Victoria of the United Kingdom

From New World Encyclopedia

Queen Victoria at the time of her golden Jubilee, 1887.

Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria) (May 24, 1819 – January 22, 1901) was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from June 20, 1837, and Empress of India from January 1, 1877, until her death in 1901. Her reign lasted more than 63 years, longer than that of any of her predecessors, a length eventually surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II who reigned for over 70 years. As well as being British monarch, she was also the first monarch to use the title Empress of India.

The reign of Victoria was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire. The Victorian was at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a period of significant social, economic, and technological change in the United Kingdom. In that period the United Kingdom became the largest superpower the world had ever seen. Victoria, who was largely of German descent, was the last monarch of the House of Hanover; her successor belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (which became Windsor during World War I).

Victoria's long reign, her sense of public duty and her strict moral code made her an iconic figure within, as well as after, her lifetime. The term Victorian morality is often used to describe the ethos of the period, which embraced sexual proprietary, hard work, honesty, thrift, a sense of duty and responsibility towards the less well off provided that they deserved help (alcoholics and the work-shy did not), fair-play, concern for the underdog. Many anomalies existed—not least of all how the British treated their colonial subjects—but Victoria was proud to have signed into law several Acts that aimed to improve the life-conditions of the working classes, such as the Mines Act (1842), the Education Act (1870), and the Health Act (1875), which gradually transferred responsibility for public welfare from private philanthropy to government.

During Victoria's long reign, the United Kingdom was heavily influenced by Christianity and church attendance was higher than it has ever been. Queen Elizabeth I, who saw England enter the seventeenth century, launched the overseas imperial project following loss of her last French possession. Victoria, who saw her people into the twentieth century, ruled during the greatest-ever imperial acquisition of territory, which many saw as compensating for her grandfather's loss of the 13 American colonies.

Early life

Victoria's father, the Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, was the fourth son of King George III and Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Her mother was Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The Duke of Kent and Strathearn, like many other sons of George III, did not marry during his youth. The eldest son, the Prince of Wales (the future King George IV), did marry, but had only one child, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. When she died in 1817, the remaining unmarried sons of King George III scrambled to marry (the Prince Regent and the Duke of York were already married, but estranged from their wives) and father children to provide an heir for the king. At the age of fifty the Duke of Kent and Strathearn married Princess Viktoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, the sister of Princess Charlotte's widower Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and widow of Karl, Prince of Leiningen. Victoria, the only child of the couple, was born in Kensington Palace, London on May 24, 1819. She was baptized in the Cupola Room of Kensington Palace on June 24, 1819 by Charles Manners-Sutton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and her godparents were the Prince Regent, later George IV, the Emperor Alexander I of Russia (in whose honor she received her first name), Queen Charlotte of Württemberg and the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

Although christened Alexandrina Victoria, from birth she was formally styled “Her Royal Highness, Princess Victoria of Kent,” but was called “Drina” within the family. Princess Victoria's father died of pneumonia eight months after she was born. Her grandfather, George III, died blind and insane less than a week later. Princess Victoria's uncle, the Prince of Wales, inherited the Crown, becoming King George IV. Though she occupied a high position in the line of succession, Victoria was taught only German, the first language of both her mother and her governess, during her early years. After reaching the age of three, however, she was schooled in English. She eventually learned to speak Italian, Greek, Latin, and French. Her educator was the Reverend George Davys and her governess was Louise Lehzen.

When Princess Victoria of Kent was 11 years old, her uncle, King George IV, died childless, leaving the throne to his brother, the Duke of Clarence and St Andrews, who became King William IV. As the new king had no living legitimate children (he was, however, the father of ten illegitimate children by his mistress, the actress Dorothy Jordan), the young Princess Victoria became heiress-presumptive to the throne. Since the law at that time made no special provision for a child monarch, Victoria would have been eligible to govern the realm as would an adult. In order to prevent such a scenario, Parliament passed the Regency Act 1831, under which it was provided that Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent and Strathearn, would act as Regent during the queen's minority. Ignoring precedent, Parliament did not create a council to limit the powers of the Regent.

Princess Victoria met her future husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, when she was sixteen years old. Prince Albert was Victoria's first cousin; his father was the brother of her mother. Princess Victoria's uncle, King William IV, disapproved of the match, but his objections failed to dissuade the couple. Many scholars have suggested that Prince Albert was not in love with young Victoria, and that he entered into a relationship with her in order to garner social status (he was a minor German prince) and out of a sense of duty (his family desired the match). Whatever Albert's original reasons for marrying Victoria may have been, theirs proved to be an extremely happy marriage.

Early reign

A young Victoria is depicted at her coronation, June 28, 1838

William IV of the United Kingdom died at the age of 71 on June 20, 1837, leaving the throne to Victoria. As the young queen had just turned 18 years old, no regency was necessary. By Salic law, no woman could rule Hanover, a realm that had shared a monarch with Britain since 1714. Hanover went not to Victoria, but to her uncle the Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, who became King Ernest Augustus of Hanover. As the young queen was as yet unmarried and childless, Ernest Augustus was also the heir-presumptive to the British throne. Because of her small physical stature, she famously later (1870) had a small diamond crown made for herself, which was placed on her coffin before her funeral, instead of the official coronation crown. Made originally for Charles II, this had given her a headache during her coronation ceremony when “lowered onto her ... small head.” Once she took up her “orb and scepter,” however, she “felt jubilant” (Erickson 1997, 73).

