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

by Gillian Gill
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • Publishing date: 30/11/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780345520012
  • ISBN: 0345520017

Synopsis

Book Description
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.

Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by Gillian Gill

When I was growing up in South Wales, the part of Great Britain best known for coal mines, people like me did not write about royalty. We left that to “nobs” like Countess Longford (alias Elizabeth Longford) who were actually invited to coronations or to people like Cecil Woodham-Smith whose double-barrelled surname and weird given name proclaimed her membership of the elite public (i.e. private) school set. My family was the kind that lined the route on a rare royal visit to our provincial city, waving tiny union jacks.

Until my teens, my sister Rose and I were reared jointly by our mother and her mother. Mummy and Nana lived together all their lives, quarreled every day, but shared a passion for the British royal family. In our house, the pantheon of royals was worshipped with more fervor and regularity than we mustered at the plain little branch of the Church of Wales just around the corner. The royals were glamour and romance, items severely rationed in post-war Britain.

1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, was a banner year for our family. My mother bought a television set and invited her humbler relatives over to squint at the magnificent event on our twelve inch, black and white set. There followed a street party and my grandmother, who had once apprenticed as a milliner, contrived marvelous costumes for Rose and me. I was actually queen for the day with a long white dress, purple robe, and crown, orb, and scepter.

But once my father retired from the Merchant Navy and took his place in the family, his carefully informed left-wing politics took hold of me and my grandmother’s reverence for the royal family began to seem silly and ignorant. When I was about seventeen, I made some flip remark about the abdication of King Edward VIII which so infuriated Nana that she slapped my face. At the time I was shocked and wholly at a loss. Now I think I understand. A handsome and engaging young king had once come to South Wales and spoken movingly of the plight of the miners. Women of my grandmother’s generation had never forgotten it. Like the rest of the general public in Britain, she had been carefully shielded by the press from any knowledge of Edward VIII’s prenuptial dalliances and fascist opinions.

By 1965 I was a graduate of Cambridge University, the first of my family to attend university and a budding academic. When it was announced that the Queen Mother would come to New Hall, my Cambridge college, to open the new buildings, I was blasé to the point of disdain. But when I found myself curtseying and carefully shaking the tips of Her Majesty’s gloved fingers, I was swept away by the mystique of royalty. How delightful the Queen was in person and how proud my grandmother would be when she saw the photo of me with the Queen Mum.

All of which is to explain why my book about Queen Victoria is prefaced by the old English saying: “A cat may look at a king.” --Gillian Gill

(Photo © Linda Crosskey)

A Look Inside We Two

Click on thumbnails for larger images

Gillian Gill (in white dress) greeting the Queen Mother at Cambridge University in 1964.
Gillian Gill and her sister Rose at home in Cardiff, Wales, dressed up to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Gillian Gill in front of the statue of Queen Victoria statue outside Kensington Palace, London.



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  • Refreshing and insightful
    From Amazon

    Gillian Gill's "We Two" is an excellent history that, yes, sorry for the cliche, reads like fiction. There's a lot of interesting stuff to learn from this book. I had always wondered how princes and princesses from these tiny German duchies ended up marrying into nearly all the royal houses of Europe and the answer is easy--there were a lot of them! Since royals can only marry royals, preunited Germany offered lots of royalty from teeny debt-ridden countries. Who cared if the palaces were firetraps and the country the size of a city block--they were royal and Protestant. With no other way to support themselves, Saxe-Coburg and similar places became shopping centers for royal spouses. They tended to be pretty good looking and raised to rule, even if they were first cousins. It is amazing that two people raised in loveless households could have a pretty successful marriage and create an unusually happy childhood for most of their nine children. This was Albert's realm--Victoria hated being pregnant and did not really like children--but because this was important to her beloved husband, she did her best. Little Vic enjoyed dancing, music, lively conversation, and ruling. Albert seems to have been somewhat depressed for much of his marriage. He had planned to rule in Victoria's place, and that certainly didn't happen. If you enjoyed "Young Victoria" this is a great follow-up, placing the story in an acutely-observed historical context. Highly recommended.

  • Exceptional
    From Amazon

    I love history, mystery, and psychology and have continued a study of each for more then 50 years. I'm also a member of several books clubs and will highly recommend this book. I found it new and yet old in that the story is old but the telling refreshing to the mind and spirit, here, a young girl overcoming the rule of a mother who was engaged in tactic to support her own gains and little asssitance to the new Queen and a lover who taught in a kind fashion and yet might not have been the best father. This is a good read, well done, 5 stars.

  • Who are all these Germans??
    From Amazon

    I am much an anglophile, so I love reading everything about British history. However, a big hole in my knowledge concerned the German connection. Where did all those Germans come from, and why? So this book, full of tiny anecdotes and details, really helps fill me in on that entire period. (The movie was also VERY well done) I traveled to London this year and was astonished of course by Windsor Castle, but also by St. George's chapel and the jaw dropping memorial to Albert that Victoria placed there. Folks, if you liked this book and you haven't yet been to Windsor Castle, make it your goal. Study ahead of time so you can really soak it up. The book makes much of the tragic demise of Princess Charlotte, so if I had read "We Two" before seeing her memorial at St. George's, it would have been even more affecting. Finally, I like saving half the price of the hard cover edition by downloading on my Kindle in about 5 seconds. Wow. And, though I am college educated and a big reader for decades, this author managed effortlessly to include a great many words from the vaunted English language for which I drew a blank!! With the Kindle, I just scroll quickly to the word with the cursor and the definition pops right up at the bottom of the page. Only some of the words were listed as "archaic", so I would hesitate to engage in a scrabble contest with this writer. I would point out, however, that if I had no dictionary at my fingertips, my enjoyment of the book would not have been compromised. Now that I am on intimate terms with the Queen's great, great grandmother, if HRH would only invite me to one of her banquets in the Waterloo Room at the Castle.

