Just in time for the premiere on 13 January 2019 of the third season of Victoria on Masterpiece Classic on PBS, Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life is a new biography of one of the United Kingdom’s (and the world’s) most famous queens. Arriving like a gift on a royal red velvet cushion, fans of the TV series and British history will devour and adore this book.
In her usually upbeat and engaging style, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, television presenter, and one-woman British history hurricane, Lucy Worsley’s biography of Queen Victoria is a selective and sympathetic view of the life of the most powerful woman of her generation. Structured as twenty-four significant dates in her life, it is a personal look at her family history, social context, and her inner thoughts and impressions. Drawing upon a variety of sources, including her own personal diaries and of those around her, Worsley also adds quotes and references from the Queen’s major biographers and historians of the Victorian era.
Some readers may assume that the most significant dates in the Queen’s long life such as her coronation, marriage or the death of her beloved husband Albert would be the most interesting dates of her life. However, I found the quieter moments, even more, moving, insightful and tragic. For example, on the 20th of June 1837 not only did she learn that her uncle William IV had died, making her Queen, but she also met privately for the first time with her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne who would become a close advisor, stalwart advocate and dear friend to the young Queen. Starved for male companionship after the death of her father in her infancy and a childhood dominated by a weak mother and her circle of cronies, Melbourne would become the antidote to her lonely and isolated life helping her to transition to a monarch and rule her country.
On the 21st of August 1854, a visit by a fifteen-year-old Indian prince Maharaja Duleep Singh to Osbourne House, the Queen’s private residence on the Isle of Wright revealed a poignant moment in history for this reader. Deposed and exiled by the Queen’s government, the prince and the Queen had met previously at the palace where she had insensitively placed the enormous Koh-i-Noor diamond in his hand. A formerly prized possession of his ancestors, yet now booty of the take-over of his country, one wonders if this was a show of power or affection? While this event proved to be a very awkward moment for the prince, the Queen took a maternal interest in him. Lord Dalhouise her Ambassador to India felt her compassion superfluous. The might (and arrogance) of the British Empire knew no bounds. The Queen lived in the bubble created by her ministers, so removed from the atrocities of colonialism that she treated the prince like the precious jewel that her country had stolen in its raw natural form, then cut and polished to suit their taste. Even though he was a sovereign, like herself, she thought of him as her pet prince to be Anglicanized and hewed into the British idea of a disposed monarch.
While this biography is written for pleasure readers, scholars will be happy to discover that all of the sources are cited in the text and detailed in the back. I have read other recent biographies of Queen Victoria, but Worsley and her vivacious and earthy style brought the life of Victoria and her family history and dynamics vividly to life for me in a new way. The delightful Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life, will alter your perceptions of the Queen, and her relationships with her family and her subjects.
5 out of 5 Stars
Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life, by Lucy Worsley
St Martin’s Press (2019)
Hardcover, eBook & audiobook (432) pages
Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press © 2019; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com