When Victoria ascended the throne, the government was controlled by the British Whig Party, which had been in power, except for brief intervals, since 1830. The Whig Prime Minister, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, at once became a powerful influence in the life of the politically inexperienced queen, who relied on him for advice (some even referred to Victoria as "Mrs. Melbourne"). The Melbourne ministry would not stay in power for long; it was growing unpopular and, moreover, faced considerable difficulty in governing the British colonies. In Canada, the United Kingdom faced an insurrection, and in Jamaica, the colonial legislature had protested British policies by refusing to pass any laws. In 1839, unable to cope with the problems overseas, the ministry of Lord Melbourne resigned.

The Queen commissioned Sir Robert Peel, a Tory, to form a new ministry, but was faced with a debacle known as the Bedchamber Crisis. At the time, it was customary for appointments to the Royal Household to be based on the patronage system (that is, for the Prime Minister to appoint members of the Royal Household on the basis of their party loyalties). Many of the Queen's Ladies of the Bedchamber were wives of Whigs, but Sir Robert Peel expected to replace them with wives of Tories. Victoria strongly objected to the removal of these ladies, whom she regarded as close friends rather than as members of a ceremonial institution. Sir Robert Peel felt that he could not govern under the restrictions imposed by the Queen, and consequently resigned his commission, allowing Melbourne to return to office.


A likeness of Queen Victoria appears on the widely circulated 1841 Penny Red postage stamp

The Queen married Prince Albert on February 10, 1840, at the Chapel Royal in St. James's Palace; four days before, Victoria granted her husband the style His Royal Highness. Prince Albert was commonly known as the Prince Consort, though he did not formally obtain the title until 1857. Prince Albert was never granted a peerage.

During Victoria's first pregnancy, eighteen-year old Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate the queen whilst she was riding in a carriage with Prince Albert in London. Oxford fired twice, but both bullets missed. He was tried for high treason, but was acquitted on the grounds of insanity. His plea was questioned by many; Oxford may merely have been seeking notoriety. Many suggested that a Chartist conspiracy was behind the assassination attempt; others attributed the plot to supporters of the heir-presumptive, the King of Hanover. These conspiracy theories afflicted the country with a wave of patriotism and loyalty. The Chartists advocated universal male suffrage, that is, they wanted to abolish the land-owning condition of entitlement to vote or to stand for election, they also demanded payment for Members of Parliament so that working class people could also enter the legislature.

The shooting had no effect on the Queen's health or on her pregnancy. The first child of the royal couple, named Victoria, was born on November 21, 1840. Eight more children would be born during the exceptionally happy marriage between Victoria and Prince Albert. Albert was not only the Queen's companion, but also an important political advisor, replacing Lord Melbourne as the dominant figure in her life.

Having found a partner, Victoria no longer relied on the Whig ladies at her court for companionship. Thus, when Whigs under Melbourne lost the elections of 1841 and were replaced by the Tories under Peel, the Bedchamber Crisis was not repeated. Victoria continued to secretly correspond with Lord Melbourne, whose influence faded away as that of Prince Albert increased.

On June 13, 1842, Victoria made her first journey by train, traveling from Slough railway station (near Windsor Castle) to Bishop's Bridge, near Paddington (in London), in a special royal carriage provided by the Great Western Railway. Accompanying her were her husband and the engineer of the Great Western line, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859). The success, wealth and power of Victorian Britain was almost exclusively built on coal and on its network of railroads that serviced the iron industry, so this journey can be considered as symbolic. “By the end of the nineteenth century,” comments Phillips, “more than half of the British towns of more than fifty thousand people were situated in or near coalfields.” Britain produced “more iron than the rest of the world put together…Taken together,” says Phillips, “coal, iron, steam engines, and railways were the industrial revolution” (Phillips 2006, 15).

Three attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria occurred in 1842. On May 29 at St. James's Park, John Francis (most likely seeking to gain notoriety) fired a pistol at the queen (then in a carriage), but was immediately seized by PC53 William Trounce. He was convicted of high treason, but his death sentence was commuted to transportation for life.

Prince Albert felt that the attempts were encouraged by Oxford's acquittal in 1840. On July 3, just days after Francis' sentence was commuted, another boy, John William Bean, attempted to shoot the queen. Although his gun was loaded only with paper and tobacco, his crime was still punishable by death. Feeling that such a penalty would be too harsh, Prince Albert encouraged Parliament to pass the Treason Act of 1842, under which aiming a firearm at the queen, striking her, throwing any object at her, and producing any firearm or other dangerous weapon in her presence with the intent of alarming her, were made punishable by seven years imprisonment and flogging. Bean was thus sentenced to 18 months imprisonment; however, neither he, nor any person who violated the act in the future, was flogged.

Early Victorian politics

Peel's ministry faced a crisis involving the repeal of the Corn Laws (grain import tariffs). Many Tories (by then known also as Conservative Party) were opposed to the repeal, but some Tories (the "Peelites") and most Whigs supported it. Peel resigned in 1846, after the repeal narrowly passed, and was replaced by Lord John Russell. Russell's ministry, though Whig, was not favored by the Queen. Particularly offensive to Victoria was the Secretary of State for Foreign, Lord Palmerston, who often acted without consulting the Cabinet, the Prime Minister, or the Queen. In 1849, Victoria lodged a complaint with Lord John Russell, claiming that Palmerston had sent official dispatches to foreign leaders without her knowledge. She repeated her remonstrance in 1850, but to no avail. It was only in 1851 that Lord Palmerston was removed from office; he had on that occasion announced the British government's approval for President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'état in France without previously consulting the Prime Minister.

