Majesty (Alexandrina Victoria von Wettin, née d'Este)) (24 May
1819–22 January 1901) was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837, and Empress of India from 1 January
1877 until her death. Her reign lasted more than sixty-three years —
longer than that of any other British monarch. As well as being Queen
of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, she was also the
first monarch to use the title Empress of India. The reign of Victoria
was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire. The Victorian
Era was at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a period of significant
social, economic, and technological change in the United Kingdom. Victoria
was the last monarch of the House of Hanover; her successor belonged
to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
Her Royal Highness
Princess Victoria of Kent was born at Kensington Palace in London in
1819. Victoria's father, the Duke of Kent and Strathearn, was the fourth
son of King George III. The Duke of Kent and Strathearn, like many other
sons of George III, did not marry during his youth. The eldest son,
the Prince of Wales (the future King George IV), did marry, but had
only a daughter, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. When she then
died in 1817, the remaining unmarried sons of King George III scrambled
to marry (the Prince Regent and the Duke of York were already married,
but estranged from their wives) and father children to provide an heir
for the king. At the age of fifty the Duke of Kent and Strathearn married
Princess Viktoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, the sister of Princess Charlotte's
widower Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield and widow of Karl, Prince
of Leiningen. Victoria, the only child of the couple, was born in Kensington
Palace, London on 24 May 1819.
Alexandrina Victoria, from birth she was formally styled Her Royal Highness
Princess Victoria of Kent, but was called Drina within the family. Princess
Victoria's father died of pneumonia eight months after she was born.
Her grandfather, George III, died blind and insane less than a week
later. Princess Victoria's uncle, the Prince of Wales, inherited the
Crown, becoming King George IV. Though she occupied a high position
in the line of succession, Victoria was taught only German, the first
language of both her mother and her governess, during her early years.
After reaching the age of three, however, she was schooled in English.
She eventually learned to speak Italian, Greek, Latin, and French. Her
educator was the Reverend George Davys and her governess was Louise
When Princess Victoria
of Kent was eleven years old, her uncle, King George IV, died childless,
leaving the throne to his brother, the Duke of Clarence and St Andrews,
who became King William IV. As the new king was childless, the young
Princess Victoria became heiress-presumptive to the throne. Since the
law at that time made no special provision for a child monarch, Victoria
would have been eligible to govern the realm as would an adult. In order
to prevent such a scenario, Parliament passed the Regency Act 1831,
under which it was provided that Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent
and Strathearn, would act as Regent during the queen's minority. Ignoring
precedent, Parliament did not create a council to limit the powers of
met her future husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, when she
was sixteen years old. Prince Albert was Victoria's first cousin; his
father was the brother of her mother. Princess Victoria's uncle, King
William IV, disapproved of the match, but his objections failed to dissuade
the couple. Many scholars have suggested that Prince Albert was not
in love with young Victoria, and that he entered into a relationship
with her in order to gain social status (he was a minor German prince)
and out of a sense of duty (his family desired the match). Whatever
Albert's original reasons for marrying Victoria may have been, theirs
proved to be an extremely happy marriage.
While Albert was
of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, it was not clear what his surname
was, because like most imperial, royal, princely, and ducal families,
his family did not use theirs. Victoria asked her staff to determine
what Albert's and now her own marital surname was. After examining records
from the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha archives, they reported that her husband's
personal surname was Wettin (or von Wettin). 's papers record her dislike
of the name. Though rarely publicly used, that remained the Royal Family's
personal surname until 1917, when Victoria's grandson King George V
merged the Royal House name and family surname, replacing both with
one deliberately English-sounding name, Windsor. (In the early 1960s
an Order-in-Council partially reversed the decision by granting Queen
Elizabeth II's descendants a separate family surname, Mountbatten-Windsor.)
King William IV
died at the age of seventy-two on 20 June 1837, leaving the throne to
Victoria. As the young queen had just turned eighteen years old, no
regency was necessary. By Salic law, no woman could rule Hanover, a
realm which had shared a monarch with Britain since 1714. Hanover went
not to Victoria, but to her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale,
who became King Ernest Augustus of Hanover. As the young queen was as
yet unmarried and childless, Ernest Augustus was also the heir-presumptive
to the British throne.
When Victoria ascended
the throne, the government was controlled by the Whig Party, which had
been in power, except for brief intervals, since 1830. The Whig Prime
Minister, Lord Melbourne, at once became a powerful influence in the
life of the politically inexperienced Queen, who relied on him for advice.
(Some even referred to Victoria as "Mrs Melbourne".) The Melbourne
ministry would not stay in power for long; it was growing unpopular
and, moreover, faced considerable difficulty in governing the British
colonies. In Canada, the United Kingdom faced an insurrection (see Rebellions
of 1837), and in Jamaica, the colonial legislature had protested British
policies by refusing to pass any laws. In 1839, unable to cope with
the problems overseas, the ministry of Lord Melbourne resigned.
