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Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria's Youngest Daughter

Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria's Youngest Daughter

by Matthew Dennison

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Beatrice was the last child born to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Her father died when she was four and Victoria came to depend on her youngest daughter absolutely, and also demanded from her complete submission. Beatrice succumbed to her mother's obsessive love, so that by the time she was in her late teens she was her constant companion. Although Victoria


Beatrice was the last child born to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Her father died when she was four and Victoria came to depend on her youngest daughter absolutely, and also demanded from her complete submission. Beatrice succumbed to her mother's obsessive love, so that by the time she was in her late teens she was her constant companion. Although Victoria tried to prevent Beatrice from even so much as thinking of love, her guard slipped when Beatrice met Prince Henry of Battenberg. Sadly, Beatrice inherited the hemophilia gene from her mother, which she passed on to two of her four sons and which her daughter Victoria Eugenia, in marrying Alfonso XIII of Spain, in turn passed on to the Spanish royal family. This new examination will restore her to her proper prominence-as Queen Victoria's second consort.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

After the death of her beloved Prince Albert, Queen Victoria, an only child with a pathological fear of being alone, turned her ninth child, Beatrice, into her permanent companion, infantilizing her and robbing her of any chance of a normal life. The consequences for Beatrice were difficult: as Dennison shows, over the years the spunky young Beatrice turned docile and acquiescent. Some of her siblings resented her proximity to the seat of power. Victoria even determined never to let her companion marry, a vow she abandoned only when Beatrice, at age 27, fell in love with the German Prince Henry of Battenberg, who agreed to abandon his home and career and move in with his wife and mother-in-law. He died 10 years later, in the Ashanti War in Sierra Leone, where he had traveled with British forces in an effort to exert some personal independence. Beatrice mourned, then resumed her duties as her mother's companion. Dennison, a British journalist, does a fine job of laying out facts, but he doesn't spare readers his opinion. Though he's not impressed with Victoria's parenting skills and lack of consideration for Beatrice's emotional well-being, his compassion for his subjects is obvious. That, as much as his detailed portraits, will keep readers engaged. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Journalist Dennison has written an entertaining biography of Queen Victoria's youngest child, a Royal known, if at all, for a life devoted to her widowed mother. Beatrice was four when her father, Prince Albert, died and her mother plunged into lifelong mourning. Called Baby for most of her childhood, Beatrice was brought up to believe that she must always stay with Victoria, who displayed considerable selfishness by ensuring that her daughter had no close friends. Marriage, the queen determined, was completely out of the question. After all, as she wrote to her eldest (married) daughter, "Youngest daughters have a duty to widowed mothers." And to another correspondent the queen wrote, "I'll take care that She never marries." When Beatrice, at the advanced age of 27, falls in love with Prince Henry of Battenberg, readers will eagerly turn the pages to see what happens. This well-written biography of an often overlooked Victorian princess offers a fascinating look at a way of life nearly impossible to imagine. Strongly recommended for public libraries where biographies, history, and royalty are popular. (Illustrations not seen.)
—Elizabeth Mellett

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
Dull account of the dull life of Beatrice, the final child of Queen Victoria and her beloved Albert. In his book-length debut, British journalist Dennison strives mightily to find some glitter, maybe even some smut, on this ordinary rock in the English royal garden, whom Victoria designated almost from infancy to be her devoted confidante. About all he can discover is that Beatrice (1857-1944), apparently an attractive and bright child, played well the role that history and heredity gave her. The author early and often festoons his skimpy narrative tree with strings of cliches: Golden days are threatened by clouds of sorrow; a stout heart serves her well; a silk dress shimmers; shadows of the past haunt everyone. The queen comes off as profoundly insecure and grasping, Beatrice as doting and largely devoid of personality. Tutored and educated at home, the princess enjoyed writing and eventually published several books, including a couple of translations from German texts. Victoria, who steered some interested men away from Beatrice, eventually allowed her to marry-but only if she would continue to serve as Royal Lapdog. Prince Henry of Battenberg, nicknamed Liko, agreed to those terms, then became so bored that he spent months alone on his yacht before heading off on a military adventure in Africa, where he contracted an illness that cost him his life. Once the queen died, Beatrice's stock fell, and she lived many of her final 40 years in an apartment in Kensington Palace where she expurgated Victoria's journals, then burned the originals, an egregious act that Dennison finds ways to defend. The author's first clause-"It should not have happened"-refers to Beatrice's unexpected birth; thewords also apply to this soporific biography.
From the Publisher

“Fascinating.” —Vogue

“[Dennison's] compassion for his subjects is obvious.” —Publishers Weekly

“Dennison emerges as a natural storyteller . . . a hugely satisfying biography. . . . Beautifully written, its detail meticulous . . . a confident and disarmingly impressive debut.” —The Daily Telegraph (UK)