The period during which Russell was prime minister also proved personally distressing to Queen Victoria. In 1849, an unemployed and disgruntled Irishman named William Hamilton attempted to alarm the Queen by firing a powder-filled pistol as her carriage passed along Constitution Hill, London. Hamilton was charged under the 1842 act; he pled guilty and received the maximum sentence of seven years of penal transportation. In 1850, the Queen did sustain injury when she was assaulted by a possibly insane ex-Army officer, Robert Pate. As Victoria was riding in a carriage, Pate struck her with his cane, crushing her bonnet and bruising her. Pate was later tried; he failed to prove his insanity, and received the same sentence as Hamilton.


The young Queen Victoria fell in love with Ireland, choosing to holiday in Killarney in County Kerry; in the process, she launched the location as one of the nineteenth century's prime tourist locations. Her love of the island was matched by initial Irish warmth towards the young queen. In 1845, Ireland was hit by a potato blight that over four years cost the lives of over one million Irish people and saw the emigration of another million. In response to what came to be called the Irish Potato Famine (An Gotta Mor) the Queen personally donated £5,000 and was involved in various famine charities. Nevertheless the fact that the policies of the ministry of Lord John Russell were widely blamed for exacerbating the severity of the famine affected the queen's popularity. To extreme republicans Victoria came to be called the "Famine Queen," with mythical stories of her donating as little as £5 to famine relief becoming accepted in republican lore.

Victoria's first official visit to Ireland, in 1849, was specifically arranged by George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the head of the British administration, to try both to draw attention off the famine and also to alert British politicians through the queen's presence to the seriousness of the crisis in Ireland. Notwithstanding the negative impact of the famine on the queen's popularity, she still remained sufficiently popular for nationalists at party meetings to finish by singing “God Save the Queen.” However by the 1870s and 1880s, the monarchy's appeal in Ireland had diminished substantially, partly as a result of Victoria's decision to refuse to visit Ireland in protest at the decision of Dublin Corporation to refuse to congratulate her son, the Prince of Wales, on his marriage to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, or to congratulate the royal couple on the birth of their oldest son, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence.

Victoria refused repeated pressure from a number of prime ministers, lords lieutenant and even members of the Royal Family, to establish a royal residence in Ireland. William Brodrick, 1st Earl of Middleton, the former head of the Irish unionist party, writing in his memoirs of 1930, Ireland: Dupe or Heroine?, described this decision as having proved disastrous to the monarchy and British rule in Ireland.

Victoria paid her last visit to Ireland in 1900, when she came to appeal to Irishmen to join the British Army and fight in the Second Boer War. Nationalist opposition to her visit was spearheaded by Arthur Griffith, who established an organization called Cumann nan Gaedheal to unite the opposition. Five years later, Griffith used the contacts established in his campaign against the queen's visit to form a new political movement, Sinn Fein.

Middle years

In 1851, the first World Fair, known as the Great Exhibition, was held. Organized by Prince Albert, the exhibition was officially opened by the Queen on May 1, 1851. Despite the fears of many, it proved an incredible success, with its profits being used to endow the South Kensington Museum (later renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum).

Lord John Russell's ministry collapsed in 1852, when the Whig prime minister was replaced by a Conservative, Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby. Lord Derby did not stay in power for long, for he failed to maintain a majority in Parliament; he resigned less than a year after entering office. At this point, Victoria was anxious to put an end to this period of weak ministries. Both the Queen and her husband vigorously encouraged the formation of a strong coalition between the Whigs and the Peelite Tories. Such a ministry was indeed formed, with the Peelite George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen at its head.

One of the most significant acts of the new ministry was to bring the United Kingdom into the Crimean War in 1854, on the side of the Ottoman Empire and against Russia. Immediately before the entry of the United Kingdom, rumors that the Queen and Prince Albert preferred the Russian side diminished the popularity of the royal couple. Nonetheless, Victoria publicly encouraged unequivocal support for the troops. After the conclusion of the war, she instituted the Victoria Cross, an award for valor. this is still the highest award in the British armed services for valor, and can be given to officers or to enlisted men and women. Victoria had been reluctant to support the War but told parliament that she had done so out of “a sense of what is due to the honor” of her crown, “to the interests of her people, and to the independence of the states of Europe.” The war was “glorious” and “honorable” because it opposed a nation that violated treaties and defied the “opinion of the civilized world” (Arnstein 2003, 97).

His management of the war in the Crimea questioned by many, Lord Aberdeen resigned in 1855, to be replaced by Lord Palmerston, with whom the Queen had reconciled. Palmerston too was forced out of office due to the unpopular conduct of a military conflict, the Second Opium War, in 1857. He was replaced by Lord Derby. Amongst the notable events of Derby's administration was the revolt of soldiers of British East India Company against their rule and policies in India. After the revolt was crushed (referred to then as the Indian Mutiny, or as the Sepoy Mutiny), India was put under the direct rule of the Crown (though the title "Empress of India" was not instituted immediately). Although the company had officially recognized the sovereignty of the Moghul Emperor, he was exiled to Burma for having lent his name as leader of the revolt.

Derby's second ministry fared no better than his first; it fell in 1859, allowing Palmerston to return to power for the third time.


