We know that Prince Albert is Queen Victoria’s destiny even before he enters the frame, so no spoiler there. The revelation is in how they get there. Their courtship, in Victoria, follows the Four Stages set down by the Lady Mary Crawley School of Seduction: You impudent beast! You Bore me. I hate you! Shut up and kiss me! (Which is then to be followed by a roll in the hay and death.) While initially both Victoria and Albert feel they are unsuited, they are alike in one thing; they both seem to spend quite a lot of time looking for answers in mirrors. When he asks her if she prefers flattery or truth. Victoria looks at him as if the options never occurred to her. Let the race to the altar begin with the top 11 essentials from this week’s episode…
- Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye Sir John.
Gone, not with a bang, but with a whimper, is Sir John. It seems he just grabbed the cash and bolted. There was no goodbye scene; no last tearful embrace with mommy dearest, no meaningful last glares at Victoria from the codependent couple across the room, no Victoria flipping him the bird as he was unceremoniously driven away, out the gate and down The Mall in a pony cart. He was just gone. Good riddance, I say.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Uncle Leo who remains at Buck House like a bad smell. Doesn’t he have any duties back in his Belgian Kingdom? Victoria and her Prime Minister are working on dispatch boxes from Parliament every day; great matters of war and peace and poverty and power. But Uncle Leo has all the time in the world to hang around playing the demented Dolly Levi. If Victoria was smart, she would put a flea in his ear about how if he stays away too long, his subjects might realize they do not miss having a King at all.
FYI: Here’s the historical 411 on Sir John, The Gold Digger: Before we close the book on Sir John (we hope), let’s review: While Sir John Conroy liked to make claims of having descended from the ancient kings of Ireland, those were alternative facts. He was actually born middle class, and his advancements through life came (entirely) through his manipulative relationships, mostly with women. He was an army officer who rose through the ranks due to his wife’s connections, coming to the attention of the Duke of Kent through her uncle. After the Duke appointed him his equerry, he tried to convince the dying Duke to name him Victoria’s guardian. He was unsuccessful in that. However he was successful in being named executor of the Duke’s will, and convincing his widowed wife, Victoria’s mommy dearest, to name him comptroller of her household. He then began isolating them from court and the world. He barred heir presumptive Victoria from anyone but the Duchess and his relatives (who we didn’t get to meet in Victoria).
As Victoria grew older and closer to her only ally, Governess Lehzen, Sir John tried to have her dismissed. He was unsuccessful, but he was able to bar Victoria from being alone with her without his spy Flora Hastings present. His complaints that Victoria should not be surrounded by commoners is what led to him receiving his knighthood from Victoria’s uncle King William IV, who despised him and was determined to not die until Victoria turned 18, to thwart Conroy’s power grab. While at Kensington, Sir John also made it a point to become close to George IV’s elderly sister, the mentally unstable Princess Sophia, convincing her to allow him to take over her finances as well. In return for being allowed access to Victoria and the Duchess, Princess Sophia acted as a spy for Sir John within Kensington and St James Palaces. Sir John and his family lived a wealthy lifestyle on her dime. When Princess Sophia died she was senile and blind and had a mere £1607 left in her estate. Her brothers had a lawyer send Sir John a letter demanding he account for her money but he ignored it. Victoria’s first act as Queen was to dismiss Sir John from her household, though she could not convince her mother to do the same, which is why mummy was relegated to a distant wing. He demanded that his daughter be one of the new Queen’s Ladies (the demand was refused), and her mother’s birthday ‘gift’ of the copy of King Lear with the highlighted passage was also his idea. It was actually the Duke of Wellington who got rid of him, convincing Sir John to leave court and go into exile. Not until years after Sir John had left the palace, did the Duchess finally allow her new comptroller to look into her past finances. He found huge discrepancies. No records had been kept for years and there was no trace of the money given to her by King Leopold or King William IV. Sir John had fleeced both the Duchess and Princess Sophia out of what (today) would be millions of dollars. Later in life the Duchess admitted that she had been had and expressed regret for allowing Sir John to permanently damage her relationship with Victoria.
- Bert & Ernie Arrive!:The little Princes, Albert and Ernest come galloping into the picture.
