The overarching theme this week seems to be the fragile male ego. Whether it be Prince Albert, the Duke of Wellington, Uncle Sussex, the Abolitionists or just Lord M who is back at Brocket Hall licking his wounds after Victoria’s wedding. When girls rule the boys require more TLC. Let’s break down the 7 essentials of Victoria Episode 5 to compensate.
- The Honeymooners: There’s a Place For Us (and by ‘us’, I mean ‘me’)
It is Bert and Vicky’s first morning back from their two days at Windsor and Lehzen walks in on them. Oops, my bad! Servants walking in without knocking seems to be a common denominator in these upper class British households, does it not? Albert is getting used to his poorly kept new home, where the army of servants apparently spends no time dusting. (If he thinks that’s bad now, he should have been there during rat-gate!) He is also getting used to British enunciations and eccentricities and as such, he is one part horrified, one part jealous of Mr. Bumps, the jewelry-wearing canine of Lord Alfred.
While wifey the Queen is doing the work of the most powerful Sovereign on the globe, Albert is given the menial task of sending thank you notes for wedding gifts. Frustrated, he wanders aimlessly around the palace and does battle with pianos. Ernie tries to reassure him that it will take time to settle in; don’t worry, be happy, but Albert is a slave to insecurities and judgments. It is this week’s existential crisis: There must be more to life than spending endless days as Victoria’s blotter monkey. Time to get busy with more than getting busy. But with what? It seems that poor Albert is having a Lady Edith moment.
- Cupid, Draw Back Your Bow: One is the Loneliest Number
Prince Ernie wants to stay in England indefinitely but it seems his brother Bert has other ideas. Ernie wants to stay for the same reason Bert wants him to leave: Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, who is a keen Toxophilite, which is not to be confused with a Troglodyte. Prince Ernie has gotta find a woman (one that doesn’t have a meter running). He and the Duchess are oh so easy together, fun and flirty, and as we know, she is an expert on shrubs. Through the Duchess we see the softer side of Prince Ernie. She sees the tender heart under the horndog exterior. He opens up to her about his fears; he thinks Victoria and Albert have a happy marriage, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever have that. Harriet replies that in her experience happy marriages are rare, kind of a hint that maybe hers is not among them (and likely why she was happy to stay in town at the Palace while the hubby went back to the country). This is not a puppy love. But there is problem: That husband in the country.
Ernie always supported Bert when they were younger. After their mother left, he was the protector of his better half. Yet now when Ernie needs him most, Bert thinks about propriety and turns his back. While the flirtation between Harriet and Ernie goes right over Victoria’s head, Bert sees a dangerous liaison. He admonishes him not to be like their father, but Ernie doesn’t think father ever fell in love. Bert tells Ernie he must return to Coburg. Clearly hurt, Ernie says, but I want to stay…to support you and your big speech. Albert says he’ll just have to handle the speech alone. ‘But you are not alone, are you?’ Checkmate, Ernie.
Ernie sends Harriet a text (on paper, odd), to meet him in the hallway. He tells her his brother is sending him back to Germany where it is safe. What’s unsafe about a little harmless flirtation, she wants to know. She may think it’s a harmless flirtation but he thinks it’s love, and as soon as she realizes that she sprints in the opposite direction. She understands the risk. Ernie is left forlorn. The next day as they say goodbye, Harriet needs Emma for support. (Is that sadness or fear?) Harriet cannot seem to speak, so it is left to Emma say goodbye and ask how the Prince found his trip, ‘I’ll never forget it’. As they pass, without losing a beat Harriet accidentally on purpose drops her lace hanky, leaving a souvenir of tears behind for Ernie.
FYI: The real Duchess of Sutherland was an abolitionist, a philanthropist, and the granddaughter of the infamous Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire (who was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Princess Diana). Knowing all that, it is no surprise that The Ernie Declaration made Harriet leave skid marks. The real Harriet likely saw a bit (and at the very least heard all the stories) about what a love affair cost her grandmother. For her part, Harriet became a good friend of Queen Victoria and was Mistress of the Robes whenever there was a Whig administration. She married her cousin George, an MP, who was twenty years her senior. They had eleven children. Not sure how that worked since she seemed to spend all her time trailing around after Victoria, but one of Harriet’s grandsons ended up marrying Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise.
