In her latest book, celebrated writer and BBC producer Deborah Cadbury (of the chocolate family) turns her attention to the final years of the Victorian era. Although Queen Victoria remained in mourning for her beloved husband, Prince Albert, from his untimely death in 1861 until her own death in 1901, her 42 grandchildren kept her extremely busy in the last few decades of her long reign. Finding appropriate spouses for them all was more than a mere family matter: The fate of European stability hung in the balance.
The plan, inspired by Prince Albert, was to export Britain’s constitutional monarchy throughout Europe by marrying British royalty into the various royal lines of Europe: Denmark, Prussia and Russia. If only the royals were so obedient! While some of Queen Victoria’s children and grandchildren were pliable (especially Vicky, her oldest daughter), others (like naughty Bertie and his children) were less so. Readers will need a scorecard to keep up with them all, but rest assured, there will be mistresses, euphemisms for sexually transmitted infections (poor Eddie’s “gout”) and general disobedience.
Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking is targeted at royal-watchers and viewers of BBC’s great biopic television series “Victoria.” It may also interest readers of the “what-if” school of history. What if Princess Vicky’s husband, Frederick, had lived to become the Emperor of Prussia? Would his liberal values have united Britain and Germany and forestalled the wars of the 20th century?
Ultimately, however, this is a rich history of Queen Victoria’s canny use of political power. “Grandmama’s” interest in the marriages of her children and grandchildren goes far beyond a doting mother’s dedication to her family: Matchmaking had the power to make and break empires—if only those being matched would do as they were told.