The Prince Consort died in 1861, devastating Victoria, who entered a semi-permanent state of mourning and wore black for the remainder of her life. She avoided public appearances and rarely set foot inside London in the following years, her seclusion earning her the nickname "Widow of Windsor." She regarded her son, the Prince of Wales, as an indiscreet and frivolous youth, blaming him for his father's death. His lifestyle contrasted sharply with that of Victoria herself. The prince “would never see life as composed of anything other than opportunities for enjoyment” (Erickson 1997, 103).

Victoria began to increasingly rely on a Scottish manservant, John Brown; and a romantic connection and even a secret marriage have been alleged. One recently discovered diary records a supposed deathbed confession by the queen's private chaplain in which he admitted to a politician that he had presided over a clandestine marriage between Victoria and John Brown. Not all historians trust the reliability of the diary. However, when Victoria's corpse was laid in its coffin, two sets of mementos were placed with her, at her request. By her side was placed one of Albert's dressing gowns while in her left hand was placed a piece of Brown's hair, along with a picture of him. Rumors of an affair and marriage earned Victoria the nickname "Mrs. Brown."

Victoria's isolation from the public greatly diminished the popularity of the monarchy, and even encouraged the growth of the republican movement. Although she did perform her official duties, she did not actively participate in the government, remaining secluded in her royal residences, Balmoral Castle in Scotland or Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Meanwhile, one of the most important pieces of legislation of the nineteenth century—the Reform Act 1867—was passed by Parliament. This met many Chartist demands, granting the franchise to all male householders and also men who paid at least ten pounds annual rent. It added 1.5 million names to the electoral register. Lord Palmerston was vigorously opposed to electoral reform, but his ministry ended upon his death in 1865. He was followed by Lord Russell (the former Lord John Russell), and afterwards by Lord Derby, during whose ministry the Reform Act was passed.

Gladstone and Disraeli

In 1868, the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli entered office. He would later prove to be Victoria's favorite prime minister. His ministry, however, soon collapsed, and he was replaced by William Ewart Gladstone, a member of the Liberal Party (as the Whig-Peelite Coalition had become known). Gladstone was famously at odds with both Victoria and Disraeli during his political career. She once remarked that she felt he addressed her as though she were a public meeting. The queen disliked Gladstone, as well as his policies, as much as she admired Disraeli. It was during Gladstone's ministry, in the early 1870s, that the queen began to gradually emerge from a state of perpetual mourning and isolation. With the encouragement of her family, she became more active.

In 1872, Victoria endured her sixth encounter involving a gun. As she was alighting from a carriage, a 17-year old Irishman, Arthur O'Connor, rushed towards her with a pistol in one hand and a petition to free Irish prisoners in the other. The gun was not loaded; the youth's aim was most likely to alarm Queen Victoria into accepting the petition. John Brown, who was at the queen's side, knocked the boy to the ground before Victoria could even view the pistol; he was rewarded with a gold medal for his bravery. O'Connor was sentenced to penal transportation and to corporal punishment, as allowed by the Act of 1842, but Victoria remitted the latter part of the sentence.

Disraeli returned to power in 1874, at which many in the country espoused time an imperialist sentiment, including the new prime minister and the queen, as well as many in Europe. In 1871 the German Empire had been proclaimed, and Victoria, Princess Royal (known as Vicky), Victoria's eldest daughter, was married to its heir, so the daughter would someday become an Empress, outranking her far-more-powerful mother the Queen.

To prevent such a diplomatic anomaly, in 1876 a new Royal Titles Act 1876 of Parliament gave the queen the additional title "Empress of India." Victoria rewarded her prime minister, accelerating the customary award of an Earldom to a former prime minister, by creating him Earl of Beaconsfield while he was still in office. Although their title 'Empress' referred only to India, it was widely perceived to embrace the whole Empire over which Victoria now reigned—which included vast territories in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and in the Americas. It was the Empire over which the sun never set. Even in her old age, Victoria took a “keen personal interest in the Empire, especially in the crown colony of India” (Arnstein 2003, 165). When Britain assumed direct responsibility for governing India, she wrote to the man who was now her personal representative, the Viceroy, Lord Canning, that “it is a source of great satisfaction and pride to her to feel herself in direct communication with that enormous Empire which is so bright a jewel in her Crown, and which she would wish to see happy, contented and peaceful” (qtd. in Arnstein 2003, 103).

Lord Beaconsfield's administration fell in 1880 when the Liberals won the general election of that year. Gladstone had relinquished the leadership of the Liberals four years earlier and the Queen invited Lord Harrington, Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire, Liberal leader in the Commons, to form a ministry. However Lord Harrington declined the opportunity, arguing that no Liberal ministry could work without Gladstone and he would serve under no one else, and Victoria could do little but appoint Gladstone as prime minister.

The last of the series of attempts on Victoria's life came in 1882. A Scottish madman, Roderick Maclean, fired a bullet towards the Queen, then seated in her carriage, but missed. Since 1842, each individual who attempted to attack the Queen had been tried for a misdemeanor (punishable by seven years of penal servitude), but Maclean was tried for high treason (punishable by death). He was acquitted, having been found insane, and was committed to an asylum. Victoria expressed great annoyance at the verdict of "not guilty, but insane," and encouraged the introduction of the verdict of "guilty, but insane" in the following year.

