Victoria and Her Sisters A History of Britain by Simon Schama


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Victoria and Her Sisters

A look at the social and economic changes which took place during Queen Victoria's reign, such as industrialisation and changing roles for women.


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Spring 1851.

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The word "Victorian" enters the English language

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and a very small woman enters a very big building.

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She's 4'11", yet somehow she fills it.

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The moment, so pregnant for the future, seems holy.

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Victoria is herself flooded with religious awe.

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One felt filled with devotion,

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more so than by any service I have ever heard.

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Neither she nor anyone else has ever seen anything like this building before -

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a greenhouse the size of a palace

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with the difference that this is, from the beginning, a people's palace.

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A popular magazine calls it "the crystal palace".

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Its grandest spaces are filled not with courtiers and flunkeys, but steam pumps and locomotives.

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A huge showcase for Britain's industrial empire.

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Just three years before, in 1848,

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Europe had been torn apart by revolutions.

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The government had feared the same would happen here.

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As it turned out, other countries had war and revolution, we had the Great Exhibition.

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Other countries had barricades, we had the cheerful queue for the turnstiles.

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In an era haunted by fears of overpopulation,

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this was one of the greatest mass movements of people in all of European history.

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Six million came to see the show of shows.

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In 1848, industrial machinery had seemed to be the enemy of ordinary men and women -

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the gaping mechanical jaws into which countless lives were fed,

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to be spat out again as cotton cloth or nails.

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Technology, the prophets of doom had warned, was an engine of inhumanity

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driving working people to desperation or revolt.

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But inside the glittering glasshouse

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someone seemed to have waved a magic wand over the mechanical brutes,

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turning them from ogres to busy, friendly giants

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happy to be gazed at on a family outing...

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not least by the first family of the land, assembled amidst the hardware.

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After all, Papa - Prince Albert - the moving force behind the exhibition,

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was the first prince in European history

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to wear his connection with the world of business as a badge of pride, not shame.

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But what about Mama? As the mother of a rapidly-expanding family, Victoria might've been expected to know

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that if the cult of progress was to make Britain not just a great nation but a good one -

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be a home maker not a home breaker -

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it would fall to our women to see us through the painful change to an industrial society

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safe and sound.

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But, of course, hers was no ordinary family. Despite the family photos, Queen Victoria was not Mrs Average.

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The age which would bear her name would see transformations in the lives of women

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which Victoria could never have imagined in the dazzling springtime of her reign.

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Whether she'd welcome them or even understand them,

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whether they'd sweep past her and her glass palace - that remained to be seen.

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In 1837, when she became queen, Victoria was only 18.

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She was as pure as a rosebud,

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which seemed a welcome change

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from the decidedly impure reigns of her uncles, George IV and William IV,

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addicted to the pleasures of the bed and the table,

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and indifferent to the hardships endured by the mass of their subjects.

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Unlike the uncles,

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Victoria had been brought up a model of virginal moderation and self denial.

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No regency pampering for her.

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At one point she and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, had to move out of Kensington Palace to save money.

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So Victoria's nursery years were spent at bracingly ordinary places

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like Ramsgate and Sidmouth.

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Much later in life, for some reason,

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Queen Victoria looked back on her childhood as a time of sadness and loneliness.

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It's true that, like many middle class and aristocratic children,

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she was subjected to an evangelical regime of prayers and constant self-examination.

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She kept a "behaviour book" full of solemn and self-critical entries.

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This one, for August 1832, reads,

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"Very, very, VERY..." - underlined - "..terribly..." - more underlining - "..naughty."

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But could Christian betterment, the driving force of her generation,

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be taken from SELF-improvement to bettering the life of her people? That was the question.

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On her first excursion through England's heart of industrial darkness,

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the teenage princess would see what she was up against.

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Near Birmingham, she travelled through the landscape of a British Inferno, sooty and sulphurous.

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The men, women, children, country and houses are all black.

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The country is very desolate everywhere.

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There are coals about, and the grass is quite blasted and black.

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I just now see an extraordinary building flaming with fire,

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smoking and burning coal heaps intermingled with wretched huts and carts,

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and little ragged children.

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But the view from the coach was the closest Victoria got

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to the bleak reality of Smokestack Britain.

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In any case, there was something else on HER mind -

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her upcoming date with history.

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All those tombs and crowns and thrones -

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was she ready?

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The moment would arrive all too soon

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in the small hours of June 20th 1837.

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The teenage princess in her nightgown, woken by the arrival of the Lord Chamberlain

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and the Archbishop of Canterbury...

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'..who acquainted me that my poor uncle the King was no more

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'and, consequently, that I am Queen.

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'I am very young, and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced.

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'But I am sure that very few have more real goodwill and more real desire to do what is fit and right

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'than I have.'

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At her coronation on June 28th 1838,

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the young Queen showed what she was made of,

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carrying the immense weight of the robes and regalia with aplomb.

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But she also managed something more important than dignity - a glimpse of humanity.

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When the 87-year-old Lord Rolle tottered as he tried to mount the steps of the throne to do homage,

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Victoria's kind-hearted instinct was to rise and go down the steps to meet him.

