How Historically Accurate is season 1 of Victoria?
This article contains spoilers.
Victoria Season 1 looks at the early reign of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) who ruled at a time when there were many social and technical changes in British society during the 19th century. Her long rule also saw the United Kingdom become a major global power, where the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" accurately described the expanse of United Kingdom's global empire. The first season looks at her accession to the role as queen, her marriage to Albert, and her struggles to assert her authority as many saw her as a child or lacked the reason to be an effective monarch.
Season 1 begins with the death of King William, who was Victoria's uncle. As the king did not have any legitimate children through his marriage, the succession passed down to Victoria. The first few episodes focused on Victoria's inexperience, her sometimes naivety, as she was only 18 years old at the time she became queen in 1837. Key events focused on her mother (Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld) and John Conroy, her mother's secretary and friend. Rumors, as suggested by the show, had it they were possible lovers, but this was unclear. In both reality and the series, Conroy and Victoria's mother caused difficulties for Victoria, where Conroy was portrayed as controlling and he even was shown as attempting to rule in a regency.
However, his attempts at a regency likely did not happen, although he did try to have greater influence in court. One early controversy was Victoria having accused Lady Flora, a lady-in-waiting close to Conroy, of being pregnant, which would have been scandalous as she was unwed. However, after physical examination by a doctor, it was determined that Lady Flora had a terminal liver tumor, causing Victoria embarrassment and public anger at falsely accusing Lady Flora. This made Victoria look insensitive and loose popularity given how she treated the dying Lady Flora. There is truth Victoria's sheltered life, as Victoria was brought up in a system called the Kensington system, which greatly controlled who Victoria could talk to and interact with. The system was intended to have greater control of her. This also made her have few true friends and Victoria did describe that she had a melancholy childhood (Figure 1).
As Victoria struggled to break free from the grips of Conroy, and to some extent her mother, she forms a close relationship with Lord Melbourne, or William Lamb, who was the Prime Minister at the time. He became a close confidant of Victoria, which was accurate. The series also indicates a very close relationship formed between them, which is also likely ture. It even suggests Victoria had a romantic interest in Lord Melbourne, where she eventually proposes to him (the queen had to propose in order to get married). This marriage proposal was unlikely to have occurred, as Lord Melbourne was 58 years old at the time that Victoria came to power and, given the fact that Victoria never knew her father, likely treated Melbourne as a surrogate father figure.
The show focuses on political rivalries that were occurring at the time in the late 1830s between the Tories and Whigs, the two primary parties. There was even a crisis, the so-called Bedchamber crisis, where the Tory leader Robert Peel was to be given the Prim Minister role. However, he insisted that Queen Victoria remove some of her ladies of the bedchamber, as they had husbands who were Whig politicians, suggesting to Peel that Victoria was too heavily biased toward the Whigs. However, as these were Victoria's friends, she refused, causing a crisis since Peel would have normally taken the role of Prime Minister as his party now controlled parliament. Eventually, Melbourne was again asserted as Prime Minister, where the events depicted are mostly accurate in the series.
As Victoria struggled to gain and show her authority, the series then introduces how she met and was introduced to Albert after a series of other potential suitors. In reality, she had already known Albert prior to her ascension and had already indicated her some romantic interest in him. As the show depicts, she was very struck by him, although the series depicts that his stiff personality at times was off putting to her. It also shows Albert as protective of Victoria and jealous of Melbourne, although this probably was not the case. However, with the rise of Albert at court, the influence of Melbourne did diminish on Victoria. This is more to do with the fact that as Albert became her husband he played also a greater role in government and fulfilled roles Melbourne would have done earlier on. Victoria formally proposed to Albert on October 15, 1839, with the wedding taking place on the 10th of February 1840.
Although Victoria was sometimes called the grandmother of Europe due to the many monarchs that derived from her line and that married into various European households, she, in fact, hated childbirth and having to go through the process of having children (she had nine children). This worry about childbirth was shown in the series, where she brings up her fear of death in the process as this occurred to some other royal women in her line. Some of Victoria's diary entries did, in fact, suggest her worry and fears of childbirth.
Meanwhile, there were social tensions in the United Kingdom, as widespread poverty in the country and social unrest in places created tensions. Edward Oxford did try to assassinate the young Queen as she rode in her carriage with Albert near Buckingham palace, which had just become the official palace. This did occur and Oxford, as the show depicts, was committed to an insane asylum after the attempt, with the queen showing some indignation that he was not executed for his acts. The series indicates her uncle, who was now King of Hanover but also was the potential successor to Victoria until she gave birth to a child, did suggest that she may be assassinated, which possibly implicated him in a plot. However, no such evidence of this was found, in the series, and most likely there was never any serious suspicion of her uncle. In fact, any plot could have caused war against Hanover, which would have deterred him.
