This is Victoria Day weekend in Canada. We ostensibly celebrate the birth (24 May 1819) of the formidable longest-serving monarch of the British Empire, Alexandrina Victoria. She reigned 63 years and seven months and was a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln. A tiny woman when young, she grew quite rotund in later life. Today, it’s a reason for us to throw off the shackles of ugly winter and embrace the coming summer.
Victoria was fifth in the line of succession (her father and his three older brothers came before and there had been few female monarchs). As an only child, she was insulated by an over-protective mother (not allowed out much, got to meet few people and only those her somewhat neurotic parents approved of). She proposed to her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, when she was 16. Was that a ‘get me out of here’ move? Who knows. They married when she was 18. She subsequently gave birth to nine children. On the surface, that’s all a bit creepy, but given her upbringing and lack of worldliness, not surprising.
The men in the family all died of various causes and she was the only legitimate heir. What a burden that must have been – you reach young adulthood thinking you’ll have a life and then duty binds you to the rigidities of the British throne forever. There was no saying no, of course. How difficult it must have been. No ‘girlfriends’ to dish with, every move she made subject to rules and protocol. I wonder what the courtiers and advisers thought of the nine children – guess they figured out that Victoria had a life behind closed doors. How odd it must have been to be Queen of the British Empire, Empress of India, pregnant again and again times nine, mothering, worrying about the kiddies and nannies, while intrigue and the affairs of state ground on around her. There were six assassination attempts against her – all while she was riding from one place to another in a carriage. I remember learning in school that she was the first known carrier of hemophilia which, given the amount of inter-marriage between close relatives is sad but not surprising. It was called ‘the Royal disease’ and affected the men in the family – they died regularly from sword cuts, falls from horses, wasting disease and similar afflictions.
Turns out Albert was the love of her life. I’m glad she found some joy in the constrained unreal world she inhabited. When he died in 1861 of typhoid fever at age 41 she was devastated, retreating into deep depression and decades of mourning. It is said she never smiled again. She followed the dictates of her heart, which makes her immensely admirable. The British Empire almost fell apart. Queen Victoria recovered somewhat and returned to a restrained but more public life. Her monarchy is associated with Britain’s great age of industrial expansion, economic progress and for a time, world domination.
Her official title was “Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.” ON this spring weekend, we ohh and ahh at massive fireworks displays, open up the cottage for the weekend and plant our summer gardens. Much beer and potato salad is consumed. Thanks, Queen V, for giving us much to celebrate.