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For many, Victoria and Albert were history’s greatest love match. Recently captured by the brilliant Jenna Coleman in Victoria, their romance still makes a million eyes grow misty at the very thought of such devotion.

But as we saw in the last series, the happy couple’s relationship with their multitude of children, eventually nine in number, wasn’t always easy. One episode was even praisd for exploring the fact that Queen Victoria may very well have suffered from post-natal depression, at a time when such a condition was not recognised...

Has Queen Victoria's battle with mental health issues been revealed in her doctor's diary?


Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria and Tom Hughes as Prince Albert in ITV's Victoria Credit: Television Stills

Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces
5 September 2018
The Telegraph

For many, Victoria and Albert were history’s greatest love match. Recently captured by the brilliant Jenna Coleman in Victoria, their romance still makes a million eyes grow misty at the very thought of such devotion.

But as we saw in the last series, the happy couple’s relationship with their multitude of children, eventually nine in number, wasn’t always easy. One episode was even praised for exploring the fact that Queen Victoria may very well have suffered from post-natal depression, at a time when such a condition was not recognised.

Finding solace in a conversation with a friend - the Duchess of Buccleuch, played by Dame Diana Rigg - we saw her being reassured her that she was not the first woman to ‘struggle’ after giving birth and that things would get easier with time.

I was keen to explore Victoria’s intimate life and her motherhood in my new biography of the queen. As a child, I was fascinated by the woman whom I thought of as remote and grumpy old lady who wore nothing but black. It still seems slightly surprising that she was ever youthful and lively, or might have struggled with mental health problems.

As an adult, and as a curator at her home of Kensington Palace, I wonder about her endlessly as I spend my time in the rooms where she lived, walking in her footsteps every day.


An episode explored the fact that Queen Victoria may have suffered from post-natal depression, at a time when such a condition was not recognised Credit: Gareth Gattrell/ITV

Researching the birth of her babies led me to Dr Ferguson’s diaries which remain today in the concrete bunker-like archives of the Royal College of Physicians. Victoria employed Dr Charles Locock and Dr James Ferguson, partners in ‘the highest midwifery business in the metropolis,’ to deliver her babies.

Locock did very well out of the arrangement. Already a well-paid and fashionable accoucheur, he became even more so as he entertained his high-society clients with indiscreet and nasty gossip about the queen’s appearance undressed.

A fat, black, leather-bound volume labelled ‘notes’ records his memories of important cases. I was astonished as I turned the pages to find just how frank he’d been about his royal patient.

I couldn’t help wondering if the certain sections cut out with scissors were excisions made by someone who thought that he’d gone too far. It was his junior colleague Dr Ferguson, a more sensitive soul, who became concerned with the price Victoria paid for going through childbirth so often.

Always under pressure to produce an heir, Victoria also described herself as having had ‘the greatest horror of having children.’ This was partly because she’d been brought up on stories of the horrible death in labour of her 21-year-old cousin Princess Charlotte, in an event known as the Triple Obstetrical Tragedy.

Not only did Charlotte and her baby die, but the doctor thought to have mismanaged the labour afterwards committed suicide too.

Childbirth and death were horribly intertwined in Victoria’s mind.


A family portrait of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with five of their children, 1846 Credit: Hulton Archive

Victoria’s fear of childbirth was part of the reason that she held off marrying Albert for nearly four years after their families tried to force them into an arranged match at sixteen. It was her ‘firm resolution’, she declared, not to marry until she was twenty, at the ‘very earliest.’ She wasn’t, she insisted ‘yet quite grown up,’ or ‘strong enough in health’ to bear children.

But then at eighteen, she unexpectedly came to the throne. She married Albert at last at the start of 1840 and quickly got pregnant. ‘I was in for it at once,’ she later told her daughter, ‘& furious I was.’

Victoria’s first pregnancy went surprisingly smoothly. ‘The Doctors say they never saw anybody so well,’ she told her sister. But this was fighting talk. Albert thought that his highly-strung wife ‘would make a great Rompos’ during labour. The pressure was increased by Victoria’s having to give birth with members of the Privy Council watching as witnesses from an adjacent room. Although there was a screen to shield her nether regions, they could see her head, and hear everything she said.

Even so, she produced a healthy little girl, the Princess Vicky. But she was also a great let-down too. ‘We were, I am afraid, sadly disappointed,’ Victoria wrote in her diary. It would have been so much better politics to have had a male heir to the throne. And now she would have to get pregnant again as soon as possible in the hope of producing a boy.

And it was then that the trouble really began. It was after the birth of her second, Bertie, just eleven months after Vicky, that Victoria began to identify a phenomenon that would come to plague her. She called it ‘lowness and tendency to cry … what I, during my two first confinements, suffered dreadfully with.’

Historians can’t simply diagnose people in the past with modern ailments, because the definition of an illness is very much a product of its time and place. But her doctor’s notes and diaries reveal that Victoria began to experience symptoms that might lead a mother of today to be diagnosed with post-natal depression. In Victoria’s case, the situation was worsened by a fear that she might have inherited the Hanoverian family ‘madness’.

Dr Ferguson records in harrowing detail one particular house call he made to Buckingham Palace during this difficult time. Before he was allowed to see his patient, he was briefed by her courtiers and husband.

‘The Queen is afraid,’ Albert told Ferguson, that ‘she is about to lose her Mind!’ She had visual disturbances, seeing ‘spots on peoples faces, which turned into worms,’ while ‘coffins floated’ before her eyes.

Eventually the doctor reached Victoria’s room, there to find her ‘lying Down, and the tears were flowing fast over her cheek as she addressed me – overwhelmed with shame at the necessity of confessing her weakness and compelled by the very burden of her mind & her sorrows to seek relief.’ Dr Ferguson noted that Victoria ‘is much troubled as to what will become of her when she is dead. She thinks of worms eating her – and is weeping & wretched.’

But he believed, as did many of Royal Household, that the solution lay in Albert. ‘Providence has shielded her,’ Ferguson wrote in his notes, ‘in giving her a husband … nothing else will save her sooner or later from madness.’

Another of Victoria’s physicians, Dr Clark, kept his own notes that I read in the Round Tower of Windsor Castle, home of the Royal Archives. Clark also comes across as Victoria’s loyal supporter, but he too thought that for her own good she must be protected from independent thought and kept free of ‘mental exertion.’ ‘I feel at times uneasy,’ Clark admitted, ‘regarding the Q’s mind.’

Looking at these comments today I began to wonder about these men who surrounded her. Was she really losing her mind, or did she feel that she was because people expected her to? It’s a glimpse of the terrible tension she must have experienced between her two roles of having to be both the archetypal Victorian wife – good, meek, submissive – and a head of state.


'Was she really losing her mind, or did she feel that she was because people expected her to?' Credit: Clara Molden for The Telegraph

After giving birth seven times in a decade, the first four as practically back-to-back pregnancies, Victoria eventually told Dr Clark that she could not bear it any more: ‘if she had another Child she would sink under it.’ Yet still Albert kept the babies coming - partly because having his wife perpetually pregnant meant that he could gradually take over some of her power.

But in fact it was also the Royal propaganda machine which expected Victoria to go through this decade of pain. The image of the large and perfect family was essential to the functioning of the monarchy. As her people thought that the greatest prize that they could win in life was a happy family, it became the queen’s job to model the same thing for them.

There’s no doubt that Victoria was a loving mother, and often a happy and proud mother too. But what a high personal price she paid.



Queen Victoria by Lucy Worsley is published by Hodder & Stoughton General Division (rrp £25.00). To order your copy for £20 call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/li...ealed-doctors/