“A colourful peephole into Victorian times, as well as the peculiar ways of royalty.” —The Herald (UK)

“Dennison tells a sorry, complex story with tact and sympathy.” —The Times (UK)

“An engaglingly sympathetic, balanced and intelligent biography.” —The Spectator (UK)

“An engrossing biography . . . Beautifully written.” —Tatler (UK)

“Matthew Dennison has researched assiduously in the Royal Archives at Windsor. He writes well.” —Independent on Sunday (UK)

“This is an old fashioned biography about an old-fashioned subject. At a time when non-fiction writers are desperately thinking up fancy new ways to tell stories, there's something rather comforting about a narrative that has no embarrassment in starting at the beginning.” —The Guardian (UK)

“It is an enthralling story, not just of a mother-daughter relationship but that of a monarch and her favourite subject.” —Majesty Magazine (book of the month) (UK)

“Dennison's biography is an engrossing tale of a mother and daughter who were also a queen and her subject.” —The Good Book Guide (UK)

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.75(w) x 9.14(h) x 1.28(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Last Princess

The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria's Youngest Daughter

By Matthew Dennison

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2007 Matthew Dennison
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8138-5


'It is a fine child'

* * *

It should not have happened, and never would have done had medical counsel prevailed. In February of the previous year, 1856, Sir James Clark – appointed Queen Victoria's physician on the first day of her reign – had confided to his diary, 'I feel at times uneasy. Regarding the Queen's mind, unless she is kept quiet ... the time will come when she will be in danger.'

It was Easter Monday, 1857. The Queen had been married to Prince Albert for eighteen years. She had given birth to eight children, ranging in age from seventeen to four. She was six weeks away from her thirty-eighth birthday, and twelve years short of the age at which her grandfather George III had collapsed on to the shoulder of one of his seven surviving sons and exclaimed, 'I wish to God I may die, for I am going to be mad.' The Queen was a woman of intense emotions and violent passions. She also inclined to feelings of deep unhappiness and unsettlement both during pregnancy and after the birth of her children, later confiding to a married daughter the result of many pregnancies in quick succession: 'One becomes so worn out and one's nerves so miserable.' Sir James had made known to Prince Albert his fears about the Queen's mental well-being: further post-natal disquiet, he believed, could provide the weight that tipped the scales. The only safeguard was for the Queen to have no more children. What's more, as the doctor also reported, his patient shared his fears: 'The Queen felt sure that if she had another child she would sink under it.'

Sir James's appeal ought to have proved persuasive. For Prince Albert the spectre of Queen Victoria's Hanoverian inheritance – the family's chequered and all too recent history of madness and badness – loomed ever large. Yet on 13 April, fourteen months after Sir James's expression of anxiety and a fortnight later than her doctors had predicted, Queen Victoria went into labour for the ninth and last time.

In the delivery room at Buckingham Palace, the Queen wore the shift she had worn at each of her eight previous confinements, being superstitious and sentimental about such things. Behind her now was the unhappiness of this last pregnancy: the indulgence of grief she had unleashed over the death in November from paralytic seizures of her troublesome half-brother Charles of Leiningen; her habitual irritation at the restrictions imposed by her condition – in this case, including being prevented from 'showing off on the ice' with Prince Albert on the skating pond at Windsor in December; and the deep sense of degradation she had told the Prince her inflated physical condition caused her. Long forgotten were her reservations, once so forcibly expressed to her uncle Leopold of Belgium, about becoming 'mamma d'une nombreuse famille'. The Queen may not have felt, as she had seventeen years earlier, giving birth to her first child, the Princess Royal, 'so strong and active', but she drew comfort from the presence at her bedside, as on that occasion, of her much-beloved husband, the accoucheur Dr Charles Locock, and Mrs Lilly, midwife and monthly nurse, who had attended the Queen at every delivery. In a room close by, helpless now despite his expressed misgivings, Sir James Clark was joined by Dr Robert Ferguson; in due course both would be co-signatories with Charles Locock of the official bulletin announcing the birth. Members of the Royal Household gathered alongside the Lord Chancellor, Lord Cranworth, the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, and the Bishop of London. Prayers were offered in English and in German. Also present was the physician to the Crown Prince of Prussia, Dr Wegner. On 25 January of the following year the Crown Prince would marry the Queen's eldest daughter. An heir would be expected of the union. 'While German oculists and even surgeons are cleverer than ours, – there is not a doubt that in the particular line of childbirth and women's illnesses the English are the best in the World, more skilful and much more delicate,' the Queen would write later. For the Princess Royal's future comfort and safety Dr Wegner must observe and note how such things were managed in England.

