First of all, where is Lord Melbourne? He didn’t stop being Prime Minister when Queen Victoria married. Nor, indeed, did the Queen stop meeting with him. I will be most miffed if he doesn’t reappear for next week’s season finale.
Anyway, there’s no polite English word for it, but Victoria is pregnant. In the opening scene of “The Engine of Change” our 20-year-old monarch abruptly runs from a classical music concert because she is to be, in the words of her household, “indisposed out of her mouth.” The doctors soon confirm it: There is to be a royal baby. Prince Albert is over the moon and Victoria is afraid, the shadow of Princess Charlotte dying in labor looming large.
She announces it 1840s monarch style, which is to say not on Facebook, but in an audience chamber, from her throne, with members of her government assembled before her to clap when she has delivered her news. It’s most civilized and, frankly, has given me a lot of ideas for my future pronouncements.
But more importantly, a pregnancy means an heir, which means the succession needs to be wrapped up. What happens if Victoria dies? Who will rule the empire until her baby has reached 18? Well, Albert, of course, but the same faction that limited his annual allowance and accused him of being Catholic-adjacent are still around and they’ll be damned if they’re going to have a German ruling them for the better part of two decades (I mean, Tories, course). So, Victoria ushers her husband on a goodwill tour, which means the gloomy Gifford country house where she can try to portray that Albert is as civilized as an Englishman, if not a better shot.
The need to do this does nothing to quell Victoria’s irritation at being treated like a glorified storage unit for the future monarch. Her mother tells her to rest and have her husband do everything for her, while even Albert warns her that the most recent German science on the subject says women shouldn’t exert themselves. “I am not a German woman,” Victoria responds. “I am the Queen of England.” Can’t argue with that, though the last time a British queen of England hadn’t also been a German woman in the House of Hanover was, um, never? Though, of course, Victoria is queen regnant, not queen consort, and as we have established her consort was very much a German.
And here is where the trains come in, creating an opening for Sir Robert Peel in the affections of his monarch and the opportunity for a meeting of the minds with our serious Prince Albert. As I commented on Twitter last night, if Victoria was going to have an emotional affair with her first PM, it’s only fitting that Albert gets a bromance with the second.
While visiting the Lord Gifford and his wife, Sir Robert Peel swings by to be neighborly and offers up that there’s a locomotive on his estate should Albert want to give it a whirl. He does. Victoria does not. She gently scolds him that night to let her guide the conversation and to, you know, maybe try mincing every other word. Albert responds by sneaking out before she wakes up to try out the locomotive with Peel, joyriding through the countryside in a way that felt a bit like the onshore equivalent of Jack and Rose “flying” on the hull of the Titanic.
When Albert gets home Victoria greets him with a “How dare you?!” which is really never a good sign. The argument that ensues, however, does give us my favorite back and forth of the evening:
Victoria: You look like a peasant.
Albert: I’m not the one eating beet root.
Victoria: What’s wrong with beet root?
Albert: It’s peasant food.
Also this line, in which Victoria tells Albert what’s what: “I decide what is the future.”
Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Victoria tries out the train and loves it. Peel takes his newfound warm feelings towards Albert back to London where, in a very un-Peel way, he curtly informs the Tory party that they, as the party of gentlemen, will be supporting their queen’s choice for regent. He also burns Lord Palmerston while he does it, so +1 Peel.
The episode ends with Albert and Victoria working side-by-side, she having shared with him some of her administrative duties. And while I realize for the purposes of this show and their relationship, we’re supposed to see this as a good thing (it’s also, for better or for worse, not inaccurate), let’s take a moment to acknowledge this is exactly what the MPs feared – a foreign-born prince essentially ruling them through his wife and future children. Now, the issue is not necessarily that he is “foreign,” nor is he actually “ruling” them at this point, but his ability to quickly assume government work and influence the Queen should, I hope, help to illustrate what the concern was prior to their marriage. Victoria was lucky in that Albert was smart and capable, but what if he wasn’t? And what if your politics differed from his? That, my friends, is the rub of it.
In two weeks the season finale will air, during which I assume we will get to meet the new royal baby (spoiler alert: It’s going to a girl named Victoria and she’ll become the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II) and I sincerely hope we get to see Lord M one last time.
You can catch up on last week’s recap here.