A trip to England with my sister and her church choir in 2013 that majored on things relating to Queen Victoria and her Albert left me wanting “the rest of the story.” Real life, even for royalty, contains more complications than the tour guides presented. Consequently, I jumped at the offer by Net Galley of an advanced reading copy of Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird.
The book has the ring of authenticity from the beginning as it examines research beyond Victoria’s extensive diaries that had been laundered by her daughter to keep the family in the light she wanted the world to see. The author’s extensive bibliography documents her efforts to fill in the missing pieces.
Victoria was an unlikely candidate for queen, not only because she lived in an era with an emphasis on male rulers, but because she was fifth in line to the throne when she was born. Yet she became queen in her teens, fell in love and married Albert, and bore nine children.
Her life was often a contradiction with her love of power and strong opinions with the ministers of England juxtaposed against her leaving the word “obey” in her marriage ceremony and her deferment to Albert’s leadership. Equally complicated was her love of her children, her dominance of them, and her obvious partiality among them. Those children would cause her pain and embarrassment, and she would ultimately return the favor. The tour guides accurately portrayed the length and depth of her mourning for Albert after his death but without the interesting details of the book about public reactions and how she was eventually able to go on.
The biography pictures Victoria as a flawed, complicated person with a flawed, complicated relationship with Albert and with the people of England. At 752 pages, it is not a quick read, but it is a good one and well worth the time.