Read The Queen and Lord M Online
Authors: Jean Plaidy
About the Book
On the morning of 20th June 1837, an eighteen-year-old girl is called from her bed to be told that she is Queen of England. The Victorian age has begun.
The young queen’s first few years are beset with court scandal and malicious gossip: there is the unsavoury Flora Hastings affair, a source of extreme embarrassment to the queen; the eternal conflict between Victoria and her mother, and the young queen’s hatred of Sir John Conroy, her mother’s close friend.
Then there is the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne – ‘Lord M’ – worldly cynic and constant companion to the queen, himself a veteran of many a latter-day scandal. He proves to be her guiding light – until the dashing Prince Albert appears and she falls hopelessly in love …
Praise for Jean Plaidy
‘Superb storytelling and meticulous attention to authenticity of detail and depth of characterisation … one of the country’s most widely read novelists’
‘Plaidy excels at blending history with romance and drama’
New York Times
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Epub ISBN 9781446427217
Published by Arrow Books in 2008
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Copyright © Jean Plaidy, 1973
Initial lettering copyright © Stephen Raw, 2008
The Estate of Eleanor Hibbert has asserted its right to have Jean Plaidy identified as the author of this work.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
First published in Great Britain in 1973 by Robert Hale and Company
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Available in Arrow by Jean Plaidy
III: The Sensational Past of a Prime Minister
V: Leopold is Put in His Place
Jean Plaidy, one of the pre-eminent authors of historical fiction for most of the twentieth century, is the pen name of the prolific English author Eleanor Hibbert, also known as Victoria Holt. Jean Plaidy’s novels had sold more than 14 million copies worldwide by the time of her death in 1993.
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Praise for Jean Plaidy
‘Plaidy excels at blending history with romance and drama’
New York Times
‘Full-bodied, dramatic, exciting’
‘Plaidy has brought the past to life’
Times Literary Supplement
‘One of our best historical novelists’
‘An excellent story’
‘Spirited … Plaidy paints the truth as she sees it’
‘Sketched vividly and sympathetically … rewarding’
‘Among the foremost of current historical novelists’
‘An accomplished novelist’
Glasgow Evening News
‘There can be no doubt of the author’s gift for storytelling’
Illustrated London News
‘Jean Plaidy has once again brought characters and background vividly to life’
‘Well up to standard … fascinating’
Manchester Evening News
‘Exciting and intelligent’
Available in Arrow by Jean Plaidy
Uneasy Lies the Head
Katharine, the Virgin
The Shadow of the
The King’s Secret Matter
Murder Most Royal
St Thomas’s Eve
The Sixth Wife
The Thistle and the Rose
Mary Queen of France
Gay Lord Robert
Royal Road to Fotheringay
The Captive Queen of Scots
The Medici Trilogy
The Italian Woman
The Plantagenet Prelude
The Revolt of the Eaglets
The Heart of the Lion
The Prince of Darkness
The Battle of the Queens
The Queen from Provence
The Hammer of the Scots
The Follies of the King
The French Revolution
Louis the Well-Beloved
The Road to Compiègne
Ferdinand and Isabella Trilogy
Castile for Isabella
Spain for the Sovereigns
Daughters of Spain
The Captive of Kensington Palace
The Queen and Lord M
The Queen’s Husband
The Widow of Windsor
ONE EARLY MORNING
hat solemnity which etiquette, decorum and decency insisted should prevail could scarcely hide the excited expectation in the Palace of Kensington on that June morning in the year 1837.
The old King was dying. Ever since he had come to the throne seven years before it had been expected that either the tomb or the straitjacket would be his imminent fate, but he had survived those seven years as King of England largely due to the devotion of his Queen – the meek and virtuous Adelaide – who on account of her imperfect complexion had been known slightingly as ‘Her Spotted Majesty’ and whose gentle and unselfish nature had caused her to be regarded as insignificant, which was far from the case.
The girl to whom the King’s condition was of greater importance than to anyone else in the kingdom was very much aware of what was happening. She sat before a mirror while the Baroness Lehzen dressed her hair and there was a book on her lap from which she had been reading aloud, and trying to pretend that she was interested in it. She was no good at pretence of any kind, but perhaps on such an occasion a little duplicity could be forgiven. Oh dear, she thought, how shut in I am! I’m hardly allowed to think for myself.
It would be very different when she was Queen. She was of age now, having, a month before, on the 24th May, reached her eighteenth birthday; but it had made very little difference and she still thought of herself as a captive. But not for long. Perhaps, she thought, the best thing about being Queen will be that I am free.
