Sunday, March 16, 2008

My Lifetime of Study

For a woman who has had countless biographies written about her, Queen Victoria has always been misunderstood. Most people come away with the feeling that she was a small, stout woman dressed in black---a sad figure shut away in a castle somewhere---sort of priggish. Obviously, when she lost the love of her life, Prince Albert of Saxe-Gotha-Coburg, it destroyed her. She didn't want to go on and felt that the burden of the Monarchy was too much. And not only that---there were her many children left fatherless. Her eldest daughter, Vicky, was married to the heir to the Prussian Throne; her eldest son Bertie was living in England, but he had many flaws in her opinion. Then there was 5 year old baby Beatrice...and many others in between.

But before the Prince died in 1861 (at only 42 years old) Victoria had led an active life, and was much in love with her husband. She was very busy with the affairs of state and relied heavy on Albert for help. Together they took the Monarchy which was almost laughable, and restored a sense of dignity to the crown. The young couple were much imitated and sought after. They built several homes, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight---right on the water--which was their haven and also Balmoral in Scotland, with it's fresh, clean air. They had a life to be envied. Their life was filled with purpose and love. It wasn't until after her Prince Consort had died that the full magnitude and brilliance of his contribution to her reign were realized.

For years this woman has fascinated me. Was it her beauty? No. Obviously, she wasn't extremely attractive, but she had many nice features...silky hair, peaches and cream complexion with a touch of blush when she was young, a sweet bell like voice---very clear and distinct, a pleasing countenance, (as they said in those days) a caring nature, an extremely regal bearing and she was a prolific writer. She also loved sketching and watercolors, she enjoyed her food and ate quickly. She loved the cold bracing air, candles, and fires made with a certain kind of wood, usually birch. She loved animals, and her dolls. She also had an iron will.

She was also conceived to be a Queen. From the minute of her birth, there was a strong possibility that she would be Queen. It wasn't definite. But her father was hopeful.

She had her negative qualities, of course. She derived some sort of comfort and satisfaction from deep mourning rituals, and she worried about her own health excessively. She also worried about the health and welfare of others very much. She was will full and stubborn, at times much too much. She was of the opinion that she was right about most things. Albert was one of the only ones who could, well---knock her down to size---if you must know. And as strong as she was, there was also another side of her, the one riddled with anxieties and sadness.

Her childhood was sheltered--she never went anywhere in the house without someone else. Her friends were limited. Her food was bland---meat, potatoes, milk and bread--nothing special. She got her exercise, and adored her governess, the Baroness Lehzen. She was taught German and English, but spoke English most of the time. And she was lonely. She had a half older sister named Feodora who married and left England when Victoria was young. She also had a half brother. And when she reached her teens, the tension between she and her mother was becoming...well, serious. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent, a widow, did her best, I must say--in her defense. However, her late husband's secretary, Mr. Conroy, stayed with the Duchess after the death of the Duke and acted as her advisor. There is much to Conroy--he did spend a lifetime protecting Victoria, but she hated him. He hurt her and treated her quite harshly and loved to make it seem as if she was stupid. Victoria was somewhat kept prisoner in the years before she became Queen at 18. What she did was monitored and she wasn't free to do what she pleased. There was a system in place to keep her busy with her studies, and what she heard and saw was controlled by her mother and Mr. Conroy. There's much more to the story, but those are the highlights. Victoria hated Conroy and his control. And she resented her mother for listening to him. When she became Queen, she pulled away from them, and let me say it was not easy. A lesser young woman would have crumbled from nerves. Victoria did indeed suffer. She and her mother had a real rift because of Sir John Conroy which lasted many, many years.

The first half of her reign was brilliant for the most part--the latter half, at least from the view of her subjects, was somewhat distant and hidden. Never for a moment did she stop being Queen, but she could not tolerate the crowds and travel and she needed rest. It took most of her energy just to take care of her family and read through the important correspondence that came her way, meet with her prime ministers and contemplate affairs and make decisions. So yes, she did stay somewhat secluded. But she did bounce back in her own Victoria sort of way. Most people just don't know what an interesting life she had as a young woman, a mother and a sovereign. Even the latter part of her reign was borne with a mature wisdom and outlook, with confidence, with the help and support of one of her daughters.

Her diaries are priceless, her letters informative. The control she had over her children and grandchildren was quite amazing. In many ways she controlled Europe for a time. She couldn't be intimate with many people. What I mean by intimate is that she was royal, and above them in rank so-to-speak, and she did not confide her feelings to them. She had a few trusted confidants--mostly close family of royal blood. She reigned from 1837 until 1901. She really is a lifetime of study.

I write all this from memory. On some posts I do consult books for quotes and dates and things like that, and sometimes my memory does fail me, but on Victoria at least, her life is very clear to me. I've read all the important biographies of her, consulted them and compared them against each other to check fact for fact, and read primary sources such as diaries and letters. I just learn more and more. Why am I fascinated? I don't know! Of all the Queens and royals I study, I'd have to say that my favorite by far is Victoria. I'm not trying to say what I write is a perfect portrait. It is just mine.

I've said it before...I won't be happy till I get permission from Her Majesty to go to the Royal Archives, someday. There are many books on Victoria, and much on the internet, but I can't find a site that is JUST ABOUT HER and her alone. So, I've started one. When I do my Writer of Queens blog which I enjoy, I am often tempted to start writing about Victoria or Albert, or one of her children or grandchildren and I think: you don't want to bore them. Thus, I'm starting this blog, and maybe someday...a website. Who knows.

Oh, and that famous comment of hers, "I am not amused"...well, yeah, she said it once or twice, but she really didn't say it much. Believe me, if she didn't like something, her face would reveal it in an instant and no words were necessary. She could make grown men tremble. This is a woman who ruled her court with an iron hand. She controlled what would happen, who came and visited, the etiquette, the schedule. There was no court intrigue--except for the fact that she wrote her staff so many notes that it drove them crazy and there was much whispering behind closed doors by the servants. But even her servants were devoted to her. They loved her very much. Sometimes they were shivering with cold at Balmoral, or bored because Victoria's routines rarely changed, yet they truly loved her. Sometimes her court could be...um, boring.

I also wanted to start writing about her because...well, I have my sources...and I "predict" there will be much more interest in this particular Queen in the future. And so I want to begin to reveal her to you, as she really was.

2 comments:

Bearded Lady said...

Hi Susan, So excited that you have started a blog about Victoria. I confess that I don't know much about her. (I just always picture her in black and then there is the infamous I am not amused comment).

I have been reading through your blog and realized that Victoria is one of the royals that I have missed. Can't wait to read more.

moorvy said...

Susan,
Hooray! Someone else out there who's fascinated with Queen Victoria. Thank you so much for starting this blog just about her and I've added it to my very...very long list of Victorian bookmarks.

I spend most of my life boring everyone to tears with pointless facts about royalty and also drawing out family trees from memory when I really should be revising for my AS exams... I know this isn't normal activity for a 17 year old, but who wants to be normal? I was wondering if you could recommend a non-fiction book about Queen Victoria that's maybe a little more obscure than the ordinary run-of-the-mill books - ones like "Queen Victoria Was Amused", which is absolutely fab or the one about Henry Ponsonby (it's all the way over there on my bookshelf at the moment...) would be brilliant.

I've been trawling Amazon for inexpensive books that I haven't read yet and have so far found nothing I'm willing to spend a vast amount of money on, so I wondered if you could perhaps help? Anyway, keep up with the posting and thanks again,

Vicky :)