The world’s eyes are on the Great Exhibition, and the Royal couple. Does triumph or failure beckon?

Directed by Delyth Thomas. Written by Daisy Goodwin.

The White Elephant

Albert (Tom Hughes) is asleep at his desk when Cole (David Newman) arrives to tell him the Russian exhibits have been held up by ice in the Baltic Sea. A weary Albert agrees it has been a long winter before Victoria (Jenna Coleman) arrives to make sure he attends breakfast. Albert tells her about the Russian exhibits being stuck in ice but Victoria maintains the exhibition will get along just as well without them. Albert finally gives in and follows Victoria out of the room.

Later, Victoria is reading her correspondence which is very negative about the Crystal Palace and the forthcoming exhibition. Victoria says Albert is a visionary but Feodora (Kate Fleetwood) speculates only a wife can see his true genius and Victoria must be a great comfort to him. A footman arrives with a note and Victoria tells them it is from Monmouth (Nicholas Audsley) staying Sophie (Lily Travers) has taken a turn for the worse. Victoria asks Emma Portman (Anna Wilson-Jones) if she knew Sophie’s health was so bad and a worried Emma says she did not. The note states Sophie is suffering from some sort of inflammation of the brain which requires complete rest and seclusion. As Victoria reads the note aloud, Joseph (David Burnett) hears every word from his post outside the door.

Palmerston (Laurence Fox) arrives at the palace the following day to inform Victoria and Albert that the Americans won’t be making an appearance even though their steam thrashing machine has already been set up at the exhibition. They are concerned over the safety of the glass structure but Palmerston assures the queen the lily-livered Americans won’t be missed.

As they make their way down the hallway, Feodora approaches with Adelheid (Ellen Evans) and Victoria introduces her niece to Palmerston. Palmerston kisses her hand and greets her in German but Feodora swiftly reminds him her daughter has barely left the schoolroom. Victoria smooths over the awkward moment by leading Adelheid away to discuss her dress for the exhibition. Adelheid admits she only has two dresses and they are not very chic. Victoria says they will discuss the problem with her dresser and she is sure Feodora will lend her daughter some of her new jewels. Albert tells Feodora that Sigmund, the brother of the King of Prussia, will be attending the exhibition and he would be a great match for Adelheid since Vicky is intended for the crown prince.

Victoria is reading Sleeping Beauty to her children before shooing them to bed, however Vicky (Louisa Bay) remains behind and asks if she really has to marry the crown prince. Vicky is adamant she doesn’t want to live in Berlin and doesn’t want to leave her family. Victoria tells her one day she will want her own family but she promises Vicky will marry for love like just like her. Bertie (Laurie Shepherd) asks his mother if Cousin Adelheid will marry for love and Victoria suspects she might which pleases Bertie. Vicky asks if Papa will wish them a goodnight but Victoria tells them not tonight.

At Westminster, Palmerston informs Lord Russell (John Sessions) there has been coup in Paris and Louis Napoleon has declared himself as emperor. Palmerston says the new emperor will be too busy licking his own country into shape to bother attacking Britain and Russell accuses him of being overconfident. Palmerston says Louis Napoleon may be a Frenchman but he is someone he can do business with before walking away. Russell looks thoughtful.

Albert and Cole are ensconced in the study discussing the latest fear the exhibition will result in a plague due to the masses of people planning to visit London, however they are far more concerned with the low ticket sales as society people do not wish to rub shoulders with ruffians. When Victoria arrives, she ponders the problem and wonders if they might want to shake hands with their queen. Cole gets immediately excited by the idea but Albert does not want to use her to sell tickets. Victoria says she does not want the exhibition to fail, but, more importantly, she wants him to get some sleep. Albert gives in and Victoria ushers him to his bed.

