Victoria, Princess Royal was born on 21 November 1840 at Buckingham Palace to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Queen Victoria later recorded in her journal, “Just before the early hours of the morning of the 21st I felt very uncomfortable & with difficulty aroused Albert… Tried to sleep again, but by 4, I got very bad & both the doctors arrived. My beloved Albert was so dear & kind. Locock said the baby was on the way & everything was all right. We both expressed joy that the event was at hand & I did not feel at all nervous.”1 Just 23 years earlier, Princess Charlotte – heir to King George IV – had died giving birth to a stillborn son. The relief at the birth of a healthy child for Queen Victoria was great.
Both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were disappointed that she was a girl with Queen Victoria saying, “Never mind, the next will be a Prince.”2 For the first eight days of her life, young Victoria lived in the royal crib in her mother’s dressing room. She was christened on 10 February 1841 – also her parents’ first wedding anniversary – in a silver-gilt lily font which had been designed by her father. From her birth to the birth of her younger brother, young Victoria was the heiress presumptive to the British throne. On 19 January 1841, she was made Princess Royal.
Victoria’s education began when she was just 18 months old with the arrival of a French tutor. Victoria was soon known as a clever and quick child. Over the next years, she would be joined in the nursery by 8 siblings: the future Edward VII (born 1841), Alice (born 1843), Alfred, (born 1844), Helena (born 1846), Louise (born 1848), Arthur (born 1850), Leopold (born 1853) and Beatrice (born 1857). Shortly after her sixth birthday, she entered elementary education under the authority of Sarah Anne Hildyard. She received lessons in arithmetic, dictation, poetry, history, geography, scripture, German and French. She also had music and drawing lessons. Unlike her younger brother, young Victoria thrived.
Victoria was only ten years old when she met her future husband Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, the future Friedrich III, Germany Emperor. The 19-year-old Prince was invited to the opening of her father’s grand project, the Great Exhibition. No one spoke to her of marriage, but the intentions were clear between both sets of parents. Victoria became more involved with court life after this after all this was a role she would be intended to fulfil in the future. She was present when Emperor Napoléon III and his wife Eugénie visited Windsor Castle in 1855. Her mother later wrote in her journal, “Vicky behaved extremely well, making beautiful curtsies, and was very much praised by the Emperor and Empress, whom Vicky raves about.”3 She also accompanied her parents on the return visit to Paris that summer. Just weeks after their return from Paris, Friedrich Wilhelm was back for another visit. She was charming and chatty, and soon Friedrich Wilhelm expressed the wish to make Victoria his wife. Queen Victoria told him that she did not want her daughter to marry until she was 17, but otherwise, she approved of the match. He waited to propose to Victoria until the following spring when she was confirmed.
Queen Victoria worried that the people might think Victoria too young for an engagement and wrote to her half-sister Feodora, “Poor dear child, I often tremble when I think how much is expected of her!”4 Now that Victoria was confirmed, she entered her first season, and her parents threw her a coming-out party to which her fiance was also invited. As the wedding approached, Victoria underwent extra tutoring from her father, while her mother fussed over her trousseau – which would eventually consist of over 100 packing cases. Her dowry was settled on £40,000 with an income of £8,000. The wedding date was set for 25 January 1858, and it took place in London and not in Berlin. Queen Victoria said, “Whatever may be the usual practice of Prussian Princes, it is not every day that one marries the eldest daughter of the Queen of England. The question, therefore, must be considered as settled and closed.”5
On the day of the wedding, Queen Victoria invited her daughter to her rooms after breakfast, and they had their hair done. Victoria wore a white silk moiré gown over a petticoat flounced in lace with orange blossoms and myrtle. She wore a train trimmed with white satin ribbons and lace. A lace veil was held in place by a wreath, and she also wore a diamond necklace, earrings and a brooch. Just before leaving for the chapel, Victoria gave her mother a brooch with a lock of her hair. Thousands lined the streets from Buckingham Palace to St. James’s Chapel. Queen Victoria later wrote, “My last fear of being overcome vanished, when I saw Vicky’s calm & composed manner. It looked beautiful seeing her kneeling beside Fritz, their hands joined, her long train born (sic) by the eight young ladies… hovering round her, as they knelt near her. How it reminded me of my having similarly, proudly, tenderly, confidently knelt beside my beloved Albert, in the very same spot…”6 They walked out of the chapel to Mendelsohn’s Wedding March and took place in their carriage for the ride back to Buckingham Palace. That evening, Queen Victoria gave a state banquet as Victoria, and Friedrich Wilhelm travelled to Windsor Castle for a two-day honeymoon.
From Windsor Castle, Victoria wrote to her mother, “I cannot let this day close, which has brought me so much happiness without one more word to you, one more word of the deepest tenderest love. Can I ever forget your kindness to me today, or shall I ever be able to express all my gratitude to you and dear Papa, as I feel it!”7