“The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.” – Queen Victoria
She is this country’s second longest-reigning Monarch, and she reigned over a grand industrial age for Britain as well as a British Empire that stretched half way across the globe. Her reign was so successful that her name defined the 63 year period in which she was Queen. We are of course talking about Queen Victoria.
Born Alexandrina Victoria at Kensington Palace, Queen Victoria was the only child of the fourth son of King George III, Edward Duke of Kent and Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Victoria’s father died when she was just a year old. She became an heir to the throne, owing to the fact that her three uncles (King George IV, King William IV and Frederick Duke of York) had no legitimate children.
Throughout her childhood, Queen Victoria was kept away from Court and from her ‘wicked’ uncles by her mother. She was sheltered at Kensington Palace with her mother and the Comptroller of the Household, Sir John Conroy, who manipulated Victoria’s mother into secluding her daughter from King and country. The ‘Kensington System’, as it became known, would not allow Victoria to sleep alone nor walk down the stairs without holding somebody’s hand.
Queen Victoria ascended the throne in June 1837 following the death of her uncle, King William IV, who was determined to survive long enough to avoid a Regency. A Regency that would see Victoria’s mother rule in her name under the gaze of Sir John Conroy. A Regency was avoided, and the ascension of a new Queen signalled the dawn of the Victorian era.
As Queen at the age of 18, it was evident that Victoria had much to learn and even more apparent that she was easily influenced. From the beginning of her reign, Victoria was influenced by two men in particular; Lord Melbourne, her first Prime Minister and Prince Albert, her husband who she married in 1840. While Lord Melbourne was using Queen Victoria for his own political advancement, Prince Albert taught his wife how to be a ruler in a constitutional monarchy, whereby the monarch had very few powers but could exercise a hell of a lot of influence. Prince Albert wasn’t using Victoria for his own gains, he was supporting his wife not just because she was his Queen but simply because he loved her.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert brought nine children into their family between 1840 and 1857. Victoria, Princess Royal was the first of those children born in 1840 followed by the future King Edward VII in 1841. Alice was born in 1843, Alfred was born in 1844, Helena was born in 1846 followed by Louise in 1848, Arthur in 1850 and Leopold in 1853. Princess Beatrice was the last of Victoria and Albert’s children to be born in 1857.
Just over 20 years into her reign, tragedy struck Queen Victoria when Prince Albert died on 14th December 1861 following a bout of typhoid fever. Victoria was naturally devastated and entered a period of mourning that some argue continued for the rest of her life, for the remainder of her life she wore black and for many years following Albert’s demise, Victoria was rarely seen in public, secluding herself at various royal residences including Windsor Castle, Osborne House and the Scottish home that Albert purchased for Victoria, Balmoral Castle. Victoria’s seclusion from her public duties earned her the nickname ‘Widow of Windsor’ though The Queen never neglected her official correspondence and continued to give audiences to her ministers and official visitors. Her isolation from the public did diminish Victoria’s popularity and that of the monarchy and encouraged the growth of a republican movement. In 1864, one protester stuck a note to the gates of Buckingham Palace which read, “these commanding premises to be let or sold in consequence of the late occupant’s declining business.” The death of Prince Albert not only rocked Queen Victoria on a personal level but also shook the once solid foundations of the British Monarchy and only began to recover when Victoria made her first public appearance in years, at the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society in Kensington.
Following the increasing imperial sentiment from the 1870s onwards, the call for a republic wavered, and Queen Victoria’s popularity increased. This popularity increased somewhat more in 1877 when Victoria was declared Empress of India, following the Indian Mutiny of 1857 when the Government of India was transferred from the East India Company to the Crown. While the power of the Sovereign was decreasing day by day, Victoria was becoming to be regarded with great affection by her people and while her power diminished, her high level of prestige never wavered.
In 1887, the British Empire celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, marking the 50 years since Victoria ascended the throne. Celebrations included a banquet to which 50 kings and princes were invited followed by a procession through the streets London and a thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey. A decade later, Queen Victoria surpassed her grandfather, King George III, as Britain’s longest reigning monarch though Her Majesty requested that any celebrations be put back a year, to coincide with the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee. Much the same as her Golden Jubilee celebrations, a thanksgiving service was held outside St Paul’s Cathedral as Queen Victoria looked on from her open top carriage.
Despite her advanced age, Victoria continued her official duties right up to her death including a visit to Dublin in 1900. Queen Victoria died on 22nd January 1901 at the age of 81 at Osborne House. Her son and successor, King Edward VII, was at her deathbed as well as her grandson, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany. Some four years previously, in 1897, Victoria had written instructions for her funeral in which she said it must be military as befitting for a soldier’s daughter and head of the army. Victoria’s funeral was held on 2nd February 1901 at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle and she was buried alongside her husband, Prince Albert, in Frogmore Mausoleum. Above the Mausoleum are Victoria’s own words inscribed, “farewell best beloved, here at last I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again.”
While there have been many Kings of this country, there have only been a handful of Queens though in my opinion, every Queen that has reigned has made hugely significant contributions to this country and its people. Whether it be the ‘bloody’ reign of Queen Mary I, the glorious reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the prosperous reign of Queen Anne, the reign of Empire of Queen Victoria or the modern reign of Queen Elizabeth II there is one common denominator between all of them, they are all female Sovereigns and have reigned over a time of great change and prosperity for our country. Though Queen Victoria lost her title of longest reigning British monarch to her great-great granddaughter, Elizabeth II, just recently she will still go down as one of this country’s greatest and most devoted monarchs- a title that can never be taken away from her!
Photo Credits: Dulwich College Picture Gallery. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Kvasir79 via photopin cc “Queen Victoria 60. crownjubilee” by W. & D. Downey (active 1855-1940) Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.