When we meet Queen Victoria in series two, she has safely popped out her first kid and is protesting about being confined to the nursery – but it won’t be very long until the monarch is pregnant again.
Daisy Goodwin’s ITV drama is true to life. Despite her huge family, it seems the Queen was not all that keen on pregnancy or babies, and she did not take easily to motherhood. Babies were the unwelcome result of her active sex life with Albert, the “shadow side” of marriage – and a major distraction from the more important business of being queen.
Victoria and Albert’s firstborn Princess Victoria (Vicky) was followed less than a year later by Prince Albert Edward (Bertie), and then by little Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice.
That makes a grand total of nine, born between 1840 and 1857.
Unusually for the Victorian period, all of them survived into adulthood, although their youngest son Leopold suffered from haemophilia and died at the age of 30.
Did Queen Victoria resent her babies?
Modern writers have speculated that the queen may have suffered from postnatal depression after many of her pregnancies. She certainly struggled to bond with her children as newborns, and kept her distance from the babies in their early years.
Little Vicky was born nine months after the royal wedding. Queen Victoria saw her baby only twice a day, and certainly did not breastfeed. Within another year she had given birth to her male heir, Bertie, who would go on to become King Edward VII. After that she slowed down a little, but she still managed to have nine within 17 years.
Despite her many pregnancies, Victoria seems not to have liked babies very much. “Abstractedly, I have no tender for them till they have become a little human” she once wrote. “An ugly baby is a very nasty object – and the prettiest is frightful when undressed.” Later she wrote to her eldest daughter that she was “no admirer of babies generally” and had been repulsed by her sons Bertie and Leopold (“frightful”).
Aside from her feelings on babies, and the dangerous nature of giving birth in 19th century Britain, Victoria had other reasons to resent becoming pregnant.
Each pregnancy took her away from her duties as queen. While Albert was happy to step in and take over, Victoria did not like to be sidelined and this led to a power struggle within the marriage. As a female monarch she did not want pregnancy and motherhood to dominate her reign.
What were Victoria and Albert like as mother and father?
While Albert went for a hands-on approach as a father and took responsibility for the kids’ upbringing, Victoria preferred to keep her distance and instead focus on her duties as a monarch – especially in the early years.
Albert’s enthusiasm (and a lack of family planning) seems to have been the driving force behind creating this massive brood. But both Victoria and Albert wanted to create a model happy family to set a moral example across Europe, and they wanted their children to be intelligent and educated.
Albert devised a plan to create the perfect princes and princesses. In practice, this translated into a very strict, intense education with lots of harsh punishment and pressure. Life was all about Latin, Shakespeare, French, piano, German, maths, geography, science, obedience and discipline.
Eldest son Bertie did not take to this regime at all, and instead of the intelligent, erudite little replica of Prince Albert that everyone had hoped for, he was labelled a dunce and diagnosed with a feeble brain by a quack doctor who measured the size of his head. His parents despaired. He was obstinate, stubborn and threw tantrums; as a young man he was reported to have been found with the actress Nellie Clifton in his bed. And when Albert died at the age of 42 after visiting Bertie to give him a good telling off, Victoria blamed her eldest son. She never forgave him.
While she was distant from her offspring when they were babies, she seems to have become more involved in their lives as they became adults. With Albert’s untimely death, she was now a single mother to nine children – the oldest an adult, the youngest just four years old.
For the rest of her time on the throne, Victoria was a central presence in the lives of her children and grandchildren, as they married into royal families across Europe.
Did Victoria hate her children?
A picture emerges of a mother who was often disappointed in her children, and who was at times controlling and frustrated. She monitored the menstrual cycle of her son’s wife, she tried to keep sickly son Leopold wrapped in cotton wool, she was furious when her youngest daughter decided to get married instead of devoting her life to looking after mum.
But despite all this, it is clear that she did love her children very much.
When Vicky married, mother and daughter wrote each other great piles of letters (8,000 survive), sharing their advice and confessions and observations. And while she had a tempestuous relationship with Bertie, she maintained good relations with most of her children (and grandchildren) for much of her life. In lesser-known correspondence she wrote of her love for her children, and she shared her fear of losing them to an early death.