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Queen Victoria's Not So "Victorian" Writings

"We are not amused"

Queen Victoria's children, pregnancy, marriage and men are a subject of her letters in which she declares,"We are not amused."

Author: Heather Palmer


Queen VictoriaQueen Victoria's oft quoted "We are not amused" statement could have referred to her opinion on her nine pregnancies. During her eldest daughter's first pregnancy, Queen Victoria's letters to her are very blunt and hardly "Victorian".

Shortly after her young daughter, Vicky, married the future Emperor of Germany in 1858, rumors of a first grandchild for Queen Victoria began to fly. In two letters of April, 1858, Queen Victoria opines the wish that her seventeen year old daughter will have some time to enjoy life with her husband before babies begin to come:

"It is most odious but they have spread a report that you & I are both in what I call an unhappy condition!...All who love you hope you will be spared this trial for a year yet...If I had had a year of happy enjoyment with dear Papa to myself how happy I would have been! But I was three and a half [years] older; and therefore I was in for it at once -- and furious I was" [1] "What made me so miserable was -- to have the two first years of my married life utterly spoilt by this occupation! I could enjoy nothing -- not travel about or go about with dear Papa [Prince Albert]..."[2]
Princess Victoria
Queen Victoria

Vicky writes to assure her mother that she is not pregnant, but adds that she would like to be. In a letter that sounds more like a middle class British village wife than like the woman whose name came to be associated with prudish ideas, Queen Victoria responds:

"What you say of the pride of giving life to an immortal soul us very fine, dear, but I own I cannot enter into that; I think much more of our being like a cow or a dog at such moments." [3]

Frequent pregnancies also disgusted this monarch who herself bore nine children in eighteen years.

"I positively think those ladies who are always enceinte quite disgusting; it is more like a rabbit or guinea-pig than anything else and really it is not very nice....I know that Papa is shocked at that sort of thing." [4]

It is clear from her letters that the pregnancy itself was not the only part of a woman's reproductive life that Queen Victoria hated. In a letter on July 1860 she makes an interesting excursion into her view of nursing.

"Oh! if those selfish men -- who are the cause of all one's misery, only knew what their poor slaves go through! What suffering -- what humiliation to the delicate feelings of a poor woman, above all a young one -- especially with those nasty doctors...Especially the horrors about that peculiarly indelicate nursing (which is far worse than all the other parts)."[5]

Queen Victoria was equally blunt about pregnancy's issue -- the babies.

"I have no adoration for very little babies..." [6] she often writes. "An ugly baby is a very nasty object -- and the prettiest is frightful when undressed..."[7]

Queen Victoria's Children

Queen Victoria's Children

With her penchant for comparing her idea of the unpleasant to "parallels" in the animal world, she compares young babies unfavorably with frogs.

Sadly her dislike of young children extended even to her own off-spring with some displeasing her more than others. Poor little Leopold born in 1853 was his mother's least favorite baby and child, as the Queen states almost twenty times in three years.

Queen Victoria's Children
Arthur and Leopold

Queen Victoria's Children Arthur and Leopold

"Leopold...is the ugliest." [8] "I think he is uglier than he ever was." [9] "I hope, dear, he [Vicky's young son] won't be like [Leopold] the ugliest and least pleasing of the whole family." [10] "He [Leopold] walks shockingly--and is dreadfully awkward--holds himself as badly as ever and his manners are despairing, as well as his speech--which is quite dreadful. It is so provoking as he learns so well and reads quite fluently; but his French is more like Chinese than anything else; poor child, he is really very unfortunate."[11]

Unfortunate child indeed to have had such things written about him by his mother when he was just a little tad of less than six years old.


As the ideal Victorian woman was supposed to love children and also to avoid hurtful blunt statements, Queen Victoria was hardly "Victorian". The epitome of the age is even blunt to her daughter about early lack of love for her:

"I never cared for you near as much as you seem to about the baby; I care much more for the younger ones (poor Leopold perhaps excepted)..." [12]

Princess VictoriaQueen Victoria also fails the True Victorian Woman Test of being a conscientious care-giver to her children. It is clear, however, that it was not her lack of personal involvement with her children which diminished her maternal love; it actually seems that Queen Victoria was more fond of her babies of whom she saw the least when they were young. In explaining her lack of affection for her daughter when a child Queen Victoria writes to her:

"We used to constantly see you and Bertie in bed and bathed--and we only see the younger ones [being bathed and in bed]--once in three months perhaps."[13]

Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown

She was the ruler of the richest empire in human history-- revered, feared, and worshiped.  He was a rough-hewn, plainspoken servant from its northern frontier whose primary job was to look after horses. Yet when circumstance brought together Queen Victoria and the Scottish servant John Brown, the result was a friendship that scandalized the nation and nearly toppled the British Monarchy. Filmed in sumptuous detail on location in Scotland and England, “Her Majesty Mrs. Brown” opens up the long-shrouded history of Victoria's second great love and invites audience to glimpse the private lives and styles of the Victorian power elite on the brink of the modern age.


Queen VictoriaAn even more surprising example of the "un-Victorianness" of Queen Victoria is her daring to write what most nineteenth century woman only secretly thought about men: that they were the cause of all the sufferings of women. With her own "confinement" near at hand the young Princess Vicky must have worried on paper to her mother about the birth. The Queen responded with assurance and fortitude:

"I hope Fritz [Vicky's husband, the future Emperor of Germany] is duly shocked at your sufferings, for those very selfish men would not bear for a minute what we poor slaves have to endure. But don't dread the denouement; there is not need of it; and don't talk to ladies about it, as they will only alarm you, particularly abroad, where so much more fuss is made of a very natural and usual thing." [14]

Queen VictoriaThat "very natural and usual thing" was a horror in the nineteenth century, however, and even a Princess had to endure the lack of medical aids of her era. Vicky was in labor for 36 hours and her son [the future Kaiser of WWI infamy] had his left arm badly damaged by forceps. Again her mother, the pregnancy veteran, sent encouragement:

"But don't be alarmed for the future, it can never be so bad again!"[15]

That men were the cause of this suffering was a point to which Queen Victoria returned again and again.

