Princess Viktoria was born on 12 April 1866 as the daughter of Victoria, Princess Royal and the future Frederick III, German Emperor, at the Neue Palais in Potsdam. Her mother had only just travelled from Berlin to Potsdam, and her labour began during the train journey. On 24 May 1866 – the birthday of the baby’s grandmother Queen Victoria – she was christened Frederica Amalia Wilhelma Viktoria.
A few weeks later, Viktoria’s elder brother Sigismund died at the age of 21 months of meningitis. Her mother wrote to Queen Victoria a few weeks later, “I am calm now, for Fritz’s sake and my little ones – but oh! how bitter is the cross.” Her other siblings were the future Wilhelm II (born 1859), Charlotte (born 1860), Henry (born 1862), Waldemar (born 1868), Sophie (born 1870) and Margaret (born 1872). A few weeks later, her mother sent her photo to Queen Victoria with a letter saying that she was “such a dear, pretty, little thing, and so lively; she crows, laughs and jumps and begins to sit up and has short petticoats. If I was not continually reminded of what we had lost, I should enjoy her so much and be proud of her too.” Young Viktoria was placed under the care of Mrs Hobbs, a British nurse, and she learned to speak English before German.
Viktoria and her siblings were raised between the Palace at Unter den Linden in Berlin and the Neue Palais in Potsdam. She had a loving mother, though she could be quite demanding too. At the age of four or five, lessons began and also included periods of exercise such as tennis. Viktoria would learn to ride, which she loved. She received a little Shetland pony named Alfred from Queen Victoria. Viktoria was confirmed in March 1878. The death of Waldemar from diptheria in 1879 was a huge blow. The division between the three elder and the three younger siblings became even greater and Viktoria, Sophie and Margaret grew very close to each other and their parents. Their mother dubbed them “my three sweet girls.”
Viktoria became the tallest of the three younger sisters, and soon a suitable husband would have to be found. Queen Victoria was apparently the first to suggest Prince Alexander of Battenberg, who had been elected as Sovereign Prince of Bulgaria. He first met Viktoria in Berlin in 1882. The following year, they apparently came to some kind of agreement, but it was not announced publicly. Her paternal grandmother Empress Augusta was vehemently against the match saying that as long as she lived, a Hohenzollern Princess would never marry a Battenberg. His position in Bulgaria was also still very unstable. Viktoria wrote to her grandmother, “My thoughts are not here tonight but far away where they always are. You know where, dearest Grandmama. Oh, if I can but only get a glimpse of him, so low in spirits am I, and there seems no hope.”
Throughout the illness of her father – who briefly succeeded as Emperor Frederick III – Viktoria and her two younger sisters were the constant companions of their parents. They accompanied them to the Golden Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria and then on to San Remo. She was there when Alexander wrote to her mother that circumstances had forced him to “request her to dispose of her daughter’s hand without any regard to himself.” He had abdicated the Bulgarian throne in 1886. According to Viktoria’s memoirs, upon their return to Berlin, her father personally gave his permission for her marriage to Alexander.
On 15 June 1888, Viktoria’s father died after a reign of 99 days and her elder brother became Emperor Wilhelm II. Viktoria witnessed how her brother ordered every inch of the Neue Palais to be searched for their mother’s private correspondence, but she had removed it all already. Her mother – now known as Empress Frederick – took her three sweet girls to her farmhouse at Bornstadt. In November, Viktoria made one final appeal to her brother to be allowed to marry Alexander, but he was against it. It was finally over. Viktoria began to fear that she had grown too old for marriage and started to exercise and diet. Her mother became worried and wrote to Queen Victoria, “She starves completely, touches no milk, no sugar, no bread, no sweets, no soup, no butter, nothing but a scrap of meat & apples which is not enough. She will ruin her health.”
On 27 October 1889, Sophie married the future Constantine I of Greece, breaking up the trio. The search for a husband for Viktoria continued, and she met several potential suitors. At Segenhaus, Viktoria and her mother visited the Princess of Wied (born Marie of the Netherlands) where Prince Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe was also staying as a guest. Within days, he proposed to Viktoria and she accepted him. She later wrote that it was love at first sight. Queen Victoria was happy for her and was “so very thankful that the dear child has at last found a good husband and I am sure she will be a good and affectionate and dutiful wife and that the restlessness will cease.” The wedding was set for 19 November 1890, but in the months leading up to it, Viktoria was depressed and often burst into tears. The wedding took place in the chapel of the Stadtschloss in Berlin. Viktoria fell pregnant during her honeymoon but tragically miscarried and never conceived again. It was a huge blow for Viktoria.1