Victoria Adelaide (1840–1901)

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Victoria Adelaide (1840–1901)

Princess royal of Great Britain and German empress. Name variations: Vicky; Victoria; Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise; Empress Frederick. Born Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise on November 21, 1840, in Buckingham Palace, London, England; died of cancer on August 5, 1901, in Friedrichshof, Germany; eldest child of Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and Prince Albert Saxe-Coburg; sister of King Edward VII of England; educated by a French governess and her father; married Friedrich Wilhelm also known as Frederick III (1831–1888), emperor of Germany (r. 1888), on January 25, 1858; children: Wilhelm (William) II (1859–1941), emperor of Germany; Charlotte of Saxe-Meiningen (1860–1919); Henry of Prussia (1862–1929); Sigismund (1864–1866); Victoria (1866–1929); Waldemar (1868–1879); Sophie of Prussia (1870–1932, who married Constantine I, king of the Hellenes); Margaret Beatrice (1872–1954).

Advocate of constitutional government; active in philanthropic and educational endeavors; founded Berlin Industrial Art Museum and the Victoria House and Nursing School (1881); founded Victoria Lyceum, the first institution in Germany dedicated to women's higher education.

Victoria Adelaide, eldest child of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, was born in Buckingham Palace on November 21, 1840. Known within the family as Vicky, the young princess was doted on by her parents and enjoyed an idyllic childhood in the royal family's numerous comfortable homes. Particular attention was paid to her education. A gifted and responsive child, she could speak English, French, and German with some fluency by the age of three.

In 1851, at age 11, she met her future husband, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (Frederick III), when he visited London with his father, Prince Wilhelm (I), to attend the Great Exhibition. Prince Albert, an ardent advocate of German unification who saw Prussia as the potential vanguard of a nationalist movement, began discussing an English-Prussian marriage as early as 1853. After receiving the reluctant blessing of Prince Wilhelm's brother, Frederick William IV, king of Prussia, the couple were engaged when Vicky was just 15. The engagement was not publicly announced until April 1856, on the conclusion of the Crimean War by the Treaty of Paris, but the news was received coolly in both countries.

Prior to her marriage, Vicky's education was pursued with her future position in mind. Prince Albert devoted an hour a day to her personal instruction, debating political and social questions with her and fostering in her his own liberal sympathies. At his suggestion, she translated into English Johann Gustav Droysen's "Karl August und die Deutsche Politik," a plea for a liberal national policy in Germany.

Married in London on January 25, 1858, the 17-year-old princess met with a warm welcome in Prussia but soon found her new life there difficult. Not only were the living conditions in Prussian palaces far more primitive than in their English counterparts, but the Prussian court was more narrow in matters of religion, politics, and etiquette. Her outspoken views on the benefits of constitutional government were unwelcome, and she chafed under the strict surveillance of her mother-in-law Augusta of Saxe-Weimar . In the Neue Palais in Berlin's Unter den Linden, Vicky gave birth to her first child, the future emperor Wilhelm II, in January 1859. Seven other children were to follow within the next 13 years: Charlotte of Saxe-Meiningen (1860–1919); Henry of Prussia (1862–1929); Sigismund (1864–1866); Victoria (1866–1929); Waldemar (1868–1879); Sophie of Prussia (1870–1932, who married Constantine I, king of the Hellenes); and Margaret Beatrice (1872–1954). Still tutored by her father, to whom she sent weekly political reports and historical essays, Vicky enjoyed a strong influence over her husband, which made her increasingly unpopular in court circles.

Vicky and Frederick became crown princess and crown prince of Prussia in January 1861, when King Wilhelm I succeeded his brother, inaugurating a year of traumatic change in Vicky's life. Her beloved father died suddenly that December and delicate health prevented her from attending the funeral. In March 1862, Wilhelm I dismissed his liberal cabinet and asked Otto von Bismarck and the conservative Junker Party to help him rule Prussia. Bismarck was to become a lifelong opponent of Vicky and Frederick, who despised his rejection of constitutional principles. The couple withdrew from court entirely, leaving Berlin in October 1862.

After Frederick made an open protest against Bismarck's absolutist government in a speech in Dantzig in 1863, the prince was forced to retire from all political activity. By 1864, the whole of their retinue had been replaced by Bismarck's followers, and Vicky was singled out for attack by the conservative press. Queen Victoria was dissuaded with some difficulty from active intervention on her daughter's behalf. Bismarck excluded the crown prince completely from the business of state.

Vicky found herself constantly in opposition to Bismarck over issues like the Schleswig-Holstein succession and the 1866 Austro-Prussian conflict, during which, despite their personal opposition to the war, Frederick commanded an army unit and Vicky organized hospitals. She became the focus of anti-English opinion during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–71, despite indefatigable philanthropic efforts recruiting nurses and organizing hospitals for wounded Germans.

Her interests extended beyond politics to education, art and literature, and Vicky cultivated a broad social circle. A keen artist, she was elected a member of the Berlin Academy in 1860 and was instrumental in the founding of the Berlin Industrial Art Museum, which opened in 1881. Following her exhaustive 1872 report on hospital organization, the Victoria House and Nursing School was established in Berlin in 1881, informed by Florence Nightingale 's reforms in England.

Vicky's liberal beliefs and hospital experience developed into a concern for the social conditions of the working classes, and she founded a society for the promotion of health in the home in 1875, as well as hospitals, workhouses, schools, and libraries. She espoused the cause of education for women, founding the Victoria Lyceum, the first German institution dedicated to women's higher education. Her activity on behalf of women's education brought real social change throughout Germany, where she founded over 40 educational or philanthropic institutions.

As the old emperor's health declined and Frederick's accession at last seemed possible, the crown prince fell ill with a disease of the throat. By the time the old emperor died in March 1888, it was clear that the new emperor was dying as well. No longer able to speak, he relied on Vicky to help pursue his political program. Bismarck, jealous of her influence, initiated a press campaign against the proposed match of her second daughter, helping to create a family quarrel by enlisting Crown Prince Wilhelm's support. Just three months after his accession, Frederick died, leaving Victoria isolated and estranged from both Bismarck and her eldest son, Bismarck's protégé, now Emperor Wilhelm II. After Bismarck's fall from grace in 1890, Victoria's relationship with her son improved, although he tormented her with anti-English sentiments. Most of her widowhood was spent in Cronberg, where she built Friedrichshof, her country seat, making frequent visits home to England. She attended Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee procession in 1897 but was diagnosed with cancer following a fall from a horse soon after. Outliving her mother by only six months, Vicky died at Friedrichshof on August 5, 1901, and was buried beside her husband in the Friedenskirche at Potsdam.

sources and suggested reading:

Bennett, Daphne. Vicky: Princess Royal of England and German Empress. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1971.

Packard, Jerrold M. Victoria's Daughters. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Pakula, Hannah. An Uncommon Woman: Empress Frederick, Daughter of Queen Victoria, Wife of the Crown Prince of Prussia, Mother of Kaiser Wilhelm. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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Victoria Adelaide (1840–1901)

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