Women Who Ruled: Queen Victoria, part 9

Queen Victoria understood her duty to bear heirs, and she loved her children, but ceaseless pregnancy took a toll. Marital quarrels increased in frequency and she wrote in her diary about how weepy she felt in the days and weeks after each birth. She described infants in a tone of horror: “their big body and little limbs and that terrible froglike action.” Wet nurses were employed, along with her own childhood governess. 

As reigning monarch, Victoria was very busy. In her first year of motherhood she saw her infant daughter Vicky only twice a day. She gave birth to her first son in 1841, Albert Edward who she called Bertie (and who succeeded her as King Edward VII). Alice followed in 1843, then Alfred (1844), Helena (1846), Louise (1848), and Arthur (1850). Later the same month that she gave birth to her seventh child and third son, Queen Victoria turned 31 years old. Leopold in 1853 and Beatrice in 1857 were her last two children. 

During the seventeen years of her childbearing, Victoria was fully engaged with the business of being queen. She had six different prime ministers from four different political parties; she greatly improved relations with France; and contended imperfectly with the implications of the Irish potato blight and subsequent famine. Victoria was also making marriage alliances for her children. 

Albert was left primarily in charge of the children’s upbringing. His childhood had been as unhappy as Victoria’s, his father a shameless philanderer. Each had in their own way resolved upon the idea that a life which both was and appeared highly moral was important for the monarchy. Scandals had helped increase anti-monarchy republican sentiment during the Hanoverian reign of Victoria’s father’s family, but the rising middle class could be persuaded to identity with their own family values in the palace. 

Education was stressed and the royal brood had tutors of every sort. Some like Princess Vicky thrived under the high expectations and others like Prince Bertie struggled with the workload. Albert was himself a polymath and chemist and was overtly disappointed by Bertie’s poor academic performance and lack of scientific curiosity. A phrenologist was brought in, a type of Victorian era quack who diagnosed everything from mental defect to crimanlity by measuring bumps and plate formations of the skull. He declared the crown prince “feeble”. 

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