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Victoria, Princess Royal and Empress Frederick

Victoria, the Princess Royal of Great Britain and Ireland, later Crown Princess of Prussia (and of Germany from 1871) and the Empress Friedrich (21 November 1840-5 August 1901) was the eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. She married Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, who briefly reigned as the German Emperor Friedrich III in the spring and summer of 1888. Her eldest son, Wilhelm II was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia. She was the last Princess Royal to date to marry into a foreign royal house.

Her Royal Highness The Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa was born at Buckingham Palace. Styled Princess Royal from birth, she was heir presumptive to the British throne until the birth of her brother, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, on 9 November 1841. She was always known to her family as Vicky.

The education of the Princess Royal was closely supervised by her parents. She was precocious and intelligent, unlike her brother the Prince of Wales. She was taught to read and write before the age of five by her governess Lady Lyttelton and to speak French by her French nursery maid. The Princess Royal learned French and German from various governesses and science, literature, Latin, and history by Sara Ann Hildyard. Prince Albert tutored her in politics and philosophy.

In 1851, the Princess Royal met her future husband, His Royal Highness Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (18 October 1831-15 June 1888), when he and his parents were invited to London by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to attend the opening of the Great Exhibition. At the time, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, the son of Prince Wilhelm of Prussia and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar, was third in line to the Prussian throne. The couple were engaged in 1855 when Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, known to his family as Fritz, was on a visit to Balmoral. The Prussian Court and Buckingham Palace publicly announced the engagement on 19 May 1857. The couple were married, at Queen Victoria's insistence, at the Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace, on 25 January 1858. The marriage was both a love match and a dynastic alliance. The Queen and Prince Albert hoped that Vicky's marriage to the future king of Prussia would cement close ties between London and Berlin, and possibly lead to the emergence of a unified and liberal Germany.

Prince and Princess Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia had eight children:

In January 1861, on the death of his childless uncle Frederick William IV of Prussia and the accession of his father as King Wilhelm I, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm became Crown Prince of Prussia. The new Crown Prince and Crown Princess, however, were politically isolated; their liberal and Anglophile views clashed with the authoritarian rule of the Prussian minister-president, Otto von Bismarck.

During the three Wars of German Unification--the 1864 Prussian-Danish War, the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, and the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War -- the Crown Prince and Crown Princess strongly identified with the cause of Prussia and the North German Confederation. Their sympathies created a rift among Queen Victoria's extended family, since the Prince of Wales was married to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the elder daughter of Christian IX of Denmark, who was also reigning duke of the disputed territories of Schleswig and Holstein. At Versailles on 18 January 1871, the victorious princes of the North German Confederation proclaimed a German Empire with King Wilhelm I of Prussia as the hereditary German Emperor (Deutscher Kaiser) with the style Imperial and Royal Majesty (Kaiserliche und Königliche Majestät); Fritz and Vicky became Crown Prince and Crown Princess of the German Empire with the style Imperial and Royal Highness (Kaiserliche und Königliche Hoheit). On the death of his father on 9 March 1888, the Crown Prince ascended the throne as the Emperor Friedrich III and Vicky adopted the title and style of the Empress Friedrich. Friedrich III, however, was terminally ill with throat cancer and died after reigning 88 days.

The widowed Empress Friedrich lived in retirement at Friedrichshof, a country house she built near Kronberg. Politically, she remained a liberal and because of this, her already strained relationship with Emperor Wilhelm II deteriorated. In Berlin, the Empress Friedrich established schools for the higher education of girls and for nurses' training. She patronized the arts and learning, becoming one of the organizers of the 1872 Industrial Art Exhibition.

Throughout her married life and widowhood, the Empress Friedrich kept in close touch with other members of the British Royal Family, particularly her eldest brother, the future Edward VII. She maintained a regular correspondence with her mother. According to the Royal Encylopedia, some 3,777 letters from Queen Victoria to her eldest daughter have been catalogued, as well as more than 4,000 from daughter to mother.

The Empress Friedrich died of cancer of the spine at Friedrichshof in August 1901. She was interred next to her husband at the royal mausoleum of Friedenskirche at Potsdam on 13 August.


Marlene A. Eilers, Queen Victoria's Descendants (New York: Atlantic International: 1997).

"The Marriage of the Princess Royal," The Times, 26 January 1858, p. 7, column A.