Uncle Leopold is back! Is he still Uncle Leopold now we know he’s Albert’s father/Victoria’s father-in-law? Seems that whole brouhaha has been forgotten in the name of some family unity ahead of the baptism of little Prince Arthur.
But family unity is not to be found here. Though we start with some charming scenes of Victoria and Albert sketching one another doing sweet things, like bathing the baby and cuddling the dogs, things quickly descend into complete and utter chaos.
First, those charming sketches make their way to the broadsheets, so now just anyone can see a picture of the queen lifting her child out of a tub. Quelle horreur! Victoria and Albert freak out over this invasion of their privacy, but it seems there’s not much they can do, short of suing the printer who sold the sketches. Which Albert decides to do, without consulting Victoria, who is mad when she hears.
Madness is a spectre that looms large over this episode, with the sad thought of poor George III at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Feo plans a ball to celebrate the new prince’s christening, and decides everyone should come in Georgian costume (don’t try and tell me she didn’t do that on purpose). And then there’s the “expert”, Mr Coombe, who’s called in to look at Bertie.
Bertie’s been acting out a little. And by acting I, I mean, behaving the way you’d expect an 8-year-old to behave if he were healthy and active but also being told constantly how worthless he is. He’s frustrated as hell, of course, and uttering really heartbreaking lines like, ‘Papa doesn’t love me anymore because I’m stupid,’ and ‘Papa won’t love me because I’ve got a naughty bump’. That’s on his head, which brings us back to Coombe.
Coombe is a phrenologist, brought in at the suggestion of Feo, of course. My husband’s a psychologist, so I reserve an extra special eyeroll for quack brain science like this.
Predictably, the guy measures Bertie’s head, in front of Vicky and all the adults, and announces that his intellect is basically nonexistent, but all the bad stuff (including the dreaded self-esteem) are really prominent. The guy even namedrops George III, and how Victoria doesn’t just kick him out right then and there is a mystery to me, because this man’s being pretty horrible and smug.
Everyone who’s not Victoria are all like, ‘Yeah, Vicky’s totally a Coburg, but Bertie is obviously a Hanovarian. So now it’s not just that Bertie’s a bad egg, but that Victoria made him that way through her own tainted lineage. Apparently nobody cares about the other five kids and how their brains are shaped.
Victoria’s feeling pretty attacked, and defensive. Totally understandable! She thinks the nation is laughing at her over the pictures, so-called experts keep banging on about how damaged her son and heir is, Albert’s now calling her mentally feeble, and Feo’s slithering around, being creepy, setting Albert against his wife, and selling invitations to the christening ball to notorious swindlers.
Feo’s being really stupid about that last bit too, buying very obvious, expensive things like a new horse and a tiara with what she’s taking in. And she’s not the only one acting very obviously stupidly, but we’ll get to that.
To cap things off, a new coin is being struck with Victoria’s likeness on it. Albert wants to have a hand in the design of it, which everyone grants. Stung by the whole affair of the drawings, Victoria (at Leopold’s suggestion), adds a crown to her likeness on the coin, to appear more regal. But the crown addition means there’s no room for the usual Latin inscription that says she’s queen by the grace of God. Albert removes it, since it’s not as if anyone but a very small minority know what the inscription says anyway, but it causes a scandal. Victoria flies off the handle, resulting in a huge fight between husband and wife in which he yells at her for being illogical and she responds by smashing that phrenology skull on the floor. Not the best response to someone calling you illogical, but again, I understand her frustration.
They pause the fight long enough to see their youngest christened, and then go right back to it. Victoria insists that things have been going sideways ever since Feo arrived, and when Albert defends her things escalate. They get worse when he goes back to this nonsense about Victoria only wanting the monarchy to be a showpiece, and how that’s such a bad thing. This characterisation of him bugs me because, in reality, Albert very consciously set out to cultivate an image of the royal family as being just like your average well-to-do Victorian family. The newspapers were full of etchings of himself and Victoria and the kids playing and gathering around the Christmas tree and whatever. All the things that a nice, middle-class family did. It was total PR, and it did an immense amount of good, helping to erase the image of the monarch as a bloated, gross, wasteful, rich, useless jerk that had grown up around the later Georgians.
But instead of Albert being the one to point out the usefulness of the drawings, it’s Abigail and Palmerston. Albert keeps banging on about the monarchy having to be all dignified and aloof. Which is not accurate. Not that I’m expecting accuracy in this show, but let’s give Albert credit where it’s due!
