by Susan Flantzer
Prince Waldemar (Joachim Friedrich Ernst Waldemar) was born at the Crown Prince’s Palace in Berlin, Prussia (Germany) on February 10, 1868, the sixth child of the Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia. His parents, known as Fritz and Vicky, were the future Friedrich III, German Emperor and Victoria, Princess Royal who was the eldest child of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. Waldemar’s birth came 20 months after the tragic death of his 21-month-old brother Sigismund from meningitis and on the 28th wedding anniversary of his maternal grandparents, Queen Victoria and the deceased Prince Albert. Vicky was overjoyed with her new son and wrote to Fritz, “All the pain of labour is nothing compared to the happiness of having such a dear little creature to hold & to nurse oneself.”
Waldemar quickly took the place of Vicky’s favorite son that had been held by his deceased brother Sigismund. Vicky hoped Waldemar would be everything that his elder brothers Wilhelm and Heinrich were not. She wrote to her mother, “He is such a dear child & although rather more spirited than is easy to manage, he is so trustworthy and honest…”
Waldemar had seven siblings:
- Wilhelm II, German Emperor (1859 –1941) married (1) Princess Auguste Viktoria of Schleswig-Holstein, had issue (2) Princess Hermine Reuss of Greiz, no issue
- Charlotte (1860 –1919) married Bernhard III, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, had issue
- Heinrich (1862 –1929) married his first cousin Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine, had issue
- Sigismund (1864 – 1866) died of meningitis at 21 months
- Victoria (1866 – 1929) married (1) Prince Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe, no issue (2) Alexander Zoubkov, no issue
- Sophie (1870 – 1932) married King Constantine I of Greece, had issue
- Margaret (1872 –1954) married Prince Friedrich Karl of Hesse, had issue
Waldemar reminded his grandmother Queen Victoria of her late husband Prince Albert because of Waldemar’s love of animals and interest in science. He loved visiting his grandmother at her home Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Waldemar collected rocks, minerals, and other specimens which his mother carefully labeled and then placed in the museum in the Swiss Cottage where she had played and learned to cook as a child.
During one visit, Waldemar gave his grandmother quite a scare. The Queen was working on some papers in her room and when she looked up she saw a small crocodile staring at her. Naturally, she screamed and all within hearing came running. Waldemar had let Bob, his pet crocodile, out of his box. In fits of laughter, Waldemar retrieved his crocodile and order was restored.
In February of 1879, Waldemar celebrated his 11th birthday. A month later, while Fritz and Vicky were watching the children rehearse a pantomime show, Waldemar complained of a sore throat. Unfortunately, Waldemar had come down with diphtheria. Four months previously, Vicky’s sister Alice and Alice’s youngest child May had died of the same disease. Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection affecting the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. Diphtheria typically causes a sore throat, fever, swollen glands and weakness, but the determining sign is a thick, gray membrane covering the back of the throat. The membrane can block the windpipe so that the patient has to struggle for breath. Today, diphtheria is extremely rare in developed countries thanks to widespread vaccination against the disease. However, before the advent of modern medicine, diphtheria could be epidemic and it often killed its victims.
Vicky took all the precautions known at that time to avoid spreading the disease. She washed Waldemar with hot vinegar and water, changed his sheets and clothes, and put them in a pail of carbolic acid. While tending him, Vicky covered her own clothing and sprayed herself with carbolic acid after she left Waldemar’s room. He seemed to be improving, but on March 26, 1879 at around 9 PM, the doctors summoned Vicky to Waldemar’s room. His breathing had worsened, and he died shortly after midnight.
Waldemar was buried with one of Vicky’s nightgowns covering him and one of Fritz’s handkerchiefs over his face. A private funeral service was held at the Neues Palais attended by the household staff, Waldemar’s teachers, and the parents of his friends. Vicky did not attend the official funeral the next day. Waldemar was buried near his brother Sigismund at the Friedenskirche (Church of Peace) in Potsdam. The remains of both boys were later transferred into the Kaiser Friedrich Mausoleum at the Friedenskirche where Fritz and Vicky were buried.
Vicky wrote of her son to Robert Napier, 1st Baron Napier of Magdala, “Ours is indeed a grief which must last a lifetime. We can hardly realise yet that we have lost the darling boy who was our pride and delight, who seemed to grow daily in health and strength, in intelligence and vigour of character. We had fondly hoped he would grow up to be on use to his country, and his family – we had planned and dreamt of a bright and useful future for him…He is missed every hour of the day, and the House has lost half its life.”