1819 - 1901
Victoria was queen of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to
1901 and empress of India from 1876 to 1901. She presided over
the expansion of England into an empire of 4 million square
miles and 124 million people.
who gave her name to an age, Victoria was a richly contradictory
character. Intensely virtuous, at the age of 11 upon learning
she was next in succession to the British crown, she reacted by
promising "I will be good, " a promise which she faithfully
kept. With innate good manners and a great love of truth, she
was also immensely selfish, keeping aged ministers and
ladies-in-waiting out in all weathers and up to all hours, and
ruining the life and character of her eldest son (later Edward
VII) by refusing to allow him any responsibility. Her prudery
was famous, yet her letters reveal her completely unafraid to
face unpleasant facts, even about her nearest and dearest.
Tremendously personal and partisan in her handling of her
ministers, she never succeeded in understanding the English
party system; she considered that her own view of what would
best benefit her country gave her the right to oppose any policy
and person, and she frankly preferred coalitions, while
accepting that the Crown must be above party. Living all her
adult life subject to the guidance of wise men, she remained
both innocent and devious, arbitrary and simple, courageous and
timid, "unconstitutional in action while constitutional by
temperament." In fact she was so completely an expression of the
dominant views and characteristics of her time that she truly
embodied and interpreted her people throughout her reign. As
queen, she saw slavery abolished in the colonies, the Reform
Bill passed, the Poor Law reformed, the Corn Laws repealed; she
saw her country undertake successful wars in the Crimea, Egypt,
the Sudan, and South Africa, acquire the Suez Canal, and
establish constitutions in Australia and Canada.
Alexandrina Victoria was born in Kensington Palace, London, on
May 24, 1819. She was the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent
(1767-1820; fourth son of George III), by Mary Louis Victoria
(1786-1861; fourth daughter of Francis Frederick Anthony,
reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and widow of Edward, Prince
of Leiningen). Victoria was baptized on June 24, 1819, Alexander
I of Russia being one of her sponsors, and her uncle, the prince
regent (later George IV), the other. She grew up under her
mother's care and that of Louisa Lehzen, her German governess,
and spoke only German until she was 3. From 1832 Victoria's
mother took her on extended tours through England. On May 24,
1837, she came of age, and on June 20, on the death of her uncle
William IV, she succeeded to the throne, receiving the news of
her accession in a cotton dressing gown at 6 A.M. Her chief
advisers at first were the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, a
Whig (Liberal), and Baron Stockmar, a German sent to London by
her uncle King Leopold of the Belgians as adviser to his
Queen Victoria had large blue eyes, a cupid-bow mouth, smooth
light-brown hair that darkened with age, and a receding chin.
She was under 5 feet and as a girl was slender, then plump. By
the time she was 26 she was stout and remained so, except after
periods of illness, until the end. She had a silvery voice,
enunciated excellently, without a trace of the German accent of
her eldest son, and had a radiant, though rare, smile. Those she
disliked, William Gladstone for example, found her sombre and
terrifying; her ladies, servants, and grandchildren thought she
looked "so dear" and idolized her.
First Years of Reign
Victoria's hand was kissed on her accession by members of her
council, which included the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel,
Lord John Russell, and Lord Palmerston, with all of whom she was
to be closely associated. She opened her first Parliament on
Nov. 20, 1837, and read her own speech; Parliament voted her an
annuity of £385, 000, plus the revenues of the duchies of
Lancaster and Cornwall, another £126, 000. Victoria proceeded to
pay her father's debts. On June 28, 1838, her coronation took
place. Next year her initial popularity waned, resulting from
her dependence on Lord Melbourne and from her unjust treatment
of Lady Flora Hastings, one of her ladies-in-waiting. When Lord
Melbourne resigned, Victoria sent for the opposition leader, Sir
Robert Peel; but when she refused to change her ladies, as was
then the custom on a change of government, Peel refused to take
office and Victoria recalled Melbourne.
In October her two first cousins, Ernest and Albert Edward
(1819-1861) of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, came to London. Albert had
written in his diary at 11, "I intend to train myself to be a
good and useful man." Victoria fell in love with him instantly
and proposed to him; they were married on Feb. 10, 1840. It was
an ideally happy marriage and restored the prestige of the
Crown, which had sadly deteriorated during the reigns of
Victoria's three inept predecessors. Prince Albert was granted
£30, 000 annual income by Parliament, was named regent in the
event of the Queen's death in childbirth, and in 1857 was made
Prince Consort by Victoria. Albert described his functions to
the Duke of Wellington in April 1850 as: "the husband of the
Queen, the tutor of the Royal children, the private secretary of
the sovereign and her permanent Minister."
