Jane's Reviews > Becoming Queen

Becoming Queen by Kate Williams
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's review
May 13, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: biography, history, hanoverians-mwah-mwah-mwah
Read from December 31, 2012 to January 11, 2013

Where I got the book: purchased online. Amazon? I've had it for a while.

This is, in a sense, a two-part book, and the blurb is pretty deceptive. Fortunately I do not remove stars for publisher shenanigans. From the blurb you'd think this book is all about Queen Victoria whereas in fact 100+ of the 346 pages of text are devoted to her far less well-known cousin Charlotte, daughter of George IV (better known as the Prince Regent) and, during her short lifetime, heir-presumptive to the British throne. If she had lived to become Queen, Victoria would probably be a minor footnote in history and we could be talking about the Charlottian age (OK, probably some variation on Carolingian). Charlotte and Leopold instead of Victoria and Albert; I would like to spend some time developing that idea. (Leopold, interestingly enough, eventually became the first King of the Belgians.)

I'm not complaining about the time spent learning about Charlotte, because this lively soap-opera of a dual biography is exactly what I needed to understand a vital point in British history; the transition between the reign of the Hanoverians with their (not all at once--well, not always all at once) dull, incompetent, vice-ridden, hard-drinking, insane, eccentric, greedy and peculiar German princes and the new age of propriety and pantaloons we call the Victorian era. I had always thought of Victoria as the last of the Hanoverians but in fact she was never a Hanoverian ruler; under Salic Law a female could not inherit the Hanoverian title so it passed to Victoria's uncle the Duke of Cumberland. Even that's not as simple as it sounds, but that's another story... Suffice it to say that if Victoria had died before she ensured the succession so very effectively (nine children), the British and German succession would have got all mixed up again so thanks for all the childbearing, Ma'am. And George V got rid of all the British monarchy's German titles during World War I and renamed his family Windsor...

But I digress. The point is that the period between George III and Victoria wasn't an easy one for Britons longing for dynastic stability and Kate Williams has rightly fastened on it as a wonderful story, especially as two of the main players were young girls with parental issues. Charlotte's parents hated each other and the closer she got to the throne, the more they began to battle to get control of her. Victoria lost her father at an early age and fought throughout her teenage years to get out from under her power-hungry mother and her "special advisor" (ahem.)

The result is a fantastic soap-opera that would stand up to the Tudors any day and Kate Williams does a wonderful job with it, keeping the threads of the story in front of the reader so that I never lost track. She also covers the courtship and very early years of Victoria and Albert, which is a great story in itself. My appetite is whetted for much, much more about this period in British history, which also covers the century when Britain went from being a mostly rural, slightly backward (culturally speaking) society to the industrial and cultural superpower it was by the dawn of WWI. Suggestions for further reading are very welcome.

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Reading Progress

01/11/2013 page 346
72.0% "Concluding sentence:

Female sovereigns may serve their country well, but thanks to their habit of longevity, they do not make life easy for their heirs.

Oooo burn, Prince Charles!"
05/25/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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Jane And starting as I mean to go on in 2013... with biography! I intend to read far more biography, history and nonfiction in general - 2012 was a fiction fest.

Anna I really liked this one. I'd never heard of Charlotte before I read it, what a sad story.

Jane I'm starting to get increasingly interested in the Hanoverians. We tend to think of the Georges as dull, fat and/or mad, and not really English, of course (didn't George I spend all his time in Germany?) but I suspect that we miss out on some important insights into the Victorian era by not looking back far enough. And we caricature the Regency out of all recognition, I'm sure.

message 4: by Kim (new)

Kim Most of what I know about the Regency comes from reading Georgette Heyer novels! Charlotte's marriage and death features in several of them. I learned a bit about politics under the Hanoverians from reading Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire.

Lisa Oooh, I really enjoyed this. My 'period' tends to be the Victorian era but it's definitely increased my interest in the Georgians. Looking forward to reading more on George III's children this year. Only thing about this book - I found - was that it was quite bluntly split between Victoria and Charlotte's story... It could've been more evenly/smoothly done. All in all it's a great read!

