Osborne House, Isle Of Wight, England, Great Britain
Windsor, Berkshire, England, Great Britain
Victoria, queen of Great Britain and Ireland (r. 1837-1901), the longest-reigning monarch in English history, established the monarchy asa respected and popular institution while it was irrevocably losing its place as an integral part of the British governing system.
Born in Kensington Palace, London, on May 24, 1819, Victoria was the only child of Edward, duke of Kent and son of George III, and PrincessVictoria, daughter of the duke of Saxe-Coburg. Emerging from a lonely, secluded childhood to take the throne on the death of her uncle, WilliamIV, Victoria displayed a personality marked by strong prejudices and awillful stubbornness. She was strongly attached to the Whig prime minister Lord Melbourne; after he resigned in 1839, Sir Robert Peel, his would-be successor, suggested that she dismiss the Whig ladies of hercourt. Victoria, however, refused. In part because of this "bed chamber crisis," Melbourne resumed office for two more years.
Victoria and her court were greatly transformed by her marriage to her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, in 1840. Although her name now designates a supposedly prudish age, it was Albert who made a point of straitlaced behavior, and introduced a strict decorum in court. He also gave a more conservative tinge to Victoria's politics, leading her to become close to Peel. The couple had nine children. Victoria populated most of the thrones of Europe with her descendants. Among her grandchildren were Emperor William II of Germany and Alexandra, consort of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
Albert taught Victoria the need for hard work if she was to make her views felt in the cabinet, and during the prince's lifetime Victoria did, by insistently interjecting her opinions, force the ministers to take them into account. Opposing the policy of Lord Palmerston of encouraging democratic government on the Continent, for example, she was partlyresponsible for his departure as foreign secretary in 1851. She also helped form cabinets. Her political importance was based, however, upon the temporarily factionalized state of Commons between 1846 and 1868,when royal intervention was needed to help glue together majoritycoalitions.
Always prone to self-pity, Victoria fully indulged her grief at Albert's death in 1861. She remained in mourning until her own death, making fewpublic appearances and spending most of each year on the Isle of Wight and in the Scottish Highlands, where her closest companion was a dour Scottish servant, John Brown. Her popularity declined as a result, and republican sentiment appeared during the late 1860s.
Victoria, however, regained the people's admiration when she