Victoria: The queen is shown as inexperienced and young, hasty to make judgments (such as her falsely accusing Lady Flora of a pregnancy). However, she emerged as more determined and cunning, particularly with Lord Melbourne's guidance and began to be more assertive, with wiser decisions made that showed her thinking more complexly. There is truth to the fact that Victoria did gradually make decisions that reflected her growing experience, where she did regret some of her earlier experiences early in her reign in her writings.
Prince Albert: Albert, the prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, became the consort of the queen. He is shown as serious, determined, and duty driven. He was also an early proponent of scientific education and progress while also trying to suggest better treatment of the poor. Much of this was true and Albert was active in many royal societies in official and sometimes unofficial capacities. The series depicted him chaffing at the fact his salary was limited and he lacked royal authority, as he was the consort of the queen rather than having an official royal title in the United Kingdom. There was, at the time, anti-German sentiment in Parliament, which was depicted in the series. Interestingly, it was Albert and Victoria that introduced German Christmas traditions in the UK that became popular, such as having a Christmas tree and sending Christmas cards.
Lord Melbourne: Melbourne was shown as a wise and fatherly figure to Victoria, where he had to guide her away from her initial infatuation of him. While the infatuation was likely not accurate, he was, indeed, a fatherly figure to her and did have a strong influence on her early reign prior to Victoria marrying Albert. Lord Melbourne was an experienced politician who was popular with Victory and did pass some progressive legislation that attempted to alleviate poverty and restrict the number of capital offences. He likely did willingly step aside as Albert gained authority in Victoria's life, as it may have seemed improper for him to have such a close role after her marriage.
Princess Victoria, Duchess of Kent: The Dutchess of Kent was shown as being under the spell of Conroy and doing whatever he wanted, which was mainly try to control Queen Victoria. While some evidence does indicate that he did have some influence in court, particularly in the Kensington system, his role diminished as Victoria became closer to Melbourne. In the series, the queen seems reconciled with her mother; however, the reality was there were tensions between Victoria and her mother for some time. It did diminish, however, after the birth of her first grandchild. Victoria did confine her mother to a far away part of the palace, and, in fact, went through long periods of not talking to her mother.
Victorian culture is often portrayed as emphasizing a sense of moral duty and responsibility. The show begins to depict this in the early years of Victoria, where she shows disgust with her father and male German relatives who seemed to mostly have mistresses often with their wives' knowledge. Victoria even is shown as confronting Albert asking if he intended to have a mistress. The Victorian age was known as a period of rapid industrialization and technical change. This is shown in the early episodes as Albert rides a train near Windsor Castle. The series depicts locomotives as novel, but they had already been developed by the reign of Victoria and were beginning to spread in places. Nevertheless, the use of locomotives spread far and fast during the reign of Victoria along with other technologies and sciences such as photography, the telegraph, anaesthetics, and theory of evolution.
Victoria is a colorful series that mixes a lot of historical detail with fictional characters and events. It tries to humanize one of the most influential reigns of a monarch that had impact not only in the United Kingdom, but by extension the globe given the influence of the British Empire at the time. The show does a masterful job in weaving the complex personalities of the characters as they are shaped by and shape event that occurred early in the reign of Victoria, as she struggled to assert her authority and married Prince Albert.
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- For more on Victoria's early reign, see: Williams, K. (2009) OCLC: 276647568. Becoming queen. London, Arrow.
- For more on early controversies in Victoria's reign, see: Rappaport, H. (2003) Queen Victoria: a biographical companion. ABC-CLIO biographical companions. Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO.
- For more on Prince Albert, see: James, R.R. (1984) Prince Albert: a biography. 1st American ed. New York, Knopf : Distributed by Random House.
- For more on Victoria's children and their birth, see: Van der Kiste, J. (2009) Queen Victoria’s children. 2nd ed. Stroud, History Press.
- For more on social discord and assassination attempts on Victoria, see: Murphy, P.T. (2013) OCLC: 859559768. Shooting Victoria: madness, mayhem, and the rebirth of the British monarchy.
- For more on Victoria's personality, see: Rappaport, H. (2003) Queen Victoria: a biographical companion. ABC-CLIO biographical companions. Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO.
- For more on Albert, see: Weintraub, S. (2000) OCLC: 758820883. Uncrowned king: the life of Prince Albert. New York, Free Press.
- For more on Lord Melbourne, see: Mitchell, L.G. (1997) Lord Melbourne, 1779-1848. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press
- For more on Victoria's mother, see: Rappaport, 2003, page 100
- For more on the Victorian era and Victorian culture, see: Moran, M. (2006) OCLC: ocm71239257. Victorian literature and culture. Introductions to British literature and culture. London ; New York, Continuum.