Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Queen Victoria Part III: Poor Little (not very) Rich Girl
In Part II I told you about the Great Matrimonial Race to beget the next heir to the British throne. So now let’s look more closely at the winner of the race and her earliest days.
Victoria’s dad was Edward, Duke of Kent, George III’s fourth son. He was a professional soldier, serving in various commanding positions in various places, including Canada. It was there that he met a young woman who became his “best friend” for the next twenty-seven years. But when the starting gun of the GMR (Great Matrimonial Race) sounded, that long-term relationship was ended and Edward went off to find someone to actually marry.
He eventually found Victoire, the widowed Duchess of Leiningen. Leiningen was one of the dozens of tiny principalities of Germany that existed in those days. Victoire was in her early thirties and reasonably good-looking, sister-in-law of the late Princess Charlotte whose death had stated the whole GMR…but most importantly she’d had two healthy children with her first husband--an important point in the GMR. Edward convinced her to marry him, then settled down with her in Germany because it was much cheaper to live there than in England and he had enormous debts (and a lot of angry creditors). But when Victoire found she was pregnant, Edward decided it was time to return to England for his child’s birth. They just squeaked in, arriving on April 24, 1819 and exactly one month later, on May 24, a fat, healthy baby girl was born. The proud papa told visitors to “take care of her for she will be Queen of England.” The baby was christened Alexandrina Victoria (Drina for short), named for one of her godfathers, the Czar of Russia, and for her mother. Amazingly, she managed to escape being named George, unlike most of her cousins.
Unfortunately, the proud papa wouldn’t even live to see little Drina’s first birthday: he caught a chill and died of pneumonia when she was only eight months old. His Duchess found herself in a strange land, able to speak only the barest amount of English, with an infant and her daughter from her first marriage. Fortunately, her brother Leopold, husband of the late Princess Charlotte, was absolutely loaded and helped support her (remember, the Duke of Kent had been in debt up to his eyeballs). So little Drina and her mother and half-sister Feodore settled in the Duke’s apartment in Kensington Palace, and would remain there until Drina became queen at age eighteen.
The Duchess wasn’t completely alone, of course. She had her domestic (maids and footmen and so on) and household staff: a nanny for baby Drina and a governess for Feodore named Fraulein Lehzen…and her household Comptroller, a former aide to the Duke, named John Conroy. His job was to manage her household and her money, but in time he would do much more than that...and earn little Drina’s undying hatred. We’ll hear more about Fraulein Lehzen, John Conroy, and Vic and her mom in Part IV: Prisoner of Kensington Palace.
And have a Happy Thanksgiving!