In the latest guest post for the Hisdoryan blog, fellow #historygirls member Shauna from Shauna Does History takes a deep dive into the historical accuracy of ITV’s popular Victoria series in honour of Prince Albert’s birthday. We love our period drama here on the Hisdoryan blog, and this post about historical accuracy in period drama always generates a bit of a debate, so I can’t wait to read your comments about this one!
Victoria Episode 4: The Clockwork Prince
Fact or Fiction?
Born 201 years ago to the day, there is no denying that Prince Albert was the love of Queen Victoria’s life. For Victoria, it was love at first sight in 1839 when she greeted Albert at the foot of the staircase at Windsor Castle and as the monarch, she made the ground-breaking proposal to him just five days later.
In August 2016 we were introduced to an on-screen adaptation of their lives with Jenna Coleman playing our famous queen, and Tom Hughes playing Albert. On September 11th 2016, in the episode titled The Clockwork Prince, we were introduced to the main man himself. But, how historically accurate is this episode in depicting the ‘beginnings’ of their relationship?
In this episode, we are introduced to Prince Albert when he rudely interrupts Queen Victoria who is playing a piece on her piano for her guests. In this moment, Victoria appears immediately annoyed regarding the interruption… but is this fact or fiction?
Upon their encounter in this episode, they immediately begin to make remarks about one another – here Victoria states how Albert evidently looks different from the last time they saw each other, deeming him unrecognisable. Meanwhile Albert states that he had no trouble in recognising her, only that she now makes fewer mistakes when playing the piano. Evidently an uncomfortable and awkward meet for the two and everyone around them, but how true is this to the real-life meeting? Not very. It is hinted at the fact that the two hadn’t seen each other for many years, when the truth is they had only met for the first time just three years before then in 1836.
A large part of this episode, particularly the first third of it, depicts Victoria having absolutely no interest in anything to do with Albert. She begins by making excuses for not being able to show the princes around the day after, by stating that she has work to do with her beloved Lord Melbourne (a figure whose relationship with Victoria is very romanticised for the series). In a couple of scenes after this moment, Melbourne is told by Victoria herself that she would rather marry Robert Peel – a figure she was not keen on – than marry Albert.
But how did Victoria feel about Albert?
Whilst the start of this episode suggests Victoria had no real interest in Albert, the real Victoria’s diary entry for their first meeting in 1836 suggests very differently.
Upon meeting him at the foot of the stairs at Windsor Castle, Victoria noted in her diary:
“He is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large & blue & he has a beautiful nose & a very sweet mouth with fine teeth”
It is evident that Victoria was very much swooning over Albert immediately, something which is not reflected in this episode. In real life it truly was love at first sight for Victoria and this is something we see throughout their relationship which was deemed to be one of passion.
This passion is hinted at with scenes such as the ones above with the innocent flirtation between the two which demonstrates the feelings that were hidden throughout the episode whilst the producers tried to make it appear that particularly on Victoria’s behalf it wasn’t love at first sight.
One aspect of this episode which is completely true to life – which thankfully they didn’t change – is the fact that it was Victoria who had to propose. As the monarch, it had to come from her. In real life, this proposal took place five days after Albert had arrived at Windsor. In the episode, the couple state that it was to be a marriage of ‘inconvenience’ – it was important to them that they were marrying for love, and not because it was their duty to do so. I believe this was true to life. Whilst Victoria arguably was deeper in love than Albert, there is absolutely no denying that this was a marriage of genuine love and passion, and not just another dynastic match in history set up to keep a royal line going.
Nevertheless, whilst parts of their relationship in this series are genuine and other parts dramatised for the series, there are some other truths that we see in this episode. One is that both Victoria and Albert were exceptionally good at playing piano and had a genuine love for the art – perhaps this has something to do with them being royal by birth. Another genuine fact in this episode is Albert’s love of art. It cannot be ignored that in real life Albert was a highly intellectual man with a love for all things relating to art, music, and science – something which is not taken away from him in the series.
Whilst the series does ignore some key parts of their real-life relationship, I believe this episode towards the end is great for showing their passion towards each other. Whilst of course the feelings in the beginning do not reflect the feelings that were evident in their real life meeting, I loved watching it blossom throughout the episode and throughout the rest of the series.
Shauna is a history lover and blogger currently undertaking a Masters focused on the Great Exhibition of 1851. Her favourite British monarchs are Henry VII, Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert. Don’t forget to check out her blog Shauna Does History.