Queen Victoria, is arguably the most famous monarch in the whole of British history. Famous enough to have an entire age named after her, and undeniably – despite her 4 foot 11 stature (5 feet on a good day) – a towering figure to say the least. Her reign, which lasted from 1837 to 1901, was not just a period but an epoch that profoundly influenced the course of British and world history. To really understand the significance of Victoria in history, we need to look at many facets of her life, from her unexpected ascension to the throne to her enduring legacy.
Birth and Early Life
Queen Victoria’s story begins on May 24, 1819, at Kensington Palace in London. She was the daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Her birth into the House of Hanover was significant, not just for her immediate family but for the future of the British monarchy. Tragically, her father passed away when Victoria was just eight months old, and with no siblings this left her as an only child. This early loss would shape much of her childhood and future reign.
Victoria’s upbringing was sheltered and somewhat isolated. Her mother, along with her advisor Sir John Conroy, devised the ‘Kensington System’ of education and upbringing, which was designed to make Victoria dependent on them. The strict regimen set up by her mother shunned the courts of Victoria’s uncles, George IV and William IV. This system, however, also instilled in her a sense of discipline and a deep understanding of royal duties.
5th In Line For The Throne, So How Did Victoria Become Queen?
Initially, Victoria’s chances of ascending to the throne seemed slim. She was fifth in line, but a series of deaths in the royal family, including her father and his three elder brothers, dramatically changed the line of succession. By the time she was a teenager, Victoria found herself as the heir presumptive. Her uncle, King William IV, had no legitimate children, which left Victoria as the next in line.
5 Key Facts from Queen Victoria’s Early Childhood
- Victoria’s early life was marked by strict control under the ‘Kensington System’.
- The young queen developed a real love for reading and music.
- Despite her strict and isolated upbringing, she showed early signs of a strong, independent character.
- Victoria’s education was comprehensive, including history, politics, and many languages. A rounded preparation for future royal duties.
- Her relationship with her mother was complex and often strained, influenced by the ambitions of Sir John Conroy.
Victoria’s School Years
Victoria’s education was unconventional, but not too dissimilar to other royal households. Tutored at home, she received a well-rounded education that included history, geography, the Bible, and the arts. Her tutors were carefully chosen to provide her with the knowledge and skills befitting a future monarch. However, her controlling mother and guardians, through the ‘Kensington System’ controlled her every move.
In this system, she was not allowed to be separated from her mother. Every meeting was controlled, every action had to be approved and she was kept as isolated from other children. Victoria was a quick learner though, fluent in German (her mother tongue), English, and French. She also learned Italian and Latin, reflecting her keen interest in languages and cultures.
A Young Queen Crowned
Victoria’s ascension to the throne was a pivotal moment in British history. She became queen at the tender age of 18, following the death of her uncle, King William IV. This transition marked a significant change in her personal and public life. Her relationship with her mother, already strained, became more complex as Victoria sought to assert her independence. Her coronation would come to symbolise not only a new reign but also a new era in British history.
Barely eighteen, she refused any further influence from her domineering mother and ruled in her own stead. The turn of her 18th birthday was pivotal in it’s timing as it meant that she could rule alone, rather than having to share power with her mother. Popular respect for the Crown was at a low point at her coronation. But Victoria, with her modest and straightforward approach, eventually won the hearts of her subjects. It took some time though. She had a deep desire to be involved and informed in political matters of the day, although she had no direct input in policy decisions.
Good Friends And Allies
The Reform Act of 1832 had set the standard of legislative authority residing in the House of Lords, with executive authority resting within a cabinet formed of members of the House of Commons; the monarch was essentially removed from the loop. For a young, inexperienced queen, having allies while getting to grips with this relatively new political reality was crucial.
She perhaps had no greater ally in her early life, than William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. As her first Prime Minister and a trusted advisor, he was instrumental in guiding the young queen through the initial challenges of her monarchy.
Victoria first met Melbourne shortly after she became queen in 1837. He was already serving as Prime Minister under her uncle, King William IV. Upon her accession, Melbourne’s relationship with Victoria quickly evolved from that of a Prime Minister to a monarch, to a mentor and father figure. This support was especially important given her strained relationship with her mother and the isolation she experienced before becoming queen.
Melbourne served as a mentor to the young Queen Victoria. With his extensive political experience, he provided her with invaluable advice on governmental affairs and the intricacies of managing her court and relations with Parliament. He advised her on key appointments and helped her understand the constitutional limits of her power. His guidance was crucial in helping Victoria establish her role as a constitutional monarch.
Victoria’s governess, Baroness Louise Lehzen, was a significant figure in her early life. Lehzen had been involved with Victoria since she was five years old. While her mother was controlling, Lehzen had a profound influence on young Victoria. She encouraged her to be strong, was incredibly protective and had influence on her education and personal development. In contrast to Victoria’s cold mother, Lehzen was a confidante and real mother figure, offering emotional support and guidance.
