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on 1 February 2009
I very much enjoyed Kate Williams' previous (debut) book 'Lady Hamilton 'England's Mistress', and looked forward keenly to reading her latest account of the early years of Queen Victoria and the exceptional circumstances that culminated in her reign. I was not disappointed. Kate Williams has a deceptively easy style that makes her books highly readable. Contrary to another reviewer I did enjoy the long introductory paragraphs about Victoria's cousin Charlotte - the princess who should have been Queen: so little is written of her short, tragic life and it was illuminating to become acquainted with her before moving on to the subject 'an icon of the 19th century'. The book finished rather abruptly: I know it is an account of Victoria's early years and much has been written about the rest of her reign but perhaps my disappointment at the ending is indicative of how utterly absorbing and entertaining I found this marvellous book.
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on 9 November 2008
Kate Williams has followed up her excellent biography of Lady Hamilton 'England's Mistress', with this fascinating book on how Queen Victoria ascended the throne. Beginning with the troubled path that would lead to the emergence of the Victorian age, Kate Williams depicts the dissolute and the degenerate heirs of George III, and the question surrounding the future heir the young and vulnerable princess Charlotte. The first half of the book introduces the reader to the background and its many characters who all wanted a stake at the throne. It is due to Kate Williams' attention to detail that she captures a whole host of memorable figures, not least Victoria's mother and the machiavellian John Conroy.

Ultimately in this very engaging historical biography, Kate Williams has achieved in bringing to life young Victoria, spirited, intelligent, and passionate, who through a change of fortune would become one of the most important monarchs in world history. A monarch who with the love of her future husband Albert, would usher in a new optimistic age. Brilliant and my pick for the best biography of 2008.
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on 26 January 2011
Kate William's biography "Becoming Queen" recounts a sizable amount of British history and the improbable devolution of title of monarch onto the fragile shoulders of a girl of eighteen of under five foot in height,the future Queen Victoria. The story is amazing and destroys some of the myths one heard at school - The Prince Regent is stripped of his legendary romantic elegance, his daughter Princess Caroline appears as the truly popular expectant heir, and the maverick young Victoria emerges as a fighter who fully assumes her role despite a hostile entourage and even family. Even Prince Albert appears as a courageous consort and some "Victorian Values" not so dull after all. Clearly and racily written, this book is recommended as a good read and an eye-opener, full of precise and fascinating information.
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on 6 June 2011
Kate Williams has written an entertaining and fascinating account of Charlotte, our 'lost' queen, who died in childbirth. She brings to life the limitations and constraints on both Charlotte and the young Victoria from very young ages - both experienced extraordinary cruelty from parents who should have been loving and supportive. What dysfunctional families both belonged to, and yet they overcame the lot and it is a pleasure to read of their triumphs - Kate includes PLENTY of fresh quotations from their own writings.

Charlotte had a lucky escape from her mother, who allowed her house to be used as a 'safe' place where she could meet her first boyfriend; then pushed the pair into a bedroom with the words, 'Enjoy yourselves'. Scandalabra. Fortunately, the boy in question respected Charlotte's virtue, but her father blew his top when he heard of it - then used the threat of revealing the story, and destroying Charlotte's credibility and good name, to control Charlotte in a most unpleasant way. The Prince Regent comes across as a thoroughly unpleasant man. Before this, I thought he was just a roue with an interest in his own magnificent breeches and big-bosomed women.

I ended up seeing Victoria as a typical teenager - 'I am very modern,' she wrote - longing to travel, yearning for romance, having her hair done to match that of her fave singer, preferring 'modern' Donizetti to Mozart!

She was a remarkably liberal girl; she hated racism or discrimination on grounds of religion, and when Albert - rather a prude, though I adore him for his romantic Puss in Boots-style suede boots - complained that she could not have bridesmaids whose mothers weren't of good reputation, Victoria put him down firmly, saying basically, there but for the grace of God go we both.

