HRH Princess Victoria of Wales
  • August 29, 2016
  • Posted In: Royal

Princess Victoria ‘Toria’ of Wales (1865-1935) was the second daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra who was born in their London residence, Marlborough House, when her parents were Prince and Princess of Wales. To understand the trajectory of Princess Victoria’s rather frustrated life, one has to examine the nature of her parents’ marriage. After a repressive upbringing under the strict eye of his father Prince Albert and mother Queen Victoria, heir to the throne ‘Bertie’ rebelled. The Queen indirectly blamed his dalliance with an actress in Ireland for the Prince Consort’s death in 1861 and, after his marriage to Danish Princess Alexandra in 1863, the Prince of Wales continued a lifelong pursuit of pretty women.

Though vivacious, elegant and charming, Princess Alexandra was a childlike creature and an indulgent ostrich when it came to her husband’s vices. She bore the Prince of Wales five children: the Princes Albert Victor and George and the Princesses Louise, Victoria and Maud. Known for all her children’s lives as ‘Motherdear’, Queen Alexandra clung tightly to her brood much to the disapproval of her mother-in-law Queen Victoria though Bertie understandably would not question her devotion to a cloying family life behind the walls of Marlborough House.

Queen Alexandra’s daughters were not considered beauties and were secretly described by courtiers as ‘the hags’. This was rather unfair. Princess Victoria was a handsome woman who was infinitely more intelligent than her mother and much-beloved by her father. Though Bertie and Alexandra rejected much of the example set by Queen Victoria, like her mother-in-law Princess Alexandra clung to her daughters and proved reluctant to offer them for dynastic matches. Princess Victoria was selected from childhood to be a companion to her needy mother.

Suitors were attracted to the lonely, studious princess including King Carlos I of Portugal but Queen Victoria would not sanction her granddaughter having to convert to Roman Catholicism. The widowed Prime Minister the Earl of Rosebery asked for her hand but was rejected by Princess Alexandra. In the autumn of her life, Princess Victoria mournfully told a companion ‘we could have been so happy’.

But it was not to be. Instead, Princess Victoria followed her mother wherever obligation or whim took her. The Russian Grand Duchess Olga observed of her, ‘Queen Alexandra treated Princess Victoria like a glorified maid’. As Bertie’s biographer Jane Ridley wrote in her 2012 Life of Edward VII ‘when Alix rang her bell, Toria must run, often to discover that her mother had quite forgotten why she wanted her’. Even her brother King George V said of his mother ‘she is one of the most selfish people I know’. The princess passed the listless hours pursuing amateur photography, book binding, music, collecting autographs and developing her interest in horticulture.

When King Edward VII acceded to the throne, Princess Victoria became part of her mother’s household at Buckingham Palace. There are delightful stories of she and her mother inventing a particularly giddy game of golf at Sandringham whereby they raced the ball across the green in a similar style to hockey until one or the other hammered the ball into the hole. But life must have been rather mirthless for the unmarried princess whose elder sister Louise had married the Duke of Fife and her younger sister Maud became Queen of Norway.

Princess Victoria was at her father’s bedside when he died in 1910 and was obliged to go into mourning with Queen Alexandra who reluctantly left Buckingham Palace to take-up residence in the big house at Sandringham. As Christopher Hibbert writes in his 1976 biography Edward VII, ‘often unwell and constantly concerned about her health, Princess Victoria grew increasingly resentful of her lot and prone to making waspish comments about her dull relatives’. Her nephew the future Duke of Windsor described her as ‘a bitch of the first order’.

Lame, deaf and bereft of her celebrated beauty, the Dowager Queen Alexandra became even more of a burden on her compliant daughter. ‘In old age, Alix the ever-youthful, high-spirited princess metamorphosed into a monster’, writes Ridley. ‘The princess who perhaps had never fully grown up reverted to a spoilt wilful child’. The only respite for Princess Victoria was the increasingly regular trips the Dowager Queen and her sister the Dowager Empress of Russia took to a house they had bought in their native Denmark.

Queen Alexandra died in 1925 freeing Princess Victoria from nearly sixty years as her mother’s companion. The princess was close to her brother King George V who said of her ‘no one has ever had a sister like her’. They spoke daily on the telephone and on one famous occasion before she was put through a palace servant heard her greet the king with ‘hello, you old fool!’ Princess Victoria considered King George’s wife Queen Mary ‘deadly dull’ and her waspish, bitter and belligerent humour wasn’t particularly welcome at Buckingham Palace or the other royal residences.

For the last decade of her life, Princess Victoria resided modestly in her Buckinghamshire home Coppins where she became honorary president of the Iver Horticultural Society. She turned to religion as so many people disappointed with life tend to, telling one of her neighbours in Buckinghamshire ‘I was the daughter of a king but now I am a child of God’. When she died in 1935, King George V was distraught and her loss was said to have speeded his own demise in 1936. Princess Victoria was buried in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore on the Windsor estate some distance from ‘Motherdear’ who rests in St George’s Chapel.

(c) James Sherwood

Photo © (c) Wiki Commons