The Queen commissioned
Sir Robert Peel, a Tory, to form a new ministry, but was faced with
a debacle known as the Bedchamber Crisis. At the time, it was customary
for appointments to the Royal Household to be based on the patronage
system (that is, for the Prime Minister to appoint members of the Royal
Household on the basis of their party loyalties). Many of the Queen's
Ladies of the Bedchamber were wives of Whigs, but Sir Robert Peel expected
to replace them with wives of Tories. Victoria strongly objected to
the removal of these ladies, whom she regarded as close friends rather
than as members of a ceremonial institution. Sir Robert Peel felt that
he could not govern under the restrictions imposed by the Queen, and
consequently resigned his commission, allowing Melbourne to return to
The Queen married
Prince Albert on 10 February 1840 at the Chapel Royal in St. James's
Palace; four days before, Victoria granted her husband the style His
Royal Highness. Prince Albert was commonly known as the "Prince
Consort", though he did not formally obtain the title until 1857.
Prince Albert was never granted a peerage dignity.
first pregnancy, eighteen-year old Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate
the Queen whilst she was riding in a carriage with Prince Albert in
London. Oxford fired twice, but both bullets missed. He was tried for
high treason, but was acquitted on the grounds of insanity. His plea
was questioned by many; Oxford may merely have been seeking notoriety.
Many suggested that a Chartist conspiracy was behind the assassination
attempt; others attributed the plot to supporters of the heir-presumptive,
the King of Hanover. These conspiracy theories afflicted the country
with a wave of patriotism and loyalty.
The shooting had
no effect on the queen's health or on her pregnancy. The first child
of the royal couple, named Victoria, was born on 21 November 1840. Eight
more children would be born during the exceptionally happy marriage
between Victoria and Prince Albert. Albert was not only the Queen's
companion, but also an important political advisor, replacing Lord Melbourne
as the dominant figure in her life. Having found a partner, Victoria
no longer relied on the Whig ladies at her court for companionship.
Thus, when Whigs under Melbourne lost the elections of 1841 and were
replaced by the Tories under Peel, the Bedchamber Crisis was not repeated.
Victoria continued to secretly correspond with Lord Melbourne, whose
influence, however, faded away as that of Prince Albert increased.
On 13 June 1842,
Victoria made her first journey by train, travelling from Slough railway
station (near Windsor Castle) to Bishop's Bridge, near Paddington (in
London), in a special royal carriage provided by the Great Western Railway.
Accompanying her were her husband and the engineer of the Great Western
line, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Three attempts to
assassinate the Queen occurred in 1842. On 29 May at St. James's Park,
John Francis (most likely seeking to gain notoriety) fired a pistol
at the Queen (then in a carriage), but was immediately seized by PC53
William Trounce. He was convicted of high treason, but his death sentence
was commuted to transportation for life. Prince Albert felt that the
attempts were encouraged by Oxford's acquittal in 1840. On 3 July, just
days after Francis' sentence was commuted, another boy, John William
Bean, attempted to shoot the Queen. Although his gun was loaded only
with paper and tobacco, his crime was still punishable by death. Feeling
that such a penalty would be too harsh, Prince Albert encouraged Parliament
to pass an act, under which aiming a firearm at the Queen, striking
her, throwing any object at her, and producing any firearm or other
dangerous weapon in her presence with the intent of alarming her, were
made punishable by seven years imprisonment and flogging. Bean was thus
sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment; neither he, nor any person
who violated the act in the future, was flogged.
faced a crisis involving the repeal of the Corn Laws. Many Tories (by
then known also as Conservatives) were opposed to the repeal, but some
Tories (the "Peelites") and most Whigs supported it. Peel
resigned in 1846, after the repeal narrowly passed, and was replaced
by Lord John Russell. Russell's ministry, though Whig, was not favoured
by the Queen. Particularly offensive to Victoria was the Foreign Secretary,
Lord Palmerston, who often acted without consulting the Cabinet, the
Prime Minister, or the Queen. In 1849, Victoria lodged a complaint with
Lord John Russell, claiming that Palmerston had sent official dispatches
to foreign leaders without her knowledge. She repeated her remonstrance
in 1850, but to no avail. It was only in 1851 that Lord Palmerston was
removed from office; he had on that occasion announced the British government's
approval for President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's coup in France without
previously consulting the Prime Minister.
The period during
which Russell was prime minister also proved personally distressing
to . In 1849, an unemployed and disgruntled Irishman named William Hamilton
attempted to alarm the Queen by discharging a powder-filled pistol in
her presence. Hamilton was charged under the 1842 act; he pled guilty
and received the maximum sentence of seven years of penal transportation.
In 1850, the Queen did sustain injury when she was assaulted by a possibly
insane ex-Army officer, Robert Pate. As Victoria was riding in a carriage,
Pate struck her with his cane, crushing her bonnet and bruising her.
Pate was later tried; he failed to prove his insanity, and received
the same sentence as Hamilton.
