Victoria: A Life, page 1
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Copyright © 2014 by A. N. Wilson
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First published in Great Britain by Atlantic Books, an imprint of Grove Atlantic Ltd.
Illustration credits appear here.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Wilson, A. N., 1950–
Victoria : a life / A. N. Wilson.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, 1819-1901. 2. Queens—Great Britain—Biography. 3. Great Britain—History—Victoria, 1837–1901—Biography. I. Title.
Also by A. N. Wilson
Monarchs of the United Kingdom, 1760 to the present day
List of Illustrations
3 ‘It is one step’
4 ‘White little slavey’
5 ‘The ignorant little child’
6 ‘Too hasty and passionate for me’
7 I Puritani
8 Hallelujah Chorus
9 ‘Godlike men’
10 At war
11 ‘Scolder and scolded’
12 Nerve damage
13 ‘Arme Frau’
14 ‘The Queen’s grief still sobs’
15 ‘I could die for ye’
16 ‘Mein guter treuer Brown’
17 A people detached from their sovereign
18 ‘You have it, Madam’
19 ‘Prostrate though devoted’
20 ‘Gracious confidences so frankly given’
21 ‘An inflammatory atmosphere’
22 ‘You English’
23 ‘Her excellent young Munshi’
24 ‘What a funny little woman’
25 Diamond Jubilee
26 ‘This England’
27 ‘Vale desideratissime!’
I GRATEFULLY ACKNOWLEDGE the permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to quote from materials in the Royal Archives and for other items which are in royal copyright. Thanks are also due to David Ryan at the Royal Archives, to all the staff and volunteers in the Round Tower at Windsor, and especially to the Senior Archivist Miss Pam Clark, who not only suggested many useful lines of inquiry, but also read the entire book in typescript and made many corrections and recommendations. Jonathan Marsden, Director of the Royal Collections and Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art, has been consistently helpful, and I should like to thank Lisa Heighway for the care she devoted to helping with the choice of illustrations, and the openness and generosity with which she revealed the seemingly limitless riches of the royal photographic collection. Thanks are also due to Sir Christopher Geidt for encouragement and kindness.
Dr Simon Thurley of English Heritage took me on an unforgettable tour of Osborne House out of season. Dr Ruth Guilding, formerly of English Heritage (and curator at Osborne), has given me many insights into the life and tastes of Queen Victoria and of the Prince Consort. Michael Hunter, the present curator at Osborne, was helpful and welcoming.
The staff of the Bodleian Library, the British Library, the Lambeth Palace Library and the National Library of Scotland have also been unfailingly obliging. I read much of the secondary material for this book in the Humanities One Reading Room in the British Library, and the bulk of the manuscripts in the Manuscript Room, where the staff are learned and accommodating.
During much of the time that I was doing research, the Special Collections in the Bodleian Library were rehoused, at great inconvenience, I should imagine, to the staff, but the papers of nineteenth-century courtiers and statesmen still mysteriously materialized in seemingly no time at all, even in the unfamiliar setting of the Science Library in Parks Road.
The staff in the London Library were, as always, kind friends.
I am deeply grateful to Dr Horst Gehringer who so generously welcomed me to the State Archives in Coburg, to Dr M. Eckstein who helped me to decipher some of the more illegible examples of the Queen’s Alte Schrifte, and to Dr Angelika Tasker who gave me useful insights into Duke Ernst II’s musical life, and who also introduced me to the library and archive in the Schloss Ehrenberg. I am very grateful to Dr Oliver Walton, who straddles a life in the Royal Collection in England with work for the Prince Albert Society in Coburg and who has given encouragement and good advice throughout.
The Marquess of Salisbury has generously allowed me to quote from the archive at Hatfield. While I was there, my researches were helped by the archivist Vicki Perry, by the assistance of Sarah Whale and by the advice of the former archivist Robert Harcourt Williams.
Hugo Vickers gave very particular help.
I owe my knowledge of German largely to the patient teaching of Ute Ormerod. It would not have been possible to write this book without her.
Gillon Aitken and Anna Stein were wonderful agents, as always. My editor at Atlantic, Margaret Stead, is like the unseen deity in the Psalms – ‘thou understandest my thoughts long before’. It is impossible to imagine a more inspirational publisher. Tamsin Shelton has been a punctilious and patient copy-editor.
A biography of Queen Victoria is not a task undertaken lightly. The process is a long time in the gestation, as well as in the writing. This book owes much to conversations which I had long ago, often with friends who, alas, are no longer with us. I was especially fortunate to have Elizabeth Longford as a friend. Her biography, Victoria R.I. (1964, revised 1987), is a gigantic achievement which will never be replaced. Often, in the course of writing my own book, I recalled conversations I had with her, either at Osborne House, during a memorable autumn of 1988, or on subsequent occasions in London. I have also been helped, not only by frequent reference to his biography of Disraeli, but also by memories of conversations with Robert Blake. The following have all in different ways helped, either with specific answers to queries or with their knowledge of Queen Victoria, her court or her ways, or with questions which it had not occurred to me to ask, but which set me off on trails of fruitful inquiry: Davina Jones, Anna Keay, Antonia Fraser, Rebecca Fraser, Flora Fraser, my brother Stephen Wilson, the late Gerard Irvine, Lawrence James, Roy Strong, the late Kenneth Rose, Mary Miers, Richard Ingrams, Michael Hall, Rachel Woollen, Allan Maclean of Dochgarroch, Katherine Duncan-Jones, Jane Ridley, Sarah Bradford, A. D. Harvey, John Martin Robinson, Claire Whalley and Susie Attwood.
