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A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy

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Overview

As she did in her critically acclaimed The Last Days of the Romanovs, Helen Rappaport brings a compelling documentary feel to the story of this royal marriage and of the queen’s obsessive love for her husband – a story that began as fairy tale and ended in tragedy.

After the untimely death of Prince Albert, the queen and her nation were plunged into a state of grief so profound that this one event would dramatically alter the shape of the British monarchy. For Britain had not ...

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A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy

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Overview

As she did in her critically acclaimed The Last Days of the Romanovs, Helen Rappaport brings a compelling documentary feel to the story of this royal marriage and of the queen’s obsessive love for her husband – a story that began as fairy tale and ended in tragedy.

After the untimely death of Prince Albert, the queen and her nation were plunged into a state of grief so profound that this one event would dramatically alter the shape of the British monarchy. For Britain had not just lost a prince: during his twenty year marriage to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert had increasingly performed the function of King in all but name. The outpouring of grief after Albert’s death was so extreme, that its like would not be seen again until the death of Princess Diana 136 years later.

Drawing on many letters, diaries and memoirs from the Royal Archives and other neglected sources, as well as the newspapers of the day, Rappaport offers a new perspective on this compelling historical psychodramathe crucial final months of the prince’s life and the first long, dark ten years of the Queen’s retreat from public view. She draws a portrait of a queen obsessed with her living husband and –  after his death – with his enduring place in history. Magnificent Obsession will also throw new light on the true nature of the prince’s chronic physical condition, overturning for good the 150-year old myth that he died of typhoid fever.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a sad portrayal of Queen Victoria, Rappaport shows her plunged into deep mourning after the death of Prince Albert in 1861 at age 42. The queen avoided public appearances for 10 years, wearing black for the remainder of her life, and building enormously expensive memorials—and, says independent historian Rappaport, dangerously diminished the monarchy’s popularity and enabled republicanism in the process. Her orgy of grief—which Rappaport interprets as indulgent but also a sign of clinical depression—came to an end when her heir, the rakish Bertie, almost died of typhoid fever. In their 21-year marriage, Victoria was besotted with Albert, who eclipsed her relationship with her nine children, undermined her self-confidence, and made her totally dependent as he effectively ruled as king. Offering strong circumstantial evidence against the official report that Albert died of typhoid fever, Rappaport (The Last Days of the Romanovs) suggests that an overworked, depressed Albert—disliked by a nation he devotedly served and trying to keep Britain from entering the American Civil War on the side of the South—died of Crohn’s disease complicated by pneumonia. Rappaport offers an absorbing, perceptive, and detailed picture of a constitutional monarchy in crisis. 16 pages of b&w photos. Agent: Charlie Viney, the Vine Agency (U.K.) (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"Absorbing account of the making of a queen through her awful, protracted grief." —-Kirkus
Library Journal
Rappaport's (The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg) book is a revelation, presenting the story behind Queen Victoria's relationship with her beloved Consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Whereas historically Victoria was known as a steadfast, confident queen from the beginning of her reign in 1837, this well-researched study shows otherwise: it was Albert who actually ran the empire, directing a pliant Victoria and usurping her role as monarch. Though a sickly man prone to stomach ailments, he never allowed his illnesses to keep him from performing the duties of a head of state. Only upon Albert's death in late 1861 was Victoria allowed to emerge, assuming the strength and spirit of her late and much-mourned husband for the following four decades of her reign. Rappaport has revealed the true commanding presence of Albert: strong father, dictatorial husband, and king without the title—going so far as to describe the period as "Albertian" rather than "Victorian," a powerful and startling statement. VERDICT This riveting biography, which draws on documents previously overlooked, is a work of scholarship that would enhance any collection. Recommended for all readers of historical royal biography or 19th-century British history.—Lisa Guidarini, Algonquin P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
Absorbing account of the making of a queen through her awful, protracted grief. To Queen Victoria (1819–1901), her beloved husband Albert was counsel, teacher, co-ruler and more--"King in all but name," as British historian and Russian expert Rappaport (Conspirator: Lenin in Exile, 2010, etc.) depicts in this readable narrative. Twenty happy years of marriage had produced nine healthy children--unheard of in that era of common infant mortality--and a solid sovereign partnership by 1861. Yet within the year, the unthinkable happened: A mysterious debilitating illness seized her husband, and he died on Dec. 15. Victoria's all-consuming grief stemmed partly from a deliberate denial of the seriousness of Albert's disease, both on the part of the doctors and her own willful intractability. A man of regular habits, excellent education, incorruptible rectitude, absolute loyalty and finest culture, Prince Albert had instructed his wife over the years on how to be a proper queen, ironically bolstering her enormous popularity to the detriment of his own. Essentially for the next 10 years she devoted herself to preserving his memory. She erected monuments (a regular "Albertopolis"), banished all pleasures at court, supported an entire industry of black fabrics and jet jewelry and published his speeches and memoir of their life together in Scotland. Eventually the public and the government grew tired of her "luxury of woe" and by year three she was being roundly criticized for her seclusion. Thanks to the loyalty of her favored Highland attendant, John Brown, her fondness for Benjamin Disraeli and her distaste for her profligate heir, Bertie, Queen Victoria got back in the saddle--though Rappaport skates over her transformation in one concluding page, keeping readers wanting more. Fluid reading by the knowledgeable author of Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250031525
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2013
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 253,371
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

HELEN RAPPAPORT studied Russian at Leeds University and is a specialist in Russian and nineteenth-century women’s history. She lives in Oxford. She is the author of books including The Last Days of the Romanovs and A Magnificent Obsession.

