All The Queen's Men
In June of 1837, less than a month after coming of age, a naïve, young 18-year-old princess who had slept every night of her life in her mother's bedroom ascended to the throne of the most powerful nation on earth.
No novice destined for religious orders could have been more cloistered in her upbringing; none less versed in the worldly responsibilities that would become hers to discharge. And while she appeared unprepared to rule, the British monarchy also appeared to be on the wane.
Tarnished by decades of dissolute, erratic behavior on the part of its two previous occupants, her uncles George IV and William IV, as well as the periodic bouts of insanity that had plagued their father, George III, the throne of England seemed well on its way to irrelevance. England's constitutional government had obviously learned how to function quite well despite it. Napoleon had been defeated in 1815 by Wellington, the Reform Bill of 1832 successfully passed by Parliament, and the danger of a bloody civil revolution on the French model averted.
Yet despite this trend, Victoria as Queen would preside with authority over the zenith of the richest empire in human history, define afresh its moral center, and become, in effect, its spiritual icon.
In the Company of Men
How did such an untutored innocent come to exert so profound an influence over her subjects during her long reign?
In a culture as patriarchal as 19th-century England, the answer was, in some respects, an age-old one: through her relationships with men. Raised almost entirely in the company of women and under their control, it was to men Victoria turned for intimacy, guidance, and scope once she assumed the throne. And in the political arena, it was men who, quite naturally, became both her allies and her most significant adversaries.
On the evidence in her biographies and her own diaries, two repeating patterns tended to characterize her relationships with strong men who were significant in her life. Those whose manner and character she admired, she tended to idealize and develop a dependency upon. Among these were Lord Melbourne, Prince Albert, John Brown, and Benjamin Disraeli. Those whose manner she disliked, she seemed barely able to tolerate and would resist their counsel, no matter how well reasoned or clearly presented. Into the latter category fell Robert Peel, Lord Palmerston, and William Gladstone, able men both, but not to Victoria's taste. Very occasionally, as with Robert Peel, she would change her mind, but that would require the influence of another strong male in whom she had invested trust.
Politics aside, this psychology may well have had its roots in her childhood. She had never known her father, who died within weeks of her birth. She may have often been looking for him. She would have been the first to admit that she had a lifelong need for a strong, reliable arm to lean on, and a lifelong need to be loved by someone she really looked up to. Common human needs both, and, in many ways, Victoria was a most ordinary human being. It's one of the secrets of her enormous appeal to this day.
Contrary to the popular stereotype, Victoria was emotionally passionate by nature. As she explained in a letter to her eldest daughter, Vicky, written in her late 30s, "I had led a very unhappy life as a child; had no scope for my very violent feelings of affection -- had no brothers and sisters to live with -- never had a father -- from my unfortunate circumstances was not on a comfortable or at all intimate or confidential footing with my mother (so different from you to me) -- much as I love her now -- and did not know what a happy domestic life was!"
From the Inside Looking Out
Multiple quirks of fate, combined with the English rules of succession, had determined that among all the progeny of George III's 15 children, Victoria would be the sole surviving heir to the English throne. From a very early age, therefore, her life was extremely precious to the state, but in an almost clinical way. She remained in the care of her mother, Victoire of Saxe-Coburg, a foreign-born princess who felt very much an outsider, having been treated rather shabbily from the start by the rest of the Royal family. Now a widow, Victoire quite understandably sought to protect her child from the dissolute Regency atmosphere at court.
Unfortunately, while maintaining her distance, she herself fell under the sway of an unscrupulous courtier who was also a swindler, Sir John Conroy. He was a loathed fixture of Victoria's upbringing who wished to isolate her to serve his own very different agenda: that of becoming Victoria's Regent through his influence over her mother. This never came to pass.
Odd as it may seem, Victoria was also raised very frugally. "Tea was only allowed as a great treat in later years," she wrote. Having shared the Hanoverian tendency to be a spendthrift, her father was perpetually in debt by the time he died, and Parliament did not feel inclined to lavish excessive resources on his surviving family, princess or no princess.
Living in such constrained and disciplined isolation and starved for real emotional relationships in a real world, young Victoria substituted the imaginary world of the theater, opera, and ballet instead. These she was allowed to attend frequently in the company of Mama; her governess, Baroness Lehzen; and the Conroys. Trained to draw and paint from the age of 8 and to keep a diary from the age of 13, she recreated scenes from these performances on the pages of her sketchbooks and journals. Through them she animated her lonely world through words and pictures. Apart from portraits of her immediate family circle and academic studies assigned by her art teacher, the vast majority of her early drawings and paintings are of these fictional heroes and heroines -- sung, danced, and acted upon the stage, or read about in books.
