‘No one has ever had a sister like her’. The words of King George V, written about a younger sibling known to her family as Toria, perhaps best sum up the life of one of the quietest of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters. When she died many had almost forgotten about this rather lonely princess. Toria had been at the very heart of her her family but her devotion to her parents and siblings meant she herself never married or had children. Her story is perhaps the most Victorian of all the women who called the great Queen Empress ‘grandmamma’.
The sister to whom George V was so devoted was born Victoria Alexandra Olga Mary on July 6th1868 at Marlborough House in London. She was the fourth child and second daughter of Queen Victoria’s heir, Albert Edward, and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark, who were then Prince and Princess of Wales. When baby Victoria was christened exactly a month after her birth she had a truly impressive lists of godparents including Queen Victoria, the Tsar of Russia and Queen Olga of Greece. The glitter of her baptism gave way to the simple, carefree childhood that Princess Alexandra was determined to provide for her children – even if her mother in law disapproved of the way these princes and princesses were being raised, sometimes describing Toria and her siblings as ‘ill behaved’.
Alexandra was a devoted mother but also liked to keep her children very close to her. As a result, her family grew up relying on one another for much of their social interaction so it’s perhaps not surprising that they formed deep bonds that would last a lifetime. Toria was extremely close to her two sisters, Louise and Maud, and the three were known as the ‘Whispering Wales Girls’ because they preferred to stick together and when they did engage in conversation they tended towards shyness. There are various descriptions of Toria as intelligent and among the brightest of the royals. But like her sisters, she was raised to keep things in the family.
As the second daughter of a future king, it might be supposed that Toria would marry well but in this part of her life the influence of her mother shone through most strongly. Alexandra was known to be against any of her daughters marrying, dreaming instead of a life where she and her three girls all kept one another company. But while Louise and Maud both wed, Toria found it harder to escape the influence of her mama.
That’s not to say she escaped talk of a royal wedding altogether. As she entered her middle twenties, there were several reports of possible husbands. The most talked about suitor was the Earl of Rosebery who served as Prime Minister between 1894 and 1895. The earl was a widower (his first wife died in 1890) with four children and a marriage to him would have offered Toria a rather modern and daring life for a royal as a political wife. Although Lord Rosebery was a commoner, their names were linked after Toria’s sister had married an earl herself. Queen Victoria had created a dukedom for that grandson-in-law and the fact that Lord Rosebery wasn’t royal wasn’t really such a huge issue as to prevent a wedding. What did cause problems was the overriding wishes of her mother, Alexandra, to keep her daughters at home with her.
That decision raised eyebrows within the royal family with Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, now known as the Empress Frederick, writing to Alexandra in the 1890s to urge her to find husbands for her unmarried daughters saying her decision to tarry ‘really is not wise’. It made little difference. In 1896, Maud married Prince Carl of Denmark but Toria, now in her late twenties, remained unwed.
So as Louise made her life with her duke, and raising two daughters, and Maud had a son of her own, Toria stayed with Alexandra and became her constant companion. She was said to enjoy gardening, book binding and music and she also travelled – as did many of her relations. But her life was very firmly rooted in the family home and as her siblings developed their own lives, Toria’s tale stayed linked to that of her parents.
Even when they became king and queen, in 1901, their second daughter retained her role of companion. After her father’s death in 1910, the bond with her mother became even stronger and Toria lived with Alexandra for the next fifteen years. One of her cousins described her as ‘’little more than a glorified maid to her mother’’ and Queen Alexandra’s death, in 1925, left Toria alone at the age of 57.
The loss of such a major influence on her life obviously had a profound effect on Toria. But by then she had also developed a reputation for sharpness. She could also be belligerent and was prone to hypochondria. Her waspishness and flashes of bitterness could be attributed to the sadness she perhaps felt at having lived much of her life at the beck and call of her mother who, though devoted to her children, had dominated the existence of her second little girl.
Toria’s last years were spent in Iver, Buckinghamshire. Soon after her mother’s death she bought a house there, Coppins, where she passed her days gardening and becoming heavily involved in village life. It was from there that she had her daily phone calls with King George V. Toria is said to have taken a dislike to her sister in law, Queen Mary, but she remained extremely close to her brother and the two called each other every morning. There is a famous story of Toria beginning one conversation with the words ‘Hello, you old fool’ only for the operator to tell her that the king wasn’t on the line yet. They shared each other’s confidences and kept alive the iron strong family bonds that Queen Alexandra had worked so hard to build.
In fact, when Toria died the blow to George was huge. His sister fell ill in the early winter of 1935 and on December 3rd he received the news that Toria had died. Her funeral was held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor on December 7th and her remains briefly rested there. On January 8th 1936, she was buried at the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore and exactly a week later George V, still deeply saddened by her death, retired to his chambers with a cold. He died on January 20th and just six weeks after attending Toria’s funeral there his own coffin was carried into St George’s.
The bond between the siblings is striking and touching as are the words George penned about her, that there was ‘never a sister like her’. But ultimately, Toria’s decision to remain the devoted daughter and sibling came to colour her whole life. This granddaughter of Queen Victoria lived for her family but in the end it cost her the chance to have one of her own.
Photo credit: By Sydney Prior Hall (died 1922) [Public domain] and Philip de László [Public domain or Public domain], all via Wikimedia Commons