The Princess Royal is a title given by the British monarch to his or her eldest daughter. It is a title held for life, so there can only ever be one Princess Royal at a time. Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria introduced the custom in 1642 for their daughter Mary, taking inspiration from the equivalent French title ‘Madame Royale’. There have been seven Princess Royals in total; the current is Princess Anne.
The Princess Royal referred to here is Queen Victoria’s oldest child, Princess Victoria. Born in 1840, she officially became Princess Royal in 1841. Intelligent and well-educated, she grew up in Buckingham Palace and met her future husband, Prince Frederick William of Prussia, in 1851. There was an age difference of ten years between them, and they became engaged in 1855 when Victoria was just fourteen. Married in London in 1857, the match was of great diplomatic importance in tying Britain to Germany and both held relatively liberal views. However, their son, who would become Kaiser Wilhelm II, held different political opinions to his parents and would eventually come to favour autocratic rule – the ties established between Britain and Germany were abruptly severed with the outbreak of World War I.
Victoria remained close to her mother throughout her life: around 8,000 letters between them have been catalogued. Her husband died just 99 days after succeeding the throne of Prussia in 1888, and the widowed Kaiserin lived out the rest of her life in Castle Friedrichshof (now a hotel), occupying herself with patronising the arts and education. She died of breast cancer in Germany in 1901.
Portrayed since her death as a supporting character in various films, a German biopic (‘Vicky’ – The Lost Empress) dedicated to her life is currently in pre-production.