Who actually first initiated the idea of a marriage between Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa of Great Britain and Prince Frederick William of Prussia is not as important as the impact of the marriage. Some think Queen Victoria’s uncle, Leopold I, “nudged” the couple together. Such a union would assist in Belgium’s security from France, which was a customary “enemy.” Others place the alliance firmly in the hands of Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. We must recall that Albert’s ideals were different from those found in many European courts. Prince Albert did not advocate a “new order,” but rather a liberalization of the current ones.
Frederick William IV, however, was a reactionary who held tight to the idea that God wished his reign. However, by the mid 1850s, the Prussians had taken hold of parts of Austria’s valuable ore-rich lands, most notably that of Silesia.
The Prussian royal family had taken refuge in London during the revolutions which swept Europe in 1848. Prince Albert and William had developed a friendship of sort during the Prussian courts retreat to England. During that time, Albert lobbied for a English-style parliament to be adopted by the Hohenzollerns. Although William listened attentively, he argued his own points. William did not relish the idea that non-Prussian Germans would become part of the government of a unified Germany.
“During the Revolutions of 1848, William successfully crushed a revolt in Berlin that was aimed at his elder brother, King Frederick William IV. The use of cannon made him unpopular at the time and earned him the nickname Kartätschenprinz (Prince of Grapeshot). Indeed, he had to flee to England for a while, disguised as a merchant. He returned and helped to put down an uprising in Baden, where he commanded the Prussian army. In October 1849, he became governor-general of Rhineland and Westfalia, with a seat at the Kurfürstliches Schloss in Koblenz.
“During their time at Koblenz, William and his wife entertained liberal scholars like the historian Maximilian Wolfgang Duncker or Auguest von Bethmann-Hollweg and Clemens Theodor Perthes (de). William’s opposition to liberal ideas gradually softened.
“In 1854, the prince was raised to the rank of a field-marshal and made governor of the federal fortress of Mainz. In 1857 Frederick William IV suffered a stroke and became mentally disabled for the rest of his life. In January 1858, William became Prince Regent for his brother, initially only temporarily but after October on a permanent basis. Against the advice of his brother, William swore an oath of office on the Prussian constitution and promised to preserve it ‘solid and inviolable.’ William appointed a liberal, Karl Anton von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen as Minister President and thus initiated what became known as the ‘New Era’ in Prussia, although there were conflicts between William and the liberal majority in the Landtag on matters of reforming the armed forces.
Queen Victoria also developed an alliance during the Prussian royal retreat. William’s wife, Augusta of Saxe-Weimar. Weimar was one of the more liberal states in Europe, and Augusta’s political views were in contrast to her husband’s. The Prussian couple’s son, the Hohenzollern prince Frederick William, became a “possible” mate for the Princess Royal.
“Fritz,” as Prince Frederick William was known, and Princess Victoria met first when Prince Albert and his secretary Baron Stockmar concocted a plan to invite the Prussian royals to London for Albert’s Grand Exhibition of 1851. Fritz was 20 at the time, and Victoria was but 10. The queen permitted Victoria to join the royal families, on the guise as a companion for Fritz’s younger sister. Princess Victoria’s German was fluent and she proved herself the perfect guide for her father’s exhibition. She was vivacious and made a good first impression. The two were permitted great access to one another (a fact which would not have occurred if she were older) over the two weeks the Prussians remained in London. If she had been older perhaps she might have noted the reticence and the alarm with which Frederick William noted the familiarity practiced openly by the British royal family. Life in Prussia would not be the same as life in London.
In September 1855, Fritz vacationed with the British royal family at Balmoral. He was now 24, and Princess Victoria was on the cusp of womanhood. Fritz admired the princess’s intelligence and took note of her comely features. Neither could image that the idea of a marriage between the two would not be welcomed by a large portion of the population. The British populace distrusted foreigners, in general. The Prussian populace worried for an alliance with England when Great Britain was at war with the powerful Russian tsar. Nevertheless, Fritz did propose and was accepted. However, Queen Victoria declared that the marriage could not take place for two years. The Queen wished the business kept private but when the information was shared with the prime minister, Lord Palmerston, the news became fodder for The Times. The Prussian court was called “paltry” and “wretched” by the British newsprint.
In the years of waiting, Prince Albert “trained” his daughter in how to be an excellent queen consort. Albert spent two hours daily in this manner. Unfortunately, the Princess Royal was not as adaptable as her father. Victoria’s life in Prussia would never be what she wished. Where in England, the princess’s life held a certain informality, in Berlin she encountered strict court etiquette. Moreover, the Prussia that Fritz would govern would be a military-controlled state. The ruling House of Hohenzollern practiced a state-instilled monarchy. Fritz and Vicky were married in January 1858.
In February 1858, she rode through the streets of Berlin with her husband to the cheers of the gathered crowd. What she found was not a city to equal London, but rather a city more of the nature of Edinburgh until it moved to clear the air of raw sewage. Moreover, the Royal Palace, a 17th Century Baroque structure, was a cold desolate building. It held NO modern conveniences. There was no central corridor to speed one’s trek through chamber after chamber.
Reality also arrived in the form of her father-in-law, Prince William, who stood as Regent to his mad brother. William never totally approved of his son’s wife. As many hours as the princess had set with her father in tutelage, she was ill-equipped to handle her father-in-law’s snub, nor was she capable of understanding how Fritz could treat her with less respect than did her illustrious father. She did not understand how to win the heart’s of such a “cold” family, and Vicky would suffer for her ignorance. A liberally educated woman was not a welcomed asset to the Prussian court.
A month after her marriage, Albert sent his daughter a “master plan” for Vicky’s marriage. “Your place is that of your husband’s wife, and of your mother’s daughter.” Prince Albert also warned of public disdain for Vicky, which quickly proved true. Meanwhile, the Queen demanded that Vicky remain the British princess royal rather than accepting the role of Victoria, Princess of Prussia. The Prussians expected her to become the wife of the future king, not a British prima donna. The princess developed the annoying habit of declaring all things British as superior to all things Prussians.
Vicky obliged her mother’s demand for frequent letters by describing the appalling ignorance of the Prussian royal family. Her quick first impressions soon became open critical remarks that lost the princess the support of many who would have assisted her. Queen Victoria came to criticize all the efforts Vicky made to adhere to the strictures of the Prussian court. The queen was known to demand that her daughter keep her “Englishness.”