King Leopold I of Belgium
King Leopold, Victoria’s maternal uncle, was also a key advisor and ally. He would advise Victoria before she ascended the throne, and would continue to advise her once she was Queen. Leopold was keen for the relationship between her eventual husband Alfred, and the queen to develop. So much so that he was instrumental in arranging the initial meeting between the young couple.
Although Albert came into her life a bit later, after her early years as queen, he quickly became her most trusted ally and partner. Their marriage in 1840 marked the beginning of a profound partnership, with Albert providing support and advice in both personal and state matters. More on Albert later!
5 Key Facts From Queen Victoria’s Early Reign
- Victoria’s early reign was marked by her determination to be an independent and strong monarch.
- Victoria moved from Windsor Castle to Buckingham Palace, signalling a new start and distancing herself from her cruel mother’s influence.
- Her reign began with many challenges. Public support for the monarchy was low, and she had to learn to balance the advice of experienced ministers with her own royal prerogatives.
- Early in Victoria’s reign the British Empire expanded greatly and there were many important social and industrial changes within Britain.
- She survived multiple assassination attempts, which only strengthened her resolve and popularity.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
The love story of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is quite a romantic one. A story of true love, they first met as teenagers and were first cousins. This wasn’t uncommon for royalty to marry within the family back then. Their courtship lasted a few years, encouraged by their shared uncle, King Leopold 1st of Belgium. Eventually their courtship culminated in their marriage in 1840. They had a profound partnership, both personally and politically.
Their marriage produced nine children, and through their offspring, they are related to many European royal families. This has earned Victoria the nickname as the the ‘Grandmother Of Europe’ as her family line is spread across the continent.
Albert had a massive influence on Victoria. He quickly replaced Melbourne as the dominant male influence in her life. He became Victoria’s confidant, advisor, and the love of her life.
Victoria did nothing without her husband’s approval. Albert assisted in her royal duties. He introduced a strict decorum in court and made a point of straitlaced behaviour. Albert also gave a more conservative tinge to Victoria’s politics.
Victoria and Politics
Victoria’s reign was a time of significant political change. She had her conflicts with Parliament for sure. At the same time though, she played a crucial role in the transition to a more modern, constitutional monarchy. Her husband, Prince Albert, though receiving little affection from the public at the time, was instrumental in advising her on political matters. During her reign, Britain saw many reforms, including the expansion of the voting franchise and social reforms.
Huge changes were starting to take place in laws around the workplace, welfare, child labour and industry. This was Britain’s pivotal moment, politically and socially.
Victoria and Empire
Victoria’s reign coincided with the height of the British Empire. She and Albert were strong symbols of stability and progress. Their growing popularity was rooted in their embodiment of family values and national pride, traits that to this day resonate with the population. Under her reign, the British Empire expanded significantly, making Britain the most powerful nation in the world at the time.
Victoria after Albert’s Death
Albert’s death in 1861 was a turning point in Victoria’s life. She entered a prolonged period of mourning and withdrew from public life. This really affected her popularity and the public perception of the monarchy. Her mourning would last for the rest of her life, and she famously only wore black until her eventual death.
Victoria’s popularity reached its lowest in 1970 after nearly a decade of withdrawing in self-imposed isolation. It did recover, and despite her grief, she injected once again youthful energy and optimism that infected the English population as a whole.
The Death of Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria passed away on January 22, 1901, at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new century, quite literally. She was succeeded, as tradition dictates, by her eldest son, Edward VII.
The Legacy of Queen Victoria
- Expansion of the British Empire
Queen Victoria’s reign coincided with the peak of the British Empire. During her rule, the empire expanded to include territories across Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Britain had become the world’s preeminent global power.
- Political System and Global Influence
Victoria’s reign marked a significant evolution in the British political system. She, with guidance from close allies, oversaw the transition to a more modern constitutional monarchy. Internationally, Britain under Victoria exerted considerable influence, not only through its empire but also through its industrial and military might.
- Advancements in Industry, Culture and Science
The Industrial Revolution reached its peak during Victoria’s reign. Transforming the British economy and society massively. Advancements in communication, transport and technology accelerated at a rate previously unfathomable. The impact on culture of all this change was equally as dramatic. It was an era rich in literature, arts, and architecture. figures like Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, and Thomas Hardy are fine examples of this.
- Descendants in European Royal Families
Queen Victoria was often referred to as the ‘Grandmother of Europe’ due to her children’s marriages into other royal families across the continent. Her descendants sat on the thrones of Great Britain, Russia, Germany, Greece, Romania, Norway, Sweden, and Spain.
- Shaping Modern Britain and the Commonwealth
Victoria’s reign had a lasting impact on modern Britain and the Commonwealth. The values, traditions, and institutions from her time continue to influence these nations. While the age of Empire has come and gone, the Commonwealth to this day, reflects Victoria’s legacy and echoes Britain’s golden age.