Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Friday, March 5, 2010

Guest Author: Leslie Carroll on Victoria's Secret

A special welcome to guest author Leslie Carroll! Leslie is a multi-published author of historical and contemporary fiction as well as historical non-fiction books: Royal Affairs and her latest release, Notorious Royal Marriages. Welcome Leslie! I'm so excited to have you here today, especially since I love your books! Hope you all enjoy Leslie's article today... she's divulging Victoria's Secret...

Most people think of Queen Victoria—the monarch whose name epitomized an era of prudery, priggishness and propriety—as a dour and straitlaced woman. After all, she did respond to a dinner table joke with the acerbic quip, “We are not amused.”

On May 18, 1836, six days shy of her seventeenth birthday, Victoria was introduced to her two Coburg cousins, Albert and his older brother Ernest. Victoria’s immediate reaction to her sixteen-year-old cousin was overwhelmingly positive. According to her diary entry, “. . . Albert . . . is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same color as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth; but the charm of his countenance is his expression, which is most delightful; c’est √† la fois [it’s simultaneously] full of goodness and sweetness, and very clever and intelligent.”

However, Albert privately nursed some reservations regarding Victoria’s suitability as a future spouse. His mother had wed his significantly older father at the age of sixteen, but had run off with a handsome army lieutenant when Albert was just five years old. The incident soured his views on females and sex and undoubtedly helped to form Albert’s zero-tolerance policy regarding scandalous women and the men who enabled them. Victoria was ebullient and vivacious; she enjoyed late nights and parties and also delighted in the trivialities and fripperies of court life and etiquette.

Nevertheless, the visit progressed swimmingly. On June 7, Victoria wrote to her mother’s brother Leopold, King of the Belgians, with characteristic effusiveness, “I must thank you, my beloved Uncle, for the prospect of great happiness you have contributed to give me, in the person of dear Albert. Allow me . . . to tell you how delighted I am with him, and how much I like him in every way. He possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy. He is so sensible, so kind, and so good, and so amiable, too. He has besides, the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance you can possibly see.” The stage had been set for a genuine love match, that rarest of occurrences in the history of royal marriages.

On June 20, 1837, the eighteen-year-old Victoria acceded to the throne on the death of her uncle, William IV. The queen’s modest yet regal demeanor quickly won her the praise of her ministers as well as her subjects. And, almost immediately, those ministers began pressuring her to marry. But Victoria felt unready to wed right away—if at all. “I said I dreaded the thought of marrying; that I was so accustomed to have my own way, that I thought it was 10 to 1 that I shouldn’t agree with anybody,” Victoria wrote in her journal on April 18, 1839. “Oh, but you would have it still,” the PM, Lord Melbourne, hastily assured the young sovereign.

But Melbourne, nearly sixty years old and as much a father figure for Victoria as he was a parliamentarian, argued against the notion of wedding one of her cousins, adding, “Those Coburgs are not very popular abroad; the Russians hate them.”

Her little feet grown even colder at the idea of marriage, Victoria wrote to her uncle Leopold that July, expressing her uneasiness at being older (by a few months) than Albert. Besides, she scarcely knew him and was also worried that they might not suit one another as lovers: “. . . one can never answer beforehand for feelings, and I may not have the feeling for him which is requisite to ensure happiness. I may like him as a friend, and as a cousin, and as a brother, but not more; and should this be the case (which is not likely), I am very anxious that it should be understood that I am not guilty of any breach of promise, for I never gave any. . . .”

So in October 1839 Albert set out once more for England and a second look-see. And upon meeting him again, the reluctant queen became thunderstruck. Her October 10 journal entry records, “. . . It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert—who is beautiful.” The following day her diary was full of praise for his waltzing and his horsemanship. On October 13, she admitted in her journal that she had changed her mind about postponing marriage for a few years. Melbourne counseled her not to wait too long; if they presented Parliament with a royal engagement there was little the legislative body could do to find a way of thwarting it if they so chose. And he urged her to inform Albert of her decision without delay.