The young fell in
love with Ireland, choosing to holiday in Killarney in Kerry, in the
process, launching the location as one of the nineteenth century's prime
tourist locations. Her love of the island was matched by an initial
Irish warmth for the young queen. In 1845, Ireland was hit by a potato
blight that over four years cost the lives of over half a million Irish
people and saw the emigration of another million. In response to what
came to be called the Irish Potato Famine (An Gorta Mor) the queen personally
donated £5000 and was involved in various famine charities. Nevertheless
the fact that the policies of the ministry of Lord John Russell were
widely blamed for exacerbating the severity of the famine impacted on
the Queen's popularity. To extreme republicans Victoria came to be called
the "Famine Queen", with mythical stories of her donating
as little as £5 to famine relief becoming accepted in republican
official visit to Ireland, in 1849, was specifically arranged by Lord
Clarendon, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the head of the British administration,
to try both to draw attention off the famine and also to alert British
politicians through the Queen's presence to the seriousness of the crisis
in Ireland. Notwithstanding the negative impact of the famine on the
Queen's popularity, she still remained sufficiently popular for nationalists
at party meetings to finish by singing God Save the Queen. However by
the 1870s and 1880s the monarchy's appeal in Ireland had diminished
substantially, partly as a result of Victoria's decision to refuse to
visit Ireland in protest at the decision of Dublin Corporation to refuse
to congratulate her son, the Prince of Wales, on his marriage to Princess
Alexandra of Denmark, or to congratulate the royal couple on the birth
of their oldest son, Prince Albert Victor.
repeated pressure from a number of prime ministers, lords lieutenant
and even members of the Royal Family, to establish a royal residence
in Ireland. Writing in his memoirs, Ireland: Dupe or Heroine? in 1930,
Lord Midleton, the former head of the Irish unionist party, described
this decision as having proved disastrous to the monarchy and British
rule in Ireland.
Victoria paid her
last visit to Ireland in 1900, when she came to appeal to Irishmen to
join the British Army and fight in the Boer War. Nationalist opposition
to her visit was spearheaded by Arthur Griffith, who established an
organisation called Cumann na nGaedheal to unite the opposition. Five
years later Griffith used the contacts established in his campaign against
the queen's visit to form a new political movement, Sinn Fein.
In 1851, the first
World Fair, known as the Great Exhibition of 1851, was held. Organised
by Prince Albert, the exhibition was officially opened by the Queen
on 1 May 1851. Despite the fears of many, it proved an incredible success,
with its profits being used to endow the South Kensington Museum (later
renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum).
Lord John Russell's
ministry collapsed in 1852, when the Whig Prime Minister was replaced
by a Conservative, Lord Derby. Lord Derby did not stay in power for
long, for he failed to maintain a majority in Parliament; he resigned
less than a year after entering office. At this point, Victoria was
anxious to put an end to this period of weak ministries. Both the Queen
and her husband vigorously encouraged the formation of a strong coalition
between the Whigs and the Peelite Tories. Such a ministry was indeed
formed, with the Peelite Lord Aberdeen at its head.
One of the most
significant acts of the new ministry was to bring the United Kingdom
into the Crimean War in 1854, on the side of the Ottoman Empire and
against Russia. Immediately before the entry of the United Kingdom,
rumours that the Queen and Prince Albert preferred the Russian side
diminished the popularity of the royal couple. Nonetheless, Victoria
publicly encouraged unequivocal support for the troops. After the conclusion
of the war, she instituted the Victoria Cross, an award for valour.
His management of
the war in the Crimea questioned by many, Lord Aberdeen resigned in
1855, to be replaced by Lord Palmerston, with whom the Queen had reconciled.
Palmerston too was forced out of office due to the unpopular conduct
of a military conflict, the Second Opium War, in 1857. He was replaced
by Lord Derby. Amongst the notable events of Derby's administration
was the Sepoy Mutiny against the rule of the British East India Company
over India. After the mutiny was crushed, India was put under the direct
rule of the Crown (though the title "Empress of India" was
not instituted immediately). Derby's second ministry fared no better
than his first; it fell in 1859, allowing Palmerston to return to power.
The Prince Consort died in 1861, devastating Victoria, who entered a
semi-permanent state of mourning and wore black for the remainder of
her life. She avoided public appearances and rarely set foot inside
London in the following years, her seclusion earning her the nickname
"Widow of Windsor." She regarded her son, the Prince of Wales,
as an indiscreet and frivolous youth, blaming him for his father's death.
Victoria began to
increasingly rely on a Scottish manservant, John Brown; and a romantic
connection and even a secret marriage have been alleged. One recently
discovered diary records a supposed deathbed confession by the Queen's
private chaplain in which he admitted to a politician that he had presided
over a clandestine marriage between Victoria and John Brown. Not all
historians trust the reliability of the diary. However, when Victoria's
corpse was laid in its coffin, two sets of mementos were placed with
her, at her request. By her side was placed one of Albert's dressing
gowns while in her left hand was placed a piece of Brown's hair, along
with a picture of him. Rumours of an affair and marriage earned Victoria
the nickname "Mrs Brown".
from the public greatly diminished the popularity of the monarchy, and
even encouraged the growth of the republican movement. Although she
did perform her official duties, she did not actively participate in
the government, remaining secluded in her royal residences, Balmoral
in Scotland or her residence at Osborne in the Isle of Wight. Meanwhile,
one of the most important pieces of legislation of the nineteenth century
— the Reform Act 1867 — was passed by Parliament. Lord Palmerston
was vigorously opposed to electoral reform, but his ministry ended upon
his death in 1865. He was followed by Lord Russell (the former Lord
John Russell), and afterwards by Lord Derby, during whose ministry the
Reform Act was passed.
