Read Victoria Confesses (9781442422469) Online
Authors: Carolyn Meyer
Chapter 1: Kensington Palace, England, 1827
Chapter 2: Fidi's Wedding, 1828
Chapter 5: Heir to the Throne, 1830
Chapter 6: Behavior, Good and Bad, 1831
Chapter 9: Visitors From Abroad, 1833
Chapter 10: More Visitors, 1834
Chapter 13: Another Tour, 1835
Chapter 14: Uncle Leopold, 1835
Chapter 18: The King's Birthday, 1836
Chapter 21: Buckingham Palace, 1837
Chapter 23: A Year of Changes, 1837â1838
Chapter 29: Prince Albert, 1839
Chapter 34: The Secret Picture, 1843
For Leah Norod,
Vankelia Tolbert, and Sydney V. Trebour, who suggested that I write a book about
I hate Sir John Conroy.
Mamma knew that I was never fond of him, though she did not suspect
I despised him. “He has been a good friend to us since your papa died, Vickelchen,” she reminded me often. My father, the duke of Kent, had died when I was an infant. “I do not know what I would do without Sir John.”
He may have been a friend to Mammaâ
good, in my opinionâbut he was never a friend to me, though he pretended to be. And I had to pretend that I did not loathe him.
Sir John was very tall and did not trouble to bring himself down to meet my eye, so that I always had to tilt my head to gaze up at him. He often spoke to me in what he seemed to consider a jocular manner, once telling me that I reminded him of Dickey, my pet donkey. “Stubbornly resistant to being guided in a new direction,” he said, and burst into a loud guffaw. I was not at all amused.
But that is not why I despised him.
It was Sir John's fault that Feodore, my half sister, left England.
I loved Feodore, whom I called Fidi, more than almost anyone except dearest Daisy, my governess. (I always called her Daisy, though her name was Louise Lehzen.) And except Mamma, of course.
We were preparing to celebrate my sister's twentieth birthday, on the seventh of December, when Fidi told me the news. I had returned to our apartment in Kensington Palace from an afternoon walk with dear Daisy. Promising to be absent only a minute or two, my governess left me alone to practice the sums assigned that morning by my tutor. I heard Fidi's special knock and rose from my writing table, thinking how pleased she would be with the gifts I had for herâa pair of pearl earrings and a drawing I'd made of myself, though I
placed the eyes too close together.
Fidi flung herself into Daisy's empty chair. My sister was very beautiful, with dark hair and a pretty mouth, but now her lovely brown eyes were puffed and reddened. She burst into sobs. I had never seen her in such a state.
“Dearest Fidi, what's wrong?”
“Tonight at dinner Mamma will announce that I'm to marry Prince Ernst of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.” Her voice was thick with tears. “Perhaps you remember him? He came to visit this past July. This is all Sir John's doing.”
I did recall a tall, thin man with bulging eyes and a large, blond mustache. Mamma had introduced him as a friend from Germany. I knew Fidi was of an age to marry, but I had not expected this. “He looked very old,” I said rather severely.
old.” She attempted a quavering smile. “But old enough. Just thirty-four. And he
handsome, I suppose.”
I had not found Prince Ernst handsome, but I didn't mention that he reminded me of a toad. “I suppose I shall learn to care for him,” I said, though I wasn't at all certain I could. “Will he come to live here at Kensington Palace with us, or shall you move with him to a palace nearby?” We sometimes visited Uncle Leopold, Mamma's younger brother, at Claremont, his lovely mansion south of London. If Fidi were to live in such a pretty mansion, I believed I might find the situation tolerable.
Fidi traced the pattern on the carpet with the toe of her slipper. Her lip began to tremble, and her eyes welled again with tears. “No, dear Victoria, he will not, and neither will I. After the wedding in February, the prince and I leave to begin our life in Germany.”
“Germany!” I wailed. “But you can't leave England! You cannot! When shall I ever see you again? I shall miss you so dreadfully!” With a sob I crept into my sister's arms.
“And I shall miss you too, dearest Vicky,” she murmured. She rocked me as the two of us wept. We both knew it was useless to protest, once Mammaâand the dreadful Sir John Conroyâmade up their minds.
I worried that my governess would return and find us in such a state. Daisy rarely left me for more than a moment; it was against rules set by Sir John and Mamma that I was never to be alone. I slid off my sister's lap and tidied my dress and sash. Fidi stayed sprawled in Daisy's chair with her face buried in her hands. “Oh, I cannot bear the man!” she cried.
I was as surprised by this outburst as by her tears. “Prince Ernst?” I asked carefully. “You truly can't bear him?”
Fidi peered at me from between her fingers. “No, no! I
scarcely know Prince Ernst, and I have no idea whether I can bear him or not.”
“But who, then?”
“Sir John, of course! He controls everything that happens in our lives. Whatever he does is designed to gain him influence, and Mamma allows it! Our mother seems unable to draw a breath unless Conroy approves.” She spat out the words as though they had a bitter taste.
Fidi sprang up and began to pace distractedly from one end to the other of the small sitting room. “I'll tell you a secret, Vicky,” she said. “I know it's safe with you. My heart is bursting, and I must talk to someone, though you're too young, certainly, to understandâ”
too young!” I protested. I disliked being treated like a child.
Fidi stared at me, her pretty face crumpled miserably. “I'm in love with someone else!” she whispered. I nodded sagely, though she was quite right, I did not truly understand. “You must promise never to speak of this again, Victoria.”
Thrilled that she would confide in me, I solemnly promised.
“I'm in love with Captain d'Este, the son of Uncle Sussex.”
I frowned. “Captain d'Este?” The duke of Sussex was one of Papa's younger brothers. He lived alone in a suite of rooms in another part of Kensington Palace, surrounded by thousands of books and dozens of clocks. Mamma described him as “eccentric.” But I had never heard of a cousin named Captain d'Este.
“I met Augustus nearly two years ago when I was riding in St. James's Park,” Fidi said, her cheeks flushing rosily when she spoke his name. “My horse became unruly, and dear Augustus
came to my rescue. I was immediately attracted to him, and he to me. We began to meet secretly and soon fell deeply in love. I took our dear Baroness SpÃ¤th into my confidence, and she agreed to carry our messages to arrange our trysts.”
Baroness SpÃ¤th was Mamma's old friend, even before Mamma married Papa and became duchess of Kent, and she adored my sister and me.
“What happened?” I whispered, dreading the unhappy ending I felt was sure to follow.
“We became incautiousâreckless evenâand rumors spread. Our secret meetings were no longer secret. Mamma learned of it. She forbade me ever to see Augustus again, because he is illegitimate. That's why you've never heard of him. The old king refused to recognize Uncle Sussex's marriage to Augustus's mother, which took place without royal approval and therefore wasn't legal. We believed we could bear a separation until we found a way to marry, perhaps even to elope. But of course Sir John was informed of âthe situation,' as Mamma called it, though I begged her not to speak to him about it. He persuaded Mamma that I was becoming troublesomeââwillful,' he saidâand the best solution was to marry me off at once.”