No one could propose to a regnant queen of England. So the twenty-year-old Victoria was impelled to take the initiative and offer her hand, or ask for Albert’s, in marriage. It was one of the few times she took the reins in their relationship. Her diary entry of October 15, 1839, memorializes the proposal:

“At about ½ p. 12 [half past twelve] I sent for Albert; he came to the Closet where I was alone, and after a few minutes I said to him that I thought he must be aware why I wished [him] to come here, and that it would make me happy if he would consent to what I wished [to marry me]; we embraced each other over and over again, and he was so kind, so affectionate; Oh! To feel I was, and am, loved by such an Angel as Albert was too great a delight to describe! He is perfection; perfection in every way—in beauty—in everything! I told him I was quite unworthy of him and kissed his dear hand—he said he would be very happy [to share his life with her] and was so kind and seemed so happy, that I really felt it was the happiest, brightest moment in my life. . . . Oh! how I adore and love him, I cannot say!! How I will strive to make him feel as little as possible the great sacrifice he has made . . .”

That evening, before the queen went to bed, she was handed a letter that read, “Dearest greatly beloved Victoria, How is it that I have deserved so much love, so much affection? . . . I believe that Heaven has sent me an angel whose brightness shall illumine my life. . . . In body and soul ever your slave, your loyal ALBERT.” After reading this tender and effusive declaration, Victoria burst into tears.

According to Victoria’s diary, during Albert’s visit the two of them kissed and snuggled and held hands at every available opportunity. Albert accompanied her to a parade review in Hyde Park, where Victoria may have taken more notice of her fianc√©’s physique than the military marches, observing that Albert was wearing a pair of white cashmere breeches with “nothing under them.”

On February 10, 1840, three years after becoming queen, Victoria married her first cousin, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, in the Chapel Royal, St. James’s.

It’s difficult to imagine how she found the time to write a journal entry on her wedding day, but Victoria’s firsthand description of events could scarcely be matched by another. According to the diary, before breakfast her mother brought her a nosegay of orange blossoms and a wreath of orange blossoms was placed atop her hairdo; the wreath would set the bridal fashion for decades, as would the color of her dress. “I wore a white satin gown with a very deep flounce of Honiton lace, imitation of old. I wore my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings, and Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch.” Albert wore the uniform of a British Field Marshal, decorated with the Order of the Garter.

“When I arrived at St. James’s, I went into the dressing-room where my 12 young Train-bearers were, dressed all in white with white roses, which had a beautiful effect. Here I waited a little till dearest Albert’s Procession had moved into the Chapel.” His procession, and hers, were both lavish and colorful. But there was a near comical moment when it was clear that Victoria’s bridal train wasn’t long enough to allow all twelve of her bridesmaids to walk normally; like the women’s chorus in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, they had to trip forward with precarious, mincing steps, taking care not to bump into each other.

Witnessed by three hundred guests, “The Ceremony was very imposing, and fine and simple, and I think ought to make an everlasting impression on every one who promises at the Altar to keep what he or she promises . . .,” Victoria wrote. Afterward, she returned to Buckingham Palace alone with Albert, where they had a half hour of conversation to themselves before it was time to set out for Windsor. Victoria changed out of her formal wedding ensemble into a simpler version of the same, “a white silk gown trimmed with swansdown and a bonnet with orange flowers.”

After they reached Windsor and acclimated themselves to their suite of rooms, Albert “took me on his knee, and kissed me. . . . We had dinner in our sitting room; but I had such a sick headache that I could eat nothing and was obliged to lie down in the middle blue room for the remainder of the evening, on the sofa, but, ill or not, I never, never spent such an evening. . . . He called me names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before—was bliss beyond belief! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life!—May God help me to do my duty as I ought and be worthy of such blessings.”

With such effusive joy and vitality, it’s doubtful—despite the raging headache—that Victoria was gritting her teeth and thinking of England as she and Albert consummated their marriage.