In 1868, a man who
would prove to be Victoria's favourite Prime Minister, the Conservative
Benjamin Disraeli, entered office. His ministry, however, soon collapsed,
and he was replaced by William Ewart Gladstone, a member of the Liberal
Party (as the Whig-Peelite Coalition had become known). Gladstone was
famously at odds with both Victoria and Disraeli during his political
career. She once remarked that she felt he addressed her as though she
were a public meeting. The Queen disliked Gladstone, as well as his
policies, as much as she admired Disraeli. It was during Gladstone's
ministry, in the early 1870s, that the Queen began to gradually emerge
from a state of perpetual mourning and isolation. With the encouragement
of her family, she became more active.
In 1872, Victoria
endured her sixth encounter involving a gun. As she was dismounting
a carriage, a seventeen-year old Irishman, Arthur O'Connor, rushed towards
her with a pistol in one hand and a petition to free Irish prisoners
in the other. The gun was not loaded; the youth's aim was most likely
to alarm Victoria into accepting the petition. John Brown, who was at
the Queen's side, knocked the boy to the ground before Victoria could
even view the pistol; he was rewarded with a gold medal for his bravery.
O'Connor was sentenced to penal transportation and to corporal punishment,
as allowed by the Act of 1842, but Victoria remitted the latter part
of the sentence.
administration fell in 1880 when the Liberals won the general election
of that year. Gladstone had relinquished the leadership of the Liberals
four years earlier and the Queen invited Lord Hartington, Liberal leader
in the Commons, to form a ministry. However Lord Hartington declined
the opportunity, arguing that no Liberal ministry could work without
Gladstone and he would serve under no-one else, and Victoria could do
little but appoint Gladstone Prime Minister.
The last of the
series of attempts on Victoria's life came in 1882. A Scottish madman,
Roderick Maclean, fired a bullet towards the Queen, then seated in her
carriage, but missed. Since 1842, each individual who attempted to attack
the Queen had been tried for a misdemeanour (punishable by seven years
of penal servitude), but Maclean was tried for high treason (punishable
by death). He was acquitted, having been found insane, and was committed
to an asylum. Victoria expressed great annoyance at the verdict of "not
guilty, but insane," and encouraged the introduction of the verdict
of "guilty, but insane" in the following year.
with Gladstone continued during her later years. She was forced to accept
his proposed electoral reforms, including the Representation of the
People Act 1884, which considerably increased the electorate. Gladstone's
government fell in 1885, to be replaced by the ministry of a Conservative,
Lord Salisbury. Gladstone returned to power in 1886, and he introduced
the Irish Home Rule Bill, which sought to grant Ireland a separate legislature.
Victoria was opposed to the bill, which she believed would undermine
the British Empire. When the bill was rejected by the House of Commons,
Gladstone resigned, allowing Victoria to appoint Lord Salisbury to resume
The Royal Family
in 1880.In 1887, the United Kingdom celebrated Victoria's Golden Jubilee.
Victoria marked 20 June 1887 — the fiftieth anniversary of her
accession — with a banquet, to which fifty European kings and
princes were invited. Although she cannot have been aware of it, there
was a plan by Irish terrorists to blow up Westminster Abbey while the
Queen attended a service of thanksgiving. This assassination attempt,
when it was discovered, became known as The Jubilee Plot. On the next
day, she participated in a procession that, in the words of Mark Twain,
"stretched to the limit of sight in both directions." At the
time, Victoria was an extremely popular monarch. The scandal of a rumoured
relationship with her servant had been quieted following John Brown's
death in 1883, allowing the Queen to be perceived as a symbol of morality.
Victoria was required
to tolerate a ministry of William Ewart Gladstone one more time, in
1892. After the last of his Irish Home Rule Bills was defeated, he retired
in 1894, to be replaced by the Imperialist Liberal Lord Rosebery. Lord
Rosebery was succeeded in 1895 by Lord Salisbury, who served for the
remainder of Victoria's reign.
On 22 September
1896, Victoria surpassed George III as the longest-reigning monarch
in English, Scottish, or British history. In accordance with the Queen's
request, all special public celebrations of the event were delayed until
1897, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain,
proposed that the Jubilee be made a festival of the British Empire.
