“Isn’t this the Queen’s court?”
May 24, 2022
Alexandrina Victoria was born on May 24, 1819, and – until 2015 – had the distinction of being the longest reigning world monarch ever.
We know her as Queen Victoria. She ascended to the British throne, at age 18, through a series of serendipitous occurrences. Despite having three uncles in line for the monarchy before her, their deaths – and the death of her own father when she was less than a year old – put in place the exact circumstances necessary for her to become Queen.
When she was barely 18 years old, King George III – her grandfather – died and she became the heir. She went on to reign for 63 years.
Victoria – along with her husband Prince Albert – seemed to understand the future of the monarchy would be one of ceremonial influence. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Through Victoria’s reign, the gradual establishment of a modern constitutional monarchy in Britain continued. Reforms of the voting system increased the power of the House of Commons at the expense of the House of Lords and the monarch. In 1867, Walter Bagehot wrote that the monarch only retained ‘the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn’. As Victoria’s monarchy became more symbolic than political, it placed a strong emphasis on morality and family values, in contrast to the sexual, financial and personal scandals that had been associated with previous members of the House of Hanover and which had discredited the monarchy. The concept of the ‘family monarchy’, with which the burgeoning middle classes could identify, was solidified.”
During her six decades reign, her popularity waxed and waned. After an assassination attempt in 1882, sympathy and approval of the Queen soared. Victoria said – when the-would -be assassin was found not guilty by reason of insanity – it was “worth being shot at—to see how much one is loved.”
Perhaps her greatest influence was on the culture of the day. As the mother of nine children and 42 grandchildren, she came to represent home and hearth.
The Infallible Wikipedia offers this:
“The rise of the middle class during the era had a formative effect on its character; the historian Walter E. Houghton reflects that ‘once the middle class attained political as well as financial eminence, their social influence became decisive. The Victorian frame of mind is largely composed of their characteristic modes of thought and feeling’.
Industrialisation brought with it a rapidly growing middle class whose increase in numbers had a significant effect on the social strata itself: cultural norms, lifestyle, values and morality. Identifiable characteristics came to define the middle-class home and lifestyle. Previously, in town and city, residential space was adjacent to or incorporated into the work site, virtually occupying the same geographical space. The difference between private life and commerce was a fluid one distinguished by an informal demarcation of function. In the Victorian era, English family life increasingly became compartmentalized, the home a self-contained structure housing a nuclear family extended according to need and circumstance to include blood relations. The concept of ‘privacy’ became a hallmark of the middle-class life.”
For those of us who observe the British Monarchy from a distance, it’s impossible to fathom a system built on a tradition of grandeur and pomp. Yet out of the monarch system – especially true of the Regency and Victorian eras – mountains of fiction have been written.
During the era, novels erupted in popularity, chronicling the time. Even today, the Victorian novel remains popular. A quick search reveals 214 current “Victorian” novels for sale on GoodReads.
Besides the books written by the Bronte sisters, I’d never read many Regency or Victorian novels. But my mother did. She loved the eras and the stories, especially Regency author, Georgette Heyer.
When, in late November 2010, my mother fell ill, she ended up spending 9 days in the hospital as she had contracted the H1N1 flu. It was touch and go, but eventually she no longer required hospitalization and was to be moved to Good Samaritan in Yakima for rehab. Transfer day was scheduled for December 7 and I had driven over the mountains the previous afternoon to be there to facilitate her relocation.
There were patches of snow and ice on the ground. It was cold, gray, and raw. I spent the night at my sister’s house and the next morning made my way to the hospital. Soon Mom was in the aid car and then arrived at her new room at Good Sam.
I spent the afternoon with her as a parade of nurses and caregivers came and went as they got her settled in.
Now, my mother had been suffering with dementia/Alzheimers for at least a few years by then. Nearly two weeks of severe illness had exacerbated the situation.
But the folks at Good Sam didn’t know her and did not realize how extensive the memory issues were.
About 3 p.m., a young woman enters the room and introduces herself as the Occupational Therapist (OT) and wants to talk with Mom. Mom’s bed is parallel to a window which looks out onto an interior courtyard. I’m sitting on a chair right next to Mom, between the bed and the window; the OT is on the other side, closer to the door.
So Mom keeps swiveling her head between us as the OT asks the questions; it’s as if Mom is looking to me for confirmation that she is answering correctly. For my part I am, of course, letting her answer the questions even if the answer is “I don’t know.”
Mom does know her name, her birthday, and the name of the town where she lives. Then the OT asks the following:
“Do you know where you are?”
Silence. Mom looks over at me and clearly does not know for SURE where she is, then turns back to the OT and says “Isn’t this the Queen’s court?”
The OT’s eyes lock on to mine and get very wide. I nod and smile because in that one answer the OT understood quite clearly that rehab for Mom wasn’t going to mean sending her home to resume life as most of us know it.
After the OT left, I stayed with Mom through her dinner and then made my way back to my sister’s for the night.
The next morning, before heading home, I stop in to see how Mom is doing. The first thing I notice is how pretty the snow looks as it gently falls outside the window, the ground now a blanket of white. Mom is awake, propped up in the bed and finishing breakfast. The room is warm and Mom looks comfortable.
With a big smile – she’s obviously glad to see me – exclaims “Oh, you’re back from England!”
Indeed. We had been to the Queen’s Court and back. The nearest to a monarchy I’m ever likely to get.