On February 11, 1840, the morning after the wedding night, Victoria awoke in a state of bliss, but she still had time to memorialize her feelings in her journal. “When day dawned (for we did not sleep much) and I beheld that beautiful angelic face by my side, it was more than I can express! He does look so beautiful in his shirt only, with his beautiful throat seen. . . .” Later that day she wrote to her uncle Leopold, gushing, “Really, I do not think it possible for any one in the world to be happier, or as happy as I am. . . . What I can do to make him happy will be my greatest delight. . . .”

Victoria’s afterglow remains just as bright in her journal entry of February 12. “Already the 2nd day since our marriage; his love and gentleness is beyond everything, and to kiss that dear soft cheek, to press my lips to his, is heavenly bliss. . . .”

The following day, the woman who after Albert’s death stubbornly refused to acknowledge that women had such vulgar appendages as “legs” wrote with a hint of the erotic, “My dearest Albert put on my stockings for me. I went in and saw him shave; a great delight for me.”

Which only goes to show that the real Victoria (at least as a young bride) was far sexier than any lingerie company could have imagined!

Visit Leslie at http://www.lesliecarroll.com/


Barbara Monajem said...

What a delightful post. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Leslie has a real way with words. It is interesting to read of Victoria's exuberance and her vitality and her erotic and romantic love for her husband. I have been taught that it was Albert, with his German Protestant background , who accelerated the drive for morality in public and private life started in the 18th century by the Evangelicals and Methodists. Albert set the tone of the court and thus of the country.
I also think it the swing towards the more Puritanical was just a general reaction to the excesses of the restoration and people like the Prince Regent.
More interesting to me is how that exuberant young Queen could be so deaf to the real complaints of her female subjects.There again,I fear she listened to Albert who probably wasn't a believer the rights of women.
Again, Leslie made the scene and the Queen come alive.

Leslie Carroll said...

Thank you, Barbara! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.

Anonymous ... thanks for the compliments as well! And you are correct regarding their relationship and how it impacted the kingdom/empire -- it was Albert's upbringing (remember his mother ran off with a younger man when he was only 5 years old!) that shaped his view of society and most particularly how women should conduct themselves.

The rights of women wasn't such a big movement when Victoria ascended the throne. The suffragist movement was still quite a ways into the future. Victoria had a very traditional view of the roles of men and women in a household; men led, women followed. And she suffered tremendous consternation over the fact that she was the leader in her marriage; Albert -- the foreigner, the consort -- was in her home and her kingdom. She wished to be able to subordinate herself and her policies to his wishes, but was keenly aware that her situation was socially topsy-turvy.

And I believe that she trusted him implicitly. They both had very strong characters (and endured plenty of marital spats, esp. over the upbringing of their children). Victoria was in no way bulldozed by Albert's prudish personality; she was happy to acquiesce in every way she could. Because she would always have the ultimate power of the sovereign, she sought ways to "correct" the social inequality in their marriage by giving Albert as much free rein as it was possible for her to give.

And, believe me, she came in for plenty of criticism because of it -- and mostly because the English felt that the German national character was being imposed on them.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely blog! Her words couldn't have been written by a writer any better.


Elizabeth said...

I really enjoyed this post and it makes me think a lot about what Elizabeth I's life might have been like had she given into pressure and married - would she have married her great love Dudley, or made the state marriage to strengthen England? By all accounts she comes across as a very fiery and passionate person, so it's very interesting to wonder. Would she have felt she had to make concessions all through the marriage since she was the true monarch, or would she have forged on ahead in a manner much like her father before her, consequences be damned? These two women seem very similar to me yet took very different paths in life. I very much look forward to reading your new book!

Leslie Carroll said...