Thus, the Prime Ministers of all the self-governing colonies were invited
along with their families. The procession in which the Queen participated
included troops from each British colony and dependency, together with
soldiers sent by Indian Princes and Chiefs (who were subordinate to
Victoria, the Empress of India). The Diamond Jubilee celebration was
an occasion marked by great outpourings of affection for the septuagenarian
Queen, who was by then confined to a wheelchair.
last years, the United Kingdom was involved in the Boer War, which received
the enthusiastic support of the Queen. Victoria's personal life was
marked by many personal tragedies, including the death of her son, the
Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the fatal illness of her daughter, the
Empress of Germany, and the death of two of her grandsons. Her last
ceremonial public function came in 1899, when she laid the foundation
stone for new buildings of the South Kensington Museum, which became
known as the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Following a custom
she maintained throughout her widowhood, Victoria spent Christmas in
Osborne House (which Prince Albert had designed himself) on the Isle
of Wight. She died there on 22 January 1901, having reigned for sixty-three
years, seven months, and two days, more than any British monarch before
or since. Her funeral occurred on 2 February; after two days of lying-in-state,
she was interred in the Frogmore Mausoleum beside her husband.
Victoria was succeeded
by her eldest son, the Prince of Wales, who reigned as King Edward VII.
Victoria's death brought an end to the rule of the House of Hanover
in the United Kingdom; King Edward VII, like his father Prince Albert,
belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. King Edward VII's son and
successor, King George V, changed the name of the Royal House to Windsor
during the First World War. (The name "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha"
was associated with the enemy of the United Kingdom during the war,
Germany, led by her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II.)
A statue of Victoria
stands in the city centre of Bristol, England.was Britain's first modern
monarch. Previous monarchs had been active players in the process of
government. A series of legal reforms saw the House of Commons' power
increase at the expense of the Lords and the monarchy, with the monarch's
role becoming more symbolic. From Victoria's reign on, the monarch in
Walter Bagehot's words, had "the right to be consulted, the right
to advise, and the right to warn."
became more symbolic than political, with a strong emphasis on morality
and family values, in contrast to the sexual, financial and personal
scandals that had been associated with previous members of the House
of Hanover and which had discredited the monarchy. Victoria's reign
created for Britain the concept of the 'family monarchy' with which
the burgeoning middle classes could identify.
Victoria was a major figure, not just in image or in terms of Britain's
influence through the empire, but also because of family links throughout
Europe's royal families, earning her the affectionate nickname "the
grandmother of Europe". An example of that status can be seen in
the fact that three of the main monarchs with countries involved in
the First World War on opposite sides were themselves either grandchildren
of Victoria's or married to a grandchild of hers. Eight of Victoria's
nine children married members of European royal families, and the other,
Princess Louise, married a Scottish Duke.
Victoria was the
first known carrier of haemophilia in the royal line, but it is unclear
how she acquired it. She may have acquired it as a result of a sperm
mutation, her father having been fifty-two years old when Victoria was
conceived. It had also been rumoured that the Duke of Kent was not the
biological father of Victoria, and that she was in fact the daughter
of her mother's Irish-born private secretary and reputed lover, Sir
John Conroy. While there is some evidence as to the allegation of a
relationship between the duchess and Conroy (Victoria herself claimed
to the Duke of Wellington to have witnessed an incident between them)
Conroy's medical history shows no evidence of the existence of haemophilia
in his family, nor is it normally passed on the male side of the family.
It is much more likely that she acquired it from her mother, though
there is no known history of haemophilia in her maternal family. Though
she did not suffer from the disease, she passed it on to Princess Alice
and Princess Beatrice as carriers, and Prince Leopold was affected with
the disease. The most famous haemophilia victim among her descendants
was her great-grandson, Alexei, Tsarevich of Russia. However, Victoria's
line of haemophilia has now probably been eliminated. There could still
be a surviving branch in the royal family of Spain, but as of 2005,
the disease has not surfaced.
As of 2004, the
European monarchs and former monarchs descended from Victoria are: the
Queen of the United Kingdom, the King of Norway, the King of Sweden,
the Queen of Denmark, the King of Spain, the King of the Hellenes (deposed)
and the King of Romania (deposed).
during the first years of her widowhood, but afterwards became extremely
well-liked during the 1880s and 1890s. In 2002, the British Broadcasting
Corporation conducted a poll regarding the 100 Greatest Britons; Victoria
attained the eighteenth place.
Victoria was not only born to be Queen of England: she was conceived
to be Queen. Once Princess Charlotte, the only legitimate child of the
Prince of Wales, the future George IV, died in childbirth late in 1817,
her son stillborn, the nation was plunged into mourning and her unmarried
uncles stirred into competition to sire an heir to the throne. With
the Prince of Wales, Prince Regent for his insane father, George III,
separated from the future (but uncrowned) Queen Caroline, no lawful
successor would come that way. To solve the succession dilemma, the
royal brothers, princes of the blood, most of them with mistresses and
illegitimate progeny, were ordered to marry and beget, with their reward
for success a promised cancellation of their heavy debts.
IV, the Duke of Clarence (1830-37), duly married a minor German princess,
no child of his survived early infancy. Next in line, Edward, Duke of
Kent, would jettison his mistress of many years and marry the widowed
Victoire, Duchess of Amorbach, who had proved her fertility during her
first marriage. When she became pregnant, it became necessary, once
she could travel, to leave her small German dukedom and give birth on
English soil to establish unquestionable credentials for the child's
likely inheritance. But beset by debt unresolved by the Regent, the
Duke encountered delays in raising the money to get his entourage across
the Channel. On 28 March 1819, in her eighth month, the Duchess set
off, arriving at Dover on 24 April, barely in time for the accouchement.