Management on this occasion was slow. 'The labour was lingering,' recorded Dr John Snow in his casebook. It was also, up to a point, pioneering. Snow was a GP who acted intermittently as an obstetrician. He discovered the mode of spread of epidemic cholera and, significantly for Queen Victoria, became an early advocate of anaesthesia, publishing 'On the Inhalation of the Vapour of Ether in Surgical Operations' less than a year after the first recorded British use of an anaesthetic. In 1853, three months after easing with anaesthesia the extraction of a tooth for one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, Snow had administered chloroform to Queen Victoria at the birth of Prince Leopold – to be precise, fifty-three minutes' worth of what the Queen described as 'that blessed Chloroform ... soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure'. The result, Snow noted with satisfaction, was that 'the Queen appeared very cheerful and well, expressing herself much gratified with the effect of the chloroform'. So gratified, in fact, that she did not consider enduring her final confinement without it.

Snow's task was a controversial one. His use of chloroform in 1853 had been roundly denounced by the leading medical journal The Lancet: '... Her Majesty during her last labour was placed under the influence of chloroform, an agent which has unquestionably caused instantaneous death in a considerable number of cases ... In no case could it be justifiable to administer chloroform in perfectly ordinary labour.' Not only the medical profession but the public, too, feared for the Queen's safety; and some disapproved on religious grounds of her championing apparently painless childbirth. Snow's presence in the delivery room represented for the rising doctor both an honour and a burden. During the birth of Prince Leopold, Dr Locock had complained that the use of chloroform, whatever its palliative effect, prolonged the intervals between contractions and retarded labour. Given the Queen's enthusiasm, and its wholehearted seconding by Prince Albert, Locock's reservations counted for little. More worrying for Snow was that exactly a week before his summons to the palace he had experienced his first anaesthesia death.

Happily, neither the Queen nor her two-weeks-tardy child died. Early on Monday afternoon the familiar pains began. They continued, without sign of progress, into the evening. Doctors Locock and Snow were in attendance when, at around two o'clock the following morning, came the onset of labour proper. Throughout the early hours the Queen's contractions proceeded – but still with no indication of imminent birth. The Queen's suffering was considerable and it was Prince Albert, sitting beside his wife, who offered the first relief, 'a very little chloroform on a handkerchief, about 9 and 10 o'clock'. At the same time Dr Locock gave a dose of powdered ergot, eager, as during Leopold's birth, to keep things moving along; he would offer a second dose at noon with greater success. Despite her suffering Snow adhered to his usual practice and withheld administering chloroform in earnest until the onset of the second stage of labour. He then folded a handkerchief into a cone, poured on to it ten minims of chloroform and, with each contraction, placed the cone over the Queen's face – the 'open-drop' technique of anaesthetic application that Snow had by this stage of his career largely forsaken, even suggesting it might be dangerous. (In the Queen's case, however, this was the method he had used four years previously: its familiarity may have been intended to reassure her.)

The Queen was tired. She had not slept. Already it was nearly twenty-four hours since she had experienced first preliminary pains. The final weeks of her pregnancy had not relaxed her: feeling harried by political concerns, in March she had instructed Sir James Clark to inform the Prime Minister that she was in no condition to endure a change of ministry; at the same time, her anxiety about the inadequacy as heir of her eldest son Bertie, Prince of Wales, continued to grow. Listlessly she had moved between her bed and a sofa, carried by Prince Albert or, during his absences, a footman called Lockwood. Now she asked for more chloroform, complaining that it did not take away the pain.

Her complaints were probably justified: the dose the Queen was receiving from Snow was only two-thirds of the strength he had administered during Leopold's birth. But Snow, sobered by his experience of the previous week, did not increase the measure. Between contractions the Queen dozed, slipping in and out of consciousness. When at last, nearing one o'clock, Dr Locock saw the baby's head resting on the perineum and asked the Queen 'to make a bearing-down effort', she replied that she could not. Snow withheld chloroform for three or four contractions, the Queen rallied, 'and the royal patient made an effort which expelled the head, a little chloroform being given just as the head passed'. There was, Dr Snow went on to report, 'an interval of several minutes before the child was entirely born; it, however, cried in the meantime. The placenta was expelled about ten minutes afterwards.' The time was quarter to two – as Prince Albert wrote to a correspondent the following day, some thirteen hours after labour began.

A fortnight later, Queen Victoria confided to her Journal, 'I was amply rewarded and forgot all I had gone through when I heard dearest Albert say "It is a fine child, and a girl!"' For the fifth and final time, the Queen had given birth to a daughter – Victoria and Albert's 'Baby', as she was to remain for all her mother's life, their last and for the Queen the ultimate child, the last princess.

Prince Albert's letter to the Princess Royal's soon-to-be mother-in-law, Princess Augusta of Prussia, was written from the Queen's bedside on 15 April: 'Mother and baby are well. Baby practices her scales like a good prima donna before a performance and has a good voice! Victoria counts the hours and minutes like a prisoner. The children want to know what their sister is to be called, and dispute which names will sound best.'