A Dream Come True
When she came to the throne in 1837, insecure as she may have been, these fantasies had probably kept her personal hopes alive. She was still an idealist at heart who believed in "the good," with a romantic faith in her own possible personal happiness -- in partnership, she dreamed, with a truly admirable man.
And in that regard her dream came true. Of the men who were important to her, first and foremost in her own heart and mind was always Prince Albert, her husband. From her perspective at least, theirs was a true royal love match. Deeply principled and devoted, Victoria maintained an absolute fidelity to Albert throughout their married life. Together they had nine children, who, through marriages and offspring of their own, soon occupied royal thrones across Europe with unexpected results. Victoria's own grandson by Vicky, for example, became Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm, England's most hated adversary in the Great War of 1914-18.
But there were other men before and after Albert who exerted as great or greater an influence on Victoria's entire sensibility and outlook. Of these John Brown was but one; many others, Disraeli among them, were the greatest political luminaries of the age. Victoria's relationship with her own eldest son, Edward (Bertie, as she called him), who would become the future King of England, is another sort of tale, all its own.
To meet some of these other men Victoria chose to admire, love, or despise during her long life, explore this gallery of All The Queen's Men The profiles you'll read are primarily drawn from Victoria's well-known biographers, particularly Lytton Strachey. Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury Group and friend of Virginia Woolf, is considered by many to be the inventor of the modern, informal biography as we know it today. He first made his name with the irreverent portraits he penned in Eminent Victorians, but it was his curiously sympathetic biography of Victoria herself, first published in 1921, that really broke the mold and set a new standard.
If the cameos you find in Who's Who whet your appetite for more, the complete text of Strachey's Queen Victoria is available online. Check our Links and Bibliography section to find out where.
Edward, Duke of Kent | 1767-1820
The fourth son of King George III, and the father of Queen Victoria
The fourth son of George III was Edward, Duke of Kent. He was now fifty years of age -- a tall, stout, vigorous man, highly-coloured, with bushy eyebrows, a bald top to his head, and what hair he had carefully dyed a glossy black. His dress was extremely neat, and in his whole appearance there was a rigidity which did not belie his character. He had spent his early life in the army--at Gibraltar, in Canada, in the West Indies--and, under the influence of military training, had become at first a disciplinarian and at last a martinet. In 1802, having been sent to Gibraltar to restore order in a mutinous garrison, he was recalled for undue severity, and his active career had come to an end. Since then he had spent his life regulating his domestic arrangements with great exactitude, busying himself with the affairs of his numerous dependents, designing clocks, and struggling to restore order to his finances, for, in spite of his being, as someone said who knew him well "regle comme du papier a musique," and in spite of an income of £24,000 a year, he was hopelessly in debt. He had quarrelled with most of his brothers, particularly with the Prince Regent, and it was only natural that he should have joined the political Opposition and become a pillar of the Whigs....
Settled down at last at Amorbach, the time hung heavily on the Duke's hands. The establishment was small, the country was impoverished; even clock-making grew tedious at last. He brooded -- for in spite of his piety the Duke was not without a vein of superstition -- over the prophecy of a gipsy at Gibraltar who told him that he was to have many losses and crosses, that he was to die in happiness, and that his only child was to be a great queen. Before long it became clear that a child was to be expected: the Duke decided that it should be born in England. Funds were lacking for the journey, but his determination was not to be set aside. Come what might, he declared, his child must be English-born. A carriage was hired, and the Duke himself mounted the box. Inside were the Duchess, her daughter Feodora, a girl of fourteen, with maids, nurses, lap-dogs, and canaries. Off they drove--through Germany, through France: bad roads, cheap inns, were nothing to the rigorous Duke and the equable, abundant Duchess. The Channel was crossed, London was reached in safety. The authorities provided a set of rooms in Kensington Palace; and there, on May 24, 1819, a female infant was born.
With the new year, the Duke remembered another prophecy. In 1820, a fortune-teller had told him, two members of the Royal Family would die. Who would they be? He speculated on the various possibilities: the King, it was plain, could not live much longer; and the Duchess of York had been attacked by a mortal disease. Probably it would be the King and the Duchess of York; or perhaps the King and the Duke of York; or the King and the Regent. He himself was one of the healthiest men in England. "My brothers," he declared, "are not so strong as I am; I have lived a regular life. I shall outlive them all. The crown will come to me and my children." He went out for a walk, and got his feet wet. On coming home, he neglected to change his stockings. He caught cold, inflammation of the lungs set in, and on January 22 he was a dying man.... Six days later came the fulfillment of the second half of the gipsy's prophecy. The long, unhappy, and inglorious life of George the Third of England was ended.
-Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria
King Leopold I of Belgium (1790-1865) & Baron Stockmar (?-1863)
Leopold was elected the first monarch of Belgium after the country separated from the Netherlands in 1831. As Victoria's uncle, he was one of few strong males in her life during her childhood. Baron Stockmar was councilor to Leopold and, in his later years, to Victoria.
... When King Leopold learnt that King William's death was approaching, he wrote several long letters of excellent advice to his niece. "In every letter I shall write to you," he said, "I mean to repeat to you, as a FUNDAMENTAL RULE, TO BE FIRM, AND COURAGEOUS, AND HONEST, AS YOU HAVE BEEN TILL NOW." ... Not content with letters, however, King Leopold determined that the Princess should not lack personal guidance, and sent over to her aid the trusted friend whom, twenty years before, he had taken to his heart by the death-bed at Claremont. Thus, once again, as if in accordance with some preordained destiny, the figure of Stockmar is discernible --inevitably present at a momentous hour....
During the twenty years which had elapsed since the death of the Princess Charlotte, [Stockmar's] experiences had been varied and remarkable. The unknown counsellor of a disappointed princeling had gradually risen to a position of European importance. His devotion to his master had been not only whole-hearted but cautious and wise. It was Stockmar's advice that had kept Prince Leopold in England during the critical years which followed his wife's death, and had thus secured to him the essential requisite of a point d'appui in the country of his adoption.... The statesmen who governed England -- Lord Grey, Sir Robert Peel, Lord Palmerston, Lord Melbourne -- had learnt to put a high value upon his probity and his intelligence.... [T]he establishment of the Baron at Buckingham Palace in 1837 was to be the prelude of another and a more momentous advance....
King Leopold and his counsellor provide in their careers an example of the curious diversity of human ambitions.... The correct mind of Leopold craved for the whole apparatus of royalty. Mere power would have held no attractions for him; he must be an actual king --the crowned head of a people. It was not enough to do; it was essential also to be recognised; anything else would not be fitting. The greatness that he dreamt of was surrounded by every appropriate circumstance. To be a Majesty, to be a cousin of Sovereigns, to marry a Bourbon for diplomatic ends, to correspond with the Queen of England, to be very stiff and very punctual, to found a dynasty, to bore ambassadresses into fits, to live, on the highest pinnacle, an exemplary life devoted to the public service --such were his objects, and such, in fact, were his achievements. The "Marquis Peu-a-peu," as George IV called him, had what he wanted. But this would never have been the case if it had not happened that the ambition of Stockmar took a form exactly complementary to his own. The sovereignty that the Baron sought for was by no means obvious. The satisfaction of his essential being lay in obscurity, in invisibility -- in passing, unobserved, through a hidden entrance, into the very central chamber of power, and in sitting there, quietly, pulling the subtle strings that set the wheels of the whole world in motion. A very few people, in very high places, and exceptionally well-informed, knew that Baron Stockmar was a most important person: that was enough. The fortunes of the master and the servant, intimately interacting, rose together. The Baron's secret skill had given Leopold his unexceptionable kingdom; and Leopold, in his turn, as time went on, was able to furnish the Baron with more and more keys to more and more back doors.
-Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria
Sir John Conroy | c. 1785-1854
The comptroller of the Duchess of Kent's household, he exerted tremendous influence over Victoria's mother and saw himself as the future power behind the throne. Victoria loathed him and would have nothing of it; she dismissed him from Court following a scandal in 1839.
Captain Conroy was an Irishman, ambitious, handsome and unscrupulous, destined to be the evil genius of the Duchess of Kent....
The Duchess of Kent and Sir John Conroy had [Princess Victoria] to themselves, to mould, as they imagined, into the person they wished her to be....
On the part of the Duchess there was no wish to be unkind. She always adored Victoria, but she never understood her. The Duchess was a duck who had hatched a swan. Her unreasoning, self-doubting, emotional nature -- always asking for advice, said her brother Prince Leopold -- made it possible for Conroy to impose his schemes on her; the loyalty which was perhaps her most admirable trait led her to support him through thick and thin.
Conroy, devoured by ambition, was determined to gain his ends and not particular how he did so.
The result was what came to be known as 'the Kensington System.'
The aim of the 'Kensington System' was to bring up the little Princess to be utterly dependent on her mother. Through Conroy's influence over the Duchess of Kent, an influence, wrote King Leopold, which might once have been called witchcraft, he would then in effect be King of England.... Conroy eagerly anticipated a regency....
