Queen of England from 1837 to 1901 who restored the damaged prestige of the British monarchy and presided over the most confident years of British imperial and industrial dominance. Queen of Great Britain (r. 1837–1901), empress of India (r. 1876–1901). Born Alexandrina Victoria on May 24, 1819, in Kensington Palace, London, England; died on January 22, 1901, at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, England; buried at Windsor, Berkshire, England; daughter of Edward Guelph, duke of Kent (son of King George III) and Victoria of Coburg; married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, on February 10, 1840 (died 1861); children: Victoria Adelaide (1840–1901); Albert Edward (1841–1910, future Edward VII, king of England, r. 1901–1910, who married Alexandra of Denmark); Alice Maud Mary (1843–1878, mother of Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia); Alfred (1844–1900, who married Marie Alexandrovna [1853–1920]); Helena (1846–1923); Louise (1848–1939); Arthur (1850–1942); Leopold Albert (1853–1884, duke of Albany, and father of Princess Alice of Athlone [1883–1981]); Beatrice (1857–1944).
Descendants: H.M. Queen Elizabeth II and the House of Mountbatten-Windsor; Wilhelm II of Hohenzollern, last German emperor; kings Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Juan Carlos I of Spain, and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark; the former kings of Greece, Rumania, and Yugoslavia; the head of the former Russian imperial house of Romanov.
Death of William IV; Victoria succeeded to throne (1837); coronation (June 28, 1838); Sir Robert Peel became prime minister (1841); Irish Potato Famine (1845–49); repeal of the Corn Laws (1846); Lord John Russell became prime minister (1847); continental revolutions throughout Europe; in Britain, the Chartist Movement (1848); Great Exhibition (1851); Crimean War (1853–56); Lord Palmerston became prime minister (1855); Indian Mutiny threatened British control of subcontinent (1857); death of Prince Albert (1861); Second Reform Act passed (1867); Gladstone became prime minister (1868); Franco-Prussian War (1870–71); Disraeli became prime minister (1874); Disraeli made Victoria the empress of India (1877); Third Reform Act enfranchised farm laborers (1884); Lord Salisbury became prime minister (1886); Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee (1897); South African War (1899–1902); Victoria died at age 81, having reigned 63 years (1901).
Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and King George III had 15 children but most of them were idle, debt-ridden, and licentious. As George deteriorated into insanity, he had no legitimate grandchildren and so the throne had no secure line of succession. Princess Victoria was born just before George III died, and the rapid extinction of her three elderly and childless uncles would give her the throne at age 18. She ruled Britain and its expanding empire for the next 64 years, restored the sagging prestige of the monarchy, worked tirelessly, and came to impart a moral and aesthetic style to an entire age and way of life.
She was the daughter of George III's fourth son Edward, duke of Kent. The duke and the king both died in the year 1820, so Victoria was brought up, often lonely, by her mother Victoria of Coburg , a German princess still trying to adjust to life in Britain. At her mother's instigation, Victoria learned the Western European languages and was fluent throughout her life in French, German, and Italian. She was also tutored in history, geography, natural history, music, dancing, and drawing, the regimen being supervised by a talented cleric, George Davys, whom she later rewarded with appointment as bishop of Peterborough.
As she was growing up two of her uncles occupied the throne, first George IV, then William IV. Both of them died childless and in consequence Victoria inherited the kingdom in 1837, when she was 18. She wrote in her diary on learning the news: "Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfil my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure, that very few have more real good will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have." "Victoria was a woman of peerless common sense; her common sense, which is a rare gift at any time, amounted to genius," writes E.F. Benson. "[C]ommon sense poured out from her, grey and strong, like the waters of the Amazon."
Victoria at once faced a conflict with her mother whose close advisor Sir John Conroy aimed to become a power behind the new queen. Victoria disliked and mistrusted Conroy and made it quite clear that she would not be governed by him—she even broke off all conversation with her mother over the issue, until she got her own way and had Conroy dismissed. She also resolved to see her ministers alone, beginning at once to break out of the close chaperonage which her mother had exercised until then. As queen, she was for the first time able to sleep in her own room rather than sharing one with her mother. She confirmed Prime Minister Lord Melbourne in his office on her first day as a monarch, and enjoyed his tutelage through the early years of her reign. He was a friendly and gifted politician, impressed by the young queen's abilities, and worked harmoniously with her until he was ousted by a defeat in the House of Commons. She was now supposed to invite the leading Tory member of Parliament, Sir Robert Peel, to form a government, but balked when Peel asked her to introduce more Tories at court. Peel withdrew, Melbourne was temporarily restored, and the queen's early popularity suffered a dent, for she seemed to be politicking improperly—the event was nicknamed "the Bedchamber Crisis."
