Review: A few thoughts on episode 1 of ‘Victoria’

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Wanted to bash out some #QuickFireThoughts on the first episode of ITV’s Victoria.  Given that speed is of the essence to keep it topical, I can’t promise this will be my finest literary endeavour.

It was good.

Purists (a camp that I loosely consider myself a member of) will be quick to point out the inaccuracies, and they’re not wrong.  The casting was clearly a victory of viewing figures over accuracy.  Yes, Lord Melbourne was an attractive man, but the countless girls currently going crazy over Rufus Sewell on Twitter might find themselves disappointed if they stepped back in time to 1837.  And of course, even as a young girl, Victoria never had the beauty of Jenna Coleman, but the thrust of the programme was good.

Here’s a few quick observations from me:

  • There were some really nice touches that geeks will appreciate. I don’t know if Conroy specifically tried to encourage Victoria to adopt the name of ‘Elizabeth II’ but it was certainly something discussed in Parliament.
  • I’m assuming – and Twitter agrees – that the ‘upstairs / downstairs’ dynamic was deliberately engineered to fill the void left by Downton Abbey last year. Does anyone know what, if anything, the ‘downstairs’ stories were based on?
  • The Lady Flora sub-plot was quite powerful. It is important to show how potentially spiteful the young Queen could be.
  • Baroness Lehzen was well cast. I liked the early acknowledgement that Victoria was totally constitutionally uneducated.

Of course the big thing that I – and other RoyalHistoryGeeks – will have struggled the most with was Victoria’s ‘attraction’ to Lord M.  Yes, she may have been infatuated and yes, he was dashing, but the relationship surely more closely resembled that of father/daughter.

In summary, the first episode was good and I’ll certainly tune in next week.  Was it totally historically accurate?  No, of course not.  Will it still aid people’s understanding of the history of the era?  Yes, I think it probably will.

In defence of Queen Victoria

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As you can imagine, I like a good Royal documentary as much as the next person.  A few years back, when the Queen celebrated her diamond jubilee, it was a cause of great joy to me that TV makers were inspired to turn their attention to the only other monarch to have marked that milestone.  Victoria.

But as I’ve blogged before, something concerns me about what is entering the public consciousness as a result.  Last week when ‘Queen Victoria’s children’ was re-run, I noticed again that social media was filling up with criticism of the late monarch.

Some of it was justified.  She was a self-centred woman.  She could be callous about and to, her children.  If you made an enemy of her, she was anything but gracious.  But this is only one side of the story; it’s time the other one was told.  To that end, I want to offer a few #QuickFireThoughts.

To start with, when it came to parenting, it should be remembered that her 9 children were no picnic.  The Prince of Wales in particular, indulged in antics that would drive almost any  parent to distraction.  She treated her youngest daughter horrifically when she announced she wanted to marry – but she also eventually embraced her son-in-law and helped advance him in life.  All of this of course should be viewed against the backdrop that she was horrifically parented herself.

Aside from parenting, there were many admirable parts to her personality and character that deserve honourable mention:

  • She was significantly less racist than her contemporaries – Her embracing of Indian servants enraged the establishment, but she would constantly defend them against the glare of the English superiority complex that was rampant.  I’m not suggesting that her world view would survive the scrutiny of 21st century standards, but it was considerably more advanced than those around her.
  • She embraced the underdog – Perhaps aware of her own heritage (she probably always felt like a first-generation immigrant despite being born in England) she was keen to champion the minority.  Be it in her love of Scotland over England or her preference for the Jewish Disraeli over the establishment produced Gladstone, she often acted in a way that people would not expect their ruler to; this has to be to her credit.
  • She placed less stock in hierarchy than most Royals – Perhaps seen most evidently in her relationships with her highland servants, Victoria craved informality in a way that often made other Royals, including her children, uncomfortable.  She was also disturbed by the Germanic practice of morganatic marriages, which was when a continental noble chose to wed someone of lower social status.  Such arrangements meant that a woman marrying a man of higher nobility could not claim his titles and precedence.  She was glad no such practice existed in Britain.
  • She genuinely valued friendship – The close associations she struck up were both unpredictable and frequent.  While she never forgot that she was a Queen-Empress, she coveted connections that would allow people to approach her as something resembling an equal.  Victoria was a woman who wanted at least some people to know her as a human being.

None of this is to suggest that the late matriarch was a forward-thinking liberal.  She was vehemently opposed to women’s rights throughout her reign.  But she was not the cold, callous egomaniac that recent documentaries have portrayed her as.

