Desert Isle Keeper
A Most English Princess
When I opened up A Most English Princess to begin I was a little miffed at myself. Over 500 pages on Princess Vicky (eldest daughter of Queen Victoria) – what was I thinking to pick this book to review!?! Well it turns out to have been a good decision after all. A Most English Princess is a most fascinating read and those 512 pages just flew by! The novel is listed as Biographical Historical Fiction, so many readers will be aware of most of Vicky’s story but there will be some parts that have been imagined as well. I am not a student of Victorian history but I found that this narrative matches well with what I have previously read about Victoria and Albert’s family.
The story begins when Vicky is seven years old and we see what her young life is like. Albert is an adoring, if demanding father, Victoria a self-centered, critical mother. Vicky idolizes her father, and they spend time together reading poetry and debating the political and social climate of the day. Vicky is like a sponge, soaking up all the knowledge and opinions Albert shares with her. Albert, originally from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, yearns for a united Germany that follows the English example of a parliamentary government. In Vicky, he has the perfect vessel to put into motion the changes he envisions in Europe. When Prince Friedrich (Fritz) from Prussia (the largest and strongest of the German states) visits England, Albert sees a natural ally and he starts imagining Vicky as Fritz’s bride. A few years later, at the tender age of seventeen, Vicky marries Fritz and heads to Prussia.
For Vicky and Fritz their marriage is a love match, but the Prussians think it’s a disaster – they see the English as bossy, not understanding Prussian ideals, and always trying to interfere in Prussia’s government. Vicky also has to adjust to life with Fritz’s cold and sometimes nasty parents. After her mostly loving home in England, Prussia is a disappointment to her. But, Albert didn’t raise a quitter, so Vicky gets busy trying to change Prussia for what she considers “the better”. Fritz shares her dreams for a united Germany, but he is pulled in many different directions – his loyalty to his undeserving father, his role in the army, and his commitment to Vicky (and Albert’s) ideals.
Vicky is also busy with motherhood. Her first child (of eight) arrives one year after her marriage. The birth is not an easy one and the child (a son they nickname Willy, who later becomes Kaiser Wilhelm) is born with a lame arm. Looking at the birth from today’s perspective, the reader also has to wonder if there was some brain damage as well. Vicky is devastated by her son’s issues, and although they try many different procedures (often painful for Willy) to repair the arm, nothing works. Vicky worries that Prussia will never accept a king with a lame arm – how will he ride a horse or fight in the army. Sadly, Vicky’s worry for her son puts a barrier between the two of them that is never removed.
Vicky goes on to have seven more children but all the while keeps her toes in the political turmoil of Prussia. It’s an uphill battle for her as the distrust of all things English continues, the minister Otto Von Bismarck has opposing views on German unification, and Fritz’s father, the King, has little respect for Fritz or Vicky. She longs for the day when Fritz is king and they can finally put Albert’s plans into motion.
A Most English Princess ends in 1871 while Prussia is celebrating its victory in the Franco-Prussian War – a victory that will begin the unification of Germany (although not as Albert imagined it!). It seems an odd place to end the story although it would easily take another 500 pages to reach her death in 1901. The prologue and epilogue fill in some of the gaps but unless the reader is familiar with Vicky’s story, they may be left wondering ‘what happens next?’ In this retelling of her history, I found myself feeling more compassion for Vicky than I have in the past. She is truly caught between her father’s hope for Prussia and the reality of Prussia. What Albert has asked her to do is really too much – although Vicky capably takes the reins handed to her and is a tour-de-force herself. And her mother… well, it is always interesting to read about Queen Victoria and her relationship to her children. I am reminded that perhaps some people ought not to have them!
One thing in this book that I am truly hoping is fact not fiction is Fritz and Vicky’s love and sex life. It is presented as very robust and pleasing to both. With all the other stuff in Prussia that Vicky had to contend with, I sincerely hope that she did have a stellar sex life! I’m glad the author left the door open for the reader and we could see this side of Vicky and Fritz’s marriage. They really got the short end of the stick in so many ways so at least they had this and their unending love for each other.
In some ways, reading A Most English Princess is like watching a train wreck – you can’t pull your eyes away and yet it’s painful to witness. Many readers will know how the story ends and reading about Vicky’s years as a teen and young bride and mother gives us a good understanding of why things in Europe (especially around Prussia) were so volatile and, in the end, disastrous for the whole world. One can’t help but wonder how things might have been different if Willy hadn’t had his issues, or Vicky had been a different type of mother, or Fritz’s parents were more loving and responsive to his ideas… I could go on and on. Reading this book reminded me of how the fate of millions often rests on the bad decisions of a few.
Kudos to Ms. McHugh for giving us a fresh perspective on the life of Vicky, Princess Royal. I teetered between an A- and a B+ and finally went with the DIK – I had a hard time putting the book down to make dinner and, even though I knew how the story ended, A Most English Princess held my interest from prologue to epilogue.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
Visit our Amazon Storefront