Laconically, Dr Snow had recorded the Queen's immediate physical reaction to the princess's birth and his administering of anaesthetic: 'The Queen's recovery was very favourable.' The Queen's own comment was characteristically more emphatic, its discernibly triumphant tone indicative of the degree of anxiety she had suffered during this ninth pregnancy: 'I have felt better and stronger this time than I have ever done before.' In her relief at having once more endured unscathed the hated business of childbirth, the Queen allowed herself a moment of hoodwinking congratulation.

But on some matters the doctors were not to be overruled and the Queen remained in bed – convalescing 'like a prisoner' – while Prince Albert returned to the business of state, the Queen's correspondence private and official, and the eight older royal children. On the same day as he wrote to Princess Augusta, the Prince received from the Queen's octogenarian aunt, Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, a letter thanking him for the invalid's sofa he had earlier sent her, and '[thanking] God that dear Victoria is going on well'. The Duchess – the last of the daughters of George III – was slipping inexorably towards death. While the Queen rested at Buckingham Palace, her husband and several of their children visited this survivor of a previous royal generation. 'The Prince Consort and the junior members of the Royal Family have been out daily,' reported the Illustrated London News, 'generally calling at Gloucester House to enquire after the illustrious and venerable Princess whose dissolution is hourly expected'. It would be nearly two weeks before that 'dissolution' occurred. In the meantime, the Queen herself had visited the tall house to the west of Hyde Park, accompanied by her second daughter Princess Alice; and the royal children, disputing what their newest sister was to be called, had been given a clue to one of the infant's names.

To the last princess, though she slept in a silk-lined cradle, its canopy like the frame of a four-poster bed, with fringed silk hangings caught up by swags and knots of striped silk cord (she was photographed gazing from this cradle, a tiny baby, by Caldesi), attached none of the historical or dynastic significance of her eldest siblings. Soon the Princess Royal would marry the heir to the throne of Prussia, cementing Anglo-German amity; Bertie, the princess's eldest brother and the only heir apparent ever born to a reigning British queen, would one day succeed his mother as Edward VII. But the last princess, ninth in line to the throne, with eight older siblings, could never expect to reign at home, and with four older sisters would hardly be wanted for a grand match abroad. Her birth gave private pleasure; despite its announcement by salutes of guns in Green Park and at the Tower of London, its public import was limited.

This was not, however, to be the line the Queen adopted concerning her youngest child. At the christening of the Prince of Wales, at St George's Chapel, Windsor in January 1842, the Queen had presided over a banquet and firework display; the christening cake had measured eight feet in diameter; the celebrations had been appropriately princely in expense and extent. For her youngest daughter, the Queen had devised an occasion she afterwards described as 'very brilliant and nice'. In the private chapel of Buckingham Palace, on 16 June, the last princess received from the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted in his task by a further six clergymen including the Bishop of London, who had been present at the princess's birth, the names Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore. An anthem specially written for the occasion – 'Princess Beatrice's Anthem' – was sung, the start of a lifelong association with music. The baby wore the Honiton lace christening gown the Queen had commissioned for the Princess Royal's baptism in 1841 and which had been worn in turn by all of the Queen's babies; Beatrice's forehead was anointed with holy water from the font designed by her father Prince Albert, an elaborate, floriferous design made in silver gilt by London silversmiths E. J. & W. Barnard. The Queen was led into the chapel not by her husband but by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, then on a visit to England. Lunch followed in the palace ballroom. The Queen sat between her daughter's fiance, the Crown Prince of Prussia, and the same Archduke – later, with tragic consequences, Emperor of Mexico – who made on her a markedly positive impression. 'I cannot say how much we like the Archduke,' she wrote afterwards to her uncle Leopold, soon to be Maximilian's father-in-law. 'He is so charming, so clever, natural, kind and amiable, so English in his feelings and likings.' Such a liking did the Queen conceive for her Austrian guest at Beatrice's christening that, following his death in 1868, she commissioned Albert Graefle to copy for her Maximilian's portrait by Winterhalter.

Though a lifelong favourite of the Queen's, the Crown Prince did not inspire such a eulogy on this occasion, overshadowed by his imperial counterpart. Fritz of Prussia and the Princess Royal were two of baby Beatrice's three sponsors (the third was her maternal grandmother, the Duchess of Kent); the Queen would later remind the Princess Royal, then married and living in Germany as Crown Princess, that she had forgotten to send Beatrice a christening present.


Excerpted from The Last Princess by Matthew Dennison. Copyright © 2007 Matthew Dennison. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Matthew Dennison is a journalist. He writes for The Daily Telegraph, The Spectator, and Country Life. He is married and lives in London and North Wales.

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