Elizabeth, you make an excellent point, and one I was thinking of as I researched and wrote the chapter on Victoria and Albert. What separates these two queens (in addition to a few centuries) is their childhood experiences. Elizabeth was bastardized by her father, who also had her mother executed. She'd had enough of strong men. Victoria lacked a father figure in her life; her father, the Duke of Kent, died when she was an infant and she was always searching for a strong man to guide her (it's one reason she relied so much on the good counsel -- [the recent movie invented much of their machinations] of her uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians; Viscount Melbourne (who was 58 years old aand no hunky Paul Bettany when Victoria acceded to the throne); and later, her husband Albert.

Elizabeth had to prove that she was stronger than any man in order to hold the throne. And don't forget, by the time Victoria became queen, much had shifted politically as well and the role of the sovereign was far more ceremonial, leaving the main governance of the kingdom to Parliament.

Louisa Cornell said...

What a lovely post and a real insight into Victoria as she was before tragedy struck her life. I think much of her severity came after she lost her beloved Albert. Still it is nice to know that some royal marriages were real partnerships. I find the words of a besotted woman who was also a queen rather endearing and very humanizing in a woman who is often portrayed as a mere caricature of a woman.

Leslie Carroll said...

Thank you, Louisa. One of the unexpected joys of writing "royal" nonfiction is the discoveries I make and the insights I get through my research into the real lives, and more important, into the humanity of these royal personages. And it is precisely their humanity (and sometimes their lack of it in certain circumstances) which I find both fascinating and compelling and it excites me to be able to share that with or impart it to my readers.

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you so much for visiting Leslie! You present information in such a fun and riveting way!


Leslie Carroll said...

Thanks, Eliza for so generously hosting me! It's been a joy!


Alyssa Maxwell said...

I'm chiming in late but thank you for such a wonderful post! I've only recently learned these surprising fact about Victoria since I began researching her early life myself. The plump matron we all think of was really a vibrant young woman, full of life. What really struck me was how much spirit and determination she had even after enduring a lonely childhood under the stringent rules of her mother and John Conroy. Good for her!

Leslie Carroll said...

Thanks, Allison! Somehow Victoria managed to transcend her godawful childhood, thanks, I think, to a very resilient and determined personality. One of the things that the recent film got right was what a jerk (and controlling personality) John Conroy was! Thank goodness Victoria did not have a malleable character. She acquiesed to Albert in almost every way only because she so much wanted to do so.

Anonymous said...

This was an interesting post to me, because although I knew that Victoria was quite passionate about Albert, I was always under the impression that she viewed him as "merely" her consort and was never inclined to let him help her. Thank you for the correction!

And your mention of Albert's German background being cause for villification by the English reminds me of Marie Antoinette, whose Austrian heritage led her to be excoriated by the French. How odd that foreign alliances were deemed necessary by sovereigns, yet the people always hated them.

Leslie Carroll said...

Christine, you nailed the perennial dichotomy. So, so true about Marie Antoinette. As well as Catherine de Medici and Alexandra of Hesse, among, many, many others.

Victoria's famous comment about permitting Albert to perform "a little help with the blotting paper" (and that's a slight paraphrase) may reflect a number of things. She uttered it early in their marriage when she was in fact disinclined to permit Albert to impose himself and his modus operandi on her sovereignty. Also, she may have been careful not to give the impression that Albert played any substantial role in her governance.

So what changed? Motherhood. During her lying-in and postpartum periods she was not attending (or attending to) some of her political duties and needed someone she could trust to meet with the ministers and convey her wishes to them. She delegated those responsibilities to Albert, who was more than happy to carry them out. And as time went on, his own influence permeated her decisions.

Alice Audrey said...

For her it was just a matter of being with the right man. Excellent recounting of history, Leslie.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an informative post. I have both ROYAL AFFAIRS and NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES. They are still on my TBR pile, but I have finally gotten more time to finish them. It seems that in the case of those with power and influence, truth is often stranger/better than fiction.
I look forward to your next book, the one on the children.

TammiMagee said...

Fabulous! I've blogged about Queen Vic myself before now! Have you read Becoming Queen by Kate Williams? It's marvellous! I will definitely look out for your book now!

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