Victoria and the Kensington System

Alexandrina Victoria. Queen Victoria. She was the monarch of the United Kingdom for nearly a century, from 1837 until 1901. All around the world there are hundreds, probably thousands of statutes, memorials, buildings, cities, states and people named after her. In her lifetime, the world went from candles and letters to electrical lighting, telegraphs, telephones and radio. From the horse and cart to the world’s first automobiles. From muskets and blackpowder to revolvers and repeating rifles. She lived in an era that saw wars, invasions, new inventions, changes in communications, transport, manufacturing, food-preservation and hundreds of other aspects of daily life far too numerous to list.

And yet, despite being famous the world-over, despite being rich and coming from one of the most powerful families in the world, despite having the chane to have whatever she wanted and do whatever she liked, the then Princess Victoria had what is probably the worst childhood any girl her age could possibly have under the circumstances. Victoria’s childhood was not balls and dinners, parties, dances, meeting the hot young eligible princes of Europe and travelling abroad. It was not travelling around London viewing the sights or going on leisurely picnics with her parents and grandparents. It was the most boring, controlled, restricted childhood you could imagine. And it came about purely out of another person’s greed.

We all have our thoughts of what royal kids are like. Spoilt, arrogant brats with lots of money and plenty of time, status and authority in which to burn it. It wasn’t too long ago that Prince Harry was in the newspapers every other month. Drinking, doing drugs, getting chucked out of nightclubs, dressing up as a Nazi. You’d imagine that a lot of royal children probably grew up like this. And maybe they did. But surprisingly, one of the most famous monarchs ever to wear the English crown had probably the most boring, rigid and agonising childhood you could possibly imagine.

Think your parents are strict? After you read about Victoria’s childhood, you’ll never complain about a 10 o’clock curfew or household chores or doing the laundry ever again.

Who was Victoria?

The future queen was born Alexandrina Victoria on the 24th of May, 1819. She was a long way from the top of the tree and her chances of becoming Queen of England were as unlikely as man walking on the moon. Well, we already know where this is going.

Victoria’s parents were the Duke and Duchess of Kent. The title of Duke of Kent is a royal title, given to the son of a king. Which king? In this case, His Royal Insanity, King George III. Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, was George’s fourth son. Ahead of him were his brothers William, Frederick and George; in that order. If Victoria was ever to become queen, then she would have to wait for her father, her three uncles and her grandfather to die first. And that was never going to happen in just a few short years, was it? So with the long waiting-list, you can see why nobody expected Victoria to become queen.

But then in the 1780s, George III famously went mad and his son, the soon-to-be George IV, replaced him on the throne in 1811, formally becoming king in 1820. George IV was about as popular as another George…named Bush. He was overweight, grouchy, he spent massive amounts of money on food and parties, and he ate like a pig. Not surprisingly when he died in 1830…not many people took notice. After him came his brother William. William had waited so long for the chance to become king that he almost didn’t make it. When his no-good older brother died and left him England, William was already at the seasoned age of 64. However, William was a considerably more popular monarch than his brother. He was more thrifty with money and proved a likeable and pleasant person. But what does all this have to do with Victoria?

Well…

Once William died, the throne would go to his brother, Edward, Victoria’s father. Only there was a problem here because…Edward was already dead. Which meant that the throne would then go, not to his wife, Victoria’s mother, but rather to Victoria herself. And as is so often in royal circles, there are people who want the throne who can’t have it. In this case…Victoria’s mother.

Enter the Kensington System.

Victoria and the Kensington System

The Kensington System is named after the palace in which Victoria was raised…Kensington Palace.


…And it’s soooo purdy…

In essence, the Kensington System was a set of rules and regulations under which the young Princess Victoria was forced, by her mother and her mother’s lover, the unscrupulous Sir John Conroy, to live her life…if you could in all honesty have called it a ‘life’. More like an existence. Alright. Fine. She’s a royal child. She has to be a good girl and set an example for the unwashed peasanty. She must have decorum and tact and be ladylike and like Mary Poppins, must be practically perfect in every way. Right?

Perhaps. We’ll never know.

The Kensington System was designed to keep Victoria in line. It was designed to make her dependent and babyish and weak. It was designed to keep her tied to her mother’s apron-strings with a deadknot. This wasn’t an accident…this was what the Duchess of Kent and her loverboy Conroy actually intended to do. It was part of their plan to wear Victoria down and when her uncle, King William IV died, to force her to sign a paper that would declare a regency, meaning that (for a while at least), Victoria’s mother would become de-facto Queen of England. And not surprisingly, like any teenage girl, Victoria hated all this, and she despised her mother.

So, what did the Kensington System involve?

Well let’s have a look.

1. Princess Victoria is not allowed any privacy at all except when washing, changing or attending the call of nature. She must be accompanied EVERYWHERE (and I mean literally everywhere) by either her mother, her governess or her tutor.

2. She was NOT allowed to walk up or downstairs without holding her mother’s arm. EVER.

3. She was NOT allowed to sleep in her own room under any circumstances. She HAD to share a room with her mother.

4. She would ONLY meet the boys that her darling mother thought were suitable for a royal princess to meet. And absolutely no others.

5. All her activities and daily doings would be recorded in pen and ink.

6. Victoria would be a good girl and give the throne to her mama and her lover.

Wait what?

