George III was the longest reigning king in British history. Given this fact and that he and his wife Charlotte produced no less than fifteen children, it’s difficult to see how he could have done more to ensure the survival of the monarchy and the House of Hanover. Despite this, the final years of his sixty year reign which ended with his death in 1820 were clouded not just by his own insanity but by a succession crisis.
Some of it was bad luck. Some of his children and grandchildren died before reaching adulthood. But his remaining offspring, prone to adulterous liaisons, overeating and drinking, fighting duals and other bad habits, were also genuinely terrible at the primary Royal function: producing heirs and spares themselves.
This is the story of his four oldest sons, all born in the 1760s and thus all in their fifties by the closing years of their father’s long reign. The first, George, was a fat waste of space who became Prince Regent and then George IV between 1820 and 1830. His own daughter, Princess Charlotte died in 1817. Then came Frederick, the Grand Old Duke of York of nursery rhyme fame. He predeceased his older brother after a long military career blighted by scandal. ‘Old melon head’ William, Duke of Clarence was next. Never expected to be king, he was put into the navy as a child but became King William IV between 1830 and 1837. His head was indeed an odd shape. A hostile bystander once threw a rock at it but he was protected by some padding he’d added to make his hat fit on his oddly shaped cranium. Finally, Edward, also something of a disappointment. He died in 1820, shortly before his father. Yet it was he who in his final year would become father to the baby girl who would famously rule the empire for the last sixty years of the century and whose great-great-granddaughter sits on the throne today.
These are just the highlights. Catherine Curzon tells the story so much better in this thorough and very readable volume. Book review: The Elder Sons of George III: Kings, Princes, and a Grand Old Duke, by Catherine Curzon. Published by: Pen & Sword (2020)
George III was the longest reigning king in British history. Given this fact and that he and his wife Charlotte produced no less than fifteen children, it’s difficult to see how he could have done more to ensure the survival of the monarchy and the House of Hanover. Despite this, the final years of his sixty year reign which ended with his death in 1820 were clouded not just by his own insanity but by a succession crisis. Some of it was bad luck. Some of his children and grandchildren died before reaching adulthood. But his remaining offspring, prone to adulterous liaisons, overeating and drinking, fighting duals and other bad habits, were also genuinely terrible at the primary Royal function: producing heirs and spares themselves. This is the story of his four oldest sons, all born in the 1760s and thus all in their fifties by the closing years of their father’s long reign.
The first, George, was a fat waste of space who became Prince Regent and then George IV between 1820 and 1830. His own daughter, Princess Charlotte died in 1817. Then came Frederick, the Grand Old Duke of York of nursery rhyme fame. He predeceased his older brother after a long military career blighted by scandal. ‘Old melon head’ William, Duke of Clarence was next. Never expected to be king, he was put into the navy as a child but became King William IV between 1830 and 1837. His head was indeed an odd shape. A hostile bystander once threw a rock at it but he was protected by some padding he’d added to make his hat fit on his oddly shaped cranium. Finally, Edward, also something of a disappointment. He died in 1820, shortly before his father. Yet it was he who in his final year would become father to the baby girl who would famously rule the empire for the last sixty years of the century and whose great-great-granddaughter sits on the throne today. These are just the highlights. Catherine Curzon tells the story so much better in this thorough and very readable volume.
Book review: The Elder Sons of George III: Kings, Princes, and a Grand Old Duke, by Catherine Curzon. Published by: Pen & Sword (2020)
There is now not a single person on the entire planet who was alive at the same time as Queen Victoria.
She was born two hundred years ago in May 1819. It was a
different world then. Napoleon Bonaparte
and Beethoven were both still alive. The Peterloo massacre occurred in
Manchester that summer.
Victoria died in January 1901. By that time her funeral
procession was able to be filmed and thus seen by more people than any who had
witnessed the funerals of all previous English kings and queens combined. There
were 1.6 billion people alive on the Earth then. Every one of them has since
died, the last of which probably in 2017. 7.7 billion others have now replaced
Princess Alexandrina Victoria was born in the last year of
the reign of her grandfather, George III, who despite being incapacitated by
madness by that point, was the longest reigning king in English history.