At Kensington Palace, in apartments reluctantly granted by the Regent,
who disliked his improvident brother, the future queen was born on 24
May. The new princess was christened a month later, with none of the
usual royal names available to her parents because of the Regent's refusal
to permit another Charlotte or Elizabeth or Georgina.
Since the Russian
tsar, Alexander I, was godfather in absentia, his name was available,
and even as late as the morning of her accession, at eighteen, on June
20, 1837, the public was unsure of the official name of the new queen.
She had always been known as Victoria, however, and was so proclaimed.
Fatherless as an infant-her father had died on January 23, 1820, only
six days before his own father, George III-she was dominated by her
ambitious mother, who hoped for a Regency for herself if William IV
died before Victoria's eighteenth birthday. Stubbornly, the ailing king
held on just long enough for his niece to reign in her own right. But
she proved wilful and difficult, creating embarrassments at Court that
led her advisers, notably the avuncular Viscount Melbourne, the Prime
Minister, to press her to marry. A husband might control her, and in
any case the nation needed a guaranteed succession.
and her Coburg brothers arranged to keep the prospective marriage within
the family. Yet they were assisted by the dearth of acceptable Protestant
candidates among European royals, some of whom the young Queen interviewed
to her disappointment. Late in 1839, however, when she met Prince Albert,
the younger son of her uncle Ernest, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,
for only the second time (three years earlier he had been a callow teen-ager),
she was smitten. A student at the University of Bonn, he was clearly
her intellectual superior-and, she thought, beautiful. She proposed
(he could not, as she was Queen), and they were married in February
At first, Albert
only wielded the blotting paper as she signed documents. He was uneasy
about his lack of occupation and status; but he had been employed to
ensure the succession. Biology thereafter ensured his role. When Victoria
became so visibly pregnant that she could not appear ceremonially, Albert
assumed her functions. Once she became heavy and listless, he also became,
in effect, the senior partner (although five months her junior) in a
dual monarchy. After nine children through 1856, he had established
himself as her primary adviser, often drafting memoranda that she recopied
in her own hand and signed. Impressed by his abilities, the aging Duke
of Wellington, eager to retire, even invited him to become chief of
the army, but Albert, an honorary field marshal, resisted the temptation,
explaining that he had to subsume his personality and his ambitions
in the interests of the Queen.
But for the period
of the Crimean War (1853-54), when the couple, especially Albert, were
suspected falsely of Russian sympathies, the dual monarchy worked efficiently.
England in any case was evolving, after the first Reform Bill (1832),
into a constitutional monarchy, with the sovereign's powers becoming
more moral and symbolic than legislative. The authority of the throne
now rested more and more in popular respect for its occupant. That situation
ended abruptly when Albert, at 42 in December 1861, died of what was
very likely stomach cancer. His incompetent physicians called it typhoid,
but no other cases existed in the area, rendering that diagnosis suspect,
and although Victoria knew nothing of his long-standing symptoms, and
was prostrated by his death, Albert was aware that he had been suffering
from something inoperable.
The Prince Consort's
death altered the monarchy irreparably. Victoria was inconsolable, out
of shock, out of loss, and out of her realization that she had depended
so long upon Albert's advice and support that she was unsure she could
be sovereign alone. She went into purdah, for years failing to perform
even her ceremonial functions on grounds that she was in perpetual mourning.
The monarchy accordingly declined in authority and in esteem, and public
perception was summed up by a cartoon in the press that showed the royal
robes draped over an empty throne. Twenty at Albert's death-the same
age as were Victoria and Albert at their marriage, Albert Edward ("Bertie"),
the Prince of Wales was given no compensatory duties to fill some of
the void left by his father's death and his mother's disappearance into
grief. Just before his father's last illness the young prince had been
discovered in a liaison with a lady of the evening, and Victoria believed
that the shock and the potential scandal had led to Albert's decline.
Bertie was pronounced as unfit to be king, and unfit to assume any national
role. Bertie's lack of anything to do, and his incapacity to invent
serious work for himself led to his life as playboy prince, despite
a marriage that was supposed to settle him down. (Alexandra was beautiful
but brainless, with no ability to rein in her husband.) His increasing
notoriety as "Edward the Caresser" (in Henry James's phrase)
and Victoria's invisibility as sovereign would lead to a decade of republican
agitation that ended fortuitously in 1871 when Bertie came down with
authentic typhoid fever, and nearly died. The weeks of public agitation
over his possible demise, and his seemingly miraculous recovery, exploded
the thin but widespread anti-monarchical sentiment in Britain. It did
not make the Prince more moral or even more circumspect, but the second
ministry of Benjamin Disraeli beginning in 1874 engineered the rehabilitation
of the throne by drawing the queen back into public life and in finding
acceptable roles for her heir.
