We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, and Rivals by Gillian Gill

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We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, and Rivals by Gillian Gill is a non-fiction biography of the monarch and her husband. I read it to get a sense of what made the Victorian Era a distinct era. I found the biography quite fascinating, even if the relationship between Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert was not quite as satisfyingly romantic as Hollywood made out in The Young Victoria and in Victoria. We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, and Rivals by Gillian Gill provided a biography of both Victoria and Albert’s youth and then a biography of their life together until Albert’s premature death at age 42 of typhoid fever.

Victoria’s Life

I loved watching The Young Victoria, a recent Hollywood portrayal of Queen Victoria’s courtship and early marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. That movie prompted me to go on my “Victorian Summer” reading frenzy*.

Princess Victoria of Kent was just a few months past eighteen when her Uncle passed away, leaving her Queen of England. Her first eighteen years of life were sheltered by her overbearing mother and her mother’s power-hungry associate Sir John Conroy in Kensington Castle. So upon receiving sovereign authority, she was determined to rule her way. She did not want to marry. She wanted to make a difference for her nation, which she loved.

For the first three years of her reign, she worked closely with Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, making mistakes but really putting her all into her work. Yet, after a few years at court, she found that she longed for male companionship; her cousin, Prince Albert, had been groomed since childhood to be her husband, and so she consented to the marriage. It is evident that the two were quite fond of each other and certainly in love, but theirs was a convenient marriage: neither really seemed to have many choices about who they married.

Reflections on Albert and Victoria

Reading about Victoria’s and Albert’s life was somewhat of a tutorial in gender and family politics in England in the 1800s. The fact that Victoria was a married female altered her ability to rule England in part because of Albert’s view of women; Albert was the one who made a political difference for much of their married life.

Had Queen Victoria not been quite so fertile (or as Gill points out, had they had any type of understanding of natural birth control), she may have dominated the political scene. She was prepared to lead and be a dominating force. As it was, she had pregnancy after pregnancy for the first two decades of her reign, left physically exhausted by the wear on her body. Also, Prince Albert was raised in a misogynistic environment and therefore seems to have stifled Victoria’s abilities somewhat.

Prince Albert, although not legally a monarch of England, was therefore the behind-the-scenes leader of England. So many of the things that seem definitively “Victorian” are really “Albertian.” His upbringing had been to prepare him to be consort to the isolated and virginal Princess Victoria, and since his family was known for their debauchery, he had been the family exception, raised to conform to a different morality than his brother and uncles. His arrival in the English court may have been what prompted the Victorian morality that we now think of. Further, Albert’s influence on the “Great Exhibition” is also an example of how he influenced England to think ahead. He was fascinated by developing technology, he had an interest in social innovation, and he was well-trained in political discourse. He was, like Victoria, a born leader.

Gill’s Biography

Gillian Gill’s biography of the two focused on their relationship, and the book was well-researched and engagingly written. It was only a bit disappointing to read the truth, especially about how dominating Prince Albert was. (For example, it was Queen Victoria who always begged forgiveness when there was a disagreement between the two; in their relationship, Prince Albert expected her to see her place as a woman, which was of course below himself.)

When their marriage came to an end with Albert’s early death, it was Queen Victoria who had succumbed to Albert’s position on women: no longer was she the strong teenage queen, eager to make a difference in the world and unexcited about being tied down. When Albert died, she was the dutiful wife who proclaimed the goodness of her dead husband. Despite the fact that she was the sovereign ruler of England, Queen Victoria was also a wife trapped in familial duties just like many other women in Victorian England. She did have nannies and fine medical care, but she was still trapped in her role, with a domineering man at her head.

I’m glad I read about Albert and Victoria, even though it was rather disappointing to me. As I read the novels from the era, I think it may help to remember the influence of the queen and her consort. Since I love history, it was also fascinating to see how the family fit into the international political picture.

I should note that Gill does not come to the same conclusions that I’ve mentioned above in so many words; that’s what I got from their story. At just under 400 pages (plus notes), We Two is not a comprehensive account, and much is left unsaid. Yet, if you are interested in reading the story of Queen Victoria and her husband, We Two is a great place to start.

Just keep in mind that reading the true story of the couple’s life together may be a bit disappointing after Hollywood, simply because theirs was much more likely a non-romantic and more practical relationship.

Reviewed on June 30, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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