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Becoming Queen, By Kate Williams

Lesley McDowell
Sunday 22 March 2009 01:00

The front cover shows a portrait of a youthful Princess Victoria, but that belies the fact that this book is actually about two young princesses: Victoria and her cousin, Charlotte. Charlotte was born 23 years before the future monarch, and was the only child of George IV. Her tragedy is that she died in childbirth, aged only 21; but without her death, Victoria probably wouldn't even have been born, never mind become queen. After Charlotte's death, her father's useless, dissipated brothers began searching, rather late in the day, for suitable brides by whom to have possible heirs. That was the reason Victoria's father married her mother; it's the reason for Victoria's existence.

Kate Williams does an excellent job counterpointing the overindulgence of the Regency era with the conscientiousness of the young Victoria's early reign, just as she draws more intimate parallels between Victoria and Charlotte's familial situation. Like teenagers since time began, both young women felt constricted by their parents, Victoria having to sleep in the same room as her mother until she became queen at the age of 18; Charlotte in fear of being imprisoned by her increasingly paranoid father.

Charlotte's death induced mourning on a scale that dwarfed the 20th-century equivalent, that of Princess Diana, with a run on black cloth, public buildings draped in black, and shops closed for a fortnight. It's hardly surprising that, after the loss of a beautiful, bright young woman who was the perfect antithesis to the debauched Regent and his brothers, the nation should have so quickly fallen in love with her successor, Victoria. Williams' story may be a royal one but it's also very human and especially tragic, as it was only by one young woman's death that the other came into being.

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