Victoria's conflicts with Gladstone continued during her later years. She was forced to accept his proposed electoral reforms, including the Representation of the People Act 1884, which again considerably increased the electorate. Gladstone's government fell in 1885, to be replaced by the ministry of a Conservative, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury. Gladstone returned to power in 1886, and he introduced the Irish Home Rule Bill, which sought to grant Ireland a separate legislature. Victoria was opposed to the bill, which she believed would undermine the British Empire. When the House of Commons rejected the bill, Gladstone resigned, allowing Victoria to appoint Lord Salisbury to resume the premiership.

Later years

The Royal Family in 1880.

In 1887, the United Kingdom celebrated Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Victoria marked June 20, 1887— the fiftieth anniversary of her accession—with a banquet, to which fifty European kings and princes were invited. Although she could not have been aware of it, there was a plan by Irish freedom fighters to blow up Westminster Abbey while the queen attended a service of thanksgiving. This assassination attempt, when it was discovered, became known as The Jubilee Plot. On the next day, she participated in a procession that, in the words of Mark Twain, "stretched to the limit of sight in both directions." At the time, Victoria was an extremely popular monarch. The scandal of a rumored relationship with her servant had been quieted following John Brown's death in 1883, allowing the Queen to be perceived as a symbol of morality.

Victoria was required to tolerate a ministry of William Ewart Gladstone one more time, in 1892. After the last of his Irish Home Rule Bills was defeated, he retired in 1894, to be replaced by the Imperialist Liberal Lord Rosebery. Lord Rosebery was succeeded in 1895 by Lord Salisbury, who served for the remainder of Victoria's reign.

On September 22, 1896, Victoria surpassed George III as the longest-reigning monarch in English, Scottish, or British history. In accordance with the queen's request, all special public celebrations of the event were delayed until 1897, the queen's Diamond Jubilee. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Joseph Chamberlain, proposed that the Jubilee be made a festival of the British Empire.

Thus, the prime ministers of all the self-governing colonies were invited along with their families. The procession in which the queen participated included troops from each British colony and dependency, together with soldiers sent by Indian princes and chiefs (who were subordinate to Victoria, the Empress of India). The Diamond Jubilee celebration was an occasion marked by great outpourings of affection for the septuagenarian queen, who was by then confined to a wheelchair.

During Victoria's last years, the United Kingdom was involved in the Second Boer War, which received the enthusiastic support of the queen. Victoria's personal life was marked by many personal tragedies, including the death of her son, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the fatal illness of her daughter, The Empress Friedrich, Queen Dowager of Prussia, and the death of two of her grandsons, Prince Alfred of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein. Her last ceremonial public function came in 1899, when she laid the foundation stone for new buildings of the South Kensington Museum, which became known as the Victoria and Albert Museum. Victoria was always devoted to her family, and as they inter-married into the royal households of Europe, she became, literally, the Matriarch of Europe (Arnstein 2003, 165).

Following a custom she maintained throughout her widowhood, Victoria spent Christmas in Osborne House (which Prince Albert had designed himself) on the Isle of Wight. She died there on January 22, 1901, aged 81, having reigned for 63 years, seven months, and two days (more than any British monarch before or since). Her funeral occurred on February 2; after two days of lying-in-state, she was interred in the Frogmore Mausoleum beside her husband.

Victoria was succeeded by her eldest son, the Prince of Wales, who reigned as King Edward VII. Victoria's death brought an end to the rule of the House of Hanover in the United Kingdom; King Edward VII, like his father Prince Albert, belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. King Edward VII's son and successor, King George V, changed the name of the Royal House to Windsor during the First World War. (The name "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha" was associated with the enemy of the United Kingdom during the war, Imperial Germany, led by her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II.) This war would have been a matter of great sorrow for both Victoria and Albert, as they saw their family's marriage across the royal households of Europe as a bond that would tie peoples together and encourage peace. When Frederick (1831-1888), their son-in-law, became Emperor of Germany, they hoped that he and Victoria (1840-1901) would “reign in a truly enlightened, liberal and constitutional manner over a land that, in partnership with Britain, would promote the peace of the whole world” (Arnstein 2003, 177). Frederick did make some moves towards liberalization of German policies but his Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), was determined to increase Germany's power in Europe. His wars with France turned the French and Germans into bitter enemies. He had little interest in greater democratization.


Queen Victoria statue and Neo-Romanesque 1890s Queen Victoria Building (QVB), Sydney, New South Wales.
The statue formerly stood outside the Irish parliament building, Leinster House until 1947; see at right.
Queen Victoria statue
Queens Gardens, Brisbane.

Queen Victoria was Britain's first modern monarch. Previous monarchs had been active players in the process of government. A series of legal reforms saw the House of Commons' power increase, at the expense of the Lords and the monarchy, with the monarch's role becoming more symbolic. Since Victoria's reign, the monarch has had, in Walter Bagehot's words, "the right to be consulted, the right to advise, and the right to warn" (qtd. in Arnstein 2003, 5). Bagehot (1826-1877) was a leading Victorian social scientist and author of the 1867 book The English Constitution. Victoria signed successive Acts that increased popular participation in politics and made it possible for working class people to stand for office. Her monarchy became more symbolic than political, with a strong emphasis on morality and family values, in contrast to the sexual, financial and personal scandals that had been associated with previous members of the House of Hanover and which had discredited the monarchy. Victoria's reign created for Britain the concept of the “family monarchy” with which the burgeoning middle classes could identify. She fulfilled Bagehot's idea of the monarch as “head of society” and as a “model of morality” very well (Arnstein 2003).

