Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Young Victoria

When Princess Charlotte died hours after giving birth to a stillborn son, George III, father of eleven, had no legitimate grandchildren.  Since Charlotte was the unlikely result of the single night her mutually repulsive and repulsed parents spent together and the king's surviving daughters were in their 40s and 50s, it fell to the king's sons to renounce their mistresses, find wives, and save the kingdom.

Edward, Duke of Kent won the race.  He married his niece's widower's widowed sister (European family trees didn't branch much) and died eight months after the birth of their daughter Alexandrina Victoria.  It wasn't a promising start for the woman who would eventually rule half the world.  The Duchess of Kent was an avaricious, controlling woman who slept in the same room as her daughter, insisted on reading all of the princess's diaries and correspondence, and fell in with an even more manipulative courtier, John Conroy.  Victoria later described her childhood as dull and unhappy, and despite being the heir presumptive to the throne she spent most of those years isolated and desultorily educated, with only her governess able to act as companion or confidant.  As she approached 18, Conroy and her mother tried to force her to sign a document postponing her majority until age 21 and therefore allowing them to act as regents.  When that failed, they began to spread rumors that Victoria was not mentally capable of ruling.  That failed as well, and when William IV died shortly after Victoria's 18th birthday, she began what was to be a 64 year reign.  Her first act as queen was to banish her mother from her bedroom.

Plowden does a good job of describing the dull and surprisingly vulgar world that shaped the woman who loaned her name to prudishness.  George III's sons made Randy Andy and Bad Boy Harry look like a amateurs (just imagine what modern tabloids would have done with the dozen FitzClarences), but his granddaughter became associated with families covering furniture legs to avoid scandal.  I'd read that Victoria wasn't the prude, it was Albert and she fell under his spell.  That's probably true to some extent, but even her happy marriage was influenced by her mother.  Even as a Queen Regnant, as a single woman she couldn't attend functions without a chaperone of appropriate social rank.  Since the only person of rank was her despised mother, she married her cousin Albert rather sooner than initial planned.

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