The costly Indian
Mutiny in 1856-57 had led to reorganization of imperial rule in the
subcontinent, and on Victoria's return to visibility in the 1870s she
began to yearn for a title that would prevent her eldest daughter, Vicky,
married to the heir to the German throne, from-as empress--outranking
her proud mother. The Queen wanted to be Empress of India, and as part
of the price for her increasing public role pressed Disraeli into arranging
an imperial title representing the jewel in her crown. At about the
same time, the Prince of Wales, eager for a junket to India with his
cronies, to hunt elephants and tigers, convinced the Prime Minister
to arrange a royal tour. Despite all likelihood that the princely progress
would be a disaster, it was a triumph, demonstrating Bertie's diplomatic
and impresario qualities, which he would employ with brio thereafter.
As he was embarking home, news arrived that the Queen had indeed been
styled Empress of India.
the Queen's reputation, her Scots manservant John Brown had died early
in 1883. For Victoria, Brown's much-lamented passing severed a link
with Albert in life and in death. He had been the Prince's gillie, and
to extricate the Queen from self-imposed purdah her doctors recommended
importing Brown from Balmoral to care for her personal horses and get
her out riding. The gruff, bearded Scot became her favorite, accompanying
her publicly almost everywhere. He also become a barrier -- as she wanted
-- to intrusions from staff, and even from her children. (They despised
him.) He sat in on table-turning seances in that heyday of spiritualism
to help summon up a very dubious hint of the Prince. She despised smoking
but Brown could appear before her in a haze of tobacco, and often tipsy
as well with whiskey -- and he taught Victoria how to put a nip of Scotch
in her tea. Class vanished. In an age of sentimental effusions, she
sent him valentines by post, and awarded him a special medal for loyal
service to the Queen.
Rumor had it that
he was sexually intimate with her, even that they were secretly married,
and in 1869 a scandal sheet claimed that the Queen (in her 50th year)
had gone to Switzerland to covertly bear his child. Her very openness
about Brown belied such intimacies, but without a husband to embrace
she seems to have savored being clutched by him as he helped on and
off her horses, and in and out of her carriages. When he was dying,
protocol forbade her to visit him (contrary to an episode in the film
"Mrs. Brown"), and in any event a fall had lamed one of her
knees, and she could not have climbed stairs to his quarters. "If
he had been a more ambitious man," said Sir William Knollys, the
Prince of Wales's comptroller, of Brown, "there is no doubt . .
. he might have meddled in more important matters. I presume the family
will rejoice at his death, but I think very probably they are shortsighted."
Yet Brown's disappearance from the Victorian scene helped restore the
Queen's public image. She could better embody middle-class values and
become the symbolic mother of her country.
The 1880s and 1890s
were decades of Victoria's increasing visibility as symbol of Britain
and of Empire, as-with the Prince of Wales often acting as impresario-she
celebrated her Golden Jubilee as Queen, and then, turning it into an
imperial festival, she marked her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. She had become
an icon of Empire, ironically just as the Anglo-Boer War was about to
erupt in South Africa, adding to the red areas on the globe but embarrassing
the nation by showing how difficult it was to win and control colonies
in a dawning age of nationalism. In her waning years, Victoria, calling
herself a soldier's daughter, went out, although wheelchair-bound by
age and frailty, to bid departing troops godspeed.
The war was still
ongoing when, incapacitated by a series of small strokes, she died in
January 1901, the first month of the new century. But Victoria's world
of simple values and simple loyalties, and her rigid view of the Crown,
had preceded her in death.
Victoria was born
at Kensington Palace, London, on 24 May 1819. She was the only daughter
of Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III. Her father died shortly
after her birth and she became heir to the throne because the three
uncles who were ahead of her in succession - George IV, Frederick Duke
of York, and William IV - had no legitimate children who survived.
lively, Victoria had a gift for drawing and painting; educated by a
governess at home, she was a natural diarist and kept a regular journal
throughout her life. On William IV's death in 1837, she became Queen
at the age of 18.
is associated with
Britain's great age of industrial expansion, economic progress and,
especially, empire. At her death, it was said, Britain had a worldwide
empire on which the sun never set.
In the early part
of her reign, she was influenced by two men: her first Prime Minister,
Lord Melbourne, and her husband, Prince Albert, whom she married in
1840. Both men taught her much about how to be a ruler in a 'constitutional
monarchy' where the monarch had very few powers but could use much influence.
Albert took an active
interest in the arts, science, trade and industry; the project for which
he is best remembered was the Great Exhibition of 1851, the profits
from which helped to establish the South Kensington museums complex
Her marriage to
Prince Albert brought nine children between 1840 and 1857. Most of her
children married into other Royal families of Europe.
Edward VII (born
1841), married Alexandra, daughter of Christian IX of Denmark. Alfred,
Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (born 1844) married Marie
of Russia. Arthur, Duke of Connaught (born 1850) married Louise Margaret
of Prussia. Leopold, Duke of Albany (born 1853) married Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont.
