Queen Victoria may have been the “Grandmother of Europe,” but her own mother was a titan on the home front. Believe me, just like her daughter, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg Saalfeld was no slouch in the drama department. From her scandalous romances to her disturbingly mommie dearest ways, this is one historical figure worth knowing about.
1. She Was Born Into Privilege
Although our girl eventually gave birth to one of the most quintessentially British monarchs the world had ever seen, Princess Victoria wasn’t British in the slightest—she was German. Born in 1786, her father Franz Frederick and her mother Countess Augusta were luminaries of the Teutonic house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, AKA a really big deal. And they expected big things from their girl. Maybe a little too big.
2. She Had A Twisted Family Tree
When Princess Victoria was only 17 years old, her life changed drastically. Probably without caring much about her opinion, her parents married her off to the powerful Charles, Prince of Leiningen. But that’s not even the worst part. The widowed Charles was over two decades older than the blushing Victoria…and his previous wife had been her aunt. Ew.
3. She Was A Teen Mom
Although the teenaged Victoria likely didn’t relish jumping into bed with a 40-year-old man who could have realistically been her father, she knew how to lie back and think of Germany. The very next year, when she was still just 18, she had her first child with the Prince, Carl, and then another daughter, Feodora, three years later.
Victoria was barely in her 20s and already a mother of two…but she had higher ambitions for herself.
4. She Was Powerful
Whatever disappointments Victoria’s life had on the private front during these years, they definitely didn’t show in public. Indeed, she and her family only grew more powerful. Her brother Leopold actually married into the British Royal family, tying the knot with Charlotte, the Princess of Wales—the heir to the throne. Until one day, it all came crashing down.
5. She Knew How To Take Care Of Herself
In the summer of 1814, Victoria’s much older husband Prince Charles passed, leaving her stranded and scrambling to pick up the pieces. But hey, this woman had pushed out two kids before most people move into their first nice apartment, and she could definitely handle it. Victoria quickly became regent for her son Carl…though this was only foreshadowing for her much bigger role in royalty.
6. Her World Turned Upside Down
Just as Victoria was back on the upswing, a catastrophe shocked the nobility. Victoria’s sister-in-law, Princess Charlotte of Wales, perished while giving birth to a stillborn boy. Her brother Leopold was heartbroken at the loss of his wife, but England was utterly panicked about the loss of its heir. This prompted an enormous succession crisis—and Victoria, naturally, was right in the middle of it.
7. She Was An Eligible Bachelorette
In the aftermath of Princess Charlotte’s sudden passing, Britain seemed royally screwed. All the surviving male heirs of the current and ailing King George III were either in miserable, childless unions, or else lifelong bachelors. Indeed, Parliament had to actually pay these bachelors to settle down with a woman in the hopes they would produce a healthy heir for the crown. Wouldn’t you know it, Victoria was ready and waiting.
8. She Got An Indecent Proposal
Just months after the succession crisis began, Victoria received a proposal that altered her world. Thanks to her brother’s connection to the crown, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent—one of the sons of King George III—asked her if she would accept this ring and the challenge of pushing out one more baby, this time for England. So romantic, right? Victoria said yes…but she might have thought twice.
9. Her Marriage Had A Scandalous Side
Victoria’s engagement to a Prince of England seemed like happily ever after on the outside, but inside was a whole other story. Prince Edward had been a bachelor for a reason: He loved high stakes gambling tables more than anything else, and he’d racked up enormous debt during his single years. In fact, the newlywed Duke and Duchess of Kent were so broke, they decided go live in Germany after their wedding to keep their costs down. Only, a twist of fate was in store.
10. She Had To Make A Great Escape
The newly minted Duchess of Kent was incredibly good at whatever she put her mind to—uh, a little too good. She got pregnant almost immediately after their nuptials, and the couple had to rush right back to England to ensure their British heir was actually born there. In April 1819, they moved into Kensington Palace to set up Victoria’s brood nest, and a month later, history was made.
11. She Gave England A Precious Gift
On May 24, 1819, Victoria did her duty once more and gave birth to a little girl she and her husband named Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, the future Queen Victoria of England. Our Mama Victoria must have felt pleased as punch…especially because none of the other English princes had succeeded in producing an heir so far. Yet pride cometh before the fall.
12. She Went Through Two Tragedies
Just half a year after the Duchess of Kent’s happy news, she endured a shocking series of tragedies. In January 1820, her husband Edward passed suddenly from pneumonia…Then, six days later, his father King George III also passed. These double blows left the British throne positively crumbling, and again turned Victoria into a widow with a young royal heir to look after. In other words, it was the danger she lived for.