Victoria would herself exceed his record of sixty years on the throne by the
end of the century. Some of her subjects such as the composer Arthur Sullivan
(of Gilbert and Sullivan), Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stephenson and the
playwright Oscar Wilde lived their lives entirely within her reign. In 1819,
however, her own succession looked uncertain.
With fourteen grown-up children, George III’s legacy should have been secure. But following the sudden death of his granddaughter, the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte in 1817, it became apparent not one of his children had produced a legitimate heir to succeed them. Victoria, the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, was the result of the subsequent “baby race.” She was fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, but by 1837, when her uncle William IV died, Victoria became Queen at the age of eighteen.
Perceptions of the Victorian era have changed steadily as society
has gradually transformed in the years since 1901. Arguably, little really changed until 1914, but the
trauma of the First World War did much to undermine the Empire and accelerate
social change. One day in January 1924, the King, George V wrote in his diary. “Today
23 years ago dear Grandmama died,” he wrote. “I wonder what she would have
thought of a Labour Government”. By the 1920s, women could vote, and motor cars
were becoming more prevalent. In 1926, the General Strike occurred. Old
traditions persisted, however. George V enjoyed a warm public response to his
Silver Jubilee in 1935, an event that doubtless evoked nostalgic memories of
Victoria’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee celebrations in anyone then older than
their forties or fifties and thus able to remember them. Victoria, herself, had
in fact, not celebrated her own Silver Jubilee, there being no tradition of
celebrating them in 1862. She had at any rate been grief-stricken following the
death of her beloved Prince Albert in December 1861.
November 1936 saw the destruction by fire of the Crystal Palace
constructed for the Great Exhibition in 1851. The timing seemed apt: the
monarchy was now in its most serious crisis of the post-Victorian era. George V
had died in January, his son Edward VIII abdicated in December: a major trauma
for the Royal Family, the wounds of which would not heal for decades.
1937 was thus a coronation year with the reluctant George VI being crowned, a century after his great-grandmother had started her long reign. The line of succession now strongly suggested, Britain would have a new Queen one day. That was assuming the King’s wife, Queen Elizabeth didn’t now give birth to a son. This was quite possible: she was only 36 at the time of the coronation and until the 21st century, a son always overtook a daughter (in this case, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret) in the line of succession. But this didn’t happen.
Incidentally, the year 1937 also saw the release of Victoria
the Great starring Anna Neagle. Although very reverent in its portrayal of the
monarch’s early years, the Lord Chamberlain initially banned the play it was
based upon as it used a member of the Royal Family for its subject matter.
The years ahead would see more change. Although the war,
reinforced notions of patriotism and led to a rise in support for the monarchy,
by the half way point of the century with the empire fast unravelling,
Britain’s Victorian heritage was increasing looking like a thing of the past,
perhaps unsurprisingly fifty years after Queen Victoria’s death.
But then in 1952, her great-great granddaughter succeeded to
the throne, accompanied by her husband, himself one of Victoria’s great-great-grandsons.
Elizabeth II was only the sixth ruling female monarch in English history. Any
Briton in his fifties or over would have seen five new kings or queens come to
the throne in the previous fifty years. As we know, this has not happened again
in the nearly seventy years since. At the start of the Queen’s reign, both the
Prime Minister and Opposition leaders, Churchill and Attlee had been young men
at the time of Victoria’s death.
Harold Macmillan who was Prime Minister at the start of the sixties, was the last PM to be born during Victoria’s reign. The Sixties, more than any other decade, for good or ill, would see much of the residual spirit of the Victorian age vanish forever.
Probably, it was inevitable. Even by the early Sixties, only
people of retirement age could remember the closing years of Victoria’s reign
at all. Even then, these memories were likely to have been eclipsed by memories
of bigger events since, such as the two World Wars and Great Depression. But even allowing for that, with the rise of
tower blocks, the Beatles, free love, the contraceptive pill, decolonisation
and the liberalisation of laws on divorce, and homosexuality – the pace of
change was too great for any Victorian sensibility to survive.
Today, we view the Victorian age with mixed feelings: a
golden age of literature and change undoubtedly although our other opinions
might well be determined by our political outlook, However, what cannot be
denied is that it was a decisive, transformative and crucial period in British
Review: Queen Victoria didn’t just reign. She ruled.She in fact ruled for nearly 64 years, longer than anyone else, a record the present Queen may beat if she holds out until 2016 (update: this has since happened).
