Queen Victoria’s only real friend during her childhood was her almost unknown half-sister Feodora.
Victoria’s half-sister, the beautiful, clever Feodora, was packed off at 21 to a penny-pinching life in a draughty German castle. Victoria was only nine years old. Feodora was glad to escape; she admitted to Victoria in one of their hundreds of letters that she “might have married I don’t know whom – merely to get away”.
Captives at Kensington
The two girls were rarely allowed beyond the palace gardens. Poor teenage Feodora remembers that her only happy time was driving out with Victoria and her governess : “then I could speak and look as I like”.
Feodora, and especially Victoria, lived under The Kensington System. It was a strict and elaborate set of rules designed by her mother Victoria, Duchess of Kent, along with her attendant (and possibly lover) Sir John Conroy.
- Victoria was not allowed any privacy. At all times she was to be accompanied by an adult
- She was not allowed to walk up or downstairs without holding her mother’s arm. Ever.
- She had to sleep in the same room as her mother until she became queen at age 18.
- Morning lessons began at 9:30 sharp with a break at 11:30. Lessons would resume for the afternoon at 3:00 and would last until 5:00.
- All her activities and daily doings would be recorded in pen and ink. Everything.
Like a pair of cartoon villains, Conroy and the Duchess schemed to make Victoria Queen. They were horrified at the chance that King George IV might marry Feodora. Victoria let slip that the King “paid great attention to my Sister, and some people fancied he might marry her!”
Conroy also wanted Feodora gone because he feared her influence. She might encourage Victoria to rebel. He advised the Duchess:
“It is necessary for your and the Pss. Victoria’s interest that it should take place – the interest you ought to have over her [Victoria] will be endangered if she sees an older sister not so alive to it as she should be – and recollect, once your authority is lost over the Princess V. you will never regain it”.
Romance for Feodora
One Stephen, an Irish furrier, trotted after Feodora when she drove around St. James Park, and wrote Cabinet Ministers, the King, and every member of the royal family that the Princess loved him. Even a short prison stay didn’t dampen his passion. Auguste D’Este, son of the Duke of Sussex, wrote letters and even attempted to slip Feodora a gold ring.
Conroy rejected suitors who were based in England, or were too rich and powerful. He chose the 32 year old German Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, from a family almost ruined by the Napoleonic wars. With an income of £600 a year, Feodora would be too poor to visit her half-sister. With glee, Conroy writes: “her life would be unmarked by anything very splendid”.
Luckily, Feodora seems to have been happy with her Ernest of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. While she assures Victoria that she wishes she could fly in at her window on her birthday like a little robin, she deadpans that her Ernest would miss her and that he was “rather tall and heavy for flying”. She went on to have six children with Ernest – in six years!
If you have some award moments with your siblings, just be relieved that you’re not on different sides of European dynastic wars. Victoria and Feodora were at odds over the whole Franco-Prussian War and the Schleswig-Holstein affair. Awkward!
But when they were widowed within a year of each other, Victoria hoped that Feodora would come and live with her. Feodora visited in 1863, but couldn’t put up with her sister’s unrelenting grief. Victoria went on to mourn for 30 years! Not fun at family get-togethers.
There’s no evidence that the Feodora in the TV series “Victoria” – ambitious, calculating- is true at all. Fun, certainly, not not at all how the sisters felt about each other.
Just look at the touching letter Feodora left for Victoria, to be read upon her death:
“I can never thank you enough for all you have done for me, for your great love and tender affection. These feelings cannot die; they must and will live on in my soul – till we meet again, never more to be separated -and you will not forget”
Happy National Sibling Day (April 10)!
By Helen Rappaport
By Kate Williams