Queen victoria postpartum depression

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their children (public domain)

Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert had nine children together. She was pregnant for around 80 months total in the 1840s and 1850s, over six years in total and this does not take any recovery into account. Queen Victoria knew all too well that childbirth could easily kill her – her cousin Charlotte of Wales was the perfect example. Victoria was understandably furious when she found herself pregnant just weeks after her wedding to Albert. She angrily wrote to her grandmother Augusta, “It is spoiling my happiness; I have always hated the idea, and I prayed God night and day for me to be left free for at least six months, but my prayers have not been answered, and I am really most unhappy. I cannot understand how one can wish for such a thing, especially at the beginning of a marriage.” She further added that if she had a “nasty girl”, she would drown it.

On 21 November 1840, Victoria gave birth to a daughter who would be known as Victoria, The Princess Royal. Luckily, Queen Victoria did not attempt to drown her. Queen Victoria was relieved to have survived the ordeal and spent two weeks in bed after giving birth, as was the custom. Just three months later, she found herself pregnant once more. She wept and raged and was miserable at the prospect. During the following hot summer, Victoria suffered constant headaches. She was often depressed, writing to her uncle King Leopold I of the Belgians that her “present heavy trial, the heaviest I have ever had to endure.”

The Prince of Wales by Queen Victoria (public domain)

On 9 November 1841, Victoria gave birth to the future King Edward VII. She was thrilled that she had given birth to a boy but felt very low after a painful labour. She wrote in her journal, “I will not say much, but my sufferings were really very severe, and I doubt that I should have died but for the great comfort and support of my beloved Albert… At last, at 12 minutes to 11, I gave birth to a fine, large boy! Oh, how happy, how grateful did I feel that Almighty Providence has so greatly blessed me and preserved me so mercifully through so many days and trials. Though tired I felt very well once the child was there.” When she held her new baby, she felt nothing, no love or affection. She would suffer from a postpartum depression for a year. In those early days, she felt weak and depressed and had trouble sleeping. Victoria began to see visions, “spots on people’s faces, which turned into worms”, and “coffins floated” before her eyes. Prince Albert told the obstetrician that Victoria was “afraid that she is about to lose her mind!” In April 1843, she wrote to King Leopold that her nerves “were so shattered” that “I suffered a whole year from it.” Prince Albert took Victoria to Scotland to help lift her depression.

On 25 April 1843, Victoria gave birth to her third child – a daughter named Alice. This time she only felt rather bored. She was quickly pregnant again and gave birth to her fourth child – a son named Alfred – on 6 August 1844. It was again a grueling labour and her suffering was “severe.” Her fifth child – a daughter named Helena – was born on 25 May 1846. Her sixth child – a daughter named Louise – was born on 18 March 1848. Just a few days after the birth of Louise, they were forced to leave London in fear of their lives as the Chartists has declared a massive meeting. Victoria was still recovering from the difficult labour lay on her bed and sobbed. Her seventh child – a son, named Arthur – was born on 1 May 1850. He was followed by her eight child – a son named Leopold – on 7 April 1853. This was also the first time she took chloroform during the labour, but this did not prevent another postpartum depression, which can occur at any time in the first year after giving birth. In May 1854, Victoria and Albert had a violent fight over an inconsequential problem with the royal catalogue and Albert was unable to calm her down. Her ninth and last child – a daughter named Beatrice – was born on 14 April 1857.

By her last pregnancy, Albert had grown tired of Victoria’s complaints about pregnancy. In the autumn of 1857, he accused her of being selfish and demanding. He wrote to her, “I, like everyone else in the house make the most ample allowance for your state… We cannot, unhappily, bear your bodily sufferings for you – you must struggle with them alone – the moral ones are probably caused by them, but if you were rather less occupied with yourself and your feelings and took more interest in the outside world, you would find that the greatest help of all.”

He struggled to comprehend the amount of hormones released by childbirth and thought Victoria simply lacked reason. Victoria came to understand that her depression came and went, but it affected her most during and after pregnancy. She even prepared the Princess Royal for “lowness and tendency to cry.. it is what every lady suffers with more or less and what I, during my first two confinements suffered dreadfully with.” 1

  1. Sources:

    Gillian Gill – We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals

    Lucy Worsley – Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow

    Julia Baird – Victoria the Queen

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Did Queen Victoria really hate being pregnant – and what was she like as a mother?

