Victoria, the Princess Royal of Great Britain and Ireland, later Crown Princess of Prussia (and of Germany from 1871) and the Empress Friedrich (21 November 1840-5 August 1901) was the eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. She married Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, who briefly reigned as the German Emperor Friedrich III in the spring and summer of 1888. Her eldest son, Wilhelm II was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia. She was the last Princess Royal to date to marry into a foreign royal house.
Her Royal Highness The Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa was born at Buckingham Palace. Styled Princess Royal from birth, she was heir presumptive to the British throne until the birth of her brother, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, on 9 November 1841. She was always known to her family as Vicky.
The education of the Princess Royal was closely supervised by her parents. She was precocious and intelligent, unlike her brother the Prince of Wales. She was taught to read and write before the age of five by her governess Lady Lyttelton and to speak French by her French nursery maid. The Princess Royal learned French and German from various governesses and science, literature, Latin, and history by Sara Ann Hildyard. Prince Albert tutored her in politics and philosophy.
In 1851, the Princess Royal met her future husband, His Royal Highness Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (18 October 1831-15 June 1888), when he and his parents were invited to London by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to attend the opening of the Great Exhibition. At the time, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, the son of Prince Wilhelm of Prussia and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar, was third in line to the Prussian throne. The couple were engaged in 1855 when Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, known to his family as Fritz, was on a visit to Balmoral. The Prussian Court and Buckingham Palace publicly announced the engagement on 19 May 1857. The couple were married, at Queen Victoria's insistence, at the Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace, on 25 January 1858. The marriage was both a love match and a dynastic alliance. The Queen and Prince Albert hoped that Vicky's marriage to the future king of Prussia would cement close ties between London and Berlin, and possibly lead to the emergence of a unified and liberal Germany.
Prince and Princess Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia had eight children:
- Prince Wilhelm, later Wilhelm II, German Emperor and King of Prussia (27 January 1859- 4 June 1941); m. 1st Berlin 27 February 1881Princess Auguste Viktoria of Schleswig-Holstein (22 October 1858-11 April 1921) and had issue; m. 2nd Doorn 5 November 1922 Princess Hermine Reuss zu Greiz (17 December 1887-7 August 1947).
- Princess Charlotte (24 July 1860- 1 October 1919); m. 18 February 1878 Bernhard III, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen (1 April 1851- 16 January 1928).
- Prince Heinrich (14 August 1862-20 April 1929); m. his first cousin, Princess Irene of Hesse and the Rhine (11 July 1866-11 November 1953); and had issue.
- Prince Sigismund (15 September 1864-18 June 1866).
- Princess Viktoria (12 April 1866-13 November 1929); m. 1st 19 November 1890 Prince Adolf zu Schaumburg-Lippe (20 July 1859-9 July 1916); m. 2nd 21 November 1927 Alexander Zoubkov (25 September 1901-28 January 1936).
- Prince Waldemar (10 February 1868-27 March 1879).
- Princess Sophie (14 June 1870-13 January 1932); m. 27 October 1889 King Constantine I of the Hellenes (2 August 1868-11 January 1923).
- Princess Margarete (22 April 1872-22 January 1954); m. 25 January 1893 Friedrich Karl, Landgrave of Hesse (1 May 1868-28 May 1940).
During the three Wars of German Unification--the 1864 Prussian-Danish War, the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, and the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War -- the Crown Prince and Crown Princess strongly identified with the cause of Prussia and the North German Confederation. Their sympathies created a rift among Queen Victoria's extended family, since the Prince of Wales was married to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the elder daughter of Christian IX of Denmark, who was also reigning duke of the disputed territories of Schleswig and Holstein. At Versailles on 18 January 1871, the victorious princes of the North German Confederation proclaimed a German Empire with King Wilhelm I of Prussia as the hereditary German Emperor (Deutscher Kaiser) with the style Imperial and Royal Majesty (Kaiserliche und Königliche Majestät); Fritz and Vicky became Crown Prince and Crown Princess of the German Empire with the style Imperial and Royal Highness (Kaiserliche und Königliche Hoheit). On the death of his father on 9 March 1888, the Crown Prince ascended the throne as the Emperor Friedrich III and Vicky adopted the title and style of the Empress Friedrich. Friedrich III, however, was terminally ill with throat cancer and died after reigning 88 days.
The widowed Empress Friedrich lived in retirement at Friedrichshof, a country house she built near Kronberg. Politically, she remained a liberal and because of this, her already strained relationship with Emperor Wilhelm II deteriorated. In Berlin, the Empress Friedrich established schools for the higher education of girls and for nurses' training. She patronized the arts and learning, becoming one of the organizers of the 1872 Industrial Art Exhibition.
Throughout her married life and widowhood, the Empress Friedrich kept in close touch with other members of the British Royal Family, particularly her eldest brother, the future Edward VII. She maintained a regular correspondence with her mother. According to the Royal Encylopedia, some 3,777 letters from Queen Victoria to her eldest daughter have been catalogued, as well as more than 4,000 from daughter to mother.
The Empress Friedrich died of cancer of the spine at Friedrichshof in August 1901. She was interred next to her husband at the royal mausoleum of Friedenskirche at Potsdam on 13 August.
Marlene A. Eilers, Queen Victoria's Descendants (New York: Atlantic International: 1997).
"The Marriage of the Princess Royal," The Times, 26 January 1858, p. 7, column A.