We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals
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It was the most influential marriage of the nineteenth century–and one of history’ s most enduring love stories. Traditional biographies tell us that Queen Victoria inherited the throne as a naïve teenager, when the British Empire was at the height of its power, and seemed doomed to find failure as a monarch and misery as a woman until she married her German cousin Albert and accepted him as her lord and master. Now renowned chronicler Gillian Gill turns this familiar story on its head, revealing a strong, feisty queen and a brilliant, fragile prince working together to build a family based on support, trust, and fidelity, qualities neither had seen much of as children. The love affair that emerges is far more captivating, complex, and relevant than that depicted in any previous account.
The epic relationship began poorly. The cousins first met as teenagers for a few brief, awkward, chaperoned weeks in 1836. At seventeen, charming rather than beautiful, Victoria already “showed signs of wanting her own way.” Albert, the boy who had been groomed for her since birth, was chubby, self-absorbed, and showed no interest in girls, let alone this princess. So when they met again in 1839 as queen and presumed prince-consort-to-be, neither had particularly high hopes. But the queen was delighted to discover a grown man, refined, accomplished, and whiskered. “Albert is beautiful!” Victoria wrote, and she proposed just three days later.
As Gill reveals, Victoria and Albert entered their marriage longing for intimate companionship, yet each was determined to be the ruler. This dynamic would continue through the years–each spouse, headstrong and impassioned, eager to lead the marriage on his or her own terms. For two decades, Victoria and Albert engaged in a very public contest for dominance. Against all odds, the marriage succeeded, but it was always a work in progress. And in the end, it was Albert’s early death that set the Queen free to create the myth of her marriage as a peaceful idyll and her husband as Galahad, pure and perfect.
As Gill shows, the marriage of Victoria and Albert was great not because it was perfect but because it was passionate and complicated. Wonderfully nuanced, surprising, often acerbic–and informed by revealing excerpts from the pair’s journals and letters–We Two is a revolutionary portrait of a queen and her prince, a fascinating modern perspective on a couple who have become a legend.
From the Hardcover edition.
wrote to his daughter: “My heart was very full when yesterday you leaned your forehead on my breast to give free vent to your tears. I am not of a demonstrative nature and therefore you can hardly know how dear you have always been to me, and what a void you have left in my heart; yet not in my heart, for there assuredly you will abide henceforth, as till now you have done, but in my daily life, which is evermore reminding my heart of your absence.” Father and Son … N MAY 1856, QUEEN
uncle George at Carlton House, his opulent London residence. She would have met Lord Melbourne and Lord Palmerston, her future prime ministers, when they were dashing young men about town. She would have matched wits over dinner with some of the great minds of the day. She would have had an education in art, architecture, and design from her uncle George who was in the process of building the Royal Pavilion in Brighton and transforming Windsor Castle into a modern royal residence. She would have
beginning to recover her zest for life. This was due in part to the simple passage of time but also to the presence by her side of a Scotsman named John Brown. Albert had filled many key functions in Victoria’s life and, as the years went by, she found that many of those functions could be filled quite effectively by ministers, secretaries, comptrollers, and the like. But Victoria still had two unmet affective needs that servants of the Crown such as Benjamin Disraeli, Henry Ponsonby and Charles
horse across Windsor Great Park, ready to take on the world. Now she seemed doomed to be hideous, swollen, and aching, chained to a sofa, hidden from the public view like a thing of shame, wheeled out every day for exercise like a dog. And since Albert delighted in his new role as father, hours that she and Albert had spent alone together now had to be devoted to their growing family. That the Queen wished to ensure that her children did not come between her and her husband is disarmingly clear
the duchy of Cornwall constituted a large part of her income, but this belonged to the Prince of Wales and would actually become his to spend when he turned twenty-one. For his part, Prince Albert could never forget that his appanage was 20,000 pounds a year less than that enjoyed by Queen Adelaide, William IV’s widow. The allotments the Queen and prince received under the civil list were also very unlikely to increase. Due to the fabulous extravagance of George IV, members of parliament had