08 January 2020

Family First: Augusta Victoria

Augusta Victoria with her son,
Prince Augustus Wilhelm
via Wikimedia Commons
"You will go to hell," the Empress told her wayward sister-in-law.

"It is my own decision," Princess Sophie replied. "It has nothing to do with you."

Empress Augusta Victoria of Germany was outraged. How dare this child defy not just her, but God himself and even the Kaiser? Kaiser Wilhelm II had discouraged his younger sister from marrying the heir the Greek throne, but had relented when Sophie agreed not to convert to Greek Orthodoxy. Just a year later, however, the 20-year-old new mother had changed her mind. Now she was being subjected to the wrath of Wilhelm.

But not directly. Wilhelm had sent his wife, Augusta Victoria, who was eight months pregnant with their sixth child. Fully expecting Sophie to bend to the Kaiser's will, the Empress was shocked by her defiance. Soon, the situation was out of control. Everyone was angry and the Empress, in particular, was distressed.

A few weeks later when her baby was born prematurely, the Kaiser blamed Sophie. Baby Prince Joachim was sick and weak, especially compared to his five sturdy older brothers. The fact that he also suffered epileptic fits also was clearly due to the trauma of that argument.

Augusta Victoria recovered however and gave birth to her seventh and final child less than two years later. Little Princess Victoria Louise was the darling of the Kaiser's eye and a favorite of all of her brothers. Having established a secure line of succession with all of those boys, the family deserved a reward with their beautiful little girl. Augusta Victoria had done her duty well. Not only had she given the Kaiser six sons, but she absolutely worshipped him. More than anyone in his life, she believed he was exceptional and she did all she could to serve him. Unfortunately, her cloying affection was met with little more than kind regard.

Augusta Victoria and Wilhelm
Image by FredrikT via Wikimedia Commons
Born a Princess of Schleswig-Holstein, Augusta Victoria despised all things English. To this end, she encouraged Wilhelm in his ill-treatment of his English mother Victoria, who was the eldest child of his beloved grandmother, Queen Victoria. Whenever possible, she steered him toward anti-British views and decisions. Queen Victoria, who adored her first-born grandson, could still see his shortcomings. When he inherited the throne at age 29, Queen Victoria fretted that the couple were "two so unfit" for their new roles as Emperor and Empress of Germany. Augusta Victoria traveling to England whenever possible. She even tried to prevent her husband from attending his grandmother's funeral.

Augusta Victoria was also a ferociously protective mother, which could sometimes put her at odds with her highly disciplined and cold husband. When she could, she intervened as gently as possible. For instance, when he would command the young boys to accompany him on his strenuous morning horse rides, she would sometimes persuade him to take her instead. It was she instead of them who returned exhausted. She was particularly watchful over Joachim, whose physical difficulties caused him to  struggle to run and play as hard as his siblings and older cousins.

Surprisingly, Augusta Victoria allowed the children to have an English governess. She later published a book about her experience. She found some questionable qualities among the good qualities of most of the children. The oldest, 13-year-old Crown Prince Wilhelm, was "tyrannical" with his siblings but affectionate and clever. As for Joachim, her assessment found him a "weak, frightened little cry-baby."

Members of the extended German Imperial Family, 1900.
via Wikimedia Commons 
As her children grew and married, Augusta Victoria relished the role of grandmother, still remaining fiercely protective. The grandchildren were top of mind toward the end of the first World War. With the Emperor away from Berlin, she was left alone at home recovering from a stroke and heart attack in a nation on the verge of revolution. Across the city, her daughter-in-law Crown Princess Cecilie was still at home at with her young children. It was young Prince Louis Ferdinand's eleventh birthday when things started to look very dark for the family. The Empress called Cecilie and asked her to bring the grandchildren to her at Neues Palais where they would be safer. They mustered up a little party for Louis Ferdinand. While they celebrated, the telephone call came: the Kaiser had abdicated. His future, the family's future, was uncertain.

Wilhelm II fled to Holland. Augusta Victoria had to choose: stay in Germany and use her popularity to try to save the monarchy for her son or go to Holland to be with her husband. For her, the choice was easy. She chose Wilhelm. Sick and aging quickly, she was still as devoted to him as ever. Ever conscious of the murders of their Romanov cousins so recently in Russia, she tried to persuade the Crown Princess to come with her and bring the children to safety in Holland. Ever strong, Cecilie declared that she did not want her children raised in exile and the revolutionaries could kill them in their own home.

The soldiers sent to protect Augusta Victoria at Neues Palais could not guarantee her safety. She fled to her son Eitel Frederick not long before an angry mob burst into her home stealing antiques, furniture and even clothing. Her new stronghold was raided by drunken sailors, eventually finding her and interrogating her. She bravely faced them down and they eventually left her. Exhausted and suffering heart pains, she was comforted only by the presence of her family: three sons and their wives, and even the defiant Crown Princess and grandchildren had gathered together for safety. As soon as possible, she was driven by Cecilie to take the train out of Germany for the last time. The soldiers who accompanied on her journey dressed in plainclothes to hide their important mission from revolutionaries.

Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons
As the reunited husband and wife began to build a new life in exile, their large and growing family were frequent visitors, but Augusta Victoria was increasingly weak. A lift was installed for her so that she did not have to climb the stairs. She attempted to recreate the beautiful gardens she left behind. Lovely though they were, they were never like the ones at home.

Meanwhile, her family was falling apart. The Crown Prince and Princess were separated, their marriage over in all but name. Prince Eitel Friedrich and his wife were also separated and he was alcoholic. Prince Augustus William and his wife divorced. Prince Adalbert, Princess Victoria Louise and Prince Oscar were all doing well, but youngest son Prince Joachim was more troubling than ever. Addicted to gambling and physically abusive of his wife, he still won custody of his son in the divorce. (A child belonged to its father in those days.) After the Kaiser barred him from their home, Augusta Victoria suffered another heart attack. Five days later, Joachim committed suicide.

Within a few months of losing her Joachim, Augusta Victoria died in exile at the age of 62.

1 comment:

  1. Thank You for the story of the German Royals.😘🥰😊🌺🎀🌸🦢