PALMERSTON is reported to have said on one occasion, that there had
been only three men in Europe who really understood the
Schleswig-Holstein question. One of them was himself - and he had
forgotten it; the second man was dead; and the third was in a
The members of the Royal Houses of England, Prussia, and Denmark, however, considered that, without being either jurists or diplomatists by profession, they understood the question quite well enough to take different sides with ardent enthusiasm. The question came, in fact, like a dividing sword, and not for the first time it brought war in its train between Prussia and Denmark. The British Royal family was placed by its intimate ties with both combatants - the Prince of Wales had married Princess Alexandra of Denmark in March, 1863 - in a position of peculiar delicacy, which was not rendered easier by the fact that public opinion in England warmly espoused the cause of Denmark.
If it was not easy for Queen Victoria and her advisers to steer a prudent course, the position of the Crown Princess in Berlin was even more difficult. She met the crisis with her customary courage, and she applied to its solution the teachings of that constitutional liberalism which she had imbibed from her father.
The Princess felt very strongly that the honour as well as the interest of Prussia - or perhaps one should say her interest as well as her honour - required the nation to play an unselfish part, and to seek indemnity in the moral prestige to be derived from the settlement of this ancient racial feud. As future Queen of Prussia, the Princess wished to see the interests of the Crown identified with the constitutional rights of the people; she desired to see the inhabitants of the duchies once more contented, loyal subjects of Duke Frederick of Schleswig-Holstein. It was not her fault, nor was it within her knowledge, that the solution which Bismarck even then contemplated, and which he was ultimately able to carry out, belonged to a wholly different order of ideas.
It is necessary, in a brief retrospect, to show how this question of the duchies had become like an open sore, poisoning the relations between Denmark and Prussia. Perhaps the most fertile cause of trouble lay in the fact that Schleswig and Holstein, though grouped together by historical circumstances, were each very different in the character of its population and their real or supposed rights.
We need not go back further than 1846, when King Christian of Denmark declared the right of the Crown to Schleswig-Holstein. His son and successor, Frederick VII, on his accession in January, 1848, proclaimed a new constitution uniting the duchies more closely with Denmark. This step caused an insurrection and the foundation of a provisional government. Prussia thereupon came to the help of the duchies and defeated the Danes near Dannawerke. After a fruitless attempt at intervention by the Powers, hostilities were renewed, and in April, 1849, the Danes were victorious over the Holsteiners and Germans. There was further fighting and further diplomacy, until in July, 1850, the integrity of Denmark was guaranteed by England, France, Prussia, and Sweden. This was quickly followed by the defeat of the Schleswig-Holsteiners by the Danes at the battle of Idstedt. Early in the following year the Stadtholders of Schleswig-Holstein issued a proclamation placing the rights of the country under the protection of the Germanic Confederation.
This led to the Treaty of London of 1852, by which the possession of the duchies was assured to Denmark conditionally on the preservation of their independence and the rights of the German population in them. Now, Holstein belonged to the Germanic Confederation, but the treaty stipulated that Schleswig was not to be separated from Holstein, though it was a point of honour with Denmark not to give up Schleswig.
The natural successor of King Frederick VII in the duchies was his kinsman, Duke Christian of Sonderburg-Augustenburg, who, in May, 1852, resigned his hereditary claim in return for a sum of two and a half million thalers. This settlement might have been excellent but for two facts - first that it had not received the assent of the Germanic Confederation; and secondly, that Duke Christian's two sons violently objected to it - indeed, the elder son, the Hereditary Prince Frederick, made a formal declaration of his rights of succession. Moreover, it must be admitted that Denmark showed a cynical disregard of the conditions in the Treaty of London respecting the independence of the duchies and the rights of their German population. The Schleswig Assembly complained and protested, and even petitioned the Prussian Chamber of Deputies, who actually promised aid to the duchies.
At last the crisis came in March, 1863, when the King of Denmark granted to Holstein a new and independent constitution, but annexed Schleswig, which did not belong to the Germanic Confederation. Thereupon the Confederation invited Denmark to withdraw this constitution. So far from doing so, however, the Danish Parliament proceeded to ratify it only two days before the death of King Frederick VII, whose successor, King Christian IX, was forced on his accession, owing to a menacing uprising of popular feeling in Denmark, to sign the new constitution annexing Schleswig.
The glove was thus thrown down for Germany to pick up; the Hereditary Prince Frederick assumed by proclamation the government of the duchies, and appealed to the Germanic Confederation for the support of his rights. The majority of the German Governments sided with him, especially the Grand Duke Frederick of Baden, brother-in-law of the Crown Prince; while the Lower House in Prussia declared by a large majority that the honour and interest of Germany demanded the recognition and active support of the Hereditary Prince. It will be evident from what has been said above that Prussia had plausible and even sound reasons for her intervention, the chief of which was the popular feeling prevailing in Schleswig.
