Victoria of the United Kingdom

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Victoria
Queen of the United Kingdom

Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria) (24 May 181922 January 1901) was a Queen of the United Kingdom, reigning from 20 June 1837 until her death. Her reign lasted more than sixty-three years—longer than any other British monarch. As well as being Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, 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 Era was at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a period of great social, economic and technological change in the United Kingdom. Victoria was the last monarch of the House of Hanover; her successor belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Early life

Victoria's father, HRH The Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, was the fourth son of George III. The Duke of Kent, like many other sons of George III, did not marry during his youth. The eldest son HRH Prince George, Prince of Wales (the future George IV) did marry, but had only a daughter, HRH Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. When she then died in 1817, the remaining sons of George III scrambled to marry and beget so that the line of George III might continue. Thus, at the age of fifty, the Duke of Kent married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, the sister of Leopold I, King of the Belgians and widow of Karl, Prince of Leiningen. Victoria, the only child of the couple, was born in 1819.

From birth, she was known as HRH Princess Victoria of Kent. Princess Victoria's father, the Duke of Kent, died 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 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 she became three years old however, she was schooled in English. She eventually learned to speak Italian, Greek, Latin and French. Her educator was the Reverand George Davys and her governess was Louise Lehzen.

When Princess Victoria of Kent was eleven years old, her uncle, George IV, died childless, leaving the Throne to his brother, William IV. As the new King was childless, 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, 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-Gotha, when she was sixteen years old. Prince Albert was Victoria's first cousin; his father was the brother of the Duchess of Kent. 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 gain social status (he was a minor German Prince) and out of a sense of duty (his family desired the match).

Early reign

A young Victoria is depicted at her coronation.

William IV died on 20 June 1837, leaving the Throne to Victoria. As the young Queen had just turned eighteen years old, no Regency was necessary. By Salic law, no woman could rule Hanover, a realm which had shared a monarch with Britain since 1714. Thus, Hanover went not to Victoria, but to her uncle, Ernest Augustus. As the young Queen was as yet unmarried and childless, Ernest Augustus was also the heir-presumptive to the British Throne.

When Victoria ascended the Throne, the government was controlled by the Whig Party, which had been in power 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 (see Rebellions of 1837), 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 charged Sir Robert Peel, a Tory, with the formation of a new administration, 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.

Marriage

HRH Prince Albert was the husband of Queen Victoria.

The Queen married Prince Albert on 10 February 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 dignity.

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 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 21 November 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, however, faded away as that of Prince Albert increased.

On 13 June 1842, Victoria made her first journey by train, travelling from Slough (near Windsor Castle) to Paddington (in London) in a special royal carriage provided by the Great Western Railway. Accompanying her were her husband, Prince Albert, and the engineer of the Great Western line, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Three attempts to assassinate the Queen occurred in 1842. On 29 May, John Francis (most likely seeking to gain notoriety) pointed a pistol at the Queen (then in a carriage), but misfired. The next day, he again attempted to fire at the Queen, but missed. 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 3 July, 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 an act, 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 eighteen months imprisonment; 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. Many Tories (by then known also as Conservatives) 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 the Lord John Russell. Russell's administration, though Whig, was not favoured by the Queen. Particularly offensive to Victoria was the Foreign Secretary, Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount 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 despatches 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 a coup d'�tat 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 discharging a powder-filled pistol in her presence. 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.

In 1851, the first World Fair, known as the Great Exhibition of 1851, was held. Organised by Prince Albert, the exhibition was officially opened by the Queen on 1 May 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 then 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, rumours 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 valour.

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 Chinese Crisis, in 1857. He was replaced by Lord Derby. Amongst the notable events of Derby's administration was the Sepoy Mutiny against the rule of the British East India Company over India. After the mutiny was crushed, India was put under the direct rule of the Crown (though the title "Empress of India" was not instituted immediately). Derby's second ministry fared no better than his first; it fell in 1859, allowing Palmerston to return to power.