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Everyone noticed.

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She was young, but not precocious.

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She knew she needed help, and she was wise enough to ask for it from someone superbly able to give it,

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the Whig Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne.

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He won Victoria's confidence by the simple but inspired tactic of never, ever talking down to her,

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never treating her like a child in need of protection.

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Instead, he treated her like an adult

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sophisticated enough to enjoy his worldly wisdom, his political gossip, and even his off-colour jokes.

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Under his guidance, Victoria's confidence in her public persona blossomed.

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She was, of course, the most desirable catch in Europe.

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Victoria's mother had thrown banquets and balls

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to ensure Victoria met the most eligible princes,

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including her Saxe-Coburg cousins, Ernest and Albert.

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It may well have been her uncle Leopold who, in the spring of 1839,

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first made the suggestion to Victoria that she might like to marry Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg.

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Like all young women, she probably initially found the subject a bit embarrassing,

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but once she got used to it, helped by that handsome or, as she put it, "angelic" German head,

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well, she pretty much ran the show,

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virtually grabbing hold of her curly-haired intended and sprinting for the altar.

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It was Victoria who supplied the ring,

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asked Albert for a lock of his hair,

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and wallowed in the kissing sessions.

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If she sometimes seemed determined to wear the trousers in this marriage,

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there were also other times, especially right after the wedding, when Victoria simply melted away

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into the amazed bliss of conjugal love.

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When day dawned - for we did not sleep much - and I beheld that beautiful, angelic face by my side,

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it was more than I can express.

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He does look so beautiful in his shirt only,

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with his beautiful throat seen.

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Already, the second day since our marriage, his love and gentleness is beyond everything,

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and to kiss that dear, soft cheek,

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to press my lips to his, is heavenly bliss.

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My dearest Albert put on my stockings for me.

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I went in and saw him shave.

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A great delight for me.

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Victoria and Albert's passion for each other was a strictly private matter.

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But for countless numbers of Britons

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in the suffocatingly overcrowded industrial cities like Manchester,

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bedroom privacy was an unimaginable luxury.

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Manchester was the very best and the very worst taken to terrifying extremes,

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a new kind of city in the world,

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the chimneys of industrial suburbs greeting you with columns of smoke.

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200,000 drones packed into the hive

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to make money for the lords of Cottonopolis.

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An American visitor taken to Manchester's black spots saw...

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..Wretched, defrauded,

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oppressed, crushed human nature

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lying in bleeding fragments.

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And thanked God for not having been born poor in England.

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The cotton mills were brutally demanding taskmasters.

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Whole families spent almost all of their working hours tending to the machinery.

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Children were given menial but dangerous jobs

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like scavenging cotton fluff from beneath the moving machinery.

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As bad as all this was, it was even worse when there were no jobs at all.

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In the first years of Victoria's reign, hands were being laid off in tens of thousands.

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It would be a woman, Elizabeth Gaskell, who'd be the whistleblower,

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the first of Victoria's sisters to stick her neck out.

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Amazingly, her blazing protest took the genteel form of a novel.

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But what a book! When "Mary Barton" was published in 1848,

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nobody, not even Charles Dickens, had gone as far as Gaskell

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in looking dead-on at the grim reality of industrial misery.

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The middle-class wife of a Unitarian preacher, Gaskell took herself right into the lower depths of the city,

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to the gin palaces and open sewers,

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dark, reeking alleys where skin-and-bones children played among the rats.

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In Mary Barton, you didn't just see, you HEARD working-class Manchester

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in the pages of literature for the very first time.

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To most of her readers, it must have been a language more foreign than French or German.

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We do not want dainties, we want bellyfuls.

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We do not want their grand houses,

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we want a roof to cover us from the rain, the snow and the storm.

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Aye, and not alone to cover us, but the helpless ones that cling to us in the keen wind

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and ask us with their eyes why we brought them into the world to suffer.

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By the time you'd finished Mary Barton,

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one word, struck like a hammer over and over again, would've lodged in your memory. "Clemmed" - starved.

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You say it, and you call up the entire knife-edge world of struggling to survive

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that Elizabeth Gaskell had created.

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Elizabeth Gaskell believed that honest, graphic social reporting could make a difference.

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She wrote to her cousin...

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My poor Mary Barton is stirring all sorts of angry feelings against me in Manchester.

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But those best acquainted with the way of thinking and feeling among the poor acknowledge its truth,

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which is the acknowledgement I most desire,

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because evils, being once recognised, are halfway on towards their remedy.

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One of Gaskell's fans, the social philosopher Thomas Carlyle,

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thought it was pointless to try and improve a system so fundamentally inhuman as industrialisation.

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Nothing is now done by hand. All is by rule and calculated contrivance.

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On every hand, the living artisan is driven from his workshop to make room for a speedier, inanimate one.

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The shuttle drops from the fingers of the weaver and falls into iron fingers that ply it faster.

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There is no end to machinery.

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For Carlyle, there was only one route to salvation. Britain must turn aside from the machine

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to summon the spirit of the Christian centuries of the Middle Ages,

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the last time we'd taken it for granted

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that faith was more important than money.

