But you may want for a lot of other things, Albert. Anyway, look, I’ve warmed up slightly to our second favorite German prince since last week. And I say second favorite because I think we can all agree Ernest is first, from his unsubtle ruses to let his brother and Victoria have alone time to taking Albert to a “house of ill repute” in the lead up to the Great Royal Wedding of 1840. #ForGodandCountry
Episode 5, “An Ordinary Woman,” opens with some stilted conversation between Victoria and Albert before Ernest leads away the Queen’s lady-in-waiting and our future figureheads for propriety make out behind a random sheet hanging inside a rotunda. But the bliss is short-lived, because inquiring minds want to know: How much money will Albert be given? What will his title be? Who will make up his household? I don’t want to have to ask for money every time I need to buy a handkerchief, Albert says. But the Palace has loads of handkerchiefs! Victoria is bewildered, quite possibly because when she turned 18 she was handed the British Empire, but who’s to say?
In an important man-to-man conversation between Uncle Leopold and his nephews he tells Albert to chill about the whole marriage issue and focus more on the swag. Marriage is easy, after all, and Victoria can be “molded” to his views. “Any man can keep a woman happy if he pays her enough attention and keeps his other women out of sight,” Leopold says. This is sound advice, and, as we learn later, perhaps Leopold should have taken it himself.
Next up Victoria must let Lord Melbourne know she is engaged. When she does, our most beloved M replies automatically, “Then he is as wise as he is fortunate.” Which is a lovely thing to say, particularly since he says it while a look of shock and heartbreak wash over his face. I see you, Lord M.
Then Uncle Leopold barges in to be terribly gauche, banging on about how generous his own allowance was and how Albert couldn’t possibly settle for any less. Oh yes, says Lord M, switching gears to Prime Minister mode, a salary which you still draw 20 years after “Poor Charlotte’s” death. Bold, Leopold, very, very bold.
Things don’t go quite as well when the Queen informs her government about her impending nuptials. They don’t love that Albert is a German, and they really don’t love that he has Roman Catholic relations. When Victoria is upset, Lord M attempts to comfort her by telling her that it’s him they’re going after, by attempting to exploit her foreign marriage to undermine his political position. And this is, in fact, all true. The idea of Victoria’s marriage was initially unpopular for these very reasons, as was Albert himself. (A century later, Prince Philip would face similar opposition when the question of him marrying then-Princess Elizabeth was raised.)
Lord M goes one step further and explains to Victoria why her fiance isn’t going to get that 50K – Uncle Leopold wasn’t very discreet with his money. Something, something an “actress.” Victoria is horrified and turns her head away. Thank goodness, she says, she knows that Albert doesn’t have any secrets. “No, no,” Lord M agrees. “Well, that usually comes later, but no.”
Victoria’s eyes are further opened when she is sitting with members of her household going over wedding plans and one of her ladies makes offhand joke about one of her royal uncles having a mistress and children born “on the wrong side of the blanket.” Rule no. 1 of being a good courtier: Only mock the Queen’s embarrassing relatives when she’s out of earshot. Everyone knows this. And then God help us all when a disgruntled Victoria learns that her father had a mistress before he married her mother, a fact blithely confirmed by Lord M who remarks, “Oh yes, they were devoted to one another, I think.”
Albert, meanwhile, has returned to Coburg to say goodbye to his family and prepare to move permanently to England. While there, his father makes several comments about his son marrying the richest woman in Europe and maybe, you know, throwing a couple shillings their way. But Albert is in love and his anxiety is starting to grow about what life he can make for himself as the queen’s husband. He wants a purpose and to earn his place, and he unknowingly brings this ethos with him to a brothel that Ernest takes him to. He pulls his brother aside – “Did you bring me to a house of ill repute?” “Think of it more like a university of love,” Ernest responds. If Ernest keeps applying himself in this way, I think he has a real future in PR.
Anyway, in a real Albert move, he declines to “engage” the prostitute with whom he is paired and instead asks for instruction. Instruction? Yes, he says, do you have a pen and paper? Really took that university thing literally, it seems.
Unfortunately the couple’s mutual apprehension comes to a head when they are reunited at Buckingham Palace. Albert has spent the last six weeks scared he is going to end up leaching off his wife without a job or a title, while Victoria has been hearing stories about royal men bankrolling actresses. It makes for an awkward fight, one that begins after Victoria makes Albert a Knight of the Garter and Albert notes that doesn’t, in fact, give him a place in the House of Lords. A bit of a churlish response to the highest order of chivalry, but also accurate.
Things aren’t improved when Albert tells her he can’t wait for their honeymoon when they can finally get away from court. Unfortunately, though Victoria knows he will be disappointed, she “can only spare two days.” She’s the queen, you know. When Albert protests and the couple begin to whisper-yell at each other, Victoria finally says, exasperated, “I think you’re being peevish, Albert!” This now goes on the list of phrasing I will be co-opting from this show for use in my own life, along with “urgent dispatches” precluding me from socializing.
Anyway, after some sage relationship advice from Victoria’s ex-boyfriend/father figure/Prime Minister, Lord M, she runs through the grounds of BP, through perfectly trimmed hedges and steam, to find Albert in full fencing costume. They kiss and make up, which is great considering they’re getting married the next day.
On the morning of Victoria’s wedding, they try to place a tiara on her head. “No diamonds,” she demurs. They offer, instead, a wreath of flowers and she smiles. This is also true – Victoria famously wore a wreath of orange blossoms that coordinated with her white gown. This marks one of the few times in her life Queen Victoria was a trendsetter: Not only did white wedding gowns become popular, but orange blossoms would become a tradition in the weddings of her own children. Her youngest daughter, Beatrice, notably copied the style for her own marriage in 1885 to Prince Henry of Battenberg.
The ceremony is beautiful, but the real tear-jerker is the cutaway to Lord M, rigidly holding a sword and looking like life as he knows it is over. It is. The goodbye scene between the two, as Victoria prepares to leave for her honeymoon at Windsor, is poignant. “You told me once that when the time came I would give my heart unreservedly, ” Victoria says, recalling the conversation they had at Brocket Hall in Episode 3. But he was wrong, she says, because she still remembers. “May I kiss the bride?” he asks. She acquiesces. “Goodbye, Lord M,” she says. “Goodbye, Ma’am,” he responds. He watches, then, as she walks and then runs downs the hall to join Albert.
I have only one lingering questions: In the final scene when Albert joins Victoria in her bedchamber, where were Albert’s notes? Do we think he wrote them on his hand? I’m interested in debating this.
To catch up on last week, see the recap of Episode 4 here.
And as a head’s up, there will be a post on the real Victoria and Albert’s courtship and early marriage later this week.