Her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840 restored much of her credibility. He was her cousin; they had met and enjoyed each other's company previously, and now she decided that she would like to marry him. As queen she, rather than he, proposed the match and was gladly accepted. Victoria idolized Albert, and they were inseparable for the duration of their marriage. Its early days were fraught with tension, however, because Albert did not take kindly to being his wife's subordinate, as she, the queen, insisted. After the birth of their first child, Princess Victoria Adelaide , he finally won her consent to take care of some state affairs. Impressed by Albert's judgment, the queen soon came to rely on it, and he felt his wounded pride suitably soothed by his newly important role.
The couple had nine children, the first being born less than a year after the marriage, and the last in 1857: Victoria Adelaide (1840–1901); Albert Edward (1841–1910, future Edward VII, king of England, who married Alexandra of Denmark ); Alice Maud Mary (1843–1878, mother of Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia); Alfred (1844–1900, who married Marie Alex-androvna [1853–1920]), Helena (1846–1923); Louise (1848–1939); Arthur (1850–1942); Leopold Albert (1853–1884, duke of Albany, and father of Princess Alice of Athlone
[1883–1981]), and Beatrice (1857–1944). Victoria found pregnancy vexing and difficult, and was glad to avail herself of chloroform to ease the pain of her last two deliveries—her decision set off a vogue for the new anaesthetic throughout Europe.
The royal family lived a vigorous life in the 1840s, dancing, riding, and traveling in the royal yacht on visits to France, Germany, Scotland, and Ireland. They showed a keen interest in the technological innovations of the era which were then making Britain the world's predominant industrial
Duchess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenberg . Name variations: Helena of Saxe-Coburg; Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. Born Helena Augusta Victoria on May 25, 1846, in Buckingham Palace, London, England; died on June 9, 1923, in London, England; third daughter of Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and Prince Albert Saxe-Coburg; sister of King Edward VII of England; married Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenberg, on July 5, 1866; children: Christian; Albert, duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenberg; Helena Victoria (1870–1948); Marie-Louise (1872–1956); Harold.
Princess of England . Name variations: Beatrice of Battenberg; Princess of Battenberg; Princess Henry of Battenberg; Beatrice Saxe-Coburg; Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg. Born Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodora (or Feodore) on April 14, 1857, at Buckingham Palace, London, England; died on October 26, 1944, in Balcombe, West Sussex, England; fifth and youngest daughter of Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and Prince Albert Saxe-Coburg; sister of King Edward VII of England; married Prince Henry Maurice of Battenberg, on July 23, 1885 (died 1896); children: Alexander Mountbatten, marquess of Carisbrooke (1886–1960); Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg (1887–1969, who married Alphonso XIII, king of Spain, and was known as Queen Ena ); Leopold Mountbatten; Maurice Mountbatten.
Of all Queen Victoria 's children, the last born Beatrice was the closest to her; she was the queen's constant companion for 40 years. When Prince Albert died, Victoria had written of Beatrice in her usual third person: "The Queen can only pray that this flower of the flock may never leave her, but be the prop, comfort and companion of her widowed mother to old age." The only daughter left at home, Beatrice had a lonely childhood, consoling herself with her music and animals. She was called "Baby" well into her adulthood.
On March 2, 1882, while returning to Windsor by carriage with her mother, Beatrice caught sight of a man in the crowd as he raised a gun and took aim at the carriage. The shot missed and the would-be assassin, Roderick MacLean, was thrown to the ground by the throng. Victoria was awestruck by Beatrice's composure; from then on, she depended on her daughter even more. Beatrice became confidante, secretary, factotum, and nurse—until the day that she fell in love with a Prussian, Prince Henry of Battenberg. Her mother was so angry that for six months she would only communicate with Beatrice by notes shoved across the breakfast table.
