We Two: Victoria And Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals

We Two: Victoria And Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals

by Gillian Gill


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"[A] delectable double bio . . . Talk about Victoria’s secret. . . . A fascinating portrait of a genuine love match, but one in which the partners dealt with surprisingly modern issues.” 
—USA Today

It was the most influential marriage of the nineteenth century—and one of history’ s most enduring love stories. Traditional biographies tell us that Queen Victoria inherited the throne as a naïve teenager, when the British Empire was at the height of its power, and seemed doomed to find failure as a monarch and misery as a woman until she married her German cousin Albert and accepted him as her lord and master. Now renowned chronicler Gillian Gill turns this familiar story on its head, revealing a strong, feisty queen and a brilliant, fragile prince working together to build a family based on support, trust, and fidelity, qualities neither had seen much of as children. The love affair that emerges is far more captivating, complex, and relevant than that depicted in any previous account. 

The epic relationship began poorly. The cousins first met as teenagers for a few brief, awkward, chaperoned weeks in 1836. At seventeen, charming rather than beautiful, Victoria already “showed signs of wanting her own way.” Albert, the boy who had been groomed for her since birth, was chubby, self-absorbed, and showed no interest in girls, let alone this princess. So when they met again in 1839 as queen and presumed prince-consort-to-be, neither had particularly high hopes. But the queen was delighted to discover a grown man, refined, accomplished, and whiskered. “Albert is beautiful!” Victoria wrote, and she proposed just three days later.

As Gill reveals, Victoria and Albert entered their marriage longing for intimate companionship, yet each was determined to be the ruler. This dynamic would continue through the years—each spouse, headstrong and impassioned, eager to lead the marriage on his or her own terms. For two decades, Victoria and Albert engaged in a very public contest for dominance. Against all odds, the marriage succeeded, but it was always a work in progress. And in the end, it was Albert’s early death that set the Queen free to create the myth of her marriage as a peaceful idyll and her husband as Galahad, pure and perfect. 

As Gill shows, the marriage of Victoria and Albert was great not because it was perfect but because it was passionate and complicated. Wonderfully nuanced, surprising, often acerbic—and informed by revealing excerpts from the pair’s journals and letters—We Two is a revolutionary portrait of a queen and her prince, a fascinating modern perspective on a couple who have become a legend.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345520012
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/23/2010
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 100,201
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Gillian Gill, who holds a PhD in modern French literature from Cambridge University, has taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale, and Harvard. She is the author of Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale, Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her Mysteries, and Mary Baker Eddy. She lives in suburban Boston.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Charlotte and Leopold

The folktales of charles perrault and the grimm brothers are surprisingly reliable about the lives of kings and queens in old Europe. Those tales are full of strange and dangerous royal courtships. Kings and queens are unable to conceive a normal child. Queens die in childbirth. Orphan princesses are sorely beset by uncaring fathers, wicked stepmothers, and villainous uncles, and only seven dwarfs or a magic donkey’s skin can save them.

The solutions are magical, but the problems were not fantasies. European kings and queens were in fact often neglected or abused in childhood. As adults they were plagued by the imperative to find a spouse and produce an heir. They then frequently repeated the cycle of neglect and abuse with their own children.

Before Princess Victoria of Kent was born, there lived a Princess Charlotte, her first cousin and very like her in character and ability. If Charlotte had lived and had children, a Saxe-Coburg dynasty would have taken hold in England in 1817, not 1840, and history books might well chronicle the joint reign of Charlotte and Leopold. But Charlotte was a princess that no fairy godmother came to save.

Charlotte’s parents, George, Prince of Wales (later prince regent, and then King George IV), and Princess Caroline of Brunswick, were first cousins. They had never seen one another before the eve of their wedding. George loathed Caroline on sight and consummated the marriage in a state of insulting inebriation. The two separated nine months before the birth of their only child and thereafter waged an increasingly ugly and public war on one another. He accused her, not unjustly, of being dirty, uncouth, and garrulous. She accused him, not unjustly, of promiscuity, malice, and neglect. Unloved and uncared for, Charlotte was a pawn in her parents’ acrimonious marital game.

