Since the very first episode of ITV’s Victoria, Baroness Lehzen has been a constant presence – just as she was in the real Queen’s life. She is played by the German actress Daniela Holtz as a stern but loving woman who only wants the best for Victoria and won’t let anything stand in her way.
Who was the real Baroness Lehzen?
Baroness Louise Lehzen was at Queen Victoria’s side from the moment she was born and was her most faithful and constant companion, serving as her governess and later as her advisor.
The seventh daughter of a Lutheran pastor in the German Kingdom of Hanover, Lehzen had to work for her living from a young age. She was employed as a governess and moved with the Duke and Duchess of Kent to England so their daughter Victoria could be born in the country she would one day rule.
The Duke of Kent died when Victoria was only young and the princess grew up in the confines of Kensington Palace, restricted by her protective mother and the dominating comptroller Sir John Conroy: she was never allowed to be alone, and she always had to have someone holding her hand when she walked down the stairs. Lehzen, who was put in charge of this unhappy kid when she was five, became her closest friend and ally.
Victoria became second-in-line to the throne when she was just a young child, so King George IV promoted Lehzen to the title of Baroness – after all, a potential future Queen could not consort with commoners.
As Victoria’s governess, Lehzen was stern but also encouraged her to become informed and independent, rejecting her mother and Conroy’s influence.
Surprised by how little they could control her, the Duchess and Conroy resented Lehzen’s interference but were powerless because the Baroness had the full support of Victoria’s uncles – including the King and her Uncle Leopold, who were suspicious of Conroy’s attempts to manipulate the future Queen.
When Victoria became Queen in 1837 she no longer needed a governess. Instead Lehzen served as a sort of unofficial private secretary and lived in apartments adjacent to Victoria in Buckingham Palace – while the Queen’s own mother was put in a distant suite of rooms. She had an official role in the household and carried the keys as a sign of her position.
Lehzen never seems to have been ambitious for power or money, instead choosing to devote her life to Victoria.
Did Prince Albert really force Victoria to fire Baroness Lehzen?
The Queen married Prince Albert in 1840, three years into her reign – which turned everything upside down.
Albert and Lehzen detested each other. Lehzen had opposed the marriage (she was worried about keeping Victoria free of male influence and thought she should remain a virgin queen like Elizabeth I), and for his part, Albert found her repulsive and unworthy of friendship with the Queen.
Everything came to a head in 1841, when the royal couple’s eldest daughter Victoria (the Princess Royal) suffered an illness. Lehzen had been in charge of the nursery staff and had appointed Sir James Clark as doctor, despite Albert’s objections. Dr Clark said the Princess Royal had only a minor ailment and failed to give her the correct treatment; she became seriously ill.
The illness led to a major row between Albert and Victoria, with the Prince Consort saying the Baroness and the Queen would be to blame if little Vicky died. She pulled through – but this was the final nail in the coffin for Lehzen.
Baroness Lehzen was quietly dismissed. She was sent back to Germany and her close friendship with the Queen was severed, although the two continued to write letters to each other.
What happened to Baroness Lehzen after she left the palace?
Lehzen retired to Hanover on a generous pension and reportedly covered the walls of her house with portraits of the Queen – she never lost her affection for her old student and friend. The two met twice more when the Queen came to see her in private.
She lived several decades longer, dying in 1870 at the age of 85.