Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria of Britain is an often named and quite popular person of British and European history. "The Victorian Age" is a term that stands for the Industrial Revolution, new thoughts and lifestyles, but also political challenges and huge social problems. Although, as I experienced while searching for rich sources, there is not much information about her in the common enceclopedias and even less knowledge within the people.
In the following I will try to summarize Victoria's life and the circumstances that forced people to give her name to a whole era of progress and success.

Victoria's Childhood (1819 - 1837)

On May the 24th in 1819 Victoria Alexandrina was born in Kensington Palace, London as the only child of Edward the Duke of Kent (he died one year after her birth) and his German wife, princess Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe - Coburg - Gotha. Her uncle William IV. was King in this time. She was educated in the common way of aristocrats in French, German, geography, history and politics. It can be supposed that she was well - educated, but she herself later often blamed herself for not knowing enough and was often unconfident therefore, but without making efforts to change this situation.
She had no remarkable close relationship to her parents or to the rest of her family. For instance her mother she respected, but did not love her, for the education of aristocrats was mostly done by nurses and teachers, not by the parents.
Since she was 16 Victoria wrote a regular journal, which was even published later, and she also was fond of correspondance by letter, both seemed to be a need to her. Later she had a extensive corresponding especially with her daughter Victoria in Germany. Her letters all in all would make up a book of 7000 pages.
Her character always was kind of split. On the one hand she often wrote down, that she wanted to be a good person and tried hard to fit in that ideal of high moral standards, but on the other hand she could be rude and stubborn, if she did not like something or someone. Victoria always had problems with her looks, for she did not fit in the ideal of beauty.
Her youth was ended quite abruptly when she became queen of Britain and Ireland in 1837.

Her Life during The time of her reign (1837 - 1901)

Victoria from the beginning had good chances to win the people's respect, because her two uncles George IV and William IV and her grandfather George III, who were in reign before, were quite unpopular to them. They were known as drunkards, cowards, fools. Because they had no legitimate heirs Victoria was the next in the order to be monarch.
With her entering of the British throne the 123 years lasting personal - union between Britain and the German house of Hannover (British monarch was also sovereign or even king of Hannover) ended and another son of George III (Victoria's grandfather) became king in Hannover.
She herself had not the political education to rule the country and always had people who helped her doing this job. It is supposed that this behaviour for her was a way to compensate that her father had died one year after her birth so that she was searching for a kind of father in her later life. But she also had problems with doing serious things, because she felt so uneducated. For instance if she was to meet some author or inventor of the time, she tried not to speak with him about things she did not know anything about. Later Victoria also got inconfident because of her appearance: she was rather fat and small. It is said that she had great dignity, but to herself it might have looked different. On the other hand she was said to be a humorous person. The quotation "we are not amused" has never been authenciated.
Her first close attendants were Leopold I of the Netherlands and her first prime minister Melbourne. They helped her as good as possible in every affair of state or in private things. It was often mentioned that there may have been an affair between Melbourne and Victoria, but at least with her marriage to her cousin Albert of Saxe - Coburg - Gotha in 1940 those suggestions were abolished.
To this man, prince Albert (also born in 1819), she had the most loving relationship one can imagine, she really adored him. Besides that, he was her adviser in affairs of state. For instance he was the one who was responsible for the Great Exhibition in 1851, that showed all nations the outstanding position of Britain's technical progress.
Together with Albert, Victoria had nine children (Victoria, Albert, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice) which all married into European royal famillies, mostly into German ones (e.g. Victoria became Empress of Germany). That is why Queen Victoria had the title of the "Grandmother of Europe".
They lived a common family life of the upper class, Albert was interested in the technical inventions of the time, Victoria was caring for the children and amusing herself with her letter - contacts. Most of the time they lived on the Isle of Wight in Osborne - House or in the Scottish castle of Balmoral. The contact to London was built by telegraph and the use of the new trains helped to get to their residence in London very fast.
In 1861 Albert died of fever in the age of 42. For Victoria a whole world collapsed. He had been the centre of her life, her help in political things and her "master" (Victoria had the opinion that a woman should always have a man to follow him). She sank into depression, wore only black for the rest of her reign and went to Balmoral or Osborne to live there for the most of the time.
This behaviour often was criticized by the people and especially by the members of parliament. Among the rare public appearances were the opening of parliament in '66 and '67 and her travel to India when she was made Empress of India in 1877. In India several edifices were built (e.g. the Queen Victoria Memorial in Calcutta and the Victoria Station in Bombay) to honour this event.
In spite of all critical statements, these events were celebrated by the British people that loved their "Great White Queen". She herself could not enjoy such events, she felt helpless and lonely without her husband by her side. In her journal she wrote about the opening of parliament that she could not understand why they wanted to see "a poor, brokenhearted widow, dragged in deep mourning, alone in State as a show".
Especially in this time it was obvious how strong her emotions were compared to her longing to be a good person and a good queen. Often she simply refused to do the things her job wanted from her, in order to follow her feelings.
Her 50th and 60th anniversaries were celebrated with fulminant parties in London and all over the Commonwealth. The highest European noblemen came to London to honour Victoria and the people enjoyed themselves while celebrating the Queen. Actually, these jubilees in '87 and '97 were perfect occassions to show the British hegemony, Britain's greatness to the world. In this time Victoria could again enjoy the public appearance, although she wrote down in her diary that she would have liked, if her husband could have seen all the pomp granted to the Queen.
On May 22nd in 1901 Victoria died of a short disease and was laid to rest near her husband Albert in Frogmore castle near Windsor.
The British people mourned deeply and long because they had lost the symbol of their very own age characterized by progress, success and a whole new lifestyle, that had been given the name "Victorian Age".

