Today’s book review features The Prussian Princesses: The Sisters of Kaiser Wilhelm II, by John Van Der Kiste (Fonthill Media). A link to purchase this fascinating title can be found at the bottom of the article.
Kaiser Wilhelm II is well known and not for the best of reasons and he’s certainly over-shadowed his six younger siblings. John Van der Kiste’s first biography was of his father, Kaiser Friedrich III and he has also written about Emperor Wilhelm II so he is well placed to write about the three youngest children Kaiser Friedrich and Victoria, Princess Royal. Originally he intended to write about Friedrich’s second daughter, but it quickly became obvious that the most satisfying biography – for reader and author – would be a biography of Victoria, Sophie and Margaret, their mother’s kleebatt or trio, as they were known.
The three women illustrate that high birth is no guarantee of a good life. The eldest, Victoria fell in love with Alexander of Battenberg, Prince of Bulgaria and it seemed that he loved her but the romance was effectively killed by Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm. She eventually married Adolf of Schaumberg-Lippe and – after his death – Alexander Zoubkoff, a Russian adventurer more than thirty years her junior who left her to die in poverty. There were no children from either marriage.
The second sister, Sophie, married the future King Constantine of Greece but their reign would not be easy as Constantine was forced to abdicate twice and one of their sons died at the age of twenty seven of septicaemia after being bitten on the leg. Constantine and Sophie both died in exile.
Margaret was the youngest sister and the one who would outlive all her siblings. She married Friedrich Karl, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. They lost two of their sons in the First World War and would lose another in a place crash in World War II. Margaret and Friedrich both joined the Nazi party but this didn’t protect them from the damage to and thefts from their home when American troops were stationed there. Margaret – the last surviving sibling – died in 1954.
Van der Kiste has written a very readable account, not just of the three sisters but also of the world in which they lived. He’s particularly good on the effects of the second world war and in placing the people into a world to which we can relate (King Constantine of Greece’s youngest brother Andrew was the father of Philip, who’s better known to us as the Duke of Edinburgh) and excels at bringing the personalities off the page as individuals, which must have been particularly challenging when so many have the same – or similar – names.