When we meet Queen Victoria in series two, she has safely popped out her first kid and is protesting about being confined to the nursery – but it won’t be very long until the monarch is pregnant again.


Daisy Goodwin’s ITV drama is true to life. Despite her huge family, it seems the Queen was not all that keen on pregnancy or babies, and she did not take easily to motherhood. Babies were the unwelcome result of her active sex life with Albert, the “shadow side” of marriage – and a major distraction from the more important business of being queen.

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How many children did Queen Victoria have?

Victoria and Albert’s firstborn Princess Victoria (Vicky) was followed less than a year later by Prince Albert Edward (Bertie), and then by little Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice.

That makes a grand total of nine, born between 1840 and 1857.

Princess Beatrice with Queen Victoria in 1860 (Hulton Archive/Getty)

Unusually for the Victorian period, all of them survived into adulthood, although their youngest son Leopold suffered from haemophilia and died at the age of 30.

Did Queen Victoria resent her babies?

Modern writers have speculated that the queen may have suffered from postnatal depression after many of her pregnancies. She certainly struggled to bond with her children as newborns, and kept her distance from the babies in their early years.

Little Vicky was born nine months after the royal wedding. Queen Victoria saw her baby only twice a day, and certainly did not breastfeed. Within another year she had given birth to her male heir, Bertie, who would go on to become King Edward VII. After that she slowed down a little, but she still managed to have nine within 17 years.

Victoria and Albert with their son Prince Arthur (Rischgitz/Getty)

Despite her many pregnancies, Victoria seems not to have liked babies very much. “Abstractedly, I have no tender for them till they have become a little human” she once wrote. “An ugly baby is a very nasty object – and the prettiest is frightful when undressed.” Later she wrote to her eldest daughter that she was “no admirer of babies generally” and had been repulsed by her sons Bertie and Leopold (“frightful”).

Aside from her feelings on babies, and the dangerous nature of giving birth in 19th century Britain, Victoria had other reasons to resent becoming pregnant.

Each pregnancy took her away from her duties as queen. While Albert was happy to step in and take over, Victoria did not like to be sidelined and this led to a power struggle within the marriage. As a female monarch she did not want pregnancy and motherhood to dominate her reign.

What were Victoria and Albert like as mother and father?

While Albert went for a hands-on approach as a father and took responsibility for the kids’ upbringing, Victoria preferred to keep her distance and instead focus on her duties as a monarch – especially in the early years.

Albert’s enthusiasm (and a lack of family planning) seems to have been the driving force behind creating this massive brood. But both Victoria and Albert wanted to create a model happy family to set a moral example across Europe, and they wanted their children to be intelligent and educated.

Victoria hands over the baby (ITV)

Albert devised a plan to create the perfect princes and princesses. In practice, this translated into a very strict, intense education with lots of harsh punishment and pressure. Life was all about Latin, Shakespeare, French, piano, German, maths, geography, science, obedience and discipline.

Eldest son Bertie did not take to this regime at all, and instead of the intelligent, erudite little replica of Prince Albert that everyone had hoped for, he was labelled a dunce and diagnosed with a feeble brain by a quack doctor who measured the size of his head. His parents despaired. He was obstinate, stubborn and threw tantrums; as a young man he was reported to have been found with the actress Nellie Clifton in his bed. And when Albert died at the age of 42 after visiting Bertie to give him a good telling off, Victoria blamed her eldest son. She never forgave him.

While she was distant from her offspring when they were babies, she seems to have become more involved in their lives as they became adults. With Albert’s untimely death, she was now a single mother to nine children – the oldest an adult, the youngest just four years old.

For the rest of her time on the throne, Victoria was a central presence in the lives of her children and grandchildren, as they married into royal families across Europe.

Did Victoria hate her children?

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with Five of Their Children by Frederick Winterhalter (Historical Picture Archive/Corbis)

A picture emerges of a mother who was often disappointed in her children, and who was at times controlling and frustrated. She monitored the menstrual cycle of her son’s wife, she tried to keep sickly son Leopold wrapped in cotton wool, she was furious when her youngest daughter decided to get married instead of devoting her life to looking after mum.

But despite all this, it is clear that she did love her children very much.

When Vicky married, mother and daughter wrote each other great piles of letters (8,000 survive), sharing their advice and confessions and observations. And while she had a tempestuous relationship with Bertie, she maintained good relations with most of her children (and grandchildren) for much of her life. In lesser-known correspondence she wrote of her love for her children, and she shared her fear of losing them to an early death.


