Like the majority of her granddaughters, Princess Viktoria of Prussia was named after both her mother and grandmother. Born on April 12, 1866, in Potsdam Palace. Friederike Amalia Wilhelmine Viktoria was the fifth child and second daughter of Frederick III, Emperor of Germany and Victoria, Princess Royal, first daughter of Queen Victoria. She was baptised on her grandmother’s birthday, 24th May.
Vicksey, Young Vicky, or Moretta, as she was known in private, was very close to her mother and grandmother. She was her parent’s favorite daughter. That favoritism with her family and intervention from them on her behalf wouldn’t save her from future heartbreak and from entering a loveless, unhappy, and childless marriage. The inability to marry a man she’d loved for years seemed to remain with her for the rest of her life, destroying her innocence, bringing on a depression that stayed with her.
In her later years, she attempted to recapture what had been denied her. She always appeared to be searching for the same romance and true love she’d found as a younger woman. Despite bucking against societal convention and her siblings wishes, she committed the ultimate betrayal. She gave up her title, her citizenship and, in the end, her wealth by marrying a man nearly 40 years her junior.
Her second marriage was her final hurrah to grab some happiness for herself. Viktoria showed great optimism for this union. In the end, though, it would only lead to her social and financial ruination and death.
Young Vicky was described as an impetuous, charming and eccentric young woman who was tough to direct, likely from her indulgent father and allowance of freedom. She took after her mother in appearance and for her love for English ways. In 1881, Moretta’s mother invited the Bulgarian sovereign Prince, Alexander of Battenberg, ‘Sandro’ to the Prussian court. Throughout her life, her mother sought to fulfill the role of matchmaker, only wishing for her daughter’s happiness. This instance was no different. With the support and encouragement of her parents and grandmother, Viktoria fell in love with Alexander. It was hoped that the two would marry. But not everyone was supportive of the match.
Her Grandfather, Emperor Wilhelm I and his Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck quite opposed the marriage. Bismarck’s spies kept him informed of relations between Bulgaria and Russia. They feared a union between Viktoria and Alexander would displease Tsar Alexander III of Russia because the Tsar was unhappy with Alexander’s actions in Bulgaria.
A nasty war of words transpired between Viktoria’s parents and grandmother and the Emperor. For the next seven years, Viktoria and her parents held out hope she could marry her Sandro. All was lost with the death of her father in 1888. On his passing from throat cancer, her brother, Wilhelm II claimed the throne and his sister’s matrimonial fate.
In letters to her mother, Victoria expressed her worry for Moretta. She fell into a great depression, starving herself to the point of becoming too thin. Her mother and grandmother showed great concern for her health and wellbeing. Queen Victoria encouraged her daughter not to push marriage on Viktoria if that wasn’t something she wished for herself. Viktoria’s brother and emperor, along with Bismarck thought a marriage between Viktoria and the Prince of Portugal would be an excellent union. The young princess refused to convert to Catholicism. The Prince chose another for his bride.
Her brother was determined to get his sister married off. And after over a year of investigating and planning, he finally got his wish. Prince Adolph of Schaumburg-Lippe proposed to Princess Viktoria on June 11th, 1890. She accepted his offer of marriage. She wrote in her memoirs that there was a mutual attraction between her and Prince Adolph. Her mother was never convinced of the match. And despite her engagement, she did all she could to introduce Viktoria to other, more suitable men she thought would make for better husbands.
Two such suitors were the Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, the grandson of Queen Victoria’s older half-sister, Feodora and the son of Richard Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo, Captain the Hon. Maurice Archibald Bourke. Made entirely aware of his mother’s matchmaking machinations from a letter from his wife detailing Viktoria’s infatuation for Bourke, things became rather tense between Viktoria, her brother, and mother.
The Emperor’s wife had been made aware of recent events by Viktoria’s very own older sister, Charlotte. According to Viktoria, things between her and Bourke weren’t serious, but her elder sister was known for being quite the gossip. Feeling she had no other choice but to alert her husband of recent events, Dona, Wilhelm’s wife wished to prevent more scandal being attached to the young Princess. And once the Kaiser visited his grandmother in Scotland a few months later in August, he managed to convince the Queen that he had indeed found a good match for Viktoria.
The Princess’s depression remained and grew as the wedding date drew closer. Victoria wrote to her mother about Moretta’s continued state. In late October, the wedding date was announced. The couple wed on 19 November 1890 in Berlin at the chapel of Alte Schloss. The wedding festivities began two days prior with the bridal party and their families attending the opera. The next day, Viktoria’s mother hosted a banquet for the wedding party and the families.
After their marriage, the couple spent their honeymoon in Malta and Egypt. They spent time the following winter in Constantinople before settling in Bonn where Adolf would take up his military duties.
Viktoria was left alone much of her marriage, but she appreciated her husband’s devotion to his duties. Her memoirs were published after her death. By the time she’d written them, she was already destitute and writing for an enamored audience and collecting a paycheck for her work.
Princess Viktoria wasn’t faithful to her husband. She miscarried early in their marriage, and they never had any children. She wanted actually to divorce Adolf to marry his nephew. And even after Adolf’s death in 1916, her brother, the Emperor refused to allow the marriage. Viktoria vowed to find more happiness and gaiety during her lifetime. In her mind, that joy was to be found in 1927 when she met a Russian immigrant, Alexander Zoubkhoff at a party she held for university students.
Zoubkhoff, or Sacsha as she called him, was 35 years her junior and a law student attending the University of Bonn. The couple became engaged and just as other times in her life, Viktoria’s brother, the Kaiser and other family members were completely against the marriage. But Viktoria didn’t care as she noted such in her diary.
By marrying the actor, movie extra, dishwasher, waiter and professional dancer, she was effectively giving up her title as ‘princess’. To Viktoria, this didn’t matter as she told the press on her wedding day.
No one from her family attended the civil ceremony or the Greek Orthodox wedding where she wore the lace bridal veil worn by her mother at her wedding over 50 years before.
Unfortunately for the commoner Viktoria, the rest of her life won’t be filled contentment she has hoped for and which she wrote about in the book My Memoirs. Sacsha was deported not once from Germany, but twice. He was also expelled from France and Belgium. At first, Viktoria stood behind her husband, following him to the Belgian Congo. Shortly after her return to Bonn, she filed for divorce from the squandering Zoubkhoff. By now it was too late. She found herself in financial ruin. She had to downgrade her living quarters by moving from her palace to a room she rented. To pay off her extensive debts, all her possessions were sold at auction.
The papers reported that a servant found her in her former gardens, clinging to a tree trunk, appearing dazed and utterly unlike herself. During this terrible time, Viktoria’s family didn’t come to her aid. And from this point on, she was utterly alone.
After being found with a high fever by a doctor in the one room she stayed in with a former servant, Viktoria was taken to hospital. The once vibrant and romantic princess mostly gave up on life. And, despite their attempts to communicate with her hours before her death, her brother Wilhelm, now in exile and older sister, Margarete, weren’t allowed contact with their dying sister. They were unable to absolve her of her careless marriage to Zoubkhoff.
Viktoria died penniless, lonely, loveless, and without her family’s forgiveness on November 13, 1929. This tragic life story is perhaps one of the saddest of the lives experienced by all of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters. I found it incredibly profound that after the deaths of her grandmother and mother only months apart virtually left Viktoria without an ally. She didn’t have anyone to champion, guide or love her. What begins as a life that shows considerable promise for happiness and contentment to only end in debt, despair and abandonment certainly pulls at the heartstrings. It did mine.
Photo Credit: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015