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We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals Paperback – November 30, 2009

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Book Description
It was the most influential marriage of the nineteenth century--and one of history’s most enduring love stories. Traditional biographies tell us that Queen Victoria inherited the throne as a naïve teenager, when the British Empire was at the height of its power, and seemed doomed to find failure as a monarch and misery as a woman until she married her German cousin Albert and accepted him as her lord and master. Now renowned chronicler Gillian Gill turns this familiar story on its head, revealing a strong, feisty queen and a brilliant, fragile prince working together to build a family based on support, trust, and fidelity, qualities neither had seen much of as children. The love affair that emerges is far more captivating, complex, and relevant than that depicted in any previous account.

The epic relationship began poorly. The cousins first met as teenagers for a few brief, awkward, chaperoned weeks in 1836. At seventeen, charming rather than beautiful, Victoria already “showed signs of wanting her own way.” Albert, the boy who had been groomed for her since birth, was chubby, self-absorbed, and showed no interest in girls, let alone this princess. So when they met again in 1839 as queen and presumed prince-consort-to-be, neither had particularly high hopes. But the queen was delighted to discover a grown man, refined, accomplished, and whiskered. “Albert is beautiful!” Victoria wrote, and she proposed just three days later.

As Gill reveals, Victoria and Albert entered their marriage longing for intimate companionship, yet each was determined to be the ruler. This dynamic would continue through the years--each spouse, headstrong and impassioned, eager to lead the marriage on his or her own terms. For two decades, Victoria and Albert engaged in a very public contest for dominance. Against all odds, the marriage succeeded, but it was always a work in progress. And in the end, it was Albert’s early death that set the Queen free to create the myth of her marriage as a peaceful idyll and her husband as Galahad, pure and perfect.

As Gill shows, the marriage of Victoria and Albert was great not because it was perfect but because it was passionate and complicated. Wonderfully nuanced, surprising, often acerbic--and informed by revealing excerpts from the pair’s journals and letters--We Two is a revolutionary portrait of a queen and her prince, a fascinating modern perspective on a couple who have become a legend.

Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by Gillian Gill

When I was growing up in South Wales, the part of Great Britain best known for coal mines, people like me did not write about royalty. We left that to “nobs” like Countess Longford (alias Elizabeth Longford) who were actually invited to coronations or to people like Cecil Woodham-Smith whose double-barrelled surname and weird given name proclaimed her membership of the elite public (i.e. private) school set. My family was the kind that lined the route on a rare royal visit to our provincial city, waving tiny union jacks.

Until my teens, my sister Rose and I were reared jointly by our mother and her mother. Mummy and Nana lived together all their lives, quarreled every day, but shared a passion for the British royal family. In our house, the pantheon of royals was worshipped with more fervor and regularity than we mustered at the plain little branch of the Church of Wales just around the corner. The royals were glamour and romance, items severely rationed in post-war Britain.

1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, was a banner year for our family. My mother bought a television set and invited her humbler relatives over to squint at the magnificent event on our twelve inch, black and white set. There followed a street party and my grandmother, who had once apprenticed as a milliner, contrived marvelous costumes for Rose and me. I was actually queen for the day with a long white dress, purple robe, and crown, orb, and scepter.

But once my father retired from the Merchant Navy and took his place in the family, his carefully informed left-wing politics took hold of me and my grandmother’s reverence for the royal family began to seem silly and ignorant. When I was about seventeen, I made some flip remark about the abdication of King Edward VIII which so infuriated Nana that she slapped my face. At the time I was shocked and wholly at a loss. Now I think I understand. A handsome and engaging young king had once come to South Wales and spoken movingly of the plight of the miners. Women of my grandmother’s generation had never forgotten it. Like the rest of the general public in Britain, she had been carefully shielded by the press from any knowledge of Edward VIII’s prenuptial dalliances and fascist opinions.

By 1965 I was a graduate of Cambridge University, the first of my family to attend university and a budding academic. When it was announced that the Queen Mother would come to New Hall, my Cambridge college, to open the new buildings, I was blasé to the point of disdain. But when I found myself curtseying and carefully shaking the tips of Her Majesty’s gloved fingers, I was swept away by the mystique of royalty. How delightful the Queen was in person and how proud my grandmother would be when she saw the photo of me with the Queen Mum.

