This is a guest post by Robert Sparkes.1
In his book, Queen Alexandra, A Biography, dated 1919, David Williamson called Alexandra one of the best-known women in the world and certainly one of the most beloved.2 From this great height of praise to one who, as described by Lucy Worsley, was the real deal when it came to photography, but a frustrated person due to her deafness and beauty.3 Thus, in her view, many people didn’t take Alexandra seriously. For Worsley, photography was Alexandra’s consolation for being frustrated.4 Georgina Battiscombe described Alexandra’s inappropriate remarks that resulted from her poor hearing were used as proof by others of her stupidity.5
Battiscombe always admired Alexandra’s efforts to overcome her deafness and her apologies for the mistakes that she made. Theo Aronson referred to her as a dullwitted woman with very little brain, unable to keep the interest of her husband.6 He refers to Lady Antrim, who claimed that if Alexandra was more loving, her husband would have been more faithful. Portraying Alexandra this way strengthened part of his argument that Bertie, as Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, needed, like other young men, to sow his oats and because of his wife’s lack of intellectuality, he needed to find love with others, especially his three mistresses. Battiscombe, in referring to Lady Antrim’s comment, also asked the question if Alexandra was a chilly beauty, unable to develop a mature love for Bertie.7However, Aronson did acknowledge that Alexandra did bring to the monarchy a socially accomplished queen who had boundless sympathy for those who suffered.8
Well, why the confusion? Yes, her deafness represented a broken connection, a deep sense of isolation from others. It was one of the many causes of her inappropriate remarks. I shall explore her health problems during her pregnancies, the decisions she made afterwards and how her thinking and behaviours were changed. I shall also explore how these health problems became the basis for her development of deep empathy. This enhanced her communication skills which occasionally caused even more problems. Finally, I will give my interpretation of the Oil Painting: The Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, 28 June 1897. RCIN 405286. In this painting, Queen Victoria reflects her views of Bertie and Alexandra within the royal family. For Victoria, Alexandra was the emotional centre of the family.
Alexandra’s early married life
I think the best way to understand Queen Alexandra’s health and how it affected her thinking and her behaviour is to examine her experiences in the first eight years of her marriage to Bertie, the future King Edward VII, especially her pregnancies. I have read a few books on her life by Duff, Hough, Aronson, Dimond and Battiscombe, and it is from their description of her early marriage that I have developed this view of her. Reading the stories of her sharing her dowry with soon-to-be brides in Denmark and her saving a horse who caught his leg in a carriage wheel demonstrated her empathy towards others.9
However, during her six pregnancies, she developed the foundations for deep empathy, which came from her own experience of extreme physical and mental pain. In these pregnancies, she suffered many infections that placed her health and her babies at risk. The first two children were born premature, and in her third pregnancy, she developed an infection that destroyed bone in her right knee and her ears (deafness). According to David Duff, her doctors were baffled, not
knowing the cause.10 She almost died.
During this third pregnancy and the infections that followed, Alexandra experienced a deep sense of abandonment as her husband would stay out until 3 AM. For many nights, she would stay awake waiting for him to come home.11 The fourth and fifth babies were also born premature.
The sixth baby was prematurely delivered on 6 April 1871, and he failed to live more than a day. Alexandra could not think of the cause. However, doctors were beginning to figure out what was really wrong. By 1871, the rumours that Bertie had been visiting many places of prostitution in London, St. Petersburg and Paris were becoming public news. In the Mordaunt story, Bertie was named initially by Lady Mordaunt as a participant and possibly the father of her child, thought to be blind.12 While he was legally cleared of any wrongdoing, it was with these stories that Alexandra’s doctors began to understand why Alexandra was giving birth to premature babies, why she had these infections that led to her lameness and hearing loss, the infection in her throat and why the sixth child died. It was syphilis that she very likely contracted from her husband.13
- Dr. Robert Sparkes is a retired Electrical engineer who studied, with Dr. Richard Rutherford at the University of Portland in Oregon, in the area of the Christian funeral rites from the view of Bereavement and Lament. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, Mary. They both love ballroom dancing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Williamson p.6
- Lucy Worsley, Time 32:00 – 32:30, A Royal Photo Album, Aug 16, 2020, OPB
- Lucy Worsley’s complete statement. “Alexandra became queen. As a photographer, Alexandra was the real deal, but as queen, she was often frustrated. She was deaf, and she was also very beautiful, and this combination meant that people did not take her seriously. Meanwhile, her husband was off having affairs, the cad. I sense that having something creative that she was good at perhaps gave Alexandra some consolation.”
- Battiscombe p.286
- Aronson pp. 22-24
- Battiscombe pp. 70-71
- Aronson p. 355
- Duff pp. 51-52
- Duff p.82
- Later, when she visited the veterans of the Boer in 1901, she could relate to their sense of abandonment.
- Magnus, Phillip, King Edward the Seventh, Episode 06, Invisible Queen, ATV/ITV TV Series, 1975 Time 35:00 to 35:40
- Wikipedia, History of Syphilis, 23 February 2022, at 21:30 UTC