I have always been intrigued by the concept of Queen Victoria as the “Grandmother of Europe”. It is well known that most of the European royal families were inter-married over centuries, so it is always interesting when her children are spoken about as if they were the first to leave England and help populate other European royal families when we know this isn't exactly the case.
With so many children, grandchildren and great Grandchildren I find the stories of some of her lesser known descendants fascinating. I recently read a book about the youngest sisters of Kaiser Wilhelm II (the son of Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria) and though it was often hard to follow in parts as the author seemed to change the naming convention for each historic figure, overall I found it to be a very engaging read, especially as it is straight up factual with no attempt of a narrative included (see book details below).
The sister that caught my attention most was “poor” Viktoria, the fifth child and second daughter of Wilhelm I (father of the Wilhelm II noted above) and his wife Victoria (Queen Victoria's eldest daughter).
The story of this Princess Viktoria was no Disney fairy-tale. Denied of her chosen love, unable to have children and left penniless she is often referred to as the "poor" Victoria of the royal family.
What is her story? In a nutshell, due to the political motivations of those around her she was not allowed to marry her first love which she is said to have never truly gotten over. She did marry Prince Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe, a military General who spent much time away due to his duties. Though the couple had a amicable marriage, after suffering a miscarriage shortly after being married they were never able to conceive again and in a family where producing children is basically a business she was considered as an anomaly whose life was empty without fulfilling this task.
Despite what the outside world thought (and even possibly what she felt) Viktoria threw herself into an active life, spending much time outside with her horses and playing sports while doting on her dogs who became her surrogate children. What I thought was endearing is that most photographs of her show Viktoria posing with her dogs, thus showing just how much love she had for them as her "children". I am a sucker for a vintage dog photo which is possibly what drew me into her story.
Viktoria remained close to her Mother and her younger sisters and enjoyed travelling to England to see her extended family. Unfortunately World War One brought great change to her life, however as she remained relatively isolated throughout the war she didn’t understand just how hard the war had been on the population or why her English family failed to re-connect with her when the war ended.
Despite her lack of interest in world affairs during the war years she was far from sheltered. Her youngest sister, Margaret lost two of her sons in battle while her other sister, Sophia who had married into the Greek Royal Family was deposed and had to flee while also loosing family members. Viktoria herself faced direct loss in 1916 when her husband Adolf died.
After the war years she continued her life as normal, even hoping to marry Adolph’s nephew but once again the desires of her heart were blocked by her family and the marriage was not allowed. Throughout her life she was the topic of scandal with many reporting she was unfaithful to her husband however this was never confirmed. Without any children of her own and having a different life to the rest of her family she was, as she stated in her own autobiography ‘regarded as an eccentric’.
This was what the gossips said in 1927 when she, aged in her early 60s fell in love with a 27-year old Russian immigrant and dancer. This time, unlike in the past when her family ordered her not to marry whom her heart desired, she was able to stand her ground and make her own decision. This would prove to be a terrible time to go against her families wishes.
Her new husband was unfaithful to her and proceeded to spend all of her money. It was only when his antics started to reach the newspapers that she agreed with her family and separated from him. With no funds to her name she was forced to sell her property and home. She really thought that someone would come to her rescue, her cousin the King of England or even her brother who was in exile having abdicated following the war but no one did.
When no one came to her aid, she was forced to move into a small apartment where she couldn’t maintain her lifelong servants. Despite this her maid actually found an apartment nearby so she could keep watch on her. Aged 63, on 13 November 1929, she died of pneumonia. She was estranged from most of her family and almost destitute.
The end of her life was a great fall from grace for a member of the royal family however many of her siblings and cousins suffered similar fates as across Europe monarchy after monarchy fell. Due to her lower position in the family hierarchy she had been largely left alone during the fall of the German royal families so in many ways, unfortunately, her situation was partially of her own making as she could have continued to live her comfortable lifestyle had she not fallen for the wrong man.
"Prussian Princesses: The Sisters of Kaiser Wilhelm II" by John Van der Kiste (2014)