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Becoming Victoria /
Lynne Vallone.
New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press, c2001.
xviii, 256 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 22 cm.
0300089503 (cloth)
More Details
New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press, c2001.
0300089503 (cloth)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Lynne Vallone is associate professor of English at Texas A & M University.
First Chapter

Chapter One

The Baby in the Palace


You now try to go to the Round Pond, but nurses hate it, because they are not really manly, and they make you look the other way, at the Big Penny and the Baby's Palace.

J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906)

Almost one hundred years after her birth in 1819, as novelist and play wright J. M. Barrie slyly points out, Queen Victoria's image might have called to mind pocket change rather than pomp and glory, and the place of her birth was merely an architectural backdrop to promenade and play. From this perspective, the old queen signifies little to Edwardian children. In Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens , the narrator compresses the widely known facts and fancies of Victoria's life at Kensington Palace from birth to accession -- her solitude, love of dolls, the Archbishop of Canterbury's audience with the newly made queen, and her public coronation into a child's version of Victoria's life story: `She was the most celebrated baby of the Gardens, and lived in the palace all alone, with ever so many dolls, so people rang the bell and up she got out of her bed, though it was past six o'clock, and she lighted a candle and opened the door in her nightdress, and then they all cried with great rejoicings, "Hail, Queen of England!"' Barrie's commentary on Victoria's status as either baby on the throne or coin of the realm, made within the context of a story celebrating endless boyhood, highlights for Barrie, and for us, the mysterious power of both icon and child. Today, as in the past, parents, schools, and society in general attempt the impossible when they desire to know and to fix, in an absolute way, the ever-inscrutable `Child'. How much more difficult it might be to capture a child from the past whose life span has labelled an age, and whose supposed character has inflected a cultural personality. `Victorian' means many things -- proper, pompous, and proud are a few apt adjectives -- but these are descriptors of age, not of youth. Barely does `Victorian' refer to the girlish, playful, or clever. Before the `door' that Barrie considers a boundary was crossed, before the crowning of the girl-sovereign, Queen Victoria was, indeed, just a baby in the palace.

    The events that led to Victoria's unlikely residence in Kensington Palace were set in motion well before she was born, with the failures of parturition and the domestic tragedies of George III's descendants. Not surprisingly, the miserable marriage between George III's heir (the Prince Regent and future George IV) and his first cousin Caroline of Brunswick, produced but one child -- Princess Charlotte, Heiress Presumptive to the throne. Her death in 1817 at the age of twenty-one after delivering a stillborn boy dashed the hopes of both the Regent and the nation that a young queen would eventually be crowned. With the death of Charlotte and her child, George IV's line became extinct, and it was up to the next son of George III, William (later William IV), to wear the crown and beget heirs to the throne. Ironically, of King William's twelve children only the two daughters of gentle Queen Adelaide were legitimate, yet they were also sickly and died in infancy. The third surviving son, Edward, Duke of Kent, married somewhat late in life, and fathered a healthy child, Alexandrina Victoria, in 1819. His death eight months later, before there was any chance for a son to supersede his daughter in the line of succession, enhanced the likelihood that Princess Victoria would one day claim the throne.

    This brief sketch of Victoria's family history offers a backdrop to the story of an unlikely queen: if Princess Charlotte or her son had lived, if the Regent had fathered another (legitimate) child, if one of Adelaide's daughters had survived, or if the Duke of Kent had left Victoria's mother pregnant with a son before he died, Victoria would not have become queen and British history would have been irrevocably altered.


Kensington Palace was a venerable old building by the time the Kents came to live in it. Originally Nottingham House, the structure was purchased by William III in 1689 and enlarged by Christopher Wren and William Kent. Acres of beautiful gardens surrounded the boxy palace which was well situated in what were then the `intensely rural' outskirts of London. The palace was close to the bustle of town, but essentially functioned as a quiet country retreat. Although draughty, plagued by insects, and somewhat derelict, Kensington Palace was a symbolically important location for a wandering son of George III to call home, if only temporarily. For economy's sake, the debt ridden Duke of Kent had been living in Brussels and then the town of Amorbach. The impending birth of a royal infant, however, was strong inducement to return to his native land, `in order to render the Child [the Duchess] bears, virtually as well as legally English ', though he was not especially welcomed by the other members of the Royal Family already ensconced in the palace or nearby. Indeed he was informed, in no uncertain terms, `not to expect a cordial reception '.

