Some of Queen Victoria’s children are burned into history books via their dynastic importance. Others are referenced as mere links between Britain and the continent, becoming the parents of later European rulers who were key to World War I. The middle of these nine children, Princess Helena, was not one such person. To me, she stands out as the child who looks the most like her mother.
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.
In honor of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia’s upcoming trip to the UK for an official state visit at the invitation of the Queen, we’re taking a beat to take a look at the ties between the two royal families, of which there are a few. While French and German blood have permeated the English line far and above everything else, there have been a few notable Anglo-Spanish alliances over the course of history.
The first was that of Eleanor of Castile to Edward I in 1254. Then there was the famous union of Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, cemented in 1509. Finally, there was the inauspicious marriage of their daughter, Mary I, to Philip II of Spain in 1554. These were supplemented by the reverse, too – English princess who became Castilian or Spanish queen consorts. Henry II’s daughter, Eleanor, married Alfonso VIII in 1177. And Edward III’s granddaughter, Katherine of Lancaster, ended a civil war by marrying Henry III in 1388.
The last of these matches worth noting was not between an “English princess,” per se, but she was an Englishwoman all the same, and one with deep-rooted familial ties to the Houses of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Windsor. Her name was Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg and she was the only daughter of Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria. She was born on October 24, 1887 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the same year her grandmother was celebrating 50 years on the throne. Victoria referred to her as “my little Jubilee grandchild.”
And so we pick up with yet another of Queen Victoria’s children: Princess Alice, her third child and second daughter. Alice is less famous than her two elder siblings, Vicky and Bertie (aka Empress Frederick of Germany and Edward VII), but that fact doesn’t necessarily align with her dynastic importance.
Have you ever heard it said the Queen and Prince Philip are cousins? Well, they are, albeit distantly. Queen Elizabeth is descended from Queen Victoria through her son, Edward VII, while Philip is descended from her via Alice. Alice’s eldest daughter, Victoria of Hesse, married Prince Louis of Battenberg and her eldest daughter, Princess Alice of Battenberg, is Philip’s mother. So, there you go.
Louise has always been my second-favorite of Queen Victoria’s daughter (the first being Vicky) and all of her daughters hold a special place in my heart since they’re some of the first figures in British history in which I became interested. I still distinctly remember reading Jerrold M. Packard’s book on all of them for first time when I was about 10 and it’s been re-read many times since. The length of their mother’s reign and the unprecedented change that Western Europe went through over the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century put them at the epicenter of the dramatically changing role that Europe’s Royal Families held (if they made it through without being abolished). Indeed, many of Queen Victoria’s daughters would make dynastically significant marriages, their own children ruling or taking places of prominence at courts around the globe.
Louise wouldn’t be one of them, but her uniqueness in shying away from that fate, frankly, makes her interesting.
There have been comparisons made between Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of Denmark to Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Like Charles, Edward, or Bertie as he was known intimately, found himself waiting for the throne far longer than anticipated. Both men are the eldest sons of monarchs with the longest-running reigns in British history, Elizabeth II only having surpassed Queen Victoria in 2015.
Both men had to create some semblance of a life for themselves from within a role that dictated and entitled them to nothing, while still constricting their movements and options. Setting aside fortune, it’s service with tepid reward. Both men caused embarrassment to the monarchy with their personal lives. And both men showed themselves quite capable of rising to the occasion, showing an astute comprehension of what skills they brought to the table and how best to wield them.
For those that saw the finale of the ITV series “Victoria,” you saw the birth of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s first child. That infant would grow up to be one of the most accomplished princesses that the UK ever turned out, one groomed to take on the role of bridge between Britain and Germany and hopefully facilitate an understanding between the two growing empires.
That she failed was through no fault of her own, but rather a series of developments neither she nor her parents foresaw before her arrival at the Prussian court in 1858. Remarkably intelligent, painstakingly well-educated and thoughtful, it remains a tragedy that Vicky and her husband, Emperor Frederick III, “Fritz,” would only sit on the German throne for 99 days after a 30-year wait. Even more so when one looks back with hindsight, knowing that the crown would be inherited by their son, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who would shove the empire into World War I and eventually bring about the monarchy’s abolishment.
The title “Princess Royal” was introduced to England by Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria, in the 17th century, a spin-off of France’s “Madame Royale” title given to the monarch’s eldest unmarried daughter. The first Princess Royal was Henrietta Maria and Charles’s daughter, Princess Mary, and it has subsequently been handed out to the monarch’s eldest daughter at their discretion. A key point of distinction with the French title, however, was that the princess’s marital status was irrelevant to her holding the title.
In 1905 King Edward VII named his eldest daughter, Louise, the Princess Royal and also moved to style her two daughters as princesses despite the fact that as daughters of a duke, they would not have otherwise. This allowed Louise’s children to have precedence immediately after other members of the British Royal Family styled as “Royal Highness.” It was an interesting move that protected the prestige of Louise in comparison to the families of her brother, the future George V, and her younger sister, Maud, who became queen consort of Norway the same year.
On January 27, 1859 Queen’s Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria, gave birth to her first child at the Crown Prince’s Palace in Berlin. The birth was difficult: There was a delay in alerting doctors that the princess was in labor, doctors were hesitant to physically examine her and the baby was in breach. After a long and complicated labor, during which the lives of both mother and child were in danger, a son was delivered.
Unfortunately, it soon became clear that the baby’s left arm had been badly injured at birth due to Erb’s palsy, a condition that causes paralysis from nerve damage. Victoria, known as “Vicky” to her family, and her husband, Prince Frederick of Prussia, “Fritz,” were horrified – delivering a less than physically perfect heir to the Prussian throne was viewed as a personal failure by Vicky and raised concerns about the ability of their son to thrive in a masculine, militant court atmosphere.
On January 23, in 1874, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria, married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Alexander II, Emperor of Russia at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Queen Victoria didn’t attend the ceremony – indeed, she had been against the match during the marriage negotiations, as was the Russian Emperor -and was instead represented by her eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (“Bertie”) and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales.
The couple originally met during a trip to Germany in the summer of 1868, when Alfred was visiting his older sister, Alice, married to Prince Louis of Hesse. They wouldn’t meet again until the summer of 1871, again in Germany, where Marie had accompanied her parents and Alfred had Bertie and Alexandra. There the couple had the opportunity to spend substantial time together and apparently fell in love. They were reported to share a passion for music – Marie played the piano and Alfred the violin – and spent a remarked-upon amount of time in each other’s company.
By the end of the visit, the couple had apparently told their families they wished to marry, but no engagement announcement would be forthcoming. Alexander II was extremely close to his daughter and was loath to lose her, while his wife, the Tsarina, formerly known as Marie of Hesse, thought the British cold and strange. Meanwhile, Queen Victoria’s sentiments weren’t any friendlier: Mutual mistrust of both cultures still existed from the Crimean War, which had ended in Russian defeat in 1856. Added on to those sensitivities was Marie’s Orthodox faith, which would be entirely foreign to the House of Hanover.
Negotiations begun in 1871 stalled in 1872, but were re-started in January 1873. Rumors circulated through Europe that Marie had “compromised herself” with one of her father’s aides-de-camp, though Alfred refused to believe the stories. Instead, he jumped through every hoop the Romanovs put before him, while both mothers worked fruitlessly to distract their children with other suitors.