Queen Victoria

Birth and early years

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria, our longest reigning British monarch, was born on the 24 May 1819 at Kensington Palace, London. She was christened Alexandrina Victoria privately by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Her parents were Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The Duke of Kent was the fourth son of the King, George III. Victoria's father died when she was not yet one year old, and on the death of her uncle George IV in 1830, she became heiress presumptive, which meant that she was expected to become Queen if her uncle William IV died. British law did not allow for her to rule until she was 18, and if William had died earlier it would have been necessary to appoint a Regent - a person who would act for the monarch while she was still a minor.

Victoria led a heavily protected and rather unhappy childhood, being only allowed to mix with people who her mother considered appropriate. She spent many hours playing with her dolls and her dog Dash. In 1830 and 1832-1835 the Duchess and her staff took Victoria on an annual visit to towns around England, but Victoria found the trips tiring and boring, even though she was welcomed favourably. As she was descended from a German family, Victoria's first language was German, but at three years old she learnt to speak English and French. Later on she learnt to speak Hindustani because of her role in India. Victoria was taught at home by tutors and governesses. She studied history, geography, and the Bible as would any respectable young lady of the day. She also learned to play the piano and to paint.

When she was 17, Victoria was introduced to various eligible royal gentlemen, but from the start liked Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who she was later to marry.

Victoria and Albert

Accession, Marriage and early years as Queen

William IV died on 20 June 1837, less than a month after Victoria turned 18. After she was officially crowned on 28 June 1838 at Westminster Abbey, she took up residence at Buckingham Palace, the first monarch to live there. As an unmarried lady she continued to live with her mother. Because of her inexperience and youth, in state matters, she initially relied upon the guidance of Lord Melbourne who was the Prime Minister. Although popular at first, she made some early mistakes which drew criticism. She continued her romance with Albert, however, and in October 1839 she proposed to him. They were married in February 1840 in the Chapel Royal, St James Palace. Albert soon began to help guide the young Queen in political matters so that she no longer relied on Lord Melbourne, while the marriage also meant that her mother, with whom she had a somewhat turbulent relationship, left the household.

Assassination Attempt

Assassination attempts and family

Whilst Victoria was pregnant with her first child an 18-year old man attempted to shoot her while she was riding in a carriage with Prince Albert. Although he fired twice, both bullets missed, and the culprit was quickly caught and tried, but was found to be insane. The event increased her popularity which had diminished through her earlier reign. Her daughter was born on 21 November 1840 and was named Victoria after her mother. The Queen was not a natural mother, and hated pregnancy, and even thought babies were disgusting, but she went on to have another eight children.

A second assassination attempt was made in 1842 by John Francis. The Queen was riding along The Mall in a carriage when she saw a man level a pistol at her, but he did not fire. Believing another attempt might be made, bravely, she made the same ride the next day, riding faster, and with a greater escort, and this time, as he took aim, the would-be assassin was caught by plain clothes police. He was convicted of High Treason and eventually sentenced to transportation for life. A further incident took place when a John Bean fired a pistol at the Queen, but it was harmlessly loaded with peper and tobacco. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

A more serious atack took place in 1849 when an unemployed Irishman, William Hamilton, fired a pistol at Victoria's carriage as it passed along Constitution Hill. He was sentenced to seven years' penal transportation. Another man, an ex-army officer, Robert Pate, attacked the Queen in 1850, again while in her carriage. He struck her with his cane, crushing her bonnet and bruising her face. Although possibly insance he was also sentenced to 7-years transportation.

Queen Victoria Family

Between 1840 and 1857 Victoria gave birth to nine children. The penultimate birth was remarkable as she had the aid of a new anaesthetic, chloroform. The Queen was so impressed by the relief it gave from the pain of childbirth that she used it when her ninth child was born, although there was opposition from members of the clergy, who considered it against biblical teaching.

In 1845 Ireland was hit by a widespread potato blight, and the shortage of food led to deaths of more than a million Irish people. Victoria made state visits to Ireland to try to draw attention to the seriousness of the Irish crisis, but somehow the Irish people did not seem to take to her, and a rift developed which never truly healed.

Deaths and beyond

In 1861 Victoria was hit by a double tragedy. First her mother died, and then a few months later Prince Albert, her husband, died of typhoid fever after several months of chronic stomach trouble. Victoria was devastated and entered a state of mourning from which she never recovered, and she wore black for the rest of her life. She entered a period of withdrawal, making few public appearances, and rarely venturing into London. She became known as the Widow of Windsor.

It was during the 1860s that Victoria began to rely increasingly on John Brown, a Scottish manservant, and there were rumours of a romantic attachment. The Queen was even referred to by the nickname Mrs Brown.

In the 1871, the Queen's son, Edward, Prince of Wales, was thought to have contracted typhoid fever as had his father ten years earlier. There was great public concern that he might also die, but thankfully he got better, and Victoria and Edward attended a public parade through London followed by a service of thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral. Another incident took place a year later that threatened Victoria again as she road in an open carriage into Buckingham Palace when a 17 year old political protestor waved, what turned out to be, an unloaded pistol at her.

In 1876, Victoria was created Empress of India by Prime Minister Disraeli. In 1882 another attack was made on Vuctoria when a disgruntled poet shot at her, possibly because she did not like his poetry. He was struck down by two schoolboys from Eton College who held him until police arrived. He was later found to be insane. Victoria was touched by the many expressions of support from members of the public following the incident.

The Golden Jubilee

In 1887, 50 years after coming to the throne, a great banquet was held to which 50 European kings and princes were invited. She also took part in a pricession that "stretched to the limit of sight in both directions". She also attended a thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey.

The Diamond Jubilee

This was even bigger than the Golden Jubilee and was attended by the prime ministers of all the self-governing dominions, while the Jubilee procession included troops from all over the empire. The Queen, travelling in an open carriage, pause at St Paul's Cathedral, where there was an open air service of thanksgiving.

Death of a Queen

Victoria followed a custom she had maintained throughout widowhood and stayed at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. She was rther unwell with rheumatism in her legs, and cataracts in her eyes. By mid-January she was very unwell and confused, and she died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 22 January 1901. She was 81 years old. Many small momentoes of her life were placed in her coffin including one of Albert's dressing gowns. A funeral was held on 2 February and then after two days lying in state she was interred beside Prince Albert in Frogmore Mausoleum at Windsor Great Park.

She reigned for 63 years 7 months and two days.

Interesting facts

bullet On 13 June 1842, Victoria made her first journey by train, travelling 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.

bullet Victoria requested a white funeral instead of the usual black. When she was laid to rest at the mausoleum, it began to snow.

bullet Victoria had nine children, 40 grand-children and 37 great-grandchildren, scattered all over Europe. Most of Queen Victoria's children married into other royal families of Europe.

bullet Queen Victoria was survived by 6 children, 40 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren, including four future sovereigns of England: Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI.

bullet She wore a white wedding dress and set the world-wide trend of white wedding dresses.