Sunday, June 12, 2011

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

The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria's Youngest Child is a 2007 biography on Princess Henry of Battenberg (nee Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom) written by Matthew Dennison.

In 1853, Queen Victoria gave birth to Prince Leopold of the United Kingdom, an eighth child to her and Albert, the Prince Consort's, already large family. Dr. James Clark's the Queen's obstetrician states his alarming concern on the Queen's mental bearing after birth of several children to the Prince Consort and says quite clearly she should not have anymore children. And yet, 14 months and a fortnight after Clark's conversation with Albert, the Queen goes into labor once again. Aided by the help of that 'blessed' chloroform, Queen Victoria gives birth to her fifth daughter and ninth child; the last Princess, Princess Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore.

Being the last of the litter, Beatrice was different from the start. Queen Victoria was never the maternal sort, to her babies were 'ugly' rather much like frogs, to put it in her own words but Beatrice was different. She was an incredibly lovely baby and both of her jubilant parents never let anyone forget it. Beatrice was different. Because unlike her elder siblings, she was never placed in the strict regiment of studies designed by Baron Stockmar, she was never able to enjoy the company of her elder family but most important of all, she never had a chance to grow up in the ethereal light of her angel Father.

On December 14, 1861, the Prince Consort died of typhoid and with him died the Queen's happiness. It is unsure what happened after Albert's passing as there are many different accounts on the matter (the most commonly accepted story is that Queen Victoria draped the sleeping Beatrice in the Prince Consort's nightshirt)but one thing stands prevalent in all stories; The Queen found solace in her four year old daughter.   It was from this moment on that Beatrice began her life behind the shadow of a Mother who cared only for her own needs.

For the first half of Beatrice's life, she lived in an isolated world of her own. As time passed in Queen Victoria's depressing family, Beatrice found herself more alone than ever as one by one her sisters, Alice, Helena and Louise were married off and left the safety net of the family. Family relations between Beatrice and her elder brothers were cold due to the jealous felt between the men of Beatrice's closeness with their Mother.  Her youthfulness offered a natural attraction to Queen Victoria because she was innocent to the gloom and sadness of her Father's passing (she quickly learned not to ask where her Father was a few days after the Prince Consort's death) and the Queen grew dependent on her youngest child for a glimmer of light in her lonely days.

It was expected, in Queen Victoria's opinion at least, that Beatrice always remain home with her as a caretaker, as a sort of vestal virgin, all of her life. Although it was been suggested that Beatrice marry, first the Prince Imperial Louise Napoleon, and afterwards, her dead sister's widowed husband, Grand Duke Louis of Hesse and by the Rhine but her feelings for the men were entirely platonic and of little holding in the Princess' heart (although she did cry waterfalls upon hearing of Louis Napoleon's death). First and foremost was Mother, the Queen, and utter devotion to her and her alone was Beatrice's duty and for almost 28 years of Beatrice's life this proved true.

The last princess first met Henry of Battenberg at her niece's, Princess Victoria of Hesse and by the Rhine, wedding to Henry's elder brother, Louis, in the quaint town of Darmstadt. It was love at first sight for both parties and they were absolutely adamant in their determination to be together. Queen Victoria was so shocked that her daughter could physically love someone that the relations between Mother and daughter went frigid. The Queen was only won over and finally approved of the match on Henry's part as he agreed to live in England with his Mother-in-law in order for Beatrice to remain in the Queen's services. The couple was married on 23 of July in 1885. Beatrice was the only one of Queen Victoria's children to wear the Queen's own wedding veil.

The new Princess Henry was the happiest she'd ever be in her whole life. The new Battenberg's were incredibly devoted to each other and very much in love. Together they had four children: Alexander "Drino", Victoria Eugenie, Leopold (who was afflicted with hemophilia) and Maurice (Maurice was most alike his Father in appearance and Beatrice's favourite). Beatrice was never especially maternal to her children finding herself a better servant to her Mother than a Mother to her four children. To make up for their Mother's lack of interest, Henry was a most wonderful, doting Father. Henry grew increasingly tired of his role and desired to prove himself as a man. He persuaded his Mother-in-law to allow him to enter in the Ashanti war and there he died of malaria on January 20, 1896 much to the grief of his short-lived wife.

On January 22, 1901, Queen Victoria died and it was Beatrice's great duty to edit her Mother's diary. To this day she has been credited with omitting certain information that would otherwise have been useful in understanding the domineering woman that was Queen Victoria, the woman who had dominated Beatrice's life for over fifty years of her life. 

Victoria Eugenie, called "Ena" by her family, is said to be Beatrice's greatest achievement. The Princess of Battenberg managed to attract the attention of the posthumous Alfonso XIII of Spain and they are married on May 31, 1906. The birth of their first child, at first celebrated, a son, Alfonso "Alfonitso", brought out the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha's bad blood and like his Uncle, Leopold, Alfonso had hemophilia. Alfonso the elder blamed both his wife and her family for infecting the royal family and never willing spoke to Beatrice again.

The first World War brought much grief to the British royal family, the most being Beatrice herself. After the death of  her favourite son, Maurice's, in Flanders field Beatrice retired from public life. She died peacefully in her sleep on October 26, 1944.

I give this book a 1/5. The book was incredibly hard to comprehend. The author was jumpy when recounting Beatrice's story at one time referring to her childhood and the next commenting on her as an adult and then going back to her youth. And at time, he skipped important moments in Beatrice's life, how she met Henry (You could say he did but it was very vague) and the birth of her children. The book itself didn't stand out very much but that may be due to the fact that Beatrice did not live the most exciting life like her elder sister, the Empress Frederick. NO I would not recommend this book UNLESS you are particularly interested in Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom and even then I would be rather hesistant.