VictoriaBy: Daisy Goodwin
Kensington Palace, September 1835
A shaft of dawn light fell on the crack in the corner of the ceiling. Yesterday it had looked like a pair of spectacles, but overnight a spider had embroidered the fissure, filling in the gaps, so that now it looked, she thought, like a crown. Not the crown that her uncle wore, which had looked heavy and uncomfortable, but the sort that a queen might wear—lacy, delicate, but still strong. After all, her head, as Mama and Sir John never ceased to point out, was extremely small; when the time came, and there could be no doubt now that it would, she would need a crown that fitted.
There was a snore from the big bed. “Nein, nein,” cried her mother, wrestling with her sleep demons. When she became Queen, she thought, she would insist on having a room of her own. Mama would cry, of course, and say that she was only trying to protect her precious Drina, but she would be firm. She imagined saying, “As the Queen, I have the Household Cavalry to protect me, Mama. I imagine I will be quite safe in my own room.”
She would one day be Queen; she knew that now. Her Uncle King was old and not in good health, and it was clearly too late for his wife, Queen Adelaide, to produce an heir to the throne. But Victoria—as she called herself, although her mother and everyone else called her Alexandrina, or even worse, Drina, a nickname she found demeaning rather than endearing—did not know when that time would come. If the King were to die before she attained her majority in two years’ time, it was highly likely that her mother, the Duchess of Kent, would be appointed regent, and Sir John Conroy, her special friend, would be at her side. Victoria looked at the ceiling; Conroy was like the spider—he had spun his web over the palace, and her mother was caught fast, but when the time came, thought Victoria, she would never allow herself to be trapped.
Victoria shivered, even though it was a warm morning. Every week in church she prayed for the health of her Uncle King, and in her head she always added a little note to the Almighty, that if he did decide to take His Majesty William IV to his bosom, please could he wait until after her eighteenth birthday?
Victoria did not have a clear idea of what being Queen would mean. She had history lessons from her governess, Lehzen, and tutorials on the constitution from the Dean of Westminster, but no one could tell her what a queen actually did all day. Her Uncle King seemed to spend most of his time taking snuff and complaining about what he called the “Damned Whigs.” Victoria had only seen him wearing his crown once, and that was because she had asked him to put it on for her. He told her he wore it when he opened Parliament, and asked if she would like to come with him. Victoria had answered that she would like to very much, but then her mother had said that she was too young. Victoria had heard Mama talking about it afterwards with Sir John; she had been looking at an album of watercolours behind the sofa and they had not seen her.
“As if I would allow Drina to be seen in public with that awful old man,” her mother had said crossly.
“The sooner he drinks himself to death, the better,” Sir John had replied. “This country needs a monarch, not a buffoon.”
The Duchess had sighed. “Poor little Drina. She is so young for such responsibility.”
Sir John had put his hand on her mother’s arm and said, “But she will not be ruling alone. You and I will make sure that she does not do anything foolish. She will be in safe hands.”
Her mother had simpered, as she always did when Sir John touched her. “My poor little fatherless girl, how lucky she is to have you, a man who will support her in everything.”
Victoria heard a step in the hall. Normally she had to stay in bed until her mother woke up, but today they were going to Ramsgate for the sea air, and they were to leave at nine o’clock. She was so looking forward to going away. At least in Ramsgate she would be able to look out of the window and see real people. Here in Kensington she never saw anyone. Most girls of her age would be going into society by now, but her mother and Sir John said that it was too dangerous for her to be with people of her own age. “Your reputation is precious,” Sir John always said. “Once lost, it is gone forever. A young girl like you is bound to make mistakes. It is better that you don’t have the opportunity.” Victoria had said nothing; she had learnt a long time ago that to protest was useless—Conroy’s voice was always louder than hers, and her mother always supported him. All she could do was wait.
▶ Also By Daisy Goodwin
- · Victoria