Fact or Fiction: Inside Episode 6

From phrenology to florins, find out what’s fact and what’s fiction in an episode rich with historical content…and bursting with drama! Get your Episode 6 fact check now!

  1. 1.

    Fact or Fiction: Victoria's family etchings were published, and she was not amused.

    Fact: While Victoria and Albert’s etchings weren’t published in the Illustrated London News as dramatized in Episode 6, the etchings were in fact stolen. In his book Queen Victoria: First Media Monarch, author John Plunkett describes a private and secure printing of their own private etchings commissioned by Victoria and Albert, where even the plates were kept under lock and key. But somehow a journeyman printer got his hands on copies of the personal etchings, some 63 of which later ended up with the journalist Jasper Judge. In 1848, Judge approached the publisher William Strange with the idea of planning an exhibition of the etchings and publishing a catalogue; around 50 were printed. When the royal couple learned of the plans, the Prince sought to suppress them via an injunction and prevailed in the courts on the issues of privacy and property.

    Yet the sentiment expressed by Abigail Turner in the episode, that the public enjoyed seeing their queen as a mother, was suggested by the satirical magazine Punch in 1848: “The people at large, who have a notion that kings and queens wear diadems instead of hats…had doubtless been much astonished to find that HER EXCELLENT MAJESTY can let her imperial notions subside into the homeliness of common life…The Windsor rogues have, all unwittingly, ‘drawn the curtain and shown the picture’ of HER MAJESTY’s retirement in pleasant aspect…”

  2. 2.

    Fact or Fiction: A phrenology expert was consulted for Bertie.

    Fact: Our commonly held sentiment this season—Poor Bertie!—continues apace in Episode 6 when the phrenologist Dr. Combe pronounces the prince’s anterior lobe, the seat of his intellect, to be underdeveloped. Sadly, this is all true. Because of Bertie’s behavior and learning difficulties, Victoria and Albert were concerned that he wasn’t fit to someday inherit the throne, and therefore turned to the pseudoscience of phrenology, inviting leading phrenologist Dr. George Combe to examine the skull of the future King Edward VII. Combe’s report states that “the quality of the brain of the Prince of Wales was abnormal, producing feebleness and excitability. The anterior lobe was deficient in size…the organs of combativeness, self-esteem, and firmness are in excess.” Combe goes on to state in his report that “I stated plainly [to Prince Albert] my suspicion that his son had inherited not only the quality of the brain but its form from King George III, and I pointed out all that this implied.” His implication, of course, is of madness running in the family. Poor Bertie!

  3. 3.

    Fact or Fiction: The "Godless Florin" was Albert's fault.

    Fact: As Victoria’s writer and creator Daisy Goodwin tells the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast, “The ‘Godless florin’ thing is true. Wearing the crown was [Victoria’s] idea, and the lack of inscription was Albert’s fault—he left it off, and it absolutely enraged Victoria.”

    As Victoria points out to Leopold in Episode 6, monarchs are always bareheaded on coins. The depiction of the queen in her crown was therefore a shock to the British public upon the coin’s release in 1849. But even greater was the shock generated by the absence of the usual inscription of DG, for Dei Gratia (By the Grace of God) on one side, and FD, for Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) on the other. Hence the name “Godless florin,” and hence the subsequent redesign of the coin for its reissue in 1851.

  4. 4.

    Fact or fiction: Victoria threw an elaborate Georgian costume christening ball after Arthur's birth.

    Fact: Daisy Goodwin tells the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast, “She did throw an elaborate Georgian ball in the fashions of 100 years before. I don’t know whether it was actually after the christening, but…it was just an extraordinary event and there are amazing costumes, wonderful pictures, from the real ball that you can look up online.”

  5. 5.

    Fact or Fiction: The Duke of Monmouth's grandmother, caught in a scandalous affair, committed suicide after her children were taken away from her.

    Fiction: While the story of the Duke of Monmouth is fictional, it’s inspired by the scandal of real-life Victorian social reformer and writer Caroline Norton, according to Lily Travers, the actress playing Duchess Sophie. Yet Norton, ruined by her abusive and powerful husband, Tory MP George Norton, didn’t succumb to despair when her husband took her children and tried to divorce her. Rather, she used her writing skills to advocate for the rights of women in divorce. As a married woman, she had virtually no legal rights at the time to her earnings (Norton earned money as a writer of poetry, novels, and songs) or her own children. Barred from seeing her children, she was suddenly summoned to see her youngest child because he was sick, only to learn, on her arrival, of his death.

    Norton published pamphlets in support of mothers’ custodial rights. In one, she wrote, “I exist and I suffer, but the law denies my existence.” Remarkably, through her writing, she ended up catching the ears of Parliament’s powerful—and all-male—MPs, and influencing the very first secular divorce and child custody laws, allowing women to a separate legal existence from their husbands.

    Victoria fans may be shocked to learn that the alleged affair Norton’s husband so vindictively punished her for was with none other than…Lord Melbourne! Remember the scandalous “criminal conversation” that characters referred to in Season 1 when trying to persuade Victoria to keep her distance from Melbourne? This is what they were talking about! It was never proven that Melbourne and Norton had been intimate, but in real life, the scandal didn’t taint Norton in Queen Victoria’s eyes; the writer/activist was presented to the queen, and socialized with many other of the era’s famous writers and thinkers, including Tennyson and Mary Shelley.


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