I have always been drawn to strong women from history. Within recent years I have also found how mental distress has been dealt with in the past, greatly interesting as I have fought my own demons. The grief that stayed with Queen Victoria after the death of her beloved Prince Albert has always touched me and has inspired me to write this post.
The issue of a monarch marriage is always important, however when you are an 18 year old female, these issues become even more urgent. Her childhood with her mother is well documented as she lived under the strict guidelines of the Kensington system. Even after she was Queen, Victoria still had to live under the same roof as her mother. The one way to escape her mother was to marry.
Compared to the females of the royals before her, Victoria had a lot of say over whom she would marry and take as her husband. A courtship of 2 visits and written correspondence with her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe – Coburg & Gotha, resulted in Victoria proposing to Albert on the 15th October 1839.
The couple married in the chapel Royal in St James Palace in London on 10th February 1840. The couple went on to have no less than 9 children and were famous for their fiery arguments proof of passionate and loving marriage. Extracts of Victoria diary reveal that she was no Victorian prude and that she enjoyed her husband carnally.
Here is an extract taken from Victoria’s Diary the morning after her marriage night 11 February 1840:
“His excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before! He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband!”
If you visit Kensington palace evidence of this idyllic happy royal family can be seen in the portraits of the family and on the walls. But this would not last for ever. After 21 years of marriage and 9 children, Prince Albert contracted typhoid fever and died on 14 December 1861.
Victoria’s world crumbled and she went into a life long mourning for her beloved Albert. There is evidence that Victoria struggled with grief as was deeply affected by the death of her mother. It is thought that Victoria suffered from chronic grief. This extreme reaction to death can be triggered by sudden and premature deaths such as Albert’s. Victoria must have thought that they would have grown old together with their grandchildren rather than become a widow after only 21 years of marriage.
Here is an extract from her diary in December 1861:
“Never can I forget how beautiful my darling looked lying there with his face lit up by the rising sun, his eyes unusually bright gazing as it were on unseen objects and not taking notice of me. I stood up, kissed his dear heavenly forehead and called out in a bitter agonizing cry: ‘Oh! my dear darling!’, and then dropped on my knees in mute, distracted despair unable to utter a word or shed a tear.”
A devastated Queen was unable to carry on with her duties or life even after a suitable period of mourning. This suggests strongly that Victoria was suffering from serious depression. Even today mental health treatment and understanding is varied and patchy; Victorian doctors who had a Victorian mind set may not have been very sympathetic to her grief despite the fact she was the queen. One man who was able to help her was the Gilly at Balmoral in Scotland, John Brown. He encouraged her to get out and ride in the fresh air. The exercise and fresh highland air would have helped her get good nights sleep and given her an appetite. We all know how sea air affects us, by having a servant he would watch over her but yet give her the space she needed to think.
Although Victoria remained in mourning for the rest of her reign she did come out and celebrate with the people of Britain her Golden and Diamond Jubilees. Republicanism increased when she redrew from public life however it didn’t affect her popularity that much as when the grandmother of Europe died on 22 January 1901 she was grieved by the masses and thousands if not millions came out to line the streets at her funeral.
For me Victoria was a woman who was a survivor, she was a woman who knew her own mind she was strong passionate stubborn and loving, yet she was venerable and in many ways broke taboos of the period she lived in. She will always be for me one of the great women of our history.