A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter by Clare McHugh

My interest in the British royal family isn’t just about the current royals, it goes all the way back to the early kings and queens. Last year I finally got around to reading a comprehensive biography of Queen Victoria and learned a lot about her and her family, but still wanted to learn more. A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter by Clare McHugh was on my TBR list as soon as I read the description.

From the publisher: To the world, she was Princess Victoria, daughter of a queen, wife of an emperor, and mother of Kaiser Wilhelm. Her family just called her Vicky…smart, pretty, and self-assured, she changed the course of the world.

January 1858: Princess Victoria glides down the aisle of St James Chapel to the waiting arms of her beloved, Fritz, Prince Frederick, heir to the powerful kingdom of Prussia. Although theirs is no mere political match, Vicky is determined that she and Fritz will lead by example, just as her parents Victoria and Albert had done, and also bring about a liberal and united Germany.

Brought up to believe in the rightness of her cause, Vicky nonetheless struggles to thrive in the constrained Prussian court, where each day she seems to take a wrong step. And her status as the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria does little to smooth over the conflicts she faces. 

But handsome, gallant Fritz is always by her side, as they navigate court intrigue, and challenge the cunning Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, while fighting for the throne—and the soul of a nation. At home they endure tragedy, including their son, Wilhelm, rejecting all they stand for.”

First off, the author’s grasp of Prussian military history is unparalleled for a historical fiction book. There are so many nuances and I think McHugh captured them all pretty well. I also think she did a good job at the beginning, showing how Prince Albert favored Vicky and treated her as if she were a man, discussing politics and court intrigue with her. It was that teaching, and Vicky’s own intelligence, that kept her from becoming a mere footnote in history. She was a true partner to her husband, Fritz, and from all accounts they had a strong marriage.

The most interesting parts of A Most English Princess deal with the young William, future Kaiser Willhelm II, and his infirmities. I thought McHugh captured the essence of the man who would later lead his country and much of Europe into a world war, much more like his grandfather than his father.

I listened to this book, and the narrator, Katharine LeeMcEwan, really nailed it. It was nuanced performance, showing the level-headedness of Vicky, and her intelligence, too.

I’d definitely recommend A Most English Princess to anyone who likes historical fiction, wants to read more about Europe in the late 19th century, find out more about Queen Victoria’s children, or anyone wanting to learn what events and actions led to the eventual Great War.

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