10 Queen Victoria Quotes on the Miseries of Motherhood

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) might be considered the queen of working mothers. She had nine children and ruled the largest empire on earth. But Victoria—Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, and Empress of India—detested babies, childbirth, and all that muck.

She wrote volumes of letters, both official and personal. Occasionally her true feeling leaked through her official letters, but in her private ones, notably those written to her firstborn daughter Victoria The Princess Royal (Vicky), they positively soaked the page. Below are some choice words Her Majesty had for the business of babies.

1. On children as (basically) parasites

From a letter to her Uncle, the Belgian King, after the birth of her first child, Vicky: "My dearest Uncle,—… I think, dearest Uncle, you cannot really wish me to be the ‘Mamma d'une nombreuse famille,’ for I think you will see with me the great inconvenience a large family would be to us all, and particularly to the country, independent of the hardship and inconvenience to myself; men never think, at least seldom think, what a hard task it is for us women to go through this very often."

Bless your heart Uncle, I just spent the last nine months overseeing the annexation of New Zealand while my body was invaded by a parasite that made me physically ill and eventually split me open like the spear of a Zulu warrior. Please don’t wish me an abundance of this blessing.

2. On children and their daddies

From the same letter: “Our young lady flourishes exceedingly…I think you would be amused to see Albert dancing her in his arms; he makes a capital nurse (which I do not, and she is much too heavy for me to carry), and she already seems so happy to go to him."

Or: Little Vicky and her daddy love each other. Which is good, because Mom is not touching that fat, drooling little rutabaga.

3. On babies as disappointments

"We found our dear little Victoria so grown and so improved, and speaking so plain, and become so independent; I think really few children are as forward as she is. She is quite a dear little companion. The Baby is sadly backward, but also growing, and very strong."

In other words: Vicky is becoming more human, more tolerable! The newborn future King of England however, who at this time must execute the royal duties of crying, sucking his fist, and pooping, is already a great disappointment.

4. On rumors of her daughter being pregnant

"It is most odious but they have spread a report that you & I are both in what I call an unhappy condition!...All who love you hope you will be spared this trial for a year yet.” Victoria further laments how miserable it will be for her daughter to combat homesickness and other trials of being newly married “while ailing and in a state of constant malaise."

Rumors abounded that both the newly married Vicky and her 39-year-old mother were pregnant. They were unfounded, but in Vicky’s case, not for long. In 1859 Vicky gave birth to Wilhelm, who would eventually become Kaiser Wilhelm, the German Emperor fighting WWI against his English first cousin King George V. Grandmamma would never have stood for that foolishness.

5. On her youngest son, Leopold

"…I am no admirer of babies generally – there are exceptions – for instance (your sisters) Alice, and Beatrice were very pretty from the very first – yourself also-rather so - Arthur too...Bertie and Leopold –too frightful. Little girls are always prettier and nicer.”

Leopold was Victoria’s youngest son, and she devotes a truly depressing amount of her personal writing to how much he bothered her. Starting right with his ugly little face at birth.

6. On Baby Doctors ... and Men

Her daughter wrote Victoria that she was preparing her life for the birth of her first baby with finality “the same as a person does that is going to have her head cut off.” Her mother was very sympathetic.

“Oh! If those selfish men – who are the causes of all one’s misery, only knew what their poor slaves go through! What suffering – what humiliation to the delicate feelings of a poor woman…especially with those nasty doctors."

Men are such bungholes.

7. On her daughter wanting to be positive about her pregnancies

The princess decided to put a positive spin on her inevitable pregnancies. Her mom thought she was just adorable for doing that. An adorable cow.

“What you say of the pride of giving life to an immortal soul is very fine, dear, but I own I cannot enter into that; I think much more of our being like a cow or a dog at such moments; when our poor nature becomes so very animal and unecstatic," Victoria wrote her daughter.

8. On which animal infants resemble

“I like them better than I did, if they are nice and pretty…Abstractedly, I have no tender for them till they have become a little human; an ugly baby is a very nasty object – and the prettiest is frightful when undressed. Until about 4 months; in short as long as they have their big body and little limbs and that terrible froglike action.”

