Women Who Ruled: Queen Victoria, part 2

​Once she became the heir presumptive, then-Princess Alexandrina Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent (herself also a princess named Victoria), and the Duchess’s chief advisor Sir John Conroy took the young heir on tours of England’s interior, stopping at villages and lordly estates along the way. Victoria found travel uncomfortable and their pace too rapid, scarcely resting before setting out again. King William IV saw these trips as a threat, the actions of a rival not an heir. 

Victoria’s teen years were marked by power struggles and matrimonial plans. She resisted continual efforts by her mother to appoint Sir Conroy to her staff, despising him as she did. Her paternal uncle King William IV wanted to see his heir wed to Prince Alexander of the Netherlands, second son of the Prince of Orange. Victoria described him in her diary as “very plain”. She favored a first cousin on her mother’s side. 

Victoria’s maternal uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, introduced her to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. His father was the brother of Leopold and Victoria’s mother. Seventeen year old Victoria took an instant liking to Albert, describing him in her diary as “extremely handsome”, detailing the virtues of his hair, eyes, nose, teeth, and above all, his countenance. She wrote to her uncle Leopold thanking him “for the prospect of great happiness you have contributed to give me in the person of dear Albert.” 

No formal engagement was announced, but an understanding was reached that the two would likely wed. This kind of close kin marriage was still relatively widespread in Europe and the United States. Charles Darwin also married a first cousin, for example. It is still practiced by some minority religious communities today, although it has become taboo in the wider culture over the past century. At the time, it was not condemned. 

The Duchess was rumored to have a love affair with Conroy. She isolated her daughter from political opponents, and many suspected her aim was keeping the heir dependent upon her counsel. King William viewed the Duchess of Kent with extreme suspicion, a view he took no pains to hide from her. In her presence he once announced his plan to live until Victoria’s eighteenth birthday so that a regency under the Duchess, as guaranteed by the Regency Act of 1830, might never come to pass. He succeeded in this goal, dying 27 days after her eighteenth birthday. 

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