The fallout between Victoria (Jenna Coleman) and Albert (Tom Hughes) continues and the footmen are kept busy as they are only communicating by letter much to everyone else’s amusement. Albert informs Victoria he will soon be leaving for Cambridge as he has been asked to stand as chancellor by the university and he hopes she will follow his advice by engaging a male tutor for Bertie as his behaviour is becoming increasingly unruly. Victoria responds by telling her husband Bertie’s behaviour is lacking only because he has failed to reach the high expectations of his father. She tells him he can’t leave for Cambridge as they are expecting foreign ambassadors that evening and they must present a united front.
Albert responds by telling Victoria her idea of a united front is for him to be paraded around like a show pony. Victoria replies she has had to double her efforts to show she loves her subjects as much as her children as he made her leave London in the first place. Her duty to her country is not vanity but a duty.
Elsewhere, Nancy Skerrett (Nell Hudson), the queen’s former dresser, and Charles Francatelli (Ferdinand Kingsley), the former palace chef, have moved into the Seven Dials Hotel which they intend to run as a business, however Victoria refuses to read the letter Nancy has left for her and loses her temper with the maid who is trying to dress her hair. Victoria shuts the letter away in a drawer. An epidemic of cholera has broken out in the area of the hotel and many bodies are seen being carried away. John Snow (Sam Swainsbury), a doctor attending the sick, is trying to establish the cause of the outbreak by trying to detect patterns in who has been affected and where those people are living.
At the palace, Victoria and Albert receive the foreign ambassadors who present them with gifts to commemorate the birth of Princess Louise, however the royal couple maintain their frosty silence with each other. Albert tracks down Lord Russell (John Sessions) to inform him he has been asked to stand as chancellor to Cambridge University, however Russell has no time to respond as Palmerston (Laurence Fox) rudely interrupts once again. Palmerston hopes the prince will be a vast improvement on the previous royal incumbent, the Duke of Gloucester, who had difficulty in keeping his mouth closed. Albert says there is much work to be done and tells them about the studies he undertook at Bonn University which included the natural sciences as well as the classics. Palmerston retorts Homer and Virgil made him the man he is today, while Russell reminds Albert the position is an honorary one with no real power and Cambridge is not known for its willingness to accept change.
As the guests are treated to a performance by Jenny Lind (Alison Langer), Francatelli and Nancy continue to get the hotel ready for paying guests but a disturbance in the street catches their attention and they see more dead being carted away. Nancy isn’t sure they should be opening so soon but Francatelli accuses her of missing the palace. During the performance, Russell receives a message informing him the cholera epidemic in Soho has become more serious. He tells the Queen they are doing all they can and Albert asks why they haven’t been looking into the source of the outbreak. Palmerston reminds him they are politicians who can’t waste their time on scientific endeavours when they have a public to reassure.
The following day, Albert and Victoria argue over the prince’s plans to go to Cambridge as the Queen insists she needs him to stay in London. Albert accuses Victoria of believing in the superstitious idea that her very presence in the city will keep her people safe which leads her to accusing him of being callous. As the argument continues, Feodora (Kate Fleetwood) eavesdrops outside the door with a satisfied look on her face.
As Parliament discuss the outbreak, Dr. Snow continues his own investigations and marks the pattern of the outbreaks on a map. The epidemic seems to be contained to one particular street in Soho where the Seven Dials Hotel is situated.
Albert and Lord Alfred (Jordan Waller) arrive at Cambridge where the prince is asked to say a few words at dinner, however the mood changes when Albert begins to talks about the importance of science. As expected, the criticism of the curriculum does not go down well.
Meanwhile, Victoria has an audience with doctors who give their outlandish theories on how cholera is spread which does not impress Dr. Snow who remains silent. Victoria is advised the cholera is spread by a miasma and as long as she stays inside the palace she will be safe. Russell suggests Victoria announce a day of prayer or fasting to keep up morale but her dubiousness is shared by Dr. Snow who can’t help blurting out how it won’t help. Dr. Snow’s outburst gets Victoria’s attention but he declines to discuss his theories as he has no proof as yet.