13. She Was A Stranger In A Strange Land
At this point, our Duchess of Kent could have taken her toys and gone home to Germany with her baby in tow. There were some pretty good reasons for this option: She still had a comfy palace at her home in Coburg, as well as a steady but modest cash flow from the inheritance of her first husband. Plus, there was the little fact that she didn’t speak English. Instead, however, the Duchess made a very risky gamble.
14. She Made A Dangerous Bet
With King George IV now on the throne but with very few heirs to speak of, the Duchess of Kent decided to plant herself firmly in England and roll the dice on her daughter’s future. Of course, this was also a bet on herself; if baby Victoria did end up becoming queen, the matriarch would come into a whole lot of influence. And as England was about to find out, the Duchess of Kent was power-hungry as heck.
15. England Didn’t Want Her
Almost as soon as Victoria announced her intent to stay in England, she made a powerful enemy. Since her second husband had left her with mountains of debt, Victoria wanted parliament to furnish her and her precious heir with a royal allowance. They were not happy about this…and the “solution” they provided was downright insulting.
16. She Was A Pauper Princess
Unwilling to fully bankroll yet another prodigal royal, the government gave Victoria only a small, decaying suite of rooms in Kensington Palace, crunched up with a bunch of other nobles who had fallen on hard times. It was hardly the royal welcome that the Duchess was wanting, nor the one she probably felt she deserved. But by then, she had bigger things to worry about.
17. The King Hated Her
Victoria wasn’t quiet about her plans for power, corruption, and lies, and it didn’t take long for her to make more rivals in the royal court. In 1830, though, she got in deep trouble. That year, King George IV passed, and his rough and tumble brother William IV took the throne. There was just one problem: William absolutely despised Victoria…and maybe for good reason.
18. She Lorded Her Power Over People
It gave the laid-back Navy man in William IV zero pleasure to deal with the overzealous Duchess, especially since she had him over a barrel. After all, the elderly William still had no legitimate children, and he knew he had to rely on Victoria and her young daughter to keep the line going. Then again, this negative feeling was very mutual…
19. She Was In A Royal Feud
Although King William IV had no legitimate children with his wife Queen Adelaide, he had previously been involved in a long-term relationship with his mistress Dorothea Jordan, which produced scads of illegitimate children. Victoria’s reaction to this was infamous. Under William’s rule, she considered the English court debauched, and pointedly refused to visit it. Oh, and she didn’t stop there.
20. She Pitched A Royal Fit
The Duchess was so judgmental about King William IV, she also dramatically decided not to let her daughter Victoria attend the monarch’s coronation, ostensibly because she didn’t like the way they were going to place her in the proceedings. Of course, everybody knew it had less to do with “creative differences” and more to do with the Duchess’s need to make everything about her.
21. She Was Super Entitled
The thing is, the Duchess’s antics just kept on going. With an heir to spare, she decided she was the big woman on campus, and she took her feud with William to the next level. She attacked his wife. In classic mean girl fashion, our Duchess often “forgot” to answer letters from Queen Adelaide, and even demanded her own space in the royal stables. Then she twisted the knife in.
22. She Was Horrifically Rude
The Duchess Victoria loved a good flex, but one day she went much too far. Victoria was so proud of her baby-making abilities, she believed that she should take precedence at court functions instead of Queen Adelaide; after all, she was the mother of the future monarch, and Adelaide (despite years of trying) was childless and past her most fertile age. OUCH, Victoria.
23. She Invented Her Own System
As the Duchess’s little girl grew up, the matriarch began to exhibit disturbing behavior with her, too. After a lifetime of upheaval, the Duchess of Kent liked to control every little aspect of her life, and the young Princess Victoria was no exception. In due time, the Duchess set about creating the so-called “Kensington System” for educating her daughter. Let me tell you, it was an absolute nightmare.
24. She Was A Control Freak
The “Kensington System” seemed designed to keep the young Victoria as far away from everyone as possible. The Duchess forced the girl to sleep with her every night, refused her nearly all playmates except for the family dog, and put her under a strict tutoring regime to turn her into the perfect ruler. Oh, and she especially kept the girl away from King William’s side of the family.
Yet amidst all this law and order, there was dark, shadowy figure lurking in the wings.
25. She Had A Partner In Crime
Our mommie dearest Victoria wasn’t completely to blame for the Kensington System; her trusted and beloved comptroller John Conroy also had a huge hand in building it. Conroy was shrewd, ambitious, and perhaps even more devoted to the rigid system than the Duchess herself. Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone in court hated Conroy, too, and he earned the spiteful nickname “King John” for his outsized influence. And that wasn’t all.
