Queen Victoria (1819-1901): Her Life And Times

By Mairead Douglas

Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1837-1901) and Empress of India (1876-1901).Born Alexandra Victoria on May 24, 1819, in Kensington Palace,` London, Victoria was the daughter of Victoria Mary Louisa ,daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saaifeld, and Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of George III. She ascended the throne on June 20, 1837,on the death of her uncle, William IV, who had no legitimate children. At this stage she was an unknown figure, even by name to most of her subjects. When she died on January 22, 1901, outliving the centuary, she was one of the best-know figures, by reputation as well as name, not only in the United Kingdom but also in a greatly expanded British Empire and in the world, including the United States. Her reign had been the longest in the British history, and she had given her name to an age of Victorian Britain.
There had been no sense in 1837 of such an outcome. There was curiosity about what an 18 year old queen would be like, but uncertainty about what, if anything, she could achieve. As it was, she was sensitively guided politically and socially by the aged Whig prime minister, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, before on Friday 10, 1840, she married her first cousin Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Albert had been given more guidence by his tutors, not all of it sound, about the role he should play as her husband, than she had been given before she came the throne. She had been dependent most on her German governess, Baroness Lehzen, who was the first to tell her (at the age of 11) that she was Heiress Presumptive to the throne. Her father Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, youngest brother of William IV, had died in 1820, when Victoria was still an infant, and her German mother Victoria Mary Louisa had proven an ill-informed and difficult parent.
Later In life, Victoria was to repeat many times that she was never happy until she was 18.
“Beloved Albert” brought her exceptional happiness until his early death on December 14, 1861.The marriage, while an affair of state, was a love match, and the royal couple were seldom apart. They offered an example of family life that contrasted sharply with the earlier royal images of George IV and his brothers. Victoria and Albert had 9 children; the first of them Victoria, future German Empress, born on November 21, 1840,the second, the future Edward VII, born on November 9, 1841. They had limitations as parents, but their intentions were beyond reproach and they enjoyed there lives, particularly at osbourne house on the Isle of White purchased in 1843, and Balmoral Castle in Scotland, acquired in 1852 and rebuilt on the basis of Alberts designs. “God Knows”, the Queen has written as early 1844, “how willingly I would always live with my beloved Albert and our children in the quiet retirement of private life, and not be the constant subject of observation,” An aristocratic German visitor to Balmoral 11 years later, Helmuth Karl von Moltke, told his wife, “It is hard to believe that the most powerful monarch in the world can leave all court life behind. It is just plain family life here”
Queen Victoria’s constitutional power was always limited, and while her personal likes and dislikes influenced the section of the cabinet and her views on political issues were fortright and shrewd, she never determined policy, were being discussed, used his influence to persuade Victoria to accept his version of what a constitutional monarch should be. They both disliked Lord Palmerstown and his policies, but they could never undermine his political leadership. They had been deeply concerned about British foreign policy in the lead-up to the crimean war-and Albert was very unpopular in the country, yet when it began they zealously supported British troops in action, as the Queen was always to do in all the “small wars’’ in which the country was involved. It was in 1856 that she instituted the Victoria Cross, the highest British award for military valour. Albert was given the title of Prince Consort in 1857.
Victoria was desperately lonely after Alberts death in 1861 and retreated into a gloomy widowhood, undergoing a nervous breakdown and shrinking from the public. The result was a barrage of criticism as sharp as Albert had had to face at the worst moments of his lifetime. On the third anniversary of his death, The Times declared that ‘the living have their claims as well as the dead; and what claims can be more important than those of a great nation, and the society of the first European capitals?’ In these circumstances, it was the Queens strong sense of duty and the much-vaunted power of her will that kept the monarchy alive. By the end of the reign, with an experienced deep into the past, she had endowed it with a new magic.
In one of her Prime Ministers, the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli, who had done much to destroy Sir Robert Peel, one of Alberts heroes, she found a leader who knew how to get the best out of her, and it was he who in 1876 persuaded Parliament to pass Royal Titles act adding to the Queens titles that of Empress of India. If Disraeli was adept in understanding the Queen, she was incapable of understanding or appreciating the most authoritative of the liberal leaders of the late 19th century, William Ewart Gladstone, who in an age of political party organisation was to survive Disraeli by a quarter of a century. When he became Prime Minister for the fourth time in 1892 at over eighty yrs old, he discribed his interview with her as “such a took place between Marie Antoinette and her executioner”, and when he retired 2 yrs later she refused to thank him for his services to the country. She was shocked that Edward, then Prince of Wales, with whom she was on bad terms, acted as a pall-bearer at his funeral in 1897.
That year saw the second of the two great Jubilees which suggested to the world how strong the British Monarchy was. That of 1887, the Golden Jubilee, once more displayed the Queen to the public. She herself helped to organize it, and at the Thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey there were representatives from all parts of the empire. There was an even stronger imperial dimension to the diamond Jubilee ten years later, when as in 1887, Thanksgiving services were held in every church, chapel, and synagogue throughout Britian.
Between 1897 and 1901 there was one more very special occasion- a visit to Ireland in 1900, which she had last visited 39 years before. It was a part of the empire that had been at the centre of British politics in the Gladstone years, and was to remain so throughout much of the new century which she herself did not celebrate. “Im bored with the future”, she is said to have remarked in her old age, “and I don’t want to hear any more about it”. The present itself was scarcely consoling. The South African wars in South Africa, which began on October 12, 1899, brought with it a chain of unexpected military reverses and a burst of European opposition. As in the past, the Queen staunchly supported her troops, and she drove in triumph through London after the siege of Ladysmith was broken on Febuary 28, 1900.She saw through that year, which she called horrible- not because of the war or politics but because of the weather-and after a short but weathering illness died at Osborne. One of her last visitors was her grandson, the German Emperor, William11, “the kaiser” who was to lead Germany against Britain during World War 1. He supported her on her pillow in her last two-and-a-half hours. He was one of the main figures at her impressive funeral, which was the military in flavour, characterized by lavish pomp and ceremony. For the most of her subjects, however, an age seemed to have come to an end, and for all the sorrowfull tributes there were many people who looked forward not only to get a new reign but a new future.
BIBLIOGRAPHY:
-Hibbert, C. Queen Victoria, Harper Collins. 2001
-Zeepuat, C. Queen Victorias Family. Sutton Publishing. 2001
-Rennel, T. Last Days Of Glory: The Death Of Queen Victoria. 2001
-Packard,J.M. Victorias Daughters. ST.Martins Press. 1998