Victoria: A Royal Love Story with political implications
Victoria & Albert: Art & Love opens on March 19th at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. This Sunday the BBC airs Fiona Bruce's documentary, A Royal Love Story.
The documentary reveals intimate details of the love Victoria and Albert held for each other. Somehow we doubt their passionate views on the constitution will receive as much attention, though they are vital to us.
Interest in the British Constitution
They were also intensely interested in the British Constitution. The Oxford DNB reports -
The constitution, according to Baron Stockmar, gave ‘the Sovereign in his functions a deliberative part’ (Letters, 1st ser., 1.352–3), that is to say, the queen's constitutional role was to reflect on the policies, persons, and practices of her ministers, and after due consideration to give her opinion to her ministers, expecting it to be heard and heeded. Her prerogatives were to be observed rigorously, and in return she would support her ministers publicly and endorse their decisions.
Since the political information which the Queen received came almost entirely from the ministers of whichever political party was in power, Prince Albert became her 'confidential adviser in politics', providing another source of information and balancing political views.
'Neutrality' meant promoting the interest of Britain and her people
Neutrality meant not taking sides in party-political disputes; it meant considering a question from all sides and promoting the national interest, not the short-term interests of political parties bent on gaining and retaining power. It did not mean forgoing a political function for the monarchy. If anything, it elevated the importance of the monarch's political voice: ‘Is the sovereign not the natural guardian of the honour of his country, is he not necessarily a politician?’, Albert reflected (Connell, 142; Oxford DNB).
'Politics, government, and foreign affairs dominated Victoria's and Albert's official, but largely unobserved, life'. They worked hard to prevent Britain being drawn into a war with Italy, put Britain on firm terms of friendship with France, insisted that when India came under direct British rule a strong message of religious toleration be sent to the people of India and supported Prime Minister Peel's efforts to overturn the Corn Laws. They were never merely defenders of monarchy.
"The royal prerogative of appointing ministers had not yet fallen into abeyance" so Victoria and Albert were involved in the formation of Cabinets. Why did that prerogative fall into abeyance? Surely the capabilities and ethics of Cabinet ministers, their impartial dedication to doing what is best for the country as opposed to what is best for themselves, have seen a decline since the Sovereign is no longer involved in appointing them? And sadly the balance of power has all swung to MPs, eager to get the best 'second house' deals for themselves and to ignore the plight of their country?
As you may remember, Elisabeth Beckett believed that the Queen retained certain prerogatives, which could and should be used to protect her people's liberties.
A real love story
In the 19th century, public perceptions of the royal couple focused on their life as a family. In our century, attention focuses on their personal story.
How daring it would be if a documentary showed Victoria's and Albert's passion for defending their country, people and constitution. That would be an exciting love story. We can hope.