A new exhibition and re-presented visitor route will open on 24th May 2019 at the birthplace of the Victorian era in Kensington Palace.
On 24th May 1819, Princess Victoria was born at Kensington Palace, an infant who as Queen would one day rule over the largest empire the world had ever known. To mark the bicentenary of this historic event, Historic Royal Palaces announces a major new exhibition at Kensington Palace in 2019, alongside a re-presentation of the rooms the young Victoria called home.
As the birthplace of the Victorian era, Kensington Palace played a central role in the shaping of this important monarch. It was at the palace that Victoria spent her formative years under the gaze of her ever-present mother the Duchess of Kent, and it was in her apartment at Kensington that she went to bed a princess and woke up a queen. Now, using new research by curators at Historic Royal Palaces – the independent charity which cares for Kensington Palace - the suite of rooms Victoria and her mother occupied will be re-imagined in an evocative and family-friendly exploration of royal childhood.
Through a display of remarkable objects relating to her early years – including a poignant scrapbook of mementos created by her German governess, Baroness Lehzen, which goes on public display for the first time - this newly presented route will reveal the story of the girl destined to be queen. From the rapid conversion of a dining room into a birthing room, visitors will follow the Princess’s journey to the crown, experiencing how an idyllic childhood became governed by the strict rules of the ‘Kensington System’, and how Victoria escaped isolation and family feuding into a fantasy world of story writing, doll making and drawing inspired by her love of opera and ballet. Her education, family life, closest friendships and bitter struggles will all be explored, charting how an indulged young princess blossomed into the independent and iconic monarch we remember today.
Offering a chance to uncover history right where it happened, these historic spaces will also be brought to life with playful interpretation and interactive displays which will help visitors of all ages imagine the rooms that Victoria would have lived, learnt and played in.
Meanwhile, in the palace’s Pigott Gallery, a new exhibition will consider the private woman behind the public monarch, and re-examine her later life and legacy. As head of an ever-growing family, Victoria had the unique challenge of balancing the role of wife and mother with that of Queen of an expanding empire. Rare survivals from Victoria’s private wardrobe will go on display at Kensington Palace for the first time – including a simple cotton petticoat dated to around the time of her marriage, and a fashionable pair of silver boots recently acquired by Historic Royal Palaces with support from Art Fund –providing a stark contrast to the exquisitely made, black satin gowns she was so famous for wearing.
The exhibition will assess her power and influence following the death of her beloved Albert, and how she carefully curated her own public image. As the most famous woman in the world at the dawn of the photographic age, Victoria understood and consciously harnessed this new technology, using it both to project an image of Imperial power across continents and document the minutia of family life. Similarly, the display will consider how her organisation of the marriages of her nine children – and those of her 42 grandchildren – into the ruling families of Europe marked a deliberate exercise in shaping dynastic politics across the continent, and earned her the nickname ‘the Grandmother of Europe’.
Looking further afield, Victoria’s complex love affair with India will also be explored, from her Anglicisation of the deposed Maharajah Duleep Singh to the role played by her Indian servant Abdul Karim, on whom the Queen bestowed the title of “Munshi” or “teacher”. Under his tutelage, she learned to read and write Urdu and examples of her diaries carefully inscribed in the language form a centrepiece of the display, set alongside items showcasing the finest craftsmanship of an empire. To provide a contemporary view of the lasting impact of Victoria’s global vision, Historic Royal Palaces will be working with community groups from across London to consider how notions of nationhood and cultural identity were shaped by 19th century British politics.
Polly Putnam, exhibition curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said, ‘Although considered one of the most famous women in history, Queen Victoria’s personality, passions and politics remain little known. To mark the 200th anniversary of her birth at Kensington Palace, in 2019 we’ll be re-examining the life of this fascinating and contradictory monarch, whose cultural legacy and impact on world affairs are still felt to this day.’
Both the exhibition and newly presented young Victoria route will be included in standard admission to Kensington Palace, and free for Historic Royal Palaces and National Art Pass members. For more details, click here.