Vicky’s Daughters, the Kaiser’s Sisters: Victoria of Prussia

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As noted on Monday, we’re taking a look at the daughters of Empress Frederick (eldest daughter of Queen Victoria). Today we’re going to cover the second of four German princesses: Victoria of Prussia.

Victoria, born on April 12, 1866, was the first of her parents’ children to make up the younger bunch who would bring them considerable happiness over the years. Ignored by their paternal grandparents, Victoria, Waldemar, Sophie and Margaret, absorbed their parents tastes and preferences in a vacuum and, as such, grew up showing an appreciation, if not a preference, for all things British.

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As a child, Victoria’s greatest passions were her weekly dance lessons and riding the Shetland pony that her grandmother, Queen Victoria, bought for her. One day she was out riding when her brothers, Wilhelm and Henry, caught sight of her while bored at an art lesson. They took to throwing pebbles at the pony, one of which struck him in the face, forcing him to throw the Princess from the saddle. Stricken, the boys ran over to find their little sister unhurt, but angry. Wilhelm dutifully placed her back in the saddle.

As she grew older, she added cooking and gardening to her repertoire, though in the former she was more of an enthusiast. At her mother’s suggestion, she would go to the kitchens for lessons, but the practice was so foreign to her as to be comical. When asked to watch over a pot of water until it boiled, she responded gamely that she would be happy to, but how would she know it was boiling?

The most pivotal moment of her childhood came in 1879 when 11-year-old Waldemar died of diphtheria. His passing marked a widening of the gulf between the elder three siblings and the younger three, while the loss of two beloved sons (Sigismund passed away in 1866) caused Vicky to cling more tightly to the three children who were so much more pleasant to her than her increasingly taciturn older ones.

Victoria, Sophie & Margaret
Victoria, Sophie & Margaret

By the time she reached adolescence, Victoria became known to her family as “Moretta,” though it’s unclear where this term of endearment came from. Possibly, it stemmed from the fact that she had different coloring than the rest of her family, with darker hair and skin that easily tanned, and it was an allusion to a region of Piedmont and thus an inference that she looked more Italian than German.

While not a beauty, Victoria was considered alluring, with an impeccable pedigree and a sweet nature. She was considered a possible match for Alexander “Sandro” of Hesse, a son of another Prince Alexander of Hesse. Queen Victoria was interested in the match, though her granddaughter was 16 when the potential lovebirds met in the summer of 1882, immature for her age and younger-looking than her years – Sandro was nonplussed. When he returned to Berlin the next spring, however, Victoria had decidedly fallen in love with him.

Her attraction to Sandro no doubt stemmed from the good looks and charm for which he and his brothers were known, but it’s unclear whether he returned Victoria’s feelings. By the end of his visit, the two had come to an unofficial understanding, but there is some thought that he was more drawn to marrying the daughter of a future German emperor, for his parents had only had a morganatic marriage and he was decidedly less royal than his bride-to-be. His real value-add was that he was the Prince of Bulgaria, though his position was unstable.

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Over the next three years, Victoria, Vicky and Queen Victoria all waged a battle royale to bring the marriage about, but Emperor Wilhelm I, Empress Augusta, Wilhelm, Charlotte and Henry were vocally opposed, while Fritz was lukewarm at best. By the end of 1886 Sandro, having been forced to abdicate his throne, gave up, writing to Queen Victoria that he was tired of being insulted.

Ironically, during this same period, one of his brothers would marry another of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, Victoria of Hesse, while a second brother would marry her daughter, Princess Beatrice. And just to put that into context, it is from the first marriage that the current Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, descends, while the second produced Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain, an ancestor of today’s King Felipe VI.

The following year, Victoria and her sisters accompanied their parents to London for their grandmother’s Golden Jubilee. While there, Sophie met Constantine, Crown Prince of Greece, and would soon embark on her own journey towards becoming Queen of the Hellenes. Victoria, meanwhile, returned to Berlin lovesick and with an increasingly ailing father and grandfather. Emperor Wilhelm I passed away in March 1888, however Fritz’s reign was brief and marred by his own illness. From his sickbed, he reportedly gave Victoria his blessing to marry Sandro, while Vicky persuaded him to amend his will exhorting Wilhelm to sign off on the match.

