Read Censoring Queen Victoria Online
Authors: Yvonne M. Ward
A Oneworld Book
First published in North America and Great Britain by
Oneworld Publications, 2014
First published in Australia by Black Inc., an imprint of Schwartz Media Pty Ltd
This ebook edition published in 2014
Copyright Â© Yvonne M. Ward 2013
The moral right of Yvonne M. Ward to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All right reserved
Copyright under Berne Convention
A CIP record of this title is available from the British Library
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To Publish the Queen's Letters
A Peculiar Genius: The Second Viscount Esher
It's Very Remarkable: A.C. Benson
Sir John Conroy and the Ghost of Lady Flora
King Leopold: The Foreign Adviser
The Welcome Foreigner: Prince Albert
The Queen and Her Ministers
To my family
and other teachers
Reginald Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher.
John Murray IV (seated) and his brother Hallam in their London offices, 1903.
ICTORIA, AS SHE
has come down to us, is the product of her biographers.
For over sixty years
these biographers did not have access to the Queen's original correspondence, which is held in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. They had to rely instead on
the published selections of letters
produced by âroyal command' of Victoria's son, King Edward VII, and her grandson, George V. The first of these selections appeared in 1907 and, in three volumes, covered the Queen's life until the death of Prince Albert in 1861.
I consulted this publication when I was writing about
the Queen as a wife and a mother
. The dearth of letters dealing with Victoria's personal and domestic life made me question the selection itself. Who were the editors and on what principles had they operated?
The senior editor was Lord Esher
, who was an influential figure in the court of Edward VII;
his colleague was Arthur Benson
, not so highly placed but very well connected. Both had known the Queen as a matron and matriarch â but what would these two gay men have made of the letters of a young woman, a young wife in love, a new mother? How much would they have understood of Victoria's dilemma as a female ruler: the challenges
of being sovereign over men to whom she was meant to be inferior?
Such questions are not just a byway in the study of Queen Victoria. Esher and Benson's work still influences our view of the Queen. Their selections provided a template for the Queen's life and very few biographers have been able to escape their influence.
At her birth in 1819, Victoria was fifth in line to the throne. Her grandfather, King George III, had since 1810 been prevented from ruling by bouts of madness now attributed to hereditary porphyria. Her father was the King's fourth son, Edward; her mother was Princess Victoria, daughter of the German Duke of Saxe-Coburg.
The heir apparent was the King's eldest son, George, who served as regent during his father's illness. The line of succession continued down the family tree to the King's second son, Frederick, Duke of York, then to his third son, William, Duke of Clarence, then to Victoria's father, Edward, Duke of Kent. Next in line was Victoria, followed by the King's fifth, sixth and seventh sons. If George, the Prince Regent, were to remarry and produce an heir, that child would usurp all claimants in the line of succession, although this was deemed unlikely given his age, his health
and his prodigious girth
However, Victoria's position in the line of succession was to change rapidly. In 1820, when she was eight months old, her father suddenly caught cold, was treated by cupping and bleeding, and died. Within a fortnight, King George III also died, and the Prince Regent acceded as King George IV. The next in line, the Duke of York, developed dropsy and died of heart
failure in 1827. On the death of George IV in 1830, the Duke of Clarence became King as William IV.
He had married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and they had several babies, but none had so far survived. If a child of his were to live, he or she would supplant Victoria's claim. Thus, during Victoria's childhood, becoming Queen was a possibility but never a certainty. It was not until the passing of the
in 1830 that she was formally deemed the heir apparent. Even then, the
acknowledged the possibility that Queen Adelaide might yet give birth to William's child, even after the King's death.
As the Secretary of the Privy Council, Charles Greville
, explained, âin the event of the King's death without children, the Queen [Victoria] is to be proclaimed, but the oath of allegiance taken with a saving of the rights of any posthumous child to King William'. That is, Victoria would be deposed from the throne should Adelaide subsequently give birth to a royal heir.
As it was, despite much speculation as to how to ascertain whether or not Queen Adelaide was âwith child', King William died without children in 1837. Victoria acceded to the throne one month after her eighteenth birthday. (The
also allowed for Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, to rule on Victoria's behalf should she accede the throne before she was eighteen. Greedily, the Duchess and her comptroller, Sir John Conroy, had lobbied without success to have this extended until Victoria turned twenty-one.) When she became Queen, Victoria was barely 148 centimetres tall (or four feet ten inches) but hopeful that she might grow taller. Thanks to the training she had received as a child,
whereby sprigs of holly were pinned to the neckline
of her dress to improve her posture, she walked with a dignified grace.
In the third year of her reign she married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg; they went on to have nine children before he died in 1861, aged forty-two. She died thirty-nine years and one month later, in January 1901, after reigning for more than sixty-three years.
These are the bare facts. Our impression of the woman behind them, however, has been distorted by the decisions of the men who compiled and edited the primary sources. By better understanding these men and their motivations, we can achieve a clearer view of the Queen and of how her story has been told.
ICTORIA'S DEATH IN
1901, Reginald Brett, the second Lord Esher, was charged with organising her funeral and the coronation of her eldest son, Edward VII. These tasks fell to him not because of the official position he held at court, which was minor; he was merely the Secretary of the Office of Works. But Esher had developed a reputation at court and in political circles: if a job had to be done well or if judicious advice was needed, Esher was your man. He was,
as his biographer James Lees-Milne described
, a person of wide and considerable influence, an advantage he maintained by refusing all offers of higher office. At various times he declined to be ambassador to Paris, the governor of the Cape (in South Africa) and the viceroy of India. He had been briefly an MP but refused to return to politics, even though he was twice offered a position in the Cabinet. He explained to his son:
It is not in my line
to go back into politics and become identified with party strife. I can do more good outside, and heavens how much happier the life. Just imagine what the
tie would be. I am purely selfish in the matter, and really I do not think I can bring myself to sacrifice all independence, all liberty of action, all my
life for a position which adds nothing to that which I now occupy.