In June 1842 Victoria made her first railway journey from
Slough, the station nearest Windsor Castle, to Paddington, and
in that same year she first went to Scotland, travelling by sea.
In 1843 Victoria and Albert visited King Louis Philippe. She was
the first English monarch to land in France since Henry VIII
visited Francis I in 1520. King Louis Philippe's return visit
was the first voluntary visit to England of any French ruler. In
1845 Victoria, with Albert, made the first of many trips to
Germany, staying at Albert's birthplace, Rosenau.
In 1834, after Lord John Russell had failed to form a ministry
(principally owing to Victoria's opposition to Palmerston as
foreign minister), Lord John "handed back the poisoned chalice,
" as Disraeli put it, to Peel. But Peel's ministry fell on a
measure for Irish coercion, and by 1847 the Irish famine, in
which 1½ million people died and 1 million emigrated, postponed
Victoria's planned visit there, which did not take place until
1849, when she landed at Cove, changing its name to Queenstown.
In 1846 Victoria tangled with Palmerston over the marriage of
the Spanish queen Isabella, and in 1850 she informed him that he
" (1) should inform her of the course of action he proposes, and
(2) should not arbitrarily modify or alter a measure once it had
received her sanction." Lord Palmerston "affected pained
surprise" at these injunctions but did not alter his ways. In
1851 the Whig government was outvoted and Lord John resigned,
but as Lord Derby, the Conservative (Tory) leader refused to
form a government, Victoria again sent for Lord John Russell.
She was at this time so happy and blessed in her homelife that
she wrote, "Politics (provided my Country is safe) must take
only 2nd place." In 1844 she had Osborne Palace built for her on
the Isle of Wight and in 1848 Balmoral Castle in Scotland;
thereafter until the end of her life she spent part of each
spring and fall in these residences. In 1851 she and Prince
Albert were much occupied with the Great Exhibition, held in
London, the first of its kind.
In 1851 Victoria was furious with Palmerston for informing
Walewski, the French ambassador to London, that he approved of
the coup by which Prince Louis Napoleon made himself Emperor
Napoleon III. Victoria was largely instrumental in compelling
Lord John Russell to demand Palmerston's resignation. In 1852
the Whigs finally fell, and Lord Derby led a Tory Government.
But in July the Tories were beaten in the general election, and
in December Lord Derby resigned. At Victoria's request, Lord
Aberdeen made a coalition government, with Palmerston relegated
to the Home Office. In 1853 Victoria and Albert suffered
unpopularity for their apparent pro-Russian stand but regained
public approval after the British declared war on Russia Feb.
28, 1854. In January 1855 the government was defeated on their
conduct of the war, and Palmerston formed an administration. On
March 30, 1856, Victoria admitted that she admired Palmerston's
winning of the war. In 1856 Victoria and Albert visited Napoleon
III in Paris, and in 1857 the Indian Mutiny against British
rule, as represented by the East India Company, led to
Victoria's writing that there now existed in England "a
universal feeling that India [should] belong to me." In 1858 the
East India Company was abolished. That same year Victoria's
eldest child, Victoria, married Prince (later Emperor) Frederick
of Prussia. In March 1861 Victoria's mother died, and her eldest
son, Albert Edward, while in camp in the Curragh in Ireland, had
an affair with an actress called Nelly Clifden, distressing
Victoria and Albert, who were planning his marriage to Princess
Alexandra of Denmark. Prince Albert, already ill, went in icy
weather to Cambridge to remonstrate with his son; Albert was
suffering from typhoid and died on Dec. 14, 1861, aged 42.
The widowed Victoria held her erring son as partly the cause of
his father's death and never forgave him. She retired into
complete seclusion and wore mourning until her death.