The Courtship gets off to an inauspicious start. Yes, when Albert turns up and metaphorically turns the page of Victoria’s sheet music, his piercing eyes meet hers and time stands still. For a moment. It’s downhill (quickly) from there, and not just because he points out her mistakes. Nitpicky Albert is overly serious and socially awkward. Dash is not impressed and Dash is an excellent judge of character. On the other hand, the yin to his yang, brother Ernie has the gift of gab and more charm than he knows what to do with. He tries to help his brother make conversation. Bert asks Victoria if she can take him up to her place to see her etchings, but she has no clue whether she has Leonardo da Vincis in her royal collection or not. Bert views this as a moral failing. He stews over her shortcomings.
Bert has as a social conscience but is a bit of a bore about it. He only showed up five minutes ago and already he admonishes Lord M for being uninformed about Dickens and poverty. When Princes Bert and Ernie are out exploring a market, and Bert sees a little match girl and wants to give her a coin, he doesn’t hand her the coin himself. He directs a servant do it for him. We are guessing he doesn’t see the hypocrisy in that. And he doesn’t want to play cards either. He can’t enjoy himself. All the starving people beyond the Palace walls put a crimp in his evening. He’s very Alvie Singer in that way. Ernie, on the other hand, has no such problem. He went out painting London town and came back with a report from a nunnery. Yet another nunnery? I have to say, all this nunnery business puts an entirely different spin on The Sound of Music, amirite? But be that as it may, Albert did not go and does not approve. We do like that about him.
FYI: The royal couple were passionate photogs: At that market, Albert takes note of a photography stand and was fascinated. Ernie, not so much. He was waiting for Photoshop to be invented. Prince Albert was always eager to adapt to new technologies and he and Victoria became avid photo hobbyists who helped to popularize this new medium.
- Sit, Stay, Roll over: Victoria is Queen, after all.
For her part, vexed Victoria is at her imperious best, starving her dinner guests while she feeds Dash, causing hungry Bert to crawl around the table and wrestle the dog for a scrap. She also continues to demand the presence of Lord M, giving no thought to how it must feel for him to have to watch her fall in love with someone else. Everywhere Albert is a wet blanket, Lord M is her security blanket and she will not be without him.
- Anything you can do I can do better:Albert keeps picking at Victoria.
After dinner it is piano duets as foreplay. According to Bert she has small hands and doesn’t practice enough but they manage to make beautiful music together. He thinks she’s too silly and laughs too much about things that should be taken seriously, like postage stamps. When Uncle Leo asks, ‘so when is the wedding?’, Victoria says it ain’t happening and complains about how Bert played her keyboard as if he owned it (Is that a euphemism for something?) causing Uncle Leo to smirk like a thirteen year old girl and slither out the door. Annoying. Worse, Albert angers Victoria by criticizing her for her relationship with mummy dearest, and when she responds that he knows nothing about it, he says no, but he knows what it’s like to have no mother. Sigh. All of these contradictions leave Victoria is both infuriated and intrigued in equal measure. But the intrigue slowly begins to win out.
FYI: The Invention of the Postage Stamp: In 1837, the year Victoria became Queen, Sir Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled Post Office Reform: its Importance and Practicability in which he advocated for a system where postage would be prepaid by the sender. This idea was heavily debated, but on May 1, 1840, the first postage stamp went on sale and was a huge hit. It bore a profile of Queen Victoria, and was called the ‘Penny Black’ because it cost a penny and was printed in black. Before the postage stamp, the person who received a letter had to pay the delivery costs and they would often be refused for that reason. At the time it was groundbreaking technology that transformed mail service and making it attainable to the average citizen.
- All she wants to do is dance: Victoria and Albert hit the floor.
Victoria throws a non-ball, just a small after dinner dance, very casual. Nothing special; just women in gowns and men in tails. But not a ball. To get things going, Prince Ernie asks Lord Alfred to crank it up; hit the down beat, it’s time for a waltz. Just then, Prince Bert moves in on Lord M’s territory. Victoria was complimenting him on the beautiful hothouse corsage he’d sent her and he was just about to ask her for the pleasure… when Albert strode up and said, ‘No one puts Vicky in a corner’ and led her out on the dance floor, leaving poor Lord M backing away in the dust. As Bert and Vicky gracefully spin on the dance floor, Lord M realizes he has become a third wheel. He watches with sad resignation as the spark between Victoria and Albert begins to grow.
It’s hard to dance like no one’s watching when everyone is watching (intently), but they manage. Then Bert gets a whiff of something familiar, it’s Victoria’s Lord M gardenias that remind him of his mother. She offers them to him, and he cuts open his shirt to place them near his heart. Drama queen. We could ask a couple of questions here like, why was Albert walking around with a shiv in his boot? Or, why wasn’t he thinking about all those poor Dickensian people who couldn’t afford Darcy shirts when he destroyed his? We’re not sure, but this did serve as a metaphor for Victoria transferring her heart from Lord M to Albert.
