The TV series Victoria has sparked a lot of interest in the monarch and so some might be tempted to want to learn more about this most successful monarch of Great Britain. Becoming Queen (which I’ve also seen listed as Becoming Queen Victoria) is a history by author Kate Williams who holds a BA and DPhil from Oxford and several MAs. However, the first third of the book is about Victoria’s ancestors and, most specifically, on her cousin Charlotte who would have inherited the throne ahead of Victoria had she not died in child birth. Their uncles did no credit to the royal family. They were dissolute, squandering more money than parliament allowed, keeping mistresses, having heirs all over the place and marrying for money if they married at all. Their aunts were kept at home doing needlepoint and never allowed any fun at all by their mad father and their stoic mother. Charlotte was a totally spoiled darling who married Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (later King Leopold I of the Belgians). Charlotte died two years before Victoria was born, so the child’s arrival dashed hopes of succession for many members of the family.
The second part of this book is about the young Victoria. After her father’s death, her mother, also Victoria, Duchess of Kent turned to John Conroy, the Duke of Kent’s equerry for advice in all matters but his interests were totally self-centered and he was a bully who tried to rule young Victoria, and indeed, to get her to sign over her rights to rule and make him regent. When Victoria became queen, she bribed him to leave her mother and her court with money and a title.
The last third of the book is actually about the reign of Queen Victoria, her politics, her blunders, her triumphs, her reliance on Lord Melbourne, her relationship with her mother, and her love for her husband, Albert. She enjoyed the longest reign of any monarch in the history of Britain.
On the whole, I enjoyed this book (it took me a long time to read it) and the insights into the royal family and how their behaviours might have destroyed the monarchy if Victoria had not become the accidental queen. There were some things that were frustrating, though. I found I was constantly referring to the family tree at the beginning of the book because there were several Charlottes, and several Victorias, not to mention Carolines and Fredericks and it wasn’t always clear which one was being spoken of. Also, a name would come up casually halfway through the book and when I checked the name in the index at the back it would turn out to be some minor character mentioned once way back at the beginning or someone never having been mentioned at all and I had no idea who he was. I was a bit puzzled, too, by there being no mention of the attempt on Victoria’s life when Albert moved her out of the way and was shot instead. Only the birth of two of her nine children were mentioned and many events were completely left out. I think you have to be a hard core monarchist or historian to read through this book. I’m glad I stuck with it but I’d rather watch the TV series. * * * 1/2