This article was written by Holly Sennett.
The Baby of the Family
Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom was born on the 14th of April 1857 at Buckingham Palace. Beatrice was the fifth daughter and ninth and last child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. During the birth of her last child, Queen Victoria used chloroform, something which proved controversial.
The Queen and Prince Consort doted on their youngest child. Her father declared her “The most amusing baby we have had”.1 The Princess proved to be a lively and excitable child. However, Beatrice’s life would take a profound and tragic turn on the 14th of December 1861 when her Father Prince Albert died of what doctors diagnosed as typhoid fever. A distraught Victoria immediately went to Beatrice’s nursery and clung to the young child. The close attachment of mother and daughter would continue into the Princess’ formative years. This close attachment would eventually cause resentment from Victoria’s other children.
The death of the Prince Consort had a profound effect on Beatrice; the once merry and lively girl became muted and withdrawn.2 The following years of her youth primarily revolved around providing support and comfort for her distraught mother. At the wedding of the Prince of Wales in 1863, Beatrice declared “I shall never be married I shall stay with my mother.”3 This was a declaration the Queen aimed to fulfil, especially after 1871 when Beatrice became her mother’s only unmarried daughter. During the 1870s Beatrice served as her Mother’s secretary and later began writing the Queen’s journal entries at Victoria’s dictation.
Prince Henry of Battenberg
Beatrice and her mother would be forever bound, or so it appeared by the early 1880s. However, there was hope for Beatrice yet. Rumours of courtship between Beatrice and various European royals came to nothing. Despite this, Beatrice would eventually find love in the arms of Prince Henry of Battenberg, third son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and Rhine. The two fell in love while Beatrice was attending the wedding of her niece Victoria, in Darmstadt.4 When Beatrice arrived back in England and nervously asked her mother’s permission to marry the Queen became furious. For the next seven months, mother and daughter only communicated with notes. 5
The Queen appeared devastated at the prospect of losing her “baby”. After interventions by Victoria’s older children, the Queen finally relinquished and agreed to the marriage. The Queen allowed the match with the agreement that the couple would live with her in England. The couple married on the 23rd of July 1885 at St. Mildred’s Church on the Isle of Wight near Osborne House.
After their honeymoon, the couple dutifully returned to the Queen’s side as her constant companions. The marriage between Beatrice and Henry (known as ‘Liko’) was one of happiness, despite Henry’s wish to continue participating in military campaigns – something which angered Queen Victoria. The union produced four children: Alexander, Victoria, Leopold, and Maurice. Beatrice’s son Leopold would suffer from haemophilia, of which Beatrice was a carrier. Rumours began that Henry had developed a close relationship with Princess Louise, Beatrice’s artistic and beautiful older sister. These rumours along with allegations that Louise had begun an affair with Victoria’s secretary Arthur Bigge caused an ugly rift within the royal family.6
Grief and Loss
Henry would escape the family conflict by going to fight in the Ashanti War, with Victoria’s reluctant permission. Tragically, Prince Henry contracted malaria while overseas and died on the 20th of January 1896 near Sierra Leone. Beatrice received the news two days later at Osborne House, upon hearing the news, she told her mother, “The life is gone out of me.”7. On the 5th of February 1896, Henry’s funeral took place at Whippingham Church.
In the last years of her life, Queen Victoria relied heavily on her youngest daughter, especially in dealing with correspondences. Beatrice was also appointed Governor of the Isle of Wight, a role she would hold until her death. The death of her mother on the 22nd of January 1901 devastated Beatrice and dramatically altered her life. Beatrice was not close to her eldest brother, now King Edward VII, and therefore had little role at court. After her mother’s death, Beatrice began the monumental task of transcribing and editing her mother’s journals in preparation for publication.
Always the dutiful daughter, Beatrice destroyed significant amounts of content from her mother’s journals, mainly sections that would likely be seen as offensive. It is likely Beatrice wanted to prevent embarrassment for public figures and members of the Royal Family. The process of making Queen Victoria’s journals suitable for public viewing would take Beatrice thirty years.
The End of an Age
In 1906, Beatrice’s only daughter, the beautiful Victoria Eugenie, known as ‘Ena’, married Alfonso XIII of Spain. Despite the complications which surrounded the match, the need for Ena to convert to Catholicism and the relatively obscure origin of her late father’s family, the engagement was a love match. After the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic, Ena and Alfonso would be forced into exile. The current King of Spain, Felipe VI, is a great-grandson of Ena and Alfonso. Beatrice’s other children, her three sons, would all serve in World War I. Tragically, Beatrice’s youngest and favourite son Prince Maurice would be killed in Ypres, on the 27th of October 1914. Another of her sons Prince Leopold, who suffered haemophilia, died less than ten years later in 1922 during a hip operation. After these devastating losses, Prince Beatrice largely retired from public life.
Beatrice lived to see the reigns of five monarchs: her mother, Queen Victoria, her brother, Edward VII, her nephew, George V and her great-nephews Edward VIII and George VI. Beatrice died on the 26th of October 1944, aged 87 at Brantridge Park. She is buried alongside her beloved Henry at St. Mildred’s Church. Princess Beatrice was the last of Queen Victoria’s children to die. Her death occurred 66 years after Princess Alice, the first of Queen Victoria’s children to die.
- Julia Baird ‘Victoria the Queen’ p282
- John Van der Kiste ‘Queen Victoria’s Children’ p52
- John Van der Kiste ‘Queen Victoria’s Children’ p60
- John Van der Kiste ‘ Queen Victoria’s Children’ p123
- ‘The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria’s Youngest Daughter’ p130
- Julia Baird ‘Victoria the Queen’ p458
- John Van der Kiste ‘Queen Victoria’s Children’ p160