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To bring about this great conversion from Babylon to Jerusalem,

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nothing less would do than a Christian revolution in building.

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And no-one was more convinced of this than the greatest of the Gothic revivalists,

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Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin.

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A new generation of churches would be in the front line in the war to save Victorian souls.

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Pugin was never happy just to sound off.

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He believed, with the fervour of the old faith, that a properly beautified church was the very face of heaven.

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And before he died - brutally early, at the age of 40 - he made sure,

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especially here at the Church of St Giles in Cheadle, Staffordshire,

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to let some people see how gloriously colourful it could be.

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But however spiritually nourishing this might have been,

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it wasn't going to put bread on the tables of the needy millions.

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Victoria's first decade as Queen was also a time of economic hardship for many of her subjects.

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A slump in foreign trade had led to mass lay-offs in the industrial cities.

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Bread was an unaffordable luxury for the unemployed,

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who blamed the Corn Laws for keeping cheap, imported wheat out of Britain.

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Working-class anger and desperation was close to boiling point.

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For middle-class reformers, the answer was easy.

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"All we need to do is to get rid of the Corn Laws and all will be well."

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But the militant spokesmen of the WORKING people weren't convinced.

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They wanted more.

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Only a truly popular government - a democracy, in fact - would do something about THEIR distress.

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They set out their demands in a "people's charter",

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a new Magna Carta for the modern age.

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It demanded the right to vote for all men,

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secret ballots, annual parliaments.

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How to get them? Moral force if we may, physical force if we must.

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In the climate of fear and hatred, people had to decide just where their loyalty lay.

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If you were on the right side of the tracks -

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owner of a cotton mill like this in Aircoats - you'd think the Chartists were just a mob misled by demagogues.

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Besides, who said capitalism was a funfair?

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As long as you kept your hands off the market, well, the market sooner or later would right itself.

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And the poor, the people who worked here, who were hungry now, would feed off the fat of the land tomorrow.

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On April 10th, 1848, a monster Chartist petition

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signed by nearly two million men and women, so huge it needed two hackney cabs to get it to Parliament,

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was brought to London.

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150,000 Chartists with bands, banners and green, red and white rosettes converged on Kennington Common

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for the biggest political rally in British history.

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The Government was ready for them.

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London was turned into a huge armed camp, with mounted guards, guns and even cannon posted

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at critical sites like the Tower of London and the Bank of England.

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Soldiers were posted on the Mall to prevent access to Buckingham Palace.

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The royal family had fled to the Isle of Wight.

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Faced with this immense display of strong-arm force,

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the leader, newspaper owner and MP Fergus O'Connor, had no choice.

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He gave orders that nobody should provoke the troops, however goaded,

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for the result would've been a bloodbath.

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Some of the younger firebrands thought it was a sell-out.

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But what was Fergus O'Connor supposed to do -

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unleash his people's army on the Queen's soldiers only to get them mown down?

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Now, what good would that have done the cause of the working people of Britain?

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And besides, just look at this photograph of the meeting on the common.

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The very first political photograph in our history.

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Not exactly about to storm the barricades, are they?

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It may have ended for the moment -

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the threat of the kind of revolution that had spread through European capitals in 1848 happening here too -

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but the dream of so many working people for somewhere decent to live, enough to eat,

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for a share in the Victorian bonanza, was as urgent as ever.

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If they weren't going to get it by armed revolt, then they would get it in the British way,

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in small but decisive steps, by coming together in self-sufficient communities.

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This is all that survives intact of those little pipe dreams,

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one of the cottages of the Chartist Land Company settlement at Great Dodford in Worcestershire.

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Founded in 1845,

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the Land Company was the brainchild of none other than Fergus O'Connor.

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It bought land, which it divided among its members into smallholdings

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meant to take people out of the industrial slums

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and back to the rural world of their forefathers.

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They'd get a few acres to grow their own food and make a small living.

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"Do or die" was the motto of the incoming settlers to places like Great Dodford,

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and their work was no picnic -

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breaking soil, planting hedges, making roads, with no certain outcome.

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But some were determined to make a go of it, especially Chartist women.

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Ann Wood, who lived in a cottage very much like this one, was just an Edinburgh charlady,

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but one with enough Scottish thrift and determination to save up £150 to put down for a lot at Great Dodford.

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That gave her the pick of the crop,

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and after settling at number 36 along with her two daughters,

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Ann did well enough, at any rate, to lead a long life, dying at 86.

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So when all the sound and fury had ebbed away,

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what seemed to count for most was making a home, not a revolution.

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Prince Albert himself understood this.

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In the year of the Great Exhibition, he commissioned and had built model lodgings for the working class.

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Later, they were rebuilt at Kennington,

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on the very site of the Chartist revolution that wasn't.

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And as the boom years of the 1850s replaced the hungry '40s, Britain had never seemed so middle class,

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starting with the monarchy.

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The thousands of photographic visiting-cards circulating the country

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showed the Queen and Prince Albert, not on their aristocratic high horse,

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but acting out the rituals of middle-class life.

