Our first tiara sighting comes early: in the credits! Queen Victoria did have tiaras at the beginning of the reign, notably Queen Adelaide’s Fringe Tiara. None of the tiaras she wears in this episode, though, appear to be historical replicas. Most of them are a little bit Prom Queen. There’s a LOT going on with this one.
We begin, right off, with Victoria’s first day as Queen. (That puts us in June 1837.) The Lord Chamberlain and the Archbishop of Canterbury drop by while she’s still in her nightgown to inform her that she’s now the monarch. (I was sort of disappointed that the series didn’t rewind a little to show us the Ramsgate incident, or King William IV’s infamous birthday party at Windsor.)
Below stairs, the Kensington Palace staff are all a-twitter about the new Queen’s accession. The show is definitely going for the Downton Abbey angle by bringing in stories about the Queen’s servants. Unfortunately, so far they mostly include arguments about which kind of candle to use and whether or not they should be allowed to sell the Queen’s old gloves.
The Queen’s new Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, heads over to Kensington for their first meeting. In real life, Lord M was a full forty years older than Victoria, and he (sadly for him) didn’t look that much like the professionally handsome Rufus Sewell. The show is keen to exploit rumors from the time that Victoria and Lord M had a romantic relationship. A contemporary diarist, Charles Greville, wrote that Victoria saw Melbourne as a father figure. Historian A.N. Wilson calls their connection a “passionate friendship.” Julia Baird declares it a “platonic romance.” Regardless of the historical realities, it’s not exactly a hardship to look at Rufus Sewell in breeches for an hour on a Sunday night.
At this first meeting, though, Victoria is prickly. She’s been domineered by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and Sir John Conroy (her mother’s private secretary) for too long, and now she’s on a major power high.
As if the Duchess of Kent and Conroy weren’t conflict enough, the show introduces the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland, Victoria’s uncle and aunt. Cumberland was next in line for the throne after his teenaged niece. When she became Queen, he inherited the throne of Hanover (which women couldn’t inherit), becoming King Ernst August.
But although in real life, he and his family headed pretty much straight for Germany, the series keeps him around. He’s depicted as a cartoonish villain, hoping that he can wrench power away from Victoria. His wife, Frederica, is made out to be equally loony. They’re the Boris and Natasha to Lord M and Victoria’s Rocky and Bullwinkle, basically.
Back at Kensington, Victoria is preparing to appear before the Privy Council. She struggles with the comically-large Garter sash and star. (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone wear the Garter star that way.) The Privy Council scene is another departure from reality; Julia Baird notes that it was “a triumph of public performance,” but in the show, Victoria speaks too softly and has to rely on Melbourne to help her with the names of nearly all of the men in the room.
With Lord M to lean on, though, Show Victoria soldiers on. She shocks her mother and Sir John Conroy by informing them that she doesn’t need their help. (In real life, Conroy was sent packing around this time.)
The Duchess of Kent is obviously in mourning, but she manages to sneak in a little hair jewelry anyway. Hair jewelry was indeed A Thing at this time, and the show’s costume and hair designers go wild with it.
Continuing her freedom tour, a cameo-wearing Victoria moves from Kensington to Buckingham Palace. Lord M rides over with her to the new royal residence.
The Duchess of Kent has been marginalized again in the new palace; her rooms are far from Victoria’s. She’s wearing a hair comb so large here that it’s basically an anachronistic Day Tiara.
The Duchess and Sir John have another ally in the palace: Lady Flora Hastings, one of the Duchess’s ladies-in-waiting. She’s pious, as her cross pendant suggests. She’s also full of unsolicited advice for the new Queen. Lady Flora appears to genuinely mean well, but when she draws up a list of suggestions for ladies to populate Victoria’s household, she notes that they’re all under average height. Nothing ticks off Show Victoria more than someone pointing out that she’s short, so Flora is immediately blacklisted.
After Victoria reviews the troops, Lady Flora offers even more advice about how to be a better monarch. After all, Victoria was educated by the German Baroness Lehzen, who doesn’t understand English traditions. Victoria is VERY uninterested in Lady Flora’s input.
She’s much more interested in the parade of ladies brought in by Lord M. We get a good look at her embellished hairstyle as she sits on the throne and peruses the candidates.
One candidate, Lady Portman, wears an itty-bitty diamond hair comb to be presented to Victoria.
The Duchess of Kent, wearing another ornament that’s basically a Daytime Tiara, warns Victoria not to get too close to Melbourne. He’s bad news, she says: he was sued for “criminal conversation,” which was basically adultery. (That’s true — he was sued by the husband of the famous social reformer Caroline Norton the year before Victoria ascended to the throne.)
Sir John accosts Melbourne at the same time to warn him about getting too close to a young woman. Melbourne engages in some intense reflective mirror-gazing afterward. (Note the portrait of Elizabeth I reflected in the mirror, too.)
Lord M and Victoria go out riding, and they basically decide that everything’s fine.
On the eve of Victoria’s Coronation Ball (that puts us in June 1838 now), the Queen fusses with her jewels while her ladies try to calm her down. She’s worried that Melbourne is late for the ball, and she doesn’t feel confident walking out without him. Lady Portman, who is wearing a diadem that looks like a replica of Elizabeth Taylor’s famous tiara, promises to track him down.
