I love my life in America, but there are some things I do miss about living in England.
One of those is the quality TV programs that resonate with me culturally. I am therefore very thankful that PBS imports a number of British TV shows.
In particular, I am currently enjoying Victoria, a quality drama about Britain’s 19th-century Queen Victoria. This is timely since just last week marked the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s death on Jan. 22, 1901.
Growing up in England in the 1970s and 1980s, we closely studied the history of the Victorian era. It was a major focus for history lessons back then, due in large part to the vast changes her reign saw from when she acceded the throne in 1837 at the young age of 18.
One of the reasons the TV series is so popular is because it is traditionally unusual to think about Queen Victoria as a young woman, and the actor Jenna Coleman portrays her as a young daughter, wife and mother very effectively.
The fact that she lived to the age of 81 – very elderly by the standards of the day – and that she spent 40 years as a widow after the death of Prince Albert following 21 years of marriage, meant that she was traditionally remembered and portrayed as a stern, older lady. She was also the longest-ruling monarch of Great Britain until our current Queen Elizabeth II surpassed her record in 2015.
Most Americans are not that familiar with Queen Victoria, so I thought it would be interesting to share some facts about this remarkable Queen (see www.history.com to learn more):
• Queen Victoria was a member of the House of Hanover (later to be called the House of Windsor). She was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and in 1876 adopted the additional title of Empress of India, as she was Queen during the heyday of the British Empire.
• Her nine children and subsequent grandchildren married into many royal families of Europe, and some introduced the hemophilia gene into those families (a condition prevalent in a number of European royal families over the past few hundred years).
• The monarch’s most famous remark and catchphrase, "We are not amused," has some mystery behind it, and it is not certain that she actually said it. Most historical scholars report that during a dinner at Windsor Castle, a royal employee told a slightly scandalous piece of gossip that earned him a disapproving look and – possibly – this famous comment. This story reinforced her reputation for a rather imperious manner.
• Despite the fact that almost all of the photographs and paintings of her portray her with a particularly stern expression, in private she had the reputation of being a happy, fun-loving and amusing companion, which the TV series demonstrates. In public, Victoria preferred to maintain what she saw as the dignity of her position by remaining sternly impassive. And of course she became considerably less fun-loving after the death of her husband, Prince Albert.
• I have been inspired to find out more about Queen Victoria’s mourning for Prince Albert and discovered the book "A Magnificent Obsession" by author Helen Rappaport. It is a fascinating and well-researched tale about Victoria’s grief and the impact the loss of her husband had on her and on the nation as a whole. It portrays a Queen obsessed with her husband during his life and later with his place in history after his death.
I say goodbye this week with a very telling quote from Queen Victoria herself, which really demonstrates her understanding of her place in history: "The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them."
I’m sure she would be rather pleased that she is still the focus of so much attention on both sides of the Atlantic more than 100 years after her passing.
God bless America!