Victoria: A Book, A TV Show and A Queen

The Queen

Collectively remembered as a perpetually angry figure of history, stern-faced and gloomy and in all black. Victoria was seen as the ultimate matriarch not only to the Royal Family or Britain and the Commonwealth but also to Europe. With all of her nine children being married off to high-ranking individuals, five of which married into other European royal families.
Throughout her reign Victoria was both loved and hated by her people and Parliament, having an extremely close relationship with several of her Prime Ministers, no-one was ever in doubt as to her favourites. In contrast to the modern Royal Families of Europe, Queen Victoria did relatively little in the way of improving the lives of her subjects.

In reality, Victoria was a shy, quite girl with a quick wit and a severe lack of empathy, no doubt diminished further by her status and the ever increasing fear to anger a monarch.
By the sheer luck of fate, Victoria became Queen at the ripe young age of 18, and despite living through various revolutions of neighbouring European countries and several assassination attempts on her own life, Victoria became the longest serving Monarch in English history (until the current Queen, Elizabeth II) and well-loved by her people. Perhaps only by insistence of hanging around for so long…

Forced into a position that was entirely male dominated, many women in the modern era will relate to her struggles to be seen not only as an adult, but a capable one.

TV Series

The ITV series is a British drama series on the life of Queen Victoria.
Throughout the first season we meet Victoria on the day the old King dies and she is claimed as the new Queen. We see her through her coronation and the decision to marry Albert. We watch on as her love for Albert grows and her love for Lord Melbourne, her first Prime Minister, changes. And in the final episode of the season we see the birth of their first daughter — Victoria.

Jenna Coleman stars in the series, playing the central character of the woman known as Victoria. And boy does she do a good job. Portraying Victoria as the quick-witted, head-strong woman we know her to be. Also possibly being marginally prettier than Victoria was in reality. Coleman perfectly captures the young queens struggles to be viewed as a ruling monarch, rather than a figure-head.

I do fear, that ITV have taken some liberties with how the young Queen is portrayed, possibly showing quite a skewed version of real events.
Victoria is shown as an amazing young woman who stood up for herself in the face of immense opposition and always had the best intentions for her country at heart. Which to a certain extent is, of course, true.
Victoria was an amazing young woman who stood up for herself in a primarily male dominated industry and did change the way that many things were done, always with the best intentions for her country at heart. However, what the series does fail to show, is to the extent that Victoria was, for lack of a term more befitting a royal, spoilt. And to a degree pig-headed and stubborn.
As of course any teenager would be. Having the people surrounded by her, constantly striving to keep themselves in her good books. Because of the portrayal of the Queen through rose-coloured glasses, or camera lenses, as the case may be, the series received a fair bit of back-lash from viewers.

A quick Google search of ‘Victoria tv series’ results in various titles that proclaim the show idolises and embellishes the Queen’s life. Which it does. A series that showed the true events would be labelled a ‘documentary’ and without David Attenborough as the narrator would therefore fail to see the high ratings that the series enjoys.
We may also have to keep in mind that this woman is still very much in living memory. She’s the current Queens and Prince Consorts grandmother, meaning, very possibly, that the portrayal of the Great Queen Victoria would have to be in a positive light so as to keep the Royal favour.

The Book

Readers can enjoy a more realistic version of the Queen throughout A.N. Wilson’s biography of her life from before her birth to after her death.
The ITV series is based on this biography, and before you even get to the third page you can see straight away that is was more inspiration for the show, rather than the back-bone.
Wilson paints Victoria as a real woman. A woman with faults, like anyone of us, but more grounded than her character on television or even as the angry depressed widow that she is remembered to be.

The biography begins with the odd circumstances surrounding the union of her parents. An odd one indeed. Her father abandoning his illegitimate wife and ten children (as he was not given permission by the reigning monarch to marry the woman he chose), and her mother having become a widower, raising three children practically in poverty, meant that Victoria was far from being a lonely, only child. She had countless half-brothers and sisters, but was, by sheer luck of the fates, the only legitimate heir as seen by the ruling family of England.
Throughout the book we are granted insights into her time at Kensington, her taught relationship with her mother, her odd memories of a lonely childhood and her immense love for her husband, Albert.
Sometimes confused, as all beings are allowed to be, but always stubborn. Victoria was certainly a force to be reckoned with, and one that many people were wary of. Her opinion at English court was everything and if you were not in favour, you knew it. If you were in favour, you questioned if that was really the case.

Wilson takes us into what feels like deeply private and personal moments throughout the Queen’s life and allows the reader to form their own opinion of who Queen Victoria strove to be. We are given an insight into the struggles she had with every one of her nine children and how open and blatant she was about which ones were her favourites.
She didn’t just have favourites among her children. She was even more open about which Prime Ministers and members of Parliament she favoured. Only speaking to W.E. Gladstone face-to-face a handful of times during his four terms as Prime Minister, whilst meeting several times a week and discussing more than just politics with others.

The book is thick and even though a sight more interesting than other biographies I have crossed paths with, it could at moments, when dealing with pure politics, be a little difficult to get through for the politically handicapped.

The only thing I could fault was not with the book itself but its the era.
In the late 1800s everyone seemed to like the idea of naming their children after themselves, with each individual having a nick-name in an attempt to individualise each other, it could sometimes be difficult to remember to whom the author was referring. However, the family-tree, complete with marriages and familial nick-names, on the inside cover does make it easy to check.

The primary sources for the Queen could be a little stiff as most of these were formal interactions with members of parliament or acquaintances. Victoria’s blunt nature and directness meant that a majority of her private letters to close friends or her children proved to be somewhat haunting for the way in which she referred to them.
This lack of empathy on the Queen’s part makes for a highly possible reason as to the burning and erasing of many of the Victoria’s private correspondence. Leaving later generations with a certainly skewed view of the Queen’s personality and behaviour. And with everyone who knew her personally departing or having already departed the living in their own way, the collective memory of a Great Queen is changing with a lack of real and factual evidence, as it must for all great figures of history.
It is truly a shame that those letters have been purposefully destroyed, certainly erasing whole sides of Victoria that the public was never privileged to see. And even though it would have been amazing to truly see the woman behind the crown, perhaps it is for the best. For this extremely shy and private woman to have her legacy remembered in fond light.