Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Queen Victoria Part IV: Prisoner of Kensington Palace

Dramatic title, huh? Well, this part of Victoria's story is pretty dramatic.

When we last saw Victoria, she was ensconced in Kensington Palace with her mother the Duchess of Kent, her half-sister Feodore, their governess Baroness Lehzen, various lesser servants, and the Duchess' comptroller (which means he sort of ran the household, kept the books, managed the Duchess' money) Sir John Conroy and his family.

By all accounts Sir John was an ambitious man. He took a look at Victoria's uncles and made a shrewd guess that in all likelihood, they weren't likely to produce many more legitimate children...which meant that at some future time, Victoria would become Queen regnant of England. This must have been a dazzling propsect to Sir John...the heiress to the throne of one of the most powerful countries in the world was right there before him, a child he could perhaps mold and influence...and perhaps he saw her as his ticket to greatness. Whatever it was he saw, it made him act.

His first plan was to make himself indispensible to the Duchess, and this worked; in short order she was completely dependent on him for almost everything in her life. Once Sir John had her where he wanted her, he started to play on her fears: here she was, a stranger in England yet mother of the nation's probable future queen. Her late husband's family was large and sometimes a touch irrational...what should happen if her precious Victoria should somehow fall into their hands? Sir John worked her into such a state that she began to avoid all contact with the King (George IV) and the rest of the family, fearing they might kidnap her child and bring her up at the dissolute, morally corrupt court. Which meant that her sole company was pretty much Sir John and his family, plus her sister-in-law Princess Sophia, another Kensington denizen equally under Sir John's spell.

So by the time Victoria was a girl of six and eight and ten, she lived an isolated life at Kensington, barely seeing even her cousins, and only rarely being permitted to play with the children of suitably aristocratic acquaintances of her mother. Her much older, much loved sister Feodore married a German princeling and took much of Victoria's fun with her when she left for her new home, and Victoria's only playmates were Sir John's children, especally his daughter Victoire whom she came to detest. Instead she became extremely close to her governess, "dearest Lehzen", who was fanatically devoted to her and who distrusted Sir John.

Sir John may have succeeded at isolating the little family and keeping them more or less under his thumb...but he failed drastically at influencing Victoria. Instead of cultivating her confidence and friendship, he treated her to a great deal of "chaff", blustery, over-familiar teasing that she loathed. She was always polite to him--indeed, she had no choice as her mother would never have permitted her not to be--but underneath, she seethed.

Years passed, and between them Sir John and the Duchess maintained their stranglehold on Victoria. She was not allowed her own bedroom but slept in her mother's room, and was not allowed to walk down a staircase unaccompanied (someone always had to hold her hand). She kept a diary which was read and "corrected" by her mother every evening. Dreary life for a young girl, wasn't it?

Stayed tuned for the next exciting installment, "Queen Victoria Part V: 'She Must Be Coerced!"


Regina Scott said...

Wow--who knew! She always looks so calm and serene in period prints. Sounds like she could have used a rescuer. Wait, don't I know a story about that? :-)

Sarah Prineas said...

Ooh, I can't wait to see what happens to Sir John. Hopefully a bad end!

Marissa Doyle said...


Tune in next time! (cue cheesy organ music).