Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Young Victoria by Deirdre Murphy

I have read a great many books about Queen Victoria and I have my favorites.  And now I can add one more book to the "favorites" list.

The Young Victoria (Yale University Press) offers a refreshing new view of Queen Victoria before she succeeded to the throne.

The author is Deirdre Murphy, the late Senior Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and the Curator of the fabulous Victoria Revealed exhibit at Kensington Palace, which closed earlier this year to make way for two new exhibits commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria.

Tragically, Deirdre died on May 28, 2018, of breast cancer. She was 42 years old.  The new exhibitions at Kensington Palace and this book are her legacies.

The Young Victoria offers a tantalizing and new insight into Victoria's life.  Sheltered by her dominating mother (who was in turn dominated by her Comptroller John Conroy), both of whom hoped to control Victoria when she succeeded to the throne, especially, if William IV died before Victoria reached her majority.

As we know, William IV died on June 20, 1837, nearly a month after  Victoria celebrated her 18th birthday on May 24th.

This book serves as a semi-catalog to the new exhibitions as there is no official catalog.  The Duchess of Kent was determined to keep her younger daughter in the public eye even though she was equally determined to keep her away from King William and Queen Adelaide.   The Kensington System was designed to keep the princess under the control of her mother and Conroy, as well as her governess Baroness Lehzen.  Victoria, however, could be a willful and determined little girl, much to the disappointment of her mother and tutors.

Lehzen was the "benchmark by which Victoria would measure all her companions throughout her long life," according to Murphy.  Victoria wrote: "She devoted her life to me, from my fifth to my eighteenth year, with most self-abnegation, never taking one day's leave."

Murphy delved deep into Victoria's young life, dipping into diaries, papers, and other materials, focusing on those who were close to her, including her older sister, Princess Feodora.

The Kensington System, established by the Duchess of Kent and Conroy, was set up to control Victoria but keep her in the public eye.   In 1830, when William IV succeeded his brother, George IV, as king, Victoria slipped into the heiress presumptive position, and her mother and Conroy chose to go on the road, presenting the 11-year-old princess to the nation.   William and his wife, Queen Adelaide, were keen on maintaining contact with the young princess.  The king went so far as to suggest that Victoria's name be changed to Charlotte or Elizabeth.

This book is a labor of love, a detailed breakdown of Victoria's "melancholy childhood" that shows Deirdre Murphy's devotion to her subject.

The detail is precise, a front-row glimpse into Victoria's early years.

Most of the illustrations are from the Royal Collection.   The Young Victoria is a true classic that will be appreciated and savored for generations. 

Deirdre Murphy deserves all the praise, all the honors, for writing a truly great book that provided inspiration for the new Victoria exhibits.

The Young Victoria will be appreciated by historians and general readers alike.

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