TRANSCRIPT: EP017 A QUEEN (VICTORIA IS BORN)
Drum roll then because it is time to meet Victoria herself.
I want to emphasise now that it was originally unlikely that the young girl would go on to be Queen. The Hanoverian and British King George III had four legitimate male children. His oldest, George would be the Prince Regent and later King George IV. He would be despised as few other English monarchs. He had married to his Catholic mistress in a secret ceremony before eventually marrying the Protestant Princess Caroline. The couple would come to hate each other with a passion almost unequalled in royal history. The Prince was loathed by a huge number of his subjects. Princess Caroline was given more sympathy, including by Jane Austin.
If you listened to my previous episodes on the Mt Tambora eruption and the subsequent climate disasters they unleashed which lead to famine and mass epidemics, as well as the episode on the Peterloo massacre of 1819, you will know that he took the Maria Antoinette line of letting them all eat cake. He had compounded this with his immense spending and love of fashion whilst the people starved in poverty. He seems to have approved of the repressive measures of his Prime Minister Lord Liverpool. His carriage was stoned on one occasion, so it wasn’t just his wife who loathed him. The fickle British public turned on her when the Regent became King and he barred her from the coronation.
They did manage to have a daughter, during the marriage, Princess Charlotte. She was the legitimate heir to the Throne, since the legions of illegitimate children of the various Hanoverian Dukes were excluded. When she married Prince Leopold of Coburg, the nation rejoiced. Princess Charlotte was being fetished into the perfect future monarch, an antidote to her hated father George IV. He and Charlotte had a difficult relationship and there were times when he treated her with appalling viciousness. One area where he did pay her attention was when it came to using her to wring money out of the public purse to keep her in the style the Hanoverians had become accustomed to. Lord Liverpool eventually agreed to an allowance of £50,000, plus £10,000 for the Princesses maids, and an addition £60,000 pound for furniture. This was the kind of figure that was undreamed of by almost the entire population, and could have easily paid for and outfitted a full ship of the line – sort of like if the US decided to spend the cost of an aircraft carrier on a Presidents 4 year wages. Since this was at the height of the year without summer, and the massive famines, it was incredibly resented. Her wedding dress cost an additional £10,000.
Still, unlike her father at his wedding, she and the groom were deeply in love. Popular adulation of the couple reached a fever pitch. Prince Leopold was unlike the Regent; he didn’t have rages and spend recklessly or turn into a belligerent drunk. You might want to remember Leopold, the man who was almost King because he will pop up in this podcast more than once as Victoria’s Uncle Leopold.
I’d like to point out that if you only know about the Prince Regent from the old Blackadder show, s3 when he was played as a loveable idiot by Hugh Laurie then this might be shocking. Blackadder went easy on him. That’s because TV can’t make a main character too unlikeable otherwise you won’t support them. Usually the way they do it is by making a nasty person a bit stupid, a bit out of touch and more self centred than nasty. That works for TV, but it hides the real character of the historical person. The people of Britain in 1819 would probably have absolutely killed to have the Blackadder version.
The real Prince Regent was vain, arrogant, totally selfish, petty, spiteful, clever, vindictive and ultra conservative. He was also obscenely impatient for his father to die so he could be king. Astonishingly the Duke of Wellington loathed him, and considered him worse than Louie XVIII. When he eventually became king, he weighed 245 pounds, was addicted to Opium and had a 51” waist. He was a huge Jane Austin fan, purchasing Sense and Sensibility before it was released and offering her suggestions for improvement, but she hated his guts. Plus telling Jane Austin how to write is the ultimate piece of Mansplaining.
His wife said he was a bad king but would have made a great hairdresser. He certainly had an eye for art, and he was at least responsible for a large part of the exquisite restoration and redesign of Windsor Castle. He had the overall Gothic design rolled out to the whole building, including increasing the height of the grand tower, more striking battlements, new towers, new apartments, new grand corridors and a riot of incredible styles inside the rooms. Work wasn’t finished till after his death, but the modern skyline of Windsor Castle is down to George IV. Typically of him it cost an absolute fortune whilst the poor continued to starve and suffer.
