Becoming Queen Victoria
The Unexpected Rise of Britain’s Greatest Monarch
By: Kate Williams
Narrator: Katharine McEwan
Penguin Random House/Random House Audio
Genre: Biography & Autobiography – Royalty
Release Date: December 27, 2016
16 Hours and 27 Minutes
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers-copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
In 1819, a girl was born to the fourth son of King George III. No one could have expected such an unassuming, overprotected girl to be an effective ruler—yet Queen Victoria would become one of the most powerful monarchs in history.
Writing with novelistic flair and historical precision, Kate Williams reveals a vibrant woman in the prime of her life, while chronicling the byzantine machinations that continued even after the crown was placed on her head. Upon hearing that she had inherited the throne, eighteen-year-old Victoria banished her overambitious mother from the room, a simple yet resolute move that would set the tone for her reign. The queen clashed constantly not only with her mother and her mother’s adviser, the Irish adventurer John Conroy, but with her ministers and even her beloved Prince Albert—all of whom attempted to seize control from her.
Williams lays bare the passions that swirled around the throne—the court secrets, the sexual repression, and the endless intrigue. The result is a grand tale of a woman whose destiny began long before she was born and whose legacy lives on.
I was originally confused by this book: promoted as relevant to the current Masterpiece Theatre series VICTORIA, I assumed it would be about Queen Victoria and perhaps about British culture and how a woman could be queen in a culture wherein women were, in fact, barely more than property. I have enjoyed recent British Monarchy programs so this was an easy sell.
But, I was confused because at least half the book revolves around the only legitimate child of George IV, formerly the Prince Regent, and the wife he despised, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. It’s also about how that marriage and how, at a point in history, the remaining sons of George III, who had been living with indolence at worst, and reasonably at best.
It’s like saying a book is about Thomas Jefferson and they finding out it is all about George Washington.
I kept waiting to get to Victoria’s story, and perhaps the lengthy start with the history of the offspring of George III and IV is the “Becoming” part of the book. But it went on and on and on, and the book would have been more appropriately called Charlotte and Victoria: Becoming Queen.
While the story is well-narrated, the writing felt like a dissertation. Yes, there is a loss of informational bandwidth in historical biography, and it’s hard to tell a history without embellishment. While I admire the factual nature and research that went into the book, I think it was very academic and I wonder if it was published because it was riding the TV-Program’s wave.
Also, when there are a lot of people with similar names, Lord or Lady This or That, it can be hard to keep them straight, particularly in this format. That is not singular to this biography but to most with many characters.
I believe the idea behind this is that the mostly popular, spitied, and a little loud, Princess Charlotte would have been Queen had she not died in childbirth. But the country was tired of the exceeses of George IV’s life and when he passed the less wild William became King. He had no surviving children but his brother, next in line, had a daughter and if she lived to adulthood, would become Queen. When she was Queen, the sheltered Princess was advised by the Prime Minister, Lord Melboune, to whom she became very attached. He advised her that she could do certain things but not others and in this way, he strongly influenced in limiting the ability of the monarchy to interfere in government.
Also of importance in the story was how she got together with her spouse, Prince Albert of Saxe, Coburg, Gotha, a fairly impoverished German state. This relationship, probably more than anything, came to be what defined this monarchy: her children, her widowhood and what she became the matriarch of, dour morality and the era which bears her name.
Queen Victoria was certainly a fascinating person, but in this book her story is weighed down with the lives of the people around her. I wanted to get through it but I also wanted it to end.