The Life & Issue of Queen Victoria
by Ilana Miller
In 1817, a great calamity befell the British Royal Family. The heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, was dead after giving birth to a stillborn child. The daughter of the infamous Prinny, soon to be George IV, Charlotte was the hope of the nation. She was married to a handsome prince, Leopold of Saxe Coburg Saalfeld (later King Leopold I of Belgium), and she was extremely well-liked. This kind of popularity was a major accomplishment for the Royal Family, and, unfortunately, the same could not be said for Prinny’s eleven other brothers and sisters. More importantly none of these siblings, including seven brothers, had had legitimate issue to succeed to the throne after the death of Charlotte.]]>Support our sponsors
The race was on. George’s middle-aged brothers scrambled to make legitimate alliances, and thence, to produce – mostly so that Parliament would pay their overwhelming debts. Two years later, the race was just barely won by Edward, Duke of Kent, who, married to Victoria of Saxe Coburg Saalfeld (the sister of Leopold), finally give the nation the much desired heir — little Alexandrina Victoria, in 1819.
Drina, as she was known, grew up in a fatherless household, (Edward died before she was two.) where she was smothered and bullied by her mother, the duchess, but brought up lovingly by Baroness Lenhzen, her nanny/governess.
In 1820, George III (The Madness of King George) finally died after a long and tumultuous reign. His son, George succeeded him. Very little marks George’s tenure. He was far more interesting when he was the Prince Regent. He is best known for his mistresses, his social life, and his tremendously disastrous marriage (which produced Charlotte) rather than for his governance. The nation actually drew a sigh of relief when George died in 1830.
George was succeeded by his brother, William. William IV was an ignorant, tactless, but good natured man, who had spent most of his life in the navy and had the tattoos and vocabulary to prove it. He also had a mistress, Mrs. Dorothy Jordan (the Mrs. was honorary), and with her, ten little Fitzclarences. In the race to produce an heir, Mrs. Jordan was summarily jettisoned, and William was able to convince Adelaide of Saxe Meiningin, to marry him. Considering the thirty year age difference, the illegitimate children falling out of the bushes, and William’s recorded unattractiveness, Adelaide must have been someone more imbued with a sense of royal duty than, even, Queen Mary. Be that as it may, Adelaide tried desperately to have living children – all those Fitzclarences seemed to be a living reproach to her. She never succeeded.
Adelaide was a good aunt to Drina. She thought her a nice little girl, and would have loved to see more of her. The Duchess of Kent, however, would have none of this. She was determined to keep sweet little Drina away from the dissolute Hanoverians . . . .
William, whose reign began with great promise (any reign after George’s could start with nothing but), ended ignominiously, and without fanfare. He died in 1837, with the country, again, relieved. It was now over and the sons and daughters of King George III, would no longer be the primary worry of the nation.
Little Drina, now Victoria, became Queen, and celebrated this milestone by taking her bed out of her mother’s room, and announcing that from now on she would sleep alone. She did, when awakened and told of the death of her Uncle, say , “I will be good”, but most historians don’t think she was speaking about eating her vegetables or getting to bed on time. Rather, they believe she was speaking about the basic fact that she was determined to be a good ruler. A marked contrast, then, to her Uncles and Grandfather.
And so she was. Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901, the longest reign by a British Monarch. She was also probably one of the most beloved of them, a true symbol of the nation. She had only just reached her majority when she became queen, and was, naturally, seeking advice outisde the confines of her smothering “handlers”. That advice came in the form of Victoria’s first romantic attachment, Lord Melbourne. Lord M., the unhappy husband of Lady Caroline Lamb, was Victoria’s first prime minister. Almost from the beginning, dear Lord M. took the job of molding the young Queen, and it was, for him, a labor of love. Many compare it to the role that Winston Churchill played for the young Queen Elizabeth II. Lord M., however, was more attached, and stepped back regretfully when dear Albert came on the scene. She married her beloved Albert (also of Saxe Coburg Saalfeld, and who was her first cousin) in 1840. Unlike her predecessors, Victoria had no problem producing the heir and many spares. She and Albert had nine children and more than forty-four grandchildren.
