This week, with the arrival of Victoria’s Uncle King Leopold, it becomes clear that there are two royal houses competing for control of Victoria’s hand, heart and head – and all that shiny stuff that comes with it. It is a war waged, not with guns or cyber hacking, but with sex, (i.e.: strategically placing stud muffins in her path). But for now there is no contest; hand, heart and head all belong to her Leicester, Lord M – and both she and he have decided that fate and circumstance have left them no choice but to become conscientious objectors.
The Newport Rising: 10,000 armed civilians march on the town of Newport.
It’s 1839 and the rabble have been roused. The Newport Chartists, ten-thousand strong, armed with shovels and pitchforks, and history on their side, march on The Man (in what was to become known as The Newport Rising), but The Man has troops and guns and they open fire, killing about 22 protestors. At this point in time, only land owners can vote and Members of Parliament are unpaid, which means only the wealthy can afford to participate in governance. The Chartists want to reform all that. Lord M explains to Victoria that this is a result of a poor harvest, that when people are hungry they fancy themselves revolutionaries. True. I know that when I’m hungry enough I’m just a pitchfork away from anarchy myself. But the troops opened fire in the name of the Queen, and then the leaders of the march were charged with, and convicted of, High Treason. This has made Victoria, once more, the object of hecklers at her public appearances – this time a serious mob that requires her to retreat behind Palace walls.
The unrest has reached inside those walls as well, to Mrs. Jenkins. After receiving a letter, she retreats to her room and won’t say what’s the matter, but she finally had to open up to someone and Miss Skerrett was handy. Even though she hasn’t been friendly with Skerrett, it’s any port in a storm. Jenkins confesses about her nephew, her sister’s boy. He was a lovely child, and even though she has been away in service and hasn’t seen him or the rest of her family in years, in her lonely servant’s dream she’d imagined that they’d meet again one day. Maybe he would join her service. Now that would never happen. He was to be hanged, drawn and quartered with the other traitors.
Oh My Darlin’ Clemency-tine: The Queen shows mercy on the Chartists.
After Jenkins takes a sudden turn in the Queen’s bedchamber, collapsing on the floor at a loud sound outside, Miss Skerrett intervenes, explaining to the Queen why Jenkins was so upset. This causes Victoria to ask for news of the world outside the gate; what’s the word on the street? Victoria then asks Lord M about what is to become of the Chartists and when she finds out there is a petition to pardon them she asks to sign it. Lord M tells her that it is within her power to offer them clemency, and she is on board. She understands that such brutal punishment was necessary during Elizabeth’s time, but she wants her reign to be a merciful one. She commutes their sentences and sends them to Australia where they all die from skin cancer and rabid Dingos.
In Real Life: The commutations were a response to nationwide resistance: The two leaders of the Chartists’ march were the last two people in the UK to be sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Thankfully that sentence was later commuted (as described in this episode), to exile to Australia. However Queen Victoria had no personal involvement with it. (She actually knighted the Newport Mayor who was seen as crushing the rebellion.) The commutation was the result of the combination of a nationwide petition drive and Lord Melbourne’s powers of persuasion. Like with our own civil rights movements, the government dealt with the Chartists harshly. In the end they did get to the promised land. Years (sometimes decades) later, most of what the Chartists wanted became the law of the hand.
Mission Control: Cry (Too Many) Uncles:
Victoria laments to Lord M that she is plagued by uncles, and that plague is about to go viral with the impending visit of Uncle King Leopold N. Loeb of Belgium. Upon his arrival he immediately reminds her that if only his dear Charlotte (George III’s daughter) hadn’t died in childbirth, he would be the one inhabiting the Palace (Charlotte would have been Queen and he Prince consort, though it sounds like he thinks he would have been King). We see where Victoria’s mummy gets her passive aggressive charm.