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Respectable, reliable...

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even a little boring.

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Queen Victoria was to have nine children in all.

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And never had Britain had a monarch

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who went to such lengths to advertise her domestic pleasures to the nation.

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The stroll in the park.

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The romp with the children.

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The singsong round the tree at Christmas.

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And on the Isle of Wight, a modest little seaside getaway,

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Osborne House...

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..designed by Albert and relished by Victoria as an idyllic retreat from the pressures of rule.

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It was here, at last, that Albert, who'd been kept from meaningful public work,

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got HIS desk, sitting beside hers,

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from which he could direct his campaign to make industrial Britain a better as well as a richer place.

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To see them together beavering away, you'd suppose it was a perfect partnership.

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But not so perfect that this couple, in every other respect so mutually devoted, were spared all arguments.

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They had their spats just like the rest of us.

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Victoria is too hasty and passionate for me to be able often to speak of my difficulties.

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She will not hear me out, but flies into a rage and overwhelms me

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with reproaches and suspiciousness, want of trust, ambition, envy.

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For her part, too, Victoria wasn't above letting rip when she got too worked up.

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Single people, she'd occasionally let it be known, were often much better off than unhappily married couples

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forced to stay together by convention.

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All marriage is such a lottery.

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The happiness is always an exchange, although it may be a very happy one.

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Still, the poor woman is bodily and morally the husband's slave.

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That always sticks in my throat.

0:29:380:29:41

Astonishingly, this echoed exactly the kind of thing coming from the mouth and the pen

0:29:420:29:49

of two of the most daring critics of the Victorian conventions of marriage -

0:29:490:29:55

John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, husband and wife for seven years,

0:29:550:30:00

tortured lovers in a peculiar, Victorian way for longer,

0:30:000:30:05

joint authors of On The Subjection Of Women.

0:30:050:30:08

This was, don't forget, an age in which a woman's property automatically passed to her husband

0:30:100:30:17

when they got married.

0:30:170:30:19

Husbands had the right to beat their wives, as long as the cane was no thicker than their thumb,

0:30:190:30:27

and to lock them up for refusing sex.

0:30:270:30:30

In 1830, the philosopher John Stuart Mill went to a dinner party

0:30:390:30:45

which changed his life forever.

0:30:450:30:48

He was struck dumb by the vision of a swan throat and dark, enormous eyes.

0:30:480:30:54

They belonged to one Harriet Taylor,

0:30:560:30:59

writer, poet and unhappily married wife.

0:30:590:31:02

Between the soup and the port,

0:31:040:31:07

John and Harriet were swept away by an instantaneous knowledge that they'd found their true soulmates.

0:31:070:31:16

But, being two serious intellectuals,

0:31:170:31:20

Mill and Taylor's forbidden love couldn't just be a selfish private passion(!)

0:31:200:31:26

It had to be thought out loud as a public issue.

0:31:260:31:30

Their situation made only too clear the hypocrisy of the loveless Victorian marriage.

0:31:300:31:37

In some slave codes, the slave could, under certain circumstances of ill-usage,

0:31:390:31:45

legally compel the master to sell him.

0:31:450:31:48

But no amount of ill-usage without adultery super-added will in England free a wife from HER tormentor.

0:31:480:31:56

Surely there had to be another way out than adultery or suffering misery in silence?

0:31:560:32:03

What had to be done was to expose marriages as the property transaction they often were,

0:32:060:32:12

and then use education and law to enlighten and protect women.

0:32:120:32:18

Taylor and Mill would have to wait 19 years for a chance to practise what they preached.

0:32:210:32:28

In 1849, Harriet's unloved husband finally died, freeing the way for her to marry John Stuart Mill.

0:32:320:32:40

But not before he formally renounced ALL the rights the law gave him over his wife's property and person.

0:32:410:32:49

Their happiness was short-lived.

0:32:520:32:56

Harriet Taylor died of TB in November 1858.

0:32:560:33:00

But there would be an epitaph,

0:33:000:33:03

all their ideas poured into On The Subjection Of Women, their book that MILL published in 1869.

0:33:030:33:11

Happy and equal marriages were no longer its only concern.

0:33:120:33:17

Women, who made up almost half the workforce of Britain, should have pay equal to their labour.

0:33:170:33:25

And most breathtakingly of all, they should have the vote.

0:33:250:33:29

It was a book whose ideas gave powerful momentum to the Women's Movement.

0:33:320:33:39

After the Second Reform Act in 1867,

0:33:400:33:42

almost all male householders had the vote,

0:33:420:33:46

which made the fact that female householders hadn't seem glaringly unfair.

0:33:460:33:52

Mill, himself an MP, had tried to argue their case, and even won the support of 73 other MPs.

0:33:520:34:00

The vote was lost, of course,

0:34:000:34:03

but the words had been spoken,

0:34:030:34:05

and they were heard especially loudly in Mrs Gaskell's Manchester.

0:34:050:34:10

The breakthrough had been made.

0:34:100:34:13

a democracy worth the name could not be just for men.

