Here in Canada, it’s Victoria Day—the day on which we celebrate the birthday of the dear old queen who reigned over the British Empire back when that was a thing.
Of course, when Victoria Day does fall on Queen Vic’s actual birthday it’s a matter of pure coincidence, since we celebrate it on the third Monday in May, not a specific date. But whatever. It’s a holiday, and generally signals several things:
- The first really acceptable weekend to start gardening: Any earlier is basically an invitation for a killing frost to come along and kill all your tender annuals.
- The opening of cottage season: From this date until the Thanksgiving long weekend in early October, many of us quite literally head for the hills.
- The first barbeques/outdoor drinking binges of summer: This has given rise to the weekend’s popular name, “May Two-Four,” referring to the many 24-bottle cases of beer that are purchased, with which to toast the beloved memory of Queen Victoria.
Okay, I made that last bit up. Despite the fact that she’s the inspiration for the holiday, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone toast Queen Victoria on this, or any other, occasion.
I think this is because to the modern-day May Two-Four celebrant, Queen Victoria seems like a quaint irrelevance. A relic of an age when sexual repression, stern morality, and far too many crocheted doilies were the order of the day. The Queen herself is now viewed as prudish, dour, stern, and generally kind of a downer.
This is all bosh, of course.
Except for the doilies. Those were definitely a problem.
Victoria and Albert: Let’s get physical
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was Victoria’s first cousin, and she fell madly in love with him the moment she set eyes on him.
He was rather a handsome devil, wasn’t he?
By the way, it’s rumoured (though far from proven) that Prince Albert did indeed sport the piercing named after him. Apparently the piercing’s small gold ring was attached to a fine chain, which allowed Albert to rearrange his dangly bits so they didn’t spoil the silhouette of his breeches.
As we used to say in journalism, “Interesting if true, and interesting anyway.”
In any case, his new bride thought he was pretty hot stuff, little gold ring or no.
Here’s her description of their wedding night:
“It was a gratifying and bewildering experience. I never, never spent such an evening. His excessive love and affection gave me feelings of heavenly love and happiness. He clasped me in his arms and we kissed each other again and again.”
So…they didn’t just hold hands and smile sweetly at one another, then?
From her personal diary:
“My dearest Albert put on my stockings for me. I went in and saw him shave; a great delight for me.”
Queen Victoria had suffered a stifling, odd upbringing by a controlling mother and her personal secretary, who kept the young princess isolated and controlled 24 hours a day. This warped her personality in some ways: she was a willful, stubborn woman who firmly believed that she was the centre of the known universe…and she had a temper to match.
She was also very enthusiastic about sex, to the point where poor Albert would at times find it necessary to take refuge in the privacy of his own room.
Servants of the day reported that Victoria, feeling thwarted, would fly into tantrums and pound on the Prince Consort’s locked door, demanding to be let in at once!
“Albert, let me in, you Teutonic tower of testosterone!” I can just imagine her shouting. In German, because that’s the language they spoke at home.
By the way, this “secret portait” was the one she commissioned as a private gift for Albert in the early years of their marriage. It doesn’t really match the traditional image of Victoria as a stout, stern widow, does it?
Of course, all this passion had a few down sides. For one thing, the couple had nine children—and Victoria really wasn’t crazy about kids. Especially babies, whom she considered ugly and frog-like.
Plus, they got in the way of her sex life.
As well, when poor Albert did eventually die at the age of 42, Victoria went into a period of deep, extreme, obsessive mourning…that lasted for 40 years.
I sometimes wonder if it wasn’t really just the ultimate temper tantrum: Albert was gone, but rather than grieve his loss and gradually adapt to her new life without him, Victoria just kept pounding away on that locked bedroom door.
She really just couldn’t take “no” for an answer.
In fact, these days Victoria is known more for the length and depth of her mourning for Albert than for the vibrant, intense woman she was before his death. It’s a pity, really.
So I say, let all Canadians raise our beer bottles high today, in honour of the real Queen Victoria: not the dumpy, frumpy lady in black, but the passionate, complicated woman who married the hot German dude with the unnaturally smooth breeches.
Happy Victoria Day!