Now, it so happened that the Crown Prince and Princess had a strong personal as well as political interest in the question of the duchies. The Crown Prince and the Hereditary Prince Frederick were old friends. They had first met as fellow-students at the University of Bonn. The Hereditary Prince had afterwards served in the First Regiment of the Prussian Guards, he had been often at the Prussian Court, and the Crown Prince was the godfather of one of his children. Naturally, therefore, the Crown Prince and Princess were favourable to his claims.
There is now no doubt that Bismarck had some time before resolved in principle on the annexation of the duchies, but of course he did not show his hand until it suited him, and above all he studiously concealed his plans from the Crown Prince. Indeed, the Crown Prince's personal relations with Bismarck were at this time practically suspended, if only because he happened at the time to be in England, where, however, the prevailing sympathy with Denmark did not influence him or the Crown Princess. In a letter written to Duncker from Windsor in December the Prince says that he has "daily defended the cause of my dear friend Duke Frederick, well backed up by my wife, who exhibits warm and absolutely German feelings in a most moving degree."
The Crown Prince and Princess would certainly have recoiled with horror from Bismarck's secret design of annexing the duchies. How little they understood the Minister's plans is curiously shown in the letter of the Crown Prince just referred to. He took the view that Prussia ought at once to occupy the duchies in order to establish the Hereditary Prince there. Bismarck, he says hated the Augustenburg family and considered the national aspirations of Germany as revolutionary, desiring on the contrary to maintain the Treaty of London and strengthen Denmark. The Crown Prince in fact thought that Bismarck had been too late, and that his policy was opposed to the proper assertion of Prussia's position.
Events now moved fast. The troops of the Germanic Confederation expelled the Danish troops from Holstein, and the Hereditary Prince was proclaimed throughout the duchy. The Augustenburg party, who were aware of the hostility of Bismarck to their candidate, endeavoured to win over the King of Prussia through the medium of the Crown Prince; but ultimately, aided no doubt by certain imprudences on the part of the Hereditary Prince, Bismarck had his way. Both Austria and Prussia separated from the majority of the Diet, demanding that the King of Denmark should annul the new constitution annexing Schleswig, already mentioned, and announced that they would jointly manage the affairs of the two duchies.
In January, 1864, Austria and Prussia issued an ultimatum to Denmark, and in February began the war, which was somewhat euphemistically described as "undertaken by Austria and Prussia to protect the ancient rights of the German province of Schleswig-Holstein, in danger of extinction from Denmark."
It was considered essential in Berlin that a Prussian officer should be in command of the allied troops, and this could only be effected by calling on the venerable Field-Marshal von Wrangel, as he alone was of superior rank to the officer at the head of the Austrian forces.
Von Wrangel, therefore, although he was much too old and eccentric for such responsibility, took the supreme command in right of his rank, but the Crown Prince was attached to his staff, with the understanding that he was to prevent the aged Field-Marshal from coming to any unfortunate decisions. Events showed that this was extremely necessary - indeed, nothing could have been more useful than the Crown Prince's tact in dealing with the rivalries among the divisional commanders, and also in altering the extraordinary, and sometimes positively insane, orders given by Von Wrangel himself. As a rule the Crown Prince was able to persuade the old man to make the necessary alterations, but there were occasions on which he was compelled on his own responsibility, either to suppress an order altogether, or in some other way to prevent it from being carried out.
The English Royal family were deeply divided in their sympathies in this war, but the Crown Princess, as her husband had written to Duncker, was wholly German in her feelings, She wrote to her uncle in Coburg: "For the first time in my life I regret not being a young man and not to be able to take the field against the Danes," and there is reason to believe that it was her influence which decided Queen Victoria to restrain the bellicose Palmerston, who would have liked England to support Denmark by force of arms.
In these circumstances it seems all the more monstrous that Bismarck's friends actually charged the Crown Princess with betraying the secrets of the Prussian Government to the English Ministers. Her complaints to the King only received as answer that the whole thing was nonsense, and that she should not treat it seriously. But the fact that the slanderers were never punished caused these calumnies to be long repeated, and even in part believed.
By the side of the Crown Prince and Princess there stood, in Bismarck's estimation, Queen Augusta, who had ever been the energetic champion of the Coburg doctrine of a liberated and united Germany under the leadership of Prussia. In his profound disbelief in Liberalism, Bismarck played the obvious game of raising the cry of foreign dictation. By means of his instruments in the Press and elsewhere, he set himself to exhibit England as at all times seeking to influence Germany for her own ends and often against German interests, for promoting her own security and the extension of her power, "lately through women, daughters and friends of Queen Victoria."