Royal (born 1840) married Friedrich III, German Emperor. Alice (born
1843) married Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Helena (born
1846) married Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. Louise (born 1848) married
John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll. Beatrice (born 1857) married Henry
Osborne House (later presented to the nation by Edward VII) on the Isle
of Wight as a family home in 1845, and Albert bought Balmoral in 1852.
Victoria was deeply
attached to her husband and she sank into depression after he died,
aged 42, in 1861. She had lost a devoted husband and her principal trusted
adviser in affairs of state. For the rest of her reign she wore black.
Until the late 1860s
she rarely appeared in public; although she never neglected her official
Correspondence, and continued to give audiences to her ministers and
official visitors, she was reluctant to resume a full public life.
She was persuaded
to open Parliament in person in 1866 and 1867, but she was widely criticised
for living in seclusion and quite a strong republican movement developed.
Seven attempts were
made on Victoria's life, between 1840 and 1882 - her courageous attitude
towards these attacks greatly strengthened her popularity.
With time, the private
urgings of her family and the flattering attention of Benjamin Disraeli,
Prime Minister in 1868 and from 1874 to 1880, the Queen gradually resumed
her public duties.
In foreign policy,
the Queen's influence during the middle years of her reign was generally
used to support peace and reconciliation. In 1864, Victoria pressed
her ministers not to intervene in the Prussia-Austria-Denmark war, and
her letter to the German Emperor (whose son had married her daughter)
in 1875 helped to avert a second Franco-German war.
On the Eastern Question
in the 1870s - the issue of Britain's policy towards the declining Turkish
Empire in Europe - Victoria (unlike Gladstone) believed that Britain,
while pressing for necessary reforms, ought to uphold Turkish hegemony
as a bulwark of stability against Russia, and maintain bi-partisanship
at a time when Britain could be involved in war.
grew with the increasing imperial sentiment from the 1870s onwards.
After the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the government of India was transferred
from the East India Company to the Crown with the position of Governor
General upgraded to Viceroy, and in 1877 Victoria became Empress of
India under the Royal Titles Act passed by Disraeli's government.
long reign, direct political power moved away from the sovereign. A
series of Acts broadened the social and economic base of the electorate.
These acts included
the Second Reform Act of 1867; the introduction of the secret ballot
in 1872, which made it impossible to pressurise voters by bribery or
intimidation; and the Representation of the Peoples Act of 1884 - all
householders and lodgers in accommodation worth at least £10 a
year, and occupiers of land worth £10 a year, were entitled to
Despite this decline
in the Sovereign's power, Victoria showed that a monarch who had a high
level of prestige and who was prepared to master the details of political
life could exert an important influence.
This was demonstrated
by her mediation between the Commons and the Lords, during the acrimonious
passing of the Irish Church Disestablishment Act of 1869 and the 1884
It was during Victoria's
reign that the modern idea of the constitutional monarch, whose role
was to remain above political parties, began to evolve. But Victoria
herself was not always non-partisan and she took the opportunity to
give her opinions, sometimes very forcefully, in private.
After the Second
Reform Act of 1867, and the growth of the two-party (Liberal and Conservative)
system, the Queen's room for manoeuvre decreased. Her freedom to choose
which individual should occupy the premiership was increasingly restricted.
In 1880, she tried,
unsuccessfully, to stop William Gladstone - whom she disliked as much
as she admired Disraeli and whose policies she distrusted - from becoming
Prime Minister. She much preferred the Marquess of Hartington, another
statesman from the Liberal party which had just won the general election.
She did not get her way.
She was a very strong
supporter of Empire, which brought her closer both to Disraeli and to
the Marquess of Salisbury, her last Prime Minister.
in some respects - like many at the time she opposed giving women the
vote - on social issues, she tended to favour measures to improve the
lot of the poor, such as the Royal Commission on housing. She also supported
many charities involved in education, hospitals and other areas.
Victoria and her
family travelled and were seen on an unprecedented scale, thanks to
transport improvements and other technical changes such as the spread
of newspapers and the invention of photography. Victoria was the first
reigning monarch to use trains - she made her first train journey in
In her later years,
she almost became the symbol of the British Empire. Both the Golden
(1887) and the Diamond (1897) Jubilees, held to celebrate the 50th and
60th anniversaries of the queen's accession, were marked with great
displays and public ceremonies. On both occasions, Colonial Conferences
attended by the Prime Ministers of the self-governing colonies were
Despite her advanced
age, Victoria continued her duties to the end - including an official
visit to Dublin in 1900. The Boer War in South Africa overshadowed the
end of her reign. As in the Crimean War nearly half a century earlier,
Victoria reviewed her troops and visited hospitals; she remained undaunted
by British reverses during the campaign: 'We are not interested in the
possibilities of defeat; they do not exist.'
Victoria died at
Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, on 22 January 1901 after a reign
which lasted almost 64 years, the longest in British history.
She was buried at
Windsor beside Prince Albert, in the Frogmore Royal Mausoleum, which
she had built for their final resting place. Above the Mausoleum door
are inscribed Victoria's words: 'farewell best beloved, here at last
I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again'.