Finally, the queen relented; but only if the couple would live in the royal household after their marriage. Henry agreed, giving up his commission in the Prussian army. They were married in 1885 in a small church at Whippingham on the Isle of Wight, the first time a monarch's daughter was married in an English parish church. The queen allowed a two-day honeymoon. Fortunately, Victoria grew fond of her son-in-law, as did the British. He was made governor of the Isle of Wight.
The couple had four children and for the next ten years shared a happy marriage while undertaking many ceremonial engagements throughout England. But Henry grew weary. When trouble broke out in West Africa, Henry, backed by Beatrice, received permission to join the British Expeditionary Force being sent to quell the angry Ashanti. Far from home, he died after contracting malaria in 1896. After a month spent away from the castle while in mourning in France, the longest she had been away from her mother, Beatrice returned to her mother's side and remained there. She also took on her husband's duties as governor of the Isle of Wight.
Following her mother's death in 1901, Princess Beatrice spent the next 30 years editing her mother's letters and journals (Victoria had scrupulously kept a diary from age 13 until her death). Beatrice recopied them into a series of blue notebooks, striking out anything that might put her mother in a bad light, sometimes rewriting total passages. She then burned the originals, to the shock and horror of historians of British history. The 111 volumes of edited journals reside in the Royal Archives at Windsor.
During World War I, Beatrice had to leave the Isle of Wight. She moved into Kensington Palace and spent most of the war setting up the Princess Henry of Battenberg hospital for Officers in Hill Street, London. At war's end, George V stripped the German names from royal titles and adopted the surname Windsor, and Beatrice's sons became Mountbattens rather than Battenbergs. Beatrice, like her mother, went on with her duties even when nearly blind with cataracts by 1935. She spent the last years of her life at Brantbridge Park, Balcombe, dying there on October 26, 1944, and was buried at Windsor Castle. She was the last of Queen Victoria's children to die. Her body now resides next to her husband's at Whippingham.
Packard, Jerrold M. Victoria's Daughters. St. Martin's, 1998.
power: they experimented with rail travel and replaced the old royal yacht with a new steam-powered one. They patronized the new craft of photography and were one of the first families in the world to have their lives extensively documented by photograph—Victoria herself eventually had more than a hundred family photograph albums. When Albert designed a new house for them at Osborne on the Isle of White, it was in large part prefabricated, and built in record time. Albert was also an accomplished musician, played the organ and wrote music which was sometimes performed at official functions. He and Victoria were enthusiastic supporters of the Great Exhibition of 1851 which demonstrated the technical progress of the era in a spectacular glass building, the Crystal Palace. They opened the exhibition and returned to admire it several times that summer.
Melbourne's fall at the election of 1841 had led to the appointment of Peel as prime minister. Despite the embarrassing memory of the Bedchamber Crisis, Victoria and he soon developed a mutual respect, and, from then on, throughout the rest of her reign, she always managed to work effectively with her ministers, even those she did not particularly like. The only one to rival Melbourne in her later affections was the Tory premier Benjamin Disraeli, who was an artful flatterer and consummate politician; by contrast, she always found William Gladstone, Disraeli's great Liberal rival, rigid and unyielding, and Lord Palmerston (who had once made improper advances to one of her ladies-in-waiting) an untrustworthy profligate. Disraeli observed: "Gladstone treats the Queen like a public department; I treat her like a woman." He recognized her broad streak of obstinacy and bent as far as possible to accommodate it. He also saw that she grasped political issues in personal terms, and learned how to present them to her in that form.
Disraeli particularly delighted Victoria by making her empress of India in 1877 after a reorganization of British administration on the subcontinent. India as the "jewel in the crown" became a catchphrase of the imperial era, and Victoria always gloried in imperial adventures—she found Gladstone's "Little England" policy incomprehensible and unfairly blamed him for the death of General Charles Gordon, an imperial legend, at the Siege of Khartoum, in 1885. Disraeli managed to insinuate that all the triumphs of his foreign policy (acquisition of the Suez Canal, for example) were her own work, with him merely crossing the t's and dotting the i's. Victoria reciprocated Disraeli's chivalrous gestures by violating her own court protocol and allowing him to sit in her presence. When he died in 1882, she went to his estate and placed her personal tribute on his grave.
