There’s a reason “dictator” and “matchmaker” are two separate career paths.
In 1913, Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia — the kaiser’s only daughter — married Prince Ernst August of Hanover. The sovereigns of Great Britain, Russia, and Greece descended on Berlin to celebrate. Britain’s Queen Mary cried at the ceremony, and the bride danced with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia at the banquet that night.
It was the last big royal shindig before World War I.
And it was definitely an occasion to celebrate — Viktoria Luise had chosen Ernst August for love, bringing the enmity between their formerly warring families (closer) to an end.
But before she met him, there had been chatter that she might be a good match for someone else entirely…
“So Terribly Young”
Two years earlier, Viktoria Luise had gone with her parents on a state visit to England. The British press speculated that it was because her parents were looking for suitors. Although the German and British royal families were closely related, their countries had drifted apart due to incompatible squad goals (a fierce naval rivalry and a difference of opinion on which European countries made the best allies, among other things).
But seeing the families together, and knowing that the future of Europe depended on these two powers getting along, courtiers whispered that 18-year-old Viktoria Luise just might make a good match for Edward, Prince of Wales, who was only 17 at the time.
Later that month, British newspapers noted that the kaiser had invited Prince Edward to visit him in Potsdam. He wouldn’t do that unless he were looking for a son-in-law, would he? Society gossip predicted a quick engagement.
And what did Viktoria Luise think of all this? She knew about the marriage speculation, and what it would mean for their two countries. But good luck convincing a teenage girl to choose with something other than her heart. “He was very nice,” she later wrote of Edward, “but looked so terribly young, younger than he actually was…” ¹
In the end, nothing happened between them. And all those once-upon-a-time engagement rumors might have been forgotten if it weren’t for what happened 22 years later.
“He Had Hardly Been Precise”
Fast-forward to 1933.
The German monarchy had fallen in 1918 at the end of World War I. Viktoria Luise and Ernst August were now private citizens living in Gmunden, Austria. In Germany, Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party were on the rise.
Soon after Adolph Hitler’s accession as Chancellor, he asked his foreign affairs advisor, Joachim von Ribbentrop, to invite Viktoria Luise and her husband to Berlin for a talk.
The topic? Improving relations between Germany and Great Britain. Tensions between the two nations still ran high, and Hitler wanted insight into the British mindset. Viktoria Luise was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and she and her husband were both members of the Anglo-German Society. Who better to tell him how the upper classes viewed Germans and Germany?
Things went well at first.
Viktoria Luise wrote, “Hitler appeared extraordinarily polite, was very correct, and spoke in friendly fashion.” ² But when he started talking about Great Britain, she said, “…we felt he had hardly been precise, having just given us a general, overall picture which seemed to have been directed at people who were not at all acquainted with the subject.” ³
In other words, he “mansplained” them.
They went away disappointed, but still hopeful the situation could be salvaged. They had no idea that Hitler was already cooking up another idea to bring Britain and Germany together.
In 1934, a year after their first meeting with Hitler, she and Ernst August got another message from von Ribbentrop.
This time, the message concerned their only daughter, Friederike. Hitler wanted them to arrange a marriage between Friederike and Edward, the Prince of Wales.
“…We Crossed the Line”
Edward, you see, had never married.
While Viktoria Luise had been a wife since 1913, Edward had pursued several long-term relationships with married women, including Freda Dudley Ward and — most recently — Thelma, Lady Furness.
But in January of 1934, Thelma wanted to go to America to help her sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, with a disastrous custody battle. The day she left, she asked a friend to lunch at the Ritz. There, Thelma told Wallis Warfield Simpson that David (Edward’s nickname) would be lonely while she was gone, and asked her to keep him out of trouble until she got back.
Thelma didn’t expect Edward to fall passionately in love with Wallis, but that’s exactly what happened.
By August, Edward was insisting that Wallis and her aunt accompany him on vacation. In a borrowed yacht sailing off the Spanish coast, the couple hung out on deck in their bathing suits —an action that was, at the time, a virtual admission of intimacy. Wallis later wrote of that trip, “…we crossed the line that marks the indefinable boundary between friendship and love.” ⁴
Edward’s father, King George V, didn’t know the extent of his son’s feelings for the married, divorced American. He did, however, know that his son was more interested in himself than his duty. “After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself in twelve months,” George said to prime minister Stanley Baldwin.⁵
This was the nation’s future king — the man Hitler saw as key to his relationship with Great Britain.
“My Husband and I Were Shattered”
But let’s get back to Viktoria Luise and Ernst August.
They didn’t know anything about Wallis Simpson.
But they did know how to do math, and they didn’t like what they saw: Friederike was 17. Edward was 40. Ouch.
Viktoria Luise wrote, “My husband and I were shattered…We told Hitler that in our opinion the great difference in age between the Prince of Wales and Friederike alone precluded such a project, and that we were not prepared to put any such pressure on our daughter.” ⁶
After Viktoria Luise and Ernst August’s point-blank refusal, they waited nervously for a response. But Hitler let the matter drop, much to everyone’s relief. Just to be on the safe side, they sent Friederike to finishing school in Florence, well out of Hitler’s reach.
Technically, this concludes Hitler’s strange attempt to fix up the Prince of Wales with his cousin’s daughter. But Hitler didn’t stop trying to influence Edward in order to improve relations between Germany and Great Britain. Even after Edward’s abdication in 1936, Hitler pursued him (and Wallis) as a friend and ally, waiting for an opportunity where they could be useful.
It never came.
Later, Viktoria Luise wrote, “…with the knowledge we have today, we cannot say with any certainty whether Hitler was in earnest about any understanding with England…On the contrary, he showed that he had neither gauged nor correctly estimated the English mentality, nor saw where that country’s interests lay.” ⁷
¹ Viktoria Luise, Daughter, 48.
² Viktoria Luise, Daughter, 179.
³ Viktoria Luise, Daughter, 180.
⁴ King, Windsor, 114.
⁵ King, Windsor, 136.
⁶ Viktoria Luise, Daughter, 188.
⁷ Viktoria Luise, Daughter, 181.
Frederica, Queen of the Hellenes. A Measure of Understanding. London: Macmillan, 1971.
Viktoria Luise, H.R.H. Duchess of Brunswick and Luneburg, Princess of Prussia. The Kaiser’s Daughter. Translated and edited by Robert Vacha. London: W.H. Allen, 1977.
King, Greg. The Duchess of Windsor. New York: Citadel Press, 2003.