For those who are monarchy nerds, Lucy Worsley is a familiar name. She's an English historian and author, but she's best known for hosting royal-themed historical TV shows. She's covered everything from the Tudors to the Tsars to the world of Versailles, many of which are now on Netflix having been brought over from BBC Two and BBC Four. Therefore, it's not surprising she's the host of the newest historical deep dive into Queen Victoria's early years, from the time of her birth through to her wedding to Albert. Created by the BBC for PBS, it's a two-hour retread of nearly everything covered in Victoria Season 1, with some details the show left out the first time. The first episode airs directly following the premiere of Victoria Season 3, with the second hour one week later.
The series' aim is to recreate the real wedding for Victoria and Albert, from the flowers to the cake to the dress. Throughout the two hours, Worsley meets with different historians and artists to go over the nitty gritty details, all the way down to Victoria's actual undergarments, a set of which are preserved. There are digressions into things like how the measurements in the 1840s are different as compared to how modern measurements are taken, as well as fabrics, food, and finery. Naturally, the final act in the second hour is this wedding recreation, where the bridesmaids, the guests, and the servants are all recreated down to the best historical details available.
But the real joy of this two-part series is how Worsley puts so much of Victoria's story into context, both for the period and for the royals who came after. While the original Victoria Season 1 focused on the love story between Victoria and Albert, and the competition for Victoria's favors by everyone from her mother to the prime minister, this series puts her early reign in context. It also dives into the whys of Victoria's upbringing, discussing how hard her family worked to set the stage for her long and prosperous reign before she was old enough to walk.
Worlsey also explains how unpopular King George IV was at the time of Victoria's birth, and historians dig into how poorly the monarchy was positioned PR-wise in the post-Regency period. The fear of another tone-deaf King the people disliked was a considerable concern, with revolutions gaining steam on the continent. When George IV's only child, Princess Charlotte, died in childbirth before he even took the throne, the Palace went into a frenzy. Charlotte had been very popular and was viewed as the answer to the current problems of the back-to-back reigns of George III and George IV. William IV was now the next heir, but at 65 years old, was not expected to reign long. Therefore, the need was to keep his only child, Victoria, safe. But most importantly, it was about keeping her *alive.* This including having people walk her down the stairs lest she trip, and insisting she be shut away from everyone possible, lest she catch diseases.
While the Victoria series does touch on the complicated relationship between Victoria and her mother, much of it didn't get into how this nearly psychotic over-protective behavior led to Victoria's dislike of her mother and John Conroy. It also gives a more in depth understanding of why Victoria was so terrified of childbirth when she got pregnant the first time.
The series also considers Victoria's wedding from a public relations point of view. It argues her marriage didn't just change how most celebrated their big day, though it did popularize white dresses and big cakes. It actually spawned the Palace PR machine most of us are familiar with today. While Worsley doesn't explicitly compare Victoria's PR team with the same one that spun Harry and Meghan's wedding so effectively last year, the connections are obvious.
This series is also frank about the how this wedding marked the first time the Palace got into the business of selling the monarchy to the people of the United Kingdom. It digs into the reality of doing so in the era, and how it was instrumental in keeping the family on the throne when push came to shove a few years down the line. Victoria and Albert, were, in their 20s, proto-celebrities in the vein we know the UK royal family to be today, and in allowing themselves to be viewed this way, they laid the path to the Royal Family holding on to their positions into the 21st century.
For those who love to explore the real history behind the events of Victoria, this show is a must watch. Do yourself a favor and get to know your Victoria history. Victoria and Albert: The Wedding premieres on most PBS stations on Sunday, January 13, 2019, at 10 p.m. ET, with the second half airing on Sunday, January 20, 2019, in the same slot. As always, check your local listings.