Outside, Dr. Snow realises none of the men who work in the brewery have been affected by the epidemic despite being on the same street and he discovers they drink ale rather than water which gets him thinking.
At the palace, Victoria tells Palmerston she would like him to arrange a visit to the hospital but he reminds her he is the Foreign Secretary not the Commissioner for the Board of Health. Victoria retorts the commissioner is highly unlikely to approve of such a visit while she knows Palmerston loves to break the rules. Palmerston asks if Victoria isn’t afraid of catching the disease but she informs him she wouldn’t hesitate to go into a room if one of her children were ill. Palmerston agrees to arrange the visit, although he suspects it will not go down well with the Board of Health. Victoria says it will not be a problem if they are not informed of the visit which amuses Palmerston.
At Seven Dials, Nancy suspects she may be pregnant and she pays a visit to Arbuthnot’s Apothecary where she is given the choice of two bottles: one to aid abortion and the other to alleviate sickness. Nancy returns to the hotel where she informs Francatelli they are expecting a child and he is delighted.
Victoria visits the hospital with Palmerston where she is appalled by the plight of the people and she learns about the cruelty of the disease from a young nurse who believes cholera follows those living in poverty. Frustrated, Victoria says there must be something she can do but is at a loss. She tells the nurse the Board of Health have their own theories but the nurse says there is only one doctor who comes to visit and Victoria realises she is taking about Dr. Snow. As Victoria leaves, she asks the nurse her name and is told she is Florence Nightingale.
At Cambridge, Lord Alfred informs Albert that Lord Powis (Julian Firth) has decided to run against him for the position of chancellor which causes the prince some consternation as he believed the position already belonged to him.
Victoria returns to the palace, still clearly upset about her visit to the hospital, but she is delighted when the children all come down to greet her. Victoria hugs them to her tightly before they are sent inside. Afterwards, Victoria reveals her despair to Feodora.
Exploring his new theories, Dr. Snow’s map shows all of the cases are situated in one specific area of Broad Street apart from one patient who lives in Hampstead. Dr. Snow arrives at the address in Hampstead to question Mrs. Arbuthnot about her comings and goings that day and she reveals she went to her apothecary shop in Soho. She also reveals she gets the water for her tonics at the pump in Broad St. Realising he is on to something, Dr. Snow rushes to stop people drawing water from the pump but he is chased away.
Nancy and Francatelli invite their friends, Abigail Turner (Sabrina Bartlett) and Brodie (Tommy Knight), to dinner where they reveal the news Nancy is pregnant, however it is clear Nancy is not feeling well and she leaves the room to take more of the tonic she was given. The following morning, Nancy is lying feverish in bed and she begins to talk about baby names when her husband enters the room with breakfast. She wants Victoria for a boy and Albert for a girl, then realises she has the names round the wrong way. As she doubles over in pain, Francatelli soothes her but she believes they are back in the palace.
Victoria receives Dr. Snow and encourages him to share his theories with her and he reveals he believes cholera is spread by dirty water. Dr. Snow shows the queen the map he has created and explains how he discovered a woman from Hampstead had been using the same pump for her tonics. Brodie, who is serving tea, is horrified when he realises the woman was Mrs. Arbuthnot and that Nancy is in danger.
Meanwhile, at Cambridge, the voting for the chancellorship has taken place and Albert has won more votes than his rival, Lord Powis, however the prince reveals he will not be accepting the chancellorship under the circumstances. Palmerston, who came to vote, reveals he voted for the prince.
