Tag Archives: Queen Victoria

Victoria and Elizabeth

I can’t say that I think the newest PBS series Victoria is very good, but yet I still seem to be watching it: it’s cozy, just what we need for winter and these anxious times. I also can’t put my finger on what I dislike about it: the acting and consequently the characters draw one in, but the world in which the latter live seems somehow airbrushed and empty, hardly the colorful milieu of Victorian London. Victoria should not be thrust into the arcades and slums of course, but when there is a ball at Buckingham Palace more than twenty people should be in attendance. So far, it seems like a 1980s miniseries to me, with less anachronistic hair and clothes. The “downstairs” scenes and storylines seem so contrived, and so desperately anxious to remind us of Downton Abbey. I will say that the second episode piqued my interest, because it touched on something I’ve been curious about myself: the “relationship” between Victoria and the first long-reigning English queen, Elizabeth I. Victoria is wondering about her romantic future, and she gazes upon the coronation portrait of the Virgin Queen and wonders aloud to ever-present sexy Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewall–who probably is the major reason I’ve kept watching) that perhaps she should abstain from marriage as well. Later on she dresses as Elizabeth for a masquerade ball (at which, again, there are maybe 30 people in attendance). Did this ever happen? I don’t think so, but I do know that there were lots of comparisons made between Victoria and Elizabeth in the popular press, both at the beginning of the former’s reign, and later on, when they were “two great queens”.

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Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria and Queen Victoria in Elizabethan fancy dress.

The comparisons began with Victoria’s coronation procession in 1837, and continued until the end of the century, coinciding chiefly with moments when the Queen had to exercise her limited political powers, such as during the debate over the Irish Church Bill in 1869, or when there was a general concern about her presence, or lack thereof. The later 1860s was clearly a time to summon Elizabeth, the strong queen who ruled alone, in order to compel Victoria to come out of the prolonged mourning state she had been in since the death of her beloved Albert in 1861: in “A Vision” (third from the top): a “frowning” Elizabeth tells Victoria that she has “let grief prevail over duty”. Newspapers with anti-Republican leanings could use the Virgin Queen as a patriotic symbol and make their points without carping editorials. I’m not quite sure what the Hamlet allegory means, but the depiction of Prime Minister Robert Cecil, the Marquess of Salisbury, descendant of Elizabeth’s Cecil ministers, and favorite of Victoria, as a modern-day Walter Raleigh would have been a rather obvious comparison, I think. Ultimately the first great queen (looking very mannish I must say) bows to the second, at the time of Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

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elizabeth-and-victoria-1868

elizabeth-and-victoria-1869

elizabeth-and-victoria-comparison-1869-hamlet

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Elizabeth and Victoria in British periodicals from 1837, 1843, 1868, 1869, and 1887, ©British Museum and ©National Portrait Gallery.

 


Leaping Ladies on the Loose

On this quadrennial February 29, a follow-up post to one from the last leap year. I don’t have any radical new insights into the public perception of this occasion in the past, but I do see some connections and characterizations of which I was previously unaware. As before, and as usual, it was the Victorians who cemented the idea of women “leaping” outside of their conventional role at this time by proposing to their prospective spouses, beginning with Victoria herself. It was widely known that the young Queen proposed to her beloved Alfred in 1839 (not a leap year but she was Queen), and their marriage did occur in the following bissextile year. Apparently it was fine for Victoria, but such assertiveness among mere mortal women was not quite so tolerated, as Leap Year depictions became more cutting and critical in several ways as the nineteenth century progressed. Postcards were used to depict mismatched marriages: the woman is too rich, too old, too large. The “tall bride” is a consistent trope, and I think the very popular Raphael Tuck & Sons Leap Year postcard of a bride towering over her royal groom is a reference to the sensational marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough in 1895. In addition to images of brides buying their grooms, Leap Year postcards from the peak period of 1896-1916 depict women who are pushing against the constraints of their gender: women who “scorch” the streets on a bicycle or ask for the vote, women who sought to “wear the pants” not only on February 29 every four years, but on every day in every year. Ladies are pictured hunting, trapping, and hooking men in Leap Year post and trade cards up until the teens, after which milder messages predominate, most likely because of the twin forces of the First World War and women’s suffrage.