Perhaps we only remember her as unloving because she wrote so honestly in her diaries and private letters, or because her correspondence was edited by men to leave all the icky feminine womanly stuff out.

Season two of ITV’s Victoria will chart Queen Victoria’s struggle with postnatal depression, the show’s creator has revealed.

Speaking to metro.co.uk, Daisy Goodwin said: ‘She’s suffering from postnatal depression and she doesn’t find motherhood easy. She loves her children but she finds the adjustment to motherhood a very difficult one. That’s one of the things we explore.’

The season follows Victoria (Jenna Coleman) and her husband Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) as their marriage is tested by the arrival of their first two children, both born within a year.

‘She’s having the usual problems people have in the early years of marriage – having to adjust to allowing somebody else room in their life, that’s always very tricky.’


Daisy’s comments confirm what we suspected from the season two trailer, in which Victoria can be seen asking her husband: ‘Do you remember kissing me here before we were married? Everything was simpler then.’

Given how quickly Victoria and Albert’s relationship blossomed and strengthened in season one, we have high hopes the pair will be able to overcome the challenges they face next.

But aside from the royal couple, what else can we expect from season two?

Daisy has hinted viewers will be seeing a same sex love story they will be ‘surprised’ by, and a huge event that will feel very close to home.

Watch the trailer for season two below:

Victoria returns to ITV on Sunday 27th August.

(Images: ITV)

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In many ways Queen Victoria was the model of a modern woman: candid, stroppy and stubborn. What we almost always forget is that not only was she an enduring sovereign and besotted wife, she was also the 19th century’s most powerful and prominent working mother.

For 40 years she was a single mother of nine children. Her privilege inoculated her from most of the struggles of single mothers, of course, but she is still given little credit for the fact that she parented for four decades alone, so loudly is she criticised for the intense way she mourned her husband after he died at 42. She was certainly given little credit by the recent BBC documentary titled Queen Victoria’s Children, in which she was dubbed a “domestic tyrant”.

This gripping series built the case that Britain’s longest reigning queen was a remote, caustic and unkind mother: controlling, bored and repulsed by her children. She was, we learned, a woman who was so sexually obsessed with her husband that her libido crowded out any maternal affection. After all, how can you love both sex and children?

The idea that Victoria did not love her offspring is a myth that has endured for three reasons. First, because Victoria said often brutal things about babies and the toll of childbirth in confidence to her eldest daughter in the late 1850s and 60s. By then, she had borne nine children, a process that wreaked havoc on her tiny frame and often left her battling depression. Second, because the two men who edited her official letters cut out almost all of her correspondence with other women, which demonstrate her constant concern for her children, because they found women’s letters “tiresome”. And third, because historians have steadfastly overlooked her adoration for her babies as a young mother.

Victoria’s diary entries, particularly in the 1840s and 50s, reveal a mother who delighted in her children with a marked tenderness. It all appeared, at first, astonishing and miraculous: “It seems like a dream having a child.” After she showed off her eldest, Vicky, to her ladies-in-waiting, the twentysomething monarch wrote: “She was awake and very sweet and I must say, I was very proud of her.” She believed a core part of a child’s upbringing was to spend as much time with the parents as possible, and saw her new babies so frequently that her ladies-in-waiting commented on it. When the Duchess of Sutherland lost a baby, Victoria wrote in distress about the boy who was also her godchild: “I cannot say how it grieves me. Such a sad event makes one think of one’s own little treasures, and how they might be taken from one.”

I can’t help but wonder if much of what Victoria is castigated for is her honesty. Motherhood is gritty and exhausting as well as blissful; it’s not an uninterrupted dewy-eyed experience. In the 19th century, motherhood was idealised as sacred; but the actual experience was frightening, often debilitating and potentially fatal. Debates about child custody show the mother-child bond was not as revered as we might think: the role of mothers was symbolic, and biological.

Even queens were not immune from the physical wear and danger of childbirth, something that frustrated and infuriated Victoria. In the first 60 months of her marriage she was pregnant or recovering from childbirth for all but 16.

