A judicious but lively biography of the highly un-Victorian Queen Victoria (1819-1901), from journalist and historian Dennison (The Twelve Caesars: The Dramatic Lives of the Emperors of Rome, 2013, etc.).
“Stubborn, hotblooded, and autocratic” is a solid description. Early-19th-century education emphasized the importance of “regulating the passions, securing morality, and establishing a sound religion.” This, not the queen’s temperament, defined the Victorian era. “As it happened, only Albert ever persuaded Victoria to regulate her passionate temper, in lessons that were painful to teacher and student,” writes the author. “After his death, there would be signs of backsliding.” Taking the throne at the age of 18, she dismissed her domineering mother (her father was long dead); however, she was certainly not a feminist and remained highly susceptible to the men in her life. Britain’s constitutional monarch was supposed to be above politics, but Victoria made no secret of her affection for some leaders (Melbourne, Disraeli) and dislike of others (Peel, Gladstone). Above all, she cherished her husband, Albert, a minor German prince whom she loved at first sight and to whom she happily submitted. As a foreigner, Albert was never admired in Britain, but unlike the case with Victoria, his approval among historians has risen steadily, and Dennison concurs. His death in 1861 devastated the queen. Mourning obsessively, she went into seclusion for a decade, which greatly diminished her popularity. Although she lacked charisma and disliked public appearances, sheer longevity converted her final decades into an apotheosis of Britain’s glory. At her death after a 63-year reign, everyone understood that a significant era had passed.
Although Dennison often relies on secondary sources and rocks few boats, this is an insightful, short look at the life of an immortal if only sometimes-admirable queen.