When King William dies, his teenage niece Victoria becomes queen. In spite of her youth and lack of experience, the eighteen-year-old surprises her detractors by taking the reins with poise and grace, vowing to always put the welfare of her realm first. Yet from the moment she meets her cousin, the handsome, fair-haired Albert, she becomes obsessed by love. Homesick for Germany, Albert wishes the petite, birdlike creature would choose someone else. But when Victoria asks him to share her life, he has no choice but to say yes.
Evelyn Anthony’s novel captures Victoria’s passion for Albert, along with the contradictions in her personality and monstrous ego that almost destroyed her marriage. Although she bore Albert nine children, Victoria lacked maternal instinct. In many ways she mirrored the callous indifference of the era: Child labor and grueling fourteen-hour workdays were commonplace in Victorian England. Spanning the first twenty-one years of her reign, Victoria and Albert is a love story and a revealing portrait of a marriage.
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About the Author
Evelyn Anthony is the pen name of Evelyn Ward-Thomas (1926–2108), a female British author who began writing in 1949. She gained considerable success with her historical novels—two of which were selected for the American Literary Guild—before winning huge acclaim for her espionage thrillers. Her book, The Occupying Power, won the Yorkshire Post Fiction Prize, and her 1971 novel, The Tamarind Seed, was made into a film starring Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif. Anthony’s books have been translated into nineteen languages.
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Victoria and Albert
By Evelyn Anthony
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1958 Evelyn Anthony
All rights reserved.
A footman had opened the shutters on two of the long windows in the Green Drawing Room at Kensington Palace, and a pale predawn light spread through the room. It gave the stiff old-fashioned furniture and the big family portraits on the silk walls a gray, ghostly atmosphere. Two men, both dressed in black, stood near the empty fireplace; the taller, Lord Conyngham, leaned against it, and after a moment took out his watch.
"When the devil is she coming down? It's after six o'clock." His companion shrugged. "They've probably broken the news as gently as possible. After all, she's little more than a child, and it may take some time."
Conyngham smiled cynically. "A more likely reason is that her mother is trying to come with her!"
"No, surely not," the Archbishop of Canterbury exclaimed. "Even the Duchess must observe protocol at this time."
Conyngham yawned and moved away from the fireplace.
"Poor old 'Sailor Bill' ... He died with more dignity than he ever did anything else. But at least he got his wish; he lived to see Victoria come of age. There won't be a regency now, that's one blessing."
"I really believe that's what kept him alive," the Archbishop said. "Christian charity or not, Conyngham, I couldn't have borne it if the Duchess of Kent had been regent. It'll be difficult enough to restrain her interference when she hasn't any legal right to meddle in affairs. What a pity the Princess wasn't older."
"What a pity she wasn't a son!" Conyngham retorted. "What a difference it would have made, my lord, what a difference if there'd been a man of intelligence and dignity to follow on as king. I'm not maligning the dead, but good God, look at the monarchy in the last three reigns. George III, mad as a March hare for years at a time. My father told me he used to go down to Windsor and see him walking up and down his room, chattering by the hour like a parrot. He said you couldn't tell the difference between him and those damned birds he had everywhere.
"Then the Prince Regent — all that mattered to him was the cut of your waistcoat! We've had nothing but idiots and buffoons on the throne for the past hundred years. Good Lord, remember the scandals of the Royal Dukes and their marriages? Every strumpet on the London stage could bob up and claim she was wife to Clarence or Sussex or Kent, and by God, as often as not she was, with a string of children to be provided for. ... Even King William, and he's only dead for a few hours, he was always happier on the quarterdeck than he ever was on the throne."
Conyngham shook his head. "Victoria should have been a boy; the last thing England wants after that procession is a mother-ridden miss of eighteen who's hardly been let out of the nursery."
"The King thought highly of her," the Archbishop said. "But he was apt to take likes or dislikes and stick to them without reason. And anyway, he knew little or nothing about her. The Duchess saw to that. No one knows what she's like; no one's ever seen her except making tours of the country, where she sat on the platform with her hands in her lap and her mother made the speeches. I don't envy Melbourne, dealing with the Duchess."
"Melbourne doesn't deal with anyone," Conyngham said. "You know him. If the pace gets too hot he just sighs and takes the easiest course. Once or twice I've seen him roused, but he's carried his fashionable lethargy to the point where it's become a habit. He'll have the task of educating the new Queen and keeping her mother well in the background, and frankly, I can't see him doing it. Not only that, there are all these damned Germans living here; the Duchess is surrounded by them. Even now the people don't like the situation, and they'll like it less when this clique is round the throne itself."
"Melbourne must be aware of the difficulties," the Archbishop said. "A lot will depend upon how this child acquits herself. After all, the fact that she's a woman and so young will make her popular, for a time at least. She may even be more independent than we think."
"There's not the smallest chance of it," Conyngham said. "No one could expect it. She's never said a word for herself or done a thing that wasn't directed by somebody else. She's a cypher, nothing more."
"Lower your voice," the Archbishop interrupted quickly. "I think she's coming."
