We Are Not Amused: Queen Victoria, the Clockwork Empress

Our latest novel, Cold Stone and Ivy, by H. Leighton Dickson, is a Gothic steampunk mystery. Set in England, (Lancashire and London, mostly) during 1888, the book features several real people as characters. We will be showcasing some of these historical figures in the next few weeks. (Make sure to begin with a review of Jack the Ripper.) 

The Clockwork Empress has a brief scene in Cold Stone and Ivy, but she leaves quite an impression, her forceful personality overshadowing several key points of the story.

Queen VictoriaThe stern, unsmiling face. The black dress.The small crown and the lacy white veil. It’s a familiar image of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, but it doesn’t reveal much of her actual personality. Let’s face it, everyone is stern and unsmiling in photographs from the 1800s. In actuality, Victoria was remembered by family and staff as often “roaring with laughter”.

The black dress? Also a testament to the depths of emotion that Victoria felt. When Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, died at the age of forty-two after twenty-one years of marriage, she was devastated, heart-broken. They had a devoted, affectionate, and passionate relationship, producing nine children in seventeen years. She wore deepest mourning for the rest of her life, and went into seclusion for twenty-five years following his death. Although Prince Albert died from typhoid fever, Victoria blamed his death on their eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who had been caught having a fling with an actress in Ireland–Prince Albert was scandalized.

Coronation Portrait (detail) of Queen Victoria by George Hayter

Coronation Portrait (detail) of Queen Victoria by George Hayter

Victoria was a conundrum. Thanks to her, women receiving pain relief during childbirth became an acceptable and common practice. Victoria received chloroform during the births of her eighth and ninth children, despite the opposition of the clergy, who believed it a sin to go against nature and God to prevent the pain of childbirth. After two successful royal births with the aid of chloroform, every woman clamored for the wonder of birth without pain. Victoria could also be compassionate and understanding of the difficulties of pregnancy and motherhood (it is suspected that Victoria suffered postpartum depression), writing to her eldest daughter, “Oh! If those selfish men – who are the causes of all one’s misery, only knew what their poor slaves go through!”

But Victoria did not believe in giving women the right to vote and was condescending of women’s abilities to think for themselves–a disquieting attitude for the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India. Indeed, she once wrote that “we women…are not fitted to reign.” This from the woman who became queen at the age of eighteen, delayed getting married for as long as possible, and ruled for over sixty-three years.

The Clockwork Empress in Cold Stone and Ivy is made of sterner stuff, imposing her will on those around her quite ruthlessly. She is an eerie woman. Some of her organs have been replaced with clockwork mechanisms; due to her rheumatism, she is “carted around on a wheeled brass crinoline”.

While the real Victoria denied ever having said, “We are not amused”, the fictional Clockwork Empress emphatically does. She is *not* amused. Cross her at your peril.


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