For anyone, like me, who watched the series Victoria and wondered if there was a reason why Uncle Leopold (king of Belgium, and uncle to both Victoria and her husband Albert) was so over-invested in Victoria’s life and her marriage, this nonfiction book provides the backstory you may not have known. (Of course, if you’re a hardcore 19th-century European history buff, you already knew this story, but I’ll freely admit I didn’t).
20 years before Victoria ascended the throne, there was another young princess who was far more directly in line for the throne, who was the most popular member of the then-quite-unpopular British royal family, and whose sensible arranged marriage to a Coburg prince turned into a deep romance. The princess was Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent (later George IV), and in the large family of King George III which produced many illegitimate grandchildren but hardly any legitimate ones, she was the daughter of the heir and herself the heir apparent. Her marriage to the Coburg prince Leopold quickly led to a pregnancy, and everything seemed to be going smoothly until Charlotte died in childbirth bearing a stillborn son. The subsequent scramble to see which of the heirs to the throne could produce a viable heir led quite directly to the birth of Victoria, and the grieving Leopold spent much of the rest of his eventful life guiding the education and career of his niece.
This book tells of Charlotte’s childhood, her parents’ famously unhappy marriage and how she was used as a political pawn, her own marriage, and then Leopold’s life after her death. It was very informative and interesting, but I do have to add that it is the only audiobook I almost gave up on because the narrator’s voice annoyed me so much. It wasn’t so much Jilly Bond’s regular narrating voice, which was sort of crisp-English-RP and fairly unobjectionable — it was the voice she used when quoting any of Charlotte’s words or writing, which was this awful high-pitched simper with a very obvious lisp. I’m glad I stuck with the book, but the Charlotte-voice irritated me throughout, and I really wish the narrator had made a different choice, since it made the character I was supposed to be most invested in the most annoying to listen to.