Uncle Leo is quite the social climber: After his ticket to the British throne (Charlotte) died, he married into the Dutch royal family and somehow, after the Lowlands seceded from the Netherlands in 1830, he wangled himself onto the new Belgian throne. After the opera he carriage-jacks Victoria and warns her off Lord M, says they are living in dangerous times and the lights could go out at any moment, which Uncle Drama Queen demonstrates by creepily blowing out a candle. Those candles do figure in to every story don’t they? It gives one the sense that the four horsemen of the apocalypse were made of beeswax, tallow, sealing wax, and other fancy stuff. He tells her she needs a husband to steady her giddiness and babies for the good PR they will bring. An uprising would never kill off a monarch with kids. Just ask the Czar. Victoria just rolls her eyes like what evs.
Disharmony: Which cousin should be the future King? Albert? George?
Uncle Leopold decides to take matters into his own hands. Apparently he had Prince Albert in a can, and decides to let him out – despite the fact that Victoria specifically told him she had already met Albert and is not sure he has opposable thumbs. Regardless, Albert has been dispatched and is on his way. Prince Albert is Victoria’s first cousin. (Can we all say, ‘Eeew!’?) There are two schools of thought here: One thinks Victoria should marry her cousin Albert and the other thinks she should marry her cousin George. Uncle Leo is on Team Albert. Basically, all these European royals just marry their cousins, which is why (in real life) they all have those funny shaped heads. It is also why Princess Diana was such a breath of fresh air. I always thought Diana should get a posthumous Nobel Prize for adding shoulders to the royal gene pool.
It’s My Opera and I’ll Cry If I Want Too: Uncle Cumberland insists Cousin George is the man for Victoria.
Uncle Cumberland, upset that the House of Coburg is sending a cousin to compete in the Victoria Olympics, brings in a Hanover cousin from off the bench: unenthusiastic Cousin George. But George cannot compete with Grand Duke Alexander (who is probably a cousin as well, but I’m too cousined out to investigate, so let’s assume he is). This family tree is enough to make the people from Ancestry.com run screaming into the night. And the romantic reality is, despite the operatic soprano and the candle lit murder scene, Victoria only has eyes for Lord M.
When Alex and George both start shadowing Victoria simultaneously, it’s handbags at dawn. Maybe she should have put them on an odd/even schedule. But as it turned out, it was all for naught anyway; the Grand Duke Alex gets recalled to Russia to be served with Danish and herring, and George disqualifies himself all on his own. As Alex breaks the news to Vicky, and they discuss their sorry gilded lot, she commiserates, “we cannot marry where we please, you and I.” Of course, he has no clue that she is not talking about him; she is talking about Lord M, so no doubt he’ll always remember this fondly as a shoulda, woulda, coulda moment ruined by the Czar’s intervention.
So Many Balls in the Air: George misses his shot at the Fancy Dress Ball
Another week, another ball, this one fancy dress (that’s British for costume party), and in honor of Uncle Leo. Cousin George Cambridge turns up to the ball as Sir Lancelot, or Sir Mixalot (one is a Knight of the Round Table, the other a Knight of the Round Posterior who would not lie about it). No one was quite sure which and they’re all too underwhelmed to bother trying to figure it out. Even worse, he doesn’t help his (Uncle’s) cause when Victoria overhears him resigning her to the Lollipop Guild. Busted. In the aftermath George’s calls to the Palace are refused and Uncle Cumberland is downcast. He has employed all his best duplicitous skills to shove Victoria aside and get his own tushie on that damn throne, and now his last best chance to (at least) pull her strings has been thwarted by his doofus nephew. He’s so upset, he might actually return to his other kingdom in Hanover. Ever the dutiful wife, Duchess Donatella reminds him that it’s always darkest before the dawn, “Cheer up, she might die in childbirth.” This royal family is truly like two families, the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Curious George: The Story of Prince George, who was raised to be King
Another of Victoria’s uncles, King William IV was also keen on a marriage between her and cousin Prince George of Cambridge. Prince George was raised at Windsor Castle for just that purpose but he had other plans. He did not believe in arranged marriages and ended up marrying his pregnant mistress, Sarah Fairbrother, an actress who was the daughter of a servant (and who already had two illegitimate children by two different men when they met). She had two more children with George and was pregnant with their third when he finally married her. (She took out the license.) But according to law, a royal must obtain the permission of the Sovereign to marry, and George did not ask Victoria for permission. Because of this their marriage was never considered legal and his wife and children received no royal titles. However they did stay together for 43 years, until she died (despite him, of course, having another mistress).
