The Young Years of Queen Victoria
Victoria was born on a spring day, May 24th, 1819, at Kensington Palace, in the then quiet suburb of London. "Plumb as a partridge" was her father's description of the baby, and she certainly bore a marked resemblance to her sturdy and robust Hanoverian ancestors who had ruled Great Britain for little more than a century at the time of her birth.
By 1798 Victoria's grandfather, King George III, had reigned for nearly sixty years, but he was now old and feeble. The symptoms of his terrible illness, porphyria, seemed to his doctors to be those of madness, and for years the King had be confined in Windsor Castle while his eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, ruled in his stead. Victoria's father, Edward, Duke of Kent, was the old King's fourth son, but since his three elder brothers were without heirs, there seemed a good chance that he might one day himself become King. He had married late in life, when he was over 50, to supply an heir to the throne in the younger generation. Between the seven princes and five princesses of the royal family, not one of them had a legitimate child to carry on the succession, until 1819 saw three royal births within two months.
The Prince of Wales had one child, the Princess Charlotte, who in time would have become Queen, but she died in childbirth in the autumn of 1817. It was her death, which drove her uncles into marriage, to father heirs to replace her in the line of succession. Indirectly, Charlotte herself had found her uncle Edward his bride: the Princess had married a minor German prince, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and, deeply in love with him, suggested to the Duke of Kent that he would find a wife in Leopold's widowed sister, Victoire. In fact, Edward and Victoire met in 1816, but then there seemed no urgency in the matter of their marriage. But soon after Charlotte's death, Edward proposed to Victoire, and the couple was married the following summer.
Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was 31 years old when she married the English Duke, a pretty woman with dark hair, with a fine figure and lively ways. She had been married once before to Emich Charles who died in 1814, leaving his widow with two small children and the many demands of nobility which forced to test her wits and strength. Her marriage with the Duke of Kent seemed to promise Victoire a brighter future, taking her away from her narrow existence in the village of Amorbach, into one of the leading Courts of Europe, with the chance of one day becoming a queen.
In the summer of 1818, Edward brought his bride to England, but then, after a few months in London "society", it was back to Amorbach and the familiar daily round, for the Duke was so burdened with debts that he could not afford to keep up appearances as a royal individual in England. But he was determined that his child should be born in his native land, and by borrowing from his long-suffering friends, he managed to bring his wife...