Queen Victoria turns 200 this May and Kensington Palace, the place of her birth, will celebrate in style. The Historic Royal Palaces are opening not one but two exhibitions, retracing her life from womb to widow with remarkable honesty.
The independent charity’s perceptive approach to the bicentenary of this historic event will see Victoria’s private life in parallel with the public image she worked so tirelessly to create. Victoria: A Royal Childhood is a reimagined visitor route through the state rooms where the princess spent her formative years. Temporary but just as comprehensive, Victoria: Woman and Crown in the Piggott gallery examines her later life and legacy. Together they proffer an interpretation of one of Britain’s best-known monarchs that will challenge many people’s preconceptions.
Expect the unexpected. With access to their own ever-growing collection of never-before-seen royal possessions, the Historic Royal Palaces team have conserved the Queen’s personality, not just her public persona. This has been possible not least because Queen Victoria was herself an avid diarist. It is also an unmissable opportunity to see real locks of royal baby hair, scrapbooked by Victoria’s German governess. Exquisite clothing, from tiny petticoats to dour yet still daringly distinctive gowns of her widowhood are also on display.
Key notes from a sneak peek behind the scenes as the exhibitions prepare to open include the fact that Queen Victoria was not an overweight, unfashionable and austere empress for her whole life, or even half of it. Victoria was also a highly imaginative, sheltered young girl that grew up in Kensington Palace as heir to the throne. And the slim (and petite, at just 4 foot 9), love-struck, curious young woman of 21 who married Albert in 1840.
Conservation is elevated from a process into an intelligent art form. Countless objects and pieces of clothing have been sourced, stored and restored for the exhibitions. Together, they protect Victoria from the destructive, over-simplified caricature that history lessons have propagated.
Don’t forget where you come from, you may have once been told, yet we are so quick to judge others when we don’t know their own story. A royal is no different, and Historic Royal Palaces now give us the chance to see Queen Victoria with new, more educated and empathetic eyes.
24 May onwards. Kensington Palace is open Monday to Sunday 10am to 4pm with last admission at 3pm.
Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens, London W8 4PX