Queen Victoria and her daughter Victoria, Princess Royal

Queen Victoria and her daughter Victoria, Princess RoyalWikimedia Commons

Although she was Queen Victoria’s first born, the princess known as Vicky could never succeed her mother and become sovereign. Her father’s alternative plan brought her great love and considerable hardship—a dramatic life story captured in a novel by Clare McHugh. 

When Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa was born on November 21, 1840, at Buckingham Palace her father, Prince Albert, felt keenly disappointed. He and his bride, Queen Victoria, had hoped their first born would be a boy. But Vicky, the Princess Royal, proved to be clever, well-spoken and marvelously confident even as a young child. Her brother Prince Albert Edward (later Edward VII), a year younger, could never rival her,  and she was soon the apple of her father’s eye, the only one of the royal couple’s eventual nine children who fully shared Prince Albert’s political and philosophical interests.

Yet despite this, Vicky was always tipped to be shipped abroad to be married off to a foreign prince with no chance to inherit the throne that her mother occupied. 

I, too, am the eldest in my family with a brother only a year younger. I could imagine how painful it would be, relegated to second best when you were firstborn because you were a girl.  Not only did I “identify” with Vicky, and the more I learned about her romantic and dramatic life, the more convinced I became she deserved to be the subject of a novel.

Vicky’s ultimate fate lay in Germany, because Prince Albert, born in Coburg, was a fierce German patriot. In those days Germany wasn’t one nation, but a large collection of independent states, dominated by Prussia, a military power with an autocratic style of government. Prince Albert hoped that Prussia could bring about the unification of Germany, while at the same time evolving into a British-style constitutional monarchy. He was convinced that his beloved daughter, schooled in parliamentary democracy, could help make this happen if she were married to the heir to the throne of Prussia. 

An audacious plan, if a bit naïve, and Albert was encouraged in it by the feelings of the prince himself, young Friedrich, called Fritz. As a teenager Fritz had come to London with his parents to see the Great Exhibition and the precocious 10-year-old Vicky was given the task of guiding him around the show. Four years later he visited Balmoral to be reacquainted with the young princess, and the couple were engaged within two weeks. Vicky had not yet turned 15. 

In attempting to capture the trials and tribulations that Vicky faced once she moved to hostile Berlin, I relied on the wonderful cache of letters exchanged between the Queen and her daughter over 40 years. Vicky reveals herself to be loving, open-hearted, and intelligent in this correspondence. No chapter in her life was more traumatic than the breech delivery of her first child, wrenched out of her womb, assumed dead. The baby grew up to be Kaiser Wilhelm II, and the permanently crippled arm he suffered at birth not only weighted down his mother with lifelong guilt, it curdled his own personality - causing ripples of family disfunction that radiated out into the Berlin court, German society, and eventually the world.  A terrible misfortune to befall a teenage mother charged with producing the perfect heir. 

In addition, Otto von Bismarck, a political force Vicky’s father had never anticipated, succeeded in sidelining her and her modern ideas as the decades passed. And Fritz died after a mere 99 days on the throne.

Despite all the sadness in her life, Vicky tried always to be an excellent wife, mother and public servant. I present her to the world in my new novel A MOST ENGLISH PRINCESS with the pride one feels for a cherished friend. Below is an excerpt, my imagining of the day in September 1855 when on a hilltop a short distance from Balmoral Castle Fritz asked Vicky to marry him. 

Downstairs in the main hall they waited for the grooms to bring around the ponies. Mama laughed and smiled, her typical nervous manner evaporated on this bright morning. And a grinning Fritz once again reached for her hand, and squeezed it as they stood by the door. Affie, thrilled to be included on the outing, careened between and around everyone, chasing the two Labrador hunting dogs. 

As soon as they set off in the sunshine, Fritz suggested they get out in front of the others. Kicking the ponies into a canter, they crossed the Dee bridge first and reached the upward rise far ahead. 

    “I think I love everything about Balmoral,” Fritz said. 


    “I love the mountains, I love the air, I love the people.” 

    “But do you remember Osborne? I love that even more.”

    “I do remember Osborne, and the beautiful sea there. I hope to visit again.” 

