Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A second volume of royal letters

Dearest Mama, Letters Between Queen Victoria and the Crown Princess of Prussia, Roger Fulford, ed.

This is the second of five volumes of letters between the Queen and her eldest daughter Victoria that Roger Fulford edited and published. I posted about the first book, Dearest Child, back on July 29th.  The letters in this volume date from late 1861 to mid-1864, starting with those written in the immediate aftermath of Prince Albert's death on December 14th.  As with the first book, most of the letters were previously unpublished. 

Dearest Mama is an interesting contrast to the first book.  The title suggests one of most important differences, to my mind: at least half the letters are from the Crown Princess.  In Dearest Child, probably 80% of the letters were from Queen Victoria, and her voice dominated.  Here we get clearly the voice of the younger Victoria, a wife and mother of three children, a veteran of the complexities of the Prussian Court, moving out the shadows of her formidable parents.

Grief over the death of Prince Albert of course dominates the letters of 1861 and 1862.  The Queen dwells on her sorrow, her agonized sense of abandonment, her shattered nerves and inability to cope without Prince Albert.  She makes elaborate plans for his monuments and marks every anniversary.  In the early months, the Crown Princess's letters focus on her own grief and on attempts to comfort her mother.  By the middle of 1862, though, when she sets off on an extended trip through Italy, her letters are full of the excitement of travel, to the Queen's distress.  The Princess is traveling on the first anniversary of her father's death, and the Queen is horrified at what she rates almost as sacrilege.

Two important themes carry over from the first book.  One is the marriages of Queen Victoria's children, first Princess Alice to Prince Louis of Hesse, and even more importantly, the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Schelswig-Holstein.  The Crown Princess and her husband had worked behind the scenes to further both matches.  However, in both cases the weddings are overshadowed by the Queen's grief.  Though the Queen deplores the early and frequent pregnancies of Victoria and Alice, both she and Victoria express disappointment and concern when Alexandra does not immediately conceive.  Mother and daughter are also busy over possible spouses for Prince Alfred (there are constant refrains that "he ought to marry early" due to immoral tendencies) and for Princess Helen (the Queen insisting on a spouse who will remain in England after marriage).

Another major theme is Prussian politics.  The Crown Prince and Princess have liberal political ideas, which put them at odds not just with the Prussian royal family, but with powerful conservative politicians, including the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismark.  As the heir to the throne, though, the Crown Prince has no real power.  The situation is complicated by the 1864 war between Germany and Denmark over the Duchies of Schelswig and Holstein, which also creates complications within the English Royal Family. The Crown Princess writes at length about politics, at times in almost a hectoring tone.  The Queen is quick to point that out: "I forbear answering your letter the tone of which was not quite the thing to your own Mama."  Yet the Queen's letters often have a sharp tone of their own, especially at any perceived neglect.

As in the first book, the two also discuss books, music, and family gossip.  To my surprise, religion is a frequent topic, particularly church politics.  Mother and daughter also discuss the Prussian grandchildren in detail, especially the treatment for Prince Willy's arm, damaged at birth and never to heal.  No small part of the fascination of reading these letters is the historical foresight, knowing now where this story is going, what will happen to these people, whose future is hidden from them.


  1. This sounds riveting! Both the Queen and her daughter strike me as being domineering and powerful personalities with very strong opinions. I like to read their opinions, but I'm not really sure that I would like them as people.

  2. The younger Victoria's personality really comes across in this book, and like you say, it's a powerful and opinionated one. I wonder if the two actually had a stronger relationship because of the space between them?


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!