A big royal welcome for a little royal baby!
The Duchess of Cambridge has a few more children to go to catch Queen Victoria up, but today sees the birth of the third in line to the British throne. Catherine Middleton’s marriage to Prince William is a modern day fairy tale and the couple certainly seem as happy as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were throughout theirs.
Victoria and Albert’s marriage seems to have been one of an intense love and respect. They not only shared intellectual interests and passions but were an intensely physical couple (Victoria was often described as highly sexed, someone who enjoyed dancing and drinking!) In this Winterhalter painting, Victoria and Albert can be seen with 5 of their children. Although Victoria resented the interruptions pregnancy forced upon her Queenship, she none the less she went on to have 9 children. A sign of a happy marriage surely.
Victoria was a somewhat stern and controlling mother: she was not partial to shows of maternal affection, she thought breastfeeding ‘disgusting’, and considered nothing of spying upon her children, even when they were adults.* None the less, motherhood was something Victoria took seriously, and she attempted to instil in her children a sense of normality and ensured they were aware of low key pleasures (through dining with the workers at Balmoral etc.) as well as the extravagances of court life. Victoria took her role as Queen even more seriously and would frequently remind the children of her authority.
Arthur was her favourite child and Bertie her most troublesome, he she described as “Handsome I cannot think him, with that painfully small and narrow head, those immense features and total want of chin.” The stories of her children range from obedience to thwarted to outrageous: Arthur had a successful military career, Beatrice (the youngest) was forever called ‘Baby’ and kept at home, Louise was wilful and made her own unhappy marital decision, and Bertie was reckless, known for his gambling and mistresses. So in amongst the success of her children, there lies a tale of sadness and personal conflict. Life within a royal family has its own trials and tribulations, albeit with more access to money and glamour.
But the surprising end to the tale shows that in every child there is hope and joy. When Bertie succeeded Victoria to the throne in 1901, he did so with an ease and success that would have impressed her. King Edward VII, as he was known, was a successful monarch who navigated through the turbulent first decade of the 20th century. He died as he had lived, with the same sense of stubbornness that his mother exhibited in her own life. Victoria may have been Bertie’s harshest critic but perhaps this was because she recognised in him something of herself. And don’t all mothers love their son’s dearly? A mother always forgives her son’s but not always her daughters.
Today is a tough but exciting day for the Duchess of Cambridge as she goes through the rite of passage that is childbirth. In her and her offspring lies the hopes of many British folk. She has risen into the historical elite, the aristocracy of Britain, and now she provides an heir to the British throne. The histories and traditions of a new Prince still hold sway with the public and whilst I envy much of the Duchess’s beauty, glamour and money, I am glad there were no cameramen on step ladders outside of the hospital I gave birth in.
None the less, despite the glaring levels of difference in me as mere minion and her as future Queen, I am quite certain that I had as many hopes in my heart when I held my newborn son in my arms, as Victoria did when she held her son and Catherine is probably doing right at this moment. Motherhood defies class.
P.S. My money is on Alexander, although naming your child after Alexander the Great inevitably invites some expectation issues.
* Alice and Victoria (Vicky), two of the Queen’s daughters, breastfed their own children much to the disgust of Victoria who referred to them as ‘cows’.