Victoria, Princess Royal, and German Empress for less than a hundred days in 1888, saw the signs of death for her husband, Emperor Friedrich III, and apparently both did not trust either Bismarck or her eldest son, the well known Wilhelm, and future II, so she and her husband the then emperor Friedrich III decided that her "private papers" or correspondences were better kept elsewhere than in Germany, and transferred those papers in three boxes to Windsor Castle:

Frederick III died about 11:00 on 15 June 1888. Once the emperor's death was announced, his son and successor William II ordered the occupation of the imperial residence by soldiers. The chambers of Frederick and Victoria were carefully checked for incriminating documents. However, the search was unsuccessful because all the couple's correspondence had been taken to Windsor Castle the previous year.

This leaves a couple of questions open: here, I wonder what was suspected to be in them, and what was eventually found to be in those papers transferred to England?

Some 'letters of the Empress Frederick' have been published by Frederick Ponsonby, but it's even unclear whether those published letters were in 'the chests', and/or what else was in these chests from 1888.

This is because for 1901 Ponsonby reports relays that he was asked by the Empress to again (?) smuggle two boxes of her private letters out of Germany:

He explained that when the Empress Frederick died, no letters or papers had been found, although a thorough search had been made, and the Emperor wished me to ascertain, without making too much of it, whether by chance these letters were in the archives at Windsor. To give some idea of how thorough the search was at Cronberg, Sir Arthur Davidson, who happened to be at Homburg at the time and who drove out to Friedrichshof, told me that the grounds were all surrounded by cavalry and the castle itself by special police, while competent searchers ransacked every room.

I replied that there would be no difficulty about this and that I would write at once to Lord Esher, who was Keeper of the Archives. I accordingly did so, knowing full well that Lord Esher was quite unaware of the existence of these letters, and in due course I received a reply saying that they were certainly not in the archives.

— Frederick Ponsonby: "Letters of The Empress Frederick", Macmillan: London, 1928. (pp. x–xv)

So, apparently Victoria either hid the letters in 1888 within Germany, or she sent them away and got them back before 1901? Or there are in total 5 boxes with varying content?

Neither English nor German Wikipedia provide any details on the actual contents of these chests, and neither do the respective Wikipedia's references for those chests, as far as those are accessible to me (and Herre currently is not…).

Apart from Herre the Wikipedia source for this episode is Pakula, who uses references all too sparingly to report these details:

Shortly after her mother’s visit, Vicky had, in fact dispatched the last box of her husband’s papers to England, including two volumes of his diary. “Never never give them up please, even if they try to make you!” she wrote Victoria. “You can deny having such or say what you like. ... Besides they cannot & do not know what was there, or where it is now. Fritz tore up & burnt heaps both at Charlottenburg here, Baveno, San Remo—& before we left for England last year.”

It seems that before the search ordered by son Willie after Frederick's death, a similar incident took place. This time the state minister of justice had a look to some, possibly other, papers and re-assured Victoria:

Friedrich III had left his papers to his wife, and, after looking them over, the Minister of Justice confirmed that they were not state documents, but personal papers to do with as she wished.

Nevertheless, after this experience the Dowager Empress wrote to suggest that Queen Victoria keep her letters to her eldest daughter at Windsor:

“[I]n case I died suddenly, I should not like them to be put in the German Archives, and ifthey found them after my death they would be sure not to allow them to be taken to England.” […]

Vicky’s anxiety to set the record straight was partially due to the much-heralded appearance of a pamphlet on Fritz’s illness. […]

— Hannah Pakula: "An Uncommon Woman. The Empress Frederick Daughter of Queen Victoria, Wife ofthe Crown Prince of Prussia, Mother of Kaiser Wilhelm", Touchstone: New York, 1995, p.502.

So far, any searches turned up lots of other 'surprise finds' for 'Victoria's papers', but those were mostly for 'other Victorias', not 'the Empress Frederick'.

So, what was actually in those boxes transferred in 1888 from Germany to Windsor Castle for safe-keeping? What happened to them?
Were these papers analysed by historians? In detail apart from "included this and that"? Did they indeed contain what Wilhelm II suspected? If so: what exactly?

  • I think this is just a case of following the sources cited in the Wikipedia article for that paragraph. Pakula, Hannah (1995) and Herre, Franz (2006). Both appear to be popular histories so another level of tracking down sources (hopefully the books have notes and bibliographies) will probably be necessary.
    – Spencer
    Sep 21 at 18:13
  • Presumably some of it would be the "3,777 letters from Queen Victoria to her eldest daughter" that wikipedia claims (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria,_Princess_Royal) and have been published in various formats, i.e. goodreads.com/en/book/show/12709512 and goodreads.com/en/book/show/1840035
    – Showsni
    Sep 22 at 14:01


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy