If you’ve taken in the beauty that is the TV series Victoria, you’ll already know that Queen Victoria had some firm ideas about how she’d rule Great Britain. This steely approach extended to some aspects of motherhood, too, but at the heart of it she dearly loved her children.
“A cow or a dog”
Loving her children did not mean she doted on them, however. Instead, she found many of the daily responsibilities and routines surrounding children to be pretty undignified and best avoided – or left to others.
Victoria saw the physical aspects of having children, such as pregnancy, giving birth and breastfeeding, as a little too closely aligned with animals. She encouraged her own daughters to avoid these vulgar activities at all costs.
“I think much more of our being like a cow or a dog at such moments; when our poor nature becomes so very animal,” she wrote.
Continuing this Old Macdonald theme, she judgementally opined that women who breastfed were “no better than a cat or a dog”. When her daughters had their own children, they concealed their decision to breastfeed from their royal mum. When she found out they were nursing their babies, she apparently labelled them “cows”.
It’s not the only strong opinion she voiced on the subject of infants. “An ugly baby is a very nasty object – and the prettiest is frightful when undressed,” Queen Victoria decided.
When her daughters grew up she told them the sanctimummy lifestyle would be their downfall, resulting in a mushy “baby brain“.
“Don’t spend your whole day in the nursery – it is the ruin of many a refined and intellectual young lady.”
Corsets, birds and the bees
It’s hardly surprising she felt this way, given the circumstances of her childbearing years. For one, she had to wear a freaking corset whilst pregnant. A corset. Imagine it!
Also, Victoria and Albert proved to have a very primitive understanding of contraceptive methods (as was typical of the era). Believing the opposite of what is actually true – that if they avoided sex during the days before menstruation and during periods, and got romantic on the other day of the month, they’d avoid pregnancy.
Needless to say many, many, many babies followed. Nine, in fact, because Victoria and her hottie husband Albert really, really, really liked having sex.
This constant bonking meant Victoria gave birth to four children during the first five years of marriage. She then had another five babies, in the years that followed. We’re exhausted just thinking about it, and possibly Queen Victoria expert Julia Baird, is too. She tells us that “in the first 60 months of her marriage [Victoria] was pregnant or recovering from childbirth for all but 16.”
This would put us off Netflix and chill for at least 129 years. Possibly more.
But Victoria and Albert kept at it, a circumstance which continued to keep this Queen out of the public eye for many interrupted years. Back in the (Victorian) day, pregnant women were expected to avoid social activities and stay out of sight as much as possible, as they grew their little heirs. For Victoria, who loved a turn around the dance floor and a spot of witty conversation, this was torture.
According to Victoria creator, Daisy Goodwin, the isolation didn’t stop there. After the births of each child, Victoria was expected to remain in a “bath chair” and be wheeled around for the four weeks postpartum, as though she might break. Once this period ended, the Queen then had to be “purified” by the Church before she could get back to work.
Of course, all this being hidden away, pushed around and needing to be “purified” must have served to confirm her worst thoughts about the business of reproduction. No wonder she was pretty repulsed by the whole baby thing and referred to it as the “shadow side” of marriage.
Interestingly, after birthing her first seven healthy children, Victoria decided she’d had it up to her tiara with people exiting her nether regions. She hoped to do away with the agony of labour, and requested some then-revolutionary pain relief to help her through. From THE CHURCH!
Yep. Where most modern day mums would be consulting a doctor or midwife when they couldn’t handle another painful labour, Victoria was faced with the delicate task of requesting pain relief from a religious leader. Apparently it was worth the embarrassment and her so-called “Twilight Sleep” births were some of her very favourites.
“The last two births were made considerably easier by what Victoria called ‘the blessed chloroform’,” Daisy explained, “although the Archbishop of Canterbury’s permission had to be asked for before she could use it as labour pains were considered God’s punishment for Eve’s temptation of Adam.” Oh. My. Gosh.
Victoria admitted she “suffered severely” with previous labours and noted that having chloroform as pain relief was “soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure”. It seems she finally found something she liked about giving birth!