Becoming Queen by Kate Williams
This book compares the lives of Princess Charlotte and Princess Victoria, focusing on the period where each needed to fight free of a mosquito cloud of courtiers and relatives. It’s engaging on the purely narrative level, but lays bare some of the social structures of the time, allowing for deeper discussion and analysis. As a historical work, its prejudices are pretty clear, but not particularly intrusive. I’d recommend it for people interested in works set during the Georgian and Regency eras, so it’s for all of you Austen and Gaskell fans.
For our American readers, the same book was relased in your country as Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain’s Greatest Monarch. Your publishers like your titles long, eh? Also, a bit of a diss on the current monarch. The new one certainly wins on longevity. Also, I don’t think she’s invaded nearly as many people. Discuss in the comments.
I found this work enjoyable on several levels. On the most obscure, I’m a game designer, and I’ve often written feuds in medieval families. The feud among the sons of George III is no less dramatic, but it doesn’t feature as often in games because no-one hist anyone with a sword. The lovely thing about that, from a game design perspective, is that your villains never die. Prince Ernest, later the King of Hanover, has real potential as a sort of Richelieu figure. The characterization of the Saxe-Coburgs as the stud farm of Protestantism is delightful.
While I was reading this I was also binge-watching The Trews, which is a Youtube channel performed by Russell Brand. He’s politically radical. It was a wonderful counterpoint to listen to this in the car, then when exercising later the same day, have a person tearing strips off the wealthy. Victoria is often described as being in poor circumstances, and her family are continually grasping for money, but they are poor in a very odd, self-entitled way. They are, perhaps, the last shade of the medieval idea that it was the moral duty of the wealthy to live at the edge of their credit.
Without wanting to spark the republican debate in the comments, I’d like to note that this book covers the period where the royal family became a marketing concept. Before this, the king had a right to be king, and what he got up to in his own time was his own business. He could be so unwell that he was barely able to recognize his relatives, but that was fine. After Victoria, monarchy was performance. People really care that the king was a stutterer, and that the Prince of Wales’s wife does not look like a model.
I listened to the audiobook version, and it was a pleasure. Carole Boyd does excellent work here, embodying the characters skillfully. I think I last heard her as Flavia de Luce, so that was a bit of a sudden shift.