Victoria's importance for Britain's policy

The influence Victoria had on Britain is surely not quite easily to see, for she was not the sovereign leader of state that other kings or queens had been before on the one hand because she did not have the rights other monarchs had had before, on the other probably her character was not that of a charismatic opportunist.
When she became queen in 1837 the rights of the monarch had been cut through an act in 1832 that broadened the class of people (men) that were entitled to elect for parliament. The two parties of the parliament, Torries (conservative) and Whigs (more liberal), were not that glad with the reforms at all, but because of new thoughts like the utilitarian view of state and the huge problems in social affairs that had been caused by the industrial revolution, changes were more than necessary. The hegemony that had been the aristocracy's, slowly moved into the hands of the people. In 1837 even more rights were to be foreseen for the parliament when a militant movement fought for the general right to elect and for regular payment for the members of parliament. Besides these efforts, the Prime Minister already had much more "power" than the monarch. Although a certain influence of the monarch always was markable.
Concerning foreign policy Britain was proud of it's "Pax Britannia" also known as policy of "Splendid Isolation". That means Britain tried to stay out of conflicts as far as possible.
This was the way the Queen wanted to go on forth and this also was the opinion of parliament. The only case in which Britain did intervene while Victoria was Queen, was the Cremican War ('53 - '56) (not counting the several conflicts in the colonies). She herself for instance helped preventing a second Franco - German war in 1875 by talking to the German Emperor .
The other important thing in foreign policy was the mass of colonies Britain had (Ceylon, Singapore, Canada, India, Australia, South Africa). Victoria was not able to decide on problems concerning the colonies because she had not much knowledge about them and not the political possibilities, but she was fond of progress and she agreed with imperialistic ambitions. In 1877 when she became Empress of India she even travelled there. To her people these were great moments: seeing their Queen on a journey to India, even travelling by train. Something which was not common to the monarchs of this time.
The man who was responsible for Victoria's coronation to Empress of India was Benjamin Disraeli, one of her Whig Prime Ministers (in office '68; '74 - '80). He was the only primeminister whom she ever trusted wholly. He even was a kind of friend to her; she at least liked the charming way he treated her. Disraeli gave the Queen the feeling of deciding by herself, but was also able to contradict her without being blamed therefore. He also was the men who helped making Victoria a symbol of the British lifestyle, a kind of mother to the British Empire ("Great White Queen") by forcing the Queen to do at least what the people required from her (public appearance, statements to the political situation,...).
If you compare Victoria's behaviour to Disraeli to her behaviour to the following Torry Prime Minister Gladstone, you may see why a huge part of the parliament was not glad with it's Queen. She did not trust his policy, as she mentioned in her journal, and called him a "dreadful old man". He was not of Diraeli's type and not willing to flatter the Queen. Victoria made him feel how she disgusted him and even said openly that she would not like to open Parliament with him as Prime Minister. But at least since '67 when the Second Reform Act had been verified, there was no more possibility for her to stop this process and she had to cope with him (which she refused as far as possible, of course).
The examples of Disraeli and Gladstone may show how far her political decisions were influenced by her personal feelings and wishes. Some things were simply not agreeable to her and then she tried to fulfill. Perhaps exactly that is one reason why she was so popular to her people, that she was never afraid to speak out her opinion.
Concerning home affairs, when he lived, Albert was mostly responsible. He took care of the appropriate presentation of the technical inventions to the European neighbours (Great Exhibition) and initiated the abolition of the last law that hindered an all - embracing free trade (a law that protected the prices of crops within Britain). Free trade was the foundation of Britain's economy in the Victorian Age and the reason for their fast economic success compared to other countries.
Later the Prime Ministers made most of the home affair policy, Victoria just gave her statements when she did not agree with the propositions of the parliament and even this she mostly did by letters when she was living in seclusion.
The Queen cannot be seen as liberal or conservative. She called herself liberal but since the 70ies she more identified with conservative points of view: She was the first monarch ever travelling by train and therefore was seen as a real open - minded person, but would also not accept the first efforts of women to emancipate and called them "unnatural". Also here, she decided in every special case to which direction her sympathies would grow.
The policy of Britain while Victoria reigned the country could have be done by any other person, there was nothing special about it. But the representative status the monarch already had as his domain was executed by Victoria in a quite extraordinary way: She did what on the one hand her moral standards told her, but could often not refuse to follow her feelings on the other.
This behaviour shadows exactly the mental situation of the typical "Victorian", as they saw themselves: straight and openminded in thinking, but also able to defend the own opinion.
Besides that it should not be forgotten that because of her published diaries the peole may have felt a certain familiarity to her. They may really have seen her as their grandmother, perhaps not always right in what she says, but someone you can trust.