26. She May Have Taken An Illicit Lover
With the Duchess and John Conroy bending their heads together and constantly coming up with new ways to control and direct their little monarch-to-be, many started to whisper that the pair was engaged in a full-blown affair, despite the fact that Conroy was very much married. Whatever the truth of this, though, their motives still weren’t exactly pure…
27. She Had A Nefarious Plot
Surprise surprise, the Duchess and Conroy didn’t make up the horrific Kensington System out of the goodness of their hearts. Instead, the Duchess explicitly used it to gain the upper hand over her daughter and increase the chances of building a powerful regency for herself if Victoria became queen before she turned 18. As for Conroy? He was just going to ride on their coat tails.
As Victoria grew older, they carried out their plans with utter ruthlessness.
28. She Went On A World Tour
As part of a ploy to ensure that Victoria really would take over the throne, the Duchess and Conroy set up a grueling tour of England for the princess to drum up support and take the temperature of the populace for their would-be ruler. In the Duchess’s skilled, organized hands, it was a resounding success—even though Victoria hated the fast-paced traveling and was constantly tired. So one day, it took a turn for the worse.
29. She Took Advantage Of Her Own Daughter
As the tours continued, Victoria begged to stop, but her mother pushed her to go on. Then, in October 1835, the exhausted 16-year-old girl fell ill. Her mother and Conroy’s first response? She was faking it. Then, when they realized she really was sick, they used her weakened state to try to get her to sign a document turning Conroy into the princess’s private secretary and giving him ever more power.
It didn’t work, thank God, but c’mon guys, you’re looking like some Rocky and Bullwinkle villains here.
30. The King Launched An Attack
Even though the Duchess didn’t like going near King William IV with a ten-foot pole, the monarch couldn’t help but notice her manipulations and machinations of the young Victoria for her own gain. Well, he didn’t like that one bit—and without warning, he brought it to a dramatic climax. On his 71st birthday banquet in 1836, William silenced the room…and uttered a shocking speech.
31. The King Barred Her From Power
King William IV had zero intention of letting the Duchess gain an inch more power by taking over as regent for her daughter like she planned. At the banquet, in front of many luminaries of the day, he announced his commitment to living “for nine months longer” so that little Victoria would turn 18 under his rule and deny her mother the regency. No, he really said this out loud…but he said it better than I ever could.
32. She Was Publicly Humiliated
As William put it, if he lived to see Victoria’s birthday, “I should then have the satisfaction of leaving the exercise of the Royal authority to the personal authority of that young lady, heiress presumptive to the Crown, and not in the hands of a person now near me, who is…herself incompetent to act with propriety in the situation.” In other words, WOMAN DOWN. The reaction to William’s announcement was pandemonium itself.
33. Her Court Exploded
I probably don’t need to tell you that the illustrious King and Queens of England did not stoop to making “come at me, Satan” speeches every day—which tells you just how badly the Duchess got under William’s skin. The shock of it all made little Victoria start sobbing immediately, while our Duchess stood stone-faced, refusing to even move for a good long while, and leaving court the next day. And it gets even juicier.
34. Her Rival Kept His Cruel Promise
On June 20, 1837, something miraculous happened. Well, not for the Duchess. That day, King William IV passed…almost one month to the day that his niece Victoria turned 18. That’s right, this guy really willed himself to live long enough to knock the Duchess out of a regency. Still, the Duchess’s daughter was now Queen of England, so it must have been a win-win situation, right? Wrong.
35. She Made A Huge Mistake
In truth, the Duchess and her confidante John Conroy had made a fatal error leading up to the young Victoria’s coming of age. Once they saw that William really would make good on his promises, they didn’t admit defeat in the slightest. In contrast, the pair started pressuring Victoria even more, trying to get her to extend her need for a regency until she turned 21. The queen-to-be said “Heck no”…and did one better.
36. Her Daughter Rebelled Against Her
If the Duchess thought that her daughter’s ascension would only bring her more power, she was very wrong. Instead, it brought her downfall. The little Victoria had (wouldn’t you know it) always chafed under the incredibly strict Kensington System, and one of her first acts when she finally became monarch was to dismiss Conroy from her household. Then she turned her eyes on her own mother.
37. She Was Banished
Right after ascending to the throne, Queen Victoria dealt her mother a brutal insult. Everyone expected the girl to stay with the Duchess since she was still unmarried, but the ruler could barely stand to look at the matriarch. As a backhanded compromise, Queen Victoria did let mommie dearest stay with her in Buckingham Palace…but relegated her rooms to the furthest away corners from her own apartments. Sadly, there were more stings to come.
38. She Clung To The Past
Although Queen Victoria had dismissed Conroy from her presence, the Duchess wasn’t ready to let him go, and she kept him as a part of her household in the remote rooms of the palace, still desperately plotting for a way to elbow him back into power. For two long years, the Duchess campaigned and needled her daughter to let him back in—and then the bottom dropped out.