In 1862 Victoria's daughter Alice married Prince Louis of Hesse,
and a year later her eldest son, now created Prince of Wales,
whom his family called "Bertie, " married Princess Alexandra of
Denmark. Victoria supported Prussia during its war with Denmark
over Schleswig-Holstein, whereas her daughter-in-law, her
ministers, and her people openly upheld Denmark. She approved
Russia's brutal suppression of Poland's national uprising in
1863. In 1865 in the Seven Weeks War between Prussia and
Austria, which ended in Prussia's victory at Sadowa, Victoria
was again pro-Prussian. In 1867 Victoria entertained the Khedive
of Egypt and the Sultan of Turkey. In 1868 Benjamin Disraeli
became prime minister but was defeated by William Gladstone over
the disestablishment of the Irish Church. Disraeli offered to
resign, but Victoria kept him in office for six months after his
defeat. Victoria, though she thought him "odd" and his wife
odder, much appreciated Disraeli because he treated her as a
woman. Gladstone, she complained, treated her as though she were
a public department. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870,
Victoria was still pro-Prussian, though she welcomed the exiled
French empress Eugénie and allowed her and the Emperor to live
at Chislehurst. In 1873 Gladstone resigned, and in 1874, to
Victoria's delight, Disraeli became prime minister. He called
the plump, tiny queen "The Faery" and admitted he loved her -
"perhaps the only person left to me in this world that I do
love." That same year Victoria's son Prince Alfred married
Marie, daughter of the Russian czar, who insisted she be called
Imperial, not Royal, Highness. This encouraged Victoria to make
"preliminary enquiries" about officially assuming the title
Empress of India, which she did on May 1, 1876. In 1875
Disraeli, with the help of the Rothschilds, bought the majority
of the Suez Canal shares from the bankrupt Khedive of Egypt, to
Victoria's delight. That same year Gladstone roused the country
with stories of "Bulgarian atrocities": 12, 000 Bulgarian
Christians had been murdered by Turkish irregulars. In 1877
Russia declared war on Turkey; Victoria and Disraeli were
pro-Turk, sending a private warning to the Czar that, were he to
advance, Britain would fight. Disraeli complained that Victoria
"writes every day and telegraphs every hour." In 1878 at the
Congress of Berlin, Disraeli obtained, as he told Victoria,
"peace with honour."
In 1879 Victoria visited Italy and Germany. In the fall
Gladstone's Midlothian campaign led to the government's defeat
in April 1880. In 1882 a third attempt was made on Victoria's
life. Africa gave trouble, the Zulu killed Empress Eugénie's
son, and the Sudanese killed Gen. Gordon in Khartoum before Lord
Wolseley, sent at Victoria's urging to relieve him, arrived. In
1885 Victoria went to Aix-les-Bains; she thought Gladstone a
humbug, and "he talks so very much." In June he resigned, but
Lord Salisbury, who became prime minister, lost the ensuing
general election. Gladstone, pledged to Irish home rule, came in
again, to Victoria's unconcealed annoyance. When he was defeated
on this issue, Lord Salisbury returned to power.
In 1887 Victoria's golden jubilee was celebrated, and in 1888
she actually approved of Gladstone - when he persuaded
Parliament to vote £37, 000 annually for the Prince of Wales'
children. In 1889 the German kaiser, Victoria's grandson,
visited England; in 1892 Gladstone again became prime minister.
His Home Rule Bill was passed in the House of Commons but thrown
out by the House of Lords. Gladstone resigned, to be succeeded
by Lord Rosebery. In 1897 Victoria's diamond jubilee was
magnificently celebrated, the apotheosis of her reign and of her
empire. In 1897 the repression of the Sudan culminated in Lord
Kitchener's victory at Omdurman on September 2. Victoria was
joyful; "Surely Gordon is avenged, " she wrote. In 1899 the Boer
War broke out, and in 1900 Victoria went to Ireland, where most
of the soldiers who fought on the British side were recruited.
In August she signed the Australian Commonwealth Bill and in
October lost a grandson in the war. On Jan. 22, 1901, she died
in the arms of the Kaiser. Her last word was "Bertie." She was
the mother of four boys and five girls, all of whom had issue.
In her lifetime she had 40 grand-children and 37
great-grandchildren. During her reign the British crown ceased
to be powerful but remained influential.
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.
Warmhearted and 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.
Queen Victoria 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
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 in London.
Her marriage to Prince Albert brought nine children between 1840
and 1857. Most of her children married into other Royal families
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
Victoria, Princess 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 of
Victoria bought 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.
Victoria's popularity 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
During Victoria's 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 vote.
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
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 Reform Act.
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.
Although conservative 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 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.
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
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This web page was last updated on:
16 December, 2008