Disraeli's ascendancy still lay in the future during the 1850s when Victoria and Albert ruled confidently side by side, through the crises of the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, and the onset of the American Civil War. The Crimean War (1854–56) saw Britain allied with France, her traditional enemy, against Russia. Victoria and Albert visited Paris during the war, on a sumptuous state visit to Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie , with Victoria herself noting the incongruity of fraternizing with the nation which had been Britain's deadliest enemy in her grandfather's era. After the French Revolution of 1870, Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie fled to England as exiles. Their only son later died in Africa after volunteering to serve in a British regiment in the Zulu Wars.
Victoria and Albert witnessed the maturing of their large family, and Victoria gave birth for the last time in 1857, while already planning marriages with suitable non-Catholic European royalty for her older children. The oldest son and heir, "Bertie," prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), was a source of perpetual annoyance to Victoria—he learned his lessons more slowly than his sisters as a boy and then discovered sex at about the age of 20, soon developing a taste for promiscuity. His parents, sternly puritanical in sexual affairs, were furious; throughout the following decades, Victoria's disapproval of her heir's conduct was a recurrent theme in British public life. Another son, Prince Leopold, was a hemophiliac, and Victoria's daughters, without suffering it, carried this disability, which spread through most of Europe's monarchies in the wake of Victoria's matrimonial alliances. After marrying her elder children to all possible European candidates, Victoria permitted one of the younger daughters, Princess Louise, to marry a commoner, the Marquess of Lorne, in 1869. She planned to prevent her youngest child, Princess Beatrice, from marrying at all and consented to her match with Prince Henry of Battenberg only if the couple agreed to remain with her as permanent companions. There was a furious stand-off for half a year, with mother and daughter communicating only by curt notes, but in the end the couple agreed, married in 1885, then settled in with the queen for the rest of her long life.
After 21 years of marriage, Prince Albert caught typhoid in 1861. Victoria was not alarmed at first, because she had survived it in childhood, but he soon sank and died. The death of Albert came to her as a shattering blow, and, though she lived on for another 40 years, she never subsequently cast off her mourning clothes (and mourning was required of all at court right into the 1890s, even among those born after Albert's demise). At first, Victoria was so distracted with grief that she refused to see even her ministers, though her strong sense of duty soon reasserted itself. More long-lasting was her decision to withdraw from public life. As years passed and she still remained entirely out of the public eye, her reputation began to decline. Death of loved ones at any stage of life was still common in mid-19th-century Britain, and, though a period of mourning was seemly, it should not, Britons agreed, go on indefinitely. Members of Parliament with republican sympathies declared that the government should not grant the queen her large annual income if she refused to reciprocate by fulfilling her official duties—for many years she declined even to preside at the official opening of Parliament. In an age of rapid political transformations (the unifications of Italy and Germany, the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune), it seemed possible to her advisors that Victoria might erode the authority of the monarchy to the point that it too would collapse, though, in actuality, it never faced a dangerously strong political challenge.
Rumors circulated in London—and reached all the way to the Russian court in St. Petersburg—that the queen had gone mad, unhinged by grief. For the rest of her life, she acted in many ways as though Albert were still with her, ordering hot shaving water to be carried to his room every morning, for example. Lord Clarendon saw the queen in 1862 and could not help noticing that she repeatedly referred to the "Prince's opinions and acts as if he was in the next room." Clarendon "found it difficult not to think so for everything was set out on his table, the blotting book open with a pen upon it, his watch going, fresh flowers in the glass, etc." Victoria's elaborate grieving for her lamented husband yielded some public benefits. The Albert Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the Albert Memorial, now central fixtures of British cultural life, were all projects initiated by the queen in her eagerness to pay him tribute.
