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  • Written by Jean Plaidy
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  • Written by Jean Plaidy
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The Story of Queen Victoria

Written by Jean PlaidyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jean Plaidy


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: February 19, 2009
Pages: 576 | ISBN: 978-0-307-49852-6
Published by : Broadway Books Crown/Archetype
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In this unforgettable novel of Queen Victoria, Jean Plaidy re-creates a remarkable life filled with romance, triumph, and tragedy.

At birth, Princess Victoria was fourth in line for the throne of England, the often-overlooked daughter of a prince who died shortly after her birth. She and her mother lived in genteel poverty for most of her childhood, exiled from court because of her mother’s dislike of her uncles, George IV and William IV. A strong, willful child, Victoria was determined not to be stifled by her powerful uncles or her unpopular, controlling mother. Then one morning, at the age of eighteen, Princess Victoria awoke to the news of her uncle William’s death. The almost-forgotten princess was now Queen of England. Even better, she was finally free of her mother’s iron hand and her uncles’ manipulations. Her first act as queen was to demand that she be given a room—and a bed—of her own.

Victoria’s marriage to her German cousin, Prince Albert, was a blissfully happy one that produced nine children. Albert was her constant companion and one of her most trusted advisors. Victoria’s grief after Prince Albert’s untimely death was so shattering that for the rest of her life—nearly forty years—she dressed only in black. She survived several assassination attempts, and during her reign England’s empire expanded around the globe until it touched every continent in the world.

Derided as a mere “girl queen” at her coronation, by the end of her sixty-four-year reign, Victoria embodied the glory of the British Empire. In this novel, written as a “memoir” by Victoria herself, she emerges as truthful, sentimental, and essentially human—both a lovable woman and a great queen.


The Wicked Uncles

If my cousin Charlotte had not died so tragically—and her baby with her—I should never have been born and there would never have been a Queen Victoria. I suppose there is a big element of chance in everybody's life, but I always thought this was especially so in mine. But for that sad event, over which the whole nation mourned, my father would have gone on living in respectable sin—if sin can ever be respectable—with Madame St. Laurent, who had been his companion for twenty-five years; my mother would have stayed in Leiningen, though she might have married someone else, for although she was a widow with two children, she was only thirty-one years old and therefore of an age to bear more children. And I should never have been born.

It is hard to imagine a world without oneself, as I remarked to my governess, Baroness Lehzen, when she told me all this. She was a gossip and she liked to talk about the scandals that seemed perpetually to circulate about my family. She excused herself by pointing out that it was history, and because of what lay before me—although it was not certain at that time that I should come to the throne—it was something I should know.

It was unfortunate that my family, on my father's side, had a flair for creating scandal—although this made those conversations with Lehzen more interesting than if they had been models for virtue. Almost all the uncles behaved without the decorum expected of a royal family; there were even rumors about the aunts. Poor Grandpapa, who had been a faithful husband and kept strictly within the moral code—so different from his sons—had to be put under restraint because he was mad; and Grandmama Queen Charlotte, even though she had been equally virtuous, had never found favor with the people. So many queens in our history had failed to win approval because they could not produce an heir; Queen Charlotte had overdone her duty in that respect and fifteen children had been born to her. "Encumbrances," "A Drain on the Exchequer," it was said. How difficult it was to please the people!

I was always interested in hearing of my cousin Princess Charlotte, which was natural since I owed my life to her death. Her father, who was the Prince Regent when I was born and became King George IV when I was about seven months old, had created more scandal than any of his brothers, and one of the greatest scandals in that family of scandals was the relationship between Charlotte's parents.

Charlotte had married my mother's brother, Prince Leopold, and Louisa Lewis, who had lived at Claremont with Charlotte and Leopold, told me they had been true lovers. Charlotte had been a hoyden. "There was no other word for it," said Louisa, her lips twitching, implying that the frailties of Charlotte made her all the more lovable. That puzzled me considerably and I wondered why some people's faults made them endearing, when virtues did not always arouse the same kindly feelings.

Charlotte, however, this flouter of conventions, this wild untamed girl, had won the hearts of all about her, and chiefly that of Prince Leopold, her young husband, whose character and temperament were so different from her own.

"He was heartbroken when she died," Louisa told me. "Everyone was heartbroken."

Discussing this later with Lehzen, I remarked that perhaps people loved her because she was dead, for I had noticed that when people died they did seem to become more lovable than when they were alive.