All of which is to explain why my book about Queen Victoria is prefaced by the old English saying: “A cat may look at a king.” --Gillian Gill

(Photo © Linda Crosskey)

A Look Inside We Two

Click on thumbnails for larger images

Gillian Gill (in white dress) greeting the Queen Mother at Cambridge University in 1964.
Gillian Gill and her sister Rose at home in Cardiff, Wales, dressed up to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Gillian Gill in front of the statue of Queen Victoria statue outside Kensington Palace, London.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

According to Gill (Nightingales), the age that has been labeled Victorian was, in its origins, Albertian. Prince Albert was the chaste scion of a family of ambitious, debt-ridden, sexually corrupt misogynists, and his holy war of moral strictness made him appear straitlaced, judgmental and sanctimonious. In marrying Victoria, says Gill, Albert planned to take the reins of British power, though parliamentary rules didn't allow him to be king. Gill paints a portrait of this marriage as a work in progress, in which the balance of power shifted continually between queen and consort, but Victoria's repeated pregnancies caused a dramatic shift in Albert's favor: he joined her meetings with ministers, and met or corresponded with the most powerful men in England and abroad. His great accomplishment was keeping Great Britain out of the American Civil War; he also served a stint as chancellor of Cambridge, bringing the university into the modern world. Despite their constant battle for dominance, Victoria was always madly in love while Albert was pleased to be adored. A lively, perceptive, impressively researched biography of what Gill terms a forerunner of today's power couple. 16 pages of color illus.; b&w illus. throughout. (May 19)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (November 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345520017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345520012
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #431,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I had high hopes for this book, based on the description and other customer reviews--my local library had it so I checked it out. I'm so disappointed--there are several inaccuracies in the book (the photographs and also Gill's statement that the painting Omphale and Hercules was a wedding present to Albert from Victoria--in fact Albert purchased it himself in 1844 several years after their marriage). The book does not contain much meat, Gill seems to rely a great deal on secondary sources and accounts about Albert and Victoria by their contemporaries more than their own actual letters and journal writings, she cherry-picks quotations and facts to support her feminist revisionist thesis about their relationship and it is really disappointing scholarship. In addition, she has a catty, smug writing style more appropriate to a gossip column than a serious biographical work, and indulges in a great deal of speculation about the couple's sex life, etc. that really has nothing to do with any historical record and is quite dull and far-fetched.

Her treatment of Albert I found bizarre, on the one hand she seems to hold him in contempt as a "prig" for his lack of interest in philandering both before and after his marriage, and calls him a "misogynist", yet I find it hard to reconcile these judgements with his actions, eg. breaking with social convention to be with Victoria during childbirth, and his letters to his brother pleading with him not to endanger any woman he might marry by infecting her and their children with venereal disease. Was Albert sexist by late 20th century standards? Absolutely, as was virtually every other European male of his time. But from that to label him a "hater of women" I think is completely without foundation.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I freely admit to enjoying reading about the Victorian period of history, that time between 1840 or so to the turn of the twentieth century. Caught as it were, between the start of the Industrial Revolution and the First World War, we look back at it with nostalgia as a time of strong family values, where men and women knew their roles in society, and if in this hothouse atmosphere, there was just a trifle bit of decadence, we assume the more innocent aspects. And what about the woman that the time is named for -- Queen Victoria of Great Britain? Most will dismiss her as a short, dumpy, very round old woman in her widow's weeds, glowering down at the masses with the words The Queen is Not Amused.

That's the popular iconography that has persevered over the decades. But who was she really, and what of her marriage to the handsomest prince in Europe? It was his death, after all, that plunged her into nearly forty years of mourning. Now historian Gillian Gill gives the mythology of the devoted prince and his queen a fresh dusting off, and reveals that there was a great deal more going on than meets the eye.

Divided into three sections of narrative, We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, Rivals takes a very unusual turn at the story. Instead of just looking at their lives in the usual chronological way, cataloging their experiences and their numerous children and then letting Victoria recede into her perpetual widowhood, Gill takes the story on a psychological journey to see just what made these two tick. And she tells the story with quite a bit of daring and insight with a strong splash of humour as well.

The first part of the book, Years Apart, looks at the years of Victoria and Albert's childhoods, and their family backgrounds.
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Format: Paperback
I started out liking this book very much--Ms. Gill has a very readable and entertaining writing style. However, the farther I got into it, the less I liked it. As other reviewers have mentioned, Gill does not use primary source documents very often, so we are really getting a third-hand rehash of someone else's work. Secondly, after checking her notes for certain chapters, I discovered that Gill states certain things as facts, and then when you look for her sources for these facts in the related notes, no source is given.
Thirdly, (and I know this is probably difficult to avoid in biography), Gill makes conjectures based on a twenty-first century mindset. She decides that since Albert and Victoria's wedding night was such a success and that Albert's close male relatives were outstandingly promiscuous, that Albert probably had had previous sexual experience and that it was with other men. She herself admits that there is no evidence for this.
Isn't it just possible that Albert really did reach his marriage bed sexually chaste? The fact that many men did share beds while traveling in nineteenth-century Europe does not mean that they were all having sex--inns in foreign countries were notable for limited/spartan accommodations and nobody had a second thought about two people of the same sex sharing a bed or assumed something fishy was going on.
The point is, no one except Albert knows in what condition he reached his first night with Victoria. To conjecture one way or the other is rather misleading to the reader. So I ended up wondering what else I was being sold on . . .
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