“Lie back and think of England” was the prominent mindset of many Victorian brides.
Either they heard whispered horrors from elders or knew next to nothing — in some cases, both. Wives who delighted in the unspeakable act undoubtedly would have felt shamed admitting such. For it was not meant to be enjoyed by women.
To better understand Victorians and sex, a set of letters and diaries reveal their propriety and perspective of what happens in the boudoir.
More sheltered than most girls her age, Queen Victoria abided by a strict upbringing dictated by her mother and Sir John Conroy. Books, entertainment, and company were limited in selection. She could not climb the staircase unassisted. Nor could she sleep unaccompanied.
Victoria’s bed resided in her mother’s chambers. And that is where it remained until she became queen at eight and ten years of age.
The next time she shared sleeping quarters would be on her wedding night.
She journaled, “I had such a sick headache that I could eat nothing, and was obliged to lie down in the middle blue room for the remainder of the evening, on the sofa; but, ill or not, I never, never spent such an evening!!”
“My dearest dearest dear Albert sat on a footstool by my side,” she wrote, “And his excessive love and affection gave me feelings of heavenly love and happiness, I never could have hoped to have felt before! He clasped me in his arms, and we kissed each other again and again! His beauty, his sweetness and gentleness,- really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! – At ½ p.10 I went and undressed and was very sick, and at 20 m. p.10 we both went to bed; (of course in one bed), to lie by his side, and in his arms, and on his dear bosom, and be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief! Oh! this was the happiest day of my life! – May God help me to do my duty as I ought and be worthy of such blessings!”
The Naked Truth
A critic in both the art gallery and bedroom, John Ruskin refused his new wife on their wedding night. He claimed concern for her health. Because at twenty, Euphemia “Effie” Gray was of no constitution to bear a child. Especially, with their upcoming travels.
Abstaining was best.
Throughout the course of the next six years, Ruskin excused himself from consummating their marriage. “[He] alleged various reasons,” Effie penned in a letter to her father. “Hatred of children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason (and this to me is as villainous as all the rest)…”
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Effie’s natural state repulsed him.
Upon discovering his sentiments, she sought an annulment. For, after all, she was still a virgin. The proceedings brought much humiliation to herself. Doctors had to perform physical examinations to confirm her virginity.
Despite Ruskin counter-filing on grounds of Effie’s “mental imbalances,” an annulment was granted. She was free. Better yet, she was free to marry a man who cherished her.
That man was painter John Everett Millais. They wed and delighted in a happy consummated marriage. Millais, often depicting her as a representative of beauty and motherhood. Effie, bearing him eight children with the span of fourteen years.
Tsesarevich Nicholas lay on his deathbed. He would never champion Russia from the throne. He would never marry his Danish princess, the one so dedicated to learning his heart, language, and country’s history. Minny would have made a loving tsarina — not to mention wife.
And if Nicholas had it his way, she still would.
His dying wish was for Minny to wed the next in line, his brother. Once a year of grieving passed, tsesarevich Alexander III asked for her hand in marriage.
Financial troubles restricted the Danish royal family attendance to the wedding. In order to prepare Minny for her wedding night, Queen Louise wrote the following missive:
For Minny – to be read upon completion of your evening toilette on your wedding night. The most important hours of your life will soon be dawning! And I am so far away from you and can only put down in writing what I told [your sister] on her final evening, when she was with me at Windsor. Difficult moments await you, and you will think them horrible, but because all this seems inscrutable, we must accept it as a duty laid on us by the God, to who we are all bound, ordaining each of us to give ourselves up to the will of our husband in everything. And not to protest even at the most unimaginable things, but to convince ourselves that such is the will of God. You will also experience physical tortures, but, my Minny, we have all gone through this, and I asked him to take care of you in this first fatiguing time, when you will need to summon all your powers to get through these official celebrations, when everyone present will be looking at you with double attention! God will not forsake you! You are beginning a new life! Good night! Your mother says her most fervent prayers for you.
Regardless, Minny had no fear of her fiancé.
Tsesarevich Alexander’s journal gives a detailed account of their stolen moments in the days prior to the wedding. One evening they spoke so late that their companions retired, and they were actually blissfully alone. Another entry records Alexander’s pride in holding her hand all throughout a ceremony.
When their first night together finally arrived, it truly was a good night.
The new husband wrote, “I took off my slippers and my silver embroidered robe and felt the body of my beloved next to mine… How I felt then, I do not wish to describe here. Afterwards we talked for a long time.”
Which wedding night story was most endearing to you?