However, the story was that Charlotte was the hope of the nation for she was the Regent's only child, and heiress to the throne, for although his brothers had many children, they were illegitimate. Therefore when the much-loved Charlotte died, and her baby with her, there was great consternation throughout the family, for without an heir the House of Hanover would come to an end. Much later I talked of this with Lehzen and she confirmed what Louisa had told me of Charlotte's popularity.

"Her death was unexpected," she said. "What was to be done? The Regent was married, though unhappily, and he refused to live with his wife, so there was no hope there. And what of the others? There was Frederick, Duke of York, the second son." She shook her head. "He was the Regent's favorite brother and a gentleman much respected, although there had been a scandal . . ."

"Of course there was a scandal," I said. "There is always a scandal."

"Well, we will pass over that . . ."

"Oh no, Lehzen, we will not pass over that."

When this conversation took place I was in my early teens and already developing a certain imperiousness—which was so deplored by my mother. But although I was bubbling over with affection for those I loved, and could be equally vehement in my dislikes, I was at this moment aware of my destiny, and I was determined to have obedience from those about me . . . even my dear old Lehzen . . . just as I had made up my mind that I would not be frustrated by my mother or the odious John Conroy. So I insisted that she tell me of the scandal attached to Uncle Frederick.

"It was a woman of course. It was often women with your uncles—almost always in fact. He was Commander in Chief of the Army and she was an adventuress, Mary Anne Clarke by name, born in Ball and Pin Alley, a little byway near Chancery Lane, so they say. She married first a compositor and his master fell in love with her and sent her to be educated. I do not know what happened to the first husband, but there was a second named Clarke. Well, a woman like that will have lovers by the score, and somehow she came to the notice of your Uncle Frederick." Lehzen pursed her lips. "It's her sort who make the money fly when they get a chance. You'd think they would respect it. But oh no, my lady Mary Anne was eating off the best plate. The Duke promised her a thousand pounds a year so that she could live in a style she thought suited to her talents, but money was always a problem in the family and when Mary Anne did not receive her money she looked around for means of adding to her income. She had the idea that she would accept bribes for the service of getting commissions for those who paid her."

"And did my uncle assist her in this?"

"That's how it seemed. Charges were brought against him and there was a great scandal. She threatened to publish his letters . . ."

I nodded and remained silent. I knew from experience that if I spoke too often and betrayed too much interest, Lehzen would remember she was talking too freely and that would be an end—temporarily—to these interesting revelations.

"Then of course . . . his marriage. He was separated from the Princess Frederica almost as soon as he was married to her, and, as you know, the Duchess went to live at Oaklands Park with her dogs and other animals where she stayed till she died. So although Frederick was the next in line, he was old and could not be expected to produce an heir . . ."

I loved this saga of the uncles. But because they were a scandal and a disgrace to the family, as my mother said, I found it hard to get information about them and had to prize what I did learn from Lehzen over a long period.

Next to Uncle Frederick came Uncle William. He was the Duke of Clarence, who was in time to become King William IV. He had always been a rather ridiculous figure. He was different from all the other uncles, for whatever else they were, they were highly cultivated, courtly, with exquisite manners. Not so Uncle William. He had been brought up differently and sent to sea at an early age; he prided himself on being a bluff sailor. He was garrulous and fond of making public speeches that were often diatribes against this and that, and sometimes quite incoherent. In his youth he must have been quite a romantic figure because he entered into a relationship with Dorothy Jordan, an actress, and by her had ten children. He had set up house in Bushey where he and Dorothy Jordan lived harmoniously albeit without benefit of clergy, just as my father had with Madame St. Laurent. The uncles seemed to have a flair for that sort of relationship. But with the death of Charlotte he had to find a wife quickly, just as my father had. In the end he had treated Dorothy Jordan badly. She went to France and died there unhappily. Uncle William had made a fool of himself on several occasions by asking the hand in marriage of certain ladies—none of them royal—and being publicly refused, except by one, a certain Miss Wykeham, who did accept him; but when Charlotte died and the need for an heir was imperative, he had to abandon her and be married to Adelaide, the daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen. I grew to love her dearly.

Well, that was Uncle Clarence who was to conflict so bitterly with my mother. Next to Clarence came my father. I often wished that I did not have to rely on other people's pictures of him. It is sad never to have seen one's own father. I loved to hear stories of him, although, of course, they were not all flattering.

I knew he wished to marry Madame St. Laurent, and I came to believe that the Royal Marriage Act was responsible for a great deal of the immorality in my family, for this act forbade sons and daughters of the King who were under the age of twenty-five to marry without royal consent; and when they were past that age, they had to have the consent of Parliament. It was a cruel act in a way, but because of the nature of the Princes, I suppose it was necessary.

