Victoria Season 2, Episode 4 Recap: Famine in Ireland

Deborah Gilbert | February 4, 2018

Victoria, Season 2 MASTERPIECE on PBS. Episode 4 - "Faith, Hope & Charity" Left to right: Adrian Schiller as Penge, Ferdinand Kingsley as Francatelli and Nell Hudson as Skerrett ©ITVStudios2017 for MASTERPIECE

Victoria, Season 2 MASTERPIECE on PBS. Episode 4 – “Faith, Hope & Charity” Left to right: Adrian Schiller as Penge, Ferdinand Kingsley as Francatelli and Nell Hudson as Skerrett
©ITVStudios2017 for MASTERPIECE

On Episode 3 of Victoria, the French king said “Fortune favors the bold.” This week, a lowly, invisible servant took the advice of His Funky Majesty and was bold enough to speak to a guest of Queen Victoria, and to Victoria herself, about the effects of the potato famine on her family in Ireland. Sometimes desperation gives you courage, no matter what the cost.

To Prince Ernie, “Faith, Hope and Charity” mean his three favorite girls from the Golden Fleece, but to so many of the British government officials and clergy we saw in this episode, faith, hope and charity mean nothing at all (at least where the starving Irish “peasantry” are concerned), contributing nearly a million deaths. But isn’t hatred at the root of most every tragedy? All this anti-Catholic bigotry is rather ironic too given that, if it weren’t for Henry VIII having the hots for Anne Boleyn, who wouldn’t give it up without a ring, and the need for a divorce to dispose of wife #1, they’d all be Catholic as well. There but by the grace of a randy royal go they.

20 Essentials of Victoria Season 2, Episode 4

Victoria on Masterpiece airs Sundays at 8pm and THIRTEEN Passport Members can stream the entire season on demand.

Health and Sanitation

20. Modern Plumbing

Albert has toilets on his mind. It turns out he is really looking into the sewers which have not been improved since the Romans left town (1,400 years ago). And, as mentioned in one of my posts last year, Buckingham Palace was built over an open sewer (shocking that no one has noticed the smell till now). Albert pledges to support the commission seeking to improve the situation, and believes that charity begins at home; so why not start with the palace, Mr. Commissioner? And while you’re at it, let’s install water closets – for the servants, too. Penge overhears this plan and is not happy about this change (Lord knows what kind of perk this is disrupting!) He would rather continue to squat in the yard and feels this push for hygiene is an infringement on his liberty. As usual, Penge is full of what he leaves in the yard.

Once construction is complete, Prince Albert cuts the ribbon on the servants’ new throne room, saying, God bless her and all who sail in her (or something like that), and it looks like Francatelli is eager to be the first to break it in. As it happens, 1847 is also the same year Doctor Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis discovered the importance of hand washing in preventing the spread of infection. Penge will, no doubt, think this is another foreign conspiracy.

19. STDs

Surprise! Ernie turns up at the palace unannounced and everyone is happy to see him (except possibly Miss Coke), but it seems this family visit is just a cover; he’s really there in London to see a Harley Street doctor for his “condition.” Yeah, while those girls at the Golden Fleece are educational, he learned his biggest lesson a little too late. Albert asks him why he’s been in Baden Baden, Walla Walla, and everywhere else except for home. He says his doctor felt Baden Baden (a German hot spring spa town) would be good for his health. Concerned Albert asks after his health but Ernie brushes it off; no need for concern. He just enjoyed himself too much in Paris. Turns out he’s been avoiding Coburg (where he cannot fix the leaky roof because he spends all his money on hookers), and the wife Uncle Leo has selected for him. Can’t he just say no to yenta Leo?

18. Things go better with Calomen Mercury Chloride

When Brody is unpacking Ernie’s trunk, a container of white powder spills out. One automatically assumes it’s coke, but the container says Calomen Mercury Chloride, used to treat a whole menu of diseases, including syphilis. Later, Ernie goes rifling through the dresser drawers in a slight panic, looking for something, and Brody (standing by) has to admit to the accident he had earlier, and asks if Prince Ernie would like him to get some more. Ernie supposes that, “no man is a hero to his valet” and swears Brody to secrecy before flipping him a coin.