FYI: Bertless Ernie: Prince Ernest: Originally both Bert and Ernie were considered to be marriage material for Victoria, and Ernie was actually much more like Victoria in personality, but in the end she chose Albert. Ernie’s later life was not so happy. He married Princess Alexandrine but they had no children (though he was continually unfaithful and fathered three illegitimate children). Some historians believe that a venereal disease he suffered from had rendered his wife infertile. Always known for being extravagant, as he aged he became even more of a provocateur and enjoyed the gossip that he was disreputable. After Prince Albert died he became increasingly antagonistic toward Victoria, and wrote anonymous pamphlets, (the Victorian equivalent of mean tweets), against the Queen. But in the end, because he had no legitimate children, Victoria and Albert’s second son Prince Alfred, who had been designated his heir presumptive, inherited his throne.
- Hello, I Must Be Going: See you later, Ernie
Ernie is going back to Coburg but valet Heir Lohlein is assigned/ordered to stay behind in London with Albert even though he wants to go back home. He has no say in the matter. He has a girl back home and he cannot find the words to tell her he won’t be coming back. Master Brody tries to help him put a positive spin on it but it doesn’t alleviate the heartbreak. We find out that Brody has been in service since he was ten years old, and when he first came he cried for weeks. He reassures Lohlein that he has friends.
FYI: It’s a Hard Knock Life For Us: It was common for poor children to have to go to work at a young age, sometimes as young as four or five years old. Often they toiled for long hours in dirty and unsafe conditions, in all sorts of factories, mines, and businesses (some criminal). They were considered cheap labor and were in high demand. One of the worst forms of child labor exploitation occurred at the hands of chimney sweeps who would sometimes kidnap small orphans off the street and hold them captive, underfeed them to keep them thin, then abandon them after they grew too big to fit in the chimneys. It was in the Victorian era that things began to change. There was a continuous march of new laws restricting child labor, including the 1833 Factory Act that prevented children under nine from working in factories, and another passed in 1844 that limited the number of hours someone under 18 could work to 12 hours a day on weekdays and 9 hours on Saturdays! Given all that, by comparison, being a servant at the palace seems a better option than most!
- You Give Me Fever: Francatelli does Skerrett a life-saving favor.
Ever notice that most of the bad news that comes into the palace comes via letters to Mrs. Jenkins? This week it’s news of an Indian Cholera epidemic that has closed down Seven Dials (a section of Covent Garden with narrow streets that was a notorious 19th century slum). The neighborhood has been quarantined, and is guarded by Peelers to prevent anyone going in or out to stop the spread of disease. Penge blames immigrants (of course). Mr. Francatelli, who is always watching Miss Skerrett, notices that she is upset at this news. He tells her he knows she has business in Seven Dials. She’s rather creeped out. Has he had her followed? No, he just has nose for news. He offers to help and she asks, ‘What’s in it for you?’ He ominously responds that he can think of something, and we know what that means – or do we? Meanwhile Miss Skerrett makes her own attempt to get into Seven Dials to see a Mrs. Ashter (the real Miss Skerrett), but can’t get past the Peelers. Desperate, she takes Francatelli up on his offer, and he says he will need something in return. She clearly thinks she knows what he wants but is willing to make the sacrifice for her cousin (we’re now finding out it’s her cousin), and baby.
Turns out Francatelli knows his way around the slums. He encourages a street kid to act as a decoy by leading the cops on a chase, then slips past. Hopefully the kid doesn’t get caught and spend the rest of his life in the Nick. Anyway, Francatelli finds Mrs. Ashter. The baby is coughing and doctors are too afraid to come to the neighborhood. Later, Miss Skerrett gets a letter from Mrs. Ashter saying Francatelli has gotten them new lodgings out of town. She is grateful that he would do such a mitzvah for a stranger. Now it’s time to pay the piper. Thankfully, in the end all he wanted from Miss Skerrett is her real name so he can concentrate on his desserts. It’s Nancy. OK, now he can go back to his sugar work. Well, that’s a turn up for the books.
FYI: Sick Day: The Asiatic Cholera Pandemic spread across the globe over the span of twenty years. Counter to what was believed by the people at the time, it was not spread via the air, but spread by poor sanitation, by contact with fecal matter. This pandemic led to the development of the IV saline drip, which was very successful in treating it. Sadly, the man who invented it, Dr. Latta, was one of the many medical personnel who died in the epidemic.
