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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

The life of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine

On this day, 5th April 1863, Princess Victoria of Hesse, eldest child of Princess Victoria and granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was born in the Tapestry Room at Windsor Castle.

Princess Alice and Prince Louis with Princess Victoria, by Franz Backofen, December © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Twelve days later, 27th April, Victoria Albertha Elisabeth Matilde Marie was christened into the Lutheran faith. When Victoria was three years old, her family moved to New Palace Darmstadt. As the two were close in age, Victoria and her younger sister Elizabeth, were privately educated together and also shared a room until adulthood.

Queen Victoria with Princess Victoria by Jabez Hughes, 1864 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Tragedy struck on 29th May 1873 when Victoria's youngest brother, Prince Friedrich, died aged two after falling out of a window at New Palace, Darmstadt. This would be the first of much heartbreak to hit the Hesse family. 

In November 1878, Victoria fell ill with diphtheria. Despite her recovery, the illness had already spread throughout her family. Her youngest sister, Marie, died from diphtheria on 16th November. Less than a month later, their mother, Princess Alice was hit with the illness and later died, on 14th December. As the eldest child, Victoria quickly adopted the role of surrogate mother. She later wrote: “My mother’s death was an irreparable loss … My childhood ended with her death, for I became the eldest and most responsible.” She also became companion to her father and hostess of many of his official duties.

Queen Victoria with the children of Princess Alice and Prince Louis of Hesse and by , February 1879 © Royal Collection Trust / HH King Charles III

Growing up, Victoria had often seen Prince Louis of Battenberg at family gatherings and events. The two became engaged in summer 1883. Victorias father, disapproved of the match out of fear of losing his daughters companionship, as well as the fact that Louis wasn’t financially stable enough to provide for Victoria. However, Victoria was stubbornly independent and went ahead with the wedding without her fathers blessing. The wedding was as temporarily delayed due to the death of Victoria’s uncle, Prince Leopold, however on 30th April 1884, the two finally got married in the Chapel of the Old Palace in Darmstadt. Out of protest, Victoria’s father married his mistress on the same evening.

Princess Victoria and Prince Louis of Battenberg, 1883 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

After the wedding, the newlyweds went to Heiligenberg, where they honeymooned for a week before returning to England. The couple settled at Sennicotts, Chichester. On 25th February 1885, Victoria gave birth to their first child, Princess Alice, who was mother of Prince Phillip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II. Over the next 15 years, she would give birth to three more children.

Princess Victoria with three of her children (from left to right) Princess Louise (seated), Princess Alice (standing) and Prince George (sitting on his mothers lap) by Gustav William Henry Mullins, January 1894 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

From a young age, Victoria was known for her intellect. As both a child and adult, she kept extensive lists of books she had read in leather-bound volumes. She had a variety of interests, including geology, archaeology and social philosophy. Like her mother, Victoria was devoted to her children and took on the responsibility of their education.

Princess Victoria by Christian Karl August Noack, signed and dated 1870 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

In 1868, her youngest son, Louis Mountbatten, described his mother as “a walking encyclopedia. All through her life she stored up knowledge on all sorts of subjects, and she had the great gift of being able to make it all interesting when she taught it to me. She was completely methodical; we had time-tables for each subject, and I had to do preparation, and so forth. She taught me to enjoy working hard, and to be thorough. She was outspoken and open-minded to a degree quite unusual in members of the Royal Family. And she was also entirely free from prejudice about politics or colour and things of that kind.”

Group at Osborne House – Princess Victoria and Prince Louis of Battenberg and Victorias’s fther, Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse with Princess Alice of Battenberg on his lap, by Gustav William Henry Mullins, July 1885 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Up until 1914, Victoria regularly visited her relatives abroad in both Germany and Russia, including her two sisters, Elizabeth and Alix, who had married into the Russian imperial family. When World War One broke out, Victoria, her daughter Louise and Nona Kerr (her lady-in-waiting) were in Russia at Yekaterinburg. Upon receiving a telegram from her husband, Victoria had to quickly make arrangements to leave. In the rush, she decided to leave all her jewels with Alice for safe keeping. However, this would be the last time she saw both of her sisters before they were murdered in 1918.

On 14th July 1917, the royal couple renounced their German titles, becoming known as Louis and Victoria Mountbatten. King George V also gave Louis the title of Marquess of Milford Haven, after he had turned down a Ddukedom. In January 1919, Louis retired from the Navy and the couple temporarily settled at Kent House, on the Osborne Estate, Isle of Wight, before selling it due to financial difficulties.

Princess Victoria taken between 1920-1929 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

When Louis died on 11th September 1921, king George V offered his cousin apartment 7 at Kensington Palace. Later, in the 1930s, Victoria's eldest daughter suffered several mental breakdowns and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Along with her two sons, Victoria became surrogate mother to her grandson, Prince Phillip. In later years he wrote of his grandmother, saying: “I liked my grandmother very much and she was always helpful. She was very good with children … she took the practical approach to them. She treated them in the right way—the right combination of the rational and the emotional.”

Princess Victoria with her great grandson, Ludwig Ernst Andreas of Hesse

In 1937, Victoria’s brother, Ernest Louis, died and soon afterwards her widowed sister-in-law, nephew, granddaughter, Cecilie, and two of her great-grandchildren all died in an airplane crash at Ostend. Further tragedy soon followed when Victoria’s son, George, died of bone cancer the following year.

Group photo showing the godparents of Prince Charles, now King Charles III – Princess Alice is on the left of the front row, 15th October 1948

During World War Two, Victoria was bombed out of Kensington Palace, and spent some time at Windsor Castle with King George VI. Her surviving son, Louis, and her two grandsons David Mountbatten and Prince Philip, served in the Royal Navy, while her German relations fought with the opposing forces. She spent most of her time reading and worrying about her children; her daughter, Alice, remained in occupied Greece and was unable to communicate with her mother for four years at the height of the war.

Victoria’s grave at St Mildred’s Church, Whippingham, Isle of Wight. Photograph taken by me in June 2023

On 15th October 1948, she attended the christening of her great-grandson, Prince Charles, now King Charles III; becoming one of his eight godparents. This would be her last official outing.

By summer 1850, Victoria was living at her son’s house in Hampshire due to her declining health. She had bronchitis and in August suffered a heart attack. Insisting that “it is better to die at home”, Victoria moved back to Kensington Palace, where she died on 24th September, aged 87. She was buried four days later as St. Mildred’s Church, Whippingham, Isle of Wight.

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