She sends a message to Lord M, and in the meantime, she also changes her tiara?!? Poor jewel continuity, folks.
Lord M is in full brooding mode at home, with no intention of going to the ball. It’s the anniversary of his son’s death. When he gets Lady Portman’s message, though, he changes his mind and heads to the palace.
Victoria sucks it up and goes to the ball without Lord M. Here’s a look at her tiara and necklace. They’re not bad, exactly, but they just don’t look right.
Here are the jewels worn by another of Victoria’s ladies, the Duchess of Sutherland. Slightly better. Where are all the brooches, though?
When the show aired on Sunday night, I tweeted that this tiara had definitely been purchased from the Bachelorette Party section of Claire’s Accessories. After a second viewing, I stand by that statement.
Even Lehzen gets some jewelry!
Lord M finally shows up, but Victoria’s ball is going less than well. The future Tsar of Russia groped her, the candles are dripping gross wax on everyone, and then Lehzen gossips that Lady Flora is pregnant, and Conroy is the father. Like any rebellious teenager, Victoria responds by getting absolutely hammered, and then she hits on Lord M, who has to rebuff her as gently as you can rebuff a drunken teenaged Head of State.
The next day, the Duchess of Kent wears head and hair jewelry for a conversation with her daughter. The little jeweled pendant worn across the forehead was called a ferronnière, and it was fashionable throughout the 1830s and 1840s.
Queen Victoria got the head jewelry memo, too. She’s livid about the Lady Flora rumors, and she demands to see proof that Flora isn’t pregnant.
Amid all of the gossip, Victoria has to go get crowned. She arrives at the coronation wearing the production’s replica of the Diamond Diadem. Her uncle, George IV, had the diamond and pearl diadem made for his own coronation. She’s also wearing a replica of the diamond necklace that belonged to her grandmother, Queen Charlotte. (That necklace was later lost in the Hanoverian claim, and a replacement — the Coronation Necklace — was made.)
Everybody’s emotional, for various reasons, while attending the service. The Duchess of Kent has another teeny tiara situated atop her head.
And the Duchess of Cumberland — who is, after all, Queen of Hanover, is suitably jeweled-up. Glad to see a brooch make an appearance!
During the coronation scenes, we get a close-up of the production’s replica of the Coronation Ring, which is set with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. The real-life ring was made specifically for this coronation. This shot, though, is not quite right. The jewelers made the ring for the wrong finger, thinking it would be worn on Victoria’s pinky, when it was supposed to go on her ring finger. The Archbishop jammed it on her ring finger anyway. Not sure why the show decided to put it on the middle finger! Show Victoria does wince appropriately, though.
My favorite moment of the entire episode: Victoria is crowned with the too-big Imperial State Crown, and it wobbles on her head. (This is a little bit of an error, though, too — the crown was made specifically for her.)
As far as replicas of the Imperial State Crown go, this one’s pretty good. It’s appropriate for the time: the Stuart Sapphire is placed below the Black Prince’s Ruby, just as it was on Victoria’s version.
We get a look at the back of the replica crown as she leaves the Abbey.
As Victoria is being crowned, though, Lady Flora is undergoing a humiliating medical examination. The story of Lady Flora — including Victoria’s insistence that she prove that she was a virgin — is true, although it didn’t happen simultaneously with the coronation. Instead, her abdomen began to visibly swell in 1839, and the examination took place that spring.
After the coronation is over, Victoria returns to the palace and gives her dog, Dash, a bath while still wearing Queen Charlotte’s necklace. (The bath is historically accurate, but I don’t think there’s any records of Victoria wearing diamonds while doing so.)
Lord M arrives to speak with Victoria, and then the doctor comes in to inform both of them of the results of Lady Flora’s examination. Not only is Lady Flora a virgin, she has an abdominal tumor, and she probably doesn’t have long to live. Seriously, the entire Lady Flora incident is one of the worst things the real Queen Victoria was ever involved in.
The public learns about the scandal (in real life, the news of the forced examination was spread by Sir John and Lady Flora’s brother). Victoria comes face to face with a political cartoon, based on a famous Gothic painting, Fuseli’s The Nightmare. Note Victoria, wearing the Diamond Diadem, engineering the proceedings in the background.
Victoria is appropriately ashamed of herself. She leaves a card game to go and apologize to Lady Flora, who is appropriately harsh in her response. Victoria’s diamond necklace appears to be period-appropriate, but her diamond ring is a little too cocktail for the era.
The story is interrupted a little for a conversation with the palace staff, where Victoria reveals that she doesn’t care that they’ve been selling her used gloves for extra money. I’ve mostly included this so you can see the necklace and the hair festoon she’s wearing.
A slightly better angle on the hair jewelry, which wraps around her bun.
The Duchess of Kent comes in, distraught: Lady Flora is dead.
Victoria is paralyzed with guilt. Lord M comes in and speaks with her about grief, telling her the story of his late son. He essentially tells her that she needs to get up and go back to work whether she feels like she can or not.
In the crowd for that afternoon’s military inspection, the Duchess of Kent has flipped her hair jewelry around, turning it into forehead jewelry.
The Duchess of Cumberland/Queen of Hanover has jumped on the Forehead Necklace Train, too.
Taking Lord M’s advice, Victoria sucks it up and salutes her troops, finally following some of that good, if annoying, advice that Lady Flora gave her earlier in the episode.
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