    Although it first necessitated borrowing additional funds and then a long and arduous trip from Amorbach to London for the heavily pregnant Duchess of Kent, Victoria was born in Kensington Palace at 4 a.m. on 24 May 1819, a robust English daughter. This fact was highly pleasing to her parents, and often remarked upon as testimony of Victoria's appropriateness as queen, even given her German relations. Victoria was later urged to emphasize her English birth to counteract criticism of the Germanness of her mother (she was the widow of the Prince of Leiningen and the sister of Princess Charlotte's husband, Leopold) and the House of Hanover generally. (Once affianced to Victoria, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, her first cousin, suffered similar criticism from the press.) Although the Duke of Kent is often credited with the prophetic proclamation that his infant daughter would one day be queen, just after her birth he wrote in response to a friend who had expressed the wish that this child would one day be crowned, and the regret that she wasn't a son: `But the fact is I see no reason to wish the case [the child's sex] otherwise, except as far as private inclination might dictate; for while I have 3 brothers senior to myself, and one possessing every reasonable prospect of having a family, I should deem it the height of presumption to believe it probable that a future heir to the Crown of England would spring from me.'

    No one could have been less concerned about her place in the line of succession than the infant Victoria, and by all accounts she continued to be a promising and lively baby soon very fat on a diet of her mother's milk. (She was weaned in early December.) In a letter written to her mother soon after Victoria's birth, the Duchess of Kent expressed her satisfaction with Victoria's large appetite and her surprise at the eyebrows raised in response to her decision to breast-feed the infant princess: `I am so very happy that I can breast feed her so well, I would have been desparate ( sic ) to see my little darling on someone else's breast.... Everybody is most astonished that I am breast feeding; people of the mondaine ( sic ) world are really very unhappy, how much genuine joie de vivre do they miss. By 1840, however, this story of Queen Victoria's earliest days had been revised to emphasize the Duchess's doting care and the start to Victoria's pleasing `middle-class' upbringing. The anonymous `lady' author of Anecdotes, Personal Traits, and Characteristic Sketches of Victoria the First notes that the identity of Victoria's wet nurse was of great interest to the public: `It was very speedily announced that the Royal Duchess intended to suckle the infant Princess herself, and this expression of maternal tenderness so unusual to royalty, was received with the highest satisfaction by the English people, who rejoiced to find that their future Queen was not likely to be reared amidst the cold forms of etiquette, but under the free and uncontrolled influence of the affections of the heart.' Of course, at the time of her birth it was not entirely certain that Victoria would ever become queen, as the comment above implies. Nevertheless, the young Princess was afforded all of the dignities befitting of a highly placed royal child. Her first official portrait, an August 1819 watercolour by Paul Johann Georg Fischer, depicts a plump baby sporting a large Scotch bonnet with equanimity. (A length of the still-bright tartan ribbon worn by Princess Victoria on 2 November 1819 remains preserved in the Royal Archives. Prince Albert's note accompanying it indicates that the Fischer painting was sent to the grandmother Victoria shared with him.) The resemblance between the infant and the Duke of Kent in this picture was surely meant to flatter the fond father (Ill. 2 and Ill. 3). All due care was taken to ensure that the little princess remained in good health. She was successfully vaccinated for smallpox at ten weeks of age (and later in 1827 and 1835).

    `Drina', as Victoria was called as a very young child, was the only baby living in Kensington Palace, although she was not the only royal infant of consequence. In the spring of 1819, The Times reported the arrival of no fewer than four additions to the Royal Family. The Duchesses of Cambridge and Cumberland gave birth to princes, and the Duchesses of Clarence and Kent delivered princesses: George Cambridge who would one day be considered a good match for Victoria; Charlotte Clarence, who would have preceded Victoria in the line of succession, and who lived for one day only; and George Cumberland, future King of Hanover. (The second Clarence daughter, Elizabeth, was born in 1820 and lived for three months.) Victoria was never to know any of these cousins very well. After her husband's death, when Victoria was less than a year old, the Duchess of Kent kept her young daughter close beside her within a small circle of intimates: her half-sister Feodore, twelve years her senior; her governess Louise Lehzen (hired as Feodore's governess and retained as Victoria's governess in 1824); her Aunt Sophia (daughter of George III); and the Conroy family (John Conroy was equerry to the Duke of Kent and became a close adviser to the Duchess after his death).

