Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Princess Royal, Private Secretary, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, Regency, Sir John Conroy, The Duchess of Kent, Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Sir John Conroy had high hopes for his patroness and himself: He envisaged Victoria succeeding the throne at a young age, thus needing a regency government, which, following the Regency Act 1830, would be headed by the princess’s mother (who had already served in that capacity in Germany following the death of her first husband).
As the private secretary of the Duchess, Conroy would be the veritable “power behind the throne”. What Conroy had not counted on was William IV surviving long enough for Victoria to succeed to the throne as an adult with no need for a Regency Consesquently, while cultivating her mother, Conroy had shown little consideration for Victoria and his schemes alienated her in the process.
When Victoria succeeded to the throne in 1837 Conroy risked having no influence over her. He tried one last attempt for power when he forced Victoria to agree to make him her personal secretary, but this plan, too, backfired. Victoria resented her mother’s support for Conroy’s schemes and being pressured by her to sign a paper declaring Conroy her personal secretary. The result was that when Victoria became queen, she relegated the Duchess to separate accommodations, away from her own.
When the Queen’s first child, the Princess Royal, was born, the Duchess of Kent unexpectedly found herself welcomed back into Victoria’s inner circle. It is likely that this came about as a result of the dismissal of Baroness Lehzen at the behest of Victoria’s husband (and the Duchess’s nephew), Prince Albert. Firstly, this removed Lehzen’s influence, and Lehzen had long despised the Duchess and Conroy, suspecting them of an illicit affair.
Secondly, it left the Queen wholly open to Albert’s influence, and he likely prevailed upon her to reconcile with her mother. Thirdly, Conroy by now lived in exile on the Continent and so his divisive influence was removed. The Duchess’s finances, which had been left in shambles by Conroy, were restored thanks to Victoria and her advisors. By all accounts, the Duchess became a doting grandmother and was closer to her daughter than she ever had been.
Some historians, including A. N. Wilson, suggested that Victoria’s father could not have been the Duke of Kent. Those who promote this position point to the absence of porphyria in the British royal family among the descendants of Queen Victoria – it had been widespread before her; and haemophilia, unknown in either the Duke’s or Duchess’s fam noily, had arisen among the best documented families in history.
In practice, this would have required the Duchess’s lover to be haemophiliac – an extremely unlikely survival, given the poor state of medicine at the time, or the Duchess herself to be a carrier of haemophilia, since haemophilia is X-linked, meaning that her mother would have been a carrier, if haemophilia was not otherwise previously expressed in the Duchess’s parents. Actual evidence to support this theory has not arisen, and haemophilia occurs spontaneously through mutation in at least 30% of cases.
John Röhl’s book, Purple Secret, documents evidence of porphyria in Victoria, Princess Royal’s daughter Charlotte, and her granddaughter, Feodora. It goes on to say that Prince William of Gloucester was diagnosed with porphyria shortly before he died in a flying accident.
The Duchess died at 09:30 on March 16, 1861 with her daughter Victoria at her side, aged 74 years. The Queen was much affected by her mother’s death. Through reading her mother’s papers, Victoria discovered that her mother had loved her deeply; she was heart-broken, and blamed Conroy and Lehzen for “wickedly” estranging her from her mother. She is buried in the Duchess of Kent’s Mausoleum at Frogmore, Windsor Home Park, near to the royal residence Windsor Castle.
Queen Victoria and Albert dedicated a window in the Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor Great Park to her memory.