Mr. Packard takes us into the privileged, complex, and often tortured lives of Queen Victoria’s five daughters: Victoria, Alice, Louise, Helena, and Beatrice. Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert had nine children, five of them daughters. Here, we get an inner glimpse into the lives of five royal daughters of the world’s most powerful monarchy. The inheritance may seem idyllic from the outside, but Mr. Packard shows us that being a daughter of Queen Victoria was usually perilous and very often sad. Princess Victoria, the Princess Royal, marries into the Prussian court, while Alice marries Prince Louise of Hesse (and becomes the mother of the Tsaritsa Alexandra and the great-grandmother of Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) and dedicates her life to helping the unfortunate and sick. Louise takes the unusual step of marrying into domestic nobility, the Dukedom of Argyll. Her husband becomes Governor General of Canada for a time, but the marriage is not a close one and Louise is the only child of Victoria’s not to have children of her own. Helena marries Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, and they remain in Britain as she serves the queen as an unofficial secretary. Youngest daughter Beatrice also remains a perpetual servant to her mother but still manages to marry Prince Henry of Battenberg.
Victoria, unfortunately, saw her children more as pawns than individuals, and none were ever good enough to threaten Albert’s place in her heart, especially after his untimely death. She objectified, criticized, and browbeat the girls who had no other option than to largely capitulate to their mother’s iron will. Victoria used her grief over Albert’s loss as a hammer to force her feelings onto others, regardless of logic. Even weddings were somber affairs during Victoria’s mourning period. Anything that did not conform to her strict demands of perpetual mourning were eliminated or manipulated. Ironically, the popular female monarch destroyed any spark of intellect, individuality, or drive her younger girls possessed that didn’t directly benefit herself. She adamantly opposed women’s suffrage and gave little thought to how her female subjects lived lives so different from her own.
What the matriarch didn’t complicate, the interconnected web of marriage alliances did. That many daughters married into a limited pool of Protestant royals, many of whom were mortal enemies, tore gaping holes between the ties that bound Victoria’s brood. As if that wasn’t enough, Victoria’s parental shortfalls were passed onto the next generation when Vicky, in particular, mimicked her mother’s harsh treatment of her offspring, thereby earning their lifelong enmity. This caused events that, in the case of Vicky’s oldest son Kaiser Wilhelm, had far flung geopolitical implications.
This is a highly detailed look at the legacies of Victoria’s daughters, which were complicated, far reaching, and long lasting. The telling is rather dry, rather encyclopedic in nature, although there are a few attempts at humor. What comes through is a tangled web, as fraught political alliances, the loss of family members, war, and rigid family expectations draw nooses around each of the girls, leaving few untouched. Thorough almost to the extreme, this one is great for historians, novelists, and royal enthusiasts but those looking for a more narrative style will leave disappointed.
Amazon link is here.