‘Lehzen,’ she said, ‘I wonder how he is.’
‘He is dying,’ said the Baroness.
‘Poor dear Aunt Adelaide!’
‘She has been a good wife to him.’
‘And a good aunt to me, Lehzen. How I wish that I could have seen more of her. But of course …’
She sighed and Lehzen allowed the subject to lapse. The antagonism between the Baroness Lehzen and the Duchess of Kent was undoubted, but it was not to be mentioned. Victoria herself shared her dear Lehzen’s resentment; and how unfortunate it was that she should feel thus about her own Mamma! Victoria wanted to be good; it was the object of her life; and surely it was a duty to love one’s mother; but if that mother was a domineering flamboyant egoist, who really seemed to believe that she, not her daughter, was heiress to the throne, and if she was
friendly, far too friendly, with the most odious man in the world, what could even the most dutiful daughter be expected to do?
When I am Queen, thought Victoria, I shall have to show Mamma that I will not be coerced or persuaded by her and made to do anything I do not wish. The choice shall be mine.
‘Poor Uncle William,’ she mused. ‘A kind gentleman but rather odd, don’t you agree, Lehzen? His intentions are often ill interpreted. I suppose he is what one would call eccentric, and I do not think that is a good thing for a king to be … or a queen.’
Lehzen said that His Majesty had never shown anything but kindness towards his niece.
‘It was so good of him to send me that lovely piano for my birthday,’ said the Princess. ‘I think of him whenever I play on it. Oh dear, how sad that there should be these quarrels.’
Lehzen agreed that it was more than sad; it was tragic.
They were not exactly talking about the Duchess of Kent, which would have been disloyal, but they were skirting round the subject of her shortcomings; and not least of these was her attitude towards the Queen. She had been, quite rightly, so sure that nothing the King could do would oust her daughter Victoria from her position as heiress to the throne that she had been positively rude to him and had shown very obviously that she could not wait for him to die and leave the way clear for her daughter, by which she meant clear for herself; for the Duchess of Kent believed that when William died, although her daughter Victoria would be Queen in name, the real ruler would be the Duchess of Kent with
as her chief adviser.
It shall not be, said Victoria firmly to herself.
She was silent, gazing down at the book while Lehzen went on doing her hair. It was fitting on such an occasion that she should think of the past – of early memories in this Palace where she had been born and lived ever since, with visits of course to the sea and Uncle Leopold’s home, Claremont; she thought of visiting Uncle King George at Windsor – a charming old gentleman, rouged, witty and very kind to his little niece Victoria, although being rather an amorous gentleman he preferred her half-sister Feodora who had been in her teens then, and very, very pretty; still he had taken Victoria into his carriage and been amused by her and she had been charmed by him; then she thought of the day when she had found the genealogical table concerning her family in her history book with her own name printed on it in large black letters and the sudden understanding of what that meant. When old Uncle George died, he would be followed by poor Uncle William and if William had no children then Victoria would mount the throne. She would never forget that moment when the significance of this was brought home to her. She had stared at the printed paper and Lehzen had come over to stand beside her, and placing a plump finger on the paper she had said: ‘I could be the Queen.’ Lehzen had replied that this was true. And she had said the first words which had come into her mind: ‘I will be good.’ And she must be good. For now William was dying and he had no children and when he died she, Victoria, just eighteen years old, would be Queen.
It was a sobering thought. She was not sure whether she wanted it or not. Would she have been happier if she had not been so near the throne? Then she would not have been watched over day and night. Really, she thought resentfully, I can’t move without one of them beside me! Would she have been allowed to go to Queen Adelaide’s parties which Mamma had never permitted her to attend because always present were members of the FitzClarence family, Uncle William’s sons and daughters by the actress Dorothy Jordan? The King doted on them and Queen Adelaide accepted them as though they were her own. Oh dear, thought Victoria, we are a very eccentric family I fear – particularly the Uncles. Everyone knew that Uncle George had lived scandalously; Uncle William of course was moderately respectable, at least he had been since he married Aunt Adelaide – if you could forget his living in sin with an actress for many years and raising a family of ten children with her. Comparatively respectable, temporised Victoria, and thought how shocked Mamma would be if she knew that Victoria was aware of such things.
Mamma would have to learn that as a Queen she must understand the significance of what went on around her. Mamma would have to learn a great deal. And one thing she must quickly understand was that her daughter had no intention of being treated as a child when she was a queen.