Princess Charlotte emerged from this difficult childhood a woman of considerable abilities, if little education, and possessed of unusual courage and resolution. Wild, headstrong, opinionated, and self- absorbed, Charlotte yet longed for affection and intimacy. At eighteen she had few illusions and fewer friends, and longed to throw off the financial and social straitjacket of her life as an unmarried princess. She was anxious to avoid the fate of her royal aunts, the six talented and beautiful daughters of King George III who as young women were tethered to their dysfunctional parents and barred from marriage. Three in middle age finally escaped into the arms of grotesque bridegrooms, but frustration and boredom gnawed away at the lives of all these princesses.

Like the heroines of so many English novels of the period, Princess Charlotte saw marriage as the answer to her problems. She knew that, as second in line of succession to the English throne after her father, she was the most eligible partie in Europe. She also knew that her acceptable marital choices were limited to a handful of unknown foreigners. As two of her spinster aunts had discovered to their cost, tradition and the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 prevented the marriage of an English royal princess with any man, duke or drover, born in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It was common practice for princesses to be married to men they had never met, so Charlotte would be lucky to get a glimpse of her suitors at a ball or state dinner.

Charlotte’s father the prince regent also saw marriage as the solution to the problems he had with his daughter. He doted on tiny, cute girls, but Charlotte resembled her large, loud, voluptuous mother, and he had never loved her. Worse, Charlotte was popular with the English people, while he was greeted by catcalls and averted faces when he made a rare public appearance. The regent planned to marry his daughter off to the Prince of Orange, a distant cousin and the heir to the throne of Holland, England’s most ancient ally. Orange was, admittedly, a drunken lout, but Charlotte’s aunts had been grateful to marry worse.

At first Charlotte agreed to the betrothal. Then, astonishingly, she broke off the engagement and tried to run away from home. Perhaps she had read some novels and believed that young women had a right to choose their husbands. More probably she had made a rational assessment of what a Dutch marriage would mean to her. As Princess of Orange, she would be obliged to spend at least half the year in Holland. While she was abroad, her father might finally obtain the divorce he wanted and then marry a young princess. If a healthy stepbrother were born, Charlotte would no longer be her father’s heir. Though she had little love and no respect for her mother, the princess considered it essential to remain in England to support her own and her mother’s interests.

Charlotte’s unexpected and stubborn refusal of the Dutch prince angered her father, and she found herself a virtual prisoner. Marriage became even more desirable. She was in a hurry to find an eligible European prince properly subservient to her needs and wishes and willing to live in England. Charlotte made a strong play for Prince Frederick of Prussia, whom she found attractive, but he proved unresponsive. Then, as if by magic, at a ball given by her aunt the Duchess of York, another foreign prince appeared before Charlotte. He was charming, and his bloodline was impeccable. He had served valiantly in the recent wars against Napoleon and looked magnificent in his Russian cavalry officer’s uniform. If she deigned to marry him, he would owe her everything. His name was Leopold of Saxe-Coburg- Saalfeld.

The seventh child and third son of a bankrupt German princeling, Leopold, ambitious, talented, and handsome, was a youngest son right out of a fairy tale. In 1815 he came to London in the tsar’s entourage. Officially he was celebrating the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. Unofficially he was wooing the King of England’s only granddaughter. It was a bold move, supremely confident and coldly calculated by a man who had nothing to lose by aiming high. With the war over, Leopold was living from hand to mouth, since his private fortune amounted to some two hundred pounds a year. Sponsored by his imperial Russian friends, Leopold had uniforms made on credit, borrowed his brother-in-law Mensdorff’s dashing carriage, and set off for London. He was obliged to take rooms over a tradesman’s shop and still had trouble paying the rent. But he had an entrée to all the magnificent festivities organized by the prince regent and his brothers to celebrate the peace. Just as he had hoped, Princess Charlotte noticed him.

Now Leopold played a waiting game. He returned to the Continent and corresponded with Charlotte behind her father’s back. This correspondence was made possible through the good offices of Charlotte’s uncle the Duke of Kent, who was everlastingly at odds with his eldest brother, the regent. There followed a year of negotiations at a distance, during which Leopold aroused the princess’s passions by refusing to return to England. At last, wearied by his daughter’s intransigence, the prince regent agreed to accept Leopold as a son-in-law. Receiving this fabulous news from Lord Castlereagh, the English foreign secretary, Leopold wrapped himself in a long coat, a feather boa, and a fur muff, and posted full tilt across Europe. In the kind of proof of passion women find hard to resist, he arrived in London from Berlin, exhausted and ill, in the staggering time of three and a half weeks.

The wedding of Charlotte and Leopold was a fairy-tale affair for the whole nation, rather like the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, but with an interesting reversal of gender roles. Charlotte at nineteen, tall, gawky, and inclined to fat, played the part of Prince Charming, heir to the kingdom and untold wealth, while Leopold was a ravishing rags-to-riches Cinderella. The bride’s elaborate trousseau was the subject of long, reverent columns in the fashion press, and for her wedding she wore a gown of lace-trimmed silver lama and white satin designed by Mrs. Triaud of Bond Street. But at their wedding, the bride was eclipsed by the glory of the bridegroom. Leopold was reputed to be one of the handsomest men in Europe, and he now wore the scarlet wool uniform of a British general, decorated with his own orders and medals. His belt and sword blazed with diamonds, a gift from his bride’s grandmother and namesake, the Queen.

Reportedly the bride giggled when the bridegroom was asked to endow her with all his wordly goods. As everyone knew, Prince Leopold was heir to little and owned less. However, the members of parliament, in rapturous appreciation of their princess and salivating at the prospect of a new, shining line of kings, granted Leopold personally the magnificent annuity of fifty thousand pounds—about two million in today’s dollars.

Charlotte was not at all in love with Prince Leopold when she agreed to marry him. As she confided in a letter: “I have perfectly decided & made up my own mind to marry, & the person I have decidedly fixed on is Prince Leopold . . . I know that worse off, more unhappy and wretched I cannot be than I am now, & after all if I end by marrying Prince L.,. . . I marry the best of all those I have seen, & that is some satisfaction.” Leopold was not in love either. He was already a world-class Lothario and had enjoyed mistresses far more seductive than Charlotte. But if he did not love his bride for her looks and charm, he passionately adored her status as second in line of succession to the English throne. Hence, from the moment he arrived back in England, Leopold set out single-mindedly to win Charlotte’s love and become her indispensable counselor and helpmate. Twenty years later, he would train his handsome nephew Albert in the same strategies for the day when Albert would marry Victoria.

Leopold played the part of lover-husband to perfection. During the days of their brief engagement, to her surprise and delight, Charlotte found Leopold extremely beguiling, as indeed did London society. Within months of their marriage, she was ready to tell the world that he was the perfect husband and that she idolized him. Charlotte also quickly warmed to Leopold’s aide-de-camp and general factotum, the young German physician Christian Stockmar. The three were soon inseparable friends. Charlotte and Leopold settled down to married bliss at Claremont, a secluded house in magnificent grounds given to them by the nation at the time of their marriage. As its owners were well aware, Claremont, with its simple furnishings and healthy, happy, modest way of life, could not have posed a stronger contrast to the Royal Pavilion in the heart of the town of Brighton— the prince regent’s most expensive and unpopular architectural extravaganza to date.

When, after two miscarriages, Charlotte embarked upon what boded well to be a successful pregnancy, the Claremont idyll seemed complete. As he awaited the birth of his child, Leopold looked eagerly to the future. He was now rich, popular with the English nation, and adored at home, but all this was as nothing to the power, wealth, and status he foresaw for himself in the near future. Only the lives of mad old George III and the disease-raddled regent stood between Charlotte and the throne of England. And so passionately did Charlotte now adore him that she was ready to say: “I cannot reign over England except upon the condition that he [Leopold] shall reign over England and myself . . . Yes, he shall be King, or I will never be Queen.” Once a healthy child was born, Leopold saw his future assured, if not as King, then at least as prince consort and the sire of a new race of kings. Even were Charlotte to die young, as long as she left children, Leopold would be regent and rule in England.

As soon as the princess went into labor in the early evening of November 3, the Privy Councillors were summoned in haste from London to attend the birth, as protocol demanded. The regent and his mother, apprised of the situation at Claremont, went about their everyday lives quite unconcerned. The old queen, who in her time had given birth to fifteen babies with remarkable efficiency and speed, did not think it necessary to leave Bath, where she was taking a cure.

Prince Leopold sat by his wife’s side, holding her hand, murmuring love and encouragement, and Stockmar hovered anxiously in the background. From the beginning of the princess’s pregnancy, Stockmar had warned Prince Leopold that the approach taken by doctors attending his wife was ill advised. The English royal doctors subscribed to the doctrine that strong, choleric young women should follow a “lowering” regime when pregnant. Charlotte had been fed a liquid diet low in meat and vegetables, forbidden to exercise, and subjected to regular bloodlettings, which probably led to severe anemia. Stockmar recommended that Prince Leopold intervene in his wife’s care, but in the end both the prince and his adviser left Charlotte completely in the hands of English medical men.

The princess’s water broke over two weeks after her due date, so she went into labor tired and dispirited, fearing the worst. She continued in heavy labor through the night and the following day, and the baby did not come. Before her marriage, Charlotte had been a strong, athletic young woman, but the miscarriages and now the pregnancy had sapped her strength. Hence, though her cervix dilated, she did not have the strength to push the child out, and her doctors, though they had brought a set of the newly invented obstetrical forceps, did not dare to use them. At last, after some fifty hours of labor, a large and perfectly formed male child was born, dead and resisting all attempts at resuscitation.

The princess received the news of her child’s death with resignation. She had still to suffer the agony of having the doctor manually remove the placenta, which had failed to detach. Her abdomen was then wrapped tightly, and she took some light food. Leopold, sad and exhausted but assuming the worst was over, took an opiate and went to bed.

Suddenly the princess complained of terrible pain, went deathly cold, became confused, and had difficulty breathing. She was probably suffering a massive internal hemorrhage, caused by the tearing away of the placenta and concealed by the swaddling of her abdomen. Her doctors administered brandy and hot wine. Warm flannels and hot water bottles were pressed to her stomach. The patient became visibly worse. Horrified by the turn of events, the doctors finally invited Stockmar to examine the princess. He took Charlotte’s wrist to feel the pulse, and she murmured, “They have made me drunk, Stocky.” He said, quite correctly, that the heat being administered to the patient was counter-indicated. The doctors refused to take Stockmar’s advice, but in any case it came too late. Christian Stockmar was holding Charlotte’s hand when at two-thirty on the morning of November 6, she died in paroxysms.