FYI: On the Beat: ‘Peelers’ is semi-pejorative slang for a cop, named for Sir Robert Peel who created London’s modern police force at Scotland Yard. The more affectionate nickname, the one that stuck, is Bobbies. Peeler is also a slang for stripper, but we will assume that this is not what is meant when referring to the constables guarding the slum entrances.
- Line Dance: Cecilia, You’re Breaking My Heart
All poor little Queen Victoria wants to do is walk into dinner on the arm of her new hubby instead of whichever wackadoodle uncle is freeloading dining at the Palace on any given night. Is that too much to ask? Apparently, yes, it is too much to ask because yet another fragile male ego, this one belonging to the Duke of Sussex, is not best pleased at the suggestion. Sir Duke doesn’t have much in life, other than immense wealth and privilege, but he is the son of a King, Prince of the Blood, and don’t you forget it little missy. It’s the only thing that gets him invited to parties and he ain’t letting young whippersnapper Albert cut in line. At the mere suggestion, Uncle Sussex gave Victoria some good old Jewish mother guilt, ‘After everything I’ve done for you and this is how you repay me? All I ask for is a little loyalty and maybe a phone call once in a while. Would it be a crime for you to call your uncle? I know the phone hasn’t been invented yet but that’s no excuse.’
Victoria is nonplussed. She wonders, WWLMD (What Would Lord M Do)? Ordinarily this would be a the kind of situation Lord M would field most deftly, but he is off communing with Rooks and books so it is now left to Victoria to spread her wings. She questions Emma Portman; she supposes that Sussex has a mistress like she has been recently warned every other breathing male of the species has. Emma says, oh no, he’s happily married. Then Emma fills her in on all the details of Uncle Sussex’s life and wife Cecilia Buggin, their history and problems. Have we ever mentioned that Emma Portman is better than Google? She is. So Cecilia can’t be received at court and that’s breaking Uncle’s confidence daily? Well, we can fix that. Yes, our little Queen learned from the best and she knows how to werq.
Victoria summons Uncle Sussex for tea. He knows she wants something and tells her she’s not going to get it. But she disarms him by saying she’d like to meet the wife, and maybe he wouldn’t mind if she granted her a title. True, theirs is a morganatic marriage (i.e.: she is of a lower rank), but maybe Cecilia would like to be, oh, say a random Duchess of something or other. Sussex says he thinks only of his wife’s happiness, and likewise, Victoria says she only thinks of Albert’s. This is too good a deal to pass up. He accepts. Meet the new Duchess of Inverness. Sounds fancy. So, Uncle Sussex gave up his spot in line in exchange for some lovely parting gifts for the little woman, which is likely the best deal he could have wangled anyway because I’d bet money Cecilia has been nagging him about all this title business for years! But now: happy wife, happy life. Ingenious.
FYI: Three Times a Lady: If Lady Cecilia Buggin looked a bit familiar, it’s because she was played by Her Royal Highness Daisy Goodwin, writer of Victoria. Hey, if cameos are good enough for Hitchcock and Scorsese, I say they’re good enough for Goodwin. She rules! The real Cecilia was the daughter of an Earl, and this was the second marriage for both she and Uncle Sussex. They lived in the Duke’s apartments at Kensington Palace. However, because their marriage was not recognized by the Sovereign it was not considered legal so she was not allowed to attend any functions attended by other royals until Victoria granted her the title.
3.2. By Rook or By Crook MIA this week was Lord M whom we heard (in passing) is working from Brocket Hall. Tap dancing to take his place are both Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington. Wellington seems newly frustrated by the feminine wiles employed by Victoria (even though they came from Lord M, so technically they aren’t feminine, just successful). And for his part, Peel is coming around to Prince Albert, giving credit where credit is due after his successful convention speech.
- Underground Railroad: Mind the Gap Edition
Organizers of the The World Anti-Slavery Convention have an audience with the Queen to ask if she will lend her name to their upcoming event and open the proceedings with a speech. While there is no slavery in England, it still exists in less enlightened nations like America. Despite supporting their cause, the Sovereign cannot get involved in anything overtly political. While she wishes them success, she has to turn them down. With this Albert sees an opening to put his hand to something and volunteers to give the speech himself; a risky venture given that English is his second language and most who turn up will come expecting to hear a talking sausage. But Albert believes in the cause and is undeterred. He writes a speech and he and secretary Anson get to work whipping it (and Albert) into shape, and in the process, forge a better relationship. What started with accusations of spying, has become a real working partnership, and bonding over Shakespeare.