Brody quotes from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice when responding to Ernie’s request for discretion. Shylock said, “If every ducat in six thousand ducats were in six parts, and every part a ducat, I would not draw them. I would have my bond” to try argue that he had integrity to those who doubted it. Though if I recall correctly (in this play considered to be quite anti-Semitic), Shylock’s integrity was for sale – which may be why Ernie tossed Brody the coin.

The Irish Potato Famine

17. Tithe Wars

Peel introduces Victoria to Charles Trevelyan, of the punchable face Trevelyans, who has drawn up a list of candidates for the Archbishop of Dublin, none of whom Victoria recognizes. Peel explains that it’s hard getting the top candidates to go to Dublin because there’s no money in it, due to the Tithe Wars. Tithe wars? Treveyan claims that unruly elements among the Catholic peasants had the nerve to refuse the Protestant Church’s shake down. Trevelyan’s casual bigotry and antipathy towards Irish Catholics is as stunning as it is endemic in British authority.

Victoria asks, why should the Catholics have to tithe to a church they do not belong to? Trevelyan, Peel and Drummond mansplain to her that Catholics outnumber Protestants ten to one. If they are not forced to support a church they do not belong to the whole civilization will go to hell in a hand basket. Trevalyan condescendingly tells Her Majesty that he can explain the Irish situation to her, “When your nursery duties allow.” DOH! Now you’ve gone and done it, Trevelyan! You’ve stepped in it, or rather, Victoria is now looking at you like you’re something she stepped in. There’s no coming back from that, Bud.

16. Potatoes, Corn and Bread

Victoria wants to know what Peel is doing about the Potato Famine, and the answer is, “nothing.” Instead of thinking about relief for the starving Irish, Peel is thinking about politics even though, just two weeks ago, when talking about the excesses of the Ball, he said he was offended, as a Christian. If he does send relief to Ireland, it will come only in the repeal of the corn laws that keep the price of bread artificially high – but if he does that, every Tory Lord and landowner will throw a hissy fit at the loss of the preferential treatment that keeps the masses under their manicured thumbs. Peel’s party of aristocrats, who benefit from those laws, will rebel. And then there are the working class people who will question why they have to spend half their salary for bread when the Irish are getting theirs for free – when they should be questioning those damn corn laws that benefit the aristocracy, and are the actual reason their bread is so expensive. Sound familiar? Some things never change. The rich always know how to distract, divide and conquer – and there are enough who fall for it every time.

15. No Soup For You!

The vicars of Schull, County Cork, are having a meeting, and a jolly old time discussing the failed harvest, the Potato Famine. It’s likely they find the starving masses so entertaining because those masses attend mass. The more charitable among the Protestant clergy are willing to feed the Catholic peasants if they’ll agree to be baptized into their Protestant church. They are finding this new baptism for food barter scheme good for business. And if the hungry peasants won’t switch, well then it is the Lord’s will that they starve. How convenient, and (they think) maybe it’s not such a bad thing; maybe this will teach the Catholics to live within their means, after all, (they reason) the famine is their fault. So let me get this straight: the Catholics are forced to tithe to the churches they do not belong to, but when they need help, those same churches that take their money, refuse to help them.

The air around these so-called Christian clergy is thick with hypocrisy. But there is one amongst them who takes a different view, Dr. Robert Traill. He argues for compassion and assistance and is clearly frustrated by the attitudes of his fellow vicars.

14. Missing Mummy

After the meeting, Traill is galloping home along a muddy road when a child runs out and jumps in front of his horse to stop him. Beckoning him, she lead him to a mother of five dead in bed with her children around her, the youngest saying to him, “Mommy won’t wake up.” When he gets back home and tells his wife what he’s just seen, she’s sympathetic and offers to pay a visit – until she finds out they’re Catholic. She wants to go back to “civilization,” but Dr. Traill believes his calling brings him where they are, in Schull, and today’s incident may be the straw that makes the camel take action.

13. Bad News

Martin Compston as Dr. Traill.