     They rode along in companionable silence for a few minutes. 

     Then Fritz began: “When I was at home, Vicky, after our trip to the exhibition, I laughed sometimes when I thought of you.” 

      Vicky glanced over at him. He sat astride the pony in a relaxed, easeful way, the reins held negligently in one hand. He was looking out into the distance, smiling. 

     “You were so alive and so determined,” he continued. “Confident of course, but also generous. It’s not so often you meet a small girl like that. Then imagine how it felt to come here, as I did, nervously, a bit uncertain, more than a little resistant—since it was my mother’s command that I must come and meet you again exactly now, no time to waste!”

      He was gazing over at her now, smiling, and she flushed. 

    “And I arrive and I find that the same child who amused me has grown into a beautiful young woman. Who has captivated me.” 

     She felt tears sting her eyes. It was too much, to hear him spell out his admiration. But she mustn’t cry. She mustn’t. She wanted to be poised.

     “Let’s get off the ponies,” he said. Vicky slid to the ground and looked behind her. The rest of the family trailed by a good half mile now, traversing the edge of the valley below. 

      Fritz searched for something in the grass. After a moment he bent down and picked something, a sprig of white heather. 

     “Your father tells me that this plant is good luck,” he said. 

     “Yes, you carry it with you for success in the hunt,” she said.

      “Please take this. I wish to have the good luck to be together with you always. Will you come to Prussia with me, Liebste?”

        “On a visit?” 

        “On a visit that will last a lifetime.”

She heard his words, and she took the heather from his outstretched hand, but it took a moment before she felt a confused rush of warmth, a roar in her ears, a flood of sensation overtaking her. She struggled to steady herself and looked away before she found words to answer. 

         “Yes, I mean, I would like that. Of course.” How ridiculous she sounded. 

          He smiled. “So your answer is yes? You will marry me?” 

        “Yes, yes, yes.” And she nodded fervently. 

He reached out and stroked her cheek. His fingers felt cold, but the gesture was gentle, almost reverent. She managed to look him full in the face and saw he had tears in his eyes.

“Yesterday I asked your parents if I might join your family and to my immense joy they agreed,” he said. “However, they worry you’re so young, you can’t know your heart. I begged them for an opportunity to speak to you and finally they allowed it. May I?” he asked, and bent to kiss her without waiting for the answer. 

His lips pressed against her mouth. Soft and warm and pleasurably insistent. How exhilarating to be a woman a man wished to touch. That it should be Fritz touching her, desiring her, was astonishing, revelatory. She began to tremble, even as she tried to kiss him back. She felt a peculiar surge of excitement rise and blood rush into hidden corners of herself. 

When finally they broke apart, he said: “Your parents insist we wait until after your confirmation to announce the engagement.” 

          Still shaking, Vicky said, “Which is more than a year from now.”

         “And they will not permit us to marry for another year after that.” 


          “Ja, but I will visit. We will never be apart long.” 

Fritz placed his hands on her shoulders, and he gazed down at her, quite obviously exultant. Vicky felt excited as well—she had wished for exactly this—yet her arms quivered and her legs seemed inadequate to hold her up. A married lady? Such an adult thing to be, and she wondered for a moment how she’d cope. And living in Prussia, so far away? Of course, she’d not be getting married for some time, and Fritz would be her husband and she trusted Fritz. So many people would be pleased she had picked him. Had it been fated, for years, from the time of the exhibition? In any case there would be a huge fuss over the engagement. What would Tilla say? And Alice? She wanted to write immediately and tell Laddle. 

They could hear the rest of the party approaching now. Fritz let go of her, but they stood close together, Vicky still clutching the sprig of heather. Papa was in front. When he saw their faces, he smiled a gentle smile. Vicky could hear Mama scolding Bertie for stealing Affie’s cap, but then she too caught sight of them, and she stopped her pony. Vicky nodded slightly as the two exchanged a wordless, loaded look. Mama shook her head as if in disbelieving wonder at the beauty and the glory of it all.

Excerpted from A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter published by HarperCollins UK Copyright 2020 by Clare McHugh.