On the big day, Victoria shows up to hear Albert’s speech wearing her old cruising by Lord M’s house disguise. Anson may be the first person to explain to her it’s not really much of a disguise and all eyes will be upon her. She doesn’t want to steal the limelight from Albert so she calls a sickie and heads home without ever going in. Would have been interesting if Victoria had gone in, given the way they treated the other women there. The event had been advertised as being for gentlemen only.
Before his speech, Albert gets to meet Mr. Jonas Barrett, an escaped slave from Virginia. Albert speaks to Mr. Barrett about his escape, ‘didn’t mind the hardships because I knew I was on the way to freedom’. There is a metaphor in there for Bert. Albert goes up to give his speech, pronounces everything correctly, crushes it, and even gets a handshake from Robert Peel, the guy who led the fight to reduce his allowance. Interesting to note that while they say no to slavery, they think nothing of putting young children into service. Just putting that out there.
FYI: I Am Woman, Hear Me Get Muzzled The two women mentioned in passing at the convention were Lucretia Mott and Mrs. Hannah Cabot, both prominent abolitionists. Lucretia Mott was also a women’s rights activist. She was one of a handful of women who attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention at Exeter Hall in 1840 where Prince Albert spoke, but the men in attendance objected to the presence of women. The delegates spent most of the first day of the conference debating whether women should be allowed to be seated and in the end, the men voted to seat Lucretia and the other the women in a segregated section. Nevertheless she persisted. Also in attendance: Kismet. It was at this conference where Lucretia Mott met and forged a friendship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton – sitting in that segregated section. Together they went on to organize the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, a pivotal event in the women’s rights movement. Frederick Douglas was amongst its attendees and gave an impassioned speech on women’s suffrage. That Mr. Douglas really gets around. People are seeing that more and more.
- Jumping Jack Flash: Victoria’s version of Planned Parenthood has its ups and downs.
Victoria’s Mummy Dearest has (helpfully) told Albert that once he produces an heir and a spare he’ll get more respect from the naysayers at court. No pressure. But it’s true. Little known fact: Everyone laughed at Secretariat too, until he was put out to stud. This has led Albert to dream out loud, about when the children come, causing Victoria’s heart to stop for a moment: Wait, what children? You just know she was thinking she was about to find out about the herd of children from the wrong side of the blanket that everyone keeps warning her about. But no, he means their children, their own little cricket team. No pressure.
Suddenly Victoria needs to ask Lehzen a delicate question. Now that she’s married there will have to be some changes (and you can see Lehzen thinking, OK here it comes, I’m getting the boot), but that’s not it. Victoria doesn’t want changes – or babies. Not right now. She’s scared, and she is wondering if Lehzen knows how to avoid…changes, because whenever you want the best birth control info available, you ask a middle-aged virgin. Lehzen has no clue, but luckily her sister is the Dr. Ruth of Coburg, and also (apparently) used to be on the German gymnastics team. She has developed a foolproof method for avoiding…changes, that is so secret it must be whispered.
Information is power and now Victoria has a plan. She stealthily waits for Albert to lapse into a post-coital coma then, when the coast is clear, it’s time to jump on the furniture. Why on the furniture, I’m not sure (this is what happens when you let your subscription to The Lancet lapse). Sorry, Vicky, if only it were that easy. Even Dash looks at her like she’s crazy. Her plan is foiled when, one night, Albert catches her and has to explain that the only foolproof method of avoiding changes is abstinence. So what’s it to be? Weighing everything in the balance: childbirth is a dangerous business (and Victoria doesn’t want to go the way of Poor Dear Charlotte), but Albert is too irresistible, and abstinence too perverse. At the end of the day she decides she is willing to risk death for some nookie. Under the right circumstances, a fair trade.
A Last Request: Who was Jonas Barrett? I tried to find more information on escaped slave Jonas Barrett but could not find out anything about him or his story beyond what we saw in this Victoria episode. I did tweet Daisy Goodwin to ask if he was a real person or a composite character and she tweeted back that he was indeed real. I know I’m very curious about him, are you? If you readers find anything about him, please post it in the comments section. Thank you!
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