So my father knew he would never be allowed to marry Madame St. Laurent. I heard that she was not only beautiful but kind and wise. She had escaped from the revolution in France and must have been a very romantic figure.

The Regent had honored her. He had always been lenient with his brothers' misdemeanors—and quite rightly so, because he had committed many himself. Poor Madame St. Laurent! I was sorry for her, but I suppose it is what women must expect if they enter into irregular relationships.

My father must marry. An heir was of the greatest importance if the family was to survive. Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and Victoria of Leiningen, widow of the ruler of that principality, were available. Which was for which did not seem to matter very much. I have often thought how different my life would have been if Adelaide had been my mother. But then I suppose I should have been different, so that is a futile conjecture.

It was decided that my father, being more cultivated and princely in his manners than William, should have Victoria because she would have to be wooed, whereas Adelaide, no longer in the first flush of youth, and there having been a dearth of suitors for her hand, would be obliged to take what was given her. Victoria, on the other hand, as a widow once married for reasons of state, would have the right to choose her next husband.

So it was to be Victoria for Kent and Adelaide for Clarence.

And after Kent, Cumberland. From my earliest days I had thought of him as wicked Uncle Ernest. His appearance was enough to strike terror into the bravest child. This was largely because he had lost his left eye, and I was not sure what was more terrifying—the glimpse of that empty socket or the black mask he sometimes wore over it. But perhaps it was not so much Uncle Ernest's appearance as his reputation that struck those chords of alarm in my youthful heart.

But his reputation fitted his appearance and this was largely due to the fact that about nine years before my birth he had been involved in a very unsavory case when his valet, a man called Sellis, was found in his bed with his throat cut. The Duke himself was wounded in the head, and this could have been fatal if the weapon that had struck him had not come into contact with his sword. There was no explanation of what happened but Sellis did have a beautiful wife and Ernest's reputation with regard to women was rather shady. The general belief was that Uncle Ernest had quarreled with his valet over the latter's wife and had wounded himself in the affray. It was a most unpleasant case and never forgotten.

About three years before Charlotte's death he had married a woman whose reputation was as sinister as his own. This was his cousin Frederica, daughter of the Duke of Mecklenburg—so her aunt was Queen Charlotte of England—who had been married twice, once to Frederick of Prussia and once to Frederick of Solms-Braunfels, both of whom had died mysteriously.

So there was Uncle Ernest with Aunt Frederica, and suspicion of murder had been attached to them both; and it was not entirely due to my mother's hatred of them that I felt this repugnance.

Uncle Sussex was the sixth son and ninth child of King George and Queen Charlotte. He lived in Kensington Palace so I saw him now and then during my childhood. He was what is known as an eccentric; and his contribution to the family scandal was, as had come to be expected, through marriage. He was not promiscuous. As a matter of fact, that was not really a great sin of the uncles. Even George IV was faithful—more or less—to his women while they kept their positions. Uncle Sussex fell in love with Lady Augusta Murray when he was on the Continent and they were married there; and when they came to England they went through the ceremony once more. Alas, although it was a love match it was not approved of by the King and Parliament, so it was not recognized as a marriage. The happy pair did not mind that at first. But such considerations blight a marriage, I suppose. Sussex had always been a rebel. I remembered hearing that when he was very young he had been locked in his bedroom for wearing Admiral Keppel's colors at the time of an election—and the King was against Admiral Keppel. It may have been that there was such a strict rule in the household that the children were certain to rebel. Uncle Sussex went on rebelling all his life.
Jean Plaidy

About Jean Plaidy

Jean Plaidy - Victoria Victorious
JEAN PLAIDY is the pen name of the prolific English author Eleanor Hibbert, also known as Victoria Holt. More than 14 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Visit www.CrownHistorical.com to learn about the other Jean Plaidy titles available from Three Rivers Press.


