A little assassination attempt can't stop the queen
Credit: ITV
S1 E7
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Did you know that childbirth is a “perilous business”? I think the aristocracy must have that on a poster somewhere.

We’ve reached the end of Victoria’s first season, and, less than a year into her reign, it already feels like everyone is trying to kill her — teenage boys, guys with flowers, her uncle, even her own baby. The queen famously survived eight attempts on her life, but I’m thinking we might need to double that number since it doesn’t take into account the whole having nine kids thing. And childbirth, don’t you know, is a perilous business.

You have to think Victoria herself would kind of hate that this story culminates in having a kid. The last thing she wants is to be seen as a vessel for a baby (uh, enjoy the rest of your life, girl). But she is the first queen regnant to ever have one, and given that everyone is worried for her life as her pregnancy creeps toward its end, this story isn’t really about a woman giving birth; it’s about a queen surviving, just as she’s going to do for a very long time. Run along home now, Uncle Cumberland.

Everyone’s second least favorite scar-faced uncle is back in England this week, just to lurk. Cumberland is King of Hanover now, but if Victoria and her child both die, he gets to add Great Britain and Ireland to his list of subjects. Of course, if Victoria dies but her child doesn’t, Albert becomes regent, so his dear old uncle Leo is back, too. This family reunion is a real drag. Even Ernest can’t lighten the mood since Albert knows as well as anyone that his brother is just here to pick up where he left off with Lady Harriet. Ernest says he’s over it, but no one gets that attached to someone else’s used hankie for platonic reasons.

Ernest tracks Harriet down in the garden to, er, return her handkerchief. “I think you dropped this,” he says, like it hasn’t been months, and Lady Emma bolts out of there like they’re undressing right in front of her. Harriet is hesitant to fall back into their old flirtation — now that she knows how serious Ernest’s feelings are, she can’t keep pretending this is just a game — but she does admit that she missed him: “I suppose there were moments when I pondered the whereabouts of my handkerchief.” Harriet Sutherland, you coy bastard.

Harriet tries to keep her distance, but when Ernest writes her a letter asking to meet late one night, she can’t refuse. Alone with Ernest in her bedroom, she lets down her hair and tells him that she wishes she could make him happy. “We have this moment,” Ernest says. “We have to live in it. That’s all that matters.” Sure, if you’re a man who can have affairs without ruining your whole life, maybe. They kiss as doomed-love-affair music swells in the background.

But Ernest isn’t as secretive as he’d like to think, and someone spots him leaving Harriet’s room. When word gets back to Albert, Ernest resents his brother’s assumption that he slept with Harriet. Yes, he’s in love with her and was seen sneaking out of her room in the dead of night, but all he did was talk her into cutting off a lock of her hair, obviously! I can’t decide the worst part of this, but it’s probably a tie between Ernest saying he could have “taken everything” and the way he caresses that dead hair like a serial killer. Ernest, I love you, but you’re making it hard.

Relationships are on the rocks all through the palace this week. As the staff prepares for the possibility that the queen could die at any minute, Francatelli gets an offer to open his own establishment. (Because Dickensian London totally has the disposable income for chocolate bombs?) He wants Nancy/Fake Eliza to come with him, and she’s tempted, but Real Eliza reminds her that trusting a man is how she wound up raising a kid on her own in a hole in the wall. Nancy goes with the steady palace income over the flirt with the hot chocolate, but when Francatelli leaves, she sneaks out to the back alley and has a good cry.

NEXT: Old wives’ tales for pregnant queens

Even Victoria and Albert are on edge right now. The queen doesn’t think the prince really looks at her anymore; he only sees her belly, and she’s starting to feel smothered by his concern — not to mention the concern of the whole country. What’s a girl to do in a world where her subjects mail her unsolicited pregnancy tips like, “Don’t look at elephants or your baby will look like one”? Ignore everyone’s advice, for starters. Victoria has been taking a lot of drives through London lately, because she laughs in the face of danger.

The queen is met on one of those drives by a man named Captain Childers, who writes her every week to profess his undying love. When her procession is held up, he rushes up to the carriage, throwing flowers in Victoria’s lap and offering to “save” her from Albert. Victoria tries to brush it off — she can’t have people thinking she’s afraid of violets — but Albert, as they say, is shook. He wants to know why Lehzen never showed him Childers’ letters. Unhappy with being cut out, the prince takes Penge’s advice and cuts out Lehzen in return, ordering that all of Victoria’s correspondence go directly to him.

Things aren’t going too well for Lehzen lately. The young woman she devoted so much of her life to raising is days away from possibly dying in childbirth, and now she has to watch Penge undermine her authority at every turn — and that’s when she’s not feeling up ladies’ boobs because she serves at the pleasure of the queen. Victoria has decided that she won’t be breastfeeding (“I am not a cow”), so Lehzen and Jenkins are out to find her a suitable wet nurse. Penge is super not cool with anything that’s happening in the basement of the palace right now.

Upstairs, Cumberland stops by to straight-up threaten the queen’s life, which only motivates her to take another drive. Albert tags along, and his timing could not be better — a 19-year-old boy named Edward Oxford fires at the carriage. Everyone is unharmed, but Victoria is so rattled that Albert picks her up and carries her straight to bed like the damn prince he is.

All eyes turn to Cumberland, especially after the cops find a letter in Oxford’s apartment telling him to wait for orders from Hanover. Cumberland denies the rumor — basically on the basis that if he were going to kill the queen, he’d do it better — and is vindicated when it turns out that Oxford wrote the letter himself. His fellow “Young England Society” members were just names he found on a playbill. The gun wasn’t even loaded. It’s looking like Oxford might go free on the insanity defense, which freaks Victoria out; she already grew up in what felt like a prison, and she doesn’t want that life for their child.

But another visit from good old Uncle Scarface puts things in perspective. Cumberland stops by to remind his niece that she could always just be a tyrant if she wants; it’s working well for him. Victoria bites back: “However many mistakes I have made or perhaps have yet to make, I know I am a better monarch than you could ever be.” And when Oxford is ruled insane and detained at Bedlam, the queen takes a deep breath, reminds herself that the law doesn’t exist entirely for her, and suggests — you guessed it — another drive. The queen and Albert are greeted by loud cheers.

Back in the palace, the prince apologizes to Victoria for letting fear cloud his judgment, and she perches on her husband’s knee for one last pre-baby make-out session. A few nights later, Victoria gives birth with Albert by her side (he tells her there’s “nothing to be afraid of,” which is patently false, but okay), and the next morning, bells toll across the city to announce the birth of the princess. Everyone is so happy that Penge even puts Lehzen back on mail duty.

We leave the queen and the prince in bed, where Albert assures his wife that he doesn’t mind that the baby is a girl. They name her Victoria, “after the great queen.” Cumberland sulks all the way home.

Royal scraps:

  • Brodie’s little one-person Shakespeare book club is a real delight.
  • Do I like Leopold now??
  • “What is the difference between a tube and a foolish Dutchman? One is a hollow cylinder, and the other is a silly Hollander.” (Beat) “Quite right.”
  • See you all in season 2 for more assassination attempts!

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