AN Wilson1 AN WilsonThe Electric Palace
14 November 2014
BR Rating ****

By N.J. Pitt

W.G.Grace, H.G.Wells, A.N. Wilson. With his tweed jacket, green waistcoat and a voice straight from High Table at New College, Oxford, Andrew Wilson, to rudely strip him of his initials, seems a figure from another age. But as a near-packed audience at the Electric discovered, his mind is razor-sharp and agreeably playful.

For generations, Wilson convincingly argued, we have got Queen Victoria all wrong. That is partly the fault of those forbidding statues and partly the fault of her censoring children and the editors of her published correspondence. After trawling through the original correspondence in German and English archives, much of it unpublished, even suppressed, Wilson has revealed another Victoria. She was not the stiff, formal, pompous figure-head of empire but at heart a girl, fun-loving, rather shy, with a great capacity for friendship. Her leanings were liberal, for she was not at all a social snob and she expressed her “disgust” at racial prejudice. She loved small children, dogs, music, theatre, eating and drinking.

The archivists at Windsor Castle are the latest defenders-of-the-myth, but they appear to have been easily outflanked by Wilson. In particular, they are keen that Victoria’s German connections should be played down. However, as Archbishop Tait noted with surprise after visiting Osborne House in 1869, the language spoken at the dinner table and afterwards in the billiard room was invariably German. As Wilson notes, the Royal Family’s embarrassment about their German origins is misplaced. Their great matriarch was essentially German; she was also the best of them.