The Guardian: Feminist Queen. Show explores how Victoria transformed monarchy

The story of how Victoria and Prince Albert rebuilt the palace into the most glittering court in Europe is explored through paintings, sketches and costumes, and includes a Hollywood-produced immersive experience that brings to life the balls for which she was famous.

Visiting the exhibition, Victoria’s great-great granddaughter, the Queen, was “totally engrossed” as she watched virtual-reality dancers recreate a quadrille, a dance that was fashionable at 19th-century balls. “Thank God we don’t have to do that any more,” said the Queen.

Quadrilles, in which four couples dance together, may no longer be performed but many of Victoria’s innovations remain. She created the balcony, and bequeathed balcony appearances and garden parties to a nation. “It is now unimaginable you would have a national celebration without this balcony, so embedded is it in the nation’s consciousness,” said Dr Amanda Foreman, the historian and co-curator of the exhibition, Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace.

Queen Victoria’s maternal role is highlighted in the sketches she made of her nine children, as well as an ornate casket containing their milk teeth and marble sculptures she had made of their tiny arms and feet.

The centrepiece of the exhibition, which marks the 200th anniversary of Victoria’s birth, is a recreation of the grand ballroom which she had built. She believed the picture gallery was too small for lavish entertainment, noting in her journal how the dresses get squashed and ruined during an attempt at a quadrille.

Digital technology by a Hollywood-based production company recreates the ballroom as it looked during a ball in 1856, with images of the wall furnishings and paintings, as shown in contemporary watercolours, projected on to its walls.

A quadrille is recreated through a hologram effect, using actors in replicas of the costumes featured in the watercolour. The technology was inspired by the Victorian illusionist trick known as Pepper’s Ghost, which used angled glass to reflect images on to the Victorian stage.

“Queen Victoria transformed Buckingham Palace, the fabric of this building, and in so doing created new traditions, those traditions which we now associate with the modern monarchy,” said Foreman.

“It is significant that it was a woman who was responsible for these traditions and a woman who defined our nation’s understanding and concept of sovereign power, how it’s experienced, how it’s expressed.

“It’s very much a feminist transformation, although Queen Victoria herself would not have used those words, and those words would not have meant to the Victorians what they mean to us today.

“We tend to diminish the contribution of women in particular. We assign their success to the men around them. We tend to simply forget who was responsible for certain things. So by putting on this exhibition, we are stripping away those layers of oblivion, forgetfulness, discounting, and allowing Queen Victoria the space to shine.”

Victoria turned the once-unloved palace into a home fit for state, public and private events. But for 10 years after her beloved Albert’s death, she rarely set foot in it, describing it in her journals as “one of my saddest of sad houses”.

 Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace exhibition is at the summer opening of Buckingham Palace, 20 July to 29 September 2019.

The Sunday Times: With one magnificent renovation, Queen Victoria revamped the monarchy

A new exhibition reveals how the monarch’s redesign of Buckingham Palace created a home for her family and a focus for the nation, writes its co‑curator, Amanda Foreman.

The Sunday Times,

Did Queen Victoria reign over Britain or did she rule? The difference may seem like splitting hairs, but the two words go to the heart of modern debates about the way society perceives women in power. A sovereign can be chained in a dungeon and still reign, but there’s no mistaking the action implied in the verb “to rule”. The very word has a potency to it that the mealy-mouthed “reign” does not.

The Victorians could never quite resolve in their minds whether Victoria was ruling or reigning over them. To mark her diamond jubilee in 1897, the poet laureate, Alfred Austin, composed Victoria, an embarrassing poem that attempted to have it both ways — praising the monarch for 60 dutiful years on the throne while dismissing her: “But, being a woman only, I can be / Not great, but good . . . Nor in the discords that distract a Realm / Be seen or heard.”

Despite a wealth of new scholarship and biographies about Victoria, most people still find it hard to say what she actually achieved, aside from reigning for a really long time. It’s as though she simply floated through life in her womanly way, pausing only to fall in love, have babies and reportedly say things such as “We are not amused”. Her personal accomplishments are diminished, ascribed to Prince Albert’s genius or ignored.

