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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

The wedding of Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg, 23rd July 1885

Growing up, Princess Beatrice had always been Queen Victoria’s ‘baby’, who was intended to keep her unmarried innocence and remain by her mother’s side. Ten years after the death of Prince Albert, Beatrice’s sister, Princess Louise, married. Much to her mother’s relief, fifteen year old Beatrice firmly declared that “I don’t like weddings. I shall never be married. I shall stay with my mama”. However, as Beatrice got older, her wishes changed, particularly when she met the dashing young Prince Henry of Battenberg.

The Marriage of Princess Beatrice, by Richard Caton Woodville, dated 1886 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Following the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria claimed Princess Beatrice as her own personal companion. Unlike her older siblings, her position as the youngest child meant there was less pressure to marry. But as the only unmarried member of the family, Beatrice soon became lonely in her mothers ageing household. Queen Victoria could see what was happening, yet she remained reluctant to find Beatrice a partner. Although not known for her beauty, Beatrice was faced with many suitors, including the son of Emperor Napoleon III and his wife, Empress Eugenie.

Following their exile from France, the couple found a home in England and soon developed a close friendship with Queen Victoria. Soon after Napoleon died in 1873, rumours began circulating the newspapers that Princess Beatrice had become engaged to his son, Napoleon Eugene. Although there’s no proof whether the rumours were true or not, they were tragically put to a halt when the Prince was killed during the Astro-Zulu war, on 1st June 1879. In her journal, Queen Victoria writes how saddened they all were, particularly Beatrice, who she described as “crying very much” as a result of being “so distressed”.

Lithograph of Prince Henry and Princess Beatrice , dated 1885 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

With Napoleon Eugene dead, Prince Albert Edward suggested she marry Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse and by Rhine, the widow of her elder sister, Princess Alice. However, at the time it was illegal to marry such a relation and a match seemed impossible. Queen Victoria herself was on board with the idea, having been convinced that Beatrice could mother Alice’s children as well as Victoria herself getting a say in their upbringing. While the Prince of Wales supported the ‘Deceased wife’s sister bill’, it failed to pass the House of Lords, therefore making it impossible for Beatrice to marry the Grand Duke. Beatrice’s next potential suitors included Princes Louis and Alexander of Battenberg. For years, Alexander stated that one day he might be engaged to Beatrice but in reality, he never made any advances or attempts to impress her. On the other hand, Prince Louis played a huge interest in the princess. Feeling threatened by this, Queen Victoria invited the prince to dine with the family but sat between the pair. She also told Beatrice to ignore the prince and avoid any conversation with him. Unaware of Victoria’s influence, Louis gave up and instead fell in love with Beatrice’s niece, Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. It was at their wedding in Darmstadt, on 30th April 1884, that Beatrice met the grooms younger brother, Prince Henry. The two immediately got along and quickly fell in love. When Beatrice returned to Britain, she told Victoria that she wished to marry Henry, but Victorias response was unexpected by everyone.

Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg, at Darmstadt in 1885 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Upon hearing Beatrice’s wishes, Queen Victoria immediately sprang into complete silence. Still seeing Beatrice as young and innocent, Victoria was concerned that the sexual side of marriage would ruin her sweet personality. However, as with many of her siblings, Beatrice saw marriage as her only escape from the queens tightening grip. Despite living under the same roof, Victoria remained silent and instead only communicated with Beatrice through written notes. The princess’s siblings, Victoria and Albert Edward, along with his wife Alexandra and the Grand Duke of Hesse, all subtly reminded the queen of the joy and comfort that Beatrice had once brought Prince Albert. Through this technique, they we’re finally able to convince her to resume verbal communication with Beatrice after an extremely awkward seven months! Queen Victoria also gave her consent to the marriage but only if Henry gave up his German nationality and military career in order to permanently move in with Beatrice and herself. Henry agreed to the Queens conditions.

Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry, 23rd July 1885

With the engagement finally settled, wedding plans were set to take place at St Mildred’s Church, Whippingham, on the 23rd July 1885. As a small parish church, the guest list was much more limited than it had been for Victorias other children. Despite this, it still included close and extended members of the royal family; members of the queen’s household; dignitaries; close friends; and members of staff. At 9am on the day of the wedding, a special train was put on to transport guests from Victoria station to Portsmouth, followed by a trip on the Royal Yacht Alberta to the Isle of Wight.