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Even when presented with this news, Sandro remained unmoved. He was at odds with Russia, who had made clear they had little interest in seeing him marry a German princess (which in turn alarmed the Hohenzollerns), and personally he was also in the throes of a love affair with an opera singer. Going to figurative war with the future Kaiser Wilhelm II over marriage to his sister, who he didn’t love, was too tall an order. Queen Victoria, meanwhile, urged Vicky not to push the matter until Wilhelm had been brought to heel, all too aware of how beholden the family would become to him after Fritz’s death.

Indeed, when Fritz passed on June 15, 1888, Wilhelm ordered troops to surround the palace and ransack his parents’ belongings for incriminating correspondence and documents while his horrified sisters looked on. As for the issue of Sandro, Wilhelm made clear he had little intention of honoring his father’s wishes and told the Prince that he considered the matter impossible and closed. Sandro wrote a farewell letter to Victoria, while he returned to her all of the gifts she had sent to him over the years. To his mistress, he wrote:

“I have allowed my tears to flow without being able to prevent it; they were for the grave of my youthful dreams, the collapse of all for which I had striven and hoped for thirty years, the failure of all my military plans.”

In short, he mourned the status of marrying Victoria and his one-time plans to rule Bulgaria. He later married his mistress and passed away in 1893 at the age of 36.

As the family grieved Fritz and Sophie prepared to move to Athens, Victoria was at a low point. For her entire life she had a bit of a complex that she was ugly, though she would later learn that her parents ordered her nannies to tell her that so that she wouldn’t become vain. Heartbroken and afraid of ending up an old maid, she took to dieting and exercising maniacally, a situation only made worse when she heard that Prince Karl of Sweden refused to consider marrying her.

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Victoria with Ena of Battenberg, later the Queen of Spain

In the spring of 1889, a new suitor was offered up instead: Grand Duke Alexander of Russia. Vicky was hopeful, but also afraid how her daughter would respond if negotiations fell through. As such, she rounded up other options, including Prince Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe, who she met during a trip to England. While Victoria spent her time with her British cousins and playing with the children of her aunt, Beatrice (also Sandro’s niece and nephews). Vicky did her part to move negotiations forward, however nothing was sticking and Grand Duke Alexander turned down the offer. Victoria’s cousin, Elizabeth of Hesse, had married into the Russian Royal Family, but she was certainly no ally, believing Victoria silly at best and part of Sandro’s downfall.

Yet, mother and daughter continued their trudge through all possible eligible bridegrooms. In June 1890, Prince Ernest of Hohenlohe-Langenburg was brought forth, however he ended up marrying another cousin, Alexandra of Edinburgh (sister to the future Queen Marie of Romania). That same month, Vicky and Victoria visited Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe, the latter not knowing her mother had already prospected him the year before. From his house, Vicky wrote to Sophie in Athens that Adolf wasn’t particularly clever, but had a good character and was only praised by those who knew him as loyal and amiable. That would have to do.

During the same visit, Adolf proposed and Victoria accepted. Later, in her memoirs, she wrote that it was love at first sight, but Vicky wrote to her mother that she thought it was more desperation from fear at withering on the vine. Wilhelm, for his part, was for the match, but Vicky also confessed that she wept over the engagement, not believing it worthy of her daughter, but comforting herself Adolf was a good man.

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Adolf

A month later, Adolf accompanied Victoria, Vicky and Margaret to Windsor so that Queen Victoria could inspect him. She approved, but noted that she didn’t think her granddaughter was completely happy. Regardless, the wedding went forth in Berlin that November. The couple’s honeymoon took them to Vienna, the Mediterranean, Rome, Cairo and, finally, Greece, where they were to visit Sophie and Constantine. Their final stay wasn’t long – Victoria suffered a miscarriage and she and Adolf hurriedly returned to Germany to seek medical attention. Tragically for a young woman whose only goal seems to have become a mother, she would never conceive again.

