This one’s for the ladies. It’s about that model of Victorian Era womanhood, Queen Victoria. She ruled during England’s most appallingly violent and nostalgically pined-for periods of global colonialism. But it wasn’t all blood, quinine, and glory. It was also the apotheosis of European royal inbreeding. But it wasn’t all inbred monarchs presiding over racist colonial violence and drinking gin and complaining about the savages and the beastly heat. It was also a time of behind-the-scenes Downton Abbey-style upstairs-downstairs soap opera angst.
In 1861, Queen Victoria lost both her husband, Prince Albert, and her mother. The loss of her mother was a source of grief, no doubt, but to lose Albert, the love of her life, sent her into an extended state of mourning. She was just coming out of it in 1878 when her daughter, the Grand Duchess of Hesse, died. The following year she turned sixty. The combined traumas caused her to remark on having begun to feel her age. The loss seemed to be somehow making the years accumulate more rapidly than they were for less tragic monarchs.
Two years later her close friend and political ally Benjamin Disraeli, who’d been born Jewish, died Anglican. Two years after that her confidant of over two decades, John Brown, one of her less barbaric Scottish subjects, rumored to also have been her lover, passed away. At around the same time she suffered a fall that left her with chronic rheumatism. And one year to the day after the death of Brown, her youngest and favorite son Leopold died.
The 1885 recalling of Gladstone, whom she despised, to the office of Prime Minister, and its whiplash reversal in 1886, although concluding in results she favored, really took the stuffing out of the old bird. She passed the Golden Jubilee of her reign with fanfare and overall national popularity, but it was clear by this time that being old was making her unhappy. Mood wise, she was not aging gracefully.
Sometime near the end of the 1880s, in secret, with her latest confidant, Abdul Karim, by her side, Victoria traveled to the wilds of deepest, darkest Ireland. This wasn’t her first trip to the Emerald Isle, and it wouldn’t be her last, but the errand she pursued on this particular sojourn was kept concealed from all but Karim. Abdul, who probably was never her lover but was rumored to be, was called the Munshi because he served Her Majesty as a source of world news and contributor of Muslim Indian analytical, philosophical, and linguistic teachings. It’s speculated that Karim was the source of the information that sparked the idea for the voyage.
After crossing the Irish Sea by Stanleyless steamer, they made their way through hostile Catholic territory by night. Karim, the Munshi, had rendered himself fluent in Irish Gaelic the week before, so, having dyed his beard and hair red, he was able to pass himself off as a native Irishman who happened to have a birthmark covering his entire body.
The queen had lost a great deal of the weight she had put on during her years mourning Albert et al, and as she didn’t fit the rotund stereotype the Irish had in mind of the current British monarch, her only problem remaining unrecognized was keeping her visible disgust over proximity to the Erin people to a minimum. She also had a great fear of leprechauns, but once assured they weren’t real, her fears only caused problems on nights when her imagination ran away with itself. At such moments, to avoid coming into contact with either the real or imaginary Irish, she could also hide behind more objects than she could have during her period of more generous avoirdupois.
Trekking across the countryside over hill and dale in this slapstick fashion, they came to County Kilkenny. It was in downtown Kilkenny proper where they found what they were looking for: it was a spring, the source of water for the Smithwick’s Brewery, rumored to have rejuvenating properties. Legends ran along the lines of those that had once inspired Ponce de León to wander the Everglades sipping from random swamps in search of the Fountain of Youth.
Sadly, the immediate effects were nothing to write home about, so Victoria and her Munshi headed for home rather than write, feeling defeated. In Karim’s view the rumors of the waters’ properties had most likely been started by imbibers of Smithwick’s ales who believed they were younger during times of extreme drunkenness. He had witnessed several shillelagh-wielding alter cockers trying to make time with bonnie lasses at the pub as closing time drew near.
Victoria was pouty all the way across the sea to Liverpool, but on the way from there to Windsor Castle she began to notice some changes. “We think it’s working, Abdul,” she told her Munshi with excited regal plurality on their fourth day back in the palace. The Munshi was doubtful, but his diary that day records that he did notice a tightening and shrinking of the pair of flappy wattles usually dangling from her throat.
Unfortunately, when the transformation was finally complete, she was only twenty years younger. At her ripe age, that wasn’t much of a rewind. The Queen had completed the full transition to menopause sometime when she was sixty-one years of age. The entire preceding decade of her fifties had been spent suffering the transitional hormonal changes of perimenopause. It was back to the starting line of that life stage of hot and cold flashes and unexpected mood swings that she now returned. She was disappointed, and her disappointment turned to fury. Then back to disappointment, then fury again, then she was briefly cheerful, and then on a crying jag. Then mild disappointment. Then strong disappointment.
“Menopause was a walk in the park compared to this load of bollocks,” she shrieked, smashing the Fabergé egg, given her by the Tsar, to bits, although that gift would not be made until 9 years later. Such was the temporal confusion into which her majesty was hormonally and magically thrown. So chaotic was her sense of time at this point that she smashed the same egg twelve years later that she’d already destroyed. She was beside herself, at one point rather literally.
And yet it was most likely due to those two extra decades, one of them a reliving of the most difficult of her life, that allowed her to become the longest reigning monarch of England until that record was broken by Elizabeth II. Who knows what deal with the devil Elizabeth made? I thought that crone would never kick the bucket.
So, ladies, let the SuperTrue® tale of Victoria and Abdul be a lesson to be careful what you wish for. Hey, don’t get mad at me, I’m just the messenger. Jeez, bite my head off why don’tcha? Why are you getting so emotional? Damn. Take a chill pill.
And that has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!