Clare McHugh explores the lifetime of Queen Victoria’s daughter within the new novel – Royal Central
The life of Queen Victoria remains a fascination hundreds of years later, but perhaps less familiar to the casual royal observer is the other Victoria: her eldest daughter, the Princess Royal, who was known to her family as Vicky. Author Clare McHugh decided to take up the fascinating story of Vicky’s life in her first novel, A Most English Princess.
The book traces Vicky’s girlhood with her parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as well as her many siblings and follows her advertising, engagement and marriage to Prince Friedrich of Prussia, who later became King of Prussia and German Emperor. Torn between two countries and her family missing in England, the stubborn Vicky has to learn to survive in a foreign and hostile culture.
What I found particularly interesting about the novel was how much Vicky relied on the advice of her parents and how much they were involved in the little details of their life right up to their decision to breastfeed. The rapid-fire letters going back and forth between Vicky and her parents touched on internal affairs, but also on decisions of the Prussian king, with which her family, especially Prince Albert, often disagreed. This sparked controversy in her marriage, as well as in Vicky’s relationships with her in-laws and politicians in Prussia, and the novel really delves into the political and military issues of the pre-WWI period.
Royal Central chatted with McHugh about the extensive research on this historical novel, Vicky’s close relationship with Prince Albert, and how a future series of the drama Victoria with Vicky might develop.
Kristin Contino: I have to admit I didn’t know much about Vicky before reading A Most English Princess, but after reading it I was asked to google a lot! What made you choose to write about Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter as the subject of your first novel?
Clare McHugh: Something about Vicky’s life appealed to me! Your story sparked my compassion and curiosity. And the more I read, the more she spoke to me. I think it started when I read how in the family Vicky, the eldest and most academically gifted child of Queen Victoria, was seen by everyone else as her mother’s inheritance. It was only when Bertie, her younger brother, was nine years old that he realized it would be him. This reminded me that families are little worlds in themselves, and how the “rules” of the real world can sometimes surprise – especially the unjust way women and girls were treated.
But Vicky also fascinated me through what I learned about her as a wife and mother. She fell in love with her husband Fritz as passionately as a teenager! But the two managed to keep that loving bond strong as they got older and endured a series of challenges and tragedies. I thought this would be interesting to research – how did you do it? As a mother, Vicky was really unlucky at first. The longed-for male heir Willy suffered a birth injury. How did Vicky take the blow to her pride and secret grief that made her feel guilty all her life? I hope the book shows that she struggled with Willy and didn’t always make the right decisions. In that respect she was a very human and personable woman. I thought readers would be interested in meeting someone who enjoyed great privileges but also some devastating disappointments.
Have you always been interested in royal history and do you have a favorite member of the royal family? (both past and present)
Yes, I have always been interested in British royal history – men and women born in extraordinary circumstances. I’m less interested in the glamor than in the way individuals try to get by in a fishbowl setting and “make sense” to themselves. I met Princess Diana once and she is the same age as me and was born in the same year. And while I sympathized with her – her marriage was unsuccessful, the rejection she felt so badly – I can’t understand her as well as Vicky, who will always be my favorite queen. Vicky was stubborn, admonishing, didn’t always read a room well, but she was so brave. She repeatedly pointed out what was not good about the situation in Germany. She pursued her passion for painting and was still an excellent civil servant and loving mother of 8 children.
The novel was so well researched that it almost felt like a non-fiction book at times. Tell us about your research process. Have you traveled to any of the places Vicky lived / visited?
Yes, I think my book is best for people who like a lot of HISTORY in their historical fiction. I studied the history of diplomacy in 19th century Europe in college and it still fascinates me – especially the character of Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor and arch enemy of Vicky. I’ve spent a lot of time in both Germany and England, but I’ve never been to Potsdam where Vicky is buried. I plan to go there when the pandemic is over.
What do you think of the relationship Vicky had with her parents? Do you think they (especially Prince Albert) interfered too much in their life and the politics of their new country?
That’s such a good question !!! I think it’s important to remember that Prince Albert basically came to England by himself. He had lost his mother early and was the “smaller” partner in his marriage to Victoria, who was queen. Of course, he proved extremely influential in the UK and as a partner in government with his wife. But in the beginning Albert was vulnerable, and when his clever and adorable eldest daughter was born and it was found she shared so many of his interests, she and he were very close. He wanted the world for her, as any devoted parent does. And he wanted to protect and guide them. I don’t think he foresaw exactly how she would be seen in Prussia, although he had his fears – which I let him express in the book. He didn’t expect Bismarck to rise and he didn’t live long enough to really help Vicky and Fritz in the new Germany that Bismarck created. I’m just blaming him for being a little naive. I think Queen Victoria was often tortured as a mother – pushing Vicky for letters, berating her, being selfish, and ignoring her needs. But nobody is perfect, and Vicky was a very devoted daughter nonetheless.
Are you a fan of Victoria from TV? How do you think you could portray Vicky in future series?
I have mixed feelings! I think it’s like a romance novel and deviates too much from historical facts for me, but I like the cast and production values. I think Vicky is flattened out on this show, into a character without a lot of depth. The nuances of her personality are not something this show would be interested in.
Are you planning to continue the book?
Since the book was published, I have heard of a romantic interlude in Vicky’s later life that was previously unknown to historians. I’m considering investigating this in a sequel! I’m also writing a novel set in the US in the 1970s and 1980s, which of course isn’t about kings.