During the night, Victoria awakens to find Albert’s side of the bed empty and finds him looking out over Hyde Park at the Crystal Palace. She tells him it is magnificent but it will still be there in the morning. Albert tells his wife about the sacred elephants of Burma and how the owners are sometimes called upon to make the difficult decision of whether to feed their elephants or their children. The newspapers are calling the Crystal Palace a white elephant and that he is afraid he has built a monument to his own folly. Victoria tells him the people will get used to the idea, and if they don’t, he will still be her husband, the father of her children and her beloved. She leads him inside.

The following day, Feodora goes to Hyde Park to see the Crystal Palace when Palmerston approaches her on horseback and tells her Adelheid is a fine looking girl. Palmerston then goes on to say Adelheid is far too pretty to marry a Prussian and that Emperor Louis Napoleon is going to be needing a wife soon. Feodora wonders why Palmerston would care about a match with France but he reveals he wants to prevent any possibility of an alliance between France and Prussia. Feodora is intrigued by the idea of her daughter becoming an empress and outranking everyone, including Victoria.

Back at the palace, Victoria and Albert are incensed when they discover Palmerston has been making overtures to the French emperor endangering the relationship Britain was cultivating with Prussia. Lord Russell agrees with them and believes Palmerston will not have the support of the country. Victoria summons Palmerston who maintains he was acting in the best interests of the country. Victoria invites him to sit and the conversation turns to her forthcoming appearance at the Great Exhibition and the dangers of all that glass. Victoria tells him not to be so lily-livered and accuses him of being against it from the start. Palmerston advises her to stay away from the exhibition to distance the Crown from any chances of failure.

Feodora returns to the palace to find Adelheid excitedly trying on her new dress for the exhibition and she declares she loves her Aunt Victoria for being so kind to her. She is also excited to be meeting Prince Sigismund and the prospect of living in Berlin if the match is made. Instead, Feodora tells her to imagine living in Paris.

Victoria is making arrangements with Emma Portman for what the children should wear to the exhibition when Abigail Turner (Sabrina Bartlett) arrives and says she attempted to see the duchess at Monmouth House as the queen requested. Abigail explains she was unable to see Sophie as she is being held under lock and key on the grounds of insanity. Both Victoria and Emma are shocked, as is Joseph who is standing at the door, but Emma suspects the duke is behind it all. Victoria orders Joseph to bring the Duke of Monmouth to see her at once. Abigail chases after Joseph and warns him not to go near the duke as he is a powerful man but Joseph is distraught and says he would lay down his life for Sophie if necessary.

Palmerston arrives home to discover his wife, Emily (Pandora Clifford), has arrived in London at the invitation of the queen and is looking forward to seeing the famous Crystal Palace. Palmerston scoffs and says it is more like the Crystal Carbuncle. As Palmerston gets reacquainted with his wife, Russell is busy plotting his downfall.

The Duke of Monmouth arrives at the palace and Victoria questions why Sophie is being confined as a lunatic as she does not believe the duchess is insane. Monmouth says the doctors who examined his wife would disagree with her but Victoria says men only call women mad when they are doing something inconvenient. Monmouth says his wife’s behaviour has been more than inconvenient and wanton in nature. The doctors call it hysterical nymphomania and Monmouth declares she is completely mad. Victoria tells him she expects to see the duchess at the exhibition tomorrow and brooks no argument.

In the middle of the night, Bertie wakes his mother in alarm believing his father is dead. Victoria rushes to the study to find Albert sound asleep in his chair and awakens him with difficulty. Albert awakes in a state of confusion and Victoria angrily tells him Bertie thought he was dead. Victoria sends Bertie back to bed and Albert tells her she should not attend the opening of the exhibition as he does not want to taint her with his failure. Victoria informs her husband Palmerston said the same thing to her today and she would have to be beyond rational to ignore them both. She assures Albert she will be there and he laughs.