The precise nature of the relationship between the Duchess of Kent and Conroy is not certain.... The Duchess and Conroy were the same age, 44, both handsome, both gifted with vitality. When Charles Greville asked the Duke of Wellington if the Duchess of Kent and Conroy were lovers, the Duke replied that he 'supposed so.' On a later occasion the Duke observed that the 'hatred' of Conroy displayed by the young Queen was the result of having witnessed 'familiarities' between her mother and Conroy. Whatever the truth may have been, the treatment to which she was subjected during the years of the Kensington System, including 'personal affronts' from Conroy of which she complained 'vehemently' to her half-brother Prince Charles, provided ample grounds for dislike.
-Cecil Woodham-Smith, Queen Victoria: Her Life and Times, Volume 1, 1819-1861
Lord Melbourne (b. William Lamb) | 1779-1848
Victoria's first Prime Minister, a Whig whom she idealized and relied on profoundly as her mentor until she married
William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne, was fifty-eight years of age, and had been for the last three years Prime Minister of England. In every outward respect he was one of the most fortunate of mankind. He had been born into the midst of riches, brilliance, and power. His mother, fascinating and intelligent, had been a great Whig hostess, and he had been bred up as a member of that radiant society which, during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, concentrated within itself the ultimate perfections of a hundred years of triumphant aristocracy. Nature had given him beauty and brains; the unexpected death of an elder brother brought him wealth, a peerage, and the possibility of high advancement. Within that charmed circle, whatever one's personal disabilities, it was difficult to fail; and to him, with all his advantages, success was well-nigh unavoidable. With little effort, he attained political eminence. On the triumph of the Whigs he became one of the leading members of the Government; and when Lord Grey retired from the premiership he quietly stepped into the vacant place. Nor was it only in the visible signs of fortune that Fate had been kind to him. Bound to succeed, and to succeed easily, he was gifted with so fine a nature that his success became him....
Whatever else he might be, Lord Melbourne was always human, supremely human -- too human, perhaps. And now, with old age upon him, his life took a sudden, new, extraordinary turn. He became in the twinkling of an eye, the intimate advisor and the daily companion of a young girl who had stepped all at once from a nursery to a throne. His manner towards the young queen mingled, with perfect facility, the watchfulness and the respect of a statesman and a courtier with a tender solicitude of a parent. He was at once reverential and affectionate, at once the servant and the guide....
On her side, Victoria was instantaneously fascinated by Lord Melbourne. She found him perfect; and perfect in her sight he remained. Her absolute and unconcealed adoration was very natural; what innocent young creature could have resisted, in any circumstances, the charm and the devotion of such a man?...
-Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria
She lived through an age of profound social change, but neither public health, nor housing, nor the education of her people engaged much of her attention.... Some part of what was lacking must be attributed to the influence of Melbourne.
At an impressionable period, made doubly impressionable by the depravations of her earlier life, it was unfortunate that she should have come under the influence of a man with so much charm and so little belief in human nature, with such a touching capacity for tenderness allied to dislike of reform, and such want of sympathy with the struggling mass of the workers that he was capable of callousness....
-Cecil Woodham-Smith, Queen Victoria: Her Life and Times, Volume 1, 1819-1861
Sir Robert Peel | 1788-1850
Acknowledged as the founder of Britain's Conservative Party, Peel achieved several reform bills in Parliament, including the reorganization of the criminal code which culminated in the Metropolitan Police Act; the Catholic Emancipation Act; and, as Prime Minister (1834-5, 1841-6), the repeal of the Corn Laws and a dedication to the support of free trade.
Peel was by nature reserved, proud, and shy. His manners were not perfect, and he knew it; he was easily embarrassed, and, at such moments, he grew even more stiff and formal than before, while his feet mechanically performed upon the carpet a dancing-master's measure. Anxious as he now was to win the Queen's good graces, his very anxiety to do so made the attainment of his object the more difficult. He entirely failed to make any headway whatever with the haughty hostile girl before him. She coldly noted that he appeared to be unhappy and "put out," and, while he stood in painful fixity, with an occasional uneasy pointing of the toe, her heart sank within her at the sight of that manner, "Oh! how different, how dreadfully different, to the frank, open, natural, and most kind warm manner of Lord Melbourne."...
Long before Peel's ministry came to an end, there had been a complete change in Victoria's attitude towards him. His appreciation of the Prince had softened her heart; the sincerity and warmth of his nature, which, in private intercourse with those whom he wished to please, had the power of gradually dissipating the awkwardness of his manners, did the rest. She came in time to regard him with intense feelings of respect and attachment. She spoke of "our worthy Peel," for whom, she said, she had "an extreme admiration" and who had shown himself "a man of unbounded loyalty, courage, patriotism, and high-mindedness, and his conduct towards me has been chivalrous almost, I might say." She dreaded his removal from office almost as frantically as she had once dreaded that of Lord M.
-Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria
Prince Albert | 1819-1861
The marriage of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria is remembered as a love match unrivaled in the history of unions within the Royal Family. Much has been written about how Albert's death catapulted the Queen into unending despair, but what about his life? The man who helped dictate the impossibly high standards of morality that defined Great Britain's Victorian Era was not even British, and the English population was loath to let him forget it. The German Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha -- this "foreigner in the highest of high places" -- was often the object of derision in English high society, and at times a scapegoat during national political crises. Though Victoria was triumphant in having her husband titled Prince Consort in 1857, Albert's relationship with the Queen's subjects was not always an easy one.
Born three months apart in 1819, Victoria and Albert were first cousins; King Leopold I of Belgium was the uncle of both. From childhood their marriage was considered advantageous by both Leopold and Victoria's mother (Leopold's sister), and Albert never considered an outcome where the union did not take place. The young Queen Victoria, however, was initially reluctant to sacrifice her power and independence for marriage.
Below are excerpts from Lytton Strachey's Queen Victoria that illuminate the relationship of the Queen and her beloved Prince.
He was not in love with her. Affection, gratitude, the natural reactions to the unqualified devotion of a lively young cousin who was also a queen -- such feelings possessed him, but the ardours of reciprocal passion were not his. Though he found that he liked Victoria very much, what immediately interested him in his curious position was less her than himself.... [He] was aware of a new sensation -- the stirrings of ambition in his breast. His place would indeed be a high, an enviable one! And then, on the instant, came another thought.... He would not be there to please himself, but for a very different purpose -- to do good. He must be "noble, manly, and princely in all things...."
...[She] was suddenly prostrated by alarm, regret, and doubt.... She was to come under an alien domination -- she would have to promise that she would honour and obey... someone, who might, after all, thwart her, oppose her -- and how dreadful that would be! Why had she embarked on this hazardous experiment? ... No doubt, she loved Albert; but she loved power too. At any rate, one thing was certain: she might be Albert's wife, but she would always be Queen of England. He reappeared, in an exquisite uniform, and her hesitations melted in his presence like mist before the sun. On February 10, 1840, the marriage took place.
Victoria, overcome by a new, an unimagined revelation, had surrendered her whole soul to her husband.... [He] was good -- he was great! How could she ever have dreamt of setting up her will against his wisdom, her ignorance against his knowledge, her fancies against his perfect taste?...
The husband was not so happy as the wife. In spite of the great improvement in his situation, in spite of a growing family and the adoration of Victoria, Albert was still a stranger in a strange land, and the serenity of spiritual satisfaction was denied him. It was something, no doubt, to have dominated his immediate environment; but it was not enough.... Victoria idolised him; but it was understanding that he craved for, not idolatry; and how much did Victoria, filled to the brim though she was with him, understand him? How much does the bucket understand the well? He was lonely.
A shy young foreigner, awkward in ladies' company, unexpansive and self-opinionated, it was improbable that, in any circumstances, he would have been a society success. His appearance, too, was against him. Though in the eyes of Victoria he was the mirror of manly beauty, her subjects, whose eyes were of a less Teutonic cast, did not agree with her. To them -- and particularly to the high-born ladies and gentlemen who naturally saw him most -- what was immediately and distressingly striking in Albert's face and figure and whole demeanour was his un-English look..... These were serious disadvantages; but the line of conduct which the Prince adopted from the first moment of his arrival was far from calculated to dispel them. Owing partly to a natural awkwardness, partly to a fear of undue familiarity, and partly to a desire to be absolutely correct, his manners were infused with an extraordinary stiffness and formality.... Besides, he had no very high opinion of the English. So far as he could see, they cared for nothing but fox-hunting and Sunday observances.... Since it was clear that with such people he could have very little in common, there was no reason whatever for relaxing in their favour the rules of etiquette.
He had become the Queen's Private Secretary, her confidential adviser, her second self. He was now always present at her interviews with Ministers.... [There] was no public question in which his influence was not felt. A double process was at work; while Victoria fell more and more absolutely under his intellectual predominance, he, simultaneously, grew more and more completely absorbed by the machinery of high politics -- the incessant and multifarious business of a great State.
...[The] functions of the Crown were now, in effect, being exercised by a person unknown to the Constitution, who wielded over the Sovereign an undefined and unbounded influence. The fact that this person was the Sovereign's husband, while it explained his influence and even made it inevitable, by no means diminished its strange and momentous import. An ambiguous, prepotent figure had come to disturb the ancient, subtle, and jealously guarded balance of the English Constitution. Such had been the unexpected outcome of the tentative and fainthearted opening of Albert's political life.
