Queen of United Kingdom in full Alexandrina Victoria
Born May 24, 1819, Kensington Palace, London, England died January 22, 1901, Osborne, near Cowes, Isle of Wight
Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1837–1901) and empress of India (1876–1901). She was the last of the House of Hanover and gave her name to an era, the Victorian Age. During her reign the English monarchy took on its modern ceremonial character. She and her husband, Prince Consort Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, had nine children, through whose marriages were descended many of the royal families of Europe.
Victoria first learned of her future role as a young princess during a history lesson when she was 10 years old. Almost four decades later Victoria’s governess recalled that the future queen reacted to the discovery by declaring, “I will be good.” This combination of earnestness and egotism marked Victoria as a child of the age that bears her name. The queen, however, rejected important Victorian values and developments. Although she hated pregnancy and childbirth, detested babies, and was uncomfortable in the presence of children, Victoria reigned in a society that idealized both motherhood and the family. She had no interest in social issues, yet the 19th century in Britain was an age of reform. She resisted technological change even while mechanical and technological innovations reshaped the face of European civilization.
Most significantly, Victoria was a queen determined to retain political power; yet unwillingly and unwittingly she presided over the transformation of the sovereign’s political role into a ceremonial one and thus preserved the English monarchy. When Victoria became queen, the political role of the crown was by no means clear; nor was the permanence of the throne itself. When she died and her son Edward VII moved from Marlborough House to Buckingham Palace, the change was one of social rather than of political focus; there was no doubt about the monarchy’s continuance. That was the measure of her reign.
Lineage and early life
On the death in 1817 of Princess Charlotte, daughter of the prince regent (later George IV), there was no surviving legitimate offspring of George III’s 15 children. In 1818, therefore, three of his sons, the dukes of Clarence, Kent, and Cambridge, married to provide for the succession. The winner in the race to father the next ruler of Britain was Edward, duke of Kent, fourth son of King George III. His only child was christened Alexandrina Victoria. After his death and George IV’s accession in 1820, Victoria became third in the line of succession to the throne after the Duke of York (died 1827) and the Duke of Clarence (subsequently William IV), whose own children died in infancy.
Victoria, by her own account, “was brought up very simply,” principally at Kensington Palace, where her closest companions, other than her German-born mother, the Duchess of Kent, were her half sister, Féodore, and her governess, Louise (afterward the Baroness) Lehzen, a native of Coburg. An important father figure to the orphaned princess was her uncle Leopold, her mother’s brother, who lived at Claremont, near Esher, Surrey, until he became king of the Belgians in 1831.
Victoria’s childhood was made increasingly unhappy by the machinations of the Duchess of Kent’s advisor, Sir John Conroy. In control of the pliable duchess, Conroy hoped to dominate the future queen of Britain as well. Persuaded by Conroy that the royal dukes, “the wicked uncles,” posed a threat to her daughter, the duchess reared Victoria according to “the Kensington system,” by which she and Conroy systematically isolated Victoria from her contemporaries and her father’s family. Conroy thus aimed to make the princess dependent on and easily led by himself.
Strong-willed, and supported by Lehzen, Victoria survived the Kensington system; when she ascended the throne in 1837, she did so alone. Her mother’s actions had estranged her from Victoria and taught the future queen caution in her friendships. Moreover, her retentive memory did not allow her to forgive readily.
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