39. Her Ally Became An Exile
In 1839, the palace finally convinced Conroy to leave England and go far away from both the Duchess and the Queen. Yet although Conroy was gone, the damage was done: There was now a deep, seemingly insurmountable rift between the older and younger Victorias, and it would take nearly the rest of the Duchess’s life to mend it.
But their reconciliation proved more heartbreaking than anything else.
40. She Had A Family Reconciliation
With Conroy out of the Duchess of Kent’s life at last, she and her royal daughter started inching closer to each other once more, but the Duchess was still very much on the outside of the queen’s inner confidantes. Then one day, everything changed. With the birth of Queen Victoria’s first child, the women had a heartfelt reconciliation, and the Duchess became a doting—and not a meddling—grandmother.
After years of pushing, prodding, and dysfunction, the family was whole again. Still, the Duchess had wasted so many years, and she had so few left.
41. She Went Through A Massive Loss
In 1854, one of the most momentous people in the Duchess’s life left her—the dubious John Conroy himself. That year, he passed in Wales while deeply in debt, causing a gust of whispers to come rushing through the royal palace. Queen Victoria, for her part, was more sweet than bitter about the news, writing to her mother that, Conroy had created “divisions between you and me which could never have existed otherwise, they are buried with him.” The Duchess, however, had a surprising response.
42. She Tried To Forgive
Even more than a decade after Conroy’s expulsion from Buckingham Palace, the Duchess couldn’t quite forget him, and she even found it in her heart to forgive him. She wrote back to her daughter defending him, scrawling, “I shall not try and excuse the many errors that unfortunate man committed, but it would be very unjust if I allowed all the blame to be thrown on him.” Soon, though, that forgiveness would be tested.
43. She Fell For A Huge Scam
As soon as Conroy passed, the palace made a disturbing discovery. The Queen pressed her mother into checking the financial statements that Conroy had handled during their time together, and the numbers didn’t lie. Although she surely suspected before, the Duchess found out that Conroy had taken significant sums of money from her. When all was said and done, she had only been another one of his victims.
44. She Had A Famous Mansion
By the 1860s, the Duchess was in her 70s, a grandmother many times over, and not in the best health of her life. She posted up near her daughter’s Windsor Castle in Frogmore House—AKA the place where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had their wedding reception—and slowly grew sicker amidst her decadent surroundings. The end was coming fast.
45. She May Have Had A Secret Love Child
For all the Duchess of Kent’s pot stirring, there is an even more scandalous rumor about her. Queen Victoria was infamously a carrier of the often fatal genetic disorder haemophilia, yet no one else in her official hereditary line had it. Because of this, some historians shockingly suggest she was actually the Duchess’s love child with a mystery man. And there is one more piece of evidence for this theory…
46. Madness Ran In Her Family
One of the other “royal diseases” of this time was porphyria, which had been running rampant in Victoria’s ancestors and was most notably suspected in her grandfather, the “Mad” King George III. However, after Victoria porphyria becomes scant, even as haemophilia rose in her descendants like Alexei Romanov. Hmm, well that’s awkward.
So did the Duchess have a steamy affair and try to pass an illegitimate love child off as the Queen of England? Short answer: No. Long answer: It gets weird.
47. She Might Have Been A Royal Patient Zero
First off, it’s incredibly unlikely that the Duchess’s lover was a haemophiliac, since haemophiliac men simply didn’t tend to live until adulthood before the dangerous disorder struck them down. However, it is possible that the Duchess was a carrier of the disorder herself and passed it down to her daughter, since it is a random mutation in 30% of cases. Yikes, sorry Victoria—either one of you.
48. She Didn’t Go Alone
On March 16, 1861, the 74-year-old Duchess of Kent breathed her last breath after a lifetime of drama. Against all odds, her relationship with her daughter strengthened with each passing year, and Queen Victoria was still at her side when she passed, holding her hand. But like every good drama queen, the departed Duchess had one more revelation to make.
49. Her Daughter Snooped In Her Letters
Queen Victoria was beyond heartbroken at her mother’s passing, despite—or perhaps because—of their difficult relationship and rocky early years together. Indeed, she was so distraught that she almost immediately began sorting through her mother’s papers around the house to hold onto the memories she had of her. What she found broke her heart.
50. She Made A Heartbreaking Confession
While rummaging around, Queen Victoria found her mother’s day-to-day scribblings. When she read them, she nearly burst into tears. After half a lifetime of coldness and manipulation, the papers made it clear just how deeply the Duchess loved her daughter, and how grateful she was for their reconciliation. Upon finishing, Queen Victoria fully blamed Conroy for “wickedly” driving them apart.