Queen Victoria may have grown up without much contact with the outside world, but she had some company in the form of her elder half-sister. Feodora of Leiningen was born on 7 December 1807 to Emich Carl, 2nd Prince of Leiningen and Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Saalfeld in Amorbach. She had an elder brother, and together they grew up in Amorbach.
Feodora’s father would die in 1814, and her life would change in 1818 when her mother married Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, who was the fourth son of George III. By 1819 the household would move to England as the new Duchess of Kent was pregnant, and they wanted to have the potential heir to the throne on English soil. Her half-sister Victoria was born on 24 May 1819 at Kensington Palace in London. Feodora’s new stepfather would not see his daughter grow up as he died on 23 January 1820. Feodora was also living at Kensington Palace by then, where she received an education from private tutors.
Though the age difference of 12 years certainly affected their relationship, their bond was a close one. Feodora was not very happy at Kensington Palace, however. She would later write, “I escaped some years of imprisonment which you, my poor dear Sister, had to endure after I was married. Often have I praised God that he sent my dear Ernest for I might have married I don’t know whom – merely to get away!”1
On 18 February 1828, Feodora married a man she had only met twice before, Ernst I, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. He was 13 years her senior and Feodora considered him to be kind and handsome. However, as the half-sister of the future Queen, she could have made a much more magnificent marriage. Victoria acted as a bridesmaid for her sister and Feodora later wrote, “I always see you, dearest, little girl, as you were, dressed in white – which precious lace dress I possess now – going round with the basket presenting favours.”2 Feodora would continue to write with her sister and even received an allowance whenever she wished to visit England. Victoria missed her sister terribly and sent many letters, sending news of her dolls and pouring out her feelings. Feodora would have six children with her husband, all of which survived to adulthood, but her eldest daughter Elise would die at the age of 19 of tuberculosis. Victoria had commissioned a portrait of Elise in 1840, and when Elise died, she sent Feodora a bracelet containing the miniature portrait to which Feodora responded: “I think the miniature very good, and the setting so beautiful, the idea so beautiful … Only with tears, I can thank you!”
Feodora returned to Kensington Palace six years after her marriage, and a delighted Victoria wrote, “At 11 arrived my dearest sister Feodora whom I had not seen for six years. She is accompanied by Ernest, her husband, and her two eldest children Charles and Elise. Dear Feodora looks very well but is grown much stouter since I saw her.”3 Upon her departure in July, Victoria wrote, “I clasped her in my arms, and kissed her and cries as if my heart would break, so did she dearest sister. We then tore ourselves from each other in the deepest grief. When I came home, I was in such a state of grief that I knew not what to do with myself. I sobbed and cried most violently the whole morning.”4
Feodora’s husband died in 1860, and Queen Victoria’s husband Albert followed the next year. Victoria had hoped that her sister would join her in England and share in her grief. Feodora’s visited her sister in 1863 but found Victoria’s grief unbearable.
Feodora would die on 23 September 1872, the same year as her youngest daughter. Feodora and Victoria had last seen each other earlier that year when Feodora was already terminally ill. Victoria wrote after her sister’s death: “Can I write it? My own darling, only sister, my dear excellent, noble Feodora is no more! This was to have been and is still a day of rejoicing for all the good Balmoral people, on account of dear Bertie’s5 first return after his illness; and I am here in sorrow and grief, unable to join in the welcome. God’s will be done, but the loss to me is too dreadful! I stand so alone now, no near and dear one near my own age, or older, to whom I could look up to, left! All, all fone! She was my last near relative on an equality with me, the last link to my childhood and youth. My dear children, so kind and affectionate, but no one can really help me.”6
A letter dated 1854 was found among Feodora’s paper after her death for Victoria: “I can never thank you enough for all you have done for me, for your great love and tender affection. These feelings cannot die, they must and will live in my soul – till we meet again, never more to be separated – and you will not forget.”7