Table of Contents

Prelude to a Marriage 3

Part 1 The Years Apart

Victoria: A Fatherless Princess 15

Chapter 1 Charlotte and Leopold 17

Chapter 2 Wanted, an Heir to the Throne, Preferably Male 24

Chapter 3 The Wife Takes the Child 38

Chapter 4 That Dismal Existence 50

Chapter 5 The Kensington System 59

Chapter 6 Fighting Back 64

Chapter 7 Victoria, Virgin Queen 77

Albert: A Motherless Prince 89

Chapter 8 The Coburg Legacy 95

Chapter 9 A Dynastic Marriage 110

Chapter 10 The Paradise of Our Childhood 121

Chapter 11 Training for the Big Race 131

Part 2 Together 145

Chapter 12 Victoria Plans Her Marriage 147

Chapter 13 Bearing the Fruits of Desire 165

Chapter 14 Whigs and Tories 171

Chapter 15 Dearest Daisy 178

Chapter 16 Albert Takes Charge 191

Chapter 17 The Court of St. Albert's 201

Chapter 18 Finding Friends 214

Chapter 19 A Home of Our Own 225

Chapter 20 The Greatest Show on Earth 243

Chapter 21 Lord Palmerston Says No 255

Chapter 22 Blue Blood and Red 278

Chapter 23 French Interlude 295

Chapter 24 The Prussian Alliance 304

Chapter 25 Father and Son 322

Chapter 26 Problems in a Marriage 337

Chapter 27 "I Do Not Cling to Life as You Do" 346

Chapter 28 Mourning a Prince 364

Acknowledgments 385

Notes 389

Illustration Credits 441

Index 443

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We Two 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This biography of the lives of Queen Victoria and Princess Albert was fascinating for its detail, insight into personal issues and the effect of Albert's reach for power despite the priority of Victoria. The tension between Victoria and her mother, the effects of Albert's Uncle Leopold to place him on the throne in England and other conflicts in the lives of royalty are the time make this a very fascinating reading. Albert tried to rule England even though he was not made more than Prince Consort. In this sense Victoria and Albert were rivals. It turns out that the prudishness of the "Victorian" era came significantly from Albert's views of proper behavior and a reaction within England to the behavior of the previous Hanoverian Kings. The impact of Victoria's many children marrying into other royal families - specifically the hemophilia gene- is also covered and illustrates the effects of individuals and personalities. Lots of information is known because the letter correspondence of both royal figures was kept and reveals a lot. Another contradiction is the effect of Victoria after Albert's death to document all his virtues and conceal his imperfections. The book does not sugarcoat the situation since a number of peole attempted to manipulate Victoria for their own purposes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The characters appear to come alive from the written pages. You have the feeling you are right there with them. Victoria was so young when see married Albert and then the rate of having her children was really alarming. It is a wonder she survived the birth of each child considering the lack of knowledge, at that time, in child birth.She was highly respected as a Queen, yes and loved too. I had the opinion Albert was quite frustrated as he never obtained the control or responsibilies he felt he should have. He felt entitled because he was her husband. No doubt they truly loved each other and Victoria took his death very hard. Lots of good character building of persons who surrounded her and also members of Parliment.
ReaderinMA More than 1 year ago
This is one of the very best biographies I have ever read. Incredible detail/research - just amazing. Gill pulls back the veil from not only the marriage of Victoria and Albert, but from the intrigues of the royal houses of Europe in the 19th century. Scholarly but reads like a novel...compelling to the very last page. Don't miss this!
klneff More than 1 year ago
I thought that this book was a wonderful new look at an often written about relationship. The author shows that Albert and Victoria were pawns within their family. The marriage between two cousins, was planned from childhood. Theirs was ineffect an arranged marriage, but they happened to find a true partnership and even love. Victoria had the crown, but very early on Albert was King. He delt with the demands of the political role of the Monarchy, and the private tantrums of his wife. The demands of his private and public life aged him rapidly, and probably contributed to his early death. Victoria mourned him for the rest of her life.
harstan More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating biography that turns upside down the love story of Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert as they cherished one another while battling for dominance of their relationship, which denoted dominance of the British Empire. In other words the early period until Albert's death could easily be labeled Albertan-Victorian age. Prince Albert was a classic example of employing a defense mechanism of being everything his family was not and not being anything they were. Thus he came across as prim, proper and starched, which ironically set the future's look back at the Victorian Age are his belief on how a ruler should behave. He kept his Queen seemingly pregnant all the time and was a major supporter of science and technology. When he died in 1861, Victoria grieved her loss for several years. However, when she finally moved on, the Victorian Age blossomed as if the student had learned from her late master while she described his virtues and buried with him his faults. This is a terrific biography of the nineteenth century's most powerful "power couple" as each thrived in their love and rivalry, especially Victoria. Gillian Gill makes a strong case that Albert was in some ways her mentor as much as her partner. With numerous illustrations and letters included, fans will relish this profound fresh look at We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful and engaging account of the complex and fascinating lives of Queen Victoia and her Prince Albert. I could not put it down... as enjoyed the insight to a real power couple who changed the world.
