Queen Victoria's eldest daughter was born 17 years before the youngest. Her daughters had drastically different relationships with their parents: their mother alternated between codependency and harsh dislike for each of them. Their father lavished attention on some and gave almost none to others: Vicky was her father's star pupil, and recieved his training before she married into the Prussian royal family, while Beatrice was only four when her father died. Vicky was an intellectual, Alice had an appetite for nursing and good works, Lenchen loved sports and engineering, Louise was a gifted artist, Beatrice devoted to family. Vicky married into the Prussian royal family, Alice to a German Grand-Duke (the equivalent of being the king of a small kingdom), Lenchen and Beatrice to landless German royals, and Louise to a British duke (the first English princess to marry within her country in 350 years). And yet, despite their different personalities, upbringings, marriages, and countries in which they spent their adulthood, the feeling I got from all of them was the same. Regardless of their capabilities, regardless of how much money they had or how many palaces, their lives seem so straitened to the modern eye. Victoria's daughters were born into an age in which the monarchy was fast fading from political importance. They were too royal and too female to be allowed to do almost anything.
Which is not to say they did not try. Vicky pushed for a more liberal, united Germany all her life, to the detriment of her reputation in Prussia and her relationship with her eldest son, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II. (Reading this book made me want to punch Bismark in the face like a billion times.) Alice founded hospitals and tended to the sick with her own hands; her influence lent credence to the emerging nursing style. Lenchen became a drug addict. Louise was the first British royal to be publicly educated (she forced her mother to let her take art classes) and became a beloved society dame who did a good deal of charity work. Beatrice was the Queen of England's right hand for decades.
But reading this book, I was not so much impressed by their accomplishments as by their tragedies. Child after child dead of hemophilia, disease, or killed in wars. Loveless marriages. Used as political pawns and figure-heads, with all the appearance of power and none of it. Vicky and Alice apparently had no friends (certainly they were allowed none in childhood); the younger daughters managed to make only a few. No control over where they lived. Bound by endless, astoundingly strict protocol. Vicky watched her husband die an agonized death that took years, then suffered through death by breast cancer under doctors who refused to give her pain killers. Assasination attempts (even on their wedding days). And hideous, horrifying clothing. No one needs that many ruffles!
The story of Queen Victoria's family is a fascinating one, filled with odd tidbits. (Such as, Louise's father-in-law wanted to be buried with his first wife. His third wife was so annoyed with this that she threatened to cut her late husband's heart out so she could bury part of him with her, too.) And I did enjoy this book: it's pretty well organized, the style is readable but not gossipy, and the research is definitely there. The problem is, Packard's biases shine through immediately. He hates women of intelligence or power--as controlling as Victoria was, sure there was *something* positive about her? And surely Alfred didn't do *all* the ruling for her? Their eldest, Vicky, is continually described in the most horrid terms possible: her intelligence is described as "flamboyant" and "egocentric;" even as a child Packard has nothing but harsh words for her. He blames her for the cluster-fuck that was the Prussian royal family--even though she was a TEENAGER when she entered it, her parents-in-law were monstrous, and Prussia was under control of the manipulative chancellor, who worked for decades to turn the country and her family against Vicky. (This is not supposition--it's a matter of historical record that the most powerful man in Prussia did everything in his power to cause her pain.) The only women Packard has kind words for are the ones who selflessly devoted themselves to other people in the least political fashion possible. And even those women, he makes careful note of their weight and how they looked like sausages.
The history of Victoria's daughters is a fascinating one, but this is not the book to read it in. Look for something a bit less overwhelmingly sexist.