Victoria had the intensely shy person's belief in, and use of, the written word as a means of self-expression. She was not someone whose instincts were to suppress or disguise the truth. From her girlhood onwards, she had poured out her impressions of life into copious journals and she was not one to hide her often changeable feelings. Beatrice, for reasons which do not have anything to do with us in this present study, was a very different person. She conceived it as her duty, when her mother died, to 'edit' Queen Victoria's journals. Admittedly one reason for this was that the Queen's handwriting was semi-legible, and Beatrice wrote a good clear hand. The chief reason, however, as she copied out the words her mother had written, was to discard passages likely to cause pain and embarrassment to herself and her siblings. Victoria had been candid in her often acerbic views of her children, and about the wider reaches of her and Albert's dynasty—nine children, forty-two grandchildren and innumerable cousinage. She somehow always knew when one of them was getting into a scrape or making a fool of themselves, either politically or in the area of private scandal. Down it all went into her letters and diaries. We know this because Beatrice was unable to censor, for example, the copious correspondence Victoria had with her eldest child Vicky—eventually the German Empress. And there are still notebooks and other remains in the Royal Archives which give us some clue as to the sort of material which has been lost from the official, censored, Princess Beatrice-version of the journals which we can now all read online.
Princess Beatrice probably acted from motives which she considered good ones. She was, however, the archivist's dread. Those of us who take an interest in the past want the truth. Without all the material to hand—the damaging, as well as the adulatory, the good and the bad—the truth can never be told. Often it is painful and complicated. The art of biography, as demonstrated in its finest forms, is akin to that of Tragedy and the Novel. Writer and reader learn to take heed of the tragic flaws of our heroes and heroines. Queen Victoria is herself a case in point. She would have been the first to acknowledge her faults. Indeed, she was in fact the first, as is witnessed by a sad but revealing volume which escaped the attention of Princess Beatrice, which the Queen entitled Remarks, Conversations, Reflections, in which she chronicled her tempestuous relationships with her mother, her husband and her children, all of whom she loved in different ways, but with none of whom did she enjoy a relationship of pure sunshine.
When I came to write her biography, I found my admiration for Queen Victoria deepen, because she was a woman who confronted her demons and, on the whole, who overcame them, without the help of therapy, or even of much advice from friends. The often only just legible scribble was her outlet, her psychiatrist's couch, her confessional, her secret beehive to which she disclosed her inmost heart. Not everyone liked her, and she was aware of that. Not everyone likes her to this day. It is hard, however, to dismiss her. She undertook a gigantic political and symbolic role when she was only a teenager—the Head of State of the most powerful economy in the world, the figurehead of what would become a global empire. She did her job throughout the next sixty years and she handed on the family business in good shape, when most of the European powers that seemed to be so powerful in 1901 (the year she died) were in fact great liners heading for the iceberg.
The success story of the British Royal Family was unquestionably to be laid at the door of Prince Albert, who, since his death in 1861, had been canonized. After he died, the Angel turned into a man who could do no wrong. His statues were to be seen all over the Empire. Albert Halls, Albert Squares, Albert Streets filled every English- speaking town, and many of the towns in India. He had, of course, been perfect. Baby really had been little more than a baby when he had died in 1861. She was just six. And the world in which she found herself during the Second World War was one which her father could not have envisaged in his most vivid nightmares. From his early years, as the young son of a German prince in a small Duchy in Thuringia, Albert and his brother had yearned for a United Germany. 'Deutschland, Deutschland, Über Alles!' was not a song of triumph when it was written. It was a Hymn to Liberty. It was an aspiration for the benign unity of German-speaking peoples which had been the wish, not only of German-speakers, but of all enlightened Europeans since the Middle Ages. How that benign union was to be achieved, that was the question. It was the hope that one day, the scattered princedoms, duchies, city-states and electorates of the Holy Roman Empire (which had been disbanded by Napoleon), together with the Kingdom of Prussia and the Empire of Austro-Hungary, could fashion some new political entity. The peace and prosperity of Europe depended upon it. Albert and Victoria's marriage plans for their children reflected their desire to infiltrate the autocracies of Russia and Prussia with their brand of political liberalism: not liberalism with a capital L, but a form of constitutional monarchy which allowed for parliaments to have their say, and for an enfranchised electorate to be represented in those parliaments. Neither Victoria nor Albert were democrats in the modern sense of the term, but they had the political nous to adapt the monarchy for a world where democracy in its varied forms would one day be adopted.