For in spite of everything he had never reached to happiness. His work, for which at last he came to crave with an almost morbid appetite, was a solace and not a cure.... He was lonely, not merely with the loneliness of exile but with the loneliness of conscious and unrecognised superiority.... There was something that he wanted and that he could never get. What was it? Some absolute, some ineffable sympathy? Some extraordinary, some sublime success? Possibly, it was a mixture of both.... Doubtless he had made some slight impression.... But how far, how very far, was all this from the goal of his ambitions!
Edward VII | 1841-1910
Much to the distress of Victoria and Albert, their eldest son, whom they called Bertie, failed to exhibit the discipline and upright character of his parents. He was crowned King of England upon his mother's death in 1901, and reigned until his death in 1910.
How tremendous was the significance of every particle of influence which went to the making of the future King of England! Albert set to work with a will. But, watching with Victoria the minutest details of the physical, intellectual, and moral training of his children, he soon perceived, to his distress, that there was something unsatisfactory in the development of his eldest son. The Prince Royal was an extremely intelligent child; but Bertie, though he was good-humoured and gentle, seemed to display a deep-seated repugnance to every form of mental exertion. This was most regrettable, but the remedy was obvious: the parental efforts must be redoubled; instruction must be multiplied; not for a single instant must the educational pressure be allowed to relax.... In short, every possible precaution was taken, every conceivable effort was made. Yet, strange to say, the object of all this vigilance and solicitude continued to be unsatisfactory -- appeared, in fact, to be positively growing worse.... The Prince of Wales, in spite of everything, grew up into manhood without the faintest sign of "adherence to and perseverance in the plan both of studies and life" -- as one of the Royal memoranda put it -- which had been laid down with such extraordinary forethought by his father....
On his seventeenth birthday a memorandum was drawn up over the names of the Queen and the Prince informing their eldest son that he was now entering upon the period of manhood, and directing him henceforward to perform the duties of a Christian gentleman. "Life is composed of duties," said the memorandum, "and in the due, punctual and cheerful performance of them the true Christian, true soldier, and true gentleman is recognized.... A new sphere of life will open for you in which you will have to be taught what to do and what not to do, a subject requiring study more important than any in which you have hitherto been engaged." On receipt of the memorandum Bertie burst into tears....
The Prince of Wales, in particular, stood in tremendous awe of his mother. She had steadily refused to allow him the slightest participation in the business of government; and he had occupied himself in other ways. Nor could it be denied that he enjoyed himself -- out of her sight; but, in that redoubtable presence, his abounding manhood suffered a miserable eclipse. Once, at Osborne, when, owing to no fault of his, he was too late for a dinner party, he was observed standing behind a pillar and, wiping the sweat from his forehead, trying to nerve himself to go up to the Queen. When at last he did so, she gave him a stiff nod, whereupon he vanished immediately behind another pillar, and remained there until the party broke up. At the time of this incident the Prince of Wales was over fifty years of age.
-Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria
... [T]here was a story 'current in the clubs' that while at the Curragh the Prince of Wales had formed a liaison with an actress and had even brought her over to Windsor. 'A searching enquiry' confirmed the story and on 16th November 1861 the Prince Consort sent his son a long agonised letter written 'with a heavy heart upon a subject which has caused me the greatest pain I have yet felt in this life.'
It is a curious letter. Surely there could not be occasion for surprise that the Prince of Wales should behave as the overwhelming majority of his companions, fashionable rich young officers in a 'crack' regiment of the Guards, were behaving?... But, on the subject of sex, the Prince Consort was unbalanced. Fraud or violence would have been more easily forgiven that 'intercourse.' He was unwell, in a nervous state, and he drew a frightening picture....
The Prince of Wales was overwhelmed.... Always haunted by a sense of inadequacy and the knowledge that he was a disappointment to his parents, the Prince of Wales wrote his father a letter of misery and contrition which the Prince Consort agreed showed signs of repentance. An early marriage, he told his son, was the only hope for him....
During the previous week, on 13th November 1861, the Prince Consort had related the story to the Queen, telling her she was not to know 'the disgusting details.' The Queen recoiled in horror. '... Oh! that boy -- much as I pity him I never can or shall look at him without a shudder as you can imagine.' From 13th November onwards the Queen blamed the Prince of Wales for his father's fatal illness.
[Prince Albert would live for only one month longer, succumbing to typhoid fever on December 14, 1861.]