Leap Year Life 1896 Cover

Leap Year Vanderbilt Marlborough Wedding

Leap Year Gauntlet Tuck 1911-12

Leap Year Raphael Tuck

Leap Year Tuck Collage

Leap Year Brill Collage

Leap Year Card Collage

Leap Year 1908 BPL

Leap Year Text 1904p

Life Magazine February Leap Year Cover, 1896, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Raphael Tuck & Sons Oilette Leap Year Cards, 1904-1912, from a selection here; “Cupid’s Coffin” illustration of the Vanderbilt-Marlborough Wedding by Charles Dana Gibson for Life, sourced here; George Reiter Brill Cards, Playles; Trade card and Postcards from the Boston Public Library and Smithsonian Institution.


Kings and Queens in the Garden

I’ve been reading an odd little book titled Queen Elizabeth in the Garden. A Story of Love, Rivalry, and Spectacular Gardens by Trea Martyn which recounts the political/botanical rivalry between Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester and William Cecil, Lord Burghley, to win the favor of Queen Elizabeth I by out-gardening one another. Queen Elizabeth did love her gardens, that is certain, and I suppose lavish landscaping might have been one avenue towards favorite status, but the book also references images of Elizabeth in the garden, some with which I was familiar, others not. This got me thinking about images of other monarchs in their gardens, and wondering about the point of this particular type of projection. We still like to see monarchs, and other leaders (the White House Rose Garden!) in a pastoral setting: why? Is it the age-old mastery of nature thing or just aesthetics? I suppose it matters what they are doing: Queen Elizabeth II seems to enjoy walking around engaging with the roses, while our presidents use them as a mere backdrop for important announcements. My favorite king-in-the-garden painting is of Charles II accepting a native-grown (but still exotic) pineapple from the royal gardener, John Wise, who is appropriately kneeling as he bears the fruit of his labors. The message seems clear here, but the accessible Charles is clad in the equivalent of “street clothes”, adding interest and intimacy to the painting. Most likely it was a memorial painting for Wise, who died in the same year it was painted, 1677. The “pineapple painting”, along with many other examples of horticultural art, is included (conveniently) in the current exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace:  Painting Paradise: the Art of the Garden,along with paintings of HR Emperor Elector Wilhelm I and his family in their classical garden (1791) and a the 1897 Jubilee Garden Party with Queen Victoria and Princess Alexandra in attendance.

Garden King Charles

Garden Elector Wilhelm

Garden Party Buckingham Palace

British School, Charles II Presented with a Pineapple, c. 1675-80; Wilhelm Böttner,Wilhelm IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, later Elector Wilhelm I, his wife, Wilhelmine Caroline and their children, Wilhelm, Friederika and Caroline; Laurits Regner Tuxen, The Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, 28 June 1897, all Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2015.

The imperial garden party image could date from this year or last, with updated clothes and Queen Elizabeth II and Duchess Kate standing in for Victoria and Alexandra, even though Great Britain is no longer a true global empire. But we would want a close-up, perhaps like that taken of Victoria and her family in the garden of Osborne House a bit earlier. And as for Elizabeth (I), we have two garden paintings which present contrasting images, one featuring a very relaxed queen at Kenilworth (her back to us!) with Leicester and another more formal, symbolic projection of Elizabeth the Peacemaker, olive branch in hand and sword at her feet. In one painting she is in the garden, of the garden, in the other, it serves merely as a backdrop for a working Queen.

Victoria in the Garden photograph

Hals Detail

Elizabeth Peace Portrait

Detail of a photogravure of Queen Victoria at Osborne House, 1890 (b/w photo), English Photographer, (19th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection / Bridgeman Images; Dirck Hals, Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester at Kenilworth (detail), early seventeenth century,  Royal Cornwall Museum; Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, The Peace Portrait of Elizabeth I (also call The Welbeck or Wanstead Portrait), between 1580-85, private collection.


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