Friday, September 9, 2011

A fourth volume of royal letters

Darling Child: Private Correspondence of Queen Victoria and the Crown Princess of Prussia, 1871-1878,  Roger Fulford, ed.

I haven't signed on for any reading challenges yet (though RIP VI looks like fun), but I have set myself the goal of reading all five books in this series, which together span the years 1858-1885.  I posted about the third volume, covering the years 1865-1871, a week or so ago.

Of the four volumes I have read so far, I found this one the saddest.  As in previous years, the Crown Princess has an uncomfortable relationship with her husband's family, and she writes constantly of interference from her father-in-law, the Emperor, particularly with her sons.  The Crown Princess wants them brought up in English ways, and she resents and resists the traditions of Prussian society.  This naturally makes her no friends at court.  There are also conflicts with her mother-in-law the Empress, with Queen Victoria trying to act as peace-maker. The Crown Prince in these years is in much the same position as his brother-in-law, the Prince of Wales, standing for decades in the shadow of the throne, with no power and little influence. 

At the same time, the letters chronicle frequent disagreements between mother and daughter, in words that must have been difficult to read.  Where they used to discuss, now they seem quick to take offense.  Both complain constantly of being misunderstood and misinterpreted by the other.  Both express hurt feelings, and the Crown Princess in particular often retreats into silence.  They disagree over religion, books, and art.  They take different sides on the major political event of these years, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, and over Prussia and England's roles in peace negotiations.  The Queen accuses the Crown Princess of interfering in the marriages of her sons Alfred and Arthur, and her daughter Louise.  But a simple passing reference to a future marriage of her youngest daughter Beatrice enrages the Queen, who is determined to keep "Baby" single and at home. 

Discussions of the marriages among Europe's royal families lead to one of the Queen's favorite themes, a mother's sufferings when her daughter marries.  The Crown Princess takes up the same theme at the marriage of her oldest daughter Charlotte in 1878, the first of the Queen's grandchildren to marry: "with an aching heart [I] left her, no more mine now - to care for and watch and take care of but another's and this a hard wrench for a mother."

The letters are full of details about their health.  Queen Victoria frequently cites her illness, weakness, and exhaustion to explain why she must spend so much time in seclusion, especially at Balmoral, and why she cannot receive visits from the Crown Princess and her family (another source of hurt feelings for her daughter).  The Queen also reports regularly on the health of Prince Leopold, her youngest son, who suffered from hemophilia.  Her grandson Fritz of Hesse, the child of her daughter Alice, was also a hemophiliac, and he would die from internal bleeding after a fall in 1873. Yet Queen Victoria insists "This peculiarity of poor little Fritz, like Leopold's which is such a rare thing and not in the family . . ."  Of course it was in the family, and Fritz's sister Alix would later bring it to the Russian royal family.

In one exchange from 1874, the Crown Princess writes about the letters she has been collecting and keeping, and their eventual fate:
"I want your authorisation to burn all I have except dear Papa's letters! Every scrap that you have ever written - I have hoarded up, but the idea is dreadful to me that anyone else should read them or meddle with them in the event of my death.  Will you not burn all mine?  I should feel so much relieved."  (Feb. 28, 1874)
The Queen responds,
"I am not for burning them except any of a nature which affect any of the family painfully and which were of no real importance, and they should be destroyed at once. But all the papers and letters I have, are secured even as to my successor (excepting political ones). . . I am very much against destroying important letters, and I everyday see the necessity of reference."  (March 1874)

As both a reader and an archivist, I am glad that the Queen won that debate.

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!