-Cecil Woodham-Smith, Queen Victoria: Her Life and Times, Volume 1, 1819-1861
Lord Palmerston (b. Henry John Temple) | 1784-1865
England's great renegade in the arena of foreign affairs. As Foreign Secretary and then as a Whig Prime Minister, he was often the bane of both Albert and Victoria's existence
Lord Palmerston . . .was not fashionable; the great Whig aristocrats looked askance at him, and only tolerated him as an unpleasant necessity thrust upon them by fate. But Lord Palmerston was English through and through; there was something in him that expressed, with extraordinary vigour, the fundamental qualities of the English race. And he was the very antithesis of the Prince [Albert]. By a curious chance it so happened that this typical Englishman was brought into closer contact than any other of his countrymen with the alien from over the sea. It thus fell out that differences which, in more fortunate circumstances, might have been smoothed away and obliterated, became accentuated to the highest pitch. All the mysterious forces in Albert's soul leapt out to do battle with his adversary, and, in the long and violent conflict that followed, it almost seemed as if he was struggling with England herself.
Palmerston's whole life had been spent in the government of the country.... He lived by instinct -- by a quick hand and a strong eye, a dexterous management of every crisis as it arose, a half unconscious sense of the vital elements in a situation. He was very bold; and nothing gave him more exhilaration than to steer the ship of state in a high wind, on a rough sea, with every stitch of canvas on her that she could carry. But there is a point beyond which boldness becomes rashness -- a point perceptible only to intuition and not to reason; and beyond that point Palmerston never went....
"England," he used to say, "is strong enough to brave consequences." Apparently, under Palmerston's guidance, she was. While the officials protested and shook in their shoes, he would wave them away with his airy "My responsibility!" and carry the country swiftly along the line of his choice, to a triumphant destination, -- without an accident. His immense popularity was the result partly of his diplomatic successes, partly of his extraordinary personal affability, but chiefly of the genuine intensity with which he responded to the feelings and supported the interests of his countrymen. The public knew that it had in Lord Palmerston not only a high-mettled master, but also a devoted servant -- that he was, in every sense of the word, a public man.
-Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) & William Gladstone (1809-1898)
The great liberal-reform prime minister, Gladstone (Prime Minister from 1868-74, 1880-85, 1886, 1892-4) was Disraeli's nemesis and, by extension, Victoria's. Disraeli (Prime Minister from 1868, 1874-80) -- successful novelist, imperialist, and Tory prime minister -- was the only politician to gain Victoria's complete trust after Albert's death. A renowned orator and political strategist, Disraeli is seen as a forerunner to the modern politician.
A new scene opened, and the new protagonists -- Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli --struggled together in the limelight. Victoria, from her post of vantage, watched these developments with that passionate and personal interest which she invariably imported into politics. Her prepossessions were of an unexpected kind. Mr. Gladstone had been the disciple of her revered Peel, and had won the approval of Albert; Mr. Disraeli had hounded Sir Robert to his fall with hideous virulence, and the Prince had pronounced that he "had not one single element of a gentleman in his composition." Yet she regarded Mr. Gladstone with a distrust and dislike which steadily deepened, while upon his rival she lavished an abundance of confidence, esteem, and affection such as Lord Melbourne himself had hardly known.
Her attitude towards the Tory Minister had suddenly changed when she found that he alone among public men had divined her feelings at Albert's death. Of the others she might have said "they pity me and not my grief"; but Mr. Disraeli had understood; and all his condolences had taken the form of reverential eulogies of the departed. The Queen declared that he was "the only person who appreciated the Prince."
... When, in 1866, the Conservatives came into office, Disraeli's position as Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House necessarily brought him into a closer relation with the Sovereign. Two years later Lord Derby resigned, and Victoria, with intense and peculiar graciousness, welcomed Disraeli as her First Minister....
... [W]hen the government was defeated in the house she was "really shocked at the way in which the House of Commons go on; they really bring discredit on Constitutional Government." She dreaded the prospect of a change; she feared that if the Liberals insisted upon disestablishing the Irish Church, her Coronation Oath might stand in the way. But a change there had to be, and Victoria vainly tried to console herself for the loss of her favourite Minister by bestowing a peerage upon Mrs. Disraeli.
Mr. Gladstone was in his shirt-sleeves at Hawarden, cutting down a tree, when the royal message was brought to him. "Very significant," he remarked when he had read the letter, and went on cutting down his tree. His secret thoughts on the occasion were more explicit, and were committed to his diary. "The Almighty," he wrote, "seems to sustain and spare me for some purpose of His own, deeply unworthy as I know myself to be. Glory be to His name."...
Mr. Gladstone, with his daemonic energy and his powerful majority in the House of Commons, was irresistible; and for five years (1869-74) Victoria found herself condemned to live in an agitating atmosphere of interminable reform....