0:34:130:34:18

Queen Victoria may have had her doubts about unhappy marriages,

0:34:220:34:27

but this was a violation of God's ordering of right relations between the sexes.

0:34:270:34:33

She let it be known in no uncertain terms what she thought of...

0:34:330:34:38

..this mad, wicked folly of women's rights with all its attendant horrors,

0:34:380:34:44

on which our poor, feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.

0:34:440:34:52

There WAS fit and proper work for women to do, Victoria allowed,

0:34:530:34:58

but only the kind which used the qualities of tenderness which God had given to their sex.

0:34:580:35:05

Nurses, for example, were rightly called sisters and matrons.

0:35:050:35:10

But was it quite right for the Queen's own nephew to call one of them "Mammy"?

0:35:100:35:17

Florence Nightingale may well have garnered the reputation back in Britain among civilians

0:35:190:35:25

of the Angel of Mercy in the Crimea,

0:35:250:35:28

but the women whom surviving SOLDIERS most adored, for the very good reason that she saw them through the worst,

0:35:280:35:35

was the most forgotten and the most unlikely of Victoria's sisters.

0:35:350:35:40

And her name was Mary Seacole.

0:35:400:35:43

Mary Seacole was West Indian,

0:35:430:35:46

the daughter of a Scotsman and a Jamaican woman.

0:35:460:35:50

Largely self-taught, her Caribbean remedies became famous after they'd been shown to stop violent dysentery

0:35:500:35:57

and to bring yellow fever and cholera victims back from death's door.

0:35:570:36:02

When Britain joined the Crimean War in 1854, she tried to volunteer her services at the front.

0:36:050:36:13

But Mary didn't exactly fit the profile of middle-class nurses.

0:36:150:36:20

She was turned down by the likes of Nurse Nightingale.

0:36:200:36:24

So Mary got herself to the Crimea under her own steam and with her own funds.

0:36:260:36:32

And once she got there, she did something truly extraordinary.

0:36:320:36:37

Mary Seacole built her "British Hotel" right on the front line.

0:36:370:36:42

And it doubled up both as a refectory, feeding the boys about to go into action,

0:36:420:36:48

and a recovery station for the sick and wounded.

0:36:480:36:52

Every morning, she'd make up great vats of nutritious food like rice pudding, saddle up a pair of mules

0:36:550:37:02

and ride into the heart of the action looking for the wounded,

0:37:020:37:06

to whom she'd dole out food, hot tea, medicine

0:37:060:37:11

but, most of all, motherly love.

0:37:110:37:13

Mortars would whizz past the big, old woman trundling along the lines.

0:37:150:37:22

Upon these occasions, those around would cry out, "Lie down, Mother, lie down!"

0:37:220:37:30

And with very undignified and unladylike haste, I had to embrace the earth.

0:37:300:37:37

After the war was over, the soldiers feted her at a charity gala.

0:37:390:37:44

She'd become - briefly - an eminent Victorian.

0:37:450:37:50

Suppose, though, women drawn to help the sick went one stage further and dreamed of being a doctor?

0:37:530:38:01

Now, THAT was a different story.

0:38:010:38:04

In 1860, Elizabeth Garrett enrolled as a surgical nurse at Middlesex Hospital.

0:38:050:38:12

But her sights were set higher.

0:38:120:38:15

In between the swabs and the bedpans she was looking carefully at surgical operations.

0:38:150:38:22

And she was also cutting up body parts in her bedroom.

0:38:220:38:26

This improvised education made her bold enough to take the hospital's medical, not nursing exams.

0:38:280:38:36

And when the time came to publish the results, one E Garrett had come top.

0:38:360:38:41

Ordered to keep the outrage secret, she went public instead.

0:38:430:38:48

Nine years later, the French gave her an MD.

0:38:480:38:52

And in 1874, the first medical college expressly for women was set up in London.

0:38:520:38:59

For Victoria,

0:38:590:39:01

the mere idea of slips of girls looking at, much less cutting up the naked bodies of dead men

0:39:010:39:09

was an unthinkable indecency.

0:39:090:39:11

But no doctor was of any help to her in the greatest crisis of her life.

0:39:120:39:18

For in 1861, the same year Elizabeth Garrett cut her way into medicine,

0:39:190:39:25

Albert contracted typhoid

0:39:250:39:28

which, after a few months of horrifyingly swift deterioration,

0:39:280:39:33

ended in his death in December.

0:39:330:39:37

Everything in those last weeks became suddenly invested with an almost religious significance.

0:39:400:39:47

Here is the last book read to Albert, Scott's Peveril Of The Peak,

0:39:470:39:52

and on the flyleaf the Queen has written,

0:39:520:39:55

"This book was read up to the mark on page 81, to my beloved husband during his fatal illness,

0:39:550:40:02

"and within three days of its terrible termination."

0:40:020:40:07

You turn to page 81, and here's how it reads...

0:40:090:40:13

"He heard the sound of voices, but they ceased to convey any impression to his understanding;

0:40:130:40:20

"and in a few minutes, he was faster asleep than he'd ever been in the whole course of his life."