They had moved to the middle of the room and were standing together as the double doors at the far end opened. For a moment they could see very little in the dull half-light. Then they made out a very small, very slight figure walking toward them. She came into the circle of light let in by the opened shutters, and immediately Conyngham went to meet her. She was so tiny he was startled; small enough to be a child rather than a woman, still dressed in her nightgown, with a plain woollen shawl wrapped round her and her fair hair hanging straight down her back.
Slowly she held out her right hand, and kneeling, he kissed it. He noticed that the hand was warm and perfectly steady.
"The King is dead. God save the Queen!"
"God save Your Majesty!"
"My Lord Archbishop. My Lord Conyngham. It was good of you to come. I am more grieved at your news than I can say."
The voice was high-pitched and very young, but it was as steady as her hand. Conyngham rose from his knee and bowed.
"Your uncle the King died at two o'clock this morning, madam. The Archbishop and I hurried here as soon as we could. We had some difficulty in rousing the porter at the gate, or we would have been earlier still."
"I am so sorry," the new Queen said. "Was the King's death peaceful?"
Conyngham was watching her closely. The blue eyes were quite dry, and there wasn't a tear in them or a tremble anywhere in her small body. For a moment he felt such composure was almost indecent.
"Perfectly peaceful," Canterbury answered. "I was at his bedside, and his last words were to Queen Adelaide, telling her to bear up."
"And how is the Queen Dowager?" the cool little voice asked. "I do hope she isn't broken with grief. If there is anything I can do to comfort her, I shall be only too pleased. My uncle and she were devoted."
"She is very upset, madam; as you say, they were devoted. But she will have privacy and quiet in her loss; I'm afraid that won't be extended to you."
"I never expected it would. I know I shall be very busy. You must tell me what I have to do, Lord Conyngham, and when I shall make my first appearance as Queen. I am rather ignorant about my duties now, but I've no doubt I shall soon learn."
Lord Conyngham coughed.
"I have no doubt you will, madam. Your Prime Minister Lord Melbourne will be here within the next hour or so, and he'll instruct you in your immediate duties. I believe the first will be a Privy Council — probably held some time later today. You can rely on his advice in all these matters."
"I'm sure I can. My Lord Archbishop. My Lord Conyngham. Thank you for coming. You must both be tired; you have my permission to leave now."
They had gone; the double doors were closed behind them, and Victoria, Queen of England, was alone in a room in Kensington Palace for the first time in her life. Alone. She said the word aloud, and then slowly looked round her at the familiar furniture, the portraits of her ancestors in their dusty gilt frames. How many evenings had she spent in this room, sitting very upright on one of the straight-backed chairs, sewing and listening while her mother talked; while everyone talked except herself.
She had learned a great deal by listening, she thought. People had fallen into the habit of discussing her as if she were not there, and of mentioning matters which would not have been considered suitable for her ears. She was so young, her mother always said, so young and such a child. And so dependent on the Duchess ... Too young and too small to walk down the staircase without someone holding her hand.
But she had walked down alone this morning for the first time in her life, touching the bannisters very lightly, trying not to let her mother, or even Baroness Lehzen her governess, see the expression on her face.
She went to the window now and unlatched it, pushing it wide open. The sun was rising, filling the dull skyline with streaks of pink and gold, and outside the birds were singing in the trees.
It was over at last. There would be no more evenings spent in silence, no more lectures from her mother on how to behave with dignity, on how to be obedient and modest and keep discreetly in the background while the Duchess herself blustered forward. She was Queen of England. And from the time she was twelve and Lehzen had told her she was King William's niece and heiress to the throne, she had been waiting for this day. She was sorry about her uncle; he had been a kind, ridiculous old man, and she quite understood how he had hated her mother's thrusting herself forward, dragging Victoria behind her, constantly reminding him that he was childless and destined only for the grave.
For some time she stood by the window, holding the edges of her plain shawl together to keep out the cool morning air, and thought how impatient Mama and the other ladies must be getting while they waited for the obedient child, the dear child, to run upstairs and tell them what had happened.
"She shouldn't go down alone, surely? Surely I, as her mother, ought to be present to support her ..." The words and the resentful look returned to her now, and she smiled. They would be waiting, and she was going to let them wait. She was the Queen!
Three other women had been Queen of England in their own right. Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary the Papist, whom the history books reviled — Papists were dreadful creatures; Victoria's rather sketchy education had made sure she understood that.
And then Elizabeth. Elizabeth was praised and glorified, but privately Victoria considered her a horror, more like a pirate in skirts than a woman. Someone had said that — certainly not Lehzen, who was rather ignorant, or Mr. Davys the Dean of Chester — but however she had heard it, the phrase stuck.
Not like Mary; not like Elizabeth; and certainly not like Queen Anne, a much nearer ancestor. Anne was stupid and favorite-ridden. People had made fun of her as they did of her poor mad grandfather George III and her uncles the Prince Regent and King William. They were her blood, and their pictures hung on the walls behind her, but they had been fools and unworthy, and she had no intention of being like them.
Conyngham did not expect much of her; she knew that when he kissed her hand. He thought she was only a girl and weak, and was prepared to disregard her. But he would change his mind. She understood what the Crown meant better than anyone supposed, even if it had last been worn by a seafaring buffoon of whom no one stood in awe.
Victoria pushed shut the window and latched it methodically; she hated leaving anything half-done.
Then she moved to the middle of the long room, and suddenly spun round in a gay little dance step, which ended abruptly as she reached the door.
They were all gathered outside: the Duchess of Kent; Baroness Lehzen, bundled in her dressing gown like an anxious crow, with her beaked nose and darting black eyes; Lady Flora Hastings, the Duchess' favorite lady; and the Comptroller, Sir John Conroy. Lord Conyngham and the Archbishop had left some time ago, but the rest of them had come down to see what had happened to Victoria.
When the door opened and she stood in front of them, the Duchess made a movement. Her rather florid face was redder than usual, and the quick temper which made her so many enemies was beginning to rise at the sight of her daughter, perfectly calm and well, who had dawdled downstairs when she had been told distinctly to come straight up.
She opened her mouth to demand an explanation, but the words died away as she met the full force of her daughter's gaze for the first time in her life. She saw it sweep past her; the rather protuberant blue eyes which were Victoria's only claim to prettiness moved down the crowd of ladies and gentlemen, and then suddenly someone curtsied.
The Duchess never afterward remembered why it was, she was so confused; but the whole rank began sinking to the floor, one after another, while the new Queen stood quietly waiting in the doorway. At last mother and daughter faced each other once more. That moment seemed like a hundred years to the Duchess of Kent. Then, flushing scarlet, she too made a curtsy.
There was absolute silence while the Queen walked past them with a little nod of recognition and went calmly upstairs to dress for the day's events.
"Lord Melbourne, Your Majesty!"
They were sitting in the Duchess' sitting room, a strained little group composed of the Duchess, stony-faced and red-eyed after an afternoon spent in tears; Baroness Lehzen, dressed in her best black silk with her chair edged as close to her former pupil as she dared; and in the stately old armchair usually reserved for her mother, Victoria, dressed in deep mourning.
It was the third meeting that day with her Prime Minister. He had come first at nine o'clock in the morning, in the full uniform of a Privy Councillor, to kiss hands and present the speech the Queen was to read at her first Council.
He was a very tall, distinguished-looking man, his hair slightly graying, and he appeared much younger than his fifty-eight years. Victoria looked up at him and smiled.
"Madam. Your Royal Highness." He bowed very low to her first, and she caught a faint conspiratorial smile, before he turned to her mother.
"May I say, ma'am, that Her Majesty created a furore at the Privy Council this morning. I've never heard such a chorus of praise. The Duke of Wellington himself said that the Queen not only entered the room, she filled it! This is a very happy day for England, and it must be a proud one for you."
"I have always tried to do my duty," the Duchess choked — she was nearly in tears again —"and believe me, I had not hope of personal reward. If I've brought my dear daughter up in a manner that's fitted her for her great station, then I'm fully recompensed."
"A wonderful vocation, ma'am, and nobly fulfilled," Melbourne answered. He glanced quickly at the small figure in the armchair.
"Your Majesty was kind enough to suggest that I might call on you again this evening," he prompted gently. Victoria smiled at him.
"I did indeed. You were invaluable, my lord. I don't know what I should have done without you." She turned toward her mother. Melbourne thought with amusement that he had seldom seen such a cool and innocent look.
"It's been a memorable day, Mama, but a tiring one for you, I'm afraid. I shall come in and say good night when Lord Melbourne leaves."
There was nothing the Duchess could do but get up, gathering her skirts with an angry rustling — she was a woman who always rustled, Melbourne thought — and after the briefest good night to her daughter, she swept out of the room. The governess Lehzen still sat on, looking after the Duchess with a distinctly triumphant expression.
"Dear Lehzen — good night."
She too found herself dismissed, though Melbourne saw Victoria squeeze her hand quite affectionately when she went, and then he was alone with the Queen. She looked very girlish and sweet in her black dress; one noticed the bright blue eyes and the pink mouth which couldn't quite close over her small teeth, and forgot about the arrogant jaw and the decisive, beaked nose. She blushed and suddenly held out her hand to him. A smile irradiated her whole face now and made her almost pretty.
"Dear Lord Melbourne! How kind you've been to me today! Come and sit down beside me; there's so much I want to talk about I don't know where to begin."
"Begin with the Privy Council," he suggested. "As I said to your mother, you were wonderful, madam. Quite wonderful."
"And did the Duke of Wellington really say that? That I filled the room ... what did he mean?"
"He meant that you brought the whole dignity of the monarchy into the room with you. It was a very good phrase — I wish I'd thought of it myself. And the way you delivered your speech moved some quite hardened gentlemen to tears!"
"But it was your speech," she pointed out. "You wrote it for me. And I know it went well, so I'm doubly grateful." She smiled. "I'll admit I was quite nervous, but I'm glad I came in and went out alone. I don't want anyone to think that I can't manage by myself."
Excerpted from Victoria and Albert by Evelyn Anthony. Copyright © 1958 Evelyn Anthony. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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