Victoria: May Blossom of Britannia Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
Queen Victoria ruled England for sixty-three years. Her reign was marked by a tremendous expansion of the country in terms of social and scientific improvements, growth in its imperial power and its political role in the world, and a flourishing of the arts from painting to the writing of great literature. Victoria's love for her family of nine children and her husband, Prince Albert, set a tone for her nation that emphasized the importance of family and, in her later years, earned her the reputation of the "Grandmother of Europe."
In Victoria: May Blossom of Britannia, author Anna Kirwan places readers inside Kensington Palace where Princess Victoria is ten years old. Through her diary entries, the princess offers glimpses of courtly customs, royal power struggles, political plotting, and her ultimate ascension to Queen of England.
Anna Kirwan, the author of four other books for young readers, recalls that when she was growing up some of her favorite books were written by Victorian authors Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald. Of her first book in the Royal Diaries series, Kirwan says, "When I started my research for Victoria: May Blossom of Britannia, I didn't know how much I would like the Princess Victoria. But after all, her life was the inspiration for many authors whose books touched my heart and amused me when I was a kid." With this book, she introduces readers to this inspiring Queen of England.
"I had to hide my little journal, the reason is that I do not wish anyone to know that it exists. Really, I must have a place to pour out my curious thoughts and sort through them. I never get to be truly alone," writes nine-year-old Princess Victoria, niece of King George IV of England. Always surrounded by attendants and her over-protective mother, Victoria is expected to behave perfectly, to be seen and not heard. She remembers nothing of her father "Duke Papa" who died in 1820 when she was eight months old, and she misses her closest confidante, older sister Feodora, who has married and moved away.
Since the only playmate Victoria has is sneaky Toire Conroy, daughter of Captain Conroy, the overbearing financial advisor to Victoria's mother, the young princess spends much time playing games and making crafts with her governess, Baroness Lehzen. Days are filled with lessons taught by various tutors, and there are elaborate birthday parties, holiday dinners, and royal balls. A special time is going to visit Uncle Leopold (Mamma's brother) at Claremont and then to Ramsgate for a vacation by the sea.
Although the elegant life seems perfect, Victoria worries about Captain Conroy's treatment of her mother. He seems to control Mamma's every movement. One evening when Victoria overhears loud voices, she sneaks down to see what the cause is and witnesses Conroy physically hurting her mother. Afraid to confront him herself, Victoria appeals to Baroness de Spaeth (Mamma's longtime lady-in-waiting) to intervene. She does, but the next day the Baroness is dismissed from the household and sent away to live with Feodora. Victoria feels guilty and is both sad and "very angry." She writes, "I miss Baroness de Spaeth. I deplore my own mother's behaviour. I shall never trust Captain Conroy, not ever more."
One day, Victoria reads a letter addressed to Mamma from Aunt Adelaide suggesting that Victoria be allowed to have other friends, "for she might be a queen in the future." Victoria is shocked and surprised by such news, but dismisses it, thinking there are other family members who will rule when her Uncle King dies. Later, while working on a history lesson, charting the family tree, Victoria realizes that, "I am closer to the throne than I thought." Baroness Lehzen confirms this, stating, "In all probability, you will be Queen of England." Victoria writes, "No crown will ever weigh on me more heavily than those words." Soon after, Uncle King "passes on to Divine Justice and Reward" and Uncle William IV rules England. Then, her beloved Uncle Leopold is invited to be King of Belgium, and he accepts and departs.
Though only twelve, Victoria knows her world is changing forever. She writes, "So I take it [my journal] up again, to record my days. There is much to love and admire in the world, but much that I shall never understand. There is much that causes regret and sorrow." Less than six years later, King William IV dies, and Victoria becomes Queen of England.
Thinking About the Book
1. Do you think Victoria had a happy childhood? Using examples from the diary, support your answer.
2. What do you think about Victoria's mother? Is she strong or weak? How does the young princess feel about her mother?
3. Why do you think the author of Victoria's diary, Anna Kirwan, called her the "May Blossom of Britannia?"
4. Baroness de Spaeth was Mamma's lady-in-waiting for many years. Though she was loved by Victoria and others in the palace, she is banished from Kensington Palace. Why did Mamma take this drastic action against her loyal servant? Why does Victoria feel responsible?
5. Captain Conroy is, perhaps, the most unlikable character in Victoria: May Blossom of Britannia. In your discussion group, see if you can come up with at least three ways author Anna Kirwan causes readers to dislike the Captain.
6. Victoria loves to read and write. In her diary she uses some words that readers might not be familiar with. What do each of the following words mean?
7. Re-read the diary entry for 14 September. What were the three things the fortune teller told Victoria's father? Did these things come true?
8. Queen Victoria reigned for sixty-three years. Take a look at the Epilogue and the Historical Note at the end of her Royal Diary. Was she a good ruler? What were some of her accomplishments?
1. On 29 December, Victoria writes about getting a gift of a toy called a Thaumatrope. Re-read that entry to see what this toy does. To see how this toy really works, learn how to make a Thaumatrope of your own.
2. Victoria writes of enjoying the story "The Twelve Dancing Princesses." Find a copy of this tale and read it. Why do you think Victoria likes it?
3. In Victoria's time there were unusual remedies for pain or sickness: laudanum, leeches, almond aloe, physicks, and caraway poultices are mentioned. For what were these used? What would today's doctors use to treat the same illnesses?
4. The time of Victoria's reign as queen was termed The Victorian Era, and this referred to a certain style of architecture, home décor, clothing, food, etc. Find out how a Victorian family lived in 1876. See how this family celebrated Christmas. Try making some Victorian crafts or treats.
5. There are many unusual words and terms in Victoria's diary. Choose three of the following and explain their meanings to your group.
at sixes and sevens
6. In the Epilogue it is stated that Victoria, when she was queen, took drawing lessons from artist Edward Lear. He wrote limericks and other poems. Look up Lear's work in A Book of Nonsense. Select several limericks and share them with your group.
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.