Two small niggles. The phrase is 'bored WITH' not 'bored OF' and it crops up regularly. Can't some editor quietly correct that tiny slip and a couple of other repetitive sentences which show she was writing quickly to meet a deadline?

Secondly, Kate suggests that Albert was not a virgin on his wedding night, supposing that HIS teenage travels included a quiet visit to some courtesan. Albert - whose parents' marriage had gone sexually off the rails and who reacted to this by being quiet and bookish - was famously a virgin on his wedding night, as celebrated in the clubs of London who said that there hadn't been such a royal wedding, where both partners were virgins, for centuries if ever.
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on 16 May 2009
"Becoming Queen" is the story of a turbulent period in the British Royal Family which led to the accession of one of our most admired monarchs.It tells of a gross and selfish prince, his wronged but impossible bride and their daughter who embodied the nation's hopes. Her death after barely two years of a loving marriage led to the passing of the crown to an obscure child - the only legitimate grandchild of George 1Vth- who succeeded despite the last frantic efforts of his dissolute sons to produce a male heir. The book is dense and detailed but remains a riveting read, and you become acquainted with a fascinating, sometimes appalling, cast of characters.
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on 30 December 2009
The good: the book is engaging and detailed, and paints vivid pictures of Charlotte, Victoria and the people in their lives. The protagonists' faults or weaknesses are not overlooked, but help create rounded portraits. The writing is easy to read, but doesn't come across as lightweight. I would call it a good introduction to their lives, showing clearly how many hurdles they faced.

My reservations stem from the section on Victoria, because I am more familiar with her life than Charlotte's. Principally, the portrait of Albert that emerges reads more like caricature - the stodgy and conniving Coburg princeling - than the highly intelligent, passionately loving and inexperienced twenty-year-old he was when they married. His humour (which wasn't on display for strangers; he was shy) never rates a mention, and the author seems to take issue with him wanting to do more than just be a decorative royal stud. The overall tone leaves one wondering if Albert loved Victoria at all or was just manipulating her - an entirely unreasonable stance, given all the evidence of their lives.

Another claim made in passing has, in my opinion, no place in a serious biography. Saying that "surely" Stockmar arranged for Albert to visit a courtesan before his marriage smears both men as hypocrites. Albert's whole family background, with his mother divorced by his hypocritical and promiscuous father, and his brother's acquisition of VD at an early age, clearly made sexual license abhorrent to him. There are simply no grounds for supposing he would have visited a prostitute in preparation for his marriage.

There are also factual errors. One simple one should have been caught by editing: calling Melbourne head of the Tory party. Another shows missing research: sticking to the old tale that the dress Victoria wore to her first Privy Council was an old dyed outfit. Kay Staniland's "In Royal Fashion" discusses the dress (which survives today) and makes it quite clear it was not re-dyed. Staniland's book is not new, and given that it is about the dresses of Charlotte and Victoria, I was surprised to find it wasn't listed in the bibliography.

My point in detailing these things is that there may equally be as many inaccuracies or dubious interpretations in the section on Charlotte. As I said - it's interesting and lively, a good introduction, but I wouldn't take it as Gospel!
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VINE VOICEon 27 July 2013
This is a very entertaining account of the young lives of Charlotte, daughter of George IV, and her cousin Victoria, who eventually became Queen. I had only the vaguest knowledge of Charlotte's life, and of the Regency period in general, so I was very interested to learn more.

Charlotte's story is very sad in many ways - as a child she seems to have been little more than a pawn in the ghastly feud between her father, the Prince Regent, and her mother, Caroline of Brunswick. The Prince Regent and his numerous brothers and sisters are portrayed very much as pantomime villains and the hopes of the nation are pinned firmly on Charlotte, who fortunately finds genuine happiness in married life.

Charlotte's tragic death then leads to a race among her aunts and uncles to produce a new heir (bizarrely, none of them has managed to have a legitimate child). The Duke of York succeeds, siring a single daughter, Victoria. The Duke then dies, leaving his wife and Machiavellian henchman John Conroy to raise Victoria, which they succeed in doing while controlling every single aspect of her life. Their plans backfire when Victoria becomes Queen - she is desperate to be rid of them, and turns instead to government advisors and, of course, Prince Albert.

