I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Queen Victoria said she had “the greatest horror of having children and would rather have none.” However, during her 17 years of marriage to Prince Albert she bore nine children and became obsessive about organizing their lives. According to the BBC “she thought it her duty to be 'severe.' She didn't do affection.”
The Royal Children
The first to emerge from the regal womb was Victoria Adelaide Mary, who appeared in the approved nine months after the wedding in November 1840. A year later Albert Edward joined the royal household. A year and a half passed before the birth of Alice Maud Mary. Then came Alfred Ernest Albert (1844), Helena Augusta Victoria (1846), Louise Caroline Alberta (1848), Arthur William Patrick (1850), Leopold George Duncan (1853) and, Beatrice Mary Victoria (1857).
Victoria was only 37 when Beatrice was born so there might have been more offspring had Prince Albert not fallen seriously ill in August 1859. He endured chronic abdominal pain for more than two years before dying at the age of 42.
The diagnosis was typhoid fever brought on by the terrible drains of Buckingham Palace. However, modern physicians, looking at his symptoms, say his death was more likely caused by Crohn's disease, with kidney failure or stomach cancer as other possibilities.
Victoria went into deep mourning over the loss of her beloved husband and withdrew from public life. She turned her entire focus on her children although she had earlier shown little interest in them.
“Abstractedly, I have no tender for [babies] till they have become a little human; an ugly baby is a very nasty object—and the prettiest is frightful when undressed. Until about four months; in short as long as they have their big body and little limbs and that terrible froglike action.”
— Queen Victoria in a letter to her daughter Victoria.
The third of Victoria's children, Princess Alice, had been by her father's bedside as his life ebbed away, she now took over the role of comforting her mother as she descended into grief and seclusion over Prince Albert's death. Alice worked as Victoria's unofficial secretary and became the monarchy's presence at official functions. Alice was the contact point between the Queen and her government ministers.
Before Albert's death, Victoria had arranged Alice's marriage, as she tried to do with all her children's unions, to Prince Louis of Hesse. After the wedding, Alice took up residence with her husband in Darmstadt, Germany.
One of Queen Victoria's biographers, Andrew Wilson, says that even though she was far from England, her mother “wanted to boss Alice.” But, Alice had an independent spirit and she wasn't going to allow her mother to interfere with her life.
Historian Deborah Cadbury says the two women “had tremendous differences in outlook because Alice enjoyed the physical side of motherhood,” such as breastfeeding.
Victoria “was also deeply critical of breastfeeding, considering it a 'ruin' to intelligent young women—so much so, in fact, that she wrote in her diary upon finding out that her own daughters had chosen to breastfeed, 'It makes my hair stand on end that my daughters have turned into cows' ” ( Lauren Hubbard, Town & Country Magazine). She even named one of her cows “Princess Alice.”
Known as Bertie, the heir to the throne came in for withering criticism from his mother. She wrote in her diary “I never can or shall look at him without a shudder.” After Bertie's marriage to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, she set up an elaborate spying network to keep tabs on the couple.
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Among other interferences, she:
- Forbade Alexandra from riding horses on the grounds that such an activity might damage her procreative powers;
- Dictated what names their children should have;
- Controlled the guest list at the couple's dinner parties; and,
- Instructed Alexandra's doctor to keep her informed about her daughter-in-law's menstrual cycle.
But, all the checks and admonitions didn't stop Bertie from becoming a reprobate. He had a gargantuan appetite for food, liquor, and sex. Genealogist Anthony John Camp says he has found evidence that Bertie has at least 55 mistresses. There were countless other liaisons.
His behaviour was such that Queen Victoria was moved to write of her son “Bertie (I grieve to say) shows more and more how totally unfit he is for ever becoming King.”
But, of course, he did become king (Edward VII) because he was the first male born to Victoria, not because he had any talent for the job. As it turned out, Edward VII did a descent job during his nine-year reign, making a mockery of his mother's prediction.
Victoria's Other Children
Life in the royal household was far from the picture of middle-class domesticity that Victoria tried to pass off as the reality within the palaces.
She was fickle in her relationships with her children. One day a daughter might be the favourite and the next she'd be in the dog house. A transgression of her arbitrary rules might lead to a gigantic rage that terrified everyone.
Prince Leopold, who had hemophilia, was cosseted and forced to live his life as if he was an invalid.
Prince Arthur was compliant with his mother's wishes and so was the preferred child.
But, there was some defiance.
Victoria decided in her quixotic way that Princess Beatrice should not be married. But, the shy yet determined Beatrice had her eye on Prince Henry of Battenberg. When Beatrice told her mother of her marital choice, Victoria went into a sulk and refused to speak to her daughter for six months.
Eventually, she agreed to the match on condition the couple lived under her roof; no doubt so she could keep an eye on them.
Another child who defied Victoria was feisty Princess Louise. She rejected the suitor Victoria had picked out of the pool of available European princes. Instead, she married Lord Lorne, which turned out to be an unwise choice. The marriage was an unhappy one and produced no children. His lordship was rumoured to be gay.
Sometimes, it seems, mother does know best.
- According to Professor Roland Perry, Queen Victoria had a very early sexual experience. In his 2015 book, The Queen, Her Lover and the Most Notorious Spy in History, he alleges that Victoria began an affair with Lord Elphinstone when she was just 15. He also asserts that one result of the relationship with the man who was 12 years her senior was an illegitimate child.
- There have been rumours that Victoria's biological father was not her legal father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. Suspicion has always fallen on Sir John Conroy, who was private secretary to her mother, the Duchess of Kent. The duchess was 19 years younger than her husband and the same age as Conroy. If Victoria was illegitimate she would have been barred from becoming monarch and so would all of the kings and one queen that have followed her.
- Victoria's children dodged the odds of an early death. According to Britain's Office of National Statistics “In the 1840s around 15 percent of babies died before their first birthday.”
- “What Was Queen Victoria Like as a Mother?” Lauren Hubbard, Town & Country Magazine, January 13, 2019.
- “Queen Victoria's Children and Grandchildren.” Jone Johnson Lewis, ThoughtCo, September 17, 2019.
- “Queen Victoria: The Real Story of Her 'Domestic Bliss'. ” Jane Ridley, BBC, January 1, 2013
- “The Queen Spying on Her Children.” BBC Select, June 11, 2021.
- “Princess Alice of the United Kingdom.” thefamouspeople.com, undated.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Rupert Taylor
Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on August 10, 2021:
Shauna. I learn more about history by writing about it than I did at school. It was always cleaned up a bit for the tender young ears; I'm sure the lads at my all-boys school would have paid more attention if the frolicking had been covered rather than the bloody Corn Laws.
And, your mother was right. Mothers usually are.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 10, 2021:
My mother always told me that if I wanted to read raunchy tales (which I don't, actually) that I should read about the kings and queens. She said there was more sex, drinking, and general debauchery in those days than anyone could dream up today.
I'm glad Queen Victoria wasn't my mother!
Interesting article, as always, Rupert. I learn more about history from reading your articles than I did when I was in high school! Perhaps because you present it so colorfully.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 06, 2021:
Interesting read with beautiful photos. It's a pity that sex scandals can affect a royal household. Thanks.
Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on August 06, 2021:
This is an interesting read. I am glad I stopped to read it. Good job as always.