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🎩 Queen Victoria’s PMs | 🫣 Carrie

29 March 2024


Queen Victoria interviewing Disraeli at Osborne House, by Theodore Blake Wirgman. Fine Art Photographic/Corbis/Getty

Queen Victoria and her Prime Ministers by Anne Somerset

Queen Victoria had 10 prime ministers over the course of her reign, says Matthew Dennison in The Daily Telegraph – and, as Anne Somerset’s “masterly” book makes clear, the monarch was “unswervably convinced of her right to intervene” in their affairs. Queen Victoria and her Prime Ministers charts the roller-coaster relationship between sovereign and head of government: Victoria disliked William Ewart Gladstone with a “violent” passion, behaving so intractably that he once told his wife that the Queen “weighs upon me like a nightmare”. Disraeli “deployed skittish flattery to manage his exacting sovereign with marked success” ­– but in private said he found her “like a spoilt child” and “very mad”.

Upon coming to throne, says Philip Mansel in The Spectator, Victoria promised to “respect and love” Britain’s system of constitutional monarchy. In practice, she “loved power”, and exercised it enthusiastically. She would write in secret to the leader of the opposition to undermine the prime minister; she gave her first PM, Lord Melbourne, “money from her privy purse for election expenses”. And in 1885, she declared that “ministerial crises must not happen again in Ascot weeks and during Balmoral times”. Of all the leaders documented in this “wonderful” book, it was Gladstone who “suffered the most”. Victoria loathed the four-time PM, and the feeling was mutual: he called her “the leader of the opposition”, and moaned that she was “enough to kill any man”. But the Queen ultimately acknowledged that she had to accept him as PM – even if it was, as she wrote indignantly, “merely on account of the number of votes”.

Queen Victoria and her Prime Ministers is available to buy here.

Vintage fiction

Sissy Spacek in Carrie (1976)

Carrie by Stephen King

Carrie, Stephen King’s first published novel, “sold millions, made millions”, and inspired four films, says Margaret Atwood in The New York Times. Fifty years after its release, it’s still “as frighteningly relevant as ever”. Carrie herself is a teenager in smalltown America, bullied by both her “religious fanatic of a mother” and her fellow high school students. With the help of chilling supernatural powers, she becomes an “angel of destruction” and wreaks a terrible revenge. King is a visceral writer “and a master of granular detail” – but his popular appeal comes from the fact all the “weird stuff” he invents is grounded in reality. “The ultimate horror, for him as it was for Dickens, is human cruelty, and especially cruelty to children.”

Carrie by Stephen King is available here.

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