Yes you read that last one right. Victoria would give the throne to her mother and her lover Sir John Conroy. But more about that in a moment.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, Victoria’s childhood absolutely sucked. From the age when she could walk and talk and after her father died, to the age of 18, she was a virtual prisoner in Kensington Palace. She was badgered day and night by her relentless mother and her life was a living hell. She had no privacy at all. She was followed everywhere at all times. She had almost no friends (apart from servants), she spent countless days being taught by her tutor and her entire day was rigidly structured and timetabled. She had almost no free time and absolutely no time to herself. To top it all off, she was also under constant pressure to wave aside the throne and give it to her mother, the Duchess of Kent. Surely this couldn’t be legal. Right? Well, it was and it wasn’t. Let’s have a look below:

The Problems of Succession

The British Royal Family was not the healthiest of families. George III died blind and insane. George IV died as a fat, ugly, unloved slob and William IV, who inherited his brother’s throne at the ripe old age of 64, wasn’t expected to live very long. William was a popular king, and he must’ve been a prize catch back in the day because his wife adored him. He’d joined the Royal Navy in his youth, and was affectionately called the Sailor King. Despite his best efforts however, the Sailor King couldn’t get his mast up. Yep, you guessed it. He wasn’t able to have a kid with his princess. And not from lack of trying, either. His junk worked fine. It just didn’t work when it was actually imperative that it did. He had TEN children born out of wedlock (and four born within) so obviously something was going right. Just not at the right time. All his legitimate children were either stillborn, miscarried or died soon after birth. Eventually, Prince William and his bride, Princess Adelaide came to accept that they weren’t going to have any children together.

So when the king died, his throne would go to his brother…who was already dead…which meant it would go to Victoria. And this terrified Victoria’s mother.

The Duchess of Kent was a conniving woman, to say the least. Together with Conroy, she forced Victoria over and over and over again, to sign a document that would declare a regency. But Victoria, stubborn and determined, repeatedly refused to do it.

Giving consent to a regency meant that if Victoria’s Uncle William died before Victoria reached legal adulthood (the age of 18), then until she reached that age, her mother (and by extension, her lover, Sir John Conroy) would be the regent (de-facto ruler) of the United Kingdom. The Duchess of Kent was so determined for this to happen that she wanted to turn her daughter into a weak and dependent baby, unfit to be queen and who would willingly give over power to her mother…to which end, the Kensington System had been created.

Victoria’s Reaction

Unsurprisingly, Victoria hated the Kensington System with a vengeance. She loathed it. And as you might expect, the Kensington system completely destroyed any positive relationship that Victoria had with her mother. Victoria was incredibly moody and emotional…and not just because she was getting her period. She wanted out of the Kensington System, and she wanted out NOW.

But the Duchess and Conroy were determined to have their way. But then, something happened that probably none of them ever expected.

William IV lived.

Although he had been in failing health for some time, William was no fool. He was well aware of his sister-in-law’s intentions regarding his beloved niece, Victoria, and the throne. And he was extremely upset by it. However, he got his own back at the Duchess of Kent by purely existing. In August, 1836, William IV celebrated his 71st birthday, no mean feat for a man back then. Most likely infuriating the Duchess, the king invited his darling niece, Victoria, to his birthday party. Of course, the Duchess and Victoria couldn’t very well refuse a king’s invitation, and so attended the party. The Duchess’s reception at the party was frosty at best. William despised his sister-in-law. But he adored his niece and welcomed Victoria into his court with open arms. However, the king’s biggest gift from his niece wasn’t her presence at his birthday party, it was him living long enough to witness Victoria’s 18th birthday.

For you see, on the 24th of May, 1837, the king was still alive.

And the 24th of May, 1837 was Victoria’s 18th birthday.

If King William IV died on any time after this date, Victoria would legally ascend to the throne as a mature adult. And therefore, a regency couldn’t be declared and the Duchess’s plans would be destroyed.

In 1837, the king’s health was failing rapidly. He suffered from chest-pains, breathing-difficulties, asthma-attacks and shortness of breath. On occasions, his health was so bad that he would even pass out from time to time. On the 20th of June, 1837, the respected, loved and elderly William IV…died.

The End of the Kensington System

William’s death at the ripe old age of seventy-one destroyed the Duchess’s plans to be regent for her daughter, Victoria. By the time of the king’s death, Victoria was 18 for nearly a whole month. She was now Queen of England.

Almost immediately, Victoria started making things happen. To begin with, she ordered her bed to be removed from her mother’s bedroom and placed in a separate chamber. She was queen now and would sleep *gasp* ON HER OWN! She would not allow anyone to accompany her anywhere without her personal say-so, she would walk where-ever she wanted, upstairs or down. She demanded to have an hour a day, every single day of the year, to be on her own. This was a huge liberty to Victoria, who previously had always been accompanied by someone else. Now she could have privacy and could be left alone with her thoughts. She forbade Sir John Conroy from having any contact with her at all and banished him from the royal court and finally, she would see who she liked and married whoever she liked. Like that handsome dude named Albert. Unfortunately, Albert also proved to be Victoria’s cousin, but that didn’t stop her eventually having nine children with him.

After her ascension to the throne, Victoria moved out of Kensington Palace and moved to the recenty-completed Buckingham Palace, the current London residence of the British Royal Family. Victoria was the first monarch to live there, since her uncle, William IV, died before the palace was completed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Duchess of Kent tried to follow her daughter and she moved into the palace too…with disastrous results. Victoria kicked her mother out of the palace and banned her from visiting her or seeing her at all. Relations remained frosty until the early 1840s when Victoria reluctantly allowed her mother to visit her newly born grandchildren. It took a while, but their relationship finally repaired itself.

For all the other things that Queen Victoria was, from a grumpy mother to a passionate wife, a dedicated queen and a cow of a woman, she certainly didn’t have a pleasant childhood. Victoria never knew her father (he died when she was 8 months old) and had spent her entire youth being badgered by her mother. Whoever thinks that rich kids always get it good might want to think again…

If you’re looking for more info on British royalty, you might want to look here. Or if you want more info on Victoria specifically, look here.

 

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