Widowhood

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 outside 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. Victoria began to increasingly rely on a Scottish manservant, John Brown; although a romantic connexion and even a secret marriage have been alleged, they have not been conclusively proven. Rumours 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 residence. Meanwhile, one of the most important pieces of legislation of the nineteenth century—the Reform Act 1867—was passed by Parliament. Lord Palmerston was vigorously opposed to electoral reform, but his ministry ended upon his death in 1865. He was followed by the Earl Russell (the former Lord John Russell), and afterwards by Lord Derby, during whose administration the Reform Act was passed.

In 1868, a man who would prove to Victoria's favourite Prime Minister, the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli, entered office. 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. 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 dismounting a carriage, a seventeen-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 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.

Beaconsfield and Gladstone

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This anti-Semitic cartoon depicts Disraeli as a Jewish peddlerwoman offering Victoria an imperial crown.

Disraeli returned to power in 1874, at which time an imperialist sentiment was espoused by many in the country, including the new Prime Minister and the Queen, as well as many in Europe. In 1876, encouraged by Disraeli, the Queen assumed the title "Empress of India," which was officially recognised under the Royal Titles Act. Victoria rewarded her Prime Minister by creating him Earl of Beaconsfield.

Lord Beaconsfield's administration fell in 1880, and the Liberals returned to power. Attempting to keep Gladstone from returning to office, the Queen offered leadership of the ministry to Spencer Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington. Lord Hartington declined the opportunity, and Victoria could do little but appoint Gladstone 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 attempting to attack the Queen had been tried for a misdemeanour (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 considerably augmented 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 bill was rejected, Gladstone resigned, allowing Victoria to appoint Lord Salisbury to resume the premiership.

Later years

In 1887, the United Kingdom celebrated Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Victoria marked 20 June 1887—the fiftieth anniversary of her accession—with a banquet, to which fifty European Kings and Princes were invited. 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 rumoured 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, Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery. Lord Rosebery was succeeded in 1895 by Lord Salisbury, who served for the remainder of Victoria's reign.

By September 1896, Victoria had ruled longer than any other English, Scottish, or British monarch. In accordance with the Queen's request, all special public celebrations of the event were delayed until 1897, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The Colonial Secretary, 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 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 of Germany, and the death of two of her grandsons. 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.

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 22 January 1901, having reigned for sixty-three years, seven months, and two days, more than any British monarch before or since. Her funeral occurred on 2 February; after two days of lying-in-state, she was interred in the Frogmore Mausoleum beside her husband.

Victoria was succeeded by her son, who reigned as Edward VII. Victoria's death brought an end to the rule of the House of Hanover in the United Kingdom; Edward VII, like his father Prince Albert, belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Edward VII's son and successor, George V, changed the name of the Royal House to Windsor during the First World War. (The name "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha" was associated with Germany, the enemy of the United Kingdom during the war.)

Legacy

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A statue of Victoria stands in the city centre of Bristol, England.

Eight of Victoria's nine children married members of European royal families, and the other, HRH The Princess Louise, married a Scottish Duke. Many of her other descendants also married into the Royal Houses of Europe, earning Victoria the name "Grandmother of Europe." Victoria was the first known carrier of [[h�mophilia]] in the royal line, but it is unclear how she acquired it. She may have acquired it as a result of a sperm mutation, her father having been fifty-two years old when Victoria was conceived. It is also possible that she acquired it from her mother, but there is no known history of h�mophilia in her maternal family. Though she did not suffer from the disease, she passed it on to at least three of her children. The most famous h�mophilia victim among her descendants was her great-grandson, Alexei, Tsarevich of Russia. As of 2004, the European monarchs and former monarchs descended from Victoria are: the Queen of the United Kingdom, the King of Norway, the King of Sweden, the Queen of Denmark, the King of Spain, the King of the Hellenes (deposed) and the King of Romania (deposed).

Several places in the World have been named for Victoria, including an Australian state, the capitals of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, Canada, the capital of the Seychelles, Africa's largest lake, and the World's largest waterfalls. See also List of places named for Queen Victoria.

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 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.

Style and arms

Victoria's first official style as monarch was "Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith." The phrase "Empress of India" was added in 1876.

Victoria's arms were: Quarterly, I and IV Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland). These same arms have been used by every British monarch since Victoria.

Issue

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

See also

References

Preceded by:
William IV
Queen of the United Kingdom Succeeded by:
Edward VII
Empress of India

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