Tag Archives: queen victoria

Book Reviews
December 23, 2010 posted by Christina

Prisoners in the Palace – Michaela MacColl

“London, 1836. Seventeen-year-old Liza’s dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in a tragic accident. Alone and penniless, she accepts the position of lady’s maid to the young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servants’ world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the opportunity to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future Queen?”

To most, Queen Victoria is better known as the Queen of Britain, the woman to start the trend of white wedding dresses, Britain’s longest reigning monarch or simply the serious looking old woman in royal portraits who famously declared, “we are not amused”.

But before any of that, she was simply Princess Victoria. A young girl, ruled over by her over protective mother, living an unhappy existence under the oppressive ‘Kensington System’, waiting in the wings to become Queen.

Michaela MacColl’s Prisoners in the Palace is based on real life events in the three years (which have been condenced into one) leading up to Victoria taking the crown, including excerpts from the young Princess’s real journal, but have been elaborated on to create the story we have today.

Some characters are real, such as the Princess (duh), her mother the Duchess, Sir John, Lehzen and other members of the royal family. Though others are fiction, their origin is from people who lived in the time.

The story is artfully told through letters, journal entries, newspaper articles, but primarily from the perspective of the fictional character Liza. After her parent’s tragic deaths in a carriage accident Liza is left with debts to settle and her dreams of her first season in society are crushed. Instead she takes a job as the Princess’s maid and the extra job of playing spy to the Baroness, who is trying to find out what Sir John and Victoria’s mother are planning.

MacColl paints an amazing picture of Georgian London that is quite true to life. Through Liza when she steps out of the palace we see both the life the rich lived and how unforgiving and cruel the London streets could be to the poor, where the options for survival were limited, particularly for a woman.

For the Princess, Liza’s arrival to the rundown Kensington Palace (which, many years later would be home to Princess Diana) is a dream come true. Sir John’s ‘Kensington System’ requires Victoria to be completely shut off from friends, her finances and the outside world “for her protection”, when in reality it’s a system that intends to make her submissive, stripping her of her free will making her completely dependent and under the influence of Sir John and her mother the Duchess. This power over the Princess would mean that they would be running the show, with Victoria as their puppet.

With the help of Inside Boy Jones (who is secretly living within the palace walls) and Will, a London journalist, Liza uncovers their plans and does everything in her power to break their hold over Victoria.

The characters in this book are rich with personality and the interaction between them was completely engaging. Victoria’s personality was surprising since she is quite childlike and initially very compliant and under the control of her guardians. As the story progresses we see her really take ownership and finds the strength needed to not only rule her life but rule her country.

The blur of fiction with reality is what makes the story completely fascinating. We all know how the story ends, Victoria goes on to become queen, but what’s interesting is how and what happened before hand to make it happen.

Though it’s a historical fiction novel and definitely has the feel and mannerism of the period down pat, the story flows smoothly and is written beautifully so that you don’t get the feeling of being weighed down by the rigidness that some historical novels have. Prisoners in the Palace was impressive, intriguing (as the cover states) and engaging, I definitely recommend it.

Publication Date: September 2010
Rating: : ★★★★☆

Teaser Quote: “He’s been bilious since he set foot in England. What a boor!” Victoria shook her head in irritation. “I wouldn’t marry Albert if he was the last prince on earth.”

Christina’s Guide to Historical Novels – Part 2 (Fashion)
Blog Things
September 3, 2010 posted by Christina

Christina’s Guide to Historical Novels – Part 2 (Fashion)

Part two of our Guide to Historical Novels will cover the beautiful and elaborate fashion of the 18th and 19th centuries. Fashion reflects the political, social, and economic circumstances of  not only the wearer but of the country at the time. We learn about the clothing of the period through incredible portraits, sketches and paintings, though the majority depicts aristocracy since they had the money and the means to commission such pieces.


During this time the silhouette for women involved skirts that were not only full but very wide with the help of undergarments called hoops and panniers. This was made particularly famous by Marie Antoinette of France, who had skirts up to three feet wide.  Ladies were corseted into a long body shape that was wide along the bust and small at the back and made their shoulder blades pull back till they almost touched which gave a very stiff and straight posture.

Wigs were also particularly popular, especially among the men, which were powdered and white. Make up was also worn, as well as tiny pieces of fabric, known as patches, in the shapes of dots, hearts, stars, etc. were applied to the face with adhesive. The fashion is thought to have originated as a way of disguising pox scars and other blemishes, but gradually developed coded meanings. A patch near the mouth signified flirtatiousness; one on the right cheek denoted marriage; one on the left cheek announced engagement; one at the corner signified a mistress.

1750- 1795

This period sees skirts mostly staying the same as the first half of the century but toward the end half of the 1700s we see skirts staying full but becoming a more a-line natural shape. The big fashion trend in this era was extreme wig hairstyles, which then moved onto elaborately decorated hats. Working-class people in 18th century England and America often wore the same garments as fashionable people but they owned fewer clothes and what they did own was made of cheaper and sturdier fabrics.


After the French Revolution, no one wanted to appear to be an aristocrat, so fashion in this period did a major turnaround as clothing became very pared back and all the big skirts and embellishments of the years before are completely discarded. This is when empire line dresses (where the skirt falls from under the bust) came into play and young ladies wore soft pastels while older women wore deeper colours. A respectable woman would also make sure she never left the house without gloves and a hat or a bonnet on.

Men also let go of some of the embellishments of the years prior, ditching lace and wigs in favor of natural, short, soft curls with long sideburns.  Older men, military officers, and those in conservative professions such as lawyers, judges, physicians, and servants retained their wigs and powder. Formal court dress also still required powdered hair.


By 1837 Queen Victoria had come to power in England at the young age of 18 and was a huge trendsetter during her reign from 1837-1901. One trend in particular still stands to this day – on her wedding to Prince Albert, Victoria wore white. Previous to that girls would marry in bright colours and that dress would generally be their Sunday church outfit. Victoria opted for white to symbolize her purity and from then on, girls have worn white. The advances of communication (such as photography) meant fashion trends changed more frequently from decade to decade.

Ladies fashion became structured once again, with corsets making a comeback. Initially, wide shoulders were popular which later moved onto wide hips. Big frills and flounces featured on dresses as well as puff sleeves, bustles and bows on the back.


This half of the 19th century sees another pattern in fashion – the silhouette hits an extreme then quickly switches to a new narrower shape. By 1860 skirt hit a new level of width, this time at the hem, complete with plenty of frills. 1861 saw the death of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert and she went into deep mourning, wearing black for the rest of her life. Much of the country went into mourning with her for a while; wearing clothing with colors that were dark and muted.

The 1870s saw the big change in silhouette with the fullness being moved to the back of the dress with bustles becoming extremely popular particularly in the decade that followed. By the end of the century the skirt was still bustled but downplayed as were embellishments and big puff sleeves (that got bigger and bigger every year) were the in thing.

That wraps up fashion! I personally have a new found respect for the heroines I’ve read about in historical novels so far  – having to run around under all that fabric and in corsets, yikes!