“Plaidy excels at blending history with romance and drama.” —New York Times
About the Book|Discussion Questions

About the Guide

Princess Victoria knows from a young age that she will almost certainly become Queen of England. Her mother, also acutely aware of Victoria’s destiny, keeps the princess under a watchful eye against the dangers of scheming uncles–always, she constantly reminds her daughter, working for the good of Victoria. But during this protective (but stifling) custody it is the company of Victoria’s sister, Feodore, her governess, Baroness Lezhen, and visits to her revered Uncle Leopold that makes life bearable as she waits impatiently for her eighteenth birthday–when she will be free. In fact, it is not long after this milestone that Victoria is crowned queen, beginning the longest reign that England’s throne has ever known with the heartfelt promise, “I will be good.” The affectionate and energetic Victoria is instantly beloved by the English people and delighted with her prime minister, and adapts to her new role during the early years of her reign. But the greatest change is yet to come. When Uncle Leopold’s favorite nephew, Albert, becomes Victoria’s husband, one of history’s great romances begins. The mirthful Victoria and serious, studious Albert become a devoted pair, and Victoria comes to be guided by Albert’s political advice and his high moral standards. As the government changes leadership, the empire expands, and Victoria and Albert’s family grows, we see Victoria evolve from a headstrong young princess into one of the world’s great monarchs and, eventually, a reclusive widow, as well. She struggles throughout to subdue her quick temper, protect her family, and keep her trusted advisors close at hand, but it is always the great warmth of their “little queen” that endears her to her countrymen, and her loyalty and honesty that she relies on to guide her reign.

Discussion Guides

1. Victoria acknowledges that she is “a woman who must be dominated by men.” Indeed, the most influential characters in her story are men, and her descriptions of them often tend toward an exaggeration of their qualities that Victoria begins to question somewhat at the end of her life. Why do you think she depended so heavily on the men in her life? What does it say about her opinion of herself, and of women in general? What in her past or situation would lead her to this dependency?

2. Why did Victoria consider Sir John Conroy so abhorrent? Do you think she reacted too strongly against him?

3. Which of Victoria’s advisors do you trust the most, and why? Is this the same one you would find most appealing as a friend?

4. ) Bertie, the Prince of Wales, becomes popular with the people thanks to his easy manner and very human lifestyle. Considering the way the press has responded to Victoria and Albert, do you think the people would continue to value these qualities in a king?

5. Victoria found herself a sovereign as a very young woman, as did her grandson Wilhelm. Bertie, on the other hand, will be a middle-aged man by the time he assumes the throne. King William, whom Victoria succeeded, was older still when he became king. Do you think their respective ages are significant? What evidence from the book would support or refute the idea that an older person makes a better ruler?

6. Victoria often remarks on the ever-changing mood and allegiances of “the mob.” Do you think she truly understands what motivates them? Does she make the most of her opportunities to bolster her own popularity? How much does this popularity matter to her–is it more often a matter of personal gratification or political security?

7. Why do you think Uncle Leopold chose Albert for Victoria? Were his aims primarily political, or were his designs the result of real affection for Victoria and Albert? Do you think he accurately anticipated what their marriage–and Victoria’s reign–would be like?

8. Do you agree with Albert that Lezhen was too lenient with Victoria as a child? Given what we learn about her personality during the course of the book, do you think Victoria would have been a different kind of ruler if she had had more discipline as a child?

9. Victoria reacts to people strongly and shows her feelings clearly–but is she a good judge of character? Why or why not? Is Albert a good judge of character?

10. What do you think of Lord Melbourne? Does his wait-and-see attitude speak to steady character or lack of courage? What do you consider his best and worst qualities as an advisor?

11. Queen Elizabeth has a rather lowly place in the doll collection Victoria keeps as a girl. What do the feelings Victoria expresses about the doll say about her understanding of Elizabeth as a woman and as a queen? What in Victoria’s situation do you think colors her perception of Elizabeth?

12. Is Victoria’s disassociation with her mother understandable? What do you make of their eventual reunion? Is Victoria sincerely happy to have her mother back in her life as her own family grows, or is she merely trying to make Albert happy by reaching out to her?

13. Is it hypocritical of Victoria to adopt such high moral standards for her court when her own family has something of a checkered past? How do she and Albert justify shunning others with disreputable relations when they themselves have families who have been touched by scandal? Is this excusable?

14. Compare Victoria to her daughters Vicky and Alice. What, if anything, do they have in common? Why does Victoria prefer Alice? How does Victoria’s opinion of Vicky change when Vicky marries and moves away? How do you think Albert’s preferences come into play in these relationships?

15. As newlyweds, Victoria and Albert seem worlds apart in many ways, but during the course of their marriage Victoria grows to revere Albert, and convinces herself that his choices must be right. How much do you think she really buys into his way of thinking? Why do you think, in many cases, she seems to trust his judgment more than her own?

16. What qualities make Victoria “victorious”? In Plaidy’s account of her, is she a strong ruler? How would you characterize her as a sovereign? Is she politically astute? How interested or disinterested is she in politics and the welfare of the English people?

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