Victoria, Season 2
MASTERPIECE on PBS. Episode 4. Martin Compston as Dr. Traill.
For editorial use only.
©ITVStudios2017 for MASTERPIECE

Out of frustration Dr. Traill the Rector of Schull writes a letter to The Times (isn’t that how Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith got started?) and that letter reaches Queen Victoria, who is reading her morning paper while she’s sitting for her daily hair styling. Miss Cleary, as she is commanding the curling iron, almost sets Victoria’s hair on fire, while she reads over her shoulder. Traill’s church colleagues are less enthusiastic about his letter to the editor. Upon seeing it, the boss vicar comes barreling into his church, screaming blue murder, interrupting him mid-prayer to ask Traill if he is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Traill just responds with a Vulcan mind meld, quoting Bible verses about compassion back at him. Hard to argue with that, and the histrionics aren’t working either, so boss vicar now tries bribery to keep Traill quiet. He dangles the coveted transfer back to Dublin (that Traill’s wife wants so much), but Traill says nope, he answers to a higher authority (to which the Hebrew National kosher hot dog guy says “leave us out of it!”)

12. Let Them Eat Nettles

After reading Traill’s letter, Victoria wants answers from PM Peel. But once again Peel brings with him Stephen Miller, um, I mean Charles Trevalyan, who is all about his racist agenda rather than humanitarian answers. Victoria asks Peel if he’d seen the letter in The Times from Dr. Traill, about the people resorting to eating nettles, but Trevelyan interjects that nettles are actually nutritious (well then you eat them then, bud!) He’s definitely part of the ketchup as a vegetable crowd.

Trevelyan insists that the Irish tend to exaggerate. Starving to death is really not that bad. Bodies are left by the side of the road because they are too weak to bury them, but Trevelyan insists they are too drunk to dig the graves. He argues that the whole famine thing is a period of self-regulation, if you will; a thinning of the herd – a herd they’d rather be without anyway. Trevelyan has a bigoted answer for everything. Forget about let them eat cake; that’s too bleeding heart liberal for this guy. Trevalyan’s mantra is let them starve. It’s all Peel can do to keep from rolling his eyes at him. Victoria talks past him, to Peel, asking, “aren’t you going to do anything?”

True History: Sir Charles Trevelyan. Everything, every hateful thing Trevelyan said in this episode is based on historical documents. He did see the famine as an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” as well as “the judgement of God.” Even later, after it became known that over a million people died as a result of the potato famine (and government inaction), Trevelyan never expressed any remorse.

11. Hunger Games

Trevelyan and the run around she is receiving from her government is getting on Victoria’s last nerve. She wants to go to Ireland to see the situation for herself, but Peel warns her against it, saying he cannot guarantee her safety. However this Queen will not take no for an answer. It’s back to pen pal diplomacy; she writes to Dr. Traill and requests an audience. She wants him to help her understand the situation and what can be done about it.

True History: Victoria had a history of trying to understand her people, and situations she could not see for herself. During the Crimean War she utilized the (then) new technology of photography, commissioning photographers to go there, take pictures and send them back to the palace. She commissioned the first ever war photographers.

Back at the Palace

10. Hey Good Lookin’ Whatcha Got Cookin’

It was just as we thought: the mysterious woman Francatelli kissed in last week’s episode was Mrs. Anna Langridge, his publisher (at least that’s what the kids are calling it now). A bit of a bunny-boiler, she turns up at the palace uninvited, saying they had a deal and she won’t be ignored. It turns out he was flush with cash because she had given him an advance on a book she’s calling Secrets of the Royal Kitchen. Now she wants him to come back to America with her so she can make him a famous author – or a boy toy. We’re not sure which. Probably both. (I mean, wouldn’t you?) But this offer has an expiration date; they sail on the 17th, and she wants him to be there. He looks hesitant – and when Brody catches them in the palace courtyard, Francatelli claims she’s his American cousin.