  • Very disappointing
    From Amazon

    I had high hopes for this book, based on the description and other customer reviews--my local library had it so I checked it out. I'm so disappointed--there are several inaccuracies in the book (the photographs and also Gill's statement that the painting Omphale and Hercules was a wedding present to Albert from Victoria--in fact Albert purchased it himself in 1844 several years after their marriage). The book does not contain much meat, Gill seems to rely a great deal on secondary sources and accounts about Albert and Victoria by their contemporaries more than their own actual letters and journal writings, she cherry-picks quotations and facts to support her feminist revisionist thesis about their relationship and it is really disappointing scholarship. In addition, she has a catty, smug writing style more appropriate to a gossip column than a serious biographical work, and indulges in a great deal of speculation about the couple's sex life, etc. that really has nothing to do with any historical record and is quite dull and far-fetched. Her treatment of Albert I found bizarre, on the one hand she seems to hold him in contempt as a "prig" for his lack of interest in philandering both before and after his marriage, and calls him a "misogynist", yet I find it hard to reconcile these judgements with his actions, eg. breaking with social convention to be with Victoria during childbirth, and his letters to his brother pleading with him not to endanger any woman he might marry by infecting her and their children with venereal disease. Was Albert sexist by late 20th century standards? Absolutely, as was virtually every other European male of his time. But from that to label him a "hater of women" I think is completely without foundation. I think from his conduct it is possible to argue that he actually had more respect for women than the average man of his time and social class, especially compared to his father and brother. Her portrayal of Victoria is equally unkind, I felt a great deal of compassion for V.R., it cannot have been easy to function and not be a hysterical mess when dealing with the constant rush of hormones from her many pregnancies, coupled with the extreme social restrictions that society placed on pregnant women of her time. Had she lived in an age with more freedom for pregnant women and had better obstetrical care and contraception, I think she would have been a very different person as she aged. Her position as Queen made it very hard for her to find disinterested support from anyone other than Albert, and such a situation would strain any marriage. Gill's statements that V.R. "disliked children" I also find do not jibe with her many loving journal entries (which may be found in other bios) describing the children's activities and the many sketches she made of them--while Victoria may not have fit the cultural "angel of the hearth" ideal of motherhood of her era, (and what model for mothering did she have in her own miserable childhood?) and was very ambivalent about many aspects of mothering (as many women then and now are), it is evident from her own writings that she loved her children deeply and was much more interested and involved in their lives than was usual for royal and noble mothers of her time. I found that Gill's thesis of a power struggle between V&A started to really wear on the nerves by the end of the book, with every action of either partner being interpreted by Gill as a move in a struggle for dominance. Sometimes life, marriage and raising a family is just difficult, in and of itself. Even with the heavy public responsibilities V&A bore, I think that most of their struggles were issues that any couple with children would deal with over the years, and not necessarily some great political battle for dominance, as Gill would have the reader believe. I found Gill's book very offensive--other biographers manage to paint a very intimate and insightful portrait of both Albert and Victoria as individuals, and their relationship, without being demeaning to them. For those interested in more than a "People Magazine" portrait of V&A's relationship, I highly recommend Stanley Weintraub's biographies, Victoria and Uncrowned King, and the Duchess of York's book Victoria and Albert: Life at Osborne House. I'm glad I didn't buy this book, it definitely isn't worth the price.

  • Seen the Movie? Now Read the Book
    From Amazon

    Seen the movie "The Young Victoria"? Now read the book, if you've had the misfortune to miss it so far. Historical anachronisms in the film highlight fascinating principal themes in the masterful "We Two" portrait of Victoria and Albert. The film develops features of their interests and relationship that did not actually evolve as early as the film portrays, but which are key elements of their lives and historical contributions. Never mind Lord Melbourne's charm and loving diplomacy toward her, Victoria comes to realize that she, with Albert, wants to improve her subjects' welfare and needs to leave Lord M's reactionary views behind. Albert's intervention in Victoria's relationships to her government counselors (e.g. new Prime Minister Peel's token ladies-in-waiting requests) may not have taken place so early as in the film, but V&A's argument about it nicely illustrates how his advice to her developed overall. Despite the obtuse brutality of Victoria's mother's household consort Sir John Conroy (never mind what the relationship may or may not have been in private), Victoria's successful struggle to put him in his place paved the way for her determination to keep all ministers and intimates, including Albert, under her control. The book is replete with gems like the film's Duke of Wellington's apt, amusing comment on William III's 'reality-show' tantrum about Victoria's mother and Conroy - "Families!" Again, enjoy the movie as a 'trailer' - then (re)read the book.

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