Historical Inaccuracies in the Young Victoria

Updated on April 20, 2016
Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria | Source

The Young Victoria, a 2008 film directed by Jean-Marc Valle and starring Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, and Paul Bettany, tells the story of Victoria’s ascent to the throne. The movie gives a brief depiction of Victoria’s early life and her hatred of the Kensington system, a strict set of rules placed on her by her mother and her mother’s advisor, Sir John Conroy, but the movie primarily focuses on the events that take place between 1836 and 1840, chronicling Victoria’s rise to the throne, early reign, and courtship of and marriage to Prince Albert.

The movie focuses on the contrast between the utilitarian views of Victoria exemplified by nearly everyone that she came in contact with and the selflessness of Albert. Victoria is portrayed as an unwitting pawn in everyone else’s quest for power: the king’s, her uncle’s, Lord Melbourne’s, John Conroy’s, and even her mother’s. Victoria assumes that Albert’s intentions are no different, but she soon realizes that he, like her, is just an involuntary piece in another’s political game. He cares for her selflessly, and thus wins her heart. Each of Victoria’s relationships is predominantly depicted with historical accuracy. However, the movie contains several elements that are not historically accurate but still contribute to the overarching themes of the movie: the selflessness of Albert and the selfishness of nearly everyone else.

Everyone Else's Pawn

Victoria was born on May 24, 1819, to the Duke and Duchess of Kent. Her father died soon after she was born and she was raised by her mother, a German Saxe-Coburg, and her mother’s advisor, John Conroy. [1] At a young age Victoria became the heiress apparent to the throne of England,[2] and others quickly began to include her in their political strategies. John Conroy, exploiting the over-protective tendencies of the Duchess and his increasing influence over her, developed a strict set of rules for Victoria known as the Kensington System that limited outside influences to make her reliant on her mother, who in turn was dependent on Conroy. He thought that if he could control Victoria through the Duchess, he would essentially be King of England once Victoria had ascended to the throne.[3]King Leopold of the Belgians, a Coburg and the Duchess of Kent’s brother, tried to persuade Victoria to marry his nephew (her cousin), Albert, in an attempt to gain political influence in Britain.[4] King William IV of Britain, who disliked the Coburgs, [5] resisted Victoria’s courtship of Albert and publicly stated that he hoped to live past Victoria’s eighteenth birthday so that a Coburg (the Duchess of Kent) would not rule as regent of England.[6] Finally, Lord Melbourne, British Prime Minister from 1834-1841 and advisor to Queen Victoria, was a father-figure to Victoria but at times took advantage of her trust to benefit himself politically.

Paul Bettany looks rather youthful to be playing a fifty-eight year old, does he not?
Paul Bettany looks rather youthful to be playing a fifty-eight year old, does he not? | Source

The "Young" Lord Melbourne

When Victoria became Queen of England in 1837, Lord Melbourne was fifty-eight years old and forty years her senior.[7] However, in The Young Victoria, he was portrayed by Paul Bettany, who is twenty years younger than Melbourne really would have been. This was most likely done to create a perceived competition between Melbourne and Albert for Victoria’s affection. It also made the widespread allegation that Victoria and Melbourne were romantically linked more believable for modern audiences. However, Victoria thought of Melbourne not as a potential suitor, but as a father-figure. In fact, in a letter to King Leopold, she referred to Melbourne as being “kind and paternal” to her.[8]

The Bedchamber Crisis

Related to The Young Victoria’s depiction of the relationship between Victoria and Melbourne is its interpretation of the Bedchamber Crisis, which occurred when Victoria refused the newly-appointed Prime Minister Robert Peel’s request to replace several of her Whig attendants with Tories to appear more bipartisan.[9] In the movie, Victoria stubbornly refuses Peel’s polite requests and giddily recounts the story to Melbourne, making it appear that she refused Peel’s request because she was smitten with Melbourne.

However, as historian Richard Spall explains, the Bedchamber Crisis should be viewed in context of the Hastings Scandal, which was left out of the film (although briefly depicted in deleted scenes). Several members of Victoria’s bedchamber had allegedly spread false rumors that Flora Hastings, lady-in-waiting to the Queen’s mother, was pregnant with an illegitimate child. She was not, and the Tory press was quick to criticize Victoria and her attendants.[10] This scandal happened concurrent to the Bedchamber Crisis. If Victoria were to give into Peel’s demands, she would be admitting that her friends were guilty. Spall argues that in this instance, “moral imperative took the place of political necessity.”[11]