Barbaraketubah More than 1 year ago
As these type of books go, it is pretty good, but I found it a bit difficult reading trying to keep track of everyone and the history behind ascending to the throne. Truthfully, I stopped reading about halfway through, too dry.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Celticgal More than 1 year ago
when I sqw the 500 pages I must admit this put me off about this book but after reading the reviews and seeing the movie Young Victoria" I was anxious to see what the real story was all about. What a complex relationship this was. Lovers, Best Friends, Enemies & Rivals all in one marriage. The Queen was not the total monarch that I thought she would be but, it turns out to be Albert. Quite an amazing read. I would recommend this to everyone who loves and has always been intrigues by British history. You will find it very interesting!
lsucntrygrl More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing. I took a Hanoverian/Victorian class in college because I love that era but the teacher focused more on the political and military aspects. I was interested in learning about Victoria and Albert a bit more but they were glossed over as background figures. This book turns these untouchable figures into human beings. The author uses excerpts from Victoria's and Albert's diaries and letters, allowing the reader to see the personal side of the rulers, both the good and the bad. You learn things you won't normally learn in an academic setting. Overall, this book is very good. I don't want to put it down. Great work!
AngieN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well-researched and written, but stretched perhaps a bit too far. The author does a fantastic job of fleshing out the dynamics of the marriage between two fascinating people who were in many ways polar opposites. I loved them both but occasionally wanted to slap them at the same time (good portrait of a marriage, right :->)!
vrchristensen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is truly one of the best non fiction books I've ever read. Granted, I'm particularly infatuated with the Victorian era, but I was pleasantly surprised in this to find it both accessible and concise. Much background history is discussed, which might ordinarily bog down the narrative, but in this case it is all presented in the clearest and most insightful of ways. That Victoria was fated for the throne is perhaps evidenced by the complexity of circumstances that surround her history and upbringing. Her influence was magnificent, and is still felt today. I'm grateful for this re-examination of the couple and what they did for England and the Western world. The last several decades have judged them unduly harshly, in my opinion. It's a pleasant read throughout. I read it slowly, since there was so much information to digest, but it was certainly no difficult book to read, and even managed to evoke a little of the flavour of the era. I'm glad I found this book. I found it both informative and inspiring.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for a credible biography of Victoria and Albert, this probably won't satisfy you. It is written in an easy-flowing, engaging style, but makes assertions that are not backed up. There are detailed notes, but no references in the text to point you to them. Perhaps the author's degree in literature led her to value a story that flowed over a properly documented text.I was reading this for a book club and had to finish it. Therefore, I decided to relax about the lack of academic rigour and read this as a story based (largely, I hope) on fact rather than a true biography. That helped me enjoy the book, and I learned about aspects of Victorian society I wasn't previously aware of. It is a compelling tale of a marriage and the challenges of balancing being Queen of England with being a dutiful, obedient wife and a mother to nine children. Albert, too, struggles with his non-traditional role of being head of the household but not the head of state. It's also a harrowing tale of child rearing in Victorian royal families -- it's amazing people like Victoria and her son Bertie were able to accomplish what they did given how they were raised. Bottom line: recommended for people who have a general interest in Victorian times or the life of royals, but not for those with a deeper interest in history or biography.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well researched and factual.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its just like reading a history book.
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auntmary More than 1 year ago
Did not expect to learn so much new information or to have it be so interesting, but this book gave a totally new slant and kept me interested to the very end. Very pleased with the purchase.
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rcf1208 More than 1 year ago
Excellently written. New twist on the V & A dynamic. New opinions IMO astleast as far as P.A. is concerned... Still a good read
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