Wight Life

HRH Princess Beatrice

The Last of the Victorians

by J A Viney

Picture of Princess Beatrice

BEATRICE MARY VICTORIA FEODORE, the youngest of Queen Victoria's eight children, was born on Easter Tuesday, April 14 1857.

Britain was thankfully indulging itself in a brief period of comparative peace, and the ship of state was sailing on a fairly calm sea. The Crimean war had ended and the average British man in the street was only too thankful for it; as yet he remained blissfully unaware of the storm which was already beginning to gather in India.

At home, the royal household breathed a sigh of relief and sat back to enjoy the prospect of yet another princess in their midst. Beatrice's eldest sister, Victoria, the Princess Royal, however, was overwhelmed with an excitement of her own, for the plans for her marriage to her beloved Fritz were well under-way and she dreamed of her wedding and her new home in Germany. For the vast majority, there were no such pleasant diversions, for in many parts of Britain the effects of the Industrial Revolution were still making themselves felt, and there was much squalor and hardship; later in her life the new little princess at Windsor was to do much work for underprivileged people in many different ways.

From the start, Beatrice was a happy and contented baby, the family to which she came was a loving and close-knit one. She was the special favourite of her father Prince Albert, with whom, when his official duties would allow, she spent much of her time. He called her Tina when they were together and declared she was the liveliest and most sparkling of all the children. Upon Beatrice there was lavished a great deal of care and attention as she was then the sole occupant of the royal nursery, her nearest brother being four-year-old Leopold, and the rest of the family seeming to her to be very much more grown up, as indeed they were.

For the Queen, too, there was more time to spend on the child. Maybe this was the reason for their early and continuing under-standing of each other; for Victoria, she was perhaps the best loved of all her children.

Had Beatrice's personality been weaker than it was, so much attention and privilege might have turned her into a spoiled and unpleasant child, but a basic common sense and refusal to pay too much attention to the little indulgences she received kept her reasonably level-headed and in fact as a child she was described as being a mixture of charm, conceit, strong independence and affection. It must have come as a shock which she was not fully able to comprehend when quite suddenly, just before Christmas 1861, her father was taken ill, and in a few days, was dead. For the Queen of course it was an event which changed not only her whole way of life but her personality as well. For some hours after she had been told of the news of Albert's death, Victoria was in a state of deep shock. She was composed and calm, too calm. She made arrangements coldly and efficiently. All those about her knew hercoldness to be unnatural and began to worry. So much so that her doctors began to fear for her own health if she could not be made to break down and in that way gain some relief in her tears. It was not until the next day that Beatrice happened to rush into her mother's private rooms and Victoria, seeing her so suddenly and so alarmingly like her father in her manner and looks, at last gave way to a normal reaction to her grief.

Of all the royal residences, it was Osborne that both Victoria and Beatrice loved most. Beatrice liked it because in its grounds stood the Swiss Cottage, designed by her father as a play house for the children. In it was a fully equipped carpenter's bench, a small forge, a museum of natural history and a kitchen in which the young princess could practice 'domestic economy'. It was perfect in every way, and Beatrice loved it.

Throughout the time during which she was growing up Beatrice was also growing closer to her mother, and Victoria seemed willing enough to delegate a number of her affairs to Beatrice who dealt with them in a factual and profound way. But at 26 years of age Beatrice began to despair of ever achieving any independence with a normal life and family of her own; she also knew that her mother would be loath to let her go.

Prince Henrey of Battenburg

Early in 1884 the Queen made a visit to Aix and Beatrice accompanied her there, and it was during this time that she met the man who was to become her husband. Prince Henrey of Battenburg could not offer great wealth or a high position and it was some time before he could even gain Victoria's approval. But at last, on New Year's Eve, 1884 the announcement was made of the betrothal of Beatrice to Prince Henrey. The Queen however made it a condition that after their marriage the young couple should live very close to her.

The wedding took place on July 23rd 1885 in the little church at Whippingham, which was too small to hold the large number of guests usually present on such occasions. This was to Beatrice's liking as she wanted the wedding to be as quiet as any royal wedding was allowed to be. The whole distance along the road from Cowes to Whippingham was dressed with flowered arches and other decorations.

For her wedding dress she chose a heavy white satin, trimmed with tiny orange blos-som buds and leaves, with sleeves and an overskirt in lace. She wore the same treasured Honiton lace that her mother had worn at her marriage; it was one of Victoria's most prized possessions and Beatrice was the only one of the princesses to be favoured with this beautiful adornment to her wedding gown.

After the celebration and excitement of her marriage, she once more took up the official duties which had been assigned to her. She had also become interested in trying to better the conditions of the poor whocame to her notice and, during the major and minor wars in which the country was to become embroiled during her lifetime, she extended this interest to the welfare of soldiers at the front and those in prisoner-of-war camps.

A familiar figure at Carisbrooke

Despite the fact that her own family eventually comprised three sons and a daughter, her royal tasks continued to accumulate in number, particularly after her mother's Jubilee in 1887. One of these was to become Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1896 and thus continue the long and happy association she had always had with the Island. Each summer she was a familiar figure at Carisbrooke and in 1937, not only to celebrate her 80th birthday but also to commemorate 41 years as the Island's Governor, the people of the Island presented her with a beautifully preserved organ (still to be seen in the museum at Carisbrooke Castle), which had belonged to another princess, Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Charles I, who used to play on it when she visited her father during his captivity.

Typically, Beatrice decided that the organ should not be removed from its right setting but should be kept in the castle for the enjoyment of all.

Every year until the summer of 1944 when ill-health precluded it, Beatrice would spend some of her time on this her favourite Island. She died, aged 87 at her own home at Brantridge Park, Balcombe, Sussex on October 26th of that same year. Her life had covered a period of great change. Had she been born into a level of society other than her own she was the sort of woman who might very well have been a 'Mrs Pankhurst' or, in earlier times, an Elizabeth Fry, as throughout most of her life she battled ceaselessly within the somewhat restricting bounds of her position for the well-being of people in all walks of life. She was a bridge between a past in which, in memory at least, life had had a more measured tread; she had lived with the horse-drawn carriage and the jet engine. She was indeed the last of the Victorians.