College of LAS « Illinois

History

Queen of Contradictions

Queen Victoria was not the recluse history makes her out to be.

Queen Victoria

A vast amount of Queen Victoria's correspondence and personal journals recently made available refutes long-standing theories about the famous British woman who died in 1901.

LAS emeritus professor of history Walter L. Arnstein, who studied the materials, says a portrait emerges of "not only a personality and a symbol, but also a multidimensional human being and an active player in the domestic politics and the international relations of the nineteenth century."

One of the major myths that Arnstein rebuts is that after Queen Victoria's beloved husband Prince Albert died at age 42, she essentially withdrew from matters of state and became a reclusive, non-functioning monarch.

Although Victoria made few public appearances after Albert died, she remained "very much involved" in both the private and public lives of her children and grandchildren, four of whom married during the decade after their father died, Arnstein says.

The historian also discovered a strong and capable woman—less than 5 feet tall and increasingly round as time went on—who not only lived large, but also manifested a series of fascinating paradoxes, among them:

"The queen is so often associated with what has been called the Victorian ‘celebration of death' that we readily forget that for most of her life she was an exceptionally healthy and vital individual."

Arnstein says, "More than 100 years after her death, Queen Victoria's personality continues to fascinate and her image remains engraved on our collective memory."

Summer 2004