A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter
Starting with her childhood in 1847, this novel covers the life of Queen Victoria’s oldest daughter, also called Victoria (nicknamed Vicky), until 1871. From being a much-loved princess in England, Vicky marries Fritz, oldest son of Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, and moves to a drafty, dark, inconvenient castle in Berlin. This turns out to be the least of her worries. She is slighted by all the Prussian royal family. Worse still, her ideas about implementing a less autocratic style of government, learned from her father Prince Albert, are sneered at. It is an attitude that will pursue her throughout her life.
Fortunately, her marriage to the handsome, gentle prince is a happy one. Eight children are born to them, including Siggy, whose death in infancy devastates Vicky. She delights in her children, although the inconsistent and aggressive behavior of their oldest son, Wilhelm, causes her great concern.
But most of the novel recreates the military and political maneuverings of the Prussian court during the years 1858 – 1871. Vicky, loved by the Prussian people, is despised by the court, especially by Otto von Bismarck, principal advisor to the court. Her efforts to argue for a more liberal style of government are mocked or ignored.
McHugh presents a complex and detailed account of Prussian politics during much of the 19th century. She shows how the prevailing beliefs and decisions taken during this time underpin the development of Germany as a nation emerging from several smaller states. It also shows the basis of Kaiser Wilhelm’s militaristic focus that led to WW1.
The novel gives the reader a broad, sweeping view of the dysfunctional Prussian royal court, but also a deeper look at the influences shaping Germany even today. This is a tour de force illuminating a seldom understood corner of European history.