Internationally, Victoria was a major figure—not just in image or in terms of Britain's influence through the empire, but also because of family links throughout Europe's royal families, earning her the affectionate nickname "the grandmother of Europe." An example of that status can be seen in the fact that three of the main monarchs with countries involved in the First World War on opposite sides were themselves either grandchildren of Victoria's or married to a grandchild of hers. Eight of Victoria's nine children married members of European royal families, and the other, Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, married the first Governor General of Canada.

Victoria was the first known carrier of hemophilia in the royal line, but it is unclear how she acquired it. It was passed on the Romanovs of Russia and to the royal families of Denmark, Spain and Prussia.

Queen Victoria experienced unpopularity during the first years of her widowhood, but afterwards became extremely well-liked during the 1880s and 1890s. In 2002 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) conducted a poll regarding the 100 Greatest Britons; Victoria attained the eighteenth place.

Innovations of the Victorian era include postage stamps, the first of which—the Penny Black (issued 1840)—featured an image of the Queen, and the railway, which Victoria was the first British Sovereign to ride and which would become not only the backbone of Britain's own industrial strength but one of the gifts that her Empire gave to India especially, and elsewhere in the world. It has been suggested that without the railroad, the modern nation state of India would not have been born.

Several places in the world have been named after Victoria, including two Australian States (Victoria and Queensland), the capitals of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, Canada, the capital of the Seychelles, Africa's largest lake (Lake Victoria), and Victoria Falls.

Queen Victoria remains the most commemorated British monarch in history, with statues to her erected throughout the British Empire. These range from the prominent, such as the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace, which was erected as part of the remodeling of the façade of the Palace a decade after her death, to the obscure: in the town of Cape Coast, Ghana, a bust of the Queen presides, rather forlornly, over a small park where goats graze around her.

A much more controversial statue to Queen Victoria sculpted by Irishman John Hughes was erected on the Kildare Street front of Leinster House in Dublin, the then headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society. It was unveiled by King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. In 1924, two years after renting the property for parliamentary purposes, the building was bought and turned into the official seat of the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Irish Free State. After years of criticism of having a statue of Victoria, known disparagingly by Irish republicans as the "famine queen," outside Ireland's parliament, the statue was removed in 1947. After decades in storage the statue was given by the Republic of Ireland to Australia and unveiled on December 20, 1987 to stand outside the Queen Victoria Building in the centre of Sydney.

The first statue of Victoria in Sydney was made by Joseph Edgar Boehm and stands in Queen's Square (a statue of Prince Albert stands opposite, on the other side of Macquarie Street). Victoria's statue underwent three unveiling ceremonies: 1) as part of the opening festivities of Sydney's International Exhibition in 1879; 2) at a ceremony for the laying of the statue monument's foundation stone, held to coincide with a visit by Princes Edward and George V in 1881 (the statue not actually being present on that occasion); and 3) on January 24, 1888, during celebrations for the Australian Centennial, when the statue was revealed on its Moruya granite pedestal (designed by James Barnett, Colonial Architect).

A statue of Queen Victoria was also unveiled in 1906 in Queens Gardens, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


Victoria belonged to the House of Hanover, whereby some assign the surname d'Este or the surname Guelph to her, though she never needed to use any surname (some other descendants of the House of Hanover have used the surname Hanover in Britain). Her husband belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and accordingly at Victoria's death, that House ascended the British throne in person of her son and heir Edward VII. According to custom of nobles and royals, a wife never gains the membership of her husband's house, but remains as belonging to her own and thus Victoria was not of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. As a married woman, most genealogists assign to her the surname von Wettin, based on the advice of the College of Arms. She is therefore sometimes referred to as Alexandrina Victoria von Wettin, née Hanover.

While Albert was of House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the German house was descended from the Ernestine Branch of the Wettin dynasty. Victoria asked her staff to determine what Albert's and now her own marital surname was. After examining records from the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha archives, they reported that her husband's personal surname was Wettin (or von Wettin). Queen Victoria's papers record her dislike of the name. Her grandson, George V, again explored the issue when changing both the surname and Royal House name in 1917 to Windsor. The College of Arms again informed him that his family surname prior to the change was Wettin. In the 1958 an Order-in-Council adapted the 1917 decision by granting some of Queen Elizabeth II's descendants the surname Mountbatten-Windsor. This does not apply to the Prince of Wales or either of his sons but only to those descendants of the Queen and Prince Philip who never come to the throne. By statute, all reigning sovereigns from 1917 onward bear the surname "Windsor."

Christian Convictions and Sense of Duty

Victorian Imperialism

During Victoria’s reign, the British Empire doubled in size. The “scramble for Africa,” and imposition of direct rule from London in India and territorial expansion elsewhere in the world both made Victoria’s Empire the greatest power of the time. Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) expressed this concept as the “white man's burden.”

A common sentiment was that the British, towards the top of the scale of social and technological evolution, had a moral responsibility to educate, civilize and uplift the less developed races. On one occasion, Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902, explorer and colonizer of Zimbabwe or Rhodesia) told his queen that the British were the only race fit to rule Southern Africa: “…we are the first race in the world…and the more we inhabit the better it is for the human race.” Arnstein (2003) comments that “Most of Victoria's subjects agreed with this breathtaking pronouncement, convinced that the benefits of Christianity, improved hygiene and British made goods were self-sufficient to all right minded people” (181). Many people, including the eminent Scottish missionary David Livingstone, conflated the Christianizing and the civilizing task, which he also linked with commerce and trade.