The couple made their home at Schaumburg Palace at Bonn, with Victoria being left alone there much of the time thanks to Adolf’s military duties. She kept herself busy with decorating, but soon admitted she was unhappy and bored. Her mental state seems to have sparked another bout of extreme dieting, which was severe enough to alarm her family. Indeed, given the descriptions of her diet and when this practice emerged, it’s altogether likely she in fact suffered from some sort of disordered eating.

The marriage itself was at least peaceful and Adolf was kind, which is certainly more than most of Victoria’s cousins would be able to say. He never reproached her for their lack of children and instead indulged her various hobbies, believing them to be necessary for her given his absences. At her request, he installed tennis courts at their home and he encouraged her passion for gardening.

The letters scandal of the early 1890s affected Victoria deeply. Not only was she accused of scandalous behavior and adultery by her own sister, but in the aftermath, men brought forth as potential lovers attempted to salvage their good names by dueling with the man Wilhelm deemed guilty. One of the officials was wounded with a shot to the leg, while the accused ended up dead. Somehow, Victoria decided to forgive Charlotte despite Wilhelm’s impressively long grudge.

In March 1895, Adolf was named Regent of Lippe and the couple set up house in Detmold. Victoria blossomed with actual public responsibilities and she quickly took to her position as her husband’s supporter in his new role (which only lasted two years). Her good spirits seem to have improved her health, for one of Queen Victoria’s maids of honour noted in 1898 when the couple paid a visit to Balmoral that Victoria  had grown into “a graceful good-looking woman instead of a particularly plain girl.”

World War I brought about a marked change to life for all European royalty, but especially those with shared German and British heritage. For Victoria, it also coincided with premature widowhood when Adolf died on July 9, 1916 at Bonn. The war’s conclusion was a relief and thankfully for Victoria, it didn’t result in her being forced out of her home, particularly once Wilhelm was forced to abdicate in November 1918. The most marked change was certainly that of the Princess’s finances, however in the mid-1920s she was given the opportunity to write her memoirs and she took it, apparently recognizing the need to generate cash.

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With Alexander Zoubkoff

Around the same time she met a man named Count Ich-Bielskov, to whom she sold off possessions. In September 1927 he introduced her to a friend of his, Alexander Zoubkoff, who he told her had lost everything in the Bolshevik revolution. He was young, handsome and went out of his way to be charming to the 61-year-old widow who was by far more materially comfortable than he. As for Victoria, she likely found his tales of being fallen aristocracy relatable given her own change in station. She showered him with gifts and invitations and he, in turn, proposed marriage.

Victoria announced her engagement to Henry, Sophie and Margaret during a dinner party and was unsurprised when they didn’t take the news well. The news broke in newspapers the same day, with most reports being unable to not make note of the bridge’s age in comparison to that of her 27-year-old fiance. Others went further and congratulated the infamous former Kaiser on such an interesting new brother-in-law. Quite a change of pace for him and Victoria given his former antipathy to Sandro and is now inability to stop an untitled nobody from marrying his sister.

The couple married on November 19, 1927, just two months after meeting. Somewhat morbidly, it was the 37th anniversary of Victoria’s wedding to Adolf, however while that one took place inside Berlin’s palace walls, this one took place in the Registry Office of Bonn. Within days, Victoria had handed over her fortune and Alexander took to spending it with abandon.

In January 1928, he was approached about flying an airplane across the Atlantic, the practice still being a novelty. The venture would require funds Victoria didn’t have, but she supported him in approaching the banks for a loan, while Alexander proudly announced his plans via a press conference during which he spoke constantly and Victoria looked uncomfortable. She began to have second thoughts: Her husband was involved in a public brawl and she took a look at their bank statements, revealing the extent of his proliferate spending. Finally, when he suggested that they finance a film of their romance and move to Hollywood so as to play themselves, Victoria broke off the marriage.

Alexander’s debts finally reached the level of legal trouble and he was ushered out of Germany, making his home in Luxembourg. Quite possibly, Wilhelm intervened from abroad, while other reports find that Victoria visited her husband when he was unable to return to Germany. More likely, the couple never saw one another again. Soon after, Victoria passed away on November 13, 1929 in Bonn at the age of 63.

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