During her years of retirement from public life, Victoria spent long periods at her Scottish castle, Balmoral, attended by a loyal servant named John Brown who soon became a favorite, gaining easier access to the queen than even her own children. Court gossip alleged that he had become her lover, even that they had married secretly, and Victoria's children became resentful of his influence over their mother. His ascendancy increased in 1872 when an Irish republican pointed a pistol at the queen (one of seven assassination attempts she survived during her long reign). Brown jumped from the carriage they were riding in and pinned the assassin to the ground until help arrived. When Brown died in 1883, Victoria even tried to write a eulogistic biography of him until her ministers managed to discourage the project (they were already dismayed by her decision to publish long sections of her diaries almost verbatim). Later still, she became deeply attached to another servant, an Indian Muslim named Abdul Karim whom she nicknamed "the Munshi," or teacher, because he gave her lessons in Hindustani. He became an advisor to her on Indian affairs, and she stubbornly took his side in every dispute relating to his conduct. Most of her children and courtiers, sharing the typical racism of the era, were enraged by his presence and his influence, but powerless to prevent it in the face of the queen's unbending dedication to him. The Munshi himself became increasingly self-important and arbitrary, stole jewels from the queen, and used her favor to avenge himself on his personal enemies. In the end, her trusted doctor, Sir James Reid, warned her that the gentlemen of her household would resign en masse if the Munshi were not dismissed, and that he himself might even be forced to declare her insane if she insisted on sticking by her favorite. Even then, she defied her advisors, weathered the storm, and encouraged the Munshi to stay by her side, where he could still be found at the time of her death.
The long succession of anguished scenes over the Munshi showed that the queen, always bossy and obstinate, was becoming more tyrannical with age. When Gladstone died in 1898, she showed none of the affectionate gratitude to his memory that she had accorded Disraeli. Her son and heir the prince of Wales had often supported Gladstone and now provoked his mother by acting as a pallbearer at the funeral. "The Queen was so incensed that she telegraphed to enquire what advice he had sought and what precedent he had followed. The Prince's reply was unusually curt. He had sought no advice and knew of no precedent. There was but one Gladstone."
Whatever the rumblings of discontent behind the scenes in public, the queen's reputation, long in eclipse, revived in the last years of her 64-year reign as she emerged from her self-imposed seclusion. Many of her subjects enjoyed the revelations in her published diaries, and she herself seems to have had an instinctively middle-class taste which made her easily able to appreciate the hopes and fears of what had become the most important and influential section of the British public. On the other hand, she never showed much awareness of the widespread suffering of her poorest subjects—she would mention in her diary the signs of poverty and suffering she had seen on her travels, but never threw her energy into the cause of social and industrial reform.
In 1897, her Diamond Jubilee celebrations featured all the pomp and circumstance of the empire. As historian Theo Aronson notes:
Queen Victoria's Diamond jubilee confirmed her position as the most celebrated, most instantly recognizable person in the world. In that small, dignified figure seemed concentrated all the glory, all the power, all the wonder of majesty. She was by now an almost mythical creature: the Doyenne of Sovereigns, the Great White Queen, the Shah-in-Shah-Padshah, the Grandmamma of Europe, Victoria Regina et Imperatrix, a monarch who ruled over the greatest empire that the world had ever known.
She died four years later after presiding over the turn of the century, when the ugly Boer War was already showing new problems in store for the empire. Her reign had been an immense success in terms of restoring the dignity of the monarchy, and the fact that her name was attached to the age, and to an entire way of life, "Victorian," suggests the breadth and durability of her influence.
Aronson, Theo. Heart of a Queen: Queen Victoria's Romantic Attachments. London: John Murray, 1991.
Ashdown, Dulcie. Victoria and the Coburgs. London: Robert Hale, 1981.
Benson, E.F. As We Were: A Victorian Peepshow. London: Blue Ribbon, 1934.
Longford, Elizabeth. Victoria R.I. London: Pan Books, 1976.
Mullen, Richard and James Munson. Victoria: Portrait of a Queen. London: BBC Books, 1987.
St. Aubyn, Giles. Queen Victoria: A Portrait. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991.
Mrs. Brown (105 min. film), starring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly, directed by John Madden, Miramax, 1997.
Victoria Regina (play) by Laurence Housman, starred Helen Hayes , 1935.
"Victoria Regina" (television presentation), on NBC's "Hallmark Hall of Fame," starred Julie Harris , 1961.
Victoria the Great (118 min. film), starring Anna Neagle and Anton Walbrook, directed by Herbert Wilcox, 1937.
Patrick Allitt , Professor of History, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia