Queen Victoria Was Faking Her Domestic Bliss

“All marriage is such a lottery—the happiness is always an exchange—though it may be a very happy one—still the poor woman is bodily and morally the husband’s slave. That always sticks in my throat. When I think of a merry, happy, and free young girl—and look at the ailing aching state a young wife is generally doomed to—which you can’t deny is the penalty of marriage.” —Queen Victoria

In A Nutshell

We’ve been led to believe that Queen Victoria was madly in love with her husband, Prince Albert, and that she went into mourning for the rest of her life after he died. But she and Albert were engaged in a constant power struggle while he was alive. While it’s true that Victoria wore black for the rest of her life after he died, she spent her time scheming to control her rebellious children instead of mourning her lost husband.

The Whole Bushel

The more you learn about the Victorian era, the more you realize how hypocritical that society was. We’ve been led to believe that Queen Victoria was madly in love with her husband, Prince Albert, and that she went into mourning for the rest of her life after he died. Well, she did wear black, but the rest is apparently a bit of fiction according to historian Jane Ridley.

The queen and her prince had nine children. To see paintings and photos of them, you’d think Victoria and Albert were the picture of wedded bliss, surrounded by adoring, obedient children. But most of the images of the Victorian era are misleading. We think of those people as conservative, proper, even prim. The women were especially delicate, often fainting at the slightest shock. Some say it was the corsets they wore. Others think they ingested too much arsenic. But they may have had an ulterior motive.

In Victorian times, upper-class women usually had a “fainting room.” While a woman recovered from her bout of hysteria, a midwife or doctor might be asked to massage the poor woman’s private parts until she experienced some “relief.” Well-to-do women often paid to be relieved of their hysteria on a regular basis, which could physically tax their physicians. The vibrator was invented to give the doctors’ cramped hands a rest.

We might be inclined to think these beleaguered women were getting a naive thrill from their massages, if it weren’t for the fact that they also got tattoos and pierced their nipples. Some women even linked their nipple rings with a chain (a delicate one, of course).

Article Continued Below

That brings us back to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Like their subjects, they had more drama going on than their prim, respectable pictures would suggest. According to historian Ridley, Victoria and Albert were in a constant power struggle. The queen spent so much time pregnant that her prince assumed many of her duties. She threw a lot of tantrums, which scared Albert because he worried that she might become mad like King George III.

Victoria didn’t enjoy pregnancy or motherhood. She was particularly disappointed with her oldest son, Bertie, who would become Edward VII. “Handsome I cannot think him, with that painfully small and narrow head, those immense features and total want of chin,” she complained.

When Bertie trained with the army in Ireland, he suffered a “fall” with a prostitute. Determined to set the boy straight, Albert went to see him at Cambridge. The prince became ill and died shortly after he returned home. Even though Albert may have been sick before the trip, Victoria never forgave Bertie for Albert’s death.

Publicly, she played the grieving widow to the hilt. However, she was a controlling tyrant with her children behind the scenes. She had people spying on them and reporting their activities to her. When Bertie and Danish princess Alexandra got married, Victoria even received reports about Alexandra’s menstrual cycle. No balls were held during the young woman’s periods.

Victoria became enraged when she learned that her married daughters were breastfeeding their babies. She was just as controlling with her other children. The only one she liked was her third son, Prince Arthur. He obeyed her, even having the military career she wanted for him.

Bertie and Victoria had the most difficult relationship, probably because they were so much alike: greedy, temperamental, and highly sexual. Eventually, Bertie became king. Always charming, he was credited with making the reforms that allowed the monarchy to survive World War I.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: George Hayter
BBC News: Queen Victoria: The real story of her ‘domestic bliss’
Edwardian Promenade: Punk Rock Edwardians
Today I Found Out: Why Women Fainted So Much In The 19th Century

Looking for our newsletter? Subscribe here!