0:40:200:40:28

Victoria buried her beloved Albert

0:40:300:40:33

in the Italianate mausoleum she built at Frogmore in Windsor Great Park.

0:40:330:40:39

Albert's death threw Victoria into a paroxysm of grief.

0:40:490:40:54

Not for her the stoical acceptance of the inscrutable will of the Almighty.

0:40:540:41:00

She had lost not only her co-ruler but her helpmate. And vanished too was her domestic idyll.

0:41:000:41:07

At the abyss of her misery, she must have thought that all chance of contentment had gone.

0:41:070:41:15

My life as a happy one is ended. The world is gone for me.

0:41:160:41:22

If I must live on, and I will do nothing to make me worse than I am,

0:41:220:41:27

it is henceforth for our poor, fatherless children,

0:41:270:41:32

for my unhappy country which has lost all in losing him.

0:41:320:41:37

Death was an immense presence in Victorian life,

0:41:400:41:45

perhaps because it was the one conquest denied to the soldiers, the engineers, the captains of industry

0:41:450:41:52

who seemed to be able to conquer everything else.

0:41:520:41:57

If they couldn't stop their loved ones from going to their graves,

0:41:570:42:02

they could at least create the illusion, in marble and photographs,

0:42:020:42:07

that they were still alongside those who mourned them.

0:42:070:42:11

This, in her distraught, inconsolable grief, Victoria knew how to do.

0:42:130:42:18

With religious devotion,

0:42:180:42:21

she set out Albert's shaving equipment every morning...

0:42:210:42:25

..and fresh evening clothes and a clean towel every evening.

0:42:270:42:32

Missing his physical presence, she slept with his nightgown by her side.

0:42:330:42:38

The exuberant, headstrong young woman shrank into the hard shell of a forbidding, inconsolable widow

0:42:430:42:51

for whom the least sign of merriment was a betrayal of Albert's sainted memory.

0:42:510:42:58

She seemed, in a way which no-one accustomed to the strong-minded Queen could ever have imagined,

0:42:580:43:06

somehow no longer in charge of either herself or of the country.

0:43:060:43:11

Victoria's sense of moral calling, so strong from the beginning of her reign,

0:43:130:43:19

had become so dependent on Albert the Good's judgement

0:43:190:43:24

that now he was gone, she seemed at a loss about how and where to exercise it.

0:43:240:43:30

It never occurred to her that women alone, either as widows or spinsters,

0:43:300:43:35

might be able to do good by themselves - to make a life, even a career, on their own.

0:43:350:43:42

If she wanted to see how this COULD be done,

0:43:450:43:49

all she needed to do was to take her pony trap a mile or two down the road from Osborne to Freshwater

0:43:490:43:57

to visit someone who, though neither widow nor spinster, was very much her own woman.

0:43:570:44:04

The photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

0:44:060:44:10

Since Victoria was herself an avid collector of photographs,

0:44:110:44:16

she might have been curious about this eccentric, half-French woman's notorious darkroom.

0:44:160:44:23

For Julia Cameron, photography was not just an amateur hobby.

0:44:250:44:31

The poetic lyricism of her photographs disguises the hard need she had to make some money.

0:44:310:44:38

Worse, she seemed, perversely, to glory in the male mess of camera work -

0:44:420:44:48

flouncing around in the converted hen-house that was her studio,

0:44:480:44:53

her dresses and hands stained with black silver nitrate,

0:44:530:44:58

conscripting men and women models like a recruiting sergeant-major

0:44:580:45:02

and bellowing terrifyingly at them if they moved before they were told.

0:45:020:45:07

Needless to say, the men who ran the Royal Photographic Society refused to take her seriously.

0:45:080:45:16

Admiring the enthusiasm of Mrs Cameron,

0:45:160:45:19

the Committee regrets

0:45:190:45:22

they cannot concur with the lavish praise bestowed on her productions by the non-photographic press,

0:45:220:45:29

feeling convinced that she will herself adopt a different mode of representing her poetic ideas

0:45:290:45:36

when she has made herself acquainted with the capabilities of the art.

0:45:360:45:41

What they MEANT, of course, was that a soft woman couldn't be expected to master machinery, chemicals,

0:45:410:45:48

the hard technology of the job, let alone make a career out of it -

0:45:480:45:53

despite Julia's obvious success at both.

0:45:530:45:58

But some of the most powerful and intelligent of the Victorian great'n'good -

0:45:580:46:04

Tennyson, Carlyle,

0:46:040:46:08

and astronomer Sir John Herschel - who HAD obediently posed,

0:46:080:46:13

were not deceived by the poetic light of her work.

0:46:130:46:17

They embraced her as the greatest portraitist of her age.

0:46:170:46:22

Julia's triumph in making a profession as an artist must have been noticed

0:46:270:46:33

by all the young women of the 1870s and 1880s who wanted more for themselves

0:46:330:46:40

than a destiny as wife and mother.

0:46:400:46:43

After Girton College, the first Oxbridge college for women, opened its doors near Cambridge in 1873

0:46:490:46:56

they had, for the first time, somewhere that would educate them -

0:46:560:47:01

liberate them if they chose - from middle-class domesticity.