The following day, the carriages leave Buckingham Palace to the sound of cheering from the gathered crowds but Palmerston is booed much to his wife’s amusement. At the Crystal Palace, Victoria and Albert are cheered loudly, and Victoria tells Albert she is so proud of him. The prince nervously delivers his speech declaring the exhibition will bring the nations of the world together. Victoria, in her speech, praises the vision of her husband and Henry Cole, while gently remonstrating those who said it could not be done. Victoria declares the exhibition open and the crowds surge ahead eager to see the wonders that lie within.

Albert proudly shows the royal household around the exhibition, while the queen greets Sophie and promptly dismisses her attendants and her husband. Abigail Turner prompts Sophie to visit the American gallery but Emma warns her to be careful as her husband is watching her every move. As the Prussians arrive, Sophie takes the opportunity to slip away unnoticed. Victoria greets the Prussian royal family and Albert introduces Vicky to the crown prince who kisses her hand. Vicky rubs her hand on her dress and moves away. Albert then introduces Prince Sigmund (Lion Russell Baumann) to Adelheid and they seem quite taken with each other.

At the American gallery, Sophie anxiously waits for Joseph who tells her there is a boat leaving for New York in the morning and in America they will be free to love each other without worrying about their ranks. Joseph tells her it won’t be the life to which she has been accustomed but it will be based on love. Sophie is eager to go with him but she will not leave her son. Joseph tells her William won’t be a child for long but Sophie rushes back to the side of the queen.

Victoria tells Sophie she hopes she will not have a relapse and she sets great store on having the duchess by her side, revealing Victoria has been more aware of what’s been going on than it seemed. Sophie spots Joseph through the crowd and is torn.

Lord Russell approaches Palmerston with a wide grin on his face but Palmerston resigns before Russell can tell him the vote has gone against him. Palmerston kisses Emily’s hand and declares he’s looking forward to spending more time with her.

Elsewhere, Bertie gets down on one knee and proposes to Adelheid much to her amusement. Adelheid gently informs Bertie her mother has already found her a husband. Bertie declares Sigmund is horrible and has a stupid moustache but Adelheid says her mother wants her to marry Louis Napoleon. Feodora overhears the conversation and is dismayed enough to interrupt them.

Palmerston approaches Victoria to inform her about his resignation but Russell has beaten him to it. The queen informs him Russell was almost jubilant. Palmerston admits he should have listened to her and she acknowledges it was so unlike him to go against public sentiment. Palmerston maintains he was doing the right thing and Victoria says he sounds like Albert when he speaks about the exhibition. Palmerston admits the exhibition has proven to be a great success, unlike his career, but Victoria feels his career is not over. As Palmerston leaves with his wife, Feodora wonders if Palmerston can introduce her to the French ambassador. Palmerston is sure it can be arranged but not by him as he is no longer Foreign Secretary. Feodora is taken aback but is unable to hide her glee. Emily informs her she intends to help her husband become prime minister one day.

In the queen’s pavilion, Victoria informs Sophie she should have a house in London of her own so her son can stay with her but Sophie says William has become so independent lately she fears he doesn’t need her anymore. Victoria tells her every woman dreams of escaping but wonders how far she would have to go to forget her own child.

As the royal family leave the exhibition, they are greeted with loud applause by the crowd who chant “God Save the Queen”. Bertie shouts out “God Save Papa” much to Albert’s amusement but he is greatly moved when the crowd begins to chant “God Save Prince Albert”.

Back at the palace, Bertie pretends his soldiers are Napoleon’s men and knocks then all down. When Adelheid arrives to give him some chocolate, he tearfully declares he doesn’t want it and runs away from her. Albert catches Bertie in the corridor and asks what’s the matter and Bertie tells him his heart is broken. Albert tells him that is very serious but hearts can be mended. Bertie tells Albert he’s fallen in love with Adelheid and think she will be a very good queen but her mother wants her to marry Louis Napoleon. Albert tells Bertie he will find someone else to love but Bertie argues he won’t be a good king without Adelheid. Albert tells Bertie he will not need Adelheid to become a great king.

