On this day in 1786 a baby girl was born to a German noble and his wife. They weren’t the wealthiest of families and already had a large family to look after. But they were ambitious and determined and their daughter inherited those traits. For that baby would grow up to have a very famous daughter indeed – here are eight things to know about the woman who gave the world Queen Victoria.
1. She gave her daughter her name
The woman who would give the world Queen Victoria was given the names Marie Luise Victoire by her parents on her birth on August 17th 1786. She was baby number seven for Franz of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and his wife, Auguste, and was born in Coburg. Her childhood was relatively peaceful – by the time her father inherited his own father’s title and debts in 1800, Victoria was all but married.
2. She had a family before her famous royal daughter
At the age of 17 Victoria married Charles of Leiningen who was 23 years her senior and had previously been married to her own aunt. Her new husband inherited his father’s title of Prince of Leiningen in 1807, the same year his wife gave birth to her first daughter – Anna Feodora Auguste Charlotte Wilhelmine. Victoria had already provided her husband with a son and heir called Carl meaning Queen Victoria would have two half siblings.
3. She married Victoria’s father twice
Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld’s first husband died in 1814 leaving her regent for young Carl. This pretty and rather feisty woman was a widow at the age of 28 but she didn’t stay unmarried for long. In Britain, a succession crisis was brewing as the only legitimate grandchild of George III died and the House of Hanover was in danger of running out of heirs. The king’s unmarried sons headed to Europe to find wives and the fourth born of them, Edward, settled on Victoria.
The Duke of Kent wed Victoria on May 29th 1818 in Germany and then said ‘I do’ all over again on July 11th the same year at a ceremony in Kew. The newlyweds headed back to Germany where life was cheaper only to find out that Victoria was pregnant again and they jumped on a ship back home to make sure their baby, a potential heir, was born on British soil.
4. She almost took the young Victoria to live in Germany
But the new Duchess of Kent didn’t seem to settle in Britain. On May 24th 1819 she gave birth to her child, a girl called Victoria. But eight months later her new husband died and she found herself looking at a rather tight financial future.
Germany again seemed a good option but with no other babies bouncing into the lives of the other royal sons hoping to provide an heir, Victoria felt compelled to stay in England where it started to seem increasingly likely that a crown might be on offer for her youngest child.
5. She had a very ambitious brother
She wasn’t the only member of her family with an eye on a throne. Her younger brother, Leopold, was quickly winning a name for himself as a capable and ambitious politician and leader. He had already come close to a crown when he was chosen as the consort of that only legitimate grandchild of George III, Princess Charlotte of Wales, but her death in childbirth in November 1817 didn’t just start a succession crisis. It left Leopold heartbroken.
After several years of mourning, he began to be noticed in Europe once again and in 1830 he turned down the chance to be King of Greece when he was offered that country’s throne. The following year he was asked to be the first King of the Belgians and following his acceptance he was crowned on July 21st 1831.
6. She was a very strict mama
While Leopold settled into his new role, it was clear that his niece, Victoria’s daughter, would end up as Queen of Great Britain. And her mama was determined to be an overriding influence on her, having set up a very strict upbringing for her little girl called the Kensington System. It was named after Kensington Palace where Victoria raised her daughter and where she established rules that meant young Victoria was barely out of her sight.
The young princess had to be accompanied by either her mother, her mother’s private secretary, Sir John Conroy or her governesses at all times. She had very little other company and those she did meet were vetted by her mother and Conroy. The older Victoria wanted total control over her daughter as it became clear she would one day be queen. And that would scar her child who later said ‘I never was happy until I was eighteen.
7. William IV hated her
Standing between young Victoria and the throne was her uncle, William, who had succeeded in 1830 and who had lost the children he had with his wife when they were very young. He was a jovial and popular man but as the older Victoria kept him away from her daughter, he turned on his sister-in-law.
The older Victoria took the princess on a tour of the country to let as many people as possible see her but behind this public outreach she was scheming in private to keep total control of the future queen. In 1836, William invited the two Victorias to his birthday celebrations at Windsor but during the event he stated, very publicly, that he hoped to live another nine months to see his niece come of age so that her mother could never be regent. He got his wish, dying just under a month after Victoria turned eighteen.
8. Her death began an annus horribilis for Victoria
Despite the turbulence of her childhood, Victoria ended up developing a warm relationship with her mother. She later wrote to her own daughter, another Victoria, that as a child she was not on an ‘intimate or confidential footing with my mother – much as I love her now’.
And she did love her, rebuilding their bond and the Dowager Duchess of Kent was involved in the lives of her grandchildren. One letter from Queen Victoria to her mother in 1859 wished her ‘many, many happy returns’ and called her ‘dearest mama’.
Victoria, mother of a queen, died on March 16th 1861 was buried at Frogmore. It was the start of a terrible year for Queen Victoria – nine months later she lost her husband, Prince Albert. And while she famously mourned her consort for the rest of her life, there is little doubt that despite their rollercoaster relationship she also continued to grieve for the woman who we know as the first Victoria but who the Queen Empress knew as ‘mama’.