Just a year after little Sigismund’s death, Victoria found herself pregnant again. She was depressed at the anniversary of her son’s death, but her mother lovingly wrote to her, “Your Darling – God took to him himself, and he is safe & happy! You will see him again there, where there is no sorrow or pain or parting & if you would but dwell on that (as I do) & have faith & trust you would not have had that sad and agonising repining… I say all this in love & affection & in perfect sympathy with your loss.”1 On 10 February 1868, Victoria gave birth to her sixth child – a son named Waldemar.
At the end of 1868, Victoria, Friedrich and three of their children spent Christmas in England with Queen Victoria. Her meddling mother-in-law was soon lobbying for her return, demanding that she return before Christmas. Her father-in-law even wrote to Queen Victoria complaining of their long absence. Victoria had not been home for three years. In January after their return, her brother, the Prince of Wales and his wife Alexandra of Denmark paid a visit to Germany.
On 14 June 1870, Victoria gave birth to her seventh child – a daughter named Sophie. Around that time, Friedrich was headed back to the front and – not wanting a painful parting – he had slipped out during the night, leaving a note for Victoria. Victoria wrote to her mother, “The thought was so kind and yet now I feel as if my heart would break – he is gone, without a kiss or a word of farewell & I do not know whether I shall ever see him again!”2 Victoria herself monitored the construction of new hospitals and took an interest in caring for the wounded. However, her efforts were not appreciated in Berlin and on her 30th birthday on 21 November 1870; she was only visited by her mother-in-law. Friedrich was horrified when he heard of how his wife had been treated.
On 18 January 1871, the founding of the new German empire took place, and Victoria could now look forward to not only becoming a Queen but also an Empress. Friedrich wrote to his wife, “I am convinced that he (her father Prince Albert) would have rejoiced over recent changes. However, he would not have approved of the methods whereby unification was achieved any more than you and I.”3 Later that same year, she was finally able to visit her mother again and they spent much of the summer and autumn and Schloss Wilhelmshöhe because of a smallpox epidemic in Berlin.
Victoria gave birth to her eight and final child – a daughter named Margaret – on 22 April 1872. She was initially disappointed that it wasn’t a boy but later wrote, “for myself alone, a little girl is much nicer.”4
Victoria founded the Victoria Lyceum where girls – who were still barred from attending universities – could attend lectures. Friedrich supported her in this and openly favoured the advancement of women in certain areas. However, they still lived in a society that wanted women to limit their activities to “Kinder, Kirche and Küche” – Children, church and kitchen. This was used against them and portrayed Victoria as a domineering wife and Friedrich as the henpecked husband. She wrote to her husband, “I am English, foreign… and I dominate you… I don’t take the position… considered proper and suitable for a princess at the Berlin court… A kind of higher lady… who dresses well, looks pretty… is a doll in her own house… does not have the cheek to deal with her household or her children, and thus does not spoil the children’s ‘Prussian upbringing.'”5 She would always be an outsider in Germany.
Victoria was particularly close to her sister Alice who had married Prince Louis of Hesse (later Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse). Alice’s family was hit by diphtheria in the autumn of 1878. Her little girl May was the first die, and while everyone else seemed to get better, Alice got worse and passed away on 14 December 1878 – also the anniversary of their father’s death. Victoria wrote to her mother, “Our darling! I can hardly bear to write her dear name – was my particular sister… I think of the dear house now so desolate and empty… It was the only place in Germany except Coburg where I loved to go & which seemed a bit of a home!”6 Victoria was forbidden to attend her sister’s funeral because of a fear of infection. More heartbreak was to come when Victoria’s own son Waldemar also fell ill with diphtheria. Victoria cared for him during the illness. Tragically, he died on 27 March 1879 at the age of 11. She later wrote, “We endeavour to bear God’s decree with resignation, but we cannot even now become reconciled to the loss of another son… a son… who justified our highest hopes, and already displayed character at an early age.”7
Her relationship with her surviving children was complicated. She could be a demanding mother, and her three eldest children had turned out to be “complete Prussians” to her regret.8 In 1877, her eldest son turned 18 years old, and he graduated from the gymnasium. He then entered the University of Bonn. He soon had his eye on Auguste Viktoria of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg – the granddaughter of Queen Victoria’s half-sister Feodora. They were married on 27 February 1881. Charlotte was actually the first of her children to marry – to The Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Meiningen in 1878. Victoria’s first grandchild – Feodora – was born in 1879. Meanwhile, Victoria was on the edge of a full-on breakdown, and she left for Italy – after an intense fight over it with her parents-in-law – with her three young daughters.
The air in Italy did her good, and she stayed there from October until May the following year. She even removed her mourning clothes and hated herself for it. She had slowly passed into middle age and just before her 40th birthday she wrote to her mother that she was “growing very unsightly… have lost almost all my hair & what remains has turned very grey; my face is full of lines and wrinkles especially round the eyes & mouth, and having no good features to boast of, I really am an annoyance… when I look at myself in the glass.”9
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.267
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.289
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.306
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.318
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.344
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.404
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.406
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.390
- An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula p.408