Tag Archives: Prince Albert

Her Majesty STILL Knows Best

The Duchess of Cambridge just entered the hospital to give birth to her second child.  She’s in the luxurious Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. She and Prince William will have a two-room suite with Wifi, satellite TV, and a chef on call.  Of course none of that matters very much to a mother embarking on what we now call “natural childbirth.” The “natural” process, these days, does get a little help from medical science.  I decided to re-post an article I wrote a couple of years ago, when the new baby’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, changed childbirth for most mothers by insisting on having some anesthesia.

Mothers all over the world owe a debt of gratitude to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria of England.  At the time she was doing her duty for England by giving birth to 9 children, women still suffered through childbirth with no anesthetic of any kind.  In 1850, before she gave birth to her 7th child, her physicians investigated the possible use of anesthetic with Dr. John Snow.

Dr. John Snow, public domain

Dr. John Snow, public domain

Dr. Snow was a pioneer in the use of chloroform and ether to ease the pain of various medical procedures.  It sounds as though Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert was especially interested in alleviating her pain in childbirth. The procedure was unheard-of at the time, though. For whatever the reasons, nothing came of it and Victoria suffered as usual.

Queen Victoria with her eldest daughter, public domain

Queen Victoria with her eldest daughter, public domain

But in 1853, prior to the birth of Victoria’s 8th child, Dr. Snow was finally asked to administer chloroform to Victoria.  He had studied the use of anesthetics for many years.  He knew just when to administer the anesthetic, so as to provide the best pain relief without slowing the natural process of labor. He agreed to attend Victoria.  Was he a little nervous?  Maybe, maybe not.  By all accounts, he knew exactly what he was doing. The chloroform was a resounding success.  Victoria used it again for her 9th child.

The (male) religious leaders of the day treated the news with some consternation–after all, the Bible taught that women were supposed to suffer during childbirth.  But no one was about to argue with the judgment of their beloved Queen. In any case, the Queen was the head of the Church of England. Women all over England, and then women all over the world, began demanding anesthetic during childbirth.

Queen Victoria in her coronation regalia, public domain

Queen Victoria in her coronation regalia, public domain

An article from UCLA,  detailing the history of Dr. John Snow’s medical innovations, is at http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/victoria.html.

As Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, awaits her turn in history, she can be confident that the birth will be as comfortable as possible.  No doubt Prince William is as anxious about her well-being as Prince Albert was about Victoria’s. I wish Kate a safe and easy delivery of the long-awaited heir!

Queen Victoria WOULD be Amused

Prince William’s ancestor, Queen Victoria, was widely reported to have said icily, “We are not amused,” when confronted with some risque joke or other.  (She was using the royal “we,” of course). But her biographers deny she ever said it.  In fact, she was known to enjoy life and laugh uproariously when the occasion called for it.

Victoria Amused; photo in public domain

Victoria Amused; photo in public domain

Queen Victoria was known as the “Grandmother of Europe” because her sons and daughters married crowned heads all over Europe during her reign, all of the marriages judiciously arranged.  Victoria’s own marriage was semi-arranged; she was presented with various options.  She fell in love with one of the suitors, her first cousin, Albert of the Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld dynasty. (Victoria’s overbearing mother was German; actually, the present-day British royals all have mostly German ancestry).  The young Albert returned her feelings.  She made him wait, though.  He cooled his heels during various visits until she finally proposed to him.

Queen Victoria's family, public domain

Queen Victoria’s family, public domain

In a way, we can think of Queen Victoria as the “grandmother of tabloids,” because she was the first British monarch to hit on the idea of holding up the royal family as an example of virtuous family life.  This involved opening up the family to some public scrutiny, which of course carried some risks in her day, and still does.  But during Victoria’s reign, and with the capable help of her beloved Prince Albert, Britain fully became a constitutional monarchy.  No longer did the monarch have much real power; she could mostly lead only by example.  She retained “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn.”

I like to think Victoria would applaud Prince WIlliam’s decision to marry for love, to take his time, and even to finally marry the commoner Kate Middleton. I was in Edinburgh a few months before the royal engagement was announced.  I read a long magazine article that disparaged “Waity Katy,” who by that time had dated Prince William on and off for years with no resolution in sight.  I cheered for her when the long-awaited engagement was announced.

We all know the British Royal Family has not been a very good example of family happiness in recent years.  Am I the only one who could see trouble coming for Prince Charles and Lady Diana right from the official engagement press conference, when they were asked whether they were in love?  She answered, “Of course.”  He moodily replied, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” Be that as it may, the monarchy is getting a new lease on life right now as the world breathlessly awaits the birth of a new heir.

While I’m waiting, I think I’ll watch again the 2009 movie The Young Victoria. It was written by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote Gosford Park and is probably at this moment working on the next season of Downton Abbey. The movie shows a young Victoria who is practically kept under house arrest until she accedes to the throne at age 18.  She had to sleep in her mother’s room, and was never even allowed to walk down a flight of stairs without a trusted person holding her hand.  All that changed, though, as she grew into her role of being the Queen Victoria who ruled England for 63 years.  She was not always a dumpy and grumpy-looking old lady.

The Young Victoria, Amazon

The Young Victoria, Amazon

The lovely Emily Blunt plays Victoria and the very handsome Rupert Friend plays her beloved Albert. The movie is available at Amazon.

Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe and the British Isles, while we all wait for new history to be created!