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, and Victoria of Saxe-Coburg. Her father, who was 50 when Victoria was born, died eight months after her birth, after a brief illness on January 23, 1820. 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. At birth she was fifth in line for the British crown, after her grandfather, George III, her father’s three older brothers, and her father.
Victoria was christened in the Cupola Room of Kensington Palace on 24 June 1819 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Her godparents were the Prince Regent, the Emperor Alexander I of Russia, Princess Charlotte, Princess Royal and the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Although christened Alexandrina Victoria – and from birth formally styled Her Royal Highness Princess Victoria of Kent – Victoria was called Drina within the family.
King George III, her grandfather, died six days after her father on January 29, 1820. At that point, Victoria’s uncle, the Prince of Wales, inherited the Crown, becoming King George IV. George IV’s only legitimate child, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, had died from post-partum complications in 1817, after delivering a still-born son. When Prince Charlotte died, the remaining unmarried sons of King George III, including Victoria’s father, scrambled to marry and father children to guarantee the line of succession..
George IV died in 1830. As the second son of George III, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, had died in 1827, George IV was therefore succeeded by another brother. This was the third son of George III, Prince William, Duke of Clarence, who reigned as William IV.(The fourth child of George III, Charlotte, Princess Royal, though not in line for the throne before her brothers, died in 1828.) Although William IV was the father of ten illegitimate children by his mistress, the actress Dorothy Jordan, he had no surviving legitimate children. As a result, the young Princess Victoria, his niece, became heiress presumptive.
The sudden appearance of hemophilia in Victoria’s descendants has led to suggestions that her true father was not the Duke of Kent but a hemophiliac. This belief is dismissed by geneticists, who consider it more likely that the mutation arose because Victoria’s father was old (hemophilia arises more frequently in the children of older fathers). There is no documentary evidence of a hemophiliac man having access to Victoria’s mother, and as male carriers always suffer the disease, even if such a man had existed he would have been seriously ill.
On her accession, Victoria adopted the Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne as her political mentor. In 1840, his influence was replaced by that of Prince Albert. The German prince never really won the favor of the British public, and only after 17 years was he given official recognition, with the title of Prince Consort. However, Victoria relied heavily on Albert and it was during his lifetime that she was most active as a ruler. Britain was evolving into a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch had few powers and was expected to remain above party politics, although Victoria did sometimes express her views very forcefully in private.
In 1837 Queen Victoria took the throne after the death of her uncle William IV. Due to her secluded childhood, she displayed a personality marked by strong prejudices and a willful stubbornness. Barely eighteen, she refused any further influence from her domineering mother and ruled in her own stead. Popular respect for the Crown was at a low point at her coronation, but the modest and straightforward young Queen won the hearts of her subjects. She wished to be informed of political matters, although she had no direct input in policy decisions. The Reform Act of 1832 had set the standard of legislative authority residing in the House of Lords, with executive authority resting within a cabinet formed of members of the House of Commons; the monarch was essentially removed from the loop. She respected and worked well with Lord Melbourne (Prime Minister in the early years of her reign) and England grew both socially and economically.
On Feb 10th, 1840, only three years after taking the throne, Victoria took her first vow and married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Their relationship was one of great love and admiration. Together they bore nine children – four sons and five daughters: Victoria, Bertie, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold, and Beatrice.
Prince Albert replaced Melbourne as the dominant male influence in Victoria’s life. She was thoroughly devoted to him, and completely submitted to his will. Victoria did nothing without her husband’s approval. Albert assisted in her royal duties. He introduced a strict decorum in court and made a point of straitlaced behavior. Albert also gave a more conservative tinge to Victoria’s politics. If Victoria was to insistently interject her opinions and make her views felt in the cabinet, it was only because of Albert’s teachings of hard work. His interests in art, science, and industry spurred him to organize the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851, a highly profitable industrial convention. He used the proceeds, some £186,000, to purchase lands in Kensington for the establishment of several cultural and industrial museums.
On Dec. 14th 1861 Albert died from typhoid fever at Windsor Castle. Victoria remained in self-imposed seclusion for ten years. This genuine, but obsessive mourning kept her occupied for the rest of her life and played an important role in the evolution of what would become the Victorian mentality.
Victoria’s long reign witnessed an evolution in English politics and the expansion of the British Empire, as well as political and social reforms on the continent. France had known two dynasties and embraced Republicanism, Spain had seen three monarchs and both Italy and Germany had united their separate principalities into national coalitions. Even in her dotage, she maintained a youthful energy and optimism that infected the English population as a whole.
The national pride connected with the name of Victoria – the term Victorian England, for example, stemmed from the Queen’s ethics and personal tastes, which generally reflected those of the middle class. 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 held.
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.
Events During the Reign of Queen Victoria
1842 A law is passed to ban women and children from working in coal, iron, lead and tin mining.
1857 the Indian Mutiny, a widespread revolt in India against the rule of the British East India Company, was sparked by sepoys (native Indian soldiers) in the Company’s army. The rebellion, involving not just sepoys but many sectors of the Indian population as well, was largely quashed within a year. In response to the Mutiny, the East India Company was abolished in August 1858 and India came under the direct rule of the British crown, beginning the period of the British Raj.
1861 Prince Albert dies; Queen Victoria refuses to go out in public for many years, and when she does she wears a widow’s bonnet instead of the crown.
1866 an angry crowd in London, protesting John Russell’s resignation as prime minister, was barred from Hyde Park by the police; they tore down iron railings and trampled the flower beds. Disturbances like this convinced Derby and Disraeli of the need for further parliamentary reform.
1875 Britain purchased Egypt’s shares in the Suez Canal as the African nation was forced to raise money to pay off its debts.
1882 Egypt became a protectorate of Great Britain after British troops occupied land surrounding the Suez Canal in order to secure the vital trade route, and the passage to India.
1884 the Fabian Society was founded in London by a group of middle class intellectuals, including Quaker Edward R. Pease, Havelock Ellis, and E. Nesbit, to promote socialism. George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells would be among many famous names to later join this society.
1887 tens of thousands of people, many of them socialists or unemployed, gathered in Trafalgar Square to demonstrate against British coercion in Ireland. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren ordered armed soldiers and 2,000 police constables to respond. Rioting broke out, hundreds were injured and two people died. This event was referred to as Bloody Sunday.
1870 – 1891 Under the Elementary Education Act 1870 basic State Education becomes free for every child under 13.
Works Cited Page
Benson, Arthur Christopher and Viscount Esher eds. The Letters of Queen Victoria: A Selection from Her Majesty’s Correspondence Between the Years 1837 and 1861 (Vols. I-III). New York: Longman’s, Green, and Company, 1907.
Cecil, Algernon. Queen Victoria and Her Prime Ministers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1953.
Connell, Brian. Regina vs. Palmerston: The Correspondence Between Queen Victoria and Her Foreign and Prime Minister 1837-1865. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1961.
Farwell, Byron. Queen Victoria’s Little Wars. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
Longford, Elizabeth. Queen Victoria: Born to Succeed. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.
Sitwell, Edith. Victoria of England. London: Faber and Faber, 1947.
Strachey, Lytton. Queen Victoria. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1921.
Weintraub, Stanley. Victoria: An Intimate Biography. New York: Truman Talley Books/E.P. Dutton, 1987.