Princess Beatrice in her wedding dress, 23rd July 1885 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

By 12:55, all of the guests were settled in their seats and it was time for Prince Henry to make his way down the isle, supported by his two brothers: Alexander and Ferdinand. Before long, the bride and her mother had also arrived. As the Queen and Prince of wales walked her down the isle, Beatrice was wearing a white satin dress, decorated with lace, orange blossom, white heather and myrtle. Understanding Beatrice’s love of lace, Queen Victoria allowed her to wear her own Honiton Lace veil from 1840 (she was the only one of her siblings allowed to do so); along with a wreath of matching flowers and a diamond and star circlet, which had been a wedding gift from the queen.

She was also accompanied by ten bridesmaids, all of whom were nieces of the bride. The list included: Princesses Louise, Victoria and Maud of Wales (daughters of Prince Albert Edward); Princesses Marie, Victoria Melita and Alexandra of Edinburgh (daughters of Prince Alfred); Princesses Irene and Alix of Hesse (daughters of Princess Alice); and Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein (daughters of Princess Helena).

Group photo taken at Osborne House on 23rd July 1885: (back row, left to right) Prince Alexander of Battenberg, Princess Louise of Wales, Princess Irene of Hesse, Princess Victoria of Wales, Prince Franz Josef of Battenberg, (middle row, left to right) Princess Maud of Wales, Princess Alix of Hesse, Princesses Marie Louise and Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, (front row, left to right) Princesses Victoria Melita, Marie and Alexandra of Edinburgh, Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

When the service was over, the newlyweds and their guests returned to Osborne House. While guests got settled, the couple, Queen Victoria and other important guests went to sign/ witness the signing of the marriage registry. Afterwards, a luncheon was held in tents on the lawn, with one tent for royal guests and another for everyone else. At 5pm, Beatrice and Henry left Osborne for their honeymoon at nearby Quarr Abbey House. Later that evening, a dinner party was held on Osbornes lawn for remaining guests, who later gathered on the terrace to watch a firework display from yachts in Osborne Bay.

Following their short honeymoon, Beatrice and Henry soon returned to the Queens side. Many members of the royal household noted how strong the couples love was for one another, with some people suggesting it was stronger than Victoria and Albert’s had been twenty years earlier. With a new sense of love in the house, life at court became ‘lighter’ and more fun was allowed to be had. During the early months of her marriage, Princess Beatrice sadly suffered a miscarriage. However, the following year she gave birth to the couples first child, Prince Alexander, on 23rd November 1886. In total, she went on to have a total of three sons and one daughter.

Left to right: Prince Alexander of Battenberg, standing; Queen Victoria, seated; Princess Victoria Eugénie of Battenberg, in her father’s arms; Prince Henry of Battenberg, standing; Princess Beatrice, seated, holding Prince Leopold on her lap. Dated November 1889 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

At the time of their marriage, Queen Victoria had made it clear that the couple had to remain by her side; but over time she began allowing them to undergo short trips to visit Henry’s family in Germany. Over time, Henry continued to feel trapped by his limited workload. Queen Victoria could see what was happening and created Henry Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1889. Although his new role gave him purpose, the Prince longed to continue his military career and in 1895, he managed to convince Queen Victoria to let him join the Ashanti expedition fighting in the Anglo-Asante war. On 6th December, Beatrice waved her husband goodbye for what would be the final time. On 22nd January 1896, Beatrice was waiting for Henry to arrive at Madeira, when she received a telegram stating that Henry had contacted malaria and died two days earlier, while onboard HMS Blonde, just off the coast of Sierra Leone. He was aged just 37.

Queen Victoria sitting with Princess Beatrice, Prince Henry of Battenberg, Prince Leopold of Battenberg, Prince Alexander of Battenberg, Princess Ena of Battenberg, along with two Indian attendants stood around the table. Taken at Windsor Castle, dated 1895 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

After ten years of marriage, Beatrice was now widowed. Devastated by his loss, she withdrew from court life for a month of mourning. She was not back to being completely under Victorias control. Following her month away, Beatrice returned her mothers side and continued to serve her until Victoria died in January 1901. During her later years, Beatrice moved into Kensington Palace, where she lived until her death on 26th October 1944. On 27th August 1955, her body was moved from St George’s Chapel to be placed in a joint tomb alongside Henry at St Mildred’s Church, where they had been married seventy years earlier.

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