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The revealing Christmas celebrations of a future queen

She was the queen who made her mark on Christmas. So much of how we celebrate the festive season began in the Victorian era and the monarch who gave her name to that time left intricate records of how she celebrated. In this special series, Royal Central looks at some of the most important of them and discovers how Queen Victoria celebrated Christmas.

The Christmas of 1832 is the first recorded in Victoria’s diaries. The princess was 13 years old and took great delight in noting the little details of this big celebration which took place at Kensington Palace. But amidst her record are hints of the restrictive world in which the young royal lived.

Victoria was, by then, heir to the throne. Her uncle, William IV, had no surviving legitimate children. He was also in his sixties and far from healthy. There was every expectation the young princess would reach the throne before she reached adulthood. And so her mother, Victoria, Duchess of Kent instigated a strict regime, known as the Kensington System, to ensure complete authority over her child. The comptroller of the Duchess’ household, John Conroy, also played a leading role. They intended to create such control over the young Victoria that they could rule in her stead. And that is implicit in the first Christmas diary entry of Victoria’s diaries.

Every moment of her celebrations includes a mention of either her ‘Mamma’ or Conroy and his family. On Christmas Eve, when presents were exchanged, Victoria notes that she spent the day receiving visitors with the Duchess of Kent before ”at a quarter to seven, we dined with the whole Conroy family.”

When the moment arrived for presents, the princess writes ”There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the tree. I had one table for myself and the Conroy family had the other together.”

As the evening ends, Victoria is still not alone. She describes how ”Mamma took me up into my bedroom with all the ladies. There was my new toilet table with a white muslin cover over pink, and all my silver things standing on it with a fine new looking-glass.”

Amidst the evident control of the young princess are a few moments of sparkle. The young princess notes that her mother gave her a ”little opal brooch and earrings” while she also received amethyst earrings from her aunt, Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh.

There are also several telling moments of affection for a special person in her life, one of the few outsiders who made it into her tightly controlled world. Her governess, Baroness Louise Lehzen, was a friend as well as a guide and had already shown her determination to help Victoria make her own way in the world. That devotion was reciprocated with the young princess offering her governess the gift of a ” a little white and gold pincushion and a pin with two little gold hearts hanging to it.”

Christmas Eve was the main celebration for Victoria and the following day, December 25th, her diary entry is much more sparse. However, the main influences on her life continue to make their presence felt.

Both nights saw the thirteen year old heiry tucked up in bed around nine o’clock with the prospect of another year of the Kensington System stretching out ahead of her.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.