9. On the miseries of motherhood

Victoria urged Vicky to not tell her sister, Alice, how soul-shattering the whole baby thing was. She would find out soon enough. "Let me caution, dear child, again, to say as little as you can on these subjects [pregnancy] before Alice (who has already heard much more than you ever did) for she has the greatest horror of having children, and would rather have none -- just as I was when a girl and when I first married -- so I am very anxious she should know as little about the inevitable miseries as possible; so don't forget, dear."

10. On babies ruining lives

From this letter, it appeared that Victoria thought marriage = babies = death of hope and joy. “When I think of a merry, happy, and free young girl -- and look at the ailing aching state a young wife is generally doomed to -- which you can't deny is the penalty of marriage."

In fairness, these were only a portion of the things the Queen said about children; there are many more lines declaring her love and interest in her nine offspring. But those cheerful feelings were not constant, even in a woman who represents the very soul of self-control and propriety. To some of us, it’s a relief to know we’re in such distinguished company.

See Also...

10 Lines From Napoleon's Love Letters That Sound Like Crazy Texts

These quotes were gathered from the pages of Dearest Child: Letters Between Queen Victoria and The Princess Royal 1858-1861 by Roger Fulford.

Why Beatrix Potter Ended Up Self-Publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was Beatrix Potter’s first book—and is still her best known. But had the beloved author not had the confidence to publish the book on her own terms, we might not have ever known her name (or Peter Rabbit's) today.

The origin of Peter Rabbit dates back in 1893, when Potter wrote the beginnings of what would become her iconic children’s book in a letter she sent to Noel Moore, the ailing five-year-old son of Annie Carter Moore, Potter's friend and former governess. “I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were—Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter,” the story began.

According to The Telegraph, it was Carter Moore who encouraged Potter to turn her story and its illustrations into a book. Initially, she attempted to go the traditional route and sent the book to six publishers, each of whom rejected it because Potter was insistent that the book be small enough for a child to hold while the publishers wanted something bigger (so that they could charge more money for it). It wasn't a compromise that Potter was willing to make, so she took the matter into her own hands.

On December 16, 1901, a 35-year-old Potter used her personal savings to privately print 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The book turned out to be a hit—so much so that, within a year, Frederick Warne and Co. (one of the publishers that had originally rejected the book) signed on to get into the Peter Rabbit business. In October 1902, they published their own version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, complete with Potter's illustrations, and by Christmastime it had sold 20,000 copies. It has since been translated into nearly 40 different languages and sold more than 45 million copies.

In August 1903, Frederick Warne and Co. published Potter's next book, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. A few months later, Warne published The Tailor of Gloucester, which Potter had originally self-published in 1902 for reasons similar to her decision to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

"She was very dogmatic about what she wanted it to look like and couldn’t agree with Warne," rare book dealer Christiaan Jonkers told The Guardian about why Potter self-published The Tailor of Gloucester. "Also he wanted cuts, so she published 500 copies privately. By the end of the year Warne had given in, cementing a relationship that would save the publishing house from bankruptcy, and revolutionize the way children's books were marketed and sold."

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

15 Fascinating Facts About Beatrix Potter

Getty Images
Getty Images

Even today, more than 75 years after her death on December 22, 1943, celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter's beautifully illustrated tales—featuring animals and landscapes inspired by her beloved home in England’s Lake District—are still hugely popular. Below are 15 fascinating facts about The Tale of Peter Rabbit author.

1. Beatrix wasn't Potter's real first name.

Potter was born in London on July 28, 1866 and was actually christened Helen after her mother, but was known by her more unusual middle name: Beatrix.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was inspired by a letter.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Aleph-bet books via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit , was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

3. Peter Rabbit and her friends were partly based on Beatrix Potter's own pets.

Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Peter Piper—a cherished bunny who Potter frequently sketched and took for walks on a leash. Potter's first pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny, Peter's cousin in her books. Potter loved sketching Benjamin, too. In 1890, after a publisher purchased some of her sketchers of Benjamin, she decided to reward him with some hemp seeds. "The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable," she later wrote in her diary.