Victoria and Dr. Snow rush to the Seven Dials Hotel where Nancy is now gravely ill. Victoria is dismayed when Francatelli reveals Nancy is pregnant and she urges Dr. Snow to do something. Victoria sits on the bed and takes Nancy’s hand. Nancy is confused by the queen’s presence and asks if she wants her hair done. She tells Victoria she has her own palace now and the queen tells her it is a splendid one. Nancy then tells the queen she is going to name her daughter after her and Victoria tells her she can’t think of a greater honour. Nancy suddenly doubles up in pain and Victoria leaves the room in tears.
Albert returns to the palace to discover Victoria absent but Feodora congratulates him on winning the chancellorship. Albert tells her it should have been a formality but it turned out to be a humiliation instead. Albert tells Feodora he should have listened to Victoria as she was right about having to win over the public. When the queen’s carriage arrives, Albert goes downstairs to greet her and she immediately rushes into his arms. Watching from the window, Feodora is less than pleased.
At Seven Dials, Nancy reminisces with Francatelli about their first meeting and how they should have married sooner. Nancy tells him she believes the hotel will be a marvellous success but Francatelli says it will be nothing without her. As Francatelli calls her name, Nancy closes her eyes and slips away. At the palace, a distressed Victoria finally reads Nancy’s letter and gets increasingly upset when she reads how much Nancy regretted having to leave her but she had to follow her heart. She also recommends her friend, Abigail Turner, as a suitable replacement.
The sorrow of Nancy’s passing forces Victoria and Albert to put aside their differences and they finally reunite.
- The Broad Street epidemic actually occurred in 1854, claiming more than 600 lives, before the source was traced to the water pump which was dangerously close to the overflowing sewage system. There was an outbreak of cholera in 1849 though which is more consistent with the timeline of the show so it looks like the producers have chosen to merge the outbreaks.
- Dr. John Snow (1813-1858), an English physician, was instrumental in tracing the source of the cholera outbreak to the water pump on Broad Street and its subsequent dismantling ended the spread of the disease. The well on Broad Street had been dug close to an old cesspit that was leaking faecal matter into the water supply. Snow would go on to create maps showing where companies were drawing sewage-contaminated water from the Thames which could be compared to outbreaks of cholera. Incredibly, Snow’s theory was rejected by the Medical Society of London but he was finally vindicated when his theories were proven after another outbreak in the 1860s.
- Dr. Snow was also a pioneer of anaesthesia and he administered chloroform as a pain reliever to Queen Victoria when she gave birth to her youngest son, Leopold, in 1853.
- Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was not involved in caring for those affected by the cholera outbreak as portrayed. The Crimean War broke out in 1854 and Nightingale was later placed in charge of a group of nurses sent to attend to wounded troops where she gained her famous nickname “Lady of the Lamp”. After the war ended, Nightingale returned to England where she set about improving the quality of nursing.
- Queen Victoria admired Nightingale’s work immensely and often wrote letters to her, however they did not meet until Nightingale was invited to stay at Balmoral after the Crimean War ended.
- Charles Elmé Francatelli (1805-1876) was Queen Victoria’s cook from 9 March 1840 to 31 March 1842. He wrote a few cooking books, including The Modern Cook (1845); A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (1852); The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant (1861); and The Royal English and Foreign Confectionery Book (1862).
- Queen Victoria’s dresser was actually named Marianne Skerrett and she remained in the service of the queen until her retirement in 1862 at the age of 69. Skerrett was more than just Queen Victoria’s dresser though as she undertook duties that made her more akin to a personal secretary, including dealing with correspondence, commissioning artists and paying bills.
- Prince Albert was elected Chancellor of the University of Cambridge after a close contest with Edward Herbert, 2nd Earl of Powis. Albert would go on to campaign successfully to reform the curriculum to include modern history and the natural sciences.
- Jenny Lind (1820-1887) was a Swedish opera singer and one of the most highly regarded singers of the 19th century. Lind performed successfully on the British stage for two years until her retirement from opera in May 1849. She then left for America where she went on to perform in concerts for Barnum.