Francatelli shows up at their rendezvous spot on the 17th, but without his luggage. After all that has recently transpired, he has decided to stay put. Instead he gives her a pile of his recipes and tells her that a woman of her talents should be able to turn them into a book. She clearly wants more than recipes, but says she hopes what he’s staying for is worth it. He says he hopes so too. But we are thinking that he’s staying for a who, not a what.

True History: Mr. Francatelli did become a best-selling author of four cookbooks. His first book, The Modern Cook was published in 1845 and sold well on both sides of the pond.

9. You’re a Mean One, Mr. Penge

It’s mail call time and at the tail end, Penge dangles a letter between his thumb and index finger like it’s toxic waste, mocking the chicken scratch. Miss Cleary pipes up that it’s for her, but Penge is enjoying humiliating her too much to hand it over until Mrs. Skerrett intervenes. It is a letter from her parents in Country Cork, with news about the famine.

After reading her letter from home, Miss Cleary hesitantly approaches Mr. Penge for an advance on her quarterly salary, to send to her family, but Penge, whose heart is two sizes too small, refuses her request – even though she begs. With an evil grin he tells her that like her compatriots, she needs to learn to live within her means – which is rich coming from someone who has barely shifted his arse out of his chair in all the time we’ve known him.

8. Heart of Gold

Mr. Francatelli comes upon Miss Cleary sitting alone, sobbing over her letter. At first he misunderstands and, thinking she’s crying over an errant sweetheart, tells her that no man is worth it (and he should know). She explains that it’s not that, it’s the potato blight and she fears for her family. She’s sent them everything she has but it’s not enough. Francatelli thinks for a moment then hands her his gold watch, telling her not to take less than £50 for it; it’s pure gold. She is gobsmacked and tells him she can’t take it but he insists. It was given to him by a lady who said it made him look the part of a gentleman, but he’d prefer to be known for his good deeds, rather than devilishly handsome good looks. Miss Cleary says it will take her years to pay him back, but he insists he doesn’t want her money; she’ll be doing him a favor by taking it off him. Hmm…what exactly did he do to earn it?

FYI: The value of the gold watch, £50 in 1846, is the equivalent of £5,550 (or $7,849) in today’s money.

7. House Call

Dr. Traill arrives in the Buckingham Palace drawing room looking like he just landed on the moon. Victoria’s invitation is the answer to a prayer and he begins to tell her of the horrors he sees every day. He doesn’t understand why when so many are starving, Ireland is still exporting food abroad. Victoria doesn’t understand either – but the answer is greed on the part of protected aristocracy. When Albert arrives, he recognizes Traill for his eloquent letters, but his comments reflect an influence of the government inaction rationalizers, blaming the Catholics for their crop failures. Traill tells him that he too would have said the very same thing at one time. But he has come to learn things are not as the Protestant powers would have one believe. The Catholic peasants are in a no-win situation with no legal rights to the land they farm. Victoria says squarely, “What can we do?” and is told simply to persuade her government to send food.

As Traill is leaving, Miss Cleary, waiting in the hallway, boldly steps forward to hand him Mr. Francatelli’s watch, asking him to take it to her family in Schull. Outraged Lehzen and Penge jump in to block her for having the insubordinate chutzpah to speak to the Queen’s guest. When Traill hears them call her “Cleary” he welcomes her words and tells her he’s sure Father O’Conner will know how to find them. Miss Cleary freezes and says she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He sees the fear, and Penge and Lehzen’s faces, and tells her not to be ashamed of who she is, that the Queen gave him money to help both Catholics and Protestants, and it is her duty to help the Queen understand the country she reigns (which would make Miss Cleary like another queen: Esther).

6. The Mouse That Roared

Penge follows Miss Cleary back downstairs and explodes at her. He screams that he knew she was a Papist from the moment he heard her Irish lilt – and now she’s stealing from her coworkers: they are not getting bread on Fridays because of her. (Wait, say what? This is the first we are hearing of this. Did Victoria and Albert take their donation for Ireland out of the servants food budget or is Penge just lying again??) And where did she get the money to give Traill anyway, he wants to know? He accuses her of stealing it before Mr. Francatelli steps in to say he gave it to her. Penge reasons it must be, “for services rendered, no doubt,” which makes Francatelli shoot across the room at Penge like a slime-seeking missile.