The Queen’s first child was the Princess Royal, Victoria (1840-1901). She was an incredibly brilliant child, the apple of her father’s eye, who far outshone her brothers and sisters. She was given a liberal education under the benign care of her father and excelled in all her lessons. A difficult act for the rest of the children to follow. She married Prince Frederick of Prussia in 1858 and had eight children of her own – the most significant of which was William II), the infamous Kaiser Wilhelm who led his country and the world into the Great War of 1914. Vicky, as she was known, eventually became Empress, herself, in 1888 – for three months. After Fritz’s death, Vicky was continually badgered by Willy, who had a love-hate relationship with his mother. She eventually died the same year as her mother, from cancer of the spine.
The second child was the wished for heir, Albert Edward (1841-1910). Bertie, later Edward VII, was not as brilliant as his sister. Although bright enough, he was a continual disappointment to his father. His mother worried constantly that he was a throw-back to his Hanoverian Uncles. It seemed a self-fulfilling prophecy, and Bertie lived, if not a dissolute life, a highly social one, full of mistresses, parties, and very little statecraft. (This last was not entirely his fault since Victoria would never consent to let him see state papers, nor would she give him any useful job.) He married the beautiful Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and they had five children, two boys and three girls. The first son, Prince Albert Edward, known as Eddy, died as a young man – to the relief of the nation. Not only was Eddy slow (his tutors said he seemed to barely know the meaning of the word “read”), but he was involved in several homosexual scandals that were immediately hushed up. He was, poor man, even suspected as the serial murderer, Jack the Ripper. Frankly, he was much too stupid to have committed these crimes.
The second son was George – a nice, healthy young man, who took over the succession when his brother died, and also his brother’s fiancee – Princess Mary of Teck, later Queen Mary.
The next child in the Wettin family, (this was actually Albert’s family name) was a girl – Alice (1843-1878). A bright child, she would have shone in any family who didn’t have the brilliant Vicky as a sibling. She was married to the heir to the Grand Duchy of Hesse, Louis, and had five children that grew to adulthood. The princesses of Hesse, Victoria, Elizabeth and Irene, were renowned for their beauty and called “the Three Graces”. A much younger fourth sister was also an incredible beauty – the future doomed Empress Alexandra of Russia. The oldest sister, Victoria, is significant as the mother of Lord Mountbatten and grandmother of the present Duke of Edinburgh. Alice, a tireless social reformer and follower of Florence Nightingale, had the sad distinction of the being the first of Queen Victoria’s children to die at the age of 35.
Following Alice, came Alfred (“Affie”) (1844-1900), later Duke of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg Gotha. Affie married the only daughter of Emperor Alexander II of Russia, the Grand Duchess Marie, the richest princess in the world. They had four daughters and one son. One of their daughters, Marie (“Missy”), eventually became Queen of Romania. She thought herself the most beautiful queen in Europe, and she was probably right. She also wrote perhaps the most entertaining and best written set of royal memoirs. Her sister, Victoria Melita (“Ducky”), became the Grand Duchess Kyril of Russia, and it is her great-grandson that is one of the foremost contenders to the Romanov throne.
Helena was born in 1846 and died in 1923. She had four children, none of which produced any legitimate issue. She was married to the much older and very bald Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. Her life was spent alternating with her younger sister, as companion to her mother, the Queen.
Louise followed in 1848. She had the distinction of marrying a commoner – John Campbell, the Duke of Argyll. The marriage, unfortunately, was not a success. It is implied in many sources that the Duke was homosexual, and there was no issue to the marriage. Louise was probably the prettiest of Queen Victoria’s daughters and wasn’t above making mischief in the family. She died in 1939.
Queen Victoria’s favorite son, Arthur was born in 1850 and died in 1942. He was married to Princess Louise of Prussia producing two daughters and a son. His daughters, like the Hesses and the Edinburghs, were quite beautiful. Princess Margaret (“Daisy”) went on to become Crown Princess of Sweden, while Princess Patricia (“Pat”) married a commoner, Sir Alexander Ramsay and enjoyed a long and happy marriage.
Leopold (1853-1884) was the Queen’s last son. It was here that the infamous strain of hemophilia appeared. There are many theories as to how and where the gene originated, none of them conclusive. The Queen, for one, insisted that no one in her family was responsible. Others suggested that it may have come from somewhere in the Prince’s family. Many today, however, hypothecate that somehow the gene mutated in the Queen and was then passed on to her son Leopold, and to the progeny of three of her daughters. Alice of Hesse passed it on to at least two of her daughters – Alexandra, of course, and Irene, who had three boys, two of whom had the disease. Beatrice, the youngest of the queen’s children, also passed it on to two of her three sons. Vicky was said to be a carrier, but neither of her living sons had the disease. Leopold, living a very quiet life, was, perhaps, the most intellectual of the Queen’s sons, the most cultured and artistic, and more important, a favorite to all. Leopold married Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont, and had two children, Alice, who was the last grandchild to die in 1981, and Charles Edward, who eventually succeeded to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg Gotha – inherited from his Uncle Affie and his grandfather, Albert. Leopold died at the age of 31 after falling down the stairs.