Things are in a very, very bad place with the royal marriage. Victoria wants Feo to go home, but Albert won’t hear of it. Technically, these homes are all Victoria’s, so she could totally send Feo away whenever she wanted, but I guess she doesn’t want to push it too hard just now.
And she’s onto Feo as well: at the ball, she calls her out for inviting inappropriate people, making Victoria look ridiculous, and stirring up so much trouble. Victoria can’t fathom what she’s done to make her sister turn against her so strongly, so Feo fills her in: years and years ago, she played Bach for George IV and he said she had a lovely profile and was going to see about marrying her.
Victoria scoffs at the idea of Feo marrying fat, gouty George but Feo screeches that she would’ve been queen and would therefore have had all the riches Victoria now enjoys, instead of living in a leaky schloss with a drunken husband. But her mother and Uncle Leopold didn’t want to risk an heir getting in the way of Victoria’s ascension, so they married Feo off as fast as they could.
None of this, of course, is Victoria’s fault. And honestly, it feels a little strange that they’ve brought back Leopold but not Feo’s and Victoria’s mother, who was still very much alive and could have definitely added more drama to this whole thing. And she would have been a much better target for Feo’s rage. As would Leopold, but she doesn’t seem to hold anything against him, which is strange. Instead, she just wants to make Victoria miserable, and it seems she’s doing an admirable job.
And it’s all for nothing anyway: Victoria asks Leopold if this story is true, and he sighs and says that George was an asshole who enjoyed messing with his brothers by suggesting from time to time that he might remarry and father an heir. He never really meant it, though. Feo was just one piece in that particularly insidious game. And now Victoria’s paying the price.
On to the other troubled marriage here: Sophie’s. Her husband suggests she attend the ball dressed as his grandmother, the 9th Duchess of Monmouth, as painted by Gainsborough.
(As a nitpicky aside, I realise that there was no Duke of Monmouth after the first one, and that this duke is, therefore, fictional, but all the same, they could at least have tried to make his history fit actual history. The first Duke of Monmouth lived from 1649 to 1685. Gainsborough was painting the aristocracy from the 1760s. There’s no way they could have gone through nine duchesses in that period of time, unless every duke was getting married at the age of 10. Sorry, historical nerding finished.)
Sophie’s like, ‘yeah, ok, sure, whatever.’ But then when Joseph overhears her costume plans, he warns her that the 9th duchess was tragically notorious for having escaped her miserable marriage through an affair. When the duke found out, he took her children away and she wound up taking her own life. The current duke is clearly sending a very unsubtle message.
So, instead, Sophie goes to the ball dressed as her own grandmother, who was a maid. It is, of course, a very “super-rich-person-dresses-as-peasant” costume, but nonetheless the duke is furious when he sees it.
At the actual ball, she slips away for a tryst with Joseph, which seems so unbelievably stupid I wonder if she’s just self-destructing here. I mean, yes, it’s a ball and there are lots of people and you can get lost in a crowd, but still–her husband is there, she knows he suspects something and is on the warpath. Joseph is on duty, and Penge is already gunning for them. So, I’m not exactly shocked when both Penge and the duke notice the pair of them missing (though the duke still thinks his wife is having a fling with Palmerston). They both circle the ballroom, looking for the missing lovers.
After they finish up, Sophie and Joseph split. Sophie’s fellow lady-in-waiting finds her and warns her the duke is on the search. Joseph lies to Penge that he was off on a loo break.
It seems they’ve managed to slip the net this time, but the two of them can’t stop making eyes at each other during the christening, and it’s so blatant the duke notices. So, that should be both tragic and interesting.
So, here’s where things stand:
Albert is Team Feo, while Victoria wants her sister gone.
Victoria and Albert are in a very serious marital crisis.
Albert is in a serious crisis with his eldest son, whom he demeans so badly that even Leopold is like, ‘You could, you know, interact with the kid who wants so badly to interact with you.’ But Albert dismisses the notion that he could possibly play chess with Bertie as he does with Vicky, because Bertie is obviously too stupid to understand the rules and Albert is just protecting him from frustration. He’s doing it FOR BERTIE, you guys! You know, I don’t really get why Albert was saying last episode that he was relieved there wouldn’t be more kids for him to screw up, but he doesn’t seem to be at all interested in not further screwing up the kids he already has. Has he just decided it’s a lost cause, so full steam ahead? Talk about not having much logic.
The duke totally knows about his wife and Joseph, which is not going to go well for anyone.
Palmerston is definitely my favourite character this season. Catching Bertie’s runaway pet mouse and keeping it on his shoulder during the christening so the kid wouldn’t get into trouble? So cute!