On May 24, 2019 it will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of “the grandmother of Europe”, Queen Victoria. On this occasion let’s go back on its history…
Queen Victoria reigned over the United Kingdom 63 years and seven months, a record beaten by the current Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended the throne in 1952. The long reign of Victoria remains associated with an indisputable moment of apogee, one where British civilization dictated their law to the world.
Alexandrina Victoria, who was born in Kensington Palace, was the only daughter of Edward Augustus of Great Britain, Duke of Kent and Strathearn and Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.
Her father was the fourth son of George III, King of the United Kingdom and Ireland (1760-1820).
Before Victoria’s birth, Edward’s niece was destined for the throne. Unfortunately, she died in 1817, then a race to the throne took place between Edward and his three unmarried brothers. Edward married Victoria’s mother in 1818. A year later Victoria was born, and as the only infant to survive birth she became fifth in the order of succession to the British throne, after her father and three brothers.
Victoria described her childhood as “rather sad”: she was raised by her very strict and protective mother. She was isolated according to the Kensington system dictated by her mother and comptroller John Conroy. This system prohibited the princess from seeing her father’s family. Victoria shared the room with her mother, studying with private teachers according to a specific schedule.
Victoria’s grandfather and father died in 1820 and her uncle in 1827. On the death of her uncle George IV in 1830, Victoria became the presumptive heiress of her last living uncle, William IV. The Regency Act of 1830 charged Victoria’s mother with regency in the event that William IV died before Victoria was 18 years old. The king did not trust her mother’s ability to play the role of regent, and in 1836 he declared that he wanted to live until Victoria’s 18th birthday to avoid a regency.
On 20th June 1837, one month after Victoria celebrated her 18th birthday, her uncle King William IV died following a heart attack after only 6 years on the throne. Her coronation took place on 23 June 1838 in Westminster Abbey and she became the first ruler to reside at Buckingham Palace. At the time of her accession to the throne, the government was led by Prime Minister Lord Melbourne and the latter exerted an important influence on the politically inexperienced queen.
Although she had become queen, Victoria remained a single young woman and the social conventions of the time required her to live with her mother despite their differences over her education. She had her mother locked up in a secluded apartment in Buckingham Palace. To avoid having to live with her mother, Lord Melbourne advised her to get married. She met her future husband for the first time in May 1836 during a meeting organized by her mother’s brother, Leopold I.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha were cousins. Their first meeting was beneficial because the queen fell under the spell of the prince. Three years later, when Albert came to Windsor with his brother, the queen asked for his hand in marriage which he accepted without hesitation.
The wedding took place on 10th February 1840 in England, at Westminster.
Victoria fell pregnant very quickly and on 21st November 1840 in Windsor, her first child was born, the princess Royal Victoria Adelaide. Thereafter, the royal couple had eight other children: Edouard, Alice, Alfred, Helen, Louise, Arthur, Léopold, Béatrice.
Prince Albert, who could be king, was named “prince consort” under the pressure of Victoria: in the event of the death of the Queen, Albert could re-appoint her place. Victoria entrusted certain missions to her husband, such as the Great Universal Exhibition of 1st May 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London, a great event for the time. Prince Albert was a forerunner in certain fields.
Nearly forty years later, after her coronation, she was appointed empress of the Indies on 1st May 1876. She held that position until her death. Her reign was marked by great expansion of her empire. The UK became the first world power thanks to a great industrial revolution.
14th December 1861 sounded old the knell of happiness for the couple so welded: Albert died of typhoid at 42 years. Victoria did not recover from the loss of her husband, remaining cloistered in the palace and limiting her public outings. This isolation reduced the popularity of the monarchy and encouraged the republican movement. She continued to fulfill her government duties but chose to remain confined to her royal residences in Windsor, Balmoral and Osborne.
After the death of her husband, she remained in mourning and wore black clothes until the end of her life. She avoided public appearances and went to London very rarely in the years that followed. Her removal from Windsor Castle earned her the nickname “Windsor Widow”.
The queen was lame because of her rheumatism and her vision was obscured by cataracts. During the month of January, she felt weak and suffering. She died on 22nd January 1901 at the age of 81, at Osborne House in the Isle of Wight where she lived her last years.