This campaign was only too successful, and it must soon have become obvious, both to Queen Victoria and to her daughter, that the unification of Germany by means of Prussian Liberalism was not in the range of practical politics. At the same time Bismarck risked a great deal. Nothing would have more completely upset his plans than a war with England over the duchies, and, as we have said, he was saved from that danger largely owing to the fact that Queen Victoria was influenced by the Crown Princess to withstand the chauvinism of her Ministers.
Throughout the campaign of 1864, the Crown Prince won the deep affection of the troops, not only by himself sharing their hardships, but also by his constant kindness and care for their comfort. Though he showed himself a true soldier and even a strategist of no small ability, the Crown Prince had no illusions about the horrors of war, which he now saw for the first time. He was deeply moved by the terrible sights he witnessed on the field of battle and in the hospitals. After the victory at Düppel in April, he would have been glad if an armistice had been concluded, and he wrote to Duncker: "You will understand how heavily my long absence weighs on me, for you know what a happy home I have waiting for me."
He had not long to wait, however, for on May 18 the supreme command was transferred from Field-Marshal von Wrangel to Prince Frederick Charles, the "Red Prince," and so the Crown Prince's mission came to an end. He joined the Crown Princess at Hamburg. She had originally meant to proceed as far as Schleswig in order to do what she could for the wounded in the hospitals, but, in obedience to urgent advice, she did not go further than Hamburg. The Crown Prince's journey thither, covered with all the laurels of successful warfare, was a triumphal progress.
As this campaign was the Crown Prince's baptism of fire, so to the Crown Princess it was a revelation and a call to action. On the occasion of the King of Prussia's birthday in March, the Crown Prince and Princess had presented him with a sum of money as the nucleus of a fund for helping the families of soldiers who had fallen or been disabled in war, and on the eve of the battle of Düppel the Crown Prince drew up an appeal on behalf of this institution, which afterwards bore his name.
But the war with Denmark revealed an even greater need than that of the care of the soldiers' wives and families. The Crown Princess saw with surprise and horror that the medical service of the troops in the field was practically nonexistent. She remembered the achievements of Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, and, though she was at the time herself more or less disabled, she undertook the heavy task of organising some sort of an army nursing corps. For this work, so appropriate for a soldier's wife, she was admirably fitted. Indeed, the War of the Duchies gave the Princess for the first time real scope for the exercise of her remarkable powers of organisation.
The Crown Princess, however, does not seem to have grown more prudent as time went on. There is a curious revelation in Bernhardi's diary in May, 1864, of her unfortunate habit of praising England to the disadvantage of Prussia. Says Bernhardi:
"After dinner conversation with the Crown Princess. She asked after England; supposed that I had enjoyed England very much; once there, one always longed to go back. I said 'Yes, life is full in England.' She said with a very peculiar expression: 'Yes, one misses that here.' I thought to myself, however, that only the material interests are greater and more farreaching than with us; in many ways life is richer here than there."
Fighting, with intervals of diplomatic action, went on after the Crown Prince's return from the front, until peace was signed at Vienna on October 30. By this instrument the King of Denmark surrendered the duchies to the allies, and agreed to a rectification of the frontier and the payment of a considerable war indemnity. It was understood that Schleswig and Holstein were to be made independent, but differences of opinion arose between Austria and Prussia on this point, which led ultimately to the dissolution of the Germanic Confederation and the Austro-Prussian war of 1866.
Delightful glimpses of the family life led in the summery of 1864 by the Crown Prince and Princess, and of her musical, literary, and artistic tastes, are given in letters written by Gustav Putlitz, the dramatist, to his wife. Putlitz was at this time chamberlain to the Crown Princess. His letters are too long and detailed to be quoted in full, but the following extracts will give a good idea of how deeply impressed this distinguished writer was with the vivid, eager personality of the Princess:
"June 26. - I passed a most delightful hour yesterday in this way. As I was going through the drawing-room, I found the Crown Princess with Countess Hedwig Brühl, the former looking for the words of a song of Goethe's, which she remembered in part, while Hedwig played the air. I found the song in Goethe for them. Thereupon we had a most interesting conversation about books. The Crown Princess is wonderfully well read; she has absolutely read everything, and knows it all more or less by heart. She showed us a reproduction of a drawing she had done in aid of the Crown Prince's Fund. It is a memorial of the victory at Düppel, and represents four soldiers, each belonging to a different arm of the service. The first is shown before the attack in the morning; the second is waving the flag at noon; the third, wounded, is listening to a hymn in the afternoon; while the fourth, victorious with a laurel wreath, stands in the evening at an open grave. The last is extremely natural and impressive, without any sentimentality. The conception shows real genius, and it is carried out most artistically. This youthful princess is more cultivated than any other woman I know of her age, and she has such charming manners, which put people entirely at their ease in spite of etiquette. She is not allowed to ride, and so she is accustomed to drive out daily for several hours, and practises pistol-shooting. In fact she possesses a wonderful mental and physical energy."
