As an only child, Queen Victoria is often depicted as having had a fairly solitary childhood which lacked contact with the outside world. However, she enjoyed a very close relationship with her beloved half-sister Feodora of Leiningen, who was 12 years her senior. Feodora somewhat faded into obscurity after her death, but recent portrayals of her character have stirred a renewed interest in her life.
Erroneously portrayed as jealous and scheming in the ITV programme Victoria, Feodora was described by Queen Victoria as her “dearest sister, whom I look up to”. Victoria was devastated when Feodora died.
Here’s a breakdown of Princess Feodora’s fascinating life.
An unhappy childhood
Princess Anna Feodora Augusta Charlotte Wilhelmine of Leiningen was born on 7 December 1807. Her parents were Emich Carl, 2nd Prince of Leiningen, and Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Saalfeld.
Feodora and her elder brother Carl grew up in Amorbach, a town in Bavaria, Germany. Her maternal grandmother described her as “a charming little clown, who already shows grace in every movement of her small body.”
In 1814, when Feodora was only 7, her father died. Her mother later married Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, who was the fourth son of George III and who reportedly loved Feodora and Carl as if they were his own. When the Duchess of Kent became pregnant in 1819, the family relocated to England so that the potential heir to the British throne would be born on British soil.
Feodora’s half-sister Victoria was born in May 1819 at Kensington Palace. A mere half a year later, Feodora’s new stepfather died, which devastated her. Like Victoria, Feodora was reportedly unhappy at her “dismal existence” at Kensington Palace.
Marriage and letters to Victoria
In February 1828, Feodora married Ernst I, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, who she had only met twice before and who was 13 years her senior.
As the half-sister of the future Queen, Feodora could have married someone with a higher profile. But in spite of their age gap and lack of familiarity, Feodora considered Ernst to be kind and handsome, and was keen to be married in order to escape Kensington Palace.
Indeed, she later wrote to her sister that she “escaped some years of imprisonment, which you, my poor dear sister, had to endure after I was married. Often have I praised God that he sent my dear Ernest, for I might have married I don’t know whom – merely to get away!’
Victoria was a bridesmaid at the wedding, with Feodora later fondly writing, “I always see you, dearest, little girl… going round with the basket presenting favours.”
After their honeymoon, Feodora and Ernst moved to Germany, where she stayed until her death. Feodora and Victoria greatly missed one another, and corresponded often and with affection, with Victoria telling her older sister about her dolls and feelings.
The two sisters were finally reunited 6 years after Feodora’s marriage, when the couple returned to Kensington Palace. Upon her departure, Victoria wrote, “I clasped her in my arms, and kissed her and cried as if my heart would break. So did she, dearest sister. We then tore ourselves from each other in the deepest grief. I sobbed and cried most violently the whole morning.”
Children and widowing
Feodora and Ernst had six children, three boys and three girls, all of whom survived into adulthood, though one, Elise, died at 19 of tuberculosis. After Elise’s death, Victoria sent a bracelet containing a miniature portrait of Feodora’s late daughter to her.
The sisters offered each other parenting advice, with Feodora advising leniency when Victoria complained that her son, the future Edward VII, was playing pranks on his siblings. Victoria and Albert named their youngest daughter Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore in her honour.
Both Victoria and Feodora were widowed around the same time. Ernst died in 1860, and Albert died in 1861. It was Victoria’s wish that they would live together as widows in Britain. But Feodora valued her autonomy and decided to remain in Germany, writing, “I cannot give up my house nor my independence at my age.”
Decline and death
In 1872, Feodora’s youngest daughter died of scarlet fever. Feodora was inconsolable, writing that she wished that “my Lord would be pleased to let me soon depart.” She died later the same year, aged 64, likely from cancer.
Queen Victoria was devastated by Feodora’s death, writing, “My own darling, only sister, my dear excellent, noble Feodore is no more! God’s will be done, but the loss to me is too dreadful! I stand so alone now, no near and dear one nearer my own age, or older, to whom I could look up to, left! She was my last near relative on an equality with me, the last link with my childhood and youth.”
A letter which dated to 1854 was found among Feodora’s papers after her death. Addressed to Victoria, it stated, “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 in my soul – ’till we meet again, never more to be separated – and you will not forget.”
Various on-screen and literary portrayals of Feodora have depicted her as having a range of different personalities. However, the lengthy and affectionate correspondence between Feodora and her sister reveals that she was both warm and wise, and deserves to be regarded as a valuable source of advice and care throughout Victoria’s significant reign.