Or at the very least, that wasn’t all she was.

What do you think geeks?  Am I being too hard on the documentary makers?  Am I too quick to overlook the faults of the Queen-Empress?  Have I over-emphasised her positive character traits?  I want to know what YOU think?

Valentine’s day special: Were Victoria and Albert really a love match?

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As a Valentine’s day special, we will take a step back and decide whether Royalty’s greatest love story was really the great romance many of us have always believed it to be…

Studying Royal History is never boring, but it can be intense.  Brother against brother, father killing son, wife betraying husband and cousin rising up against cousin.  Sometimes, you need a bit of light relief.

For me, it was always the love story of Victoria and Albert that gave me that a-plenty.  Two young adults who, however dynastically convenient, fell head over heels in love.  In the innocent throws of passion that followed, they created an idyllic set of children that would serve as a timeless model of exactly what a Royal family should look like.

Such tales don’t just make easy reading; if the modern reader is able to overlook the fact that the two lovers were first-cousins, it is essentially a tale of romance that we can all either relate or aspire to.

But lately, as I’ve been conducting some – albeit fairly light – research around the ‘happy couple,’ I’ve noticed that there’s now a narrative circulating that perhaps all was not as it seemed.  This is something I don’t remember coming across as a teenager, but certainly seems to have been doing the rounds in recent years.

Don’t get me wrong, very little that I read suggests that the conventional view is dead in the water,  but there is a sense that the young Coburgs were not the love story we have been led to believe.  Were much of Victoria’s later platitudes to Albert a product of guilt?  Were they both really the victims of an arranged marriage?  Was it the case that plain Victoria felt a hormonal passion for her striking new husband, but he was more disappointed in his plump, immature and unintelligent bride?

Having decided to #DigALittleDeeper I have concluded that the following observations certainly seem fair:

  • Victoria and Albert’s match was certainly one arranged (or strongly, strongly encouraged) by their family. Their uncle Leopold, had once been in prime position to become Prince Consort of Britain; it was almost certainly his belief that this ambition should be fulfilled by the next generation of his kin.
  • After Albert’s death it does seem the case that Victoria looked back at their marriage through rose-tinted spectacles. Contemporary letters and other sources suggest their marriage could be quite tempestuous and a strain on both parties.
  • It does seem that whatever Victoria’s pleasures, Albert experienced a degree of melancholy in the marriage, particularly in the early years.

However, is any of this really enough to take away from the more romantic tales that have come down to us?  Yes, their marriage was somewhat ‘arranged,’ but this would always be the case for the woman ruling the most powerful Kingdom in Europe.  It should be noted that some of the other potential matches for her were more favourable to other stakeholders, including the UK government.  Victoria and Albert’s personal chemistry was part of what made the match achievable.

It is almost inevitable that following Albert’s untimely death, Victoria would always remember her marriage with more romance than accuracy, but that doesn’t mean she rewrote history.  Were there elements of guilt for the times that she didn’t think herself a good wife?  Probably, but that’s hardly untypical in situations of grief.  While evidence does suggest that there were many tempestuous moments in their marriage, perhaps in a marriage dominated by passion, this shouldn’t surprise us.

As for what was going on in Albert’s head and indeed, his heart, we can of course never truly know.  If indeed his passion did not match that of his wife’s, we would be wise not to draw too much from that.  Victoria was in her own country, her own surroundings and occupied an established role in society.  Not only did Albert not have the security of a well-worn constitutional role, he also had to adapt to leaving all his friends, family and the country he had grown up in.  If he was battling with aspects of mild depression from time to time, it does not make sense to attribute that to how he felt about his marriage.

Besides, there is evidence that suggests his marriage to Victoria was something that excited him on every level.  The love letters he sent to his future bride, testify to a man excited about forthcoming nuptials and everything that this would entail.  Throughout the 1840s, Victoria was rarely free from pregnancy.  True, they both felt a duty to create a new and idyllic Royal family after the scandals of the Hanoverian years, but it’s difficult to think that this scale of reproduction was the product of duty alone.

As with so many things, this is something I would like to research further.  Based on what I can see so far, I won’t be abandoning the romantic notions of this Royal coupling that I have found so comforting over the years.  For once, this is a tale of romance that is rooted in reality.

Was Queen Victoria’s childhood as unhappy as she remembered?

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The unhappy childhood of Princess Victoria of Kent, the future Queen-Empress, has become legend among fans of Royal history.  But when we have a close look at the facts, is it possible that the prone-to-drama matriarch had exaggerated her early suffering? Continue reading