I have co-curated, with Lucy Peter of the Royal Collection Trust, an exhibition for this year’s Buckingham Palace summer opening. It is an attempt to redress the balance. Queen Victoria’s Palace argues that Victoria’s building programme at Buckingham Palace helped to redefine the monarchy for the modern age.

The new design enabled a more open, welcoming and inclusive relationship to develop between the royal family and the public.

The house Victoria inherited in 1837 was nothing like the building we know today. The Queen’s House, as Buckingham Palace was then known, was a mishmash of rooms and styles from three reigns.

The entertaining rooms and public spaces were too small, the kitchens dilapidated, the private apartments inadequate and the plumbing and heating barely functional.

Victoria, and then Albert after their marriage, put up with its failings until there was no room for their growing family.

It’s certainly true that Albert was more involved than Victoria in the decoration of the interior. But it was Victoria’s conception of female power that dictated the palace’s final form. Kingship, as Austin’s jubilee poem helpfully pointed out, is expressed by such manly virtues as strength, glory and military might, none of which Victoria could claim without appearing to betray her feminine identity.

Instead she made queenship a reflection of her own moral values, placing the emphasis on family, duty, patriotism and public service. These four “female” virtues formed the pillars not only of her reign but of every one that followed.

Today it would be impossible to conceive of the monarchy in any other way. It is one of the very few instances where gendered power has worked in favour of women.

The Buckingham Palace that emerged from its scaffolding in 1855 was a triumph. The additions included a nursery for the children, a large balcony on the east front, state rooms for diplomatic visits and a ballroom that was large enough to accommodate 2,000 guests.

For the next six years the palace was the epicentre of the monarchy. The death of Albert on December 14, 1861, brought a sudden and abrupt end to its glory.

Incapacitated by grief, Victoria hid herself away, much to the consternation of her family and subjects.

The story of Victoria’s eventual return to public life is reflected in the slow but sure rejuvenation of the palace. There were some things that she could never bear to do there, because they intruded too much on personal memories: she never again attended a concert at the palace or played host to a visiting head of state or gave a ball like the magnificent ones of old.

But Victoria developed other ways of opening the palace to the wider world. One of the most visible was the summer garden party, a tradition that now brings 30,000 people to the palace every year.

She also allowed Prince George — later George V — and Princess Mary to appear on the balcony after their wedding, cementing a tradition now watched by hundreds of millions. The palace balcony appearance has become so ingrained in the national consciousness that each occasion receives the most intense scrutiny.

At last month’s trooping the colour, lip-readers were brought in by media outlets to decipher the exchange between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. (It’s believed Prince Harry told Meghan to turn around.)

By the end of Victoria’s life, the monarchy’s popularity was greater than ever. Buckingham Palace was also back in the people’s affections, having a starring role in Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897 as the physical and emotional focus for the London celebrations.

After her death in 1901, much of Victoria and Albert’s taste was swept away in the name of modernity, including the east front, which was refaced by George V. The Buckingham Palace of the 21st century looks quite different from the one she built. But its purpose is the same.

The palace still functions as a private home. It is still the administrative headquarters of the monarchy. And, perhaps most important of all, it is still the place where the nation gathers to celebrate and be celebrated.

This is her legacy and the proof, if such is needed, that Victoria reigned, ruled and did much else besides.

Queen Victoria’s Palace is at Buckingham Palace until September 29

Harper’s Bazaar: Buckingham Palace is opening a new exhibition exploring the life of Queen Victoria this summer

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria and to celebrate, Buckingham Palace has announced a special exhibition as part of its state opening this summer, co-curated by Dr. Amanda Foreman.

Harper’s Bazaar, May 7, 2019

by Katie Frost

A portrait of Queen Victoria by Thomas Sully

The exhibit will explore the life of the monarch and how she turned the once unloved palace into the royal residence we know today. Highlights will include a portrait of the young queen painted by Thomas Sully soon after she moved into her new home, along with Victoria’s personal insignia, the Star and Collar of the Order of the Bath.