John Stuart Mill, the Utilitarian philosopher who worked in the India Office, London, also gave support to the idea that Britain had a moral responsibility towards the less-able peoples of the world when he penned his 1858 A President in Council the Best Government for India, and stated that the “150 millions of Asiatics [could] not be trusted to govern themselves” (Mill 1990). Mill regarded Indians as comparable to children, who needed a wise guardian, or ward, to look after them until they grow into maturity when they would be able to govern themselves. However, he had opposed direct rule from London because he thought this might result in too much government, which he believed had caused the anti-British rebellion in and the loss of the 13 American colonies. Government through the East India Company (which knew India) was preferable.

Many of Victoria's colonial officials, were highly paid to serve overseas at a time when public service in the United Kingdom was still largely voluntary, carried out by the landed-gentry as a duty, imagined a huge moral and cultural gulf between themselves and their subject peoples. Even in India, where such officials often also studied the culture, they felt morally superior since Indians, if left to their own devices, would kill each other through communitarian rivalry and thought that only the presence of the British kept chaos in check.

Victoria herself does not appear to have fully shared these attitudes of superiority. She took a keen interest in her Imperial subjects, loved to welcome Indians especially when they visited London and even learned some Hindustani. Famously, she supported South African Bishop John William Colenso (1814-1883) against his critics for supporting the rights of Africans, writing to him that she commended:

…his noble, disinterested conduct in favor of the natives who were so unjustly used, and in general her very strong feeling (and she has few stronger) that the natives and coloured races should be treated with kindness and every affection, as brothers, not - as, Alas! Englishmen too often do - as totally different to ourselves, fit only to be crushed and shot down! In general, all her Colonial Officers should know her feelings on this subject of the native races. (Arnstein 2003, 181).

Aged 81, reflecting on her long reign, Victoria referred to the various rebellions and uprisings throughout the world, and seemed almost puzzled by these reactions against British authority. “The empire doubled in size during my reign,” she said, “and the people of the world are much better off because of it.”

Victorian Religion & Duty

Victoria believed that only the very best and 'fair minded' men should be sent to govern India, where she was fully aware that Indians were loyal to her not out of love but from fear (Arnstein 2003, 182). Although her own Christian faith informed and shaped her world-view and her strong sense of duty, she was reluctant to interfere “with religious practices in India” and remained skeptical about the desirability of a “large scale missionary campaign in India” (Arnstein 2003, 103). Following the rebellion of 1857-1858 she urged clemency on the rebels. Indeed, her viceroy, Lord Canning, earned the nickname “Clemency Canning.”

On the other hand, in a speech she gave shortly before her death, she commented that neither the Chartists who rioted at home nor the Indians who revolved abroad “really [knew] what was in their best interest.” All Britain wanted was to rule benignly “and to do what is best for them.”

Her own and Albert's strong idea of public duty stemmed from the belief that birth-privilege carried responsibility. Assuming the throne, Victoria wrote, “Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country” (cited in Arnstein 2003, 29). At the age of 80, she prayed that she would still be able to “work for the good” of her country (190). Albert once told their son, the Prince of Wales, that life was composed of duties and that it was in the “punctual and cheerful performance of them that a true Christian, true soldier and true gentleman is recognized” (Erickson, 137).

Victoria's own religion, which had Calvinist undertones, stressed hard-work, honesty, chastity, modesty, and philanthropy towards the less fortunate—but not towards those who were undeserving. Alcohol abuse, immorality, sexual impropriety were ills to be combated. She actually preferred the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, considering that the Church of England was only partly reformed (Arnstein, 137). Church of England worship for her was too 'high' (Catholic). Dissenting religion—in the shape of Methodist, Congregationalist and Baptist movements—flourished during her reign. She actually described herself, though she was Supreme Governor of the Church of England, as “very nearly a Dissenter - or rather more a Presbyterian” and “was alarmed at how ritualistic the Church of England had become…[There would] have to be a new Reformation,” she said (Erickson 1997, 190).

Victorian Sexuality

She believed that people have a bias towards sin, and that this has to be controlled. The thought of sin “made her shudder with distaste” (Arnstein 2003, 171). She actually thought that she was responsible for her son’s sexual excesses, since she considered herself to be “sexually ardent, violently temperamental and imperious” (Arnstein 2003, 172). Her own reputation for sexual prurience, such as not revealing any part of the body, was in part because she did not want her own family to cause any scandal (Erickson, 116). The English aristocracy and previous Monarchs had caused enough scandal through sexual promiscuity. She wanted none of that. On the other hand, she gave Albert birthday presents of female nude paintings, and her “sense of modesty did not extend to her own marriage bed” (Arnstein 2003, 198).

On Feminism

Her anti-feminist stance was not because she did not regard women as equal to men, but because she feared for their moral safety; thus, feminists “ought to get a good whipping” (Arnstein 2003, 198). There were many more women than men in Victorian England. J.S. Mill supported female emancipation and admission to the universities.

On philanthropy and the poor

Remarking on her reputation as stern, strict, short-tempered and stubborn, she said that these were the qualities that a ruler needed to possess. While private philanthropy and public duty supported much of Victorian Britain, Victoria took great pride in having signed into law many welfare measures regulating working hours and condition, providing free education and better health care. She did this “to improve the position of the average Englishman.” Victoria oversaw a move towards government accepting responsibility for social welfare, which was always understood as a primary duty overseas.

