The official results from France are that Marine LePen will, one way or another, be getting her very own spotlight in “Well behaved women” but we’re going to wait on the final election in May to give the whole story. Win or lose, she’s already made history by being exceptionally well behaved.
In the interim we’ll discuss a couple of other female political leaders from history who either made good history and were well behaved or made bad history by doing things they really shouldn’t have. Today’s spotlight is on yet another queen of merrie olde England, a name that should really come as no surprise as being a well behaved woman, Queen Victoria. This long-reigning and beloved monarch is said to have declared when she was told at the age of eleven that she would one day be queen, that “I will be good.” And in just about every measurable respect, she was. England was a constitutional monarchy at this point (the mid to late nineteenth century) so Victoria’s powers were limited, but nevertheless she presided over a time that was a golden age for the British Empire and came to carry her name as a title for the ethos and morality of the period (the Victorian era). She had a keen grasp of the realities of geopolitical conflict (again, limited as her power to influence them was) and also a very realistic and sympathetic approach to domestic issues. During the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, for example, she made the largest single personal donation to the relief of the Irish people of any individual in that era, though her detractors would later make up stories that she had given five pounds to the hungry in Ireland and at the same time gave the same amount to a home for dogs. Overall it was her reign that saw England through the transition to a more parliamentary system and instilled in the British people the concept of the symbolic figurehead monarchy that still exists today. Her emphasis on morality and decent behavior distinguished her from previous rulers and probably helped keep both the country and the monarchy stable during a period when revolts against old-style systems of government and economics were becoming disturbingly more common.
Victoria’s reign,wit, and legacy are both too well-documented and too voluminous to do justice to in a blog post, but of particular note for my purposes is a quote of Victoria’s from a letter in 1870: “I am most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of “Women’s Rights,” with all its attendant horrors… Were women to “unsex” themselves by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hateful, heathen, and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without male protection.” Victoria, a prolific writer and keen observer of people in general, saw feminism for what it was and what it would be when it was still in its infancy. I guess that means she was a “female impersonator” or something according to these twerps. Believe me, your Highness, we’re trying to check it to this day.
Next week, we’ll be back to talking about someone who was not nearly so clever or insightful–and the world paid for it.