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on 29 June 2004
Hannah Pakula's study of the life of Victoria (Vicky), the gifted and driven oldest child of Victoria and Albert, is a first-rate and stunning biography. It is not simple "women's history" or Victoriana; this is a book that deserves to be on the bestseller lists.
As with all biographies of the lives of Victoria's family, the book cannot be viewed as simple period biography. Their personal lives are inextricably bound with their nations' political histories, and at times they are one and the same. Vicky was married at 17 to Fritz, the heir presumptive of Prussia, in what was thought to be the fulfillment of Albert's lifelong dream of a unified and parliamentary Germany. This was not to be, and Vicky's own flesh and blood would see to that.
Hannah Pakula's skills as a historian are without reproach; the book could easily double as an academic text on 19th century German history, and I in fact gained a better comprehension of German history from this book than I did from my university courses. Her prose is equally strong. At times the rote of injustices inflicted upon Vicky - a vicious hate campaign led by her own son - was so upsetting to read that I would have to put the book down for a while. It takes powerful writing to do that.
Pakula does not deny or excuse Vicky's personality flaws. Still, Vicky is revealed as one of the most wronged and neglected women in history. Bravo to Pakula for shining the light on a woman so often left alone in darkness.
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VINE VOICEon 22 February 2004
An Uncommon Woman, is Pakula’s authoritative biography of the Empress Frederick.
Frederick is male; Empress is female—about whom are we talking here? Isn’t that name a contradiction in itself? So who is that person?
The Empress Fredeick is none other than the Princess Royal Victoria (1840-1901), – known as Vicky to her family - eldest child of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort. She married the Prussian Crown Prince, later Crown Prince of the German Empire, Frederick (Fritz), who in 1888 as Frederick III became German Emperor after a long wait. He was hailed as the liberal hope of Germany. However, he was terminal ill with cancer and died after a brief reign of only 99 days. His widow took after his death in order to honour his memory the name of Empress Frederick. With him the ”last hope of Liberalism” had died.
She is the mother of the last German Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II, often refered to as THE KAISER.
Drawing on a vast amount of l family documents, including more than 7,000 letters between the Empress and the Queen, between mother and daugther . Hanna Pakula offers an absorbing portrait of a brilliant, determined woman, a life set from the very beginning to become something special. Vicky was the beloved daughter of her father, the Prince Consort Albert, and trained by him in the principles of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government. Her love-match to heir of the Prussian throne was seen by him as a mission of carrying these liberal concepts back to the homeland. of Albert’s birth. At the age of seventeen-year, she encountered the rigid Prussian Court, the politicies an Otto von Bismarck. The clash of a policy of enlightened liberalism versus the domineering and at the time successful militarism of an ultra-conservative policy was bound to happen. Vicky tried to convince his husband, the heir to the throne and put him in a difficult position. The wait for the throne cost both dear. When it finally happened, the new Emperor was already marked for the grave, suffering from throat cancer. 99 days were too short to change the course of history. With him died the last hope of liberalism, so at least Hanna Pakula saw it and praised Victoria’s political judgement. But is that the reality ? Victoria or the Empress Frederick created after the Emperor’ s death a portrait of her husband, a portrait creating him a liberal legend and criticising his political adversary Otto von Bismarck (1815-98), who dominated German politics from 1862 to 1890 New evidence calls the accuracy of these views into question. It shows that the success of Victoria’s campaign to convert her husband to liberalism was in actuality more limited than she herself believed. Victoria hoped to revise German politics along more liberal and progressive guidelines used in Britain, but while Frederick adopted moderately liberal views after his marriage, he shied away from embracing the far more radical political philosophy of his wife. Her views on domestic and foreign policy were unrealistic, and the course of action she advocated on several occasions was downright dangerous. Indeed, in the long run it may have been better for Germany that most of her views never became translated into actual policy.
In whatever way you judge this aspect of her life, you will find the life of Vicky most interesting, her fascinating and set before an epic story of war, revolutions, major changes of the European landscape. It is a story of royal romance, court intrigue and a very sad mother-son relationship. And above it is the story of a mother-daughter relationship - the two Victorias… two queens, two empresses, two politicians and two wifes, mother and daugther.
5 stars are well deserved for this excellent book.
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on 7 December 2006
This is not only a brilliant biography but it also gives one a real insight into the birth of Germany. The craftiness of Bismark and the endless emphasis on military build up. Wilhelm I the grandfather of Kaiser Wilhelm II even had the boy dressed up and playing soldiers at 10.

Much of Bismark's tricks look transparent to us these days but at the time he duped many a foreign leader by his honest broker policy. He like Hitler would use any excuse to demonise his targeted prey - be it France, Austria or socialism. A bear of a man at 6ft 3ins who could eat and drink endlessly. There is a lot on the future Kaiser II and how from an early age his mother noted his hard and uncompromising views on life (not surprising when your mother refers to you as 'the little cripple'). He had to overcome a withered arm and was kept in a contraption for long hours to correct a spinal curvature. One realises from this that the first world war was inevitable since the tripartite agreements of mobilisation that Bismark set up were still largely in place - also no-one had yet experienced a modern industrial war. After the war the Kaiser was exiled to the Netherlands where he found a new hobby - chopping down every tree on his estate and producing vast piles of firewood - he lived until 1941.

A great read that I found hard to put down.
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on 16 July 1998
Hannah Pakulah brings the 19th century to life in this wonderful book told largely through the letters of Queen Victoria and her eldest daughter, the Empress Frederick of Germany. The book is readable, engaging, and beautifully written, a rare combination and one which history buffs will devour with relish.
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on 8 June 2015
This gave an insight into the very sad life of a young girl married into the German Royal Family at a very young age and seemed to be historically
accurate. If you are interested in the lives of Queen Victoria's children then this is as good a place to start as any..
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on 21 February 2001
I read with incredulity the reviews below which state that Daphne Bennett's work is far superior to this. What utter poppycock! This has to be one of the best biographies of all time. The research and penmanship are second to none. I read this book when it first came out and since then have read it twice more - with each reading it gets better. In comparison Daphne Bennett's book reads like a second rate Mills and Boon.
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on 8 August 2014
An insight into the life of Princess Victoria of England & the ill treatment she received in the German Court.
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on 20 December 2015
Love it, very detailed and interesting, covering a wide range of events and happenings throughout the period.
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on 21 June 2015
Lots to read and very good writing, a great insight into the social history of the time.
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on 30 August 2000
This biography about Queen Victoria's eldest daughter gives a very thorough insight in how this royal lady with a rather strong personality & politically very much involved, set the tone for a political stage on which Bismarck was her (equally) strong opponent. Having been so lucky to marry a royal Prince she loved, it would nonetheless have been better if her emotions towards her eldest son had been less disturbed. It destroyed any normal relationship which might have been between the two of them! The books shows very clearly how much Vicky's English background (* her mothers'influence! ) hampered her in - finally - really understanding the German/Prussian spirit. Apart from the many, extensive political-dominated chapters the book shows clearly how much research the author has done on this complex, extra-ordinary and indeed uncommon woman!
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