It is true she found breastfeeding disgusting, animalistic and vulgar – and worried about reconciling it with public duties – but she was hardly alone. It is also true she called infants frog-like, but they do sometimes resemble frogs: anyone who has tickled a baby knows their limbs often jerk and splay in an alarmed fashion. This formidable queen didn’t lie or hedge her views, but voiced what many mothers have thought in secret: how they’d rather be having sex with their husband than entertaining warring toddlers; how being pregnant made them feel like cows; how some of their children were uglier or funnier, or more or less appealing, than their siblings. Albert was, she acknowledged, a more natural nurse, and she admired him for it.

Acting as both mother and father, Victoria was certainly harsh, judgmental and controlling, but could never be accused of indifference. A dedicated and strong-minded mother, she was deeply attached to her children, even if she was frequently irritated, disappointed or overwhelmed by them. This is hardly unusual. We love to accuse powerful women of being evil mothers. But if Victoria were to be convicted because she had the hots for her husband, disliked being pregnant and criticised her children, the ranks of bad mothers across the globe would swell rather rapidly.

Queen Victoria’s children

Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert were passionate lovers with a mutual physical attraction but with seemingly no understanding of family planning. The result was nine children born between 1840 and 1857. Albert, intelligent and ambitious, was determined to put this burgeoning brood to good use. He and Victoria were united in the desire that they should not just be a model, loving and happy family, but that they would also set a moral example that would redefine royalty and be the foundation of a dynasty that would stretch across Europe, bringing peace and harmony to the fractious continent.


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It was a noble plan, motivated by the highest ideals, and one that was to lead to the creation of the modern idea of the royal family so familiar to us today. But like so many of the best-laid plans, human nature got in the way.

It was Albert, the intellectual, who was responsible for shaping and modernising the royal family in the 19th century; his influence would last well into the next. From the moment of his marriage to Victoria in 1840 to his untimely death 21 years later, he saw his purpose as protecting and nourishing the British monarchy at a time when political turmoil threatened at home and revolution was sweeping Europe. Albert believed that in order to survive and prosper, royalty should be presented as a respectable and close- knit, loving family. As the historian Miranda Carter says: “It’s as if Albert and Victoria are trying to reach out to their middle class subjects and say, ‘look, we are like you, trust us’.”

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert surrounded by some of their children at Windsor Castle. In the group are Princess Victoria; the future King Edward VII (as a young prince); Prince Alfred, Princess Alice and Princess Helena. Original artwork is a painting by Winterhalter in the Royal Collection. (GL Archive/Alamy Stock Photo)

But of course the royal family was not like the middle class. It existed in the enclosed bubble of the court where tensions and hostilities festered and where children were fawned over and flattered from the moment they were born. Yet at the same time these youngsters were expected to be model children, utterly obedient to their parents. It was an intolerable tension.

Troubled childhoods

A fraught family life was perhaps unsurprising, given the couple’s own experiences. They were both the product of unhappy childhoods. Albert’s upbringing in Germany had been overshadowed by the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. His father, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield (and then, from 1826, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) was a serial philanderer who paid little attention to his son. Albert grew up longing for his father’s love while detesting his behaviour. He was determined when the time came to be a model father and everything that his father was not. But when he became a parent the problem was that he had no example to follow.

Victoria, too, had much to react against. She had grown up secluded at Kensington Palace under the control of her domineering mother, the Duchess of Kent. Later she admitted, revealingly, “I had led a very unhappy life as a child – had no scope for my very violent feelings of affection… and did not know what a happy domestic life was”.

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Queen Victoria depicted aged four. Victoria spoke of having had an unhappy childhood. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

The couple, deeply in love and physically well suited, were united in the wish to create a family that would serve not just as an escape from their own unhappy pasts, but also as a pan-European dynasty and a model for a nation.

Unsurprisingly, given the couple’s physical infatuation, their first child, Princess Victoria, called Vicky, was born nine months after their wedding. The queen was busy with her duties as monarch and could spare little time for her baby, seeing her only twice a day. Within a year of Vicky’s birth Albert Edward, known as Bertie – the future King Edward VII – was born. The queen now had a healthy male heir. “Our little boy is a wonderfully strong and large child,” she wrote proudly. “I hope and pray he may be like his dearest Papa.” With the succession reasonably assured, it might be thought a rest from the risk of childbearing would be appropriate. Not so. Over the next five years another three children were born: Alice, Alfred and Helena.

While Queen Victoria gave birth to many children, she hated being pregnant, and historians have suggested that she may have suffered from post-natal depression. She compared pregnancy to feeling like a cow and wrote that “an ugly baby is a very nasty object – and the prettiest is frightful when undressed”.