4. Potter’s house was essentially a menagerie.


Riversdale Estate, Flickr // Public Domain

Potter kept a whole host of pets in her schoolroom at home—rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, and mice. She would capture wild mice and let them run loose. When she needed to recapture them she would shake a handkerchief until the wild mice would emerge to fight the imagined foe and promptly be scooped up and caged. When her brother Bertram went off to boarding school he left a pair of long-eared pet bats behind. The animals proved difficult to care for so Potter set one free, but the other, a rarer specimen, she dispatched with chloroform then set about stuffing for her collection.

5. Peter Rabbit wasn’t an immediate success.

Potter self-published the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, funding the print run of 250 herself after being turned down by several commercial publishers. In 1902 the book was republished by Frederick Warne & Co after Potter agreed to redo her black-and-white illustrations in color. By the end of its first year in print, it was in so much demand it had to be reprinted six times.

6. Beatrix Potter understood the power of merchandising.

In 1903 Potter, recognizing the merchandising opportunities offered by her success, made her own Peter Rabbit doll, which she registered at the Patent Office. A Peter Rabbit board game and wallpaper were also produced in her lifetime.

7. Potter was a naturalist at a time when most women weren’t.

Potter was fascinated by nature and was constantly recording the world around her in her drawings. Potter was especially interested in fungi and became an accomplished scientific illustrator, going on to write a paper , “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, ” proposing her own theory for how fungi spores reproduced. The paper was presented on Potter’s behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens at a meeting of the Linnean Society on April 1, 1897, which Potter was unable to attend because at that time women were not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society—even if their work was deemed good enough to be presented.

8. Potter sometimes wrote in secret code.

Between 1881 and 1897 Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code . This code was so fiendishly difficult it was not cracked and translated until 1958.

9. Potter was reportedly a disappointment to her mom.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite her huge success, Potter was something of a disappointment to her mother, who had wanted a daughter to accompany her on social calls and make an advantageous marriage. In 1905 Potter accepted the marriage proposal of her publisher Norman Warne. However, her parents were very against the match as they did not consider him good enough for their daughter, and refused to allow the engagement to be made public. Unfortunately, Warne died of leukemia just a few weeks after the engagement. Potter did eventually marry, at age 47, to a solicitor and kindred spirit, William Heelis.

10. Potter wrote much more than you. (Probably.)

Potter was a prolific writer , producing between two and three stories every year, ultimately writing 28 books in total, including The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin , The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle , and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher . Potter’s stories have been translated into 35 different languages and sold over 100 million copies combined.

11. Potter asked that one of her books not be published in England.

In 1926 Potter published a longer work, The Fairy Caravan . It was at first only published in America because Potter felt it was too autobiographical to be published in England during her lifetime. (She also told her English publishers that it wasn’t as good as her other work and felt it wouldn’t be well-received). Nine years after her death in 1943, the book was finally released in the UK.

12. Potter's later books had to be cobbled together from early drawings.

As her eyesight diminished it became harder and harder for Potter to produce the beautiful drawings that characterized her work. As a result many of her later books were pieced together from earlier drawings in her vast collection of sketchbooks. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was Potter’s last picture book, published in 1930.

13. A lost work of potter's was published in 2016.

A lost Potter story , The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots , was rediscovered in 2013 and published in summer 2016. Publisher Jo Hanks found references to the story in an out-of-print biography of Potter and so went searching through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hanks discovered a sketch of the kitty in question, plus a rough layout of the unedited manuscript. The story will be published with supplementary illustrations by Quentin Blake.

14. Potter was an accomplished sheep farmer.

Potter was an award-winning sheep farmer and in 1943 was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association.

15. You can visit Hill Top, Potter's home.


Strobilomyces, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946.

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

This article has been updated for 2019.

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