Yet while most films about, say, Henry VIII see him transformed from a handsome young Jonathan Rhys Meyers-type into an obese Charles Laughton-like glutton, movies about Victoria usually centre exclusively on her later years as a gloomy, sour faced old widow. This is different. Opening in the 1830s, we first meet Emily Blunt’s teenaged Princess Victoria as she develops an initially awkward romance with her German suitor, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), before we move onto her early years on the throne.
In the meantime, she finds herself in a constant battle to assert her authority over her Germanic mother (Miranda Richardson) and bossy baron, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong).
Although too tall and, frankly, much too attractive to be Queen Victoria at any age, Emily Blunt is otherwise perfect for the role while Rupert Friend is impressive as the crusading Albert. Some of the smaller roles are less well-handled, however. Paul Bettany just looks weird as the sixty-something Lord Melbourne and Jim Broadbent, while brilliant as ever as Victoria’s eccentric uncle, William IV, is so heavily made up that during the state banquet scene he resembles Bilbo Baggins at his eleventy-first birthday party.Yet, for the most part, the film is both visually authentic and well cast.
The problem really is the setting. Victoria came to the throne at a relatively peaceful time in the nation’s history. Her life wasn’t untroubled by any means, but despite a reasonable attempt to demonise Mark Strong’s Conroy, there’s little scope for dramatic conflict. Recognising this, screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) sexes up events by heavily fictionalising a major event towards the end of the film. This contrivance apparently provoked the ire of the present Queen, not a good idea if Fellowes ever wants a knighthood (update: Fellowes was elevated to the peerage in 2011).
The five featurettes here are all less than ten minutes long and primarily focus on the set design, costumes and historical background to the film. ‘The Real Queen Victoria’ is perhaps the best of these, enlivened by diary entries from Victoria herself, even if these are undermined by them being read by someone apparently auditioning for a part in ‘EastEnders’.
For quiet Sunday evening viewing though, The Young Victoria is hard to fault.
Overall Verdict:Blunt and Friend are okay and the central romance is well-handled but anyone fancying something racier should go for ‘The Duchess’ instead.
‘The Making Of Young Victoria’ Featurette
‘The Coronation’ Featurette
‘Lavish History: A Look at The Costumes and Locations’ Featurette
Book review: Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow, by Lucy Worsley.
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
There is now no one on Earth who was alive at the same time as Queen Victoria. Her long life began nearly two centuries ago in 1819 when Napoleon was still alive. By the time of her death in 1901, her funeral procession was able to be filmed, bringing it to a wider audience than all previous royal funerals combined. Her reign, now the second longest in British history now was hugely important, marking the peak of British imperial power and the industrial revolution and the literary careers of Charles Dickens, the Brontes, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy.
Victoria’s reign has been very well documented, however, so it is refreshing that Lucy Worsley has managed to find a fresh perspective on it through choosing to focus on 24 key days in her long life. Through this, we are able to gain a new insight into Victoria as a person, as well as a ruler, empress and symbol of an age.
Yes, that’s right. At the start of his tenure as Pope, he is already older than most people are when they retire. He is the ninth oldest Pope to have been elected since 1295. Would you be happy if your doctor, dentist, solicitor or bank manager was 76? Perhaps not. However, if you are Roman Catholic, you have no choice. He is now the head of the Church.
Let’s put things in perspective. Only three monarchs in the whole of British history have exceeded the age of 76,: Victoria, Elizabeth II our present Queen and George III during his mad phase when his son ruled as Regent.
In elected situations, only one US president Ronald Reagan has exceeded 76 years while in office. He was arguably in the first stages of dementia when he left office aged 77 in 1989. In Britain, both William Gladstone and Winston Churchill ruled into their 80s. Both were great leaders, but both were past their best by this point.
Times have changed since the 81 year old Churchill faced the 72 year old Labour opponent Clem Attlee in the Commons in 1955. Leaders have got younger since then. Perhaps it is as well. Three PMs retired in a row on grounds of ill health in the fifties and sixties: Churchill in 1955, Eden in 1957 and Macmillan in 1963. All did live to a good age though (Macmillan and Churchill were both over 90 when they died) unlike Labour Opposition leader Hugh Gaitskell who died suddenly in his 50s in 1963.
