The Dumpy Princess
This is a light-hearted look at Queen Victoria’s childhood, from her birth to her coronation, and it includes all the well-known facts: the young princess’s love of dolls, her dog Dash and her German governess, Lehzen; her disreputable royal uncles; the quarrels between her mother, who was Duchess of Kent, and the King, etc.
It’s an easy read, and I enjoyed Sophie Foster’s lively illustrations, but I was worried by Karin Fernald’s over-joky approach. It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope: events are thoroughly shaken and then turned into something different.
Take Victoria’s christening. According to Fernald, the Duchess of Kent stormed off to see King George IV and demanded that Victoria be given more names. He vetoed her choices, Elizabeth and Georgina, and insisted she be named plain Victoria, ‘after Victory’.
This is author’s licence, not reality. Victoria’s christening is well documented. Royal protocol dictated that the king be the one to name the princess. She was christened Alexandrina Victoria, after her god-father, Tsar Alexander, and her mother, Victoria, Duchess of Kent. ‘Victory’ had nothing to do with it.
Likewise, Victoria’s joky letters on becoming queen to the newly-widowed Queen Adelaide, her Uncle Leopold and half-sister, Feodore, are nothing like what she actually wrote. The problem with this cavalier approach towards the facts is that once you’ve spotted one inaccuracy, you are reluctant to credit anything else – even if it’s true. Take the wicked Sir John Conroy, the duchess’s Comptroller, who was determined to establish his domination over both the duchess and the princess. I found myself double checking with the Dictionary of National Biography. In fact, Fernald’s account is pretty accurate, though highly-coloured. All the same, it’s a dangerous strategy – too close to ‘Crying ‘Wolf!’’ for comfort.
A lively read – but believe about half of it. For girls of 8 plus.