Lastly, (and the Queen must have breathed a sigh of relief – she absolutely hated being pregnant and giving birth – she thought it so animalistic), there was Beatrice (1857-1947). This last child was petted and spoiled and expected to stay home with mama as her lifelong companion. Victoria saw no need for Beatrice to marry, and every need for her to share her eternal mourning of dear Albert, who died in 1861. (If you understand that Victoria kept herself in mourning for forty years, and that her grandson patterned himself after her, rather than his father, you may understand the demeanor of today’s Windsors better.) Beatrice, however, defied her mother. When she and Prince Henry of Battenburg met, it was easy to understand. Henry (“Liko”) was one of the handsomest princes in Europe – by any standard. It always seems that when a prince or princess is called handsome or beautiful, one can expect them to be passably or even mildly good-looking. However, in the case of the Battenburg Princes, no such dissembling was necessary. They were called the most handsome princes in Europe – and there were four of them (count ’em). One married one of the beautiful Hessian Princesses, Victoria, and was the grandfather of Prince Philip, and Henry was given permission to marry Beatrice, after promising to live with the Queen at Windsor.
The Queen was thrilled with this last son-in-law. He was so good-looking, and the Queen loved good-looking men. In some ways, he took the place of her beloved John Brown, who had died in 1883. She was, therefore, as devastated as her daughter when he died in 1896. (Henry had finally managed to get away from Windsor, going on an expedition to the Gold Coast – he caught malaria and died . . . and was sent home in a barrel of rum.)
Here, perhaps, a few words about the somewhat infamous Brown would be in order. After Albert’s death in 1861, Victoria went into deep Victorian mourning. Looking into mourning of the time, you can only imagine how deep that was. In the Queen’s case, some feared for her sanity. Then, in 1864, she brought the gillie, John Brown, down from Balmoral, to be her personal attendant (a gillie is a male attendant on a Highland Chieftain – today it’s mostly an attendant on sportsman). Initially, he was summoned because dear Albert liked him, however, later, he began to play an extremely positive role in slowly pulling the Queen out of seclusion. During Brown’s tenure, there were many rumors of romance and marraige. One need only look at the Queen’s character more than cursorily to know that this was nonsense. Nevertheless, the aristocracy of the time, bored with no glittering court to attend (except Bertie’s Marlborough House Set), maliciously ate up the gossip. It was true that Brown was powerful in the Queen’s household and that he spoke to the Queen and members of her family any way he wished. It was also true that Victoria considered him a close personal friend, as she did her dresser, Annie Macdonald. At his death, she asked Tennyson to immortalize him in verse, and had to be tactfully restrained from publishing her own personal memories of John Brown.
After the longest reign in British history, Queen Victoria died in January of 1901, several months shy of her eighty-second birthday. Her contributions to both the public life of Britain and the private lives of the royal families of Europe were immense.
To the Empire, she brought a dignity, style, and most important, a validation of the monarchy that had not been witnessed since, perhaps, Elizabeth I. She wisely used her powerless position to unite the purposes of much of the political strife that went on during the 19th century – her style of working with her prime ministers, especially Disraeli and Melbourne, and took the Royal Family and put it on the level of the Middle Class. They had the distince impression that she was like them, and her family was, too. One has only to look at the lithographs of the 1840’s and ’50s to see this “typical” middle class family, imparting and symbolizing middle class values for Britain, although, of course, nothing could be further than the truth.
Today it is her great-great granddaughter that rules the United Kingdom, and Elizabeth’s consort, Philip, is Victoria’s great-great grandson. Whether or not the “normalcy” of Victoria’s reign, which was brilliantly illuminated by the late Princess Diana, will ever return to the monarchy, perhaps in the person of Prince William, is debatable, but many in England are hopeful.
Read about Ilana and also her Historical Cheat Sheet article on the Victorian Era
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