THE QUEEN AND LORD M
On the morning of 20th June 1837, an eighteen-year-old girl is called from her bed to be told that she is Queen of England.
The young queen’s first few years are beset with court scandal and malicious gossip: there is the unsavoury Flora Hastings affair, a source of extreme embarrassment to the queen; the eternal conflict between Victoria and her mother, and the young queen’s hatred of Sir John Conroy.
Then there is the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne – ‘Lord M’ – worldly cynic and constant companion to the queen, himself a veteran of many a latter-day scandal. He proves to be her guiding light – until the dashing Prince Albert appears and she falls hopelessly in love.
The Queen and Lord M (1973) is the second novel in the Queen Victoria series which also includes The Captive of Kensington Palace (1972), The Queen’s Husband (1973), and The Widow of Windsor (1974), all telling the story of Queen Victoria at different stages of her life.
This second volume concentrates on the early years of Victoria’s reign and her relationship with her favourite prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who takes the young queen under his wing. The novel spans a period of the three years from the moment Victoria becomes queen to her wedding with Prince Albert. It also shows Victoria’s deteriorating relationship with her mother and her attempts to get rid of John Conroy once and for all.
Victoria relishes her new found freedom but she soon realises she has a lot to learn about being a monarch and her enemies are already plotting her downfall. Victoria leans heavily on Lord M who quickly becomes the most important figure in her life much to the chagrin of her Uncle Leopold who is still trying to influence Victoria’s decisions. Most of the chapters are told from the point of view of Victoria as she navigates her way through one political crisis after another, however we do get to hear from Melbourne who feels like he has been given a second chance in moulding the young queen. As good as Melbourne’s intentions might be, there is still the sense that Victoria is surrounded by people who all want to control her in some way but she proves to be more resistant than they ever thought she would be.
However, the book suffers from the same problem as the first one, there is not enough material to hold your interest. There are two significant events in Victoria’s early reign, the scandal of Flora Hastings and the Bedchamber Crisis, and both of these events happen quite late in the novel. The rest of the book is mainly Victoria waxing lyrical about Lord M’s many attributes and her naive belief she can keep him by her side. Her infatuation with Melbourne leads her to having an instant hatred for the opposition, Robert Peel, and she develops an unwavering dislike for the Tories who threaten Melbourne’s position as prime minister. This becomes increasingly problematic as the sovereign is supposed to be politically neutral.
The language of the book is also cloyingly sentimental, particularly when Victoria thinks about Lord M who seems to always have tears in his eyes. Victoria’s feelings for him often cloud her judgement and the topic of marriage takes a backseat because she wants nothing to change and knows marrying Lord M cannot be an option. However, Victoria’s popularity with the public takes a dramatic nose dive thanks to her perceived part in the conspiracy to malign the character of Lady Flora Hastings. Flora had a close association with John Conroy and when her stomach began to protrude, the court jumped to the conclusion she was pregnant. After Victoria ordered a medical examination, it was discovered Flora was seriously ill with a liver tumour which was causing her stomach to swell. Conroy, angry by Victoria’s lack of gratitude towards him, encouraged Flora’s brother to take the story to the press to discredit the queen.
Disliking the harsh criticism from the public, Victoria also realises her relationship with Lord M is coming under close scrutiny when she hears cries of “Mrs Melbourne’ when out in her carriage and at the theatre. Victoria is soon persuaded a royal wedding would go a long way into restoring the public’s faith in her and she reconsiders her stance. Victoria entertains in her cousins from Coburg and instantly falls in love with Albert who she regards as the personification of beauty. Victoria is besotted by Albert and wastes no time in proposing which means Lord M’s position is finally usurped. Lord M is a rather sad figure as he fades into the background at court and eventually from the political sphere.
Again, the research is impeccable but the early years of Victoria and her reign could have been easily merged into one book which would have gone a long way into alleviating the dullness. Judging by the titles of the third and fourth books, the pace is going to get much faster as The Queen’s Husband is likely to cover a twenty year span and the birth of nine babies.