0:47:010:47:06

But even as they drank in knowledge behind the red walls of Girton,

0:47:070:47:12

some of those young women longed to get beyond the cloister.

0:47:120:47:17

The old ways of "women's useful work", teaching, preaching, nursing, were no longer enough.

0:47:200:47:27

Nor was just being an educated designer of the House Beautiful.

0:47:270:47:33

They were drawn instead, as Elizabeth Gaskell had been a generation earlier,

0:47:340:47:40

to the UGLINESS everywhere in a Britain feeling once more the strain of economic crisis.

0:47:400:47:47

Some even decided to make that new home in the places most shocking to their parents' generation -

0:47:470:47:54

in the slums of the industrial cities -

0:47:540:47:58

to steep themselves in the dirt and anger of their poor, abused sisters...

0:47:580:48:05

..to face up to harsh truths,

0:48:070:48:10

the kind spelled out by the young George Bernard Shaw.

0:48:100:48:15

Your slaves are beyond caring for your cries.

0:48:170:48:21

They breed like rabbits

0:48:210:48:24

and their poverty breeds filth, ugliness, dishonesty, disease, obscenity, drunkenness and murder.

0:48:240:48:32

The bravest of this new generation

0:48:360:48:39

could even face head-on the most unpalatable truths,

0:48:390:48:44

like that link between breeding and destitution.

0:48:440:48:48

Annie Besant was the kind of do-gooder clergyman's wife unthinkable a generation earlier,

0:48:480:48:55

and still unthinkable to the likes of the Queen.

0:48:550:48:59

Annie Besant scandalised the country

0:48:590:49:02

by publishing contraception advice for working people.

0:49:020:49:06

Such impertinence would not go unpunished, however, and Annie found herself the victim of a court order.

0:49:060:49:13

She lost custody of her daughter to her former husband.

0:49:130:49:17

An unforgiving time for women judged as unfit mothers.

0:49:170:49:22

But nothing would stop her crusading.

0:49:220:49:24

Searching around for a woman's cause, Annie found one

0:49:250:49:29

in the teenage match-girls who worked amidst phosphorus fumes for Bryant & May in East London.

0:49:290:49:36

They were paid just between four and ten shillings a week.

0:49:360:49:41

And if they had dirty feet or an untidy bench they were fined,

0:49:410:49:46

taking more money out of their already pathetic wages.

0:49:460:49:50

Most horrifying of all, the girls ran the constant risk of contracting the hideously disfiguring "phossy jaw"

0:49:520:49:59

since Bryant & May persisted in the use of phosphorus, which other match companies had given up.

0:49:590:50:07

At the same time, the company was paying huge dividends to its shareholders,

0:50:070:50:13

a disproportionate number of whom - Annie enjoyed revealing - were the clergy.

0:50:130:50:20

Annie wrote an article about the plight of the match-girls

0:50:200:50:24

for her campaigning newspaper, The Link.

0:50:240:50:27

Together with fellow Socialist campaigner Herbert Burrows, she distributed copies of it

0:50:270:50:34

at the gates of the factory.

0:50:340:50:37

The owners of Bryant & May threatened the girls with instant dismissal

0:50:370:50:41

if they didn't sign a document repudiating the article and the journalists.

0:50:410:50:48

But instead of signing, the girls went en masse to Annie and Burrows with their story. They told her...

0:50:480:50:54

You had spoken up for us. We weren't going back on you.

0:50:540:50:59

A strike committee was formed.

0:50:590:51:02

Besant and Burrows promised to pay the wages of any girls dismissed for their action.

0:51:020:51:09

George Bernard Shaw volunteered as the cashier of the strike fund. 1,400 girls came out.

0:51:090:51:15

The company eventually settled, and Annie Besant and the girls were triumphant.

0:51:150:51:22

Hailed as the working girls' champion,

0:51:220:51:26

she was immediately sought after by all sorts of other women aggrieved at their treatment.

0:51:260:51:32

In 1888, Annie campaigned for election to the Tower Hamlets' School Board

0:51:320:51:39

in a dogcart festooned with red ribbons.

0:51:390:51:43

She won in a landslide victory, polling 15,000 votes.

0:51:430:51:48

Even before they had the vote, women showed they could, and would, win local elections.

0:51:480:51:55

Queen Victoria was not in fact blind

0:52:010:52:04

to the miseries which so appalled the young women social workers of the 1880s and 1890s.

0:52:040:52:12

Shaken by some of the revelations in The Bitter Cry Of Outcast London,

0:52:120:52:18

she actually pressed Gladstone's government to spend more of its time on the problem of housing.

0:52:180:52:23

And her insistence produced a Royal Commission.

0:52:230:52:27

But whether she wanted to see it or COULD have seen it,

0:52:280:52:33

there were, in the warm Jubilee summer of 1887, two Britains.

0:52:330:52:38

Nearly a third of able-bodied men were unemployed.

0:52:380:52:42

Now, thousands of the jobless were also homeless,

0:52:420:52:46

sleeping rough in parks and squares,

0:52:460:52:49

some of them even in open coffins - the undead of Underclass Albion.

