Kate Fleetwood plays the Queen’s “mysterious sister” Feodora in Victoria series three, making an “unexpected return” into the monarch’s life when she suddenly arrives from Germany.
So who was this princess in real life, and what was her relationship with Queen Victoria? Here’s what you need to know…
Who was Queen Victoria’s sister Feodora?
Princess Feodora of Leiningen was Queen Victoria’s beloved older half-sister, who had married a German prince and moved out of their mother’s household at Kensington Palace when Victoria was only eight. Feodora was a dozen years older than Victoria, but the two had a close relationship and constantly exchanged letters for the rest of their lives.
Born in 1807 in Bavaria, Feodora was the daughter of the Prince of Leiningen and Princess Victoria, better known to fans of the TV series Victoria by her later title, the Duchess of Kent (played by Catherine Flemming).
After Feodora and her older brother Carl’s father died, her mother remarried – tying the knot with King George III’s son, Prince Edward – and the family relocated to England just in time for the birth of Victoria, the future Queen.
In 1820, Prince Edward died and Feo and Victoria’s mother the Duchess of Kent was again widowed. But gambling on Victoria’s future accession to the throne (the child was now third in line), she decided to stay at Kensington Palace, where young Feo and her half-sister Victoria experienced a miserable, restrictive childhood guided by a strict set of rules imposed by the Duchess’s attendant Sir John Conroy.
Princess Feodora in 1830 (Getty)
Then in 1828, at the age of 20, Feodora married Ernst I, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenbury. She had only met him twice.
It has been suggested that Feodora was desperate to escape the confines of the household and cut herself loose from the “Kensington System” by getting married, although Goodwin has a different explanation for the match: did King George IV have his eye on the young Feodora as a potential new wife? “The moment that Victoria’s mother saw that she whisked her off to marry the first penniless chap or prince they could find, because they didn’t want anything to interfere with with Victoria becoming Queen,” Goodwin said.
After the marriage and honeymoon, the couple made their home in Germany, living in a large and uncomfortable castle called Schloss Langenburg.
Feodora and her husband Ernst had three sons and three daughters. All six children were still under the age of 20 by 1848, the point at which she joins the story in ITV’s Victoria. Her husband died in 1860, and Feodora herself passed away in 1872 – almost three decades before her half-sister the Queen.
Another fun fact: Feodora also had an older brother called Carl (Victoria’s half-brother) who, in 1848, actually became the first Prime Minister of the German Empire.
How accurate is the portrayal of Feodora in the TV series?
Victoria screenwriter Daisy Goodwin has used plenty of dramatic license in series three, making Feodora into a gloriously villainous older sister with a jealous streak – while the Queen herself is full of resentment about being “abandoned” at Kensington as a child.
“There she is, living in a crumbly, draughty castle in the middle of Germany and she’s having a miserable time,” Goodwin explained. “And there’s Victoria being Queen of England. It doesn’t go down so well.”
While we cannot know for sure how the siblings truly felt, in real life the sisters seem to have enjoyed a loving relationship.
Despite living abroad, Feodora visited Queen Victoria in England several times, including an extended trip in 1848. But she did not flee Langenburg and turn up alone at Buckingham Palace without her husband or six kids, and it doesn’t seem that she had any particularly close relationship with Albert.
Certainly, Feodora and her family were affected by the political unrest that wracked Europe in this eventful year. On 2nd April, Victoria wrote in her diary: “After luncheon had such a heart broken wretched letter from poor dear Feodore. They are half ruined & all their rights are being taken from them by law.”
In August the whole family arrived for a long-planned visit. “We drove down to East Cowes, in pouring rain, to meet dear good Feodore, who came in the Fairy [a boat] with Ernest, Victor, Eliza, Adó, & Feo,” Victoria wrote.
For several months, her diary is littered with descriptions of mornings, afternoons and evenings spent talking and walking with “dear Feodore” as their children play together, as well as dinners with their “Mama” the Duchess of Kent.
In November it was time for Feodora to leave again, and Victoria reported: “We had to take a sad leave of dearest excellent Feodore & her dear children. We took her down to the door, & it gave us a great pang to see the carriage drive off, these partings are very painful, for our children too, the separation from their dear cousins is sad… Missed much very dearest Feodore, how time flies, to think that this dear visit should already be passed seems inconceivable.”
What will happen when Feodora arrives in Victoria series three?
In this drama, Feodora is resentful and creates tension in the royal household when she comes to visit.
Explaining what’s in store when Feodora makes her debut in series three, Jenna Coleman said: “When Theodora arrives back there’s this unexplored tension between them, a resentment. They’re sisters, they love each other and are jealous of each other. They haven’t seen each other for years but they both went through the Kensington System. Theodora manages to drive a wedge between Victoria and Albert. She becomes Albert’s confidante.”
Goodwin said: “She’s this fantastic character that no-one knows much about. I was doing my research, and I started reading a bit more about her and I realised that she’s kind of the relation that no-one ever sees. She never comes to Britain, and I was looking at when she does come, it’s clear that it’s really strained.”
Praising the “amazing actress” Kate Fleetwood, who plays Feodora in the ITV drama, she added: “She brings this glorious, fabulous sister campness. She’s just great. She’s flamboyant. She’s a villain, a wonderful villain and you don’t know how much of a villain she is… she’s the drip of poison in the royal household.”
We’ll also see just how manipulative this character can be, especially in the way she befriends Prince Albert.
“I think he really likes her,” said Albert actor Tom Hughes. “She’s clever. I think Theodora is very smart the way she plays Albert, and I don’t think Albert’s ever been played in that way before.
‘I think he likes the company of a woman and this particular woman seems to be his intellectual equal. He can talk to her about things in a way that seems rational and considered, and at times, Victoria doesn’t do that. I think he finds a confidante in some of the frustrations he finds. He’s obviously German, and this is a reminder of home.”
He adds: “Theodora’s ingenuous at manipulating him because none of it is actually genuine, not really, maybe five per cent. She’s all there to play with him and push his buttons. She’s the first person to have read him instantly. A lot of the people in the world, it’s taken them time to understand what makes him tick, but she’s got it instantly and plays him for the whole series.”
Victoria returns to ITV from 24th March at 9pm on ITV, with new episodes airing on Sunday evenings