Mrs. Skerrett has to jump in-between them to keep Francatelli from flattening Penge. Not that she’d care; she just doesn’t want Francatelli to get in trouble for it. As this noisy ruckus is going on Miss Cleary raises her quiet voice and makes the room stand still. She finally stands up to Penge and has her Norma Rae moment, calling Penge out for the nasty piece of work he is, saying that Mr. Francatelli helped her out of the kindness of his heart, unlike Penge who, when she came to him for help (an advance), was happy to refuse. It is now time for bully Penge to be the target of stares from his coworkers.

True History: In an interesting turn of events, in real life, when Francatelli left the palace, it was because he got into an argument with the palace clerk comptroller. Francatelli insulted him in front of a large number of staff, “high words ensued,” and the police were called to arrest him. However, Francatelli disappeared before the cops arrived. But there must have been no issues with him upstairs, because years later he returned to royal service as the chef for Victoria’ son, Albert, the Prince of Wales.

5. Go Ask Alice

Victoria, Season 2 MASTERPIECE on PBS Episode 4 - "Faith, Hope & Charity". Shown: Jenna Coleman as Victoria. ©ITVStudios2017 for MASTERPIECE

Victoria, Season 2 MASTERPIECE on PBS Episode 4. Jenna Coleman as Victoria.
©ITVStudios2017 for MASTERPIECE

Once again Victoria’s advice is met with Trevelyan arguing against helping the Irish, saying it will create a country of dependents – an argument that has been mimicked in the do-nothing Parliament. Victoria will have no hateration in this dancerie. The Queen has heard enough from this Trevelyan schmuck. Time’s up; she tells Peel he can shante, but to Trevelyan, “The Queen demands you sashay away.” Victoria tells Peel that this queen will not stand by while the Irish starve, she will not have it on her conscience. She beckons for Peel to follow her. He starts to, then freaks out a bit when she seems to be to leading him to her bedroom, however they are only going through it, to the nursery where she picks up one of her babies (Alice) and, in tears, asks Peel to imagine being a mother with no milk to give (something Dr. Traill had told her about), saying, “as a mother I will not let my people starve.” She implores Peel to act. As a sovereign she can only advise, but as a mother she begs him to do something to help the Irish.

Peel says he’s not an ogre but feels his hands are tied. They talk about when they first met and each misjudged the other. She says she knows he is a man of principle. He replies wistfully, “Principles are a luxury in a Prime Minister,” that if he follows his conscience he will destroy his party. She implores him to follow his conscience anyway.

True History:
Because of the protectionist corn laws, the cost of bread bread was 10 shillings (a year’s rent). If I’ve calculated correctly, 10 shillings in 1846 would be worth £111 (or $157) today. For a loaf of bread! When Peel finally did try to repeal the corn laws, his party did not support it and it led to the collapse of his government. However the new Whig Prime Minister was not any better at sending relief to Ireland.

4. All that Matters

Miss Cleary catches Victoria in the hallway and wants to thank her for sending for Dr. Traill. Victoria is intrigued and asks if she knows him. Miss Cleary says she knows of him but sheepishly admits that she is not of his church, confessing to Victoria that she wanted the job so badly she did not disclose that she was Catholic. Victoria assures her she has no objections to Catholics in the palace. She asks Miss Cleary about her family and she says they are emigrating to America. She’d sent them money but it came too late, and America is so far away (and so is her voice when she says it). They have a lovely conversation before Lehzen comes upon them, catches Miss Cleary going rogue again and admonishes her. Victoria takes the blame and thanks Miss Cleary for confiding in her. Miss Cleary curtsies before scurrying away. After she leaves, Lehzen tells Victoria that she didn’t know she was Catholic when she hired her, to which Victoria (impatiently) responded, “as if that matters.” Too right!

