I wanted to call this recap, “I suppose no man is a hero to his valet,” but by the end of the episode it felt a bit inappropriate since tonight essentially served as a PSA of the Irish potato famine. Still, that was a great line.
Timing-wise we have jumped at least nine months into the future because the third pregnancy announced at the end of last episode has resulted in a daughter, Alice, which “coincidentally” was Lord Melbourne’s favorite name for girls. At the very least, we got to skip another episode focusing on pregnancy or childbirth, so at least there’s that.
Victoria learns about the potato famine, but is given conflicting information from her ministers who lay out a very bleak case for what is going on in Ireland, but then talk about self-regulation, teaching the Irish to care for themselves and population control. It’s cold, it’s xenophobic and and it screams of the various scientific theories that permeated the 19th century and bounced back harshly against, you know, human decency. It also makes you shiver a bit when you realize there are still people today using these arguments.
Victoria goes up against a quintessential mansplainer who offers to teach her more about the “Irish situation” when her “nursery duties allow, of course.” It’s not the thing to say to your queen, and it’s not the thing to say to a woman already insecure about her complete lack of desire to spend her life as a caretaker. In the end she dismisses him and she turns instead to (on?) her Prime Minister, walking him to the nursery where she picks up Alice and appeals to him as a mother, begging him to do what she cannot.
What she can’t do, you see, is actually offer government assistance unilaterally – a situation she has to acknowledge when an Irish pastor comes to London at her invitation to tell her what is actually happening.
Sir Robert Peel reminds her that he too is a parent and then you next see him in the House of Lords doing the right thing. Or trying to, but we’ll get to that.
As for Albert, he isn’t too bothered by it all because he is nearly completely undone by the sewage system in London. He decides the place to start is the Palace (of course), but he is bringing advanced plumbing into the servant quarters too, make no mistake. Hygiene doesn’t see rank and all Albert sees are sewers. Anyway, yes, that’s great, but it’s pretty boring so let’s move on.
Our background storyline is that of Ernest, who is back in England (of course, when is he not?), being treated for venereal disease. It’s all a wee bit embarrassing for him, but it becomes more dire by the end of the episode when he’s realized his beloved Harriett’s husband is finally dead (hunting accident, naturally) but he can’t possibly risk infecting her – I mean, marrying her – while he’s still undergoing treatment. And seeing as his treatment so far is made up of some vague white powder and a glorified sauna, it’s unclear when relief will come.
So, there you go, Episode 6 – now, how much is true? As for the presentation of the famine itself, that’s a bit outside my wheelhouse, but I think we’re all agreed it was terrible. Queen Victoria’s response is a bit more difficult to parse. She wasn’t particularly xenophobic herself, and though she hadn’t visited Ireland at the time that this episode takes place, she would eventually do so in 1849 and fell in love with it. Her response to the famine was human enough – she even offered up £2,000 of her own money (a little under £90,000 today) and at one point wrote public letters alongside relief organizations urging for the public to donate. She did, however, have inconsistent points of view on how to address the lower-classes and social reformers, a topic we’re actually going to get a bit more into later this week vis-à-vis Lord Melbourne.
Nevertheless, the British response was sorely lacking (surprise, surprise). Peel wasn’t able to overturn the Corn Laws and measures to import from elsewhere didn’t do enough. To put that into further context, the measure to transport maize and cornmeal from North America had to be conducted secretly, such was the worry about optics and influencing the natural flexibility of “the market.” It’s little moments like this that really underline why British rule was so wildly unpopular, no?
Anyway, next week we turn to a happier topic: Balmoral. You can catch up on last week here.