Queen and Working Mother

Article excerpt

Byline: Julia Baird

Victoria was both dutiful and angry.

Queen Victoria loathed being pregnant. She felt more like a pig or cow than a queen, she said, which was unfortunate, given that she had nine children. As several of her relatives had died while giving birth, she was also, quite rationally, terrified of labor. She was given chloroform for her last two births, to her great delight. Until then the use of anesthetics for women in labor had been vehemently opposed by priests on the grounds that women should suffer for original sin, and prominent doctors because they believed it aroused women's libidos. But when the respectable reigning monarch happily inhaled deep breaths from a cloth soaked with chloroform, every 10 minutes, at the birth of her son Leopold in 1853, it soon became acceptable. Oh, how she would have loved an epidural.

With the release of the movie The Young Victoria, starring a luscious and almost credible Emily Blunt, about the relationship between Britain's stout, steely monarch and her husband, Prince Albert, as well as a biography, We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals, by Gillian Gill, there has been renewed interest in the romantic life of the woman who ruled the British Empire for 64 years. Much of the literature about Victoria has focused on her relationship with her German husband. Theirs was one of the greatest partnerships--certainly one of the most fruitful and stable--in political history. When the two are depicted meeting and falling in love, we see the fairy tale. What the film skips over is what Victoria called the "shadow side" of marriage: reproduction.

Historians have long been reluctant to recognize that Queen Victoria was not just a monarch but one of the most prominent working mothers in history--one who was both deeply in love with her husband and resentful of the demands on her as a mother and a wife. She became queen when she was only 18, and while she made some foolish mistakes, she was greatly admired for her confidence, her calm authority, her conscientiousness, and what Privy Council clerk Charles Greville called her "great animal spirits." She confided in Prime Minister Lord Melbourne that she had no desire to get married. The "beautiful" Albert changed her mind, and before long she fell pregnant--again and again. …