As I said in the previous main episode on Peterloo, even after the massacre he was immensely unpopular and was the subject of vitriolic attacks in the press and from reformers. I mentioned the vicious satire that went on after the massacre targeting the despised Prince Regent.
Princess Charlotte soon fell pregnant and the nation was enraptured. She was determined to please her serious husband and live up to his ideals. That included the always popular habit of promptly settling bills rather than running up debts. The increasingly fat and unhealthy Prince Regent would surely not live a long life and now the heir was on the verge of having an heir. Leopold shrewdly used the opportunity to press his sister, Victorie on one of the Prince Regents Brothers, The Duke of Kent.
The future seemed rosey. Disaster struck during the pregnancy. Princess Charlotte was weak and listless. The royal doctors argued and Sir Richard Croft took over sole treatment of the patient. He decided what was needed was to reduce the weight of the baby and mother, so a rigorous course of diet and bleeding was required. In November a long labour stretched to 36 hours. A nearly starved Charlotte lost all her energy by the end. The doctors panicked. They came to the view forceps would be needed, but the lack of sterility meant these often killed even no one understood why. No doctor wanted to be blamed for killing the only legitimate heir to the throne. Almost inevitably the poor child was still born.
Only after birth did the doctors decide to do something. They tried to remove the placenta with their bare hands and gave the grieving Leopold a powerful sedative. He would not wake up in time to see his wife’s agonising death. Charlotte was left alone after the birth in an act of breath taking complacency. She later woke in incredible pain and died bleeding badly. The nation was plunged into grief and despair. Bryon would include lines in his great poem Child Harold about the event.
That sounds like medical incompetence and we will often see during the podcast that Royal medical care was usually bad because the doctors were appointed for the wrong reasons and were too busy sucking up to their patient to do the job properly. Still we haven’t been into the history and life story of these doctors. Plus their tools and medical knowledge lacked some of the most important parts of modern medicine like germ theory. Picture some men dressed a little like Mr Darcy in a Jane Austin adaptation with nothing more than brandy, needle and tread, forceps, scalpels and clamps, and perhaps a tincture of poppy juice. That’s not much to work with for a modern doctor during a difficult labour. Let alone with Regency era medical knowledge. They had no ultra sounds or even a basic stethoscope. Sir Richard Croft never recovered from the experience. At another difficult birth, he broke down, took out a pistol and blew his brains out.
The nobility were equally upset, except for the Prince Regents surviving brothers. The race to be the first to produce a legitimate heir to the throne was on.
Ok, let’s break that down a bit. The Prince Regent couldn’t produce a legitimate heir unless he could divorce the wife he loathed and re-marry. He would be King if he outlived his father, but the throne would have to go to a legitimate brother. Historian Kate Williams notes in her excellent book “Becoming Queen”
[QUOTE] The King was wailing in madness at Windsor and the Prince Regent was estranged from his wife. Unless the Prince or one of his siblings had a child, the Hanoverian line would be at an end. It has been calculated that George III had an astonishing 56 grandchildren but did not have one legitimate heir. The vision of Charlotte had sustained the people through the direst years of the Regency. Without her all hope seemed gone. [END QUOTE]
The nation was horrified. The Prince Regents daughters were all too old to have children. I’m afraid this means we need to pause and have a look now at the complex family tree of the Hanoverians. At the top we have George III. The mad king. I emphasise mad, because the spectre of his madness would haunt the family & be used as a weapon against Victoria.
He had four legitimate sons.
Since the Royal Marriages Act 1772 said the sons could only marry with Royal Approval, which would never be given for the marriage to a mistress, they were unmarried and not producing legitimate heirs. Succession was by Primogentiure. The Throne passed to the sons in order of birth, then passed to the daughters in order, going down the line. So a king with 2 sons means that the eldest son gets the throne, but if he dies childless it would then go to his brother. If however the son who inherited the throne had a daughter, she would inherit the Throne, but if she had a younger brother it would skip down to him.