1. Thomas Sully portrait of young Queen Victoria, 1838. Wallace Collection. Courtesy of Getty Images.
2. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert when in their thirties. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
3. Queen Victoria reading to her grandchildren. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
4. Victoria, Duchess of Kent, with Prince Alfred and Princess Alice. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
5. Miniature of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
6. King Leopold I. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
7. Prince Albert’s intimate circle. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
8. The Prince of Wales as a young man. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
9. Princess Alice. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
10. The Royal Family at Osborne in the 1850s. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
11. ‘The Allies’. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
12. The mausoleum at Frogmore. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
13. Young royals in mourning. Kindly provided by Sir Alexander and Lady Michaela Reid.
14. Queen Victoria and the Empress Frederick. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
15. Queen Victoria and some of her adult children. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
16. Princess Beatrice and Queen Victoria in the library. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
17. Queen Victoria with Prince Arthur and Princess Margaret of Connaught. Kindly provided by Sir Alexander and Lady Michaela Reid.
18. A family reunion at Coburg. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
19. Lord Palmerston. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014. Prime Minister Disraeli. Courtesy of Corbis. Third Marquess of Salisbury. Courtesy of the Marquess of Salisbury/Hatfield House. Prime Minister Gladstone. Photo by William Currey /© National Portrait Gallery, London.
20. Queen Victoria wearing fur stole. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust /© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
21. Duke of Cambridge. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
22. Sir Henry Ponsonby. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
23. Sir James Reid. Kindly provided by Sir Alexander and Lady Michaela Reid.
24. Dr Norman Macleod. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
25. Four generations. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
26. Queen Victoria with one of her beloved dogs. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
27. John Brown. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
28. Queen Victoria with Abdul Karim. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust /© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
29. ‘The Queen of Sheba’. Kindly provided by Sir Alexander and Lady Michaela Reid.
30. The Queen’s bedroom at Osborne House. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
31. An elderly Queen Victoria. Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.
ONE GUSTY APRIL day in 1838, Thomas Carlyle was walking in Green Park, near Buckingham Palace in London, when he saw the young Queen ride past in her carriage. Forty-two years old, the Scotsman had been living in the English capital for a little over three years, and he had lately soared to literary fame. His study of The French Revolution had been published in the previous year – the year in which Victoria was crowned the Queen of England – and the popularity of the two events was not disconnected. Carlyle had made what his first biographer, J. A. Froude, called a ‘vast phantasmagoria’1 culminating in the French people getting rid of their monarchy.
The English were not minded, in any very organized sense, to do the same, but Victoria became queen in hungry times. The monarchy had not been popular in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Froude noted that ‘the hungry and injured millions will rise up and bring to justice their guilty rulers, themselves little better than those whom they throw down’.2
Britain in those days was very far from being a democracy. It was governed by an oligarchy of aristocratic, landowning families. Its stability as a state depended upon the functioning of the law, the workings of two Houses of Parliament, the efficiency of the army and navy, and the balance of trade. Parliament was representative, not democratic. That is, the members of the Commons were not elected by the people, but by a small number of men of property. In the reign previous to Victoria’s, that of her uncle William IV, the Reform Bill of 1832 had done a little to extend the franchise and to abolish the more grotesque of the electoral anomalies – the so-called Rotten Boroughs, in which there were only a handful of electors. But the members of the Commons were not elected by more than a tiny handful of those whom they represented. Checking and approving the deliberations o
There had, as yet, been no French-style revolution to overthrow these arrangements. And it was to be the care and concern of the British governing classes to make sure that no such revolution occurred. The previous old King, William IV, having had a dissolute life and fathered ten children out of wedlock, died legitimately married and reconciled to God, murmuring the words, ‘The Church, the Church.’
The twin institutions of the Church of England and the monarchy clearly played a vital role in the delicate balance of the British Constitution. The Victorians liked to tell one another that the monarch was simply a figurehead, kept in place by the Whig landowners, a figure who signed state papers and gave the nod to the deliberations of the House of Lords. This was not really the case. The monarch still occupied a position of real power in Britain, and if that power were to be exercised recklessly, or if the monarchy were hated by a hungry populace, there was no knowing what anarchy would ensue. The monarch depended upon the peerage; the peerage depended upon economic prosperity, and upon the rising commercial classes who could provide it; the shared powers of Trade, Land, the Law and the Church were all delicately, and not always obviously, interwoven in the destinies of that young woman glimpsed in the park by the historian. It was essential for her future that the other institutions should continue to support her; it was essential for all of them that she should maintain the status quo, that she should not fail.
Victoria’s grandfather, King George III, a monarch who was politically active and who had played a pivotal role in the shaping of British political history, was blind for the last ten years of his life, and at sporadic intervals in the last twenty years of his long reign (1760–1820) he had been raving mad. The fear that the royal madness was hereditary was ever-present in the British governing class, and the young Queen’s ministers watched every one of her tantrums, each emotional display, every instance of irrational behaviour, with anxiety.
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