Thereafter, leaders got younger. Harold Wilson may have looked portly and unglamourous next to President Kennedy when he visited him in 1963. But Wilson (born 1916) was actually only one year older than JFK. He was to be the youngest PM of the century so far when he entered Downing Street aged 48 in 1964.
Wilson retired aged 60 in 1976 and thereafter Labour leaders got older again. his successor Jim Callaghan, already prone to afternoon naps and stints on his rural farm, was 64 when he took over. Callaghan reportedly wanted to be succeeded by someone younger when he stood down in 1980 with Labour back in opposition. And, technically, he got his wish. Michael Foot was 67 and thus a full year younger than Callaghan. Indeed, Foot was two years younger than the dark haired charismatic Ronald Reagan who was elected president one month after he became leader.
But Foot with his walking stick and long scruffy white hair seemed much older than his years. “Do you want this old fool to run Britain?” was the cruel Sun headline during the 1983 General Election. “Let’s kick Michael Foot’s stick away!” urged comedian Kenny Everett in front of an audience of cheering Young Conseravtives during the same campaign. Labour lost heavily.
It thus took until 1983 for Labour to elect a leader born after the end of the First World War. Perhaps overreacting slightly, they elected Neil Kinnock, a man of 41 with no cabinet experience. Kinnock never got to Downing Street either but the trend towards younger leaders has continued (with a few exceptions notably sixtysomethings Michael Howard for the Tories and Menzies Campbell for the Lib Dems) ever since.
John Major became the youngest Prime Minister of the 20th century, taking over at 47 in 1990. But his successor Tony Blair (who, like Kinnock, had become Labour leader at 41) was younger still in 1997. William Hague was only 36 when he became leader in 1997 and is widely seen as having peaked too early in this regard.
But Cameron was only 39 when he became Tory leader in 2005. He had no Cabinet experience at all and had barely been in parliament for four years. He was younger than Blair or Major had been when he succeeded to Downing Street. Today all three party leaders are in their 40s. George Osborne, the Chancellor is barely 40.
What does all this mean? Much was made, after all, of Tony Blair’s youth and inexperience in 1997. But, in practice, even his opponents would agree, he actually took to the job of being Prime Minister with far more ease than ostensibly more experienced souls like Callaghan and Eden had done.
Old age need not be a disadvantage either and it should be noted that the Queen continues to do her job very well. But the Papacy is starting to resemble the last days of the USSR with one elderly leader such as Brezhnev – who once famously addressed an audience of communists while facing in the wrong direction – being succeeded by another (Andropov) and then another (Chenenko) within a couple of years.
Happily, the Vatican is not a nuclear power. And it is worth remembering that the upshot of the succession of geriatric leaders in the USSR was that it eventually led to the appointment of a younger man Mikhail Gorbachev, a reformer who presided over the destruction of a corrupt and archaic regime.
Is it too much too hope that history might repeat itself?
Nothing becomes Pope Benedict XVI more than the manner of his retirement.
He is the first Pope to resign since 1415, the year of the Battle of Agincourt. This is absurd. Where on Earth has this stupid idea come from that people should remain in certain positions until they die? The Pope is eighty five. He is slightly older than the last Pope was when he died. He is already the fourth oldest pope since 1295. He was already too old to be Pope when he took over in 2005. Of course, he should retire. In any other job, he would have been pensioned off years ago.
Remember the last Pope? Jean Paul II. Considered a successful Pope by many, his last years were painful to watch as he visibly deteriorated in front of the world’s eyes. The satirical magazine The Onion captured the mood with the headline “Ageing Pope ‘Just Blessing Everything in Sight’ say Concerned Handlers”.
There is much to condemn about the Roman Catholic church but the Pope and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands who announced she is to stand down recently (she is in her mid-70s) are here setting a good example.
Queen Elizabeth II should heed these examples. She is doing well now but do we really want her to feel she has to go on if her health seriously declines? It is time the Queen removed the stigma attached to the concept of abdication left by her uncle Edward VIII.
She is not Edward VIII. There is no scandal here. Furthermore, her son – the future Charles III – is not a reluctant George Vi type as in 1936.
The Queen should wait until On that date, her own reign will finally surpass her great great grandmother Queen Victoria’s reign by precisely one day. Elizabeth II will thus become the longest serving monarch in British history.