As he had done earlier, Wilhelm ordered that no one should leave the palace. Even as Victoria went out to cut roses to lay on her husband’s body, she was forced back inside. Wilhelm searched his mother’s rooms for her papers, but he found none. He took over arranging for his father’s lying-in-state and funeral and even forced an autopsy. Victoria could see that the hastily arranged funeral was a travesty and refused to attend. She took her three young daughters and left for Bornstedt. Victoria wrote, “William II succeeded William I…the sooner he (her husband) is forgotten the better, therefore the sooner his widow disappears, the better also.”1
Victoria soon began her search for a new country home. She eventually bought an estate in Kronberg when she was left money by the Duchess of Galliera. As her dream house was being built, she lived in Bad Homburg, which had not even been cleaned and when Victoria requested money to renovate it, she was denied. At the beginning of 1890, shortly after her daughter Sophie married the future Constantine I of Greece, Victoria was in Rome with her two unmarried daughters Viktoria and Margaret. On 8 January 1890, her mother-in-law Augusta passed away. They had had a complicated relationship, but Victoria wrote, “She was my darling’s mother… a remarkable woman. How gladly one would have loved her if she had only shown affection & sympathy & kindness. But now I shall only remember what was good & bright, her virtues & her sufferings & forget all the bitterness I endured.”2 Victoria hoped that she now would be named as head of the German Red Cross, but that honour was given to her daughter-in-law instead. She was devastated as she was the only Empress who had worked directly with them. A further blow was dealt when Wilhelm refused his permission to have a statue of Friedrich erected.
On 19 November 1890, her daughter Viktoria married Prince Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe while her last unmarried daughter Margaret married the future Frederick Charles, Landgrave of Hesse on 25 January 1893. But she was not alone. Her granddaughter Feodora spent a lot of time with her as her daughter Charlotte was not exactly the maternal type. However, she rarely saw Wilhelm’s children. On 21 November 1890, Victoria celebrated her 50th birthday.
In the spring of 1894, her home at Kronberg was finally ready, and she moved into the aptly named Schloss Friedrichshof. She finally had a home of her own, and she was very proud of it. She would spend a large part of the year there, and it became a gathering place for family. Her relationship with her son even seemed to improve somewhat, and by 1896 she was writing to her mother, “He is quite nice to me, and I have forgiven him with all my heart the cruel wrong he did me, but of course we meet seldom, and I am a complete outsider.”3 She may have forgiven him, but she had not forgotten all that he had done.
By 1899, she had begun feeling unwell and dizzy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it was already inoperable. She told just a few people and wrote to her mother, “I assure you my thoughts are not incessantly dwelling in a morbid way on my own health! It would be foolish & useless, and could only be hurtful.”4 She eventually told her children of her illness, even Wilhelm but not Charlotte, who was a gossip. Victoria did not return to England for her mother’s 80th birthday celebrations as she was feeling sick. Soon the cancer had spread to her spine, and she was in a lot of pain. The doctors advised a warmer climate, and she travelled to Italy, despite not wanting to leave Friedrichshof. Sitting and laying down hurt her more than walking and so she was outside a lot. She received hot poultices and sulfur baths as a treatment. By early 1900, she was in almost constant pain. She returned to her beloved Friedrichshof. She wrote to Sophie, “My dear Friedrichshof is so charming. It looks so tidy, clean, well-kept and in apple-pie order. It seems as if I had never been away, though it is sad indeed to be wheeled about in a chair like an old, old lady and carried up and down stairs like a child, here, where I have always been so active.”5
By the summer, she was bedridden and had spasms every few hours during which she could only “scream and groan.”6 Her mother too was seriously ill. On Christmas Day, she wrote to her mother, “I wish with all my heart that all my suffering and discomfort would do for us both & that you might be spared everything that is disagreeable.”7 On 6 January, Queen Victoria wrote one final letter to her daughter, ending with the words, “God bless you, darling child.” On 22 January 1901, Queen Victoria passed away. Victoria wrote to Sophie, “Words cannot describe my agony of mind at this overwhelming sorrow. Oh, my beloved Mama! Is she really gone? Gone from us all to whom she was such a comfort and support. To have lost her seems so impossible – and I far away could not see her dear face or kiss her dear hand once more… What a Queen she was, and what a woman! What will life be to me without her… In the bitterness of my grief, I must admit that it was a mercy she did not suffer pain and that she had no long illness, a peaceful end.”8
By then, Victoria was taking morphine to help with the pain, and she deteriorated during the spring. She wrote to Sophie, “The attacks of pains so violent, the struggle for breath so dreadful when in bed or lying down, most distressing…”9 Nevertheless, she lived for two months more, in such agony that sentries outside begged to be moved further away so they would not hear her scream. As her body wasted away, she drew up her will, leaving her beloved Friedrichshof to Margaret. She died on 5 August 1901. Once more, Wilhelm ransacked her rooms for her private papers, and again, he found none. She had already had them whisked away to England.
On the 100th anniversary of her birth, her son Wilhelm – by then exiled in Doorn – wrote pitifully, “Today is the 100th birthday of my mother! No notice is taken of it at home! No ‘memorial service’ or… committee to remember her marvellous work for the … welfare of our German people… Nobody of the new generation knows anything about her.”10 He was still too self-centred to realise his role in how that had come about. Perhaps Victoria should be remembered by the words she used to describe her own mother, “What a Queen she was, and what a woman!”
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.549
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.590
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.627
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.652
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.655
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.656
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.660
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.661
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.666
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.674