For us then, remember that the Prince Regent was 1st in line for the Throne, then Frederick, then William, then Edward. You can see how dramatically an heir would change things for the individuals in a family.
The Duke of York was estranged from his wife. He would be heir presumptive for a while when the Prince Regent became George IV, but died too soon. He is mostly remembered for the Nursery Rhyme “The Grand Old Duke of York” which is totally unfair since he did in large part reform the army & much of the Napoleonic British Army was a result of his activities. History can be like that, and at least everyone will remember him. The Duke of Sussex was in an illegal marriage so ruled himself out.
That left the Dukes of Clarence, Cambridge, and Kent as possibly able to produce a legitimate heir. This wasn’t a trivial thing. The monarchy was the central foundation of the constitution, albeit that most functional power rested with Parliament. A vacant throne could lead to anything from minor squabbling to all out European war as various claimants appeared out of the woodwork.
The brothers were all hated almost as much as the Prince Regent. The thought of the brutal Ernest, Duke of Cumberland becoming King seemed terrifying and he was surrounded with rumours of murder and incest. Of them all, the Duke of Kent was regarded as probably the best. All of the brothers had illegitimate children, so surely if they married at least one would produce an heir at least. Parliament was also adamant – “Get on with it” As soon as Charlotte died, the brothers were pressed to get married.
First off when the starting gun fired was the Duke of Cambridge, who proposed to Augusta Princess of Hesse-Cassel in 10 days.
William, Duke of Clarence aged 52 quickly followed with a marriage to Princess Amelia of Saxe Meinengen despite him being in love with another woman who he had got involved with after jilting his long term mistress and another suitor. Princess Amelia was only 25. Still she was intelligent, kind and willing to be step mother to the Dukes 10 illegitimate children. Her patience must have been nearly saintly.
In 1814 Ernest, Duke of Cumberland married Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz but the pair were intensely disliked and their daughter was still born in 1817. Dark rumours surrounded them concerning murder, and their daughter had been still born.
Finally the Prince Edward, Duke of Kent entered the race. He had been eating breakfast with his long term mistress Thérèse-Bernardine Montgenet when they learned from the paper of the prospect of all the brothers racing to marry, with the Duke of Kent ’s name linked to some of Leopold’s sisters. The Duke of Kent naturally reassured his lover of 28 years that he would never, ever leave her. Nice try there but we all know how that’s going to turn out when the throne of the United Kingdom is up for grabs.
It was vital for the dukes, all of whom had been living in massive debt, & were expecting the public to bail them out eventually. Even the rockiest rock of the establishment, bastion of the old order par excellence and supporter of Loius XVIII, the Duke of Wellington considered them [QUOTE] The damnedest millstones about the necks of any government that might be imagined. [END QUOTE]
Still, someone had to be put on the Throne. If not one of the Dukes with a child, then to whom could the nation turn? A foreign duke? An English one? A descendent of the House of Stuart? One of the Habsburg’s? All of these prospects were fraught with immense difficulties. Could England by wrecked by a War of English Succession as Spain had been. Were England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales really ready to play the Game of Thrones? Was England to become a battleground for Austria, Prussia and Spain with rival claimants. Would thousands die, fortunes be drained and fields burnt by rival claimants & continental mercenaries & adventurers? Could the United Kingdom splinter like Italy? The country was in dire straights as you know from the Mt Tambora & Peterloo episodes I did. To add a war of succession would have been catastrophic.
To ensure stability the Duke of Kent was adamant that he was prepared to make the supreme sacrifice of becoming King or father of the heir. He was doing it for his country, trusting only that they would give him a generous allowance and pay off his small debts as he called them, which was frankly stretching the term small. He had a genuinely mixed military record ranging from being AWOL, to being brave enough to be mentioned in dispatches & receiving the thanks of Parliament for his West Indies campaign, and he did excellent military & civil engineering work in Nova Scotia. But he was trained as a harsh disciplinarian, perhaps against his natural character. This lead to him being sent to Gibraltar to restore order to the forces there, only to tip them into outright mutiny with his brutality. In fairness, things were already especially bad there so it was perhaps unavoidable. His mistress stood by him through all this, making the later abandonment of her particularly harsh.