Nor did Victoria necessarily like babies. “An ugly baby is a very nasty object,” she protested, “the prettiest are frightful when undressed… as long as they have their big body and little limbs and that terrible froglike action”. Nor could she contemplate breastfeeding them, finding the whole process repulsive. A wet nurse was therefore employed for all her children, as Victoria devoted herself to Albert. The result was four more children: Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice. Victoria had nine babies over 17 years – a tremendous physical feat, and a dangerous one given the high rates of maternal mortality at the time.

Queen Victoria with her youngest child, Princess Beatrice, 1860. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The model family

The royal couple set to work putting their plan for a model family into action. It was essential for them also that they were seen to be doing so. With the birth of mass communication, Albert well understood the need for the public to be made aware of the ideal for which they were striving. Under the Hanoverians the monarchy had fallen into disrepute, torn apart by feuding and scandal. Now, in countless paintings and photographs, Victoria and Albert were shown in harmonious family group portraits. Today they are a lovely record, if not a strictly true one, of the development of the royal family. The publicity worked and Victoria was delighted: “They say no Sovereign was ever more loved than I (I am bold enough to say), and this because of our happy domestic home and the good example it presents”.

In a reversal of the typical roles of the time, Victoria devoted herself to regal duties while Albert took responsibility for the upbringing of the children. He was a new type of father, ahead of his time, with a hands-on approach to child rearing. From the beginning his relationship with his first child, Vicky, went well. Lady Lyttleton, a governess, remembered seeing him playing with her: “Albert tossed and romped with her, making her laugh and crow and kick heartily”.

Victoria, by contrast, was far more distant and guarded. She looked on as Albert took control of all aspects of the children’s development. At first Albert found this task fulfilling and stimulating, appealing to his sense of himself as an expert in human behaviour: “There is certainly a great charm, as well as deep interest, in watching the development of feelings and faculties in a little child,” he once remarked.

Prince Albert with Princess Victoria and Eos, c1843. (Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

An education

Albert was the product of an intensive German education that had made him into an accomplished polymath. He expected the same of his children – and more. He developed a punishing educational programme to create the model prince or princess that took little account of the abilities of an average intellect. According to Baron Stockmar, his advisor, the regime would give any child brain fever.

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The plan began when the children were infants, with the instilling of discipline. “The chief objects here,” the prince opined, “are their physical development, the actual rearing up, the training to obedience”. Corporal punishment was at the heart of this training. The children frequently received “a real punishment by whipping” if they stepped out of line and Albert himself would hit his children’s fingers during piano lessons when they played the wrong notes.

There was instruction, too, in manners and, as the children grew older, lessons in the languages of the courts of Europe, especially German and French. On top of this there was tuition in Latin, geography, maths and science. The education would have been tough even for the most able child, but for the mostly very average young princes and princesses it was purgatory. Fortunately Vicky, the eldest child, was extremely bright and the strict regime got off to a good start. She began her French lessons at the tender age of 18 months; soon she was speaking Latin and reading Shakespeare. Naturally, given her parents’ heritage, she was also fluent in German.

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The queen fully backed her husband’s plan. She idolised him to the children, telling them “none of you can ever be proud enough of being the child of such a father who has not his equal in this world”. It followed that she would want them, especially the boys, to be brought up as mini-replicas of the man she adored so ardently. She prayed that her baby Bertie would grow up to “resemble his angelic dearest Father in every, every respect, both in body and mind”. Of course, life being what it is, the heir to the throne turned out in every respect to be the opposite of his father. His parents believed he could be a blank slate on which they could draw a perfect little Albert – they were utterly wrong.

From an early age Bertie obstinately refused to conform to his father’s plan for the royal children’s education. Here was no renaissance prince in the making: despite being stuffed with facts and theory he found learning difficult and was unable to concentrate. The intense pressure on the backward young prince produced a negative reaction. His tutor Frederick Gibbs remembered the frequent schoolroom tantrums during arithmetic lessons with the Prince of Wales: “He became passionate, the pencil was flung to the end of the room, the stool was kicked away and he was hardly able to apply himself at all”.

