Becoming Queen, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Our perception of Victoria the Queen is coloured by portraits of her older, widowed self - her dour expression embodying the repressive morality propagated in her time.

But "Becoming Queen" reveals an energetic and vibrant woman, determined to battle for power.

It also documents the Byzantine machinations behind Victoria's quest to occupy the throne, and shows how her struggles did not end when finally the crown was placed on her head.

Laying bare the passions that swirled around the throne in the eighteenth century, "Becoming Queen" is an absorbingly dramatic tale of secrets, sexual repression and endless conflict.

After her lauded biography of Emma Hamilton, "England's Mistress", Kate Williams has produced a most original and intimate portrait of Great Britain's longest reigning monarch.


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Where I got the book: purchased online. Amazon? I've had it for a while.This is, in a sense, a two-part book, and the blurb is pretty deceptive. Fortunately I do not remove stars for publisher shenanigans. From the blurb you'd think this book is all about Queen Victoria whereas in fact 100+ of the 346 pages of text are devoted to her far less well-known cousin Charlotte, daughter of George IV (better known as the Prince Regent) and, during her short lifetime, heir-presumptive to the British throne. If she had lived to become Queen, Victoria would probably be a minor footnote in history and we could be talking about the Charlottian age (OK, probably some variation on Carolingian). Charlotte and Leopold instead of Victoria and Albert; I would like to spend some time developing that idea. (Leopold, interestingly enough, eventually became the first King of the Belgians.)I'm not complaining about the time spent learning about Charlotte, because this lively soap-opera of a dual biography is exactly what I needed to understand a vital point in British history; the transition between the reign of the Hanoverians with their (not all at once--well, not always all at once) dull, incompetent, vice-ridden, hard-drinking, insane, eccentric, greedy and peculiar German princes and the new age of propriety and pantaloons we call the Victorian era. I had always thought of Victoria as the last of the Hanoverians but in fact she was never a Hanoverian ruler; under Salic Law a female could not inherit the Hanoverian title so it passed to Victoria's uncle the Duke of Cumberland. Even that's not as simple as it sounds, but that's another story... Suffice it to say that if Victoria had died before she ensured the succession so very effectively (nine children), the British and German succession would have got all mixed up again so thanks for all the childbearing, Ma'am. And George V got rid of all the British monarchy's German titles during World War I and renamed his family Windsor...But I digress. The point is that the period between George III and Victoria wasn't an easy one for Britons longing for dynastic stability and Kate Williams has rightly fastened on it as a wonderful story, especially as two of the main players were young girls with parental issues. Charlotte's parents hated each other and the closer she got to the throne, the more they began to battle to get control of her. Victoria lost her father at an early age and fought throughout her teenage years to get out from under her power-hungry mother and her "special advisor" (ahem.)The result is a fantastic soap-opera that would stand up to the Tudors any day and Kate Williams does a wonderful job with it, keeping the threads of the story in front of the reader so that I never lost track. She also covers the courtship and very early years of Victoria and Albert, which is a great story in itself. My appetite is whetted for much, much more about this period in British history, which also covers the century when Britain went from being a mostly rural, slightly backward (culturally speaking) society to the industrial and cultural superpower it was by the dawn of WWI. Suggestions for further reading are very welcome.

Review by

George III had seven sons and only two legitimate grandchildren, Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), daughter of the Prince of Wales, Prince George, and Princess Victoria (1819-1901), daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth in line to the throne. The society of the day for the upper classes was quite open, relationships between men and married women, over-drinking at the endless round of parties, little show of responsibility for one’s actions let alone one’s responsibility toward society in general, and indebtedness were common.Against this background Williams, in “Becoming Queen,” examines the lives of Charlotte and Victoria in great detail, perhaps too much detail. It is important to know of the relationship of each princess to her mother, not good, but it does not need to be presented to the reader numerous times. Decisions were made, not with the best interest of the children in mind, but on how much money it would bring into the household. Charlotte’s reaction was to rebel, to runaway, to play off her parents against each other. She finally settled into a good marriage only to die as a result of childbirth in 1817.In 1818 George III’s health was failing badly and a newspaper article suggested his sons, all over forty, marry and produce an heir. Following this there were four marriages but only one heir, Princess Victoria. The Duke of Kent died when his daughter was two years old leaving the raising of her to her mother. The Duchess formed an alliance with John Conroy with the objectives of keeping Victoria separated from children her own age and from her father’s family, controlling her so she was biddable to their wishes and to make as much money off her as possible. The princess was a quiet child but also strong willed and refused to give into her mother. When she was told she was queen she did two things that indicated her future direction, she dismissed her household and, for the first time in her life, spent an hour by herself and she had her bed removed from her mother’s room.The books ends with the coronation and marriage of Queen Victoria. Prior to reading this I had thought of Albert as a weak man who followed the Queen’s wishes. I overlooked the fact that he was German royalty and raised with strong views of right and wrong and his place in life. I suspect it was a tempestuous marriage.I learned a lot from this book which is something I look for in each book I read but I don’t think I would recommend it. It is well researched but I expect there are books that are better edited, have writing that flows and doesn’t make you feel you are lost in the facts and missing the story.

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