FYI: Some Historical Background on the Mother of the (soon-to-be) Groom: Bert and Ernie’s mother, Princess Louise, was a bolter (what the Brits call a woman who leaves her husband). Even though her husband, Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, had numerous affairs and illegitimate children without losing any social capital, after she had an affair with her husband’s equerry, she was exiled from the Dukedom and prevented from seeing her children again. After the divorce, Duke Ernest I married his niece, and Princess Louise married one of her lovers. She died five years later. Victoria and Albert named one of their daughters after her.
- Windsor Castle Lonely Hearts Club Road Trip
Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day, and to celebrate Victoria decides to go to Windsor Castle, entourage in tow. Victoria has a sudden interest in trees which may or may not have something to do with Albert preferring forests to gardens – the largest private garden in London was not enough for him. (By the way, I’ve been in those gardens behind Buckingham Palace and they are nothing to sneeze at.) But Albert waxes poetic, saying, ’To be among the trees when the wind is blowing is to feel the sublime.’ Yeeesh! No doubt Albert likes forests so he can commune with the tree from which came the stick up his royal arse. But here we are, on the way to Windsor where, according to a royal decree signed by George III, all male visitors must dress like Sgt Pepper.
As soon as her feet hit the castle floor Victoria asks the curator to tutor her on her art collections. While she won’t admit she likes Prince Bert, she does seem to want to impress (or at least one-up) him. It’s kind of odd that she never noticed the pictures before, given that she paints herself, but she has now. Uncle Leo is surprised to see Lord M there, and uses the occasion to once again, warn him off. This is another kind of dance.
FYI: Art Smart: Great societies have always been defined and remembered for their art, which is just one reason why governments have traditionally been among the biggest patrons of the arts. In fact, the Windsor Castle art collection is one of the world’s finest and does include almost 600 Leonardo da Vinci drawings (mostly anatomical studies and notes). They were originally bound into a single album, which (according to the Royal Collection Trust) was probably acquired in the 17th century by King Charles II. And you don’t have to wait for Victoria to invite you; you can view them at your leisure on the Windsor Castle website.
- Dog Run: A walk in the woods turns into a dash to the dog house.
Victoria wants to show Albert a tree that’s been there since the Norman Conquest (as one would) and speaking of conquests, as Bert and Vicky romp in the Windsor woods Victoria lets her hair down, and he likes Victoria unplugged. Dash runs ahead and gets himself into trouble. Once again Albert seizes an opportunity to tear his shirt, this time to bandage poor Dash’s leg. He must keep a royal seamstress working around the clock sewing those Darcy shirts of his. Points for chivalry though. Unfortunately, the chivalrous moment is short-lived. Bert goes from hero to zero in five seconds flat, throwing an ill-timed tantrum over Victoria’s friendship with Lord M and stomping off in a snit – unceremoniously leaving Victoria and the injured Dash behind. Putz. On the hasty ride back to Buck House, perturbed Uncle Leo grills Bert. He wants to know what’s taking so long. He wants results. Why can’t you be like Ernie who would have bonked her by now? Anyone who’s ever been tortured by the comparison to a perfect sibling is with Team Bert on this one.
FYI: A Queen’s Best Friend: Dash was the Queen’s favorite dog. She penned his epitaph, which reads: ‘His attachment was without selfishness, his playfulness without malice, his fidelity without deceit. Reader, if you would live beloved and die regretted, profit by the example of Dash.’
- She Works Hard For The Money: Miss Skerrett’s past imperfect comes a calling.
As a mysterious woman shows up at the back gates of the palace, we open The Skerrett File. The woman seems to be an old ‘friend’ who needs money. But when Miss Skerrett reminds her she’s not paid till Michaelmas (quarterly) so there’s nothing she can give her, Miss Old Friend says she thinks Miss Skerrett, working at the Palace and all, should be able to find something of value and people might be very interested in her past if she doesn’t. Desperate to avoid exposure, Miss Skerrett pockets a diamond pin (What would Henny Youngman say?), but then, guilty and terrified, puts it back. Miss Old Friend may mock her sudden knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, but she has it and that is not to be trifled with. When her old friend comes back to collect, she gives up her own lace collar instead.