Queen Victoria


    born 1819 in London (father was Duke of Kent, died in the year after; mother a princess of Saxe - Coburg - Gotha) Victoria was educated in French, German, geography, history, politics, but later often blamed herself for not knowing enough with 16 she started writing diaries which she even published later after the death of her two uncles who were kings before, she became queen in 1837 1840 marriage with prince Albert of Saxe - Coburg - Gotha, her cousin → Victoria adored him, he was her adviser in affairs of state(Great Exhibition '51) between '40 and '57 nine children, most married in royal families Albert died in 1861, Victoria sank into depression, wore black for the rest of her reign, shrinked from public appearance→was criticised by governement for living in that way 1877 Victoria became empress of India Victoria died in 1901 after 64 years of reign


    was seen as a virtuous, self - confident, proud, cultivated woman by the people she herself often felt helpless, imperfect, irritable, uneducated, unconfident in public, always wanted to be good, sometimes stubborn, not able to cope with some things, "addicted" to her husband


    the Queen always had attendants who helped her in political affairs (Albert, Disraeli, Melbourne) Victoria's activities in politics were always influenced by her personal feelings (e.g. her life in seclusion after Albert's death, the way she treated Gladstone) Victoria cannot be seen as conservative or liberal → personal preferation important for the support she gave the parliament her most important premierministers were Disraeli (Whigs) and Gladstone (Torries); Disraeli she nearly adored, Gladstone she hated possibilities for the monarch in nomination of governement were more and more cut → more people were allowed to elect by Reform Acts policy of "splendid isolation" ( e.g. no intervention in the Prussia - Austria - Denmark war) the revolution of 1848 did not have an effect on Britain policy of free trade

    The Victorian Age

    Increase of inventions, new thoughts establishing (utilitarianism, evolution), industrialization ⇒ new view on life, new view on man (intelligent, self - confident, proud, patriotic)

    Victoria became symbol of Britain's new man (Great white queen) ⇒ Victorian lifestyle

Sources: Tingsten, "Viktoria und ihre Zeit"; Collier's Enceclopedia; Brockhaus; Kluxen, "Geschichte Englands"; www.encarta.com; www.royal.gov.uk; www.worldroots.com

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