Sunday, August 12, 2012

Did Queen Victoria's Loathing of Her Son, the Future King Edward VII, Drive Him To A Life of Debauchery?

"A very libidinous king: Letters released by the Palace reveal how Queen Victoria's loathing for her son, the future Edward VII, drove him into a life of debauchery"

"'Prince of pleasure': The indiscretions of a young Edward VII, detailed in a new book from biographer Jane Ridley, were said to have scandalised his parents"

The first photo of Victoria and 'Bertie, in 1844
I was online earlier today and came across that headline, and the article accompanying it, in the Daily Mail, a UK newspaper.  As I do a lot of reading on the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, I was curious as to what Victoria's son had done to deserve such cruel feelings from his mother in the first place.  I had heard, and read, that Queen Victoria wasn't a very motherly figure to her offspring, but "loathing"?

As one of the women in my small etiquette circle said to me the other day, "My kids didn't come with instruction booklets, and most likely yours didn't either." when we were discussing the highs and lows of raising kids to adults and then having to deal with all of the things we thought we'd be relieved of when they reached a certain age; Worry over their finances, Worry over their relationships, Worry about their futures, Etc... She was right, my kids came with no such books, helpful as they might have been.
Could have come in handy for this boy's parents
Reading further into the article, it sounds as if Edward's (originally Albert or 'Bertie') biggest crime that garnered such loathing, was a combination of being born at an inopportune time, and having parents who were more concerned with the bumps on his head and the shapes of his nose and chin, as opposed to loving their children unconditionally.  Victoria it seems, according to the author Jane Ridley, "thought Bertie was ugly — ‘too frightful’ and also ‘sadly backward’."

"The first two years of her married life, complained Queen Victoria, were ruined by the arrival of a son and daughter. Most of all, she resented the fact that the pregnancies interrupted her sex life with her ‘Angel’ Albert."

A Christmastime Cartoon of the Royal Family 1843 - Toddlers clothes were 'unisex' in the 1800s. Both boys and girls wore dresses. Those with money or social position had their toddlers in the fanciest of dresses, usually of silk.
One can only imagine that this child was brought up to feel unloved and unwanted.  He threw tantrums and played the part of a typical sibling who has an older brother or sister who seem to excel at everything, including being born better looking!  Ridley goes into detail of Victoria's sentiments and her son's life as a toddler, from historical records and letters exchanged at the time.

"For a long time, she referred to him merely as ‘the Boy’, explaining: ‘I do not think him worthy of being called Albert yet.’ He never was.  Bertie’s second misfortune was to have an exceptionally clever elder sister. Barely a year older, Princess Vicky was a paragon who could already read and speak French at age three. By four, she was learning Latin, and reading Shakespeare for relaxation."

"Albert doted on Vicky, making no attempt to conceal his preference. As for Bertie, it was soon clear that he was struggling to learn anything at all. Unable to compete with his sister, he resorted to stamping his feet and having tantrums. By three, he’d developed a stammer. At three-and-a-half, he refused to do his lessons, threw his books in the air and sulked under a table."

I probably would have reacted the same way to my parents.  Who could compete in that situation?  His life's fate was determined by some pretty ridiculous expectations on the part of his mother. Adding to his treatment when just a baby, by his mother and father, it seems he was handed over to a wet-nurse, Mrs Brough, who later murdered her own six offspring "in a fit of madness."  She may, or may not, have been playing with a full-deck at the time she was feeding the royal baby.  Then again, as a 'wet-nurse' I suppose there could have been some hormonal issues at play, later in her life.

"When Bertie was two-and-a-half, Dr Andrew Combe, a leading practitioner of the quack science of phrenology — which linked the shape of a person’s skull to their mental capacity — measured the bumps on his head. ‘The development of the brain was in some respects defective,’ he reported. The best therapy, it was decided, was regular, systematic exercise of his mind."

Worst of all, and the biggest disappointment for his parents, came when the heir to the throne was 19 years old and was attending a military camp.  One night, as many teenaged boys have done before him, and many will again, he was able to sneak out a window to lose his virginity.  He saw an opportunity to pay a visit to the camp prostitute, and even went back a few times to see "Nellie Clifden" or simply 'NC'. Once word got out, his parents were informed. Horrified by the news, Victoria and Albert were convinced their son was 'damaged goods' and was bringing shame to the royal family.

"‘Bertie’s fall’, as this incident was always referred to in the family, was considered a transgression of Biblical proportions. That much was evident from the many thousands of private royal letters and papers that I was granted unrestricted access to by the present Queen — the first biographer to see them for almost 50 years."

"Many were from Victoria herself, whose anger towards her eldest son leaped from the page — startling in its urgency, even today.
  Yet Bertie was hardly the first to go astray: in upper-class circles of the 1860s, it was accepted that young men occasionally consorted with prostitutes."

Most telling for me, out of this wonderful article, was this bit of information.  With his parents on a visit to France, the young boy and future king was given special attention by Napoleon III, and this is the result for the King who once is quoted as saying, "I had no boyhood.";

"The high point for him was a trip to Paris with his family, to visit Napoleon III and his empress Eugénie. The emperor made a point of paying attention to Bertie, driving him around Paris in his curricle. ‘You have a nice country — I would like to be your son,’ said the prince. When it was time to go home, Bertie asked Eugénie if they could stay longer. ‘Your parents can’t do without you,’ she replied. ‘Not do without us!’ exclaimed Bertie. ‘Don’t fancy that, for there are six more of us at home, and they don’t want us.’"

It is a sad life when one feels unwanted from birth.  What a cruel fate for a baby, and what a window into a much respected, revered, and at times reviled, Queen Victoria.  I imagine her loss of not being able to enjoy her children and love them for who they were, was not as great as her second child's sadness, but it indeed was a loss.
King Edward VII
Jane Ridley is a historian at Buckingham University where she teaches a course on biography. She lives in London and is working on a biography of Edward VII. For the full text of the article, click on the link below;

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1 comment:

  1. And the Royals are worried about Harry & those photos? Harry's got nothing on this guy!