You really could not make any of this up, and it make compelling reading. Kate Williams loves her heroines and I could not help feeling in places that the faults of Charlotte and Victoria, while not completely overlooked, were downplayed while those of their horrible relatives were exaggerated. Nevertheless this is a great place to start if you want to learn more about this fascinating and turbulent period of history.
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on 25 November 2012
Most people have this image of Queen Victoria as this old, depressed and frumpy women dressed in black " we are not amused" etc.

This fantastic biography will forever change anyone's perception of Victoria and show her for what she really was, a passionate young girl with a love of the ballet, opera, drawing, painting, singing, going to the theater & riding her horses ( the faster the better), loved staying up late and actually had a terrific sense of humor. Sadly though Victoria's path to the throne was not a happy one, she may not have faced the plots and dangers of some of her female predecessors, but it was certainly no easy path as this book shows us.

What is also so great about this book is it shows us another story that is far too often looked over or ignored- that of Princess Charlotte "The Queen who never was", it was Charlotte's unexpected and untimely death in childbirth ( the baby boy was stillborn) that sparked an incredible rush from the other sons of George III and his Queen ( also called Charlotte) to marry and have heirs- at the time of Charlotte's death in 1817 she was the only legitimate grandchild compared to an estimated 56 illegitimate grandchildren from bachelor uncles ( with one at least allegedly from one of her spinster aunts). Funnily enough the lady Victoria's father married was the sister of Princess Charlotte's husband Leopald.

The parallels between Charlotte and Victoria's lives are uncanny, both had difficult relationships with their parents ( Victoria of course never knew her father who died only a few months after she was born), both relationships with their husbands was one of incredible love ( although more so in Victoria and Albert's case i'd say) and both where the hope of the Monarchy's future and the hope of the people, who had grown so tired of a Monarchy that only catered to the aristocracy & for their own interests.

This book will change any view you may have had on Queen Victoria and show you how she and Albert where the saviors of the Monarchy, it will also introduce you to Princess Charlotte- who would have been our Queen and Empress of India, so definitely give this book a go, highly recommend it.
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on 27 October 2008
By the time I reached the epilogue I loved this book but it was rather heavy going to begin with as we learnt about the cruel upbringing and subsequent untimely death of the princess who should have been queen instead of Victoria. I thought the Charlotte years could have been condensed into rather fewer pages, and more emphasis given to Victoria's accession in order to affirm the book's title. Notwithstanding the above points, I heartily recommend this book as Kate Williams shows us a side of Victoria that came as rather a surprise to me: what a nympho!!!
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VINE VOICEon 18 November 2008
Queen Victoria was never meant to be Queen of England. Her cousin, Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent, was the heir to the throne. Charlotte's tragic death in childbirth meant that George III's many children had to scramble to marry & have legitimate children, one of whom would inherit the throne. Although George III & his Queen had fifteen children, when Charlotte died, there were no other legitimate heirs. The royal Dukes had illegally married unsuitable women or kept mistresses & had over 50 illegitimate children. There was an undignified rush to ditch their partners & find respectable princesses to marry. The Duke of Kent married Victoire of Saxe-Coburg & Victoria was born. This fascinating book tells the story of Charlotte & Victoria. Charlotte's childhood was unhappy as her parents hated each other & used her to score points off each other. Victoria's childhood was dominated by her mother as her father died when she was a baby. Victoire came under the influence of Sir John Conroy, who ran her household. They were determined that Victoria would not rule alone & made plans for a regency if her uncles should die before she was eighteen. Victoria was equally determined to rule without her mother or Sir John. Her childhood was one of virtual imprisonment as her mother schemed to promote her daughter to the public as the heir to the throne. An interesting picture of the formative years of a Queen.
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