‘Be married for marrying’s sake’
the connections forged matrimonially between royal houses as an aspect of foreign policy. This earnest, reforming prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha had lofty ambitions: in the marriages of his children, he identified a means of dispersing across Europe the priorities of 19th-century Britain: notably, the spread of liberal constitutional government and a determination to guarantee peace in the lengthy aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.
His specific focus was Germany. He married his favourite, eldest daughter, Vicky, to the Crown Prince of Prussia, imagining that her influence in Berlin in the years before German unification would help shape a politically moderate, peace-loving, Anglophile federation of German states. In this mission Vicky failed, defeated by Bismarck and her own tactlessness.
Albert died too young to forge matches of similar dynastic significance for his remaining offspring and none of the marriages of Victoria and Albert’s nine children resulted in close or stronger bonds between British and Continental governments. In the case of her daughters, the choices made by the widowed Victoria repeatedly appeared to prioritise her own convenience and inclination over foreign policy considerations or the girls’ happiness, while her second son, Alfred, chose his own bride – the only daughter of Alexander II of Russia – in the face of pronounced maternal opposition.
Cadbury deals glancingly with Albert’s grand vision and Victoria’s attempts, or otherwise, to implement it after his death. She does not address in detail Victoria’s German-centric outlook as royal matriarch (and, indeed, royal statesman) or its impact. Only implicitly does she acknowledge how seldom Victoria’s marriage plans came to fruition, despite the queen’s forcefulness. Of the marriages examined here, that of Nicholas and Alexandra was directly contrary to Victoria’s oft-repeated wishes, like the earlier marriage of Alexandra’s sister Ella to Nicholas’s handsome, reactionary, probably gay uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei. Meanwhile, the marriage of Victoria’s youngest granddaughter, Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, known as Ena, to Alfonso XIII of Spain, came about only after Victoria’s death, and involved a conversion to Catholicism unlikely to have impressed Ena’s robustly
The Royal Family by Winterhalter, 1846