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Table of Contents

Preface & Acknowledgements xi

List of Illustrations xv

Prologue: Christmas 1860 1

Part 1 Albert the Good II

1 'The Treadmill of Never-EndingBusiness' 13

2 'The First Real Blow of Misfortune' 29

3 'Fearfully in Want of a True Friend' 42

4 'Our Most Precious Invalid' 57

5 'Day Turned into Night' 74

6 'Our Great National Calamity' 86

7 'Will They Do Him Justice Now?' 105

8 'How Will the Queen Bear It?' 118

Part 2 The Broken-HeartedWidow 127

9 'All Alone!' 129

10 'The Luxury of Woe' 147

11 'A Married Daughter I Must Have Living with Me' 161

12 'God Knows How I Want So Much to be Taken Care Of' 177

13 'The Queen Is Invisible' 196

14 'Heaven Has Sent Us this Dispensation to Save Us' 213

15 Albertopolis 232

Epilogue: Christmas 1878 243

Appendix: What Killed Prince Albert? 249

Notes 261

Bibliography 299

Index 313

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Reading Group Guide

1. Saint or martinet?: Queen Victoria adored her husband and looked upon him as a paragon of virtue, but in light of Prince Albert’s controlling influence over her and their children is there another way of looking at him?

2. It is a commonly held belief that theirs was a love match. But was it really? Albert appears, in the first instance, to have married out of duty and only later grown to love his wife. Would you agree that fundamentally she was the passionate one?

3. Would it be true to say that the queen’s obsessive love at times became distorted and unhealthy? And was it in any way the result of her repressed childhood, locked away at Kensington Palace?

4. Was Prince Albert’s overwhelming obsession with duty and taking on an enormous workload a way of dissipating his thwarted ambitions to be a monarch himself. Would you agree, that little by little he took over control of the running of the monarchy from Victoria and in so doing disempowered her so that she lost confidence in her own abilities?

5. Did Prince Albert drive himself into an early grave with his crippling, self-imposed workload? Does the till now unchallenged acceptance of typhoid fever as the cause of Albert’s death actually stack up? Might Crohn’s Disease be a far more plausible cause of his failing health?

6. Was Victoria’s hysterical response to her mother’s death in 1861 a case of unresolved guilt about their previously bad relationship? Was her later reconciliation with her hypocritical?

7. Albert’s death provoked in Victoria the most all-consuming, obsessive and fetishistic attachment to the trappings of mourning. To what extent was this a reflection of the Victorian cult of mourning at the time or her own version of it? Might her state of grief be described as unhealthy, or pathological and to what extent was it the result of her extreme self-centeredness?

8. In her total obsession with Albert living and Albert dead the Queen seems to have failed to channel the love and support of her children, and often did not appreciate their innate goodness, Bertie being a case in point. Why was this? 

9. The Queen blew hot and cold with all her children— might one say she was a bad mother?. She appeared always to like them when they toed the line and did what she wanted, but the minute they contradicted her they were in her bad books. She appears to be have been fickle and inconsistent as a mother. Would you agree?

10. The queen’s years of retreat into mourning during the 1860s-1870s came in for a lot of public criticism. Do you think the monarchy would have faced a serious republican challenge had it gone on? Might we have seen the British monarchy fall?

11. Was the widowed Queen’s neglect of her royal duties understandable or reprehensible? Might she have recovered sooner had she had the benefit of the kind of care and counselling that a widow in her sitution would be offered today?

12. At the end of her reign the queen rose triumphant as a great matriarch and figurehead of empire. Do you believe that she ultimately redeemed herself and regained the love of the nation? What do you see as her finest qualities as queen?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 10, 2012

    How Albert's death saved the British royal throne

    I enjoyed reading this book and seeing how the current royal family reputation was established by the death of Prince Albert. Without his death, Victoria would have never become the powerful monarch and gave the British Empire the stabilty it needed to grow. Albert taught Victoria how to be queen when they were first married and then proceeded to take over the throne and rule of the growing British Empire. It was only in his death did she find her way back to being the Queen she was ment to be at birth.

    I found the final chapter on what killed Albert very interesting. I'm glad to know he didn't die because of the drains at Windsor but of Crone's. Since this is an inheirted condition, the marriage of first cousins (Victoria and Albert) put the entire then and future royal family at risk.

    If you're interested in solving the riddles that today's British Roayl family presents, then this is the book for you to add to that understanding.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2012

    Interesting

    Good book. The author addresses in detail the various theories as to the cause of Albert's death and this was new information for me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2012

    Finally finished

    Agonizibg,so hoping for more.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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