Victoria - 1837-1901
Queen Victoria was the longest reigning of the British monarchs, coming to the throne at the age of eighteen. She was the daughter of the Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III and of Princess Victoria Leiningen of Saxe-Coburg. It seemed likely from her earliest years that she would one day inherit the throne, and so was carefully brought up, under the care of a Hanoverian governess, Fraulein Louise Lehzen.
The two major influences in her first years as Queen were her uncle, Prince Leopold, and Lord Melbourne, her first Prime Minister. Both were sophisticated men of the world and politically wise. Their example and her own strong will formed the character of the later Queen. Her first tussle with the established order occurred in May 1839 when Melbourne resigned, to be succeeded by the Tory Sir Robert Peel.
The new Prime Minister insisted that the ladies of the Queens Bedchamber should all be Tories, like the new government. The Queen refused to dismiss the Whig women in her household and the affair quickly became a crisis, leading to a vote in Parliament that Peel lost. Melbourne took up the prime ministership again.
By the autumn of 1839, a much more important influence on Victoria had been brought into her life by her mother and Uncle Leopold, both intent on marrying off the young Queen suitably.
Their candidate for the role of royal consort was a relative, Prince Albert of the small German principality of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Albert was handsome, intelligent and well educated, and Victoria was immediately attracted. They were married in the Chapel Royal, St James Palace in February 1840.
Their first child, Victoria, was born in November, to be followed over the next 16 years by another eight children, all of whom grew up to be married into the royal families of Europe. Victoria and Albert's close-knit family life set the pattern for the Victorian Age.
Albert was decisive and ambitious, and had to overcome much early criticism in Britain because of his German origins and comparative poverty. Albert's ambitions were not for himself but for his adopted country; he wished to make Britain the greatest nation in the world. Victoria adored him andtogether they made an indelible impression on British life.
The Great Exhibition of 1851, which was Alberts idea, increased his popularity, as did his desire for change and improvement for the working people of Britain. This was a subject which Victoria had at first given little thought to, for Melbourne had nurtured in her the idea that change was better left to itself and nor encouraged. But Victoria had a more liberal and tolerant view of the world, more, it can be said, than many of her subjects
. This became evident in her attitude, for instance, to the instigators of the Indian Mutiny in 1857, against whom, unlike the rest of her subjects, she did not demand revenge.
In 1861, Albert died of typhoid. Unable to face public life without him, Victoria retired for thirteen years and was seldom seen by her subjects. That was until her Prime Minister, the clever and astute Benjamin Disraeli, restored her sense of her duty to the imperial destiny of her country by making
her Empress of India in 1877. This move ensured the protection of the short sea route to Britain's possessions in India, south-east Asia and the Pacific.
The latter part of Victorias reign was a triumphal march of an empire on which, it was thought, the sun would never set. Britain's world influence grew with her colonies and mandates and the home country prospered as never before. In 1887 her Golden Jubilee became an occasion for national rejoicing, only surpassed by her Diamond Jubilee ten years later.
Key Events during the Reign of Victoria
1837 - Victoria succeeds William IV.
1840 - Victoria marries Prince Albert.
1840 - Penny post introduced.
1845-9 - Potato famine in Ireland.
1852 - Death of the Duke of Wellington.
1854-56 - Crimean War fought by Britain and France against Russia.
1856 - Victoria Cross instituted for military bravery.
1859 - Charles Darwin writes On the Origin of the Species.
1861 - Death of Prince Albert.
1863 - Edward, Prince of Wales, marries Alexandra of Denmark.
1863 - Salvation Army founded.
1876 - Victoria becomes Empress of India.
1887 - Victoria celebrates her Golden Jubilee.
1897 - Victoria celebrates her Diamond Jubilee.
1899-1902 - Boer War in South Africa.
1901 - Death of Queen Victoria.