Top positive review
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fabulous page-turning reappraisal of the myth of Victoria and Albert
on 13 December 2009
This book reads like the very best fiction and indeed the story of Victoria and Albert is more akin to a fairy-tale than the stuffy image of the dumpy dour little Queen featured in so many photographs of her, surrounded members of her multitudinous family.
The young princess, Victoria, heiress to the kingdom of England was kept as sequestered as any heroine of legend in Kensington Palace by her mother Victoria, Duchess of Kent and her adviser, the low-born Sir John Conroy. While the Duchess of Kent claimed it was to protect her from the moral contamination of the debauched courts of her Hanoverian uncle-Kings, Princess Victoria was held in virtual imprisonment and subject to emotional abuse by Conroy and the Duchess. Forced to sleep in her mother's bedroom and never allowed to be alone for a single second for the first eighteen years of her life this caused lasting psychological damage to Victoria.
Victoria's beloved half-sister Foedora was banished to a demeaning and impoverished marriage in Germany to prevent her infecting Victoria with rebellion against her mother and Conroy whose aim was to garner power and wealth to themselves with a prolonged Regency and control over a submissive Victoria thereafter. Even when extremely ill Victoria was bullied incessantly by Conroy and the Duchess to grant power to them and- testament to her strength of resolve-refused to comply.
Liberation came shortly after her 18th birthday and acession to the English throne. Her first act was to have her bed moved from her mother's room and she never forgave her for the abuse she had suffered at her hands.
Besieged by suitors eager to marry the Queen of England,Victoria's choice was in reality limited to a handful of German protestant princes, mostly related to her. Her cousin, handsome,chaste Albert of Saxe-Coburg the scion of an impoverished family became her real-life Prince Charming.
Tensions soon arose in the marriage however as Albert sought real power while Victoria saw herself as the dominant partner and wanted Albert to assume a traditionally feminine role of submissive spouse. Albert had other ideas and aided in large part by his wife's nine pregnancies imposed himself as the real ruler of England with an adoring Victoria rubber-stamping his decisions.
The narrative follows the ups-and downs of the marriage and the gradual transformation of the sensuous, wilful fun-loving Victoria by the prim protestantism of Albert into the dour icon of mercentile middle-England. It was Albert and not Victoria who was responsible for the image of cosy domesticity of the British royal family. Victoria throughly enjoyed sex but hated child-birth yet had nine children who spread her genes and in many cases haemophilia throughout the royal houses of Europe.
During her reign the British monarchy changed from actively ruling to being constitutional monarchs largely due to the early favouritism for the Whigs assumed by the Duchess of Kent and continued by Victoria. While she was herself a catalyst for change, the development of the values and morals of the Victorian era owed much to the changing times and radical policies of the Whigs.
Finally, with the death of Albert, Victoria had to reinvent herself as an active and energetic ruler which she did with consummate aplomb and verve.
Gillian Gill really brings Victoria and Albert to life and explains why their back stories made them who and what they were, tearing away the cobwebs of their myth. I enjoyed immensely the almost conversational casual style in which Gill writes and found the copious notes very informative and useful as well as highly enjoyable in their own right.
This is one of the best biographies I have read in a long while and one which I shall certainly read again.