Sunday, August 28, 2011

A third volume of royal letters

Your Dear Letter, Private Correspondence of Queen Victoria and the Crown Princess of Prussia 1865-1871, Roger Fulford, ed.

This is the third volume of letters between Queen Victoria and her daughter Victoria that I have read (the first covers the years 1858-1861 and the second 1861-1864).  The writing style and tone of both women have become familiar, and reading this book felt like meeting old friends again and picking up the stories of their lives.  This sense of intimacy is of course due to the frankness of these private letters between mother and daughter, which bridges the gap between their royal lives in the late 1800s and my American life in 2011.  I was again sometimes taken aback at the frankness.  Queen Victoria writes of the birth of one grandchild:
"The baby - a mere little red lump was all I saw; and I fear the seventh grand-daughter and fourteenth grand-child becomes a very uninteresting thing - for it seems to me to go on like the rabbits in Windsor Park!"  (July 10, 1868)
This book covers more years than the previous two, and those years are busy ones, including two Prussian wars, with Austria and France.  Because the scope of the book is wider, and the correspondence still voluminous, the letters are more heavily edited.  I doubt any letter is printed in its entirety; in many cases, only a paragraph, sometimes only a single line is included.  There are more letters, and more extensive excerpts, on some topics such as the two wars, the sudden death of the Crown Princess's baby son Sigismund, a domestic scandal in the Crown Princess's household, and the engagement of Princess Louise to the Marquis of Lorne.  The Crown Princess and the Prussian Royal Family take offense at Louise's engagement to a British subject, rather than the match with a Prussian prince that they had been promoting.

I was particularly interested in the discussion of Louise's marriage and the other references to her, having recently read Jehanne Wake's biography of her.  And after reading Amanda Foreman's book on Britain and the American Civil War, I noted the few references to that war, including the appearances of Lord Lyons, minister in Washington during the war, who was later rewarded for his service with the plum appointment as Ambassador to France).  On April 28, 1865, Queen Victoria refers to the letter of condolence she has sent Mary Lincoln, "whose husband was murdered by her side!"

As in the previous books of letters, the letters frequently talk about books read and recommended.  The Queen often mentions Margaret Oliphant's books, which she enjoys for their Scottish settings.  She sends several to the Crown Princess, and in one letter she mentions meeting the author.  In 1868 Queen Victoria becomes a published author herself, when Leaves From the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands is published.  She is clearly very proud of her book, sending copies to the different members of the Prussian Court, collecting reviews, noting sales figures, and above all reporting the praise she hears from all sides.  The Crown Princess occasionally acknowledges receipt of the book or offers some brief comment on it, and the Queen is hurt by her lack of response.  The editor Roger Fulford suggests in his introduction that Victoria's children were embarrassed by the personal nature of the book, with incidents from their childhoods, and that the Crown Princess chose to ignore what she could not praise with honesty.

The most significant events in these years are of course the Prussian wars.  As this volume ends, Prussia has become an Empire, and the Crown Princess's father-in-law the Emperor.  His new empire has annexed the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine from France, an action whose consequences would reach far into the 20th century. With the hindsight of history, it is uncomfortable to read the younger Victoria's letters celebrating Prussia's military might yet insisting on her peaceful intentions toward the rest of Europe. 


  1. I am more and more convinced that I will love these volumes when I do eventually get around to tracking them down!

  2. I have the last two volumes from interlibrary loan, due back in mid-September. I'm determined to read both of them by then, in case I can't borrow them again immediately - so more Victoria/Vicky to come.


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!