Jet Mourning Necklace

Magnificent Obsession


UK: Hutchinson, 3 November 2011   US: St Martin’s Press, 13 March 2012

When Albert of Saxe Coburg, prince consort and husband of Queen Victoria died at 10.50 pm. on the night of 14 December 1861 at the age of only 42, the bells began tolling soon after at St Paul’s Cathedral. The whole nation woke up the next morning to this mournful sound,  as the message was relayed from village to village and city to city across the country’s churches. The queen and her nation were plunged into a state of grief so profound that this one untimely death would dramatically alter the shape of the British monarchy for the rest of the queen’s reign.

Britain had not just lost a prince, it had in effect lost a king, for Albert had performed

that function in all but name for many years, with his wife increasingly deferring to him

on matters of state. Victoria’s mourning for her lost husband became so protracted,

so fetishistic, that its like had never before been seen.

It brought in its wake an enormous cult of mourning in Britain, centred around

the queen and the iconization of Prince Albert – forever young and heroic,

eternally handsome.

Caroline Gascoigne says: ‘I’m thrilled to have acquired this book. Helen is rapidly

establishing herself as one of our most persuasive narrative historians.

Magnificent Obsession will be packed with telling detail and a must-read for anyone

interested in Victorian Britain.’


Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1861

To listen to Helen talking about Magnificent Obsession for BBC History Magazine, go to their podcast for 24 November

For Helen’s Blackwell podcast go to:


‘I have never myself been an ardent monarchist. Yet I have been reading Helen Rappaport's Magnificent Obsession;  her fluency in English,

and her poignant chronicling of matters royal have made me realise once again that she could convert me to virtually any cause.

This particular airing of her rare skills maintains her already established status in the front rank of British historians’    


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and her Saturday blog:

'Insightful, absorbing and highly readable...a fascinating exposition of the art of mourning which Victoria made peculiarly her own. Magnificent Obsession is that rare creature: a scholarly book that wears its learning lightly and is written with clarity and insight. It is a fascinating subject and an even better read: a model of its kind.'

Sunday Express

A brilliant new book ...especially good on the incompetence of the gang of medics who presided over Albert's last illness. …Rappaport explodes the usual diagnosis of typhoid fever as cause of death [and] traces the extraordinary process of what was in effect a nervous breakdown by the head of state.

Daily Mail

[An] intriguing study…Rappaport excels in her portrayal of a cult of mourning over which the queen presided. Fair-minded, thoughtful and rich in social detail.  

Sunday Times

Another wonderful book blogger's  review here:

For an interview about the writing of Magnificent Obsession in the Oxford Times, see

For Elaine Simpson-Long's review on Random Jottings go to:

For Harriet Devine's blog review, go to:

For Dovegreyreader's blog/review go to:

To listen to Helen talking about Victoria and Albert in episodes 1, 5 and 6 and 8 of BBC Radio 4's

'The Art of Monarchy' go to:

The Death of Prince Albert, 14 Decenber1861

‘It's the detail in 'Magnificent Obsession' that marks it out. Detail gleaned from letters and diaries, that breathe fresh life into English history’s most famous widowhood. Helen Rappaport takes Prince Albert's death, divines its possible medical causes, while explaining - lucidly,

yet with great sensitivity - the national trauma that resulted from the death of Queen Victoria's adored, intelligent, and impressive Consort’





'Rappaport uses new  sources to give a vivid account of Albert's death ... a valuable and insightful book which will change our view  of Queen Victoria.'

The Spectator

Helen not only writes evocatively but the joy of her books is in the detail.

Oxford Times

This is no mere rehash of the love affair between Victoria and Albert but an absorbing study of the extraordinary feat of mourning on which Victoria embarked after her husband’s early death at the age of 42.

Daily Express

Rappaport is a meticulous historian, seeking out forgotten and neglected sources and discovering new strands to an old story  … But what makes her book so outstanding, and possibly one of the best history books of 2011, is its sheer readability and her attention to every intriguing detail of a crisis that had such a profound impact on our nation.

Lancashire Evening Post

Rappaport … is acutely sensitive to the social detail and the extraordinary rituals of Victorian public mourning. She is also astutely sensible about the long term impact of Albert’s death in the life of the nation.

The Times

[An] absorbing book, rich in social detail. [Rappaport] writes about her subject with zest and energy, retaining the narrative pace in a book crammed with interesting facts.

Literary Review

For an article in the Daily Mail  about Helen's theory that Prince Albert suffered from Crohn's Disease see:


Rappaport offers an absorbing, perceptive, and detailed picture of a constitutional monarchy in crisis.

Publishers Weekly

[Rappaport's] dense but easily readable account of Victoria's grief plumbs its psychological course and the effects her self-obsessed sorrow had on the British throne…A fluid and astute writer, Rappaport delivers a historically discerning portrait of Victoria in the 1860s.


For the Royal Historian blog review, see

A splendid book.

Associated Press, syndicated across numerous US newspapers

Presents the events leading up to Prince Albert's death … with poignant immediacy and in minute details. Rappaport's book is full of fascinating detail, and makes an engrossing read.

The Victorian Web

Magnificent Obsession…will immerse you in history…Rappaport's book brings alive an almost forgotten time. A must-read if you love British history.

British Weekly

Rappaport’s chronicle of Victoria’s first, bizarre decade as a widow makes this book unique ...You get a wonderful sense of both the private world of Victoria’s grief and of the ever-changing world beyond her, at first sympathetic to her loss and then, as the years went on, frustrated by her absence.  From the first page to the last  …  It is a wonderful history that reads with the intensity of a well-plotted novel.

The Captive Reader book blog

An absorbing study of the extraordinary feat of mourning on which Victoria embarked after her hsuband's early death in 1861.

The Oldie