    The significance of the loss of her father when she was an infant cannot be underestimated when judging Victoria's character and growth into a woman; she would seek male companionship and attention for the rest of her life. Victoria's extreme gratitude for the `disinterested kindnesses' of Lord Melbourne, her first Prime Minister, attests to this fact. Charlot comments: `Melbourne's devotion to [Queen Victoria] was fatherly, her fascination with him was similar to that of a student of philosophy with a guru.' While the Duke was not particularly popular within the Royal Family, or perhaps outside it (he was a military man who had developed a reputation for cruelty to his men and who was incapable of staying out of debt), after dismissing his mistress of twenty seven years, Madame de St Laurent with real regret, he nevertheless willingly accepted his `duty' to the succession and married a suitable bride. The newly wed couple appear to have been happy enough together, and great joy was evinced at Victoria's birth. She was baptized by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Cupola Room, the grandest room in Kensington Palace (restored to its early eighteenth century splendour in 1991) at one month of age. The baptismal font had been brought from the Tower of London for the occasion. Victoria's christening was a stressful occasion for the Kents, as the Prince Regent was in bad temper and refused to allow the baby to be baptized with traditional second names such as `Charlotte' or `Augusta' as her parents desired--`Alexandrina' was for her godfather in absentia , the Tsar Alexander of Russia." The King's suggestions for a substitute name lacked creativity (let her take her mother's name, he said), and the baby was duly baptized `Alexandrina Victoria'.

    After the baptism, still plagued by debts, the Kent family was forced to vacate Kensington Palace. They chose to relocate to Sidmouth, Devonshire where households were cheaper to run. There the little family lived peace fully (if not entirely frugally) until the Duke of Kent took ill with a cold--caught, conventional wisdom asserts, because he was too interested in playing with baby Victoria to heed advice and attend to his wet boots. This indisposition progressed into a serious pneumonia-like illness and within two weeks of suffering from pain, fever, and repeated bleedings, he was dead.

    Not only was the Duchess shocked and distressed by this unexpected second widowhood (her private letters make it clear that though she had met him just once before their marriage, she was sincerely fond of her husband), but she knew that she was now awkwardly placed as the widowed German mother of an important child of the English Royal Family. Some of the Duchess's anxieties stemmed from her limited command of the English language, though she tried to lessen the effects of the language barrier by taking English lessons as soon as she was married. The Duchess's isolation was enhanced by her lack of friends in England and in the Royal Family, save for the Duchess of Clarence who had sent warm condolences during Edward Kent's illness and after his death. The Duchess chose to turn for guidance to a male adviser, John Conroy, an Irishman who had been an equerry in the employ of her husband's household. Conroy's self-interest in regard to the Duchess and her daughter became obvious from the moment the Duke's life appeared to be in danger. In the letters the Duchess of Kent wrote to her friend Pauline von Tubeuf, it appears that she trusted Conroy, even as he was pushing the mortally ill Duke to name him as Victoria's guardian. That the Duchess would not allow such a frightening request to be brought before the dying Duke benefited Victoria, as this document would have assigned to Conroy greater power over her than he was ultimately able to achieve through his close alliance with the Duchess. John Conroy was to play a significant role in Victoria's childhood, however, as he continued to be intimately connected with the Duchess of Kent (but not, it would seem, in a sexual relationship as sometimes rumoured) and heavily involved in Princess Victoria's education. Many of the memoranda discussing aspects of Victoria's education are in Conroy's (nearly unread able) hand, and it is very likely that he directed most if not all of the Duchess's professional correspondence. John Conroy and the `Kensington System' will be discussed in detail in Chapter Two.

    Victoria was fatherless, but not friendless in her early years as is sometimes asserted, perhaps on the basis of Victoria's own observations made years later when reflecting on her childhood. E. F. Benson provides a much needed corrective to this vision of Victoria's `rather melancholy' childhood, asserting that it `would appear to have been much the same as that of any other little girl of the upper classes, who was being very carefully brought up by a lone]y mother, and who had the misfortune (though in this case there was a bright lining to that) of not having any brothers'. In fact, Victoria did have a brother -- her half-brother Charles Leiningen who, fifteen years her senior, and the heir to the princely house of Leiningen, lived primarily in Germany rather than in England with his mother. Her sister Feodore, however, lived with Victoria and their mother at Kensington Palace until she was married in February 1828 to Prince Ernest Christian Charles of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a handsome stranger (they had met only twice before their engagement) who was many years her senior. From extant letters between the sisters dating from their separation, it is abundantly clear that they shared a very close and loving relationship. Victoria idolized her older sister's pretty looks and manners; they wore matching dresses of white Buckinghamshire thread lace on Feodore's wedding day. Although the girls were constantly together until Feodore's marriage when Victoria was nine years old, and were very frequent correspondents after that, this sororal aspect of Victoria's early youth has often been overlooked by later writers, if not by the Royal Family itself. Some of this loss of memory may be due to design: as the daughter of her mother's unhappy first marriage to a minor German prince, Feodore perhaps represented, or was perceived to represent, that foreignness or `otherness' that the Duchess of Kent and the Royal Family were at pains to disguise in themselves. At her death in 1872, Vanity Fair was brusque in its dismissal of Feodore's importance: `The less said about the Queen's German relatives the better." There are no portraits of Princess Feodore and Princess Victoria together -- although a great many portraits of the young Victoria were published which has helped to create the erroneous impression that Victoria was an only child.

