Queen Victoria’s youngest child, Princess Beatrice, essentially grew up as a parental afterthought. The last of nine children, she was both the beneficiary and victim of a mother who had more pressing issues on her mind than paying close attention to a young child, particularly when her eldest were approaching marriageable age and causing so many more problems.
Beatrice, born on April 14, 1857, also had the least number of years with her father, Prince Albert, who died when she was just four years old. Indeed, her childhood looked remarkably dissimilar from the formative years of her siblings, who had grown up in a nearly middle-class bliss of splitting their time between Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands and Buckingham Palace in London.
At the time of her birth, Victoria and Albert’s eldest daughter, Vicky, was already engaged to Prince Frederick of Prussia, and from a young age, Beatrice never knew her family as whole or living under one roof. Vicky’s eldest child, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II, was only two years younger than his Aunt Beatrice.
As a result, Beatrice was known as “Baby” and she got away with murder. Perhaps colored by the fact that her delivery had been eased by chloroform, which Victoria had insisted on using during her final labor despite the misgivings of the Church and her doctors, her mother, who famously hated babies, still liked Beatrice. Her impish personality in youth shines through the record, such as her response when told not to eat something at the table because it “wasn’t good for Baby.” “But Baby likes it!” she would answer, eating it anyway.
Another time, with all the dramatics of a toddler, she said, “I was very naughty last night. I wouldn’t speak to Papa, but it doesn’t signify much.”
Once Albert died and Victoria entered the height of her grief and mourning, each of her daughters took turns playing her primary attendant. Vicky married and settled in Berlin, the task fell to the next eldest daughter first, Princess Alice. But she married Louis of Hesse-Darmstadt in the summer of 1862, leaving the task to the third daughter, Princess Helena. For the next four years, Helena served her mother dutifully until she, too, left the home by marrying Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein in 1866.
The fourth daughter, Princess Louise, had little to no interest in staying in the mausoleum-like existence of the Palace, but serve her mother she did for the next five years until she broke with tradition by marrying a Scottish commoner, the Marquess of Lorne, in 1871.
The problem with this situation for Beatrice was two-fold: 1) there were no sisters who came after her and 2) she was nine years younger than Louise, leaving her a long and lonely existence without companionship as her mother’s chief attendant. By this time she had reached her 14th birthday and gone were the days of the playful scamp. The dark and somber existence of her mother’s household molded Beatrice into a serious, amenable and obedient adolescent who, unlike her sisters, seemingly had no taste for marriage.
As Beatrice’s daughter later said, “She had to be in perpetual attendance on her formidable mother. Her devotion and submission were complete.”
It was a dynamic that worked well for Victoria, who had long ago decided Beatrice would be the child who remained by her side, a spinster daughter who cared for her in her old age. Back in 1863, when Beatrice was just six, she had watched a painting of the wedding of her eldest brother, the Prince of Wales, and Alexandra of Denmark, and remarked, “No, I don’t like weddings at all. I shall never be married. I shall remain with my mother.”
And yet, the words of a six-year-old cannot be held against them forever. Somewhere around 1882 or 1883, when Beatrice was 25 or 26 and some of her eldest nieces and nephews were already married, she was pursued by Prince Louis of Battenberg. When he came to Buckingham Palace Victoria sat in-between them and ordered Beatrice to discourage his suit. Frustrated, he eventually gave up and became engaged to Beatrice’s niece by her sister Alice, Victoria of Hesse. It was at their wedding in 1884 that Beatrice met and fell in love with his brother, Prince Henry of Battenberg.
Apparently the couple quickly spoke of engagement, because when Beatrice returned to London from Darmstadt and told her mother that she planned to marry, she was met with a stony silence. Literally. For seven months Victoria refused to speak to her daughter, only communicating with her via written note.
In the end Victoria gave way, but at a price. She would consent to the marriage, but only if Henry agreed to let the couple live with her year-round. The young couple gave in and on July 23, 1885 they were married at St. Mildred’s Church in Whippingham, near Obsorne House. And by the time they were, Victoria had done one of her typical about-faces when she got her way and was now completely bowled over by her son-in-law, believing him perfect in every way.
On the day of, Victoria gifted her daughter the same veil that she had worn to marry Albert 45 years earlier, her gown similarly decorated with ornamental orange blossoms.
The wedding was also notable because, as mentioned, Beatrice was peers with the eldest of her siblings’ children and more than a few of them made up her bridal party or attended as guests. Given how easily Queen Victoria’s descendants married their first cousins, it should come as no surprise then that this 1885 royal wedding essentially served as the 19th century’s answer to a singles’ mixer.
Her bridesmaids included Alice’s daughter, Alix (the future Tsarina of Russia) and Irene; the Prince of Wales’s daughters, Louise, Maud (the future Queen of Norway) and Victoria; Alfred’s daughters, Alexandra and Marie (the future Queen of Romania); and Helena’s daughters, Marie Louise and Helena Victoria.
Any number of their later marriages can be traced back to having met at Auntie Bea’s big day…so, in other words, it was basically a precursor to World War I.
The “Battenberg” line, of course, would become the more English-sounding “Mountbatten” line in light of anti-German feeling in Britain during World War I, making the switch at the same time the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha reverted the House of Windsor. Its legacy can be seen directly in today’s royal family, for Henry’s brother, Louis, and Victoria of Hesse are the current Duke of Edinburgh’s maternal grandparents.