Warning: spoilers contained herein for “Vivat Regina”
Though there are plenty of clues in Vivat Regina, it’s never explicitly revealed who the client calling herself Mrs. Johanna Braun truly is. I chose to leave it unsaid in the text of that piece, but it may interest those who have read it to know her real name. She is, in fact, a figure from Victorian history— Princess Beatrice, fifth daughter and ninth and final child of the queen to whom the title refers.
The idea to have a princess for a client first occurred to me when I was doing research by watching this excellent BBC documentary called Queen Victoria’s Children. This details the queen’s personality, her relationship with her husband, and the dynamic she established with her nine children. This was highly influential as to the conception of the character of Queen Victoria that I would be assuming for these stories. But the more I learned about Victoria’s daughters, the more it struck me that a princess in disguise would make for a great client of Mrs. Hawking’s.
The royal couple had five daughters— Victoria, Alice, Louisa, Helena, and Beatrice. At first I was leaning towards using Louisa as the client. Louisa was intelligent, outspoken, educated; she was one of the first women to study art at this particular college in London. You might even consider her something of a “pre-feminist,” and she seemed right up Mrs. Hawking’s alley. However, the timeline of Louisa’s life did not really work out. By 1881, she was already married and living in Canada; it wasn’t really feasible for her to even be visiting London.
So I started looking at the other daughters. The older ones were out because they were also married; in fact, they were already queens in Europe. So that meant it had to be either Helena or Beatrice. What made the decision for me was learning how Queen Victoria treated Beatrice after her husband Prince Albert died. She basically made Beatrice, who was only four years old at the time, into her misery bucket, keeping the little girl her constant companion to absorb the full weight of her mother’s enormous grief. That’s a terrible burden to place on such a young child, and the level of emotional abuse that Beatrice endured due to her mother’s overwhelming control and dependency screwed her up pretty seriously. It was noted that she seemed constantly stressed and aged beyond her years, a meek shadow afraid to ever cross her domineering parent. (It’s a detail I included in the stage direction of Vivat Regina.)
So the conception of this client’s role as as a sort of supporter of Mrs. Hawking’s and a person who is using her own personal agency to step outside the system had to be transformed into something that would fit Beatrice’s personality better. Instead she became more of somebody for whom seeking Mrs. Hawking’s support is an enormous marshaling of courage and confidence that she did not normally have. It became an act of quiet rebellion rather than brazen defiance. I found this useful for the moment when she asserts to Mrs. Hawking that everyone has to find their own way to survive in a harsh world, and our hero’s ways cannot necessarily be her ways. I find myself drifting to this conception of Mrs. Hawking’s clients often, however, and I need to make sure in the future they do not all default to this pattern.
One thing that may have thrown people, by design on my part, is the character’s having a slight German accent. Besides the opportunity it gave me to parallel the opening of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” that is actually historical for the family. We tend to picture English royalty with crisp RP accents, but Victoria was a scion of the House of Hanover, and her upbringing, as well as the language spoken in her home, was extremely German-influenced. On top of that, her husband Prince Albert was from the province of Saxe-Coburg. This of course influenced the children, and while they grew out of it the more exposure they had to the outside world, it was noted how in old age when the royal siblings were reunited, they reverted to the very German accents of their childhood. I thought this slightly obscure bit of history made for a neat way to simultaneously hint at and hide who she was.
In the original draft, I left her identity significantly more ambiguous. Basically without at least a slight grasp of Victorian history, it was pretty opaque. Lately I’ve developed a taste for drama that has a lighter touch, that operates on a more subtle level, so I thought it would be better to never make it clear. But it was suggested to me by early readers that the possibility of figuring out would be more satisfying for the audience, so I gave her that exchange with Mrs. Hawking with “That’s the system your mother has made for us,” and “When majesties and potentates bow before her, how is one such as I to defy her?” That pretty well gives it away. Most people were able to grasp that she was a princess, even if they couldn’t name her as Beatrice.
I’ve painted a pretty tragic picture of her in the story, but it may interest you to know that she turns out okay. While the queen never really let her leave her side, she did eventually meet a man she loved, a minor prince called Henry of Battenburg. They will get married in 1885, and they will live a happy life together. So if “Mrs. Braun” ever encounters our heroes again— and who knows? —she will be a woman in a better place than she was that night she came seeking justice in 1881.