    Feodore never appears, for example, in an 1822 series of pencil drawings of three-year-old Victoria drawn by the artist Lady Elizabeth Keith Heathcote, although she would certainly have accompanied the Duchess of Kent and Victoria on their seaside holiday at Ramsgate. Notwithstanding the absence of Feodore, these little known drawings offer a glimpse into the daily life of the young Victoria, as they depict her clothing, toys and playtime activities with the artist's daughter, Elizabeth Anne, five months younger than the Princess. Lady Elizabeth was a student of Gainsborough, and her tiny pencil sketches, accented by lightly shaded coloured shoes and sashes, are obviously quick studies of active children probably intended as record keeping and mementoes rather than as display pieces. The Duchess of Kent and Lady Elizabeth were friends, which accounts for the access the latter was given to the Princess. In the drawings, Victoria is shown to be plump, curly-headed, and happy (although one drawing shows a distressed princess pointing to her injured foot) (Ill. 4). These drawings give clues to the clothing Princess Victoria wore as a small child. Her indoor daytime wear was an off-the shoulder dress with short puffed sleeves, an empire waist, and a sash tied in a bow. This is a fashion Victoria seems to have sported throughout her childhood: she is repeatedly depicted in such a style in portraits commissioned during the 1820s (Ill. 5). In Lady Elizabeth Heathcote's sketches Princess Victoria is often drawn wearing a pinafore over and pantalettes under the dress, and blue shoes on her little feet. She sometimes wears a necklace or a morning cap. In a drawing depicting Victoria seated on a donkey's back (a favourite way for Victoria to travel as a child), she wears a diminutive riding habit.

    Less indicative of her stares than her clothing, the toys that appear in the sketches -- balls, books, a rabbit pull-toy, an easel and paints, shells spilling from a bucket, and dolls -- could be found in any middle-class home.

    Although these drawings may not be particularly notable for their artistry (the character Victoria resembles any cherubic little girl), these drawings -- which were not originally meant for publication or composed for flattery's sake -- help to illustrate Victoria's `normal' babyhood in a literal way. Some remnants of the material objects of Victoria's childhood can be found in a small collection of her toys currently housed in Kensington Palace. A large Georgian townhouse for dolls has survived in very good shape, although it is clear that it has been enjoyed; it is of a size and simplicity that would invite play. Princess Victoria wrote to Feodore in 1829, after their first Christmas apart, to describe her gifts. Among them was a number of items to furnish the doll's house, including plates and a house keeper doll, as well as a toy theatre. In general, these toys are sturdy, typical playthings of the Georgian era. Miniature wood furniture, a toy carriage, cradle, and various dolls with handmade clothing are all items that could be found in many households. Perhaps the more delicate and expensive toys had been broken in the past, but it seems that the toys of Victoria's youth were, for the most part, practical and functional. Although she was raised simply (her diet was plain and bland, her bedtime early, and her clothing mostly unembellished) and, until she was about five years old, with great indulgence, this child's advantages were obviously legion: servants, beautiful clothes, trips to the seaside, donkey carts, royal relations.