But what about Alfred?
You may wonder, who is that nice Lord Alfred who brought Dash to the opera? Why doesn’t anyone think of fixing Victoria up with him? I wondered too. Lord Alfred Paget was a courtier, described as a court favorite, who also sat in the House of Commons. Where we are in the story he was single and with a title, so why wasn’t he in the stud books (aside from the fact that he wasn’t a cousin)? I couldn’t find a definitive answer, but my guess is it is likely because his birth was rather sensational: His father, the highly decorated war hero, the 1st Marquess of Anglesey, left his wife (with whom he’d had eight children), and scandalously eloped with Lady Charlotte Cadogan, a younger woman (who was also already married, with two children). They were like the Brad and Angelina (and Jennifer) of their day. Lady Charlotte’s brother even challenged Anglesey to a duel over it, but the brother missed and the couple went on to have ten more children – one of which was Lord Alfred. Lord Alfred eventually married an heiress named Cecilia Wyndham and they had 14 children. The rumor that the family gynocologist retired to be a toll booth operator at the Lincoln Tunnel, where (he said) there was less traffic, cannot be confirmed at this juncture. But in a nod to his boss and friend, Alfred and Cecilia named their first child, a daughter, Victoria Alexandrina. (Sadly, she died at the age of 10. Sorry to end this paragraph on a downer.)
Sweet Tart: The chef’s seduction attempt fails miserably.
Chef Francatelli tries to tempt Miss Skerrett with sweet meats, but she knows not to take candy from strangers. He feigns confusion at her disinterest, saying the sweets were a favorite with her former nunnery-mates, but she’s having none of it. Just in case he’s having thoughts of blackmailing her, she lets him know, she was not an uptown girl. She only did the laundry. And no, she ain’t buying his ‘kindred spirits’ pick-up line, nor does she need any friends either, thank you very much.
The Player Gets Played: Victoria jumps at the chance to wash Sir John right out of her hair.
Sir John has been playing a three dimensional chess game and with the arrival of Uncle Leopold, someone just added more pieces to the board. Sir John seems to bristle at the presence of any of the royal males even when they agree with his views – those main views being that Victoria needs a husband to keep her behavior in check. It seems to be all about attention. The one who has the attention has the control.
He taunts Lehzen for not knowing Victoria went out carriage cruising to Brocket Hall, which is quite a dumb move (the taunting, not the cruising) given that Lehzen has Victoria’s ear more than anyone but Melbourne. Is she not going to go right back to Vicky with this bit of intel? She will, and methinks Victoria will not take kindly to this treatment of her most trusted confidant. At the ball, Victoria lays her cards on the table directly, telling Sir John in no uncertain terms that he will never get what he wants. While he controls her mother, she will never allow him to control her.
Sir John finally says no mas but he does sense an opportunity in it, naturally. He expects Victoria to send him off with some lovely parting gifts: cash, an Irish title, and a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni with an electric wok. Victoria sees daylight and jumps. That £1000 a year seems a small price to pay. (Even though in 2017 money that’s £102K a year!) And further, she makes sure she defines Sir John’s exit narrative by surprising him, while he is with her mother, cheerily telling him, “I’ve decided to grant your request.” Your request. Let the record show it was yours. In essence saying, you wanted to keep my behavior in check? Boom! Check mate! Our little Vicky has become quite the gangster.
To the Duchess’ pleas of why are you leaving me? He explains, “your daughter will not be ruled.” Yeah, duh, she’s the Queen and you’re just the hired help, Johnny. He says he needs to use his talents elsewhere. Talents? Methinks Sir John is one of those people who suffers from too much self-esteem – and another widowed royal with a young daughter must have popped up on his radar.
