Queen Victoria

An Era Was Named For This British Monarch

Victoria, Queen and Empress, 1882
Victoria, Queen and Empress, 1882. Hulton Royals Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Queen Victoria Facts:

Known for: Longest-ruling monarch of Great Britain, ruled during a time of economic and imperial expansion. Gave her name to the Victorian Era.
Occupation: queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India
Dates: May 24, 1819 - January 22, 1901
Also known as: Alexandrina Victoria, Victoria Alexandrina

Queen Victoria Biography:

Alexandrina Victoria was the only child of the fourth son of King George III: Edward, duke of Kent.

Her mother was Victoire Maria Louisa of Saxe-Coburg, sister of Prince (later King) Leopold of the Belgians. Edward had married Victoire when an heir to the throne was needed after the death of Princess Charlotte (who had been married to Victoire's brother Leopold).  Edward died in 1820, just before his father, King George III, did.  Victoire became the guardian of Alexandrina Victoria, as designated in Edward's will.

When George IV became king,  his dislike for Victoire helped isolate the mother and daughter from the rest of the court.  Prince Leopold helped the widow and child financially.

Victoria became heiress-apparent of the British crown on the death of her uncle George IV in 1825, at which point the parliament granted an income to the princess.  She remained relatively isolated, however, without any real friends, though with many servants and teachers, and a succession of pet dogs.

 A tutor, Louise Lehzen, tried to teach her the kind of discipline that Queen Elizabeth I had displayed.  She was tutored in politics by her uncle Leopold.

When Victoria turned 18, her uncle, William IV, offered to her a separate income and household, but Victoria's mother refused permission. She attended a ball in her honor, where she was greeted by crowds in the streets.

When Victoria's uncle William IV died childless a month later, she became Queen of Great Britain. She was crowned the next year, again with crowds in the streets.  

Victoria began to exclude her mother from her inner circle. The first crisis of her reign came when rumors circulated that one of her mother's laadies-in-waiting, Lady Flora, was pregnant by her mother's advisor Conroy.  Lady Flora died of a liver tumor, but opponents at court used the rumors to make the new queen seem less innocent.

Queen Victoria tested the limits of her royal powers when the government of Lord Melbourne, a Whig who had been her mentor and friend, fell the next year. She refused to follow precedent and dismiss her ladies of the bedchamber so that the Tory government could replace them.  In this, named the "bedchamber crisis," she had the support of Melbourne. Her refusal brought back the Whigs until 1841.

Marriage

Victoria was old enough to be married, and the idea of an unmarried queen, despite or because of the example of Elizabeth I, was not one that either Victoria or her advisors favored.  A husband for Victoria would have to be royal and Protestant, as well as an appropriate age, which was a somewhat small field.

Prince Leopold had been promoting her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, for many years. They first met when they were both seventeen, and began to correspond. When they were twenty, he returned to England, and Victoria, in love with him, proposed marriage. They were married on February 10, 1840.

Victoria had traditional views on the role of the wife and mother, and though she was Queen and Albert was Prince Consort, he shared government responsibilities at least equally. They fought often, sometimes with Victoria shouting angrily.

Their first child, a daughter, was born in November 1840, and the Prince of Wales, Edward, in 1841. Three more sons and four more daughters followed.  All her pregnancies ended with live births and all the children survived to adulthood, which was an unusual record for that time.

 Although Victoria had been nursed by her own mother, she used wet-nurses for her own children.

The family, though they could have lived at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle or the Brighton Pavilion, worked to create homes more appropriate for a family.  Albert was key ind designing their residences at Balmoral Castle and Osborne House. The family traveled, including to Scotland, France and Belgium.  Victoria became especially fond of Scotland and Balmoral.

When Melbourne's government failed in 1841, he helped with the transition to the new government so that there would not be another embarrassing crisis. She had a more limited role under prime minister Peel, with Albert taking a lead in any case for the next 20 years of "dual monarchy."  Albert guided Victoria to an appearance of political neutrality, though she did not become fonder of Peel. Victoria became very involved with establishing charities.  

European sovereigns visited her at home, and she and Albert visited Germany, including Coburg and Berlin.  She began to feel herself part of a larger network of monarchs.  Albert and Victoria used their relationship to become more active in foreign affairs, which conflicted with the ideas of the foreign minister, Lord Palmerston.  He did not appreciate the queen and prince becoming involved in foreign affairs, and Victoria and Albert often thought his ideas too liberal and aggressive.

Albert worked on a plan for a Great Exhibition, with a Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. Public appreciation for this finally led to a warming of the British citizens towards their queen's consort.

The war in Crimea engrossed Victoria's attention; she rewarded Florence Nightingale for her service in helping protect and heal soldiers. Victoria's concern for the wounded and sick led to her founding Royal Victoria Hospital.  As a result of the war, Victoria grew closer to the French emperor Napoleon III and his empress Eugénie. 

The mutiny of sepoys in the army of the East India Company shocked Victoria, and this and subsequent events led to British direct rule over India, and Victoria's new title as empress of India.

In family matters, Victoria became disappointed with her oldest son, Albert Edward, prince of Wales, heir presumptive. The eldest three children -- Victoria, "Bertie" and Alice -- received educations beyond what their younger siblings did, as they were the three most likely to inherit the crown.  

Queen Victoria and the Princess Royal Victoria were not as close as Victoria was to several of the younger children, with the princess closer to her father.  Albert won his way in marrying the princess to Frederick William, son of the prince and princess of Prussia. The young prince proposed when the princess Victoria was only fourteen. The queen urged delay in marriage to be sure that the princess was truly in love, and when she assured herself and parents that she was, the two were formally engaged.

Albert had never been made prince consort by parliament, and attempts in 1854 and 1856 to do so failed. Finally in 1857, Victoria conferred the title herself.

In 1858, the princess Victoria was married at St. James's to the Prussian prince.  Victoria and her daughter, known as Vicky, exchanged many letters as Victoria attempted to influence her daughter and son-in-law. 

A series of deaths of relatives of Victoria kept her in mourning much of the year through the 1850s. Then in 1861, the king of Prussia died, making Vicky and her husband Frederick crown princess and prince. In March, Victoria's mother died and Victoria collapsed, having during her own marriage reconciled with her mother.  Several more deaths in the family followed in the summer and fall, and then a scandal with the prince of Wales.  In the middle of negotiating for his marriage with Alexandra of Denmark, it was revealed that he was having an affair with an actress.

And then Prince Albert's health failed.  He caught a cold and could not shake it off, and perhaps weakened already by cancer, he developed what may have been typhoid fever and died on December 14, 1861.  His death devastated her; her prolonged mourning lost her much popularity.

Eventually coming out of seclusion, she maintained an active role in government until her death in 1901, building many memorials to her husband. Her reign, the longest of any British monarch, was marked by waxing and waning popularity -- and suspicions that she preferred the Germans a bit too much always diminished her popularity somewhat. By the time she had assumed the throne, the British monarchy was more figurehead and influence than it was a direct power in the government, and her long reign did little to change that.

During her lifetime she published her Letters, Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands and More Leaves.

The marriage of her daughters into other royal families, and the likelihood that her children bore a mutant gene for hemophilia, both affected the following generations of European history.

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