On Equality for Jews

Victoria's favorite Prime Minister, Disraeli, was Jewish by birth. During her reign, Jews were allowed to serve in Parliament (and have done ever since), and the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London took office. She knighted the first Jew, created the first Jewish baronet, raised the first Jew to the House of Lords and was generally sympathetic towards the Jewish cause. Following the infamous Dreyfus affair in France, she called this the “greatest disgrace to France which could take place” (Arnstein 2003, 190). Dreyfus, an army officer, was wrongly convicted of treason in 1894, eventually pardoned in 1906. This unfair treatment of a Jewish citizen inspired the Zionist movement.

A Christian Kingdom

Commentators point out that Victorian Britain was the most religious society that the world had ever known (Phillips, 225). Church attendance was as high as 50%. As Erickson (2002) notes, “Biblical Christianity was thickly intertwined in the fabric of Victorian society.” Christian symbols were prominently displayed everywhere, such as signs reading “choose this day whom you will serve,” and “be sure your sins will find you out” on prison walls (200). English men and women were “serious about their faith,” which “undergirded their lives to an extent unimaginable to nonchurchgoers in our own time.”

Concepts such as sin and ungodliness, says Erickson, “defined experience” (200). Belief that it was Britain's god given “duty to save the world [resulted in] a huge increase in foreign missionary activity, along with an upsurge in moral imperialism ... that abetted and reinforced the everyday patriotism of parades, naval reviews, music-hall songs, and saber-rattlng literature” (Phillips 2006, 225). For some, Britain was the New Israel through which God's providential purposes would unfold. This would especially influence British policy in the Middle East, which always had a “biblical dimension… more than any other European people, nineteenth and early twentieth century Britons spoke of resettling Jews in the historic land of Israel,” an idea towards which “two imperially minded [Victorian prime ministers] were also well disposed: Benjamin Disraeli (who pioneered the idea in a book) and Viscount Palmerston (who thought a British client state in the Middle East would be economically advantageous)” (Phillips 2006, 256). In such Victorian tunes as 'Onward Christian Soldiers', with 'triumphal music by Sir Arthur Sullivan ... Music-hall jingoism, militant Protestant hymnology, and queen-and-country literature converged' (Phillips 2006, 230).

Hopes for equality and world peace

She also signed legislation that made Britain much more democratic, and had high hopes that her son-in-law, Emperor Frederick III of Germany would become a constitutional monarch as well. There is little doubt that Victoria and Albert believed that their family, spread across Europe, would help to crate a peaceful, more united world.


Name Birth Death Notes
Victoria, Princess Royal and Empress Frederick

(Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise)

November 21, 1840 August 5, 1901 married 1858, Friedrich III of Germany, German Emperor and King of Prussia; had issue
Edward VII of the United Kingdom (Albert Edward) November 9, 1841 May 6, 1910 married 1863, Alexandra of Denmark; had issue
Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine (Alice Maud Mary) April 25, 1843 December 14, 1878 married 1862, Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine; had issue
Alfred of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (The Prince Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke of Edinburgh) (Alfred Ernest Albert) August 6, 1844 July 31, 1900 married 1874, Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia; had issue
Princess Helena, Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein - The Princess Helena (Helena Augusta Victoria) May 25, 1846 June 9, 1923 married 1866, HRH Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg; had issue
Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll - The Princess Louise (Louise Caroline Alberta) March 18, 1848 December 3, 1939 married 1871, John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll; no issue
Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught - The Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (Arthur William Patrick Albert) May 1, 1850 January 16, 1942 married 1879, Princess Louise Margaret, Duchess of Connaught (Princess Louise Margarete of Prussia); had issue
Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (Leopold George Duncan Albert) April 7, 1853 March 28, 1884 married 1882, Princess Helena of Waldeck; had issue
Princess Beatrice, Princess Henry of Battenberg (Beatrice Mary Feodore Victoria) April 14, 1857 October 26, 1944 married 1885, Prince Henry of Battenberg; had issue

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Arnstein, Walter L. 2003. Queen Victoria. Red Globe Press. ISBN 978-0333638064
  • Auchincloss, Louis. 1979. Persons of Consequence: Queen Victoria and Her Circle. New York: Random House. ISBN 0394504275
  • Cecil, Algernon. [1953] 2021. Queen Victoria and Her Prime Ministers. Hassell Street Press. ISBN 978-1013398186
  • Eilers, Marlene A. 1997. Queen Victoria’s Descendants. 2nd enlarged & updated ed. Falköping, Sweden: Rosvall Royall Books. ISBN 9163059649
  • Erickson, Carolly. 1997. Her Little Majesty: the life of Queen Victoria. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684807653
  • Farnborough, T.E. May (1st Baron). 1896. Constitutional History of England since the Accession of George the Third 11th ed. London: Longmans Green.
  • Mill, John Stuart. 1990. Writings on India. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0802027177
  • Phillips, Kevin. 2006. American Theocracy. New York: Viking. ISBN 067003486X
  • Potts, D.M., & W.T.W. Potts. 1995. Queen Victoria’s Gene: Haemophilia and the Royal Family. Stroud: Alan Sutton. ISBN 0750911999
  • Weintraub, Stanley. 1987. Victoria: An Intimate Biography. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0525244697

External links

All links retrieved May 10, 2024.


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