She would have many to advise her. One was Uncle Leopold, whom she regarded as her father – never having known her own. How, when she was a child, she had doted on Uncle Leopold! They used to walk together in the gardens of Claremont and he would tell her of his brief but ecstatic marriage with Charlotte, Uncle George’s only daughter and heiress to the throne, of how she had loved him, how she had
on him and how most tragically she had died having the child who would in turn have inherited the throne. And instead of being the husband of a Queen of England he would now be the uncle of one. Dear beautiful Uncle Leopold who was so delicate and who had told her that he had given up the crown of Greece to be near her, his little Victoria. But later he had accepted the crown of Belgium, which had meant that he was not so close to his little Victoria. Still, he wrote beautiful letters and he wanted her to know that he would always be beside her when she needed him. There had been such happy days at Claremont when after wallowing in an exchange of sentiment with Uncle Leopold she could go to dear old Louie who had been the devoted attendant of Princess Charlotte and had remained at Claremont afterwards as a kind of housekeeper. Louie talked endlessly of Charlotte, the naughtiness of Charlotte who was something of a hoyden, how she had struck ungraceful attitudes, had torn her clothes, had laughed very loudly, but who was adorable. More adorable than anyone else could ever be in Louie’s opinion. Even Victoria, who had taken her place in Louie’s affections, did not quite match up to Charlotte. It is very difficult to compete with the dead, Victoria consoled herself.
Everything must be different soon. When one had been merely a princess and suddenly became a queen this must be so. She was thinking of Uncle Leopold’s last letter to her, received only a few days ago. She knew phrases from it off by heart.
‘My beloved child (she was always his beloved or his dearest child) I shall today enter on the subject of what is to be done when the King ceases to live. The moment you get official communication of it you will entrust Lord Melbourne with the office of retaining the present Administration as your ministers …’
Lord Melbourne! The Prime Minister! He was an extremely handsome man and he had had such an adventurous life. There was something very exciting about Lord Melbourne. He was essentially of that world from which all her life she had been shut away. His marriage had been a disaster; many people had said that his young wife, long since dead, had been mad; he had had a son who was not quite normal; he had been cited as co-respondent in two divorce cases. And yet he had come through all this victoriously. He was unscathed; in fact scandals had enhanced him. He was a magnificent man and the thought of sending for him and telling him that he was to continue as the chief of her ministers made her shiver with delight and apprehension.
With Lord Melbourne to advise her at home and Uncle Leopold with a benign, watchful eye and a ready pen from his Belgian kingdom she need have no fears. All she had to do was stand firm and not allow Mamma and That Man to dictate or attempt to persuade.
shall decide on all matters, Victoria promised herself. I and my ministers.
My ministers! How wonderful that sounded. But as yet she must only say it to herself. She blushed at the thought of poor Uncle William on his death bed hearing her say that aloud.
‘Dear Uncle William,’ she said. ‘How I wish that I might see him. But I suppose
And so she was back at Mamma.
Much better to think of Uncle Leopold who had ended his letter by saying that he would not come to her immediately, although at any time she desired his presence he would be there. If he came now people might think that he had come to enslave her; they might think that he had come to take a part in ruling the kingdom for his own advantage.
As if anyone could think that! she demanded of herself indignantly. But people could be difficult. There was Mamma’s Comptroller of her Household, Sir John Conroy. ‘That man’, as she and Lehzen called him.
is capable of anything,’ she said.
Lehzen said, ‘Who is that?’ And Victoria realised she had spoken aloud.
‘I was thinking of Uncle Leopold’s letter in which he says that if he came to me now his actions might be misconstrued and I am sure Sir John Conroy would be the first to misconstrue them.’
Lehzen’s lips tightened. She would never forgive Sir John for trying to send her back to Germany. She had fought hard to remain and Victoria – dear faithful princess – had threatened ‘storms’ and interference from the King, and so they had won an uneasy victory. But Lehzen did not share Victoria’s blind adoration for Leopold. She often suspected his motives; she knew that he was very ambitious. She had deplored his departure for Belgium because that had made Sir John Conroy more powerful; but the truth was that Lehzen could not bear to share Victoria’s affections with anyone. Fiercely possessive, she lived for her charge.
‘My dearest,’ she said, ‘when you are Queen, and who knows, you may be at this moment, you will have to tread very carefully and it may be difficult to know who is your friend.’
The rather prominent blue eyes were filled with tears. Victoria threw her arms about Lehzen’s neck crying: ‘There is one whom I shall
doubt. Dearest Lehzen, you and I will