I Think I Love You: Elizabeth’s little voice finally shouts.
Queen Elizabeth seems to have become the yardstick Victoria measures herself against; she wonders how her own small voice compares, wonders if Elizabeth was lonely. Modeling herself after Elizabeth is something Lord M encourages for numerous reasons (some personal, no doubt). But Elizabeth had the advantage of having no interfering mother (though that mother, Anne Boleyn, might not have seen any advantage in the circumstances). As they gaze at Elizabeth’s portrait and talk about marriage prospects and family pressure, he reminds her that not all Queens marry. Victoria says she has no plans. She has not seen many happy marriages. On that they agree. This conversation (like many of their conversations) was all about the two of them, while their words spoke about anything else. So what are they so afraid of? Are they afraid that they’re not sure of a love there is no cure for? This is a love that cannot speak its name. Sigh.
She has come to a realization. What to do? Like any teenage girl (which she is), she gets in the car and drives past his house (in Lady Emma’s carriage). Unlike most, she goes in. A perk of being a Queen. But what about Lord M? Does he think she has a case? She tries asking to his face, quoting poet Sir David of Cassidy, “do you think you love me? I think I love you!” In response Lord M tells her all about the birds and the bees and the rooks in the trees and the moon up above – and a thing called love. He explains why he sits and gazes at the rooks in his garden. They mate for life, like him. She says she’d never leave him and he agrees that when she gives her heart it will be completely, but she cannot give it to him. He explains that his heart is already a foregone conclusion, still with his late wife. Did he mean that? Or did he just say that because his true feeling would cause a scandal, or just because Uncle Leo warned him off (though, he must be used to being warned off by Victoria’s uncles by now).
Victoria doesn’t allow a tear to fall until she turns and walks away. She is angry at his rejection until dressing for the ball when Lady Emma sees the orchids he sent Victoria. Emma assures her that while Lord M’s sense of propriety may say, ‘no, no’, his hothouse orchids say, ‘yes, yes’.
Victoria dresses as Elizabeth I (minus the Kabuki makeup) and Lord M turns up as Leicester, her Leicester (Lizzie’s faithful, lifelong companion, the Earl of Leicester). As they dance in each other’s arms, again they talk about themselves by discussing others: Elizabeth and Leicester. Lord M expounds on the relationship between the two, about how Leicester did love her but because of their duties, could not marry her. Victoria’s anger subsides. She gets it and accepts. Some enchanted evening this turned out to be.
…and arriving to distract her from her broken heart: Prince Albert.
Art Smart: Where is that painting now? The painting of Elizabeth I that Victoria and Lord M contemplate is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London and was commissioned to celebrate Elizabeth’s coronation. It is oil on panel, circa 1600, purchased by the gallery in 1978. The artist is unknown but it is in the style of her father’s favorite painter, Holbein. Some experts believe it is actually a copy of a lost original that would have been painted about 1560 near her Coronation time.
Brocket Hall Historical Note: Lord M’s estate, Brocket Hall, is still standing and, like so many of these historic estates, today it is available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. The house was built in 1440 (replacing the original structure that dated back to 1239). Given all the talk of Elizabeth I in this episode, it is interesting to note that before she was Queen, young Princess Elizabeth was held under house arrest by her older sister, Queen Mary Tudor, at an estate nearby. When Mary died, Elizabeth heard the news that she was now Queen, as she sat reading, under her favorite oak tree…at Brockett Hall! During WWII Brocket Hall was used as a hospital, run by the Red Cross, where women from the East End were evacuated to have their babies. Lord Melbourne’s old bedroom was the birthing center. Over 8000 babies were born there. They became know as Brocket babies, and to this day hold reunions at Brocket Hall. No word on how many were the illegitimate babies of royals and aristos.
How many descendants of illegitimate royal babies do you know? There are so many, you must know at least one. Join the conversation below or Tweet using the hashtag #VictoriaPBS.