Despite the picture on the cover of a young Queen Victoria, this book is actually about both her and Princess Charlotte, George IV’s daughter, whose death in childbirth was the reason for Victoria’s accession to the throne. (Indeed, it was the reason for her conception—Charlotte’s death left the royal family without any legitimate heirs from the next generation; consequently, there was a mad rush by George IV’s brothers, including Edward, Duke of Kent, Victoria’s father, to abandon their mistresses and marry suitable, i.e. royal, women.)
Princess Charlotte was a tomboy, ill-educated, and impetuous. She was, however, greatly loved by the country when she died in 1817. I found this third of the book the most interesting and informative, as it is not often one reads much about Charlotte.
Victoria’s life, on the other hand, is well known: how she was brought up by her mother and Sir John Conroy, who she loathed; how she became queen at eighteen, fell in love with her cousin Albert and married him, and how she retreated into a long widowhood after his death in 1861, until her own death in 1901, having reigned longer than any other English monarch.
Williams covers the first 22 years of Victoria’s life, with an epilogue describing the two Jubilees. She argues that Victoria established the tradition of service to one’s country amongst the British royal family, and that she was the first monarch to embrace the diminished power of the throne.
Written in an easy style, this book is a good introduction to the lives and times of two young women during the turbulent years of 1796-1841, before the long Victorian period took hold.