Albert’s plan for the heir to the throne of the greatest empire the world had ever seen turned out a complete failure. Instead of the longed for polymath his son turned out to be a dunce. Victoria complained about his “systematic idleness, laziness – disregard of everything”. The worried parents consulted a phrenologist, a modish quack who claimed the shape of the head affected the brain. His diagnosis confirmed everything they feared: “The feeble quality of the brain will render the Prince highly excitable… intellectual organs are only moderately well developed. The result will be strong self-will, at times obstinacy”.

Queen Victoria’s son Albert Edward, Prince of Wales – the future King Edward VII – in 1870. (Photo by J Russell & Sons/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Prince of Wales was not the only one of the nine children who played up and refused to conform to Albert’s plan for a perfect royal development. As each grew up, he or she displayed the quirks and characteristics of individual human nature. Albert was perplexed and dismayed and he came to suspect that his children were suffering from their Stuart inheritance – certainly they could not have inherited their frailties and foibles from his princely blood! But the plan had to go on.

Royal marriages

As time passed, eight of the children were married off to European princes and princesses, in order that a pan-European dynasty be created. First to go was Princess Victoria, the eldest, to Fritz of Prussia. Both parents were devastated to lose their 17-year-old, especially Albert who wrote “the pang of parting was great on all sides, and the void which Vicky has left in our household and family circle will stand gaping for many a day”. But dynastic duty had to override human feeling, and his favourite daughter was taken away to a new and bewildering life in the Prussian court.

Princess Beatrice, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, who married Prince Henry of Battenberg in 1885. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The pressure on Albert to carry out all his many royal duties and to bring up the family according to his plan was immense. He found his work exhausting. In 1860 he compared himself to a donkey on a treadmill, complaining: “He, too, would rather munch thistles in the castle moat. Small are the thanks he gets for his labour”. Victoria, ever self-centred and emotional, came to resent the attention he paid to the children. There were frequent outbursts and marital rows. The strain took its toll on the Prince Consort’s health. He suffered toothache, insomnia and fits of shivering. The doctors were mystified, unable to make a proper diagnosis. Victoria failed to empathise with her husband. In one of her many letters to her daughter Vicky, she wrote: “Dear Papa never allows he is any better or will try to get over it, but makes such a miserable face that people always think he is very ill”.

Albert soldiered on, desperate to realise his vision for the royal family. In 1860 he arranged the key dynastic marriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. In a changing world it was crucial that this be portrayed both as a worthwhile diplomatic alliance (which it was), and a love match. The Victorian public, in an era of pious rectitude, demanded a pure marriage in which the heir to the throne appeared to be virtuous and chaste.

The Prince of Wales, however, was anything but chaste. His life from an early age was devoted to pleasure, much to his parent’s desperate alarm. In the summer of 1861 Bertie attended a training camp with Grenadier Guards in Dublin. His fellow officers arranged for a ‘lady of easy virtue’ to join him for the night. The story of the prince’s trysts got back to his parents and provoked in Albert a furious, almost hysterical, response. How could his son, he demanded, “thrust yourself into the hands of one of the most abject of the human species, to be by her initiated in the sacred mysteries of creation?”. Everything that Albert had been working for seemed threatened. He warned Bertie that “you must not, you dare not be lost; the consequences for this country and the world at large would be too dreadful”.

A tragic death

Albert’s plan for perfect children seemed to have failed utterly. Sickening and feverish, Albert travelled to meet the Prince of Wales at Cambridge to harangue him on the error of his ways. Father and son went for a long walk in the rain. Bertie apologised, Albert forgave and then returned to Windsor wet through, racked with pain in his legs and suffering from fever. He retired to bed, where his symptoms worsened. In December 1861, aged only 42, he died. Queen Victoria’s grief was so great that it would dominate her family and the nation for decades to come. And of course she blamed her eldest son Bertie for her beloved’s death. For years she could hardly bear to bring herself even to look at him.

Queen Victoria at Balmoral with her daughters Princess Alice and Princess Louise and a portrait of her late husband, Prince Albert. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

With Albert’s death the idea of raising perfect children died too. Victoria managed as best she could, relying on her position as queen and her domineering character to make her children bend to her will. In this she was generally successful, though she and the Prince of Wales gave each other a wide berth. And her many letters show she was – if a mixture of egocentric martinet and self-pitying widow – always at heart a loving mother.