The Queen notices Skerrett’s missing collar and when she says she lost it, Victoria offers her ‘several’ to replace it. Skerrett promptly takes a few to her old pal. It turns out Miss Skerrett isn’t really Miss Skerrett at all. Apparently she and Old Friend are playing the old switcheroo. Her name is really Nancy and it is her friend who is Eliza Skerrett. Say what? From what we can gather, it seems that the real Eliza got the job, but then must have gotten pregnant so Nancy became Miss Skerrett instead to take her place and the opportunity. But didn’t it seem like the baby was calling her ‘Mama’? Is it really Eliza’s baby or is it Nancy’s, or someone else’s? Hmmm… One suspects we haven’t heard the last of this.
The downstairs crew are still discussing Victoria’s prospects, and their groom pool, when Chef Francatelli ponders the existential question, “Aren’t all women happier when they’re married?” To which Miss Skerrett emphatically replies, Um, NO! What, and give up all this, my 25 guinea a year career for a husband? No thank you!
Historical Note: A guinea is not real money, but rather an old money way of valuing services. It was the equivalent of £1.05, which means, Miss Skerrett’s 25 guineas a year annual salary would have been the equivalent of £2677 in today’s money. Note that, while that 25 guineas is a lot of money to Miss Skerrett, Lord Alfred and Prince Ernie bet 10 guineas (almost half her annual salary) on their forest horse race at Windsor.
FYI: Eliza Skerrett is a fictional character with the name of a real person. The real Miss Skerrett was Marianne Skerrett and there was no nunnery in her background. She came from a well-bred line of royal servants. Her uncle worked for George III’s wife Charlotte. She became Queen Victoria’s Head Dresser in 1837 and remained with her for 25 years, eventually becoming Victoria’s private secretary, handling correspondence and personal tasks for the Queen. After she left service, for the rest of her life she often returned to the palace to visit Victoria, which indicates what good friends they had become. She was with Victoria at her Diamond Jubilee in 1887, the same year she died at the age of 94.
- Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
Mr. Penge spent most of the episode looking attentive, yet confused, as Baroness Lehzen conversed with Bert and Ernie’s manservant, Lohlein, who were speaking openly about him, dissing him, in German, thinking he had no clue what they were saying. But Penge knows how to pick his moments. When the time was right he drops a few home truths, along with the mic… in German. HA! Turns out he’s fluent and has been eavesdropping in plain sight all this time. So where did this come from? Is this the beginning of us discovering what is behind his sorry, semi-drunken state? Some private heartbreak that involved a yodeling fraulein perhaps?
- An Inconvenient Truth: Lord McDreamy does his duty.
When Victoria shares her fears about Albert rejecting her, he says (mostly to himself), ‘Only a fool would turn you away.’ He may think himself a fool, and even be having second thoughts as Victoria’s affections shift, but Lord M does the gallant thing and sets aside his own happiness for what is best for Queen and country. It reminds me of the parable of King Solomon and the two women who claimed the same baby. The self-interested people putting pressure on Victoria are the woman who would cut the baby in half. But it is Lord M who would let the baby go rather than see it come to any harm. He knows he has to let Victoria go. He also knows Prince Bert is jealous of him. Fortunately, Lord M understands how to handle people with delicate sensibilities. When Bert and Ernie visit the Parliament, in his way Lord M assures Bert he’s no competition and will be out of his hair sooner rather than later, causing Bert to suppress himself from raising his eyebrow with glee. There’s an open road ahead.
- Will You or Won’t You: Victoria pops the question.
One of the tough things about Victoria and marriage is, she has to do the asking. The last time she offered her heart on a platter was mere days ago, to Lord M, and she was rejected flat out. Even though she understands why, it still smarts. But now Bert and Ernie are about to head back home and it’s do or die. She readies herself for battle wearing gardenias in her hair, the flowers that remind Albert of his mother because, when you are asking your first cousin to marry you, naturally you want to remind him of his mother. They like to keep it in the family, so if you’re going to ring that bell, ring that bell.
She rang it and he said ‘YES!’ Mazel tov!
Side Note: Earring a ding ding: And one last thing: Hey, ShopPBS, please take note: The next replica earrings you should add to your collection are those pearl earrings Victoria was wearing in that opening scene where she is playing the piano as Albert arrives. Can you get right on that, please? I’ll sit right here, credit card in hand, waiting. Thank you!
So what do you think, Victorians? Should Victoria have chosen Bert or Ernie or Lord M? Or should she have played the field a little longer? Join the conversation below or Tweet using the hashtag #VictoriaPBS.