Victoria spent her last day at home – 1 February 1858 – with her mother and 9-month-old sister Beatrice. As she left the next morning, it began to snow. Queen Victoria gathered the entire family in the Audience Room at Buckingham Palace to say goodbye to her eldest daughter. Victoria was accompanied by her father Prince Albert, and her brother the Prince of Wales and Prince Arthur and also her mother’s uncle the Duke of Cambridge. Victoria and her new husband were driven to Gravesend where they board the royal yacht. On board the royal yacht, Victoria said goodbye to her father as she sobbed. Her father wrote to her after she had left, “I am not of a demonstrative nature, and therefore you can hardly know how dear you have always been to me, and what a void you have left behind in my heart.”1
They received a warm welcome in Berlin and Victoria managed to enchant everyone. When she arrived there, her husband’s uncle was King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. His marriage to Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria had remained childless, and so the crown was destined to pass to her husband’s father and then to Friedrich himself. It was quite a different family from the warm and cosy one she had grown up in, and there was tension all around. Her husband’s duties with the Prussian army would keep him away from home a lot of the time.
Nevertheless, they quickly established a routine. They rose together at eight and read together before breakfast. Friedrich then left to attend to his military duties while Victoria read papers, letters and met with members of her household. After her husband returned, they would have lessons together. Evenings were often with court functions.
Victoria soon found herself pregnant with her first child. Queen Victoria was not amused, but her daughter took it in stride. “That you regret my being (perhaps) in this state I can understand, but I assure you, dear Mama, I think it no great hardship… if it is really true… you know I love little children so much… I own one must feel rather proud to think that one has given life to an immortal soul.”2 In November 1858, they finally moved into the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince’s Palais) in Berlin, across the street from her parents-in-law. It was at their new palace that she gave birth to her first child – a son named Wilhelm. It was an extremely difficult birth that had nearly cost both their lives. Wilhelm was born ‘seemingly dead’ but eventually started to breathe. His left arm was also left hanging from its socket, and the nerve damage would have life long effects. It was a miracle that they had both survived. Victoria took a long time to recover from the horrendous birth.
By the end of the year, Victoria was pregnant again. This time, Victoria asked her mother to have her doctor send over some chloroform directly. On 24 July 1860, at their summer residence the New Palace in Potsdam, Victoria gave birth to a daughter – named Charlotte. This time the delivery was much easier. At the end of the year, it became clear that Friedrich’s uncle the King was dying. They raced to the Palace of Sanssouci and were there when he passed away on 2 January 1861. Friedrich’s father was now the new King and Victoria and Friedrich were now the Crown Prince and Princess. However, worse was yet to come. In March, her grandmother, the Duchess of Kent passed away, followed by her father Prince Albert in December. When the telegram informing her of her father’s death arrived, she asked, “why has the earth not swallowed me up? He was too great, too perfect for earth, that adored father whom I ever worshipped with more than a daughter’s affection.”3 She was finally given permission to visit England three months after her father’s death.
In August 1862, Victoria gave birth to a second son – named Heinrich – followed by a third son – named Sigismund – in 1864. She finally felt confident enough to defy orders and nursed Sigismund herself. Queen Victoria was angry, but the Crown Princess received the support of her aunt Feodora who wrote, “I am sorry to find that Vicky’s determination to nurse her baby makes you so angry, the Queen of Prussia feels the same as you. I have no opinion… as I have always felt it a duty for a mother to nurse her child if she can and if the doctors approve.”4 On 12 April 1866, Victoria gave birth to her fifth child – a daughter named Viktoria. Queen Victoria was delighted to have another girl in the family named after her and wrote, “I am much pleased & touched that the dear, new baby (and long may she remain the Baby!) is to be called after me as I cannot deny that it pained me very much that 4 children were born without one being called after either of your parents.”5 Victoria suffered from postpartum depression after Viktoria’s birth, and it did not help that Friedrich was going off to war against Austria.
On 18 June 1866, Prince Sigismund died of meningitis. A heartbroken Victoria wrote to her mother, “A little child is no loss to the rest of the world, none miss it, but to me it is a part of myself… my little Siggie’s loss has cast a gloom over this House and over my… whole existence which will never quite wear off.”6 Her husband was away and although he was given leave he refused to go, saying, “I am in the service of the fatherland. I would never forgive myself if we were attacked when I was absent from my post.”7 Victoria did not understand him at all. Two weeks later, Victoria took her four surviving children to the Baltic. She sculpted a waxen imagine of her son and placed it in his crib. Victoria found the strength to turn to the war work and turned several sections of their palace in Berlin into a private hospital. However, the constant death and sorrow around her only made her more depressed.
Her husband’s victory at the Battle of Köninggrätz brought her somewhat back to life.