prussian throne to find shelter for three months in the British court.
In 1851, Wilhelm returned to London with his wife and two children (Friedrich and Louise), on the occasion of The Great Exhibition. For the first time, Victoria met her future husband, and despite the age difference (she was 11 years old and he was 19), they got along very well.
To promote the contact between the two, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert asked their daughter to guide Friedrich through the exhibition, and during the visit the princess was able to converse in perfect German while the prince was able to say only a few words in English. The meeting was therefore a success, and years later, Prince Friedrich recalled the positive impression that Victoria made on him during this visit, with her mixture of innocence, intellectual curiosity and simplicity.
It was not only his encounter with little Victoria, however, that positively impressed Friiedrich during the four weeks of his English stay. The young Prussian prince shared his liberal ideas with the Prince Consort. Friedrich was fascinated by the relationships among the members of the British royal family. In London, court life was not as rigid and conservative as in Berlin, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s relationship with their children was very different to Wilhelm and Augusta’s relationship with theirs.
In 1855, Prince Friedrich made another trip to Great Britain and visited Victoria and her family in Scotland at Balmoral Castle. The purpose of his trip was to see the Princess Royal again, to ensure that she would be a suitable consort for him. In Berlin, the response to this journey to Britain was far from positive. In fact, many members of the Prussian court wanted to see the heir presumptive’s son marry a Russian Grand Duchess. King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who had allowed his nephew to marry a British princess, even had to keep his approval a secret because his own wife showed strong Anglophobic.
At the time of Friedrich’s second visit, Victoria was 15 years old. A little shorter than her mother, the princess was 4 feet 11 inches and far from the ideal of beauty of the time. Queen Victoria was concerned that the Prussian prince would not find her daughter sufficiently attractive.
Nevertheless, from the first dinner with the prince, it was clear to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert that the mutual sympathy of the two young people that began in 1851 was still vivid. In fact, after only three days with the royal family, Friedrich asked Victoria’s parents permission to marry their daughter. They were thrilled by the news, but gave their approval on condition that the marriage should not take place before Vicky’s seventeenth birthday.
Once this condition was accepted, the engagement of Victoria and Friedrich was publicly announced on May 17, 1856. The immediate reaction in Great Britain was disapproval. The English public complained about the Kingdom of Prussia’s neutrality during the Crimean War of 1853–1856. The Times characterized the House of Hohenzollern as a “miserable dynasty” that pursued an inconsistent and unreliable foreign policy, with the maintenance of the throne depending solely on Russia.
In the German Confederation, the reactions to the announcement of the engagement were mixed: several members of the Hohenzollern family and conservatives opposed it, and liberal circles welcomed the proposed union with the British crown.
Preparation for the role of Prussian princess
The Prince Consort, who was part of the Vormärz, had long supported the “Coburg plan”, i.e., the idea that a liberal Prussia could serve as an example for other German states and would be able to achieve the Unification of Germany. During the involuntary stay of Prince Wilhelm of Prussia in London in 1848, the Prince Consort tried to convince his Hohenzollern cousin of the need to transform Prussia into a constitutional monarchy following the British model. However, the future King of Prussia and German Emperor was not persuaded; he instead kept very conservative views
Convinced that the marriage of a British princess to the second-in-line to the Prussian throne would be regarded as an honour by the Hohenzollerns, Prince Albert insisted that his daughter retain her title of Princess Royal after the wedding. However, owing to the very anti-British and pro-Russian views of the Berlin court, the prince’s decision only aggravated the situation.
The question of where to hold the marriage ceremony raised the most criticism. To the Hohenzollerns, it seemed natural that the nuptials of the future Prussian king would be held in Berlin. However, Queen Victoria insisted that her eldest daughter must marry in her own country, and in the end, she prevailed. The wedding of Victoria and Friedrich took place at the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace in London on January 25, 1858.