Victoria’s father did have good qualities. He was brave, self disciplined, and according to the Duke of Wellington, he was an excellent public speaker. He was 6’ tall, tough, well muscled & didn’t live a wild life of drinking and parties like his brothers. He was a bit of a romantic. He had smuggled love letters for Princess Charlotte to Leopold, and seems to have been her favourite uncle. He was a patron of 53 charities, he was a liberal as understood in the early C19th, intelligent, and interested in good government unlike his brothers. He supported popular education, Catholic emancipation, and the abolition of slavery. Princess Victorie had rebuffed him once before Charlotte died when he was secretly hunting for wives behind his mistresses back to get himself out of debt.
The death of Princess Charlotte changed things immensely. The Duke was penniless but in line for the throne. He was in robust good health and confident he would outlive his dissolute brothers. Leopold was determined his sister would marry the Duke. Intense negotiations followed and Victorie finally agreed once her terms were met. It long shot as it was with all the other brothers, but who knew, maybe she would be Queen of the United Kingdom or at least the Queen Mother.
Victorie was a fine match. She got points straight away for not being French or having any Napoleonic attachments. She was from Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, that had suffered from Napoleon’s snatch of Germany territory, but was Protestant, known to be fertile and had a pleasant personality combine with a cheery nature, rosy cheeks, brown hair and a plump short figure. They soon found themselves, against the odds, actually in love. In later life Queen Victoria read her mothers notebooks after the Duchess died, and was amazed by [QUOTE] How very, very much she and my beloved father loved each other. Such love and affection, I hardly knew it was to that extent. [END QUOTE] As a digression, the sad thing about quoting Victoria’s diaries is that it can’t show you the wonderful emphasises that she does in her text with underlining and italics that show you that she was probably writing just how she would have spoken.
Whilst Parliament was pleased with marriages, it was not happy with paying large allowances. The Prince Regent redoubled his efforts to get a divorce from his hated wife.
On 29 May in 1818 the Duke and Duchess of Kent married in Coburg in Germany, then returned to England. The Prince Regent had agreed to have the wedding solemnised at Kew by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Theythen moved back to Germany to save money, escape the Dukes growing debts and make the Duchess Victorie happier.
This might surprise you, but the couple actually seemed to have a happy marriage. The Duke was patient with his wife’s poor English, he gave her affection and she seemed to enjoy having a man to rely on. He enjoyed her good looks, her connection to Leopold and even congratulated himself on having treated his mistress so well during the breakup, although I don’t think she entirely agreed.
The Duke was happy to go to Germany, and now we introduce some really key players in Victoria’s early life. Princess Victorie had a daughter from her previous marriage named Feo dora, who would be Victoria’s half sister, and the Duke of Kent brought to the family ensemble a 32 year Irishman called Sir John Conroy. If you have even a passing knowledge of Victoria’s childhood and life you will know what an immense impact he would have on her.
News came in November 1818 that the Duke of Clarence’s child died after a premature birth. The Duke of Kent knew that they had to get back to England now to put their expected child into the limelight. Sir John Conroy was an efficient organiser and sorted the trip so in March 1819, despite being 8 months pregnant, the Duchess of Kent travelled to England on the royal yacht, grudgingly sent by the Prince Regent.
After a short 6 hour labour, the Duchess of Kent gave birth to a health baby girl. The event was witnessed by the Duke of Wellington, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, the future Prime Minister George Canning, the Duke of Sussex and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Duke of Kent himself. No one would be able to question the little girls legitimacy or the circumstances of her birth at 16:15 on 24 May 1819 at Kensington Palace. She was 5th in line to the throne. A series of unlikely deaths brought her to the throne.
The family and relatives were overjoyed. The baby was described as a
[QUOTE] pretty little princess, as plump as a partridge [END QUOTE]. The Duchess of Kent was delighted. She even decided to breast feed the baby. This really wasn’t common for noble women at the time and probably caused a few raised eyebrows. It also had the critical effect of delaying any further pregnancies.
