Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on 10 February 1840. Within weeks of their wedding, she was pregnant. Between November of that year and April 1857, the royal couple had nine children; four princes and five princesses.
Although she was besotted with Albert, maternal affections did not always come naturally to Victoria, who expected unswerving obedience from all her offspring in both infancy and adulthood. The family was nevertheless very close and the premature death of Albert on 11 December 1861 devastated all of them. Eight of the children went on to marry members of other prominent royal families and collectively they provided Victoria with forty grandchildren, earning her the nickname ‘The Grandmother of Europe’.
(Pictured: Victoria and Albert, and children, painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846).
Victoria, Princess Royal
Born: 21 November 1840
Married: Prince Frederick William of Prussia
Died: 5 August 1901
Writing about the birth of her first child, Victoria remarked that she and Albert were ‘sadly disappointed’ to have a girl rather than a boy, though they were grateful that the child was in good health. Known as Vicky, the Princess Royal’s full name was Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise. She was highly intelligent and her father doted on her. Vicky married Frederick of Prussia (Fritz) at the age of 17, an alliance that was by no means without political motivation, though the couple were very much in love. Both Vicky and her mother were prolific letter-writers and exchanged around 8,000 letters in their lifetimes. Vicky and Fritz had eight children, the eldest of whom became Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Albert, Prince of Wales
Born: 9 November 1841
Married: Princess Alexandra of Denmark
Died: 6 May 1910
Unlike his older sister, the Prince of Wales was not endowed with superior intellect as a child and was often unfavourably compared to her. Bertie, as he was called, had a brief affair with a prostitute called Nellie Clifden in 1861, a scandalous occurrence which subsequently led his mother to blame him for the death of his father later that year. Nevertheless, a match was made with Alexandra of Denmark and the young couple married in 1863. They had six children, five of whom survived infancy. Bertie undertook numerous foreign tours as the heir apparent to the throne and was widely praised for his diplomacy. Following the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, he ascended the throne as King Edward VII.
Born: 25 April 1843
Married: Prince Louis of Hesse and the Rhine
Died: 14 December 1878
As a young woman, Princess Alice gave her mother immense support with official royal duties, particularly following the death of her father Prince Albert. She too married a German prince, Louis of Hesse, and Victoria was horrified when she learned that Alice had chosen to breastfeed her first baby. The Queen vented her feelings by naming one of the royal cows ‘Princess Alice’. Alice became heavily involved in nursing during the Prussian wars, and hospital provisions in Hesse were much improved as a result of her efforts. Weakened by tireless hard work and the deaths of two of her seven children, Alice passed away at the age of just 35, on what was the seventeenth anniversary of her father’s death.
Born: 6 August 1844
Married: Marie, Grand Duchess of Russia
Died: 30 July 1900
Known as Affie, Prince Alfred Ernest Albert was always a favourite with his father. He was of a nautical persuasion and joined the Navy in 1858, although his duties later meant he was not present at the time of Prince Albert’s death. His marriage to Grand Duchess Marie of Russia occasionally caused friction with the rest of his family, as Marie believed her imperial title should give her precedence over the other princesses. Affie inherited the German duchy of Saxe-Coburg from his father’s brother Ernest in 1893, shortly after his naval career had ended. He sorely missed life at sea and increasing marital difficulties combined with the death of his only son to render his last years unhappy ones. Affie died around six months before Queen Victoria, at the end of July 1900.
Born: 25 May 1846
Married: Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein
Died: 9 June 1923
Helena, Victoria and Albert’s third daughter, was often called Lenchen. She had a strong constitution and like her favourite brother Affie she was practically minded, with a love of outdoor activities. When Helena wed Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein in 1866, their first home together was at Frogmore, near to the Queen’s principal residence at Windsor, as her mother wanted at least one married daughter living close by. Helena was heavily engaged in charity work throughout her life and was president of the Royal British Nurses’ Association. She and Christian celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1916, a unique achievement among Victoria and Albert’s children.
(Pictured: Queen Victoria’s five daughters in mourning, next to a bust of their father, 1862).
Born: 18 March 1848
Married: John Campbell, Marquis of Lorne
Died: 3 December 1939
Widely considered the prettiest of the five princesses, Louise demonstrated artistic talent from an early age and as a young woman she attended the National Art Training School of Kensington. She was the first female sculptor to have a statue erected in a public place and it was (perhaps unsurprisingly) a likeness of Queen Victoria. Louise’s marriage to John Campbell, a Scottish marquess and Member of Parliament, was not always a happy alliance and it has been suggested that he had homosexual leanings. Louise was unable to have children and was consequently the only one of Victoria and Albert’s children to not become a parent, but she remained healthy well into old age. She was keenly interested in women’s rights and has generally been remembered as the most forward-thinking member of the family.
(Pictured: the Princesses Alice, Louise, Helena and Prince Leopold, together with the queen’s personal servant, John Brown).
Born: 1 May 1850
Married: Princess Louise of Prussia
Died: 16 January 1942
Arthur William Patrick Albert (pictured in 1907) was his mother’s favourite son. From early childhood it was evident that his passion lay in soldiering and he joined the army in 1866. He was created Duke of Connaught and Strathearn in 1874 and outside of his military career he was a keen footballer. From 1911 to 1916 Arthur was Governor General of Canada, a post his brother-in-law John Campbell had held some thirty years previously. He had three children with his wife, Princess Louise of Prussia, and died at the age of 91, making him Victoria and Albert’s longest-lived son by over twenty years.
Born: 7 April 1853
Married: Princess Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont
Died: 28 March 1884
Victoria and Albert’s youngest son, Prince Leopold, was the first-known haemophiliac in the British royal family. This rare disease was probably caused by a genetic mutation in his mother. After a largely confined and restricted childhood, he rebelled against Victoria by studying at Oxford University and subsequently did much to champion education and the arts in Britain. Although Victoria remained anxious for Leopold to lead a quiet life, he travelled in North America and married Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont in 1882. His fragile health meant he was not destined to reach an advanced age, however, and shortly before his 31st birthday he suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs in Cannes. Unusually for a haemophiliac in the nineteenth century, Leopold fathered two children; Alice and Charles.
Born: 14 April 1857
Married: Prince Henry of Battenberg
Died: 26 October 1944
Princess Beatrice was just 4-years-old when her father died in late 1861. Following his death, Victoria clung to Beatrice more tightly than any of her other children and this hold on ‘Baby’ was not truly relinquished until the Queen’s passing in January 1901. Victoria was reluctant to let Beatrice marry and when she finally did make a match, with Henry of Battenberg in 1885, it was on the condition that the couple would reside permanently with the Queen. A widow before she was forty, two of Beatrice’s four children also predeceased her. She transcribed Victoria’s extensive journals after her mother’s death, editing as she went and destroying the original manuscripts in the process. Beatrice was the last of Victoria and Albert’s nine children to die, passing away in 1944.
Jemma is the author of The Holocaust: History In An Hour, published by William Collins.