"June 27 (after dinner). - This morning the Crown Princess sent for me in the garden. I do not know what she is not devoted to - art, music, literature, the army, the navy, hunting, riding. On leaving she went down the mountain on foot, and I went with her through woods soaked with rain. She took out of her pocket the last issue of the Grenzboten, and gave it to me. It is amazing that she remembers everything she reads, and she debates history like a historian, with admirable judgment and firmness. After dinner she sang English and Spanish songs with a charming voice and correct expression."
"June 29. - After breakfast we went for a four hours' drive. The Crown Princess wanted every variety of wild flower we could find, and she knew the Latin, English, and German names of each kind. Every time we stopped she got out of the carriage and picked a flower which her sharp eye had detected, and which was not in the bouquet."
The party moved to Stettin, and Putlitz describes how the Crown Princess beguiled the journey with a constant stream of brilliant conversation on politics, literature, and art, as well as on more frivolous subjects.
When they arrived at headquarters and found the Crown Prince, she saw that everything was in disorder, and immediately, with characteristic energy, she began directing the rearrangement of furniture and the hanging of pictures. She herself was going on to Potsdam, but she was determined that her husband should be as comfortable as possible at Stettin. Says Putlitz:
"Furniture was put in its place, pictures were hung, wall-paper was selected-all the things having been brought from Berlin. Afterwards we went all over the house with the architect, and the Crown Princess issued her orders in the most practical and business-like way. Then we drove out and bought more furniture, and the things required for the Prince's washstand and writing-table. All the things were suitable, and chosen with care. We had an interesting conversation about English literature and drama. I am kept in perpetual astonishment by her natural behaviour, so many-sided, and full of judgment and sense."
When they arrived at the New Palace, Putlitz happened to say that he had never seen more of it than the room where people wrote their names in the visitors' book. At once the Princess showed him all over it.
He draws a charming picture of a tea-party at the Palace. The young mistress, wearing a simple black woollen dress, sat at a spinning-wheel, and as she span she sang snatches of all kinds of songs, accompanied by one of her ladies. Not far off, a chamberlain was reading poems by Geibel, or prompting others by Goethe and Heine which were recited by the Princess.
Putlitz cannot help recalling historical memories of the palace which was built by Frederick the Great in ridicule of Austria and France; which had seen the curious entertainments of his successor; had been decorated by Frederick William III in the stiff fashion of his day; had been opened by Frederick William IV to an intellectual and artistic audience at representations of Antigone and A Midsummer Night's Dream; "and was now the home of modern cultivation freed from formality."
The Princess, indeed, wanted a sort of history of the New Palace to be written, and she consulted Putlitz about it. A few days later they discussed Frederick William III and Queen Louise, how the latter was always idealised, and how the former had become popular in spite of his roughness.
In his delightful book, My Reminiscences, Lord Ronald Gower gives a most interesting account of a visit which he paid in this summer of 1864 to the Crown Prince and Princess, "two of the kindest and most amiable of Royalties," as he calls them. They met Lord Ronald and his mother at the station, in defiance of Royal etiquette, and took them off to the New Palace:
"We dined at two P.M. and we had to dress in our evening things for this repast. It took place upstairs in a corner room, with the walls of blue silk, fringed with gold lace. The Princess very smart, in a magenta-coloured gown with pearls and lace. The Crown Prince in his plain uniform, with only a star or two, which he always wears. 'It is a custom,' he said, 'and looks so very officered.' After dinner we went to the Crown Princess's sitting-room; the furniture there is covered with Gobelins tapestry - a gift of the Empress Eugénie''
Here Lord Ronald found some of the Princess's own paintings, including those lately finished, representing Prussian soldiers, his account of which it may be interesting to compare with that of Putlitz "One of these paintings was of a warrior holding a flag, inscribed Es lebe der König. The second a soldier looking upward. He has been wounded, and he wears a bandage across his brow; a sunset sky for background. This is inscribed Nun danket alle Gott. The third is another soldier looking down on a newly-made grave. Of these three I thought the second by far the best. There was another painting, also by the Princess, representing the Entombment."
