Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Courtship

"Victorian" is the byword for prudery; yet, Victoria was far from a prude. The era is famous for moral constraint; yet, Victoria would not be constrained. During a neverending reign, she never relinquished her infantile will, though - refracted through sovereignty - this might be taken for royal command. And despite expansions of empire, family, and waistline, she never outgrew the flattery of gallant and powerful men.

Lord Melbourne was first: Prime Minister at succession, he was father, advisor and lover all in one, spending hours of most days in her company, instructing her, explicitly, in the business of government and, implicitly, in the pleasures of courtship when one rules in the court. Albert next - intensified Melbourne - in whom Victoria took a marked and persistent physical pleasure and to whom she turned for all cues to her rule. John Brown after that, the warmth and strength of whose broad kilted body grew necessary to the Queen, over 2o years of her widowhood in which he carted her weight into carriages and onto horsebacks and entered her bedroom at will; soon, no intercessions might be made with her that were not passed by this loyal, alluringly impudent, servant.

Last was Disraeli, his part played out so late that it needed the momentum of 35 years of courtship to suspend disbelief. Victoria: increasingly immobile, red-nosed, more like a cook than a queen; Disraeli: bronchial and ageing. But he smoked nonchalantly in defiance of health, and dyed his hair black in defiance of age, and altogther did for the final hurrah. She was his Faery Queen: boxes of primroses went to his door, notes of submission made their humble reply, and courtship continued, as nervous of Gladstone and his plans for reform as it was dimmed by the shade of the last curtain fall.

Disraeli would not see the Queen at his deathbed, though she made the request.

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