The Attempted Assassination

In contrast to the simplification of the Bedchamber Crisis, the movie exaggerates Edward Oxford’s attempted assassination of Victoria. In the movie, Albert sees Oxford begin to fire, so he grabs Victoria and shields her with his body and is shot in the process. However, according to historical accounts nobody was injured. In fact, Albert recorded in his journal that he saw the man and thought he appeared quite amusing and “theatrical,” and Victoria laughed when he explained to her what happened.The movie’s fictitious portrayal of the event helps to better convey Albert’s selfless love for Victoria. Furthermore, Victoria’s reaction following the incident helps to give the audience closure that she had indeed given her entire heart to Albert and not Melbourne. [12]

Compared to many other historical films, The Young Victoria largely remained true to the historical events that it portrayed. The two main incidents that contradict historical fact, the age of Lord Melbourne (and by extension the Bedchamber Crisis) and the assassination attempt on Victoria, were changed to help modern audiences relate to the story. The historical inaccuracies, though technically incorrect, promoted the greater underlying historical theme of the movie, Albert’s love for Victoria contrasted with nearly everyone else’s utilitarian view of her. While movies are never a substitute for a comprehensive historical monograph, The Young Victoria is a very educational film that can be used as a teaching tool for younger audiences.

Notes

1. Woodham-Smith, Cecil. Queen Victoria: From Her Birth to the Death of the Prince Consort. New York: Knopf, 1972, 30

2. Plowden, Alison. The Young Victoria. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein and Day, 1981, 84-5.

3. Woodham-Smith, 62-4.

4. Bolitho, Hector. Albert: Prince Consort. London: Max Parrish & Co., 1964, 24.

5. Plowden, 125-6.

6. Bolitho, 22-23; Plowden, 131-2.

7. Plowden, 154.

8. Hibbert, Christopher. Queen Victoria in Her Letters and Journals. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1985, page 37.

9. Spall Jr., Richard Francis. 1987. “The Bedchamber Crisis and the Hastings Scandal: Morals, Politics, and the Press at the Beginning of Victoria’s Reign.” Canadian Journal of History 22, no. 1: 19. Academic Search Complete, Ebscohost (accessed March 28, 2011), page 2.

10. Ibid., 3-4.

11. Ibid., 19

12. Woodham-Smith, page 216.

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    • profile image

      Philip 

      2 years ago

      The quibbling about minor inaccuracies ate nothing compared to the glaring innacuracy of the main plot.. True that Albert and Ernests visit to England in May 1836 was a success (despite Alberts aversion to late hours And inability to stay awake..(Victoria could happily dance at a ball until the early hours of the morning). However Victoria was aware of the Coburg plan to marry her off to Albert and while appreciating Alberts good looks and charm she was guarded in her reaction when writing to King Leopold) Albert on the other hand

      was concerned about her addiction to"frivolous" pursuits.

      Albert did not attend the coronation

      in 1837 nor did he see her in 38.

      Victoria (now Queen) had become distinctly skittish about the idea of marriage...to anybody. The bedchamber crisis and the Flora Hastings scandal drove her to what she referred to as "the schocking (sic)alternative" The visit of the Tsarevitch Nicholas and of another german cousin (Alexander Mensdorff) stirred romantic passion in her heart while Albert fretted about the gaiety of the court and fear that if she remained unmarried much longer she would be "unreformable". Prior to Alberts next visit in October 1839 Victoria stated quite clearly that although she was aware of the purpse behind the visit there should be no expectation of commital on her part. She might find her feelings altered eyc etc and anyway it should be understood that even if she did find Albert suitable it was not to be expected that she would enter into a definite engagement for at least 2 or 3 years. Albert then expressed concern to King Leopold his anxiety about such a long wait as all the other suitable princesses would be snapped up.

      However on October 10th 1839 Queen Victoria stood at the top of the Grand Staircase at Windsor Castle ready to meet Albert, who arrived pale from a stormy channel crossing.

      As Albert advanced the clouds parted. As she wrote afterwards in her journal: "It was with some emotion that i beheld Albert..who is quite BEAUTIFUL."

      The rest is history. This was a case of a carefully arranged marriage that turned out well.

      The other most irritating blunder was choosing the Library at Blenheim Palace as representing the Belgian royal palace at Laeken. The statue of Queen Anne was prominent in the background!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      5 years ago from San Diego California

      Interesting post. Queen Victoria oversaw the greatest empire the world has ever seen, but always seems to reside in the background of it all as a figurehead. I would like to see this movie for the very reason that I know absolutely nothing about her as a person, only as the name behind the "Victorian" age.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      A very good and fair review of an excellent film. Thanks for publishing it.

    • Josh Wilmoth profile imageAUTHOR

      Josh Wilmoth 

      5 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Lily!

    • profile image

      Lily 

      5 years ago

      Very interesting post! I wondered how historically accurate that film was...

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