3. Doctor, Doctor, Gimme the News

Ernie, using the name of Mr. Shubert, goes to see a London doctor for the syphilitic rash and mouth lesions he caught from one of his “teachers.” (The rash must be why he jumped into the water with his clothes on in France instead of skinny dipping.) The doctor commiserates that, yeah, unfortunately those bad girls don’t show their symptoms with a scarlet A tattooed on their foreheads, so unsuspecting clients have no way of knowing. Whatevs. There is a new treatment for syphilis but it is expensive: inhaling mercury vapor. Ernie says he’ll pay; it will cut into his brothel budget but he’ll make the sacrifice. The treatment works, in that the rash has subsided, but the doctor says not so fast, Kemosabe. He warns Ernie off “getting married,” showing him pictures of what could happen to any innocent parties he’ll infect (such as a wife and kids). Not to mention, the real Mr. Shubert who will be pretty upset when he finds out there’s a rumor going around about why he’s been to see a doctor!

2. The Gift of the Contagious Magi

The doctor’s warning is about to matter in a big way. Since Ernie’s last visit to Buckingham Palace, aside from his sessions with the working girls and stray duchesses, Ernie has spent most of his time sticking pins in his Lord Sutherland doll, and he’s finally seen a result: Sutherland has died in a hunting accident. He fell and broke his neck. Harriet is now free, but Ernie he is not. He will never be free.

Ernie sits and plays sad songs on the piano in the music room when Harriet appears in the doorway, all in black. But then…nothing!

To have my recaps ready for Sunday nights, just as the show is ending, I watch an advance press screener, and there was nothing in the screener of any conversation Ernie and Harriet had after she came slowly gliding into the doorway and their eyes met. Was that the cliff hanger and we have to wait till next week to see more? Or was there something else and it just wasn’t in the screener? I DON’T KNOW!

Will we be privy to a heartbreaking conversation where he has to explain it all? Or will it be like Greek drama, where (as the Dowager says) everything happens off stage? I am waiting impatiently to find out and I must confess, I CAN’T TAKE THE PRESSURE! But what options do they have anyway? With the lesions in his mouth he must know that even if he only kisses her, he can infect her. He is typhoid Mary. Will he take the chance anyway? Or might Harriet be the one thing he cares about more than himself and his own pleasure?

1. You’ll never get to heaven if you break my heart

Dr. Traill returns to Schull with money from Victoria to start a soup kitchen. But before he can do that, he wants to address the latest meeting of the Harper Valley PTA. He invites Father O’Connor to attend the usual round table, but as soon as the priest walks in, most of those good Christian Protestants get up and walk out, with one telling him he’ll never get that coveted transfer to Dublin now. With the few that remain, Traill gets to work trying to do what they can to feed the starving people of his parish. His wife is also unhappy that Catholics will be coming into the house. She says it is because of the fever in the Village and she fears the children being exposed, so Dr. Traill suggests she go to stay with her mum in Dublin. She says if she goes, she won’t be back. He says OK, bon voyage.

The soup kitchen opens for business but as Traill is ladling out soup he coughs. Oy. Coughing is never a good thing on a drama. We know what’s coming. His small funeral is attended by a priest. Those good Christians gave it a miss.

True History: As the epilogue said, Dr. Robert Traill died of typhus (also known as famine fever) in 1847. What it didn’t mention was, he was the great, great, great grandfather of Victoria creator Daisy Goodwin! Small world!

True History: What did Victoria really do about the Irish Potato famine? The potato famine lasted seven years, leading to the deaths of approximately one million people. Victoria did finally visit in 1849. When this episode 4 aired in England last fall, there was shock among British viewers who hadn’t known anything about it. The history is taught in Ireland, but apparently not in England. Daisy Goodwin was commended for not shying away from the part the British government and landlords played in the crisis, though there was some debate about Victoria’s response. You can read more about the history and Victoria’s part in it on Irish Central and RadioTimes.

What Did You Think?

What do you think about it all, Victorians? Join the conversation in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #VictoriaPBS. You can stream Victoria Season 2, Episode 4: Faith Hope and Charity now.

If you are on Twitter you can follow THIRTEEN at @THIRTEENWNET and me at @E20Launderette. On Instagram, find THIRTEEN at @THIRTEENWNET and me at @GothamTomato.