Victoria moved into the palace in 1837 when she was just 18. It had been empty for seven years following the death of her uncle, George IV. After Victoria married Prince Albert and started a family, Victoria wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, about her plans to revamp her family home. In it, she spoke of “the urgent necessity of doing something to Buckingham Palace” and “the total want of accommodation for our growing little family”, according to the Royal Collection Trust.

The Daily Mail: ‘WHAT BOOK would historian Amanda Foreman take to a desert island?’

Historian Amanda Foreman shares that she is currently reading The Dry by Jane Harper

. . . are you reading now?

The Dry, by Jane Harper. The hero, Aaron Falk, is a Melbourne-based federal agent, whose life has settled into a narrow furrow of work and more work.
However, he harbours a dark past that comes back to haunt him after his childhood friend inexplicably kills himself and his family.
Falk reluctantly returns to his home town and finds a seething community that’s suffering from more than just a prolonged drought. A complete page-turner.

. . . would you take to a desert island?

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings. One of the reasons people love the LOTR so much is because it’s both familiar and strange at the same time.

Tolkien was an expert on Anglo-Saxon and Middle English and, when he wasn’t writing about elves and hobbits, he was analysing Beowulf and other epics. He poured all his scholarship into LOTR and then disguised it through layers of mythology and imagination. Continue reading…

The Times: A Life in the Day: Amanda Foreman, historian

 

REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

By Sarah Maber

Words of wisdom

  • Best advice I was given: “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything”
  • Advice I’d give: “Be kind”
  • What I wish I’d known: “As a teenager, I wish I’d know that I wouldn’t always feel as lonely as I did at that age”

Born in London, Dr Amanda Foreman, 47, went to several boarding schools, then to the US to study at the Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University, before returning to the UK for her doctorate at Oxford. Her first book, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, later became a film starring Keira Knightley. A mother of five, Foreman is also a TV documentary-maker. Continue reading…

The New York Times: It’s Not a Reading, It’s Literary Cabaret

Lucas Wittmann and Amanda Foreman

Lucas Wittman and Amanda Foreman (Photo: Karsten Moran for NYT)

By Joshua Barone

When Amanda Foreman and Lucas Wittmann founded House of SpeakEasy, the organization behind their literary cabaret series, “Seriously Entertaining,” they wanted to break from the format of typical bookstore readings and hark back to the performative styles of authors like Dickens and Twain.

Now in its third season, “Seriously Entertaining” is closer to realizing its goal. For the next show, on Monday, it has moved to Joe’s Pub, a high-profile site that will raise House of SpeakEasy’s visibility. (In fact, Monday’s show sold out two weeks in advance.) Ms. Foreman said that when Joe’s Pub reached out about a partnership, “We spent a nanosecond thinking about it.” Continue reading…

‘2016 Judges announced’ – The Man Booker prize

The Man Booker Prize 2016 judges - (from left) Olivia Williams, David Harsent, Amanda Foreman, Abdulrazak Gurnah and Jon Day.

The Man Booker Prize 2016 judges – (from left) Olivia Williams, David Harsent, Amanda Foreman, Abdulrazak Gurnah and Jon Day.

 

The judges of the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction are announced today.

The panel of five is chaired by Amanda Foreman, biographer, historian and presenter of the highly acclaimed recent BBC series, The Ascent of Woman. Foreman judged the prize in 2012, under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Stothard. Her four fellow judges are a critic, a novelist, a poet and an actor.

The 2016 panel is: Amanda Foreman (Chair), award-winning historian and internationally bestselling author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; Jon Day, Critic and Lecturer in English at King’s College London, specialising in modernist fiction; Abdulrazak Gurnah, Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist and Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent; David Harsent, poet andProfessor of Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton, winner of 2014 T.S. Eliot prize; Olivia Williams, actor, currently starring in a National Theatre’s production of Harley Granville-Barker’s Waste. Continue reading…