The visitors were taken out driving: "We could judge of the popularity of our hosts, for everyone that we passed stopped to bow to them, and those who were in carriages stood up in them to salute as the Prince and Princess passed by."
The arrangements about meals seem extraordinary to modern taste. Lord Ronald says:
"Tea was served at ten in the evening in one of the rooms on the ground floor of the Palace. They call it the Apollo Room, I believe. It was a curious meal, beginning with tea and cake, followed by meat, veal, and jellies, and two plates of sour cream. For this repast one was not expected to don one's evening apparel a second time."
The visitors breakfasted upstairs with the Crown Prince and Princess and their children, in a room lined with pale blue silk framed in silver - not, perhaps, the best possible background for "the Princess in her favourite pink-coloured dress." Then, "the Princess showed us her private garden, and here she picked a clove, which she gave me with her own little hand." Lord Ronald mentions the children with approval, but Putlitz, whose visit was much longer, got to know them really well:
"July 2. - The Royal children are very charming and well trained. The Crown Princess is strict with them, which is very praiseworthy in so young a mother, who is relieved by her rank of the duty of taking an active part in their education, for which she has not the time. People will indeed be surprised at this talented and cultured nature, when once her will has full scope."
The children on their side seem to have taken to Putlitz with enthusiasm. He gave the boys rides on his head, and he records with pride that "they came running from quite a long way off when they caught sight of me." He also records an accident - little Prince William being thrown from his pony - which must have reminded the mother of that day at Windsor when she was so distressed at a similar though more dangerous mishap to her brother, the Prince of Wales.
One morning after breakfast, says Putlitz, he met the Crown Prince and Princess on the terrace, "both full of almost infantile gaiety." Soon afterwards the children appeared. Prince William was riding his pony, when his hat fell off and hit the pony between its ears; the animal reared, and the Prince was thrown off on his back. Both parents remained quite calm, and apparently took no notice; whereupon the Prince mounted again and went on riding. It is not difficult to imagine the mother's pang of terror beneath that outward calmness. Well may Putlitz praise the sensible upbringing of the children, which made them perfectly natural, well-behaved, and obedient.
But it is the remarkable personality of the Crown Princess which chiefly interests this literary man turned courtier. One moment she is instructing him to write to a poet and thank him for a copy of verses; at another she is arranging a picnic party in her own little garden near the Palace. Some one, generally Putlitz himself, reads aloud after tea, and if the poem or story is pathetic the Crown Princess is moved to tears. At other times they have music, generally glees, followed by good talk on literature or on contemporary politics and personages, about whom both the Crown Prince and the Princess speak with a candour which astonishes Putlitz. He cannot praise enough this delightfully informal, unaffected, and yet exquisitely cultivated and intellectual family life:
"Here one feels absolutely secure from intrigue, and only meets with frankness and clear intelligence. All evil designs must necessarily fail in the end before such qualities."
The dramatist felt also the great charm of the Crown Prince's personality. He says that the two natures of husband and wife are each a perfect complement of the other, and each exercises on the other an unmistakably happy influence. It is at the same time significant that, while emphasizing the perfect harmony of the marriage, he does not hesitate to say that the Crown Prince, not withstanding the more brilliant qualities of the Princess, still preserves his simple and natural attitude and his undeniable influence.
And when the time comes to say good-bye, Putlitz sums up his experiences to his wife: "I have been entertained by a most highly dowered Princess - and a most marvellous woman, full of intellect, energy, culture, kindness, and benevolence."
On September 11, 1864, a third son was born, Prince Sigismund. This little Prince was destined to have but a brief life. He was born the child of peace, the Emperor Francis Joseph becoming his godfather, but he died almost on the very day that Prussia drew the sword against Austria in the war of 1866.
That same autumn the Crown Princess paid her first visit to Darmstadt, to stay with her best loved sister, Princess Alice. The latter wrote to Queen Victoria a charming account of the visit, in which she said: "I always admire Vicky's understanding and brightness each time I see her again. She is so well, and in such good looks as I have not seen her for long. The baby is a love and is very pretty."
In October the Crown Prince and Princess, with their four children, started for La Farraz, in Switzerland. They left immediately after the birthday of the Crown Prince, which day was also that of the baptism of Prince Sigismund. The Prince wrote just before leaving Potsdam to an intimate friend:
"The older I grow, the more I come to know of human beings, the more I thank God for having given me a wife like mine. What happiness it is to leave behind one all one's anxieties and all the troubles of this life, to be alone with those we love! I trust that God will preserve our peace and domestic happiness. I ask for nothing else."