Queen Victoria’s relationship with her mother had always been difficult. This was certainly not helped by Sir John Conroy, the Comptroller of The Duchess of Kent’s household, who had promised to protect the Duchess after the death of the Duke of Kent and she soon came to depend on him. He used to cruelly tease the young Princess Victoria, and he pushed his daughter Victoire on her but Victoria never really trusted her playmate. Sir John monitored the Princess’ every move, and he was a big part of why Victoria was almost completely cut off from the rest of the royal family. Sir John and the Duchess of Kent wanted two things – for Sir John to be appointed Victoria’s private secretary when she became Queen and for the Duchess to become regent if the King died before Victoria came of age. Victoria constantly refused the requests – she loathed Sir John and how he had beguiled her mother.
The Duchess of Kent and Sir John Conroy began their attempt to bend Victoria to their will, in a plan called “The Kensington System.” The whole system was “to ensure that the Duchess had such influence over her daughter that the nation should have to assign her the regency.” Victoria’s education was to be kept in the Duchess’s hands so that “nothing and no one should be able to tear the daughter away from her.” Secondly, it was to “give the Princess Victoria an upbringing which would enable her in the future to be equal of her high position” and to “win her so high a place in the hearts of her future subjects, even before her accession, that she would assume the sceptre with a popularity never yet attained and rule with commensurate power.”
King William IV spouted his distrust of the Duchess and “her evil advisers” at his last birthday dinner, leaving Victoria in tears and her mother fuming. As Victoria neared her 18th birthday, the situation became unbearable, and Victoria was soon no longer on speaking terms with her mother. When the King offered Victoria her own household on her 18th birthday, the Duchess and Sir John were furious. On 20 June 1837, the King died, and Victoria became Queen at last. The Duchess waited until six in the morning to wake Victoria up, despite the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury and his chamberlain had arrived at five. Nevertheless, after being told she was Queen, Victoria cried on her mother’s shoulder – afterward, she asked for time alone and to have her bed moved into a room of her (she had previously shared a room with her mother).
The rift only deepened after she became Queen. She refused to change her mother’s rank and did want Sir John as her private secretary. The Duchess continued to try and rehabilitate Sir John. The bitter feud was soon the talk of the town. Victoria distrusted her mother and did not even tell her mother of her engagement until a few days before Prince Albert returned home.
Their relationship began to defrost somewhat when Victoria married and began having children. The Duchess of Kent was a doting grandmother, and upon the death of Sir John Conroy, the Duchess of Kent wrote to Victoria, “He has been of great use to me, but unfortunately has also done great harm.” Victoria assured her mother that those days were long forgotten.
When the Duchess of Kent was ill in 1859, a worried Victoria wrote to her uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium, “I hardly myself knew how I loved her, or how my whole existence seems bound up with her, till I saw looming in the distance the fearful possibility of what I will not mention.” The Duchess recovered this time, but her fatal illness came in March 1861. Victoria sat by her mother’s bedside on a footstool holding her mother’s hand when she realised that she had stopped breathing. The Duchess of Kent died on 16 March 1861. Albert took Victoria into the next room and a devastated Victoria wrote to her uncle, King Leopold, “On this, the most dreadful day of my life, does your poor heartbroken child write one line of love and devotion. She is gone!” Victoria cried for weeks and deeply regretted their estrangement.1