Imagine that the head of your powerful family suffered bouts of insanity and that most of his grown children failed to produce legitimate heirs. This is what happened in England as King George III ruled the country. His subjects pinned all their hopes on Princess Charlotte, but when dreams failed them, all eyes turned to baby Victoria and the long wait until she reached the age of majority.
The Duchess of Kent had been praying for years that King William IV, George IV’s brother and successor, would die before her daughter Victoria reached the age of eighteen. She wanted to be regent in order to secure riches and power for herself and her beloved adviser, John Conroy. The king hated the duchess, and he was grimly intent on holding on to power. Victoria turned eighteen on May 24, and the king finally stopped fighting to live.—Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams (Ballantine, 2016, prologue [paperback])
- Setting: first half of 1800s; England
- What the book is about: We learn why Victoria became the legitimate and accepted heir to the British Crown. The book is basically a dual biography: first of Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince of Wales and granddaughter of George III, and second of the early life of her much-younger cousin, Victoria.
- Genre: nonfiction, biography
- General thoughts: Very readable and accessible account of the lives of two women who were born to reign. Williams relies on a variety of firsthand and eyewitness accounts to describe one of the most dysfunctional families ever. It's amazing that Britain survived the Georges—especially during a time of rebellion and a general movement to democracy—to flourish into a worldwide empire under the direction of Victoria. I had never heard of Charlotte and found her story to be fascinating.
- Thoughts on the audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 14 hr, 33 min), read by Katharine McEwan. McEwan's performance was engaging with good expression and pacing. She kept my attention and did a good job of signaling quotations and extracts. I appreciated the fact that McEwan remembered she was reading nonfiction and thus did not try to dramatize the principal players, yet her performance was easy to listen to, and I finished the audiobook in a matter of days.
- Recommendations: Kate Williams's Becoming Queen Victoria would be a good pick for fans of biography and British history. It is also an easy way to gain some insight into Victoria's extended family before the PBS show about her life starts later this month. Audiobook fans shouldn't hesitate to listen (hit play to hear a clip).