Excerpted from Becoming Victoria by Lynne Vallone. Copyright © 2001 by Lynne Vallone. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2002-01-01:
In this beautifully produced volume, Vallone (English, Texas A&M Univ.) aims to present a study of Victoria as princess, her life before she was crowned queen and gave her name to an age. The reader would not be convinced that the early years of the monarch's life would be worth the intense study presented here had the author not also taken as her task the cultural study of girlhood and the creation of the social strictures and beliefs of which Victoria was the most public example. Through an exhaustive use of material in the Royal Archives and a judicious application of cultural and literary critical theory, Vallone succeeds in defining Victoria's girlhood as existing within the narrowly conceived notions of female virtues. She also demonstrates how popular children's literature in the late 1800s was produced to encourage girls (and their mothers) to aspire to a high standard of duty and goodness that was quite different from the reality of Victoria's young life. Highly recommended for general and undergraduate audiences as well as those with a scholarly interest in the 19th century; special recognition must be given to the lovely reproductions, black and white and color, that are interspersed throughout the volume. C. Curran College of St. Benedict/St. John's University
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-04-30:
"Exuberant," "creative" and "playful" are not words that typically come to mind when one thinks of Queen Victoria, but, as Texas A&M English professor Vallone (Disciplines of Virtue: Girls' Culture in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries) ably demonstrates, youthful Victoria was notably different from the staid, dignified monarch who gave her name to what has often been viewed as one of the most stolid ages in modern history. By analyzing Victoria's girlhood diaries, drawings and fiction, as well as records of her education and scores of accounts of her childhood, Vallone not only constructs a revisionist account of the princess's youthful persona but also traces the process by which Victoria was molded into the "right" kind of adult: capable of assuming the throne and also a clear embodiment of all that was womanly and pure. Vallone calls this a study of both Victoria and the various ideological imperatives that undergirded early 19th-century child-rearing; the latter achievement is more compelling. Victoria is, in Vallone's account, a fascinating, complex figure. But she also serves here as an example of the way girls' personalities were subject to various social and cultural pressures en route to adulthood. And because Victoria the feminine icon was deemed at least as important as Victoria the ruler, her upbringing had much more in common with those of other girls than one might imagine. Well-researched, and with sophisticated cultural criticism, this sound scholarship will engage the interest of academics and nonacademics alike. Illus. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2001-05-01:
This pleasant read, written by a Texas A&M literature scholar and expert on 18th- and 19th-century girlhood, focuses on Queen Victoria (1819-1901) as princess. Vallone's case study in Georgian child-rearing among elites depicts the future queen's formative years, often neglected in studies of Victoria's life. When William IV became King of Great Britain in 1830, his 11-year-old niece, Victoria, became heiress presumptive. Drawing on Victoria's lesson schedules, sketches (many here reproduced), journals, surviving fiction, and correspondence with her mother, the widowed Duchess of Kent, Vallone reveals how the girl was shaped by strict education and upbringing under an obsessively controlling parent. Covering her life from birth until just after she gained the throne (June 20, 1837), the text is packed with details of Victoria as infant, girl, and adolescent, increasingly torn between inculcated loyalty to the duchess and her increasingly independent temperament. For a wide audience, especially royalty and British history buffs; recommended for public and academic libraries. Nigel Tappin, Lake of Bays P.L., Huntsville, Ont. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, March 2001
Washington Post, March 2001
Publishers Weekly, April 2001
Library Journal, May 2001
Choice, January 2002
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Bowker Data Service Summary
Based on an exploration of the young Victoria's letters, stories, drawings, educational materials and journals, this work illuminates the princess's childhood from her earliest years to her accession to the throne at the age of 18 in 1837.
Main Description
Just eight months old when her father, Edward, duke of Kent, died unexpectedly, the princess Victoria moved significantly closer to England's throne. The task of raising a potential female monarch assumed critical importance for the nation, yet Victoria's girlhood and adolescence have received scant attention from historians, cultural critics, and even her biographers. In this engaging and revealing book, Lynne Vallone shows us a new Victoriaa lively and passionate girl very different from the iconic dour widow of the queen's later life. Based on a thorough exploration of the young Victoria's own letters, stories, drawings, educational materials, and journalsdocuments that have been under appreciated until nowthe book illuminates the princess's childhood from her earliest years to her accession to the throne at age eighteen in 1837. Vallone presents a fresh assessment of "the rose of England" within the culture of girlhood and domestic life in the 1820s and 1830s. The author also explores the complex and often conflicting contexts of the period, including Georgian children's literature, conventional childrearing practices, domestic and familial intrigues, and the frequently turbulent political climate. Part biography, part historical and cultural study, this richly illustrated volume uncovers in fascinating detail the childhood that Victoria actually lived.
Unpaid Annotation
Part biography, part historical and cultural study, this richly illustrated volume uncovers in fascinating detail the childhood that Princess Victoria actually lived. Vallone shows readers a new Victoria--a lively and passionate girl very different from the iconic, dour widow of the queen's later life. 50 illustrations, 15 in color.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgementsp. xi
Prefacep. xv
The Baby in the Palace, 1819-1827p. 1
The Little Princess Enters Education Land, 1828-1832p. 40
Private and Public Princess, 1832-1834p. 75
The Importance of Being Victoria, 1835p. 122
'The Fair White Rose of Perfect Womanhood', 1836-1837p. 168
Notesp. 202
Bibliographyp. 241
Indexp. 246
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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