Know Your 'Victoria' History: "The King Over Water"

(Photo: Courtesy of ©ITVStudios2017 for MASTERPIECE)

Think you know the history of Queen Victoria's reign? Wondering how much of the history portrayed by PBS series Victoria is accurate?  We run down the truth behind the drama in the latest episode of Season 2, "The King Over Water."

Victoria & Assassination Attempts

This is the second season in a row where Victoria has been shown to be the target of failed assassination attempts. Was the Queen really so threatened in real life? Actually, yes! In fact, there were eight attempts on Victoria's life over the course of her reign. The first, as we saw last season, was in 1840, and the shooter was pronounced insane. This week actually combines the three attempts that occurred over the course of 1842. (Yes, we rolled back in time from last week. Victoria's fast and loose with the timeline that way.)  The ones we see in this episode happened back to back on May 29 and 30 of 1842. In reality, they were attempted by John Francis, but here the show assigns to John William Bean, who actually was the blame for the one that happened two months later in July of 1842.

The first attempt, as we saw, the gun failed to fire. The second, just as we saw, came the next day, when Victoria refused to give up her daily excursions. Brodie is right that the pistol wasn't loaded though. Though this is patterned after Francis' attempts, Bean's pistol was revealed to be filled with tobacco, and his sentence was, as it is here, reduced to public flogging.


Victoria's Relationship with Scotland

"The King Over the Water" continues to stick to the rolled back time of 1842. That was the year Victoria first visited Scotland, though the show actually combined that trip with the next one she took two years later, in 1844. On the 1842 trip, the queen was gone for months, touring the entire countryside and Northern corners of her kingdom. (She spent nearly a week in the Scottish capital at Edinburgh, for instance.) The show doesn't have the time (or the budget) for that, so they follow the track of her 1844 trip when Victoria actually went to the location where this episode was filmed, Blair Castle in Perthshire. Her first visit there was much more of a "single getaway" type affair, and much more in line with this episode's events. But she also had her oldest daughter, Vicky, in tow.

Victoria's Scotland habit got to be such a thing that by the late 1840s, tartan and tweed became a fad among the nobility. By 1848, Albert was looking to purchase land in Balmoral, where they proceeded to build their own castle. As the purchase was done privately through the family's own funds, the castle is actually owned by the Royal Family, and not by "The Crown." Basically, it means that taxes don't go to fund it, but also, any money the estate makes stays within the family. (This might also explain why it's one of Queen Elizabeth II's favorite places to escape to today.) 

(Photo: Courtesy of ©ITVStudios2017 for MASTERPIECE)

Could Victoria & Albert Have Run Away With No One Knowing?

I suppose the answer to this is technically yes, though did it actually happen? The answer is most likely no.

Nowadays, we obsessively document our lives with photos on Facebook, and Instagram, live tweeting and otherwise recording our experiences on social media. Victoria wasn't that different from us, but this being the 1800s, she chronicled her life in endless diaries. She wrote comprehensively about her experiences in Scotland, detailing everything from Albert's hunting trips, the identities of those accompanying her and where they went, who they had as guests for dinner, and their many horseback riding jaunts. Since she was so detailed, historians have a good idea of what did and didn't happen, and there is nothing in those records to show that anything like this week's episode ever came to pass.

But the concept behind it is sound. The Queen may never have accidentally spent the night in the bed of a crofter and his wife, but going to Scotland was very much her version of a vacation escape. Moreover, she does describe rides that could have ended up in an emergency overnight stay, had something gone just a little bit wrong, including gambols through the Highlands with only a single servant in tow, and one where they barely made it back to their lodgings by sundown, when Albert wandered off too far. But as far as we know, a complete overnight disappearance never happened, and there's nothing to show that the Queen ever liked darning socks.