Monday, September 3, 2012
Consort Profile: Empress Frederick ("Vicky") of Great Britain
Happily, the marriage was not solely political. Frederick and Victoria loved each other deeply and sincerely. This relationship would continue throughout their married life with “Vicky” determined to follow the example of her parents and be an equal partner with her husband rather than a secondary figure. “Fritz” was totally in agreement with his wife and with her liberal ideas that were certainly not dominant in the House of Hohenzollern. However, the new Princess did not have an entirely easy time starting her married life. She found Prussia substandard to Great Britain in every way and was not bashful about saying so, complaining about everything from the royal accommodations (which, compared to Britain, seemed positively Spartan) to the architecture of the buildings. She detested the Prussian emphasis on the army, which was something she was not used to. However, it was to be expected considering that Prussia owed its existence to her matchless army and no Prussian was about to forget that. Yet, this was all part of the new direction that “Vicky” hoped to influence, moving Prussia away from the tradition of “Warrior Kings” in favor of a new line of enlightened executives. Obviously, with such views, and supported by her husband, “Vicky” was bound to clash with the rising force of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
In January of 1861 King Friedrich Wilhelm IV died and his brother succeeded him as King Wilhelm I, making Friedrich and Victoria the Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia. Father and son did not always see eye-to-eye and “Vicky” tended to be blamed for this as many in the Prussian court saw her as simply the tool of Britain, a mouthpiece for Prince Albert and someone intent on turning Prussia into a continental version of England. Crown Princess Victoria, on the other hand, envisioned Prussia taking a leadership role in the unification of the German states but, unlike the vision of Bismarck, to create a united Germany based on liberal ideals of freedom, democracy, representative government and firmly defined constitutional monarchy. Her view of monarchy was one in which monarchs guided, advised and helped rather than issuing decrees, deciding on policy or becoming involved in politics. For the most part, the Crown Prince agreed with her but few others did. King Wilhelm I was reluctant on the idea of unification and becoming German Kaiser at all and while Bismarck did favor unification, he wanted it based on the existing ruling princes rather than on an elected assembly. Because of her support for a united Germany, she supported the wars her husband fought in to bring this about, despite her dislike of the army and the direction Bismarck was taking things. Thus it was slightly bitter-sweet when, in 1871, the German Empire was born, under Prussian leadership, in the manner Bismarck had designed.
The Empress Frederick remains very much a figure of discussion and debate even today. Those ill-disposed toward Kaiser Wilhelm II often champion the cause of his mother who might have greatly changed history were it not for the tragic death of Kaiser Friedrich III. Perhaps together, her influence could have created a more liberal, limited monarchy for the united Germany and perhaps the horrors of World War I might have been avoided. We can never know, of course, but that tends to be the assumption of her modern-day admirers. There is plenty of room for debate. Could Prussia, and the rest of Germany, at such a point in history, successfully carry off such a radical change in direction? Perhaps such efforts would have led to division, disorder or even civil war. Again, we can never know and neither side can say what would have happened. It is though, probably, safe to say that the course of German history would have been very different if “Vicky” had had her way.