In Queen Victoria at Home [ISBN 0 7867 1178-7] Michael De-la-Noy provides a well researched, intimate, intense biography of the Queen of the United Kingdom and Ireland and the Empress of India. Although rambling and, sometimes, confusing, it is alternatively tender, moving and humorous, and provides considerable insight into the reasons for Victoria's odd behavior in later life.
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Alexandrina Victoria was born on May 24, 1819 at Kensington Palace, London. Her parents were Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn. At the time of her birth she was fourth in line to the throne.
Her parents wanted her to be named “…Victoire, [her mother's actual name], Georgina [in honor of the Regent], Alexandrina [as a compliment to the Tsar, Alexander], Charlotte [after her paternal grandmother…] Augusta.” Tsar Alexander was one of the godfathers. But the Prince Regent did not approve of many of the names the family had chosen and had difficulty making up his mind. By the time the Regent agreed to Alexandrina Victoria, the child's mother was in tears.
Within eight months of Victoria's birth, her father was dead, as was her grandfather, King George III. She grew up without father figures, except for King Leopold, I of Belgium, her maternal uncle, with whom she was very close until his death. “He is so clever, so mild, and so prudent; he alone can give me good advice on every thing.”
The British Royal family did not like Victoria's mother, thinking her far too Germanic; she had difficulty learning English and adapting to British manners and customs. The Duchess had brought with her from Germany John Conroy, a captain in the Royal Artillery, who had been her husband's equerry. “Conroy was immensely ambitious and saw a brilliant future for himself as private secretary to Victoria when she became queen” as he was sure she would be. “By attempting to isolate the princess from her relations both at the English court and in Coburg, and hence making her entirely dependent on her mother, Conroy reckoned that whatever advice he gave the Duchess would be passed on to her daughter.” As a result, Victoria was a very lonely child, with no siblings and with little contact with normal life events and with people besides her mother, Conroy, and her German governess, Baroness Louise Lehzen, who arrived when Victoria was five years old. Before the arrival of Baroness Lehzen, Victoria was considered to be a backward child. Later, she was a prodigious scholar of both religious and secular works.
One of the people from whom Victoria was kept away was the reigning Monarch, William IV. As heir-presumptive to the throne, Victoria would come of age at 18, while the normal age of majority was 21. William IV was so angry that Victoria had been kept away from him that he said, on the occasion of his birthday, a few months before his death, that he hoped he would die after Victoria's 18th birthday so that her mother would not be Regent. He was to get his wish. Victoria ascended the throne in 1837.
Immediately upon receiving the news that William IV was dead, Victoria moved from Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace. Her mother thought that the two would be very close but, in fact, Victoria established her mother in rooms as far away from her own as was possible; the Duchess of Kent could not see her daughter unless specifically sent for. Victoria was now free from the tyranny of her mother and of Conroy.
While Victoria was an adept scholar, because of her isolation and lack of real world experience she was, in the early years of her reign, an immature monarch. It was only with her marriage to Albert, the Prince Consort, in 1840, that she became more professional. In many other ways she was not prepared for real life experiences. She had never seen an infant until her first child was born and she had never been near a coffin until her mother's death when Victoria was 41 years old.
While, initially, Victoria did not want to marry, and did not like Albert when she first met him, their union was to become one of the major love stories of the century. Neither one was unfaithful, at a time when infidelity was rampant. It is said that many of the changes regarding fidelity in marriage came about because of the happy married life of Victoria and Albert. As Prince Consort, Albert had many responsibilities for the government; in fact, Victoria never appointed a Private Secretary. By the time of his death in 1861 it was accepted that Albert was the one who was really running the country.
Although Victoria did not like babies, and thought they were ugly, she nine children, all born alive and healthy. However, Victoria was a carrier of the hemophilia gene and three of her children were affected. Two of her daughters, Alice and Beatrice, were carriers, and her son, Leopold, had hemophilia. It was through Alice that the Tsarevitch, Alexei, of Russia, inherited the hemophilia gene; Alice's daughter, Alix, married Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
Although Victoria was known for being kind to her servants, she could be tyrannical and exacting with her children. She was particularly severe with the Prince of Wales, Albert, who she thought was weak and lazy. Even after her children were adults and married, she often required minute descriptions of their management of their lives. If she did not approve she was not reluctant to say so.
The major tragedy of Victoria's life was the death of Albert, the Prince Consort, in 1861. She was completely self indulgent in her grief, not doing anything to help to lessen it. She wore black for the rest of her life, and neglected public functions for which she was soundly criticized. However, this was not the first time that she was overcome by death. When her mother died, she did not take Albert's advice to remove herself from the area and return to Buckingham Palace. Instead, even though she had had very difficult relations with her mother [or, maybe, because of them] she mired herself in bereavement. It is likely that her lack of exposure to normal life events when she was isolated as a young woman could explain, to some extent, her lack of coping mechanisms.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked this book because it was very well written, often amusing, and was very well researched. It would have been helpful if, in addition to the 43 photographs, there had been a family tree, since keeping track of all of Queen Victoria's relatives was often confusing.
Best scene in story:
While reading about Buckingham Palace we find that James I “…had the brainwave of competing [or trying to compete] with the French silk industry, and in 1608 he paid L935 to have mulberry trees planted on a four-acre plot near the present north wing of the palace. Unfortunately, he planted black mulberry trees, which silkworms detest, instead of white mulberry trees, which they gobble up.”
Opinion about the main character:
CHARACTER I like Queen Victoria because of her honor, integrity, devotion to her family and sense of duty. I disliked her self -indulgence after the death of her husband, remaining in black the rest of her life and not participating in most public functions.