Two weeks after becoming queen, the 18-year-old Victoria moved the household from Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace. The new home was still a work in progress; it had been a country estate until William IV convinced Parliament to fund an expansion. The money ran out before it was finished and then William died.
It would be Victoria and her soon-to-be husband Albert of Saxe-Coburg to complete the palace to the point where it would be recognizable today. But as Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace makes clear, they did more than finish a building. Victoria and Albert turned the palace into an icon of the royal family and Britain in general.
Written by Amanda Foreman and Lucy Peter, the book serves as the catalog and introduction to the “Queen Victoria’s Palace” exhibition which concluded yesterday. The exhibition was staged in honor of the 200th anniversary of Victoria’s birth. The book, however, is more than an exhibition souvenir; it stands on its own as a succinct account of how Victoria and Albert transformed Buckingham Palace.
The transformation was profound. What had been a “country townhouse” for Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, would become a family home, a venue for grand state occasions, and a symbol of the British monarchy. The vision for the palace would outlast Victoria’s self-imposed exile at Balmoral Castle in Scotland after Albert’s death from what was likely typhoid in 1861. Even after she returned more than a decade later, she generally refused to host any event similar to what she and Albert had done together. It was Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who suggested she host something that was entirely different – and it became one of the best known events associated with the palace and the royal family: the summer garden party.
The book makes generous use of the photographs, paintings, and artifacts maintained by the Royal Collections Trust. And it includes far more than Victoria’s dresses. We can see paintings and drawings of the royal children, the fancy costume balls, the prime ministers, the state events, how the palace structure grew, and what many of the state and private rooms looked like.
Foreman is a historian, columnist, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the History Department at the university of Liverpool. She is the author of the prize-winning best sellers Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire: A Epic History of Two Nations Divided; Georgiana’s World; and the forthcoming The World Made by Women: A History of Women from the Apple to the Pill. She lives in New York. Lucy Peter is assistant curator of Paintings for the Royal Collection Trust and co-author of Portrait of the Artist and Royal Childhood. She lives in London.
Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace is a well-written and well-researched account of how a building became what is likely the most recognizable symbol of Great Britain.
Top photograph: Lucy Peter with one of the dresses include in the Queen Victoria exhibition at the palace.