Jane Lisa wrote: "Oooh, I really enjoyed this. My 'period' tends to be the Victorian era but it's definitely increased my interest in the Georgians. Looking forward to reading more on George III's children this year..."

Like you, my interest has always been the Victorians but I'm ready to branch out. Do you have a book in mind for George III's children?

Kim wrote: "I learned a bit about politics under the Hanoverians from reading Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire."

Great recommendation - it's gone on the list!

Lisa Flora Fraser's book on the daughters of George III is high on my to read list (now I've mentioned that, I think it'll be my next read after the Ripper book I'm finishing up!). I'm a bit stumped as to where to start on the sons, but I think the way round that might to start looking at the relationship between William and Dorothea Jordan, then the Prince Regent and Maria FitzHerbert. It's quite tragic the daughters remained spinsters, whereas the sons were forced into legitimate marriages that were unhappy and which didn't serve the purpose of creating children....

Jane The Fraser book looks wonderful, thanks! I'm looking forward to doing some serious Hanoverian reading - what a nice change from Victoria. Although she was, of course, a Hanoverian but wasn't it clever of her to get her own era?

Lisa One thing I'd really like to read on, is the relationship between her parents but I've yet to find a book dedicated to that. There's also not much dedicated to her Mother, beyond the books that chart V's early years in Kensington Palace. I agree, it's fascinating stuff. It's so easy to forget that Victoria was a Hanoverian monarch when she defined her own age!

message 10: by Kim (new)

Kim Jane wrote: "Great recommendation - it's gone on the list!..."

Oh good! I hope you like it. A lot of reviewers complain about the amount of time Foreman spends on the politics of the period, but to me that's one of the many things which makes the bio worth reading. And Georgiana is a fascinating character.

Crystal Starr Light This sounds like it was a lot of fun! Nice to see some fun drama in eras out of the ordinary (the Tudors, mostly).

Louise Sounds great esp. because the transition here is fascinating, and I know very little about it... I've put in a library reserve for it.

message 13: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane @ Crystal we need to get away from the idea of the Hanoverians as dull and staid. They got up to a lot of naughty stuff.

@ Louise I love it when people read the book because of my review! You made my morning.

message 14: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat under Salic Law a female could not inherit the Hanoverian title so it passed to Victoria's uncle the Duke of Cumberland
There is a statue of him from his loyal subjects outside the central railway station in Hannover, I think he is the one who sacked the Brothers Grimm from the University of Goettingen and annulled the constitution of Hannover.

we need to get away from the idea of the Hanoverians as dull and staid
Have you come across George III and the Mad Business? It's all about King George's insanity and illnesses and how doctors, the royal court and the Prince Regent tried to deal with him. A pretty sad story.

message 15: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane A great recommendation! Thank you so much.

message 16: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Replying a bit late, but for a good continuation from Becoming Victoria as far as family info (vs info re her reign) I highly recommend "Queen Victoria's Children" by John Van der Kiste. It takes you from the beginnings of Albert & and Victoria's marriage right to the death of their last child.

For solid info re the reign of the Hanoverians, it is worth digging up The British Monarchy Series published in the 1950s. The last 2 of these 6 books are "The First Four Georges" by J H Plumb and "Hanover to Windsor" by Roger Fulford. These are small volumes of about 200 pages each, but are terrific for nailing the salient points of the time.

Thanks for the great review!

message 17: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane Thanks Lisa for the wonderful recommendations! All of them went onto my list.

If any on this thread are UK-based, there's a BBC4 series about the Hanoverians starting tonight. I am NOT UK-based and foaming at the mouth about having no access to iPlayer. Seriously, guys, I would PAY for that access.

Rebecca Huston This is a great book -- I ended up enjoying it a lot. May I suggest We Two by Gill as a very good bio of Victoria and Albert?

message 19: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane That one's already on my list. It looks mouthwatering.

I need a vacation dedicated to reading biographies.

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