A furious Albert then informs Victoria he had just discovered her sister has been conspiring with Palmerston to marry Adelheid to Louis Napoleon. Victoria says it doesn’t matter because Palmerston has resigned but Albert won’t be soothed as he feels betrayed by Feodora. Albert tells Victoria she was right about her sister all along and he should have listened. Victoria says she takes no satisfaction in being right but an amused Albert doesn’t believe her. Right on cue, Feodora arrives to congratulate Albert on the success of the exhibition and to thank him for introducing Adelheid to Sigmund. Albert asks her what Lord Palmerston would think of Adelheid marrying Sigmund but Feodora seems confused. Albert wonders if she no longer cares about what Palmerston thinks now that he is no longer Foreign Secretary. Albert tells Feodora she has betrayed him but Feodora says she’s not so bad since she could have accepted Bertie’s proposal. Feodora says Adelheid would have made an excellent Queen of England as she would have done but Bertie does not meet her standards. Feodora says she will be leaving in the morning and leaves the room.

In the hall, Victoria chases after Feodora and tells her Bertie is just a little boy with emotions larger than his body like she was once. She knows Feodora was only trying to do the best for her daughter and says they don’t have to leave. Victoria says their mother was only doing her best when she arranged her marriage but Feodora says no one has ever done their best for her. Victoria asks if Feodora is punishing her for that. Victoria tells Feodora that she doesn’t have everything like Feodora thinks because there is one thing she is lacking – a sister. Feodora tearfully walks away.

At Monmouth House, Sophie is sneaking out to meet Joseph who is waiting for her at the dock, but her son appears and she is unable to go through with her plan.

At the palace, Albert is on the balcony gazing at the Crystal Palace as Victoria approaches. They go inside and stand by the fireplace where Victoria proposed to him and he tells her she looks so beautiful. They kiss but Albert suddenly collapses and Victoria screams for help.


  • The Great Exhibition ran from 1 May to 15 October 1851 and was the first in a series of exhibitions of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century. The Great Exhibition was so popular that an estimated six million people passed through its doors. The event made a surplus of £186,000 (£18,370,000 in 2015), which was used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. 
  • The Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton, was a cast-iron and plate-glass structure specially built for the exhibition. After the exhibition, the structure was taken down and rebuilt on Sydenham Hill in 1852, although its design was slightly different. Sadly, the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936.
  • Prince Albert was plagued with ill health throughout much of his life but his propensity to overwork increasingly took its toll and would be a contributory factor to his early death in 1861.
  • Princess Adelheid of Hohenlohe-Langenburg was born on 20 July 1835 and was the second daughter of Ernst I, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, and Feodora of Leiningen. Adelheid did receive a proposal of marriage from Napoleon III as he wanted an alliance with Britain, however her parents declined the offer after a tentative approach to Queen Victoria was met with silence. The silence was taken for disapproval of the match. Adelheid was disappointed, however she eventually married Frederick VIII, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein in 1856 and they had seven children, including Augusta Victoria, who would marry Queen Victoria’s grandson, Wilhelm II, German Emperor.
  • Louis Napoleon eventually married Eugénie de Montijo who he had been courting at the same time as Adelheid. They had one son, Napoléon, Prince Imperial, who died young.
  • At the time of the Great Exhibition, the King of Prussia was Frederick William IV (1795-1861) who did not have a brother called Sigmund. Frederick William was succeeded by his brother, William (1797-1888), who was the father of Vicky’s future husband, Fritz. Fritz did not become crown prince until 1861.
  • Palmerston became the oldest person in British political history to be appointed Prime Minister for the first time in 1855, aged 70 years, and he would serve a second term from 1859–1865. Age didn’t deter him from his womanising ways either, as he was named as co-respondent in an 1863 divorce case when he was 79 years even though it turned out to be a case of blackmail.