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Like all parents before and after, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert learned that children have an extraordinary ability to perplex, frustrate and amaze at their individuality and their obstinate refusal to turn into little paragons. Years later Victoria was honest enough to say this herself in a surprising yet characteristic admission: “You will find as your children grow up that as a rule your children are a bitter disappointment – their greatest object being to do precisely what their parents do not wish and have anxiously tried to prevent”. The great matriarch concluded with an eternal truth that it had taken her years to come to appreciate that “often when children have been less watched and less taken care of – the better they turn out! This is inexplicable and very annoying!”.

Certainly her own children, in the main, turned out well enough despite the untimely death of their father and the failure of his plan. Even Bertie, a libertine and prince of pleasure, was as Edward VII a very successful king whose easy charm and diplomatic skills ensured the continuing popularity of the British royal family and brought Britain closer to France on the eve of the catastrophe of the First World War. In a surprising and all too human way, Albert’s plan had worked out after all.

Denys Blakeway is a documentary producer and writer. He was the executive producer of Queen Victoria’s Children, a three-part series made for BBC Two that aired in 2016.


This article was first published by History Extra in September 2016

Just what was the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert like in real life? (Picture: ITV)

We’re into season three of Victoria, with the action having moved on to 1841 as ITV’s dramatisation of the monarch’s life continues.

One of the main focuses of this series, which is set between 1848 and 1851, is the marriage of Victoria (Jenna Coleman) and Albert (Tom Hughes), which wasn’t all plain sailing around this time.

While it’s known that Victoria was very much in love with Albert, and remained in mourning for the rest of her life following his death in 1861, their marriage wasn’t without difficulties either.

So just what was going on during the time in which this series is set?

What problems did Queen Victoria have during her marriage?

Victoria and Albert had been married for eight years by 1848, and by this point they were already parents to five children – Victoria, Albert Edward, Alice, Alfred and Helena – while Victoria was pregnant with her sixth child, daughter Louise.

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However Victoria did not enjoy being pregnant, hated breastfeeding and did not bestow affection on her children, instead thinking it her duty to be ‘severe’ – with some suggestion that she may have suffered from postnatal depression after many of her pregnancies.

Victoria was not fond of being pregnant, but bore nine children in total (Picture: Bettmann Archive)

And this is said to have caused difficulties between them, as Victoria spent so much of her time pregnant or recovering from being pregnant (she and Albert had nine children in total), with strong hints that the queen may have imposed a ‘sex ban’ on her marriage to avoid falling pregnant yet again.

She was also said to have resented Albert stepping in to take over her duties while she was expecting her children – and that Albert did not have a lot of sympathy for what her perceived postnatal depression.

An extract from one letter he sent to her a month after the birth of their youngest son, Leopold, in 1853, sees him complaining about Victoria’s ‘continuance of hysterics over a miserable trifle’.

Does this feature in the TV series?

The monarch was heartbroken after the death of Prince Albert (Picture: Getty Images)

Writer Daisy Goodwin has hinted that the ‘sex ban’ and Victoria’s resentment of constantly being pregnant is likely to feature.

‘She has six children in eight years – which is a lot – and there are some gaps, so I wonder whether there may have been some withholding on both sides; that’s certainly something I’m going to explore,’ she said ahead of the launch of series three.

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“She’s in this terrible double bind. She loves Albert and she loves going to bed with Albert. But every time he goes near her she gets pregnant. Obviously that suits him more than it suits her.”

When she’s pregnant he takes over her work. He’s the best maternity cover you can have – he’s rather too good at it.

‘She feels rather displaced. She doesn’t like the discomfort about being pregnant.’

When did Prince Albert die?

Albert is said to have died of typhoid, becoming ill in December 1861 (Picture: Getty Images)

The Prince passed away on 14 December 1861 aged 42, with his death most likely to have been caused by typhoid.

His loss plunged the Queen into deep mourning, wearing black for the remainder of her life and avoiding public appearances, her aversion further caused by the fact that her weight had increased through comfort eating – with her absence from public life strengthening calls for her to abdicate and for England to become a republic.

Victoria held her son Albert Edward – known as Bertie – responsible for Albert’s death, as shortly before he became ill they had received rumours that the prince had slept with an actress while visiting Ireland.

Albert subsequently travelled to Cambridge, where Bertie was studying at the time, to confront him over the rumours – and fell ill a short time later.

However with series three ending in 1851, Albert looks set to make it to the end of the run alive.

When is Victoria on?


The series continues on ITV on Sunday night at 9pm.

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