Ironically very nearby in Saxe-Coburg, the sister in law of Leopold and the Duchess of Kent gave birth to a boy called Francis Charles Augustus Albert Emmanuel better known to history as Prince Albert, delivered by the same obstetrician Frau Charlotte Siebold. He was Victoria’s first cousin. The Duke of Kent was thrilled with having a healthy daughter, and was happy to boast about it.
The Prince Regent was less than thrilled about hearing the news. The Prince Regent might be fat, hated, ill and often heavily dosed with laudanum but he could still manage to be spiteful. He declared the child would only get a small christening. No dress uniforms or public celebrations. This was a big slap in the face for the Duke of Kent. In an age when symbolism really, really mattered, forcing a low key minor ceremony denied the Kents and the child the proper level of ceremony that was due their social rank.
Much to the Prince Regents irritation, Tsar Alexander of Russia offered to sponsor the child and even the Prince Regent couldn’t outright reject the powerful Tsar.
The Tsars intervention made the naming difficulty. Originally she was going to be named Victorie Georgiana Alexandrina Charlotte Augusta. Now at this point you are probably thinking, “Hang on, you are supposed to be telling us about Victoria, the English Queen. Are you sure you’ve got the right baby? She sounds like a German aristocrat with connections to Russia.” I hear you metaphorical listener. But bare with me here. We really have got the right baby. That or Barry Allen has been messing with the time lines again.
Anyway the night before the christening the Prince Regent decided he wasn’t happy with the name. He couldn’t put his feminised name ahead of the Tsars name, only the actual King could do that without giving offence. But being the Prince Regent and frankly a bit of a dick, he wasn’t going to go after the Tsars name either so he did what he did best. He made it all about him and told everyone he was going to choose the names. Charlotte as a name was out for a start. Which you can at least understand due to the grief of losing his but still.
Not that he made up his mind quickly. At 15:00 on 24 June 1819, the actual heir to the English throne and all the guests including the Archbishop of Canterbury were in the Cupola Room at the christening in Kensington Palace waiting on the name. I like to think of the Archbishop there, in his absolute finery, dropping hints about how this would be a lot easier if the baby had an actual name for this event. He probably said he would even notte spelling.
The Prince Regent decided she was going to be called Alexandrina. The Duke of Kent asked if she could have a second name, as you know was the custom and we did give you a long list remember. How about Elizabeth the Duke suggested. That’s got pedigree. The Prince Regent said no, reducing the Duchess of Kent to tears, and then he virtually snapped and said [QUOTE] Give her the mothers name also then, but it cannot precede that of the Emperor. [END QUOTE] So if any of you are still baffled by why the whole country hated the guy, it is stuff like this.
Importantly for us though, the little girl and possible heir to the Throne had a name; Alexandrina. Future Queen Alexandrina of England. Wait, what? Ok well the full name was Alexandrina Victoria. According to Historian Kate Williams at a lecture she gave in Winchester, the name Victoria was chosen as the mothers name Victorie was French and so to Anglicise it and turn it into Latin it had to be turned into Victoria. Which is the first time the name is ever used in England. Seriously, Queen V was always going to be a trend setter. Not that anyone called her Queen yet, or V or even Victoria. When she was a baby her mother referred to her as “Vickelchen.” Mostly she was called by her nickname “Drina” short for Alexandrina. When she became Queen she decided to adopt Victoria as a regnal name and drop the Alexandrina. Like everything else in her childhood, things had been rough and unfair to the little girl. We will find out more next time.
Before we go then, I’ve got some scheduling announcements. As you know, it is December and Christmas is a big thing for the family & I. So I will be releasing some kind of short episode just before Xmas – I’ve got an idea or two up my sleeve.
There will not be a release of a main narrative show till February. I simply won’t have time over Christmas to sort it out. So the next main show will be on 01 February. I’ll try to give you a nice minisode in January to tide everyone over. If I can grab a enough time I’ll also try to start re-mastering the first three episodes of the show.
Right, I’ll get on with the Christmas show, wrapping presents, and doing my new role at work, which is incredibly challenging. One day I might do a podcast series on it or write a book for posterity.