"It is indeed too hard and dreadful what we have to go through and men ought to have an adoration for one, and indeed to do everything to make up, for what after all they alone are the cause of! I must say it is a bad arrangement." [16]

Queen VictoriaThe Ideal Victorian Woman was supposed to make her husband the center of her life and be the Light of the Home while her husband tangled with the world at large. She was supposed to be his helper and servant -- or so the ladies magazines preached. Perhaps if she had not had an empire over which to preside, Queen Victoria's name would be linked with the exact antithesis of what we now think of as "Victorian" if she had spent her time challenging a woman's role more publicly than in her letters to her daughter.

"We poor creatures are born for man's pleasure and amusement, and destined to go through endless sufferings and trials..." What is worse, she adds, is that men do not even appreciate the sacrifices made by a wife "dear Papa even is not quite exempt though he would not admit it -- but he laughs and sneers constantly at many of them and at our unavoidable inconvenience [pregnancies]." [17]


Marriage, supposedly a Victorian woman's highest aim, (with the ceremony supposedly being the happiest day of her life) was also attacked by a very "un-Victorian" Queen.

"I think people really marry far too much; it is such a lottery after all, and for a poor woman a very doubtful happiness." [18] Two years later she again returns to the theme of a lottery in marriage: "All marriage is such a lottery -- the happiness is always an exchange -- though it may be a very happy one -- still the poor woman is bodily and morally the husband's slave. That always sticks in my throat. When I think of a merry, happy, and free young girl -- and look at the ailing aching state a young wife is generally doomed to -- which you can't deny is the penalty of marriage."[19]

When she first begins to look about for a suitable husband for her next marriageable daughter (Princess Alice born in 1843) Queen Victoria ruminates to her married daughter on the "horrors" that go with marriage:

"Yes, dearest, it is an awful moment to have to give up one's innocent child to a man, be he ever so kind and good...no father, no man can feel this! Papa never would enter into it at all! In fact he seldom can [share] in my very violent feelings...Our dear Alice, has seen and heard more (of course not what no one can ever know before they marry and before they have had children) than you did, from your marriage -- and quite enough to give her a horror rather of marrying." [20]

So it is clear that even Albert, whom his widow almost deified, was, when living, just a man who did not fully appreciate what marriage meant to women. Queen Victoria sneers at marriage repeatedly in her letters, even challenging the then accepted (and "Victorian") idea that a woman could only be truly fulfilled through marriage. On hearing of the death of a thirty-four year old London society woman the Queen comments to her daughter on the fact that the deceased was 34 and unmarried:

"...though I don't consider this such a misfortune for I think unmarried people are often very happy -- certainly more so than married people who don't live happily together of which there are so many instances...". [21]

Queen Victoria did, however, acknowledge that marriage in the mid nineteenth century was one of the few "career" options a woman had and seemed to feel that it was better to bow one's head to this fate without too much fuss.

"Dearest, a poor girl has not much free choice; a good parti presents itself, if she does not dislike the man -- and if her parents like it, why if she refuses him she runs the risk of getting no husband at all." [22] Should one delay too long, opportunities for a suitable marriage grow fewer and a woman "becomes desolate and bitter" [23]

The British royalty Queen's most damning comment on nineteenth century marriage was, ultimately, her most "Victorian" view. Queen Victoria advised that the best way to enter into that lottery of marriage in which the husband made his wife his slave was...to be ignorant! By August of 1861 Princess Alice, of British royalty  had become suitably engaged to Prince Louis of Hesse. Vicky was coming home for a visit and the Queen frantically warned her married daughter:

"Let me caution, dear child, again, to say as little as you can on these subjects [pregnancy] before Alice (who has already heard much more than you ever did) for she has the greatest horror of having children, and would rather have none -- just as I was when a girl and when I first married -- so I am very anxious she should know as little about the inevitable miseries as possible; so don't forget, dear." [24]

All quotes from " DEAREST CHILD: LETTERS BETWEEN QUEEN VICTORIA AND THE PRINCESS ROYAL PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED", edited & copyrighted by Roger Fulford 1964, 1992. Quotes reprinted by permission of Henry Holt & Company, Inc. This article copyright 1997 by Heather Palmer and neither quotes nor article to be copied or reprinted without the written permission of Henry Holt & Company and of Heather Palmer.

[1. p. 90 14 Apr 1858]
[2. p. 94 21 Apr 1858]
[3. p. 115 15 June 1858]
[4. p. 195 15 June 1859]
[5. p. 265 11 July 1860]
[6. p.167 16 Mar 1859 for example]
[7. p. 191 4 May 1859]
[8. p. 191 4 May 1859]
[9. p. 88 10 Apr 1858]
[10. p. 164 2 March 1859]
[11. p. 208 2 Sept 1859]
[12. p. 193 14 May 1859]

[13. p. 193 14 May 1859]
[14. p. 141 27 October 1858]
[15. p. 159 29 Jan 1859]
[16. p. 165 9 Mar 1859]
[17. p. 205 10 Aug 1859]
[18. p. 99 3 May 1858]
[19. p. 254 16 May 1860]
[20. p. 182 20 Apr 1859]
[21. p. 150 4 Dec 1858]
[22. p. 209 6 Sept 1859]
[23. p. 108 19 May 1858]
[24. p. 343 21 June 1861]

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