As soon as she was born, Beatrice was adored by both her parents and even her mother, famously known to dislike young babies, found her attractive. Beatrice, as the youngest of the nine children, was saddled with the nickname Baby, a name that would haunt her as Victoria was determined to keep her daughter young and innocent. Being the youngest, Beatrice had a far more relaxed childhood than her older siblings, and she didn’t have to compete for their attention as they were constantly amused by her precociousness.
The year 1861 proved to be a hard year for Queen Victoria as the loss of her mother and her beloved husband plunged her into a period of deep mourning from which she would never recover. Lost in her grief, the queen refused to be comforted and she pushed all the children away, except for Alice and Beatrice. However, the queen’s reliance on Beatrice would have consequences as she was determined Beatrice would be her constant companion and forbade anyone to discuss marriage around the young princess. Like her sisters before her, Beatrice took on the role of her mother’s secretary which included mundane tasks such as writing letters and dealing with the usual political correspondence. The queen became increasingly reliant on Beatrice and her devotion was outlined in many of Victoria’s letters and journal entries.
As eager as she was to keep Beatrice by her side, Queen Victoria was keen on the idea of Beatrice marrying Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, who had been married to Beatrice’s older sister, Alice. Alice had died of diphtheria in 1878, on the anniversary of her father’s death, and the Prince of Wales suggested Beatrice could become a replacement mother for Alice’s young children but spend most of her time in England with her mother. The only problem was it was against the law for a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife, however Bertie was keen to push a bill through Parliament which would remove the obstacle. The bill was eventually rejected by the House of Lords after pressure from the Church.
Other candidates for Beatrice were the Battenberg brothers, Alexander, Louis, and Henry. While Alexander was never a serious contender, Louis was definitely interested but Beatrice was warned by her mother not to encourage his pursuit and, finding Beatrice rather remote, Louis changed his mind. It would be years before Louis learned the reasons behind Beatrice’s reticence but his marriage to Beatrice’s niece, Victoria of Hesse, would lead Beatrice down another path. When Beatrice travelled to Darmstadt for the wedding, she met Louis’ brother, Henry, and fell in love.
Beatrice returned from Darmstadt and informed her mother she intended to marry Henry, but the queen took the news so badly she refused to speak to her daughter for several months until Alexandra, Princess of Wales and Victoria, Crown Princess of Prussia, intervened on Beatrice’s behalf.
The queen finally consented to the marriage on the condition Henry move to England and the couple were married on 23 July 1885 at Saint Mildred’s Church at Whippingham, near Osborne. As promised the newlyweds returned from their honeymoon and took up residence with the queen with Beatrice resuming her secretarial duties as before. Henry was forbidden to take part in military enterprises as the queen felt it was too life threatening but he soon grew tired of court life. The queen appointed him Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1889 but Henry begged to become part of the Ashanti expedition which Victoria agreed to with reluctance. Henry left on 6 December 1895, however he soon contracted malaria and was sent home. Two days before his arrival in Madeira, where Beatrice was waiting for him, she received a telegram informing her of Henry’s death. Beatrice was devastated and left court for a month to grieve before returning to her mother’s side.
During her widowhood, Beatrice once more resumed the role of her mother’s faithful companion and as her mother aged, it was Beatrice who took on the task of dealing with her considerable correspondence. Solicitous of her daughter’s needs, the queen gave her apartments at Kensington Palace and even had a dark room installed so her daughter could pursue her photography. Not everyone was happy with the arrangement though as Beatrice’s preoccupation with her mother strained her relationship with her children who became rebellious.
When Queen Victoria died in 1901, Beatrice found herself at a loss as she had no real attachment to her brother, Edward VII, and had stayed out of his circle at court. When the king announced plans to open Osborne House to the public and build a naval college on the grounds, Beatrice and her sister, Louise, were incensed as they had been bequeathed houses on the estate by their mother and Edward’s plans would impact on their privacy. Edward agreed to extend Beatrice’s lands so her privacy would not be compromised and he also decided to gift Osborne House to the nation but would keep the state apartments closed to preserve the memory of his parents.
Before her death, Queen Victoria tasked Beatrice with the mammoth job of transcribing her journals for publication with implicit instructions to remove private material and any passages that could be hurtful to those still alive. It would take Beatrice thirty years and 111 notebooks to complete the project but she deleted over two-thirds of the original material much to the dismay of George V.
On 31 May 1906, Beatrice’s eldest daughter, known as Ena to the family, married Alfonso XIII of Spain but an assassination attempt on their wedding day would prove to be a bad omen for the couple. While the couple appeared to be in love initially, their relationship quickly deteriorated when Alfonso discovered their son, Alfonso, Prince of Asturias, was suffering from haemophilia and he blamed Beatrice. Matters were made worse when their youngest, Gonzalo, was diagnosed with the same disease and Alfonso took it out on Ena. When Ena visited her mother in England, she was never allowed to bring her children to visit their grandmother.
The First World War brought a lot of heartache to Beatrice as her favourite son, Maurice, was killed in action in the Ypres Salient in 1914, leaving his mother devastated. As a result of George V’s decision to distance the British royal family from Germany, Beatrice’s surname was anglicised to Mountbatten and she was once again styled as HRH The Princess Beatrice. Alexander, her eldest son, was created Marquess of Carisbrooke, while the youngest, Leopold, became Lord Mountbatten. Sadly, Leopold had inherited haemophilia from his mother and he died in 1922 after undergoing a knee operation.
After the death of Maurice, Beatrice had mostly retired from public life, however she became a patron of The Ypres League, a society founded for veterans of the Ypres Salient and bereaved relatives of those killed in the fighting. Most of Beatrice’s later public appearances were at memorial services or laying wreaths at the Cenotaph.
Beatrice’s last home was at Brantridge Park in West Sussex, owned by Queen Mary’s brother, Alexander Cambridge, the first Earl of Athlone, and his wife, Alice, who were currently in Canada where the Earl was Governor-General. It was here at Brantridge Park that Beatrice, the last surviving child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, died peacefully in her sleep on 26 October 1944.