Unacceptable as Mr. Gladstone's policy was, there was something else about him which was even more displeasing to Victoria. She disliked his personal demeanour towards herself. It was not that Mr. Gladstone, in his intercourse with her, was in any degree lacking in courtesy or respect. On the contrary, an extraordinary reverence impregnated his manner, both in his conversation and his correspondence with the Sovereign. Indeed, with that deep and passionate conservatism which, to the very end of his incredible career, gave such an unexpected colouring to his inexplicable character, Mr. Gladstone viewed Victoria through a haze of awe which was almost religious -- as a sacrosanct embodiment of venerable traditions -- a vital element in the British constitution -- a Queen by Act of Parliament. But unfortunately the lady did not appreciate the compliment....
-Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria
John Brown | ?-1883
The Queen's trusted servant and friend from 1864 till his death in 1883, he succeeded in bringing Victoria out of deep mourning over Albert, but their relationship caused tongues to wag and engendered disrespect for and intense displeasure with the monarchy.
The Prince's gillie had now become the Queen's personal attendant -- a body servant from whom she was never parted, who accompanied her on her drives, waited on her during the day, and slept in a neighbouring chamber at night. She liked his strength, his solidity, the sense he gave her of physical security; she even liked his rugged manners and his rough unaccommodating speech. She allowed him to take liberties with her which would have been unthinkable from anybody else. To bully the Queen, to order her about, to reprimand her -- who could dream of venturing upon such audacities? And yet, when she received such treatment from John Brown, she positively seemed to enjoy it.... To have submitted her judgment to a son or a Minister might have seemed wiser or more natural; but if she had done so, she instinctively felt, she would indeed have lost her independence. And yet upon somebody she longed to depend....
He had, too, in her mind, a special connection with Albert. In their expeditions the Prince had always trusted him more than anyone; the gruff, kind, hairy Scotsman was, she felt, in some mysterious way, a legacy from the dead. She came to believe at last -- or so it appeared -- that the spirit of Albert was nearer when Brown was near....
Eventually, the "simple mountaineer" became almost a state personage. The influence which he wielded was not to be overlooked. Lord Beaconsfield was careful, from time to time, to send courteous messages to "Mr. Brown" in his letters to the Queen, and the French Government took particular pains to provide for his comfort during the visits of the English Sovereign to France. It was only natural that among the elder members of the royal family he should not have been popular, and that his failings -- for failings he had, though Victoria would never notice his too acute appreciation of Scotch whisky -- should have been the subject of acrimonious comment at Court. But he served his mistress faithfully, and to ignore him would be a sign of disrespect in her biographer. For the Queen, far from making a secret of her affectionate friendship, took care to publish it to the world.... In the second series of extracts from the Queen's Highland Journal, published in 1884, her "devoted personal attendant and faithful friend" appears upon almost every page, and is in effect the hero of the book.
-Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria
Abdul Karim | c. 1863-?
The second of Queen Victoria's servants with whom she had a much-talked-about relationship, beginning in 1887
The Queen's first two Indian servants, whose photographs still hang in her dressing room just beneath one of John Brown and his brothers, were Mohammed Buxsh and Abdul Karim. They entered her service three days after the Golden Jubilee. The former was large, bearded and genial, but little else is known of him, for he never climbed higher than the rank of bearer. But the latter became more loathed even than John Brown. On the day they kissed her feet and began to wait on her at Windsor, the Queen wrote that Abdul Karim was 'much younger [he was twenty-four], much lighter, tall, and with a fine serious countenance.' ... Her courtiers, suspicious that the Munshi ['Teacher'] was working for his own Moslem ends and endangering the Queen's impartiality in the agonising religious problems of India, worked to discredit him.... But Abdul was clever and quick-witted and charming, and the Queen cried fiddlesticks at her household....
Soon after the Munshi's arrival, the Queen recorded in her journal: 'Am learning a few words of Hindustani to speak to my servants. It is a great interest to me, for both the language and the people.' The Munshi soon explained to the Queen that waiting was beneath him, since at home he had been a clerk. Photographs in which he appeared as a menial were speedily destroyed, and his advancement began. Before the eyes of attendants who could hardly bring themselves to speak to an Indian, the Munshi was given Karim Cottage at Balmoral, Frogmore Cottage at Windsor, and Arthur Cottage at Osborne. Despatch boxes about Indian affairs were shown to him, his advice was solicited, and he was taking part in the holy privacy of family theatricals, as a figure in the 'tableau vivant' of an Indian bazaar.
-Marina Warner, Queen Victoria's Sketchbook
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