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The Young Victoria

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The Young Victoria opens in March.

The Victoria who became Britain's Queen was ardent and self-disciplined, enjoyed dancing and attending opera and was determined to do her very best for her country.

Blackmail

The Oxford DNB called her teenage years a melodrama. Victoria experienced them as claustrophobic blackmail -

Victoria was the oppressed heroine, supported by her faithful retainer Lehzen, with the duchess of Kent as wicked (step)mother, the willing tool of Sir John Conroy, the ‘Arch-Fiend’. Walk-on parts were played by the new king, William IV, as the choleric but kindly uncle, and the duke of Cumberland (the next heir) as the off-stage bogeyman. Victoria later recast her memories, painting her entire youth in gloomy colours and seeking to absolve her mother from all responsibility as, like herself, a victim of an all-powerful, all-malignant Conroy. Yet the duchess was no dupe, and concurred willingly in Conroy's actions: she was no less ambitious than he to wield the authority of her daughter's crown.

. . .In 1835 Victoria became seriously ill at Ramsgate. While she was in her sickbed, Conroy unsuccessfully attempted to force her to sign a document making him her private secretary when she became queen. Conroy believed she could be bullied and hectored into compliance, while the duchess applied a none-too-subtle mixture of commands, threats, and emotional blackmail. In this they misread Victoria's character completely. Strong-willed, intelligent, emotionally sensitive, lonely, with a fierce temper kept firmly in check, the young Victoria had a deep sense of duty and obligation instilled in her by Lehzen, and also a profound sense of propriety. A feeling that she was a pawn in a game being played by Conroy, who did not even treat her with courtesy, aroused all the princess's stubborn hostility and enabled her to resist her mother's demands.

. . .On her eighteenth birthday, 24 May 1837, Victoria noted in the journal which she had kept since 1832, ‘I shall from this day take the firm resolution to study with renewed assiduity, to keep my attention always on whatever I am about, and to strive to become every day less trifling and more fit for what, if Heaven wills it, I'm some day to be!’ (Girlhood, 1.190). That evening she attended a ball at St James's before returning to Kensington through the thronged streets: ‘the anxiety of the people to see poor stupid me was very great, and I must say I am quite touched by it, and feel proud which I always have done of my country and of the English nation’ (ibid., 1.191).

. . .King William IV survived for another month, before finally succumbing on 20 June 1837. Lord Conyngham (the lord chamberlain) and William Howley (the archbishop of Canterbury) were dispatched at once to Kensington Palace to bring the news to the new queen. Victoria was summoned from her bed by her mother at six in the morning to receive them, which she did ‘(only in my dressing gown), and alone’ (Girlhood, 1.196) (Italics, mine).

That characteristic emphasis pointed to the total and immediate failure of the Kensington system as far as it concerned the ambitions of its progenitors: Conroy was immediately banished from the royal presence, and although the duchess was regularly called upon to attend her daughter in public, she was systematically excluded from all the new queen's decisions and counsels.

Courage and escaping assassination

Yet in several ways Victoria's mother had served her well. She had made sure that Victoria received a good education, including history, languages and foreign affairs, and she had kept her away from the sexual, political and financial corruption of the court. When Victoria acceded to the throne at eighteen, she impressed everyone she met with "her presence of mind, dignity, and courage".

She would need all three. She was assaulted and nearly assassinated on at least five occasions.

The Young Victoria dramatizes her first encounters with politicians and her love for Albert.

About him the DNB writes, "She loved him; she was diminished by him". Whether I think this statement is true a post tomorrow will show.

I observe that whatever their relations with British men - and these were both highly individual and changeable, British women were crucial to British success.

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