0:52:490:52:55

But, of course, the Queen was kept well away from all that.

0:52:580:53:03

What she saw were 30,000 poor schoolchildren in Hyde Park

0:53:030:53:08

who each got a meat pie, a piece of cake and an orange

0:53:080:53:13

to celebrate the great day of her Jubilee.

0:53:130:53:17

The children sang God Save the Queen...somewhat out of tune.

0:53:180:53:24

It was the kind of thing which brought a smile - yes, a smile - on the face of the old Queen.

0:53:260:53:34

It would be like this for the rest of her life -

0:53:370:53:41

the country bathed in summer evening light,

0:53:410:53:45

the faces well-scrubbed and dutiful,

0:53:450:53:48

the old lady at last something like the contented matriarch,

0:53:480:53:53

the grandmother of the Empire - the thrones of Europe filled with her offspring.

0:53:530:54:00

There was, of course, someone missing from this national family photo.

0:54:000:54:05

In the Abbey, amidst all the splendour, Victoria suddenly felt a pang.

0:54:050:54:12

I sat alone - Oh! - without my beloved husband,

0:54:130:54:18

for whom this would have been such a proud day.

0:54:180:54:23

Victoria would have to wait another 14 years, until 1901,

0:54:240:54:29

before she would be reunited with him...

0:54:290:54:33

..to whom the nation and I owe so much.

0:54:330:54:37

Her long-suffering secretary, Frederick Ponsonby,

0:54:380:54:42

said there was nothing Victoria enjoyed so much as arranging funerals.

0:54:420:54:48

And her own was no exception.

0:54:480:54:51

So she ordered a WHITE lying in state and funeral for herself.

0:54:570:55:01

In her hands was a silver crucifix,

0:55:050:55:08

her white dress decorated with cheerful sprays of spring flowers.

0:55:080:55:13

There was a touch of Miss Havisham about this,

0:55:150:55:19

the 80-year-old, flower-bedecked virgin bride.

0:55:190:55:23

But not JILTED by her beloved...

0:55:230:55:26

going to join him.

0:55:260:55:28

When Albert's memorial effigy had been ordered from the sculptor Marochetti in 1862,

0:55:290:55:36

Victoria insisted on hers being made at the same time,

0:55:360:55:41

and with her appearance as it was when he had been taken from her,

0:55:410:55:46

so that they would be reunited - at least in marble - at the same age,

0:55:460:55:51

in the glowing prime of their union.

0:55:510:55:54

The trouble was, no-one could remember where they'd put the statue made 40 years before.

0:55:570:56:04

It had in fact been walled up

0:56:040:56:06

in one of the cavities of a renovated room in Windsor Castle.

0:56:060:56:11

Eventually it was found and laid next to Albert, as per the Queen's orders.

0:56:130:56:18

And there she is, as if the clocks had stopped along with the heart of the Prince Consort.

0:56:180:56:25

But they hadn't, of course. Victoria might lie next to her beloved dressed as a medieval princess,

0:56:260:56:34

but he, of all people, had known it had been PROGRESS which had been the mainspring of her reign.

0:56:340:56:41

Albert had done his best to see that it had been a force for goodness as well as greatness,

0:56:410:56:48

that the surging movement of the machine age would be held in check

0:56:480:56:53

by the moral anchorage of the Victorian home.

0:56:530:56:58

Britain's women - Victoria's sisters and daughters - were all supposed to have been grateful for this,

0:56:590:57:07

to bask in the warmth of the hearth they tended.

0:57:070:57:11

But those cosy fires kindled yearnings that couldn't be contained by a placid domesticity.

0:57:110:57:18

Those little liberators, the cheque book, the latchkey and the bicycle

0:57:180:57:23

beckoned over the doorstep... and into the street.

0:57:230:57:27

And you couldn't tell any longer just how the girls would turn out.

0:57:290:57:34

Riding with the body of the Queen from London to Windsor

0:57:420:57:47

was the widow of one of her Viceroys of India, Lady Lytton.

0:57:470:57:52

Just eight years later,

0:57:520:57:55

HER daughter Constance, imprisoned as a Suffragette,

0:57:550:57:59

would make her statement about the future of women in Britain...

0:57:590:58:05

..by carving, with a piece of broken enamel from a hairpin, the letter V

0:58:070:58:13

into the flesh of her breast.

0:58:130:58:15

But it wasn't V for Victoria.

0:58:200:58:23

It was V for votes.

0:58:230:58:25

Why not join the debate and get involved in British history on the BBC History website?

0:58:320:58:41

You can take your interest further and get to grips with the sources that have shaped history.

0:58:410:58:50

Subtitles by E Kane BBC Broadcast: 2002

0:58:570:59:01

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She began the century that bears her name a princess and ended it as an empress. Queen Victoria ruled one of the most powerful empires in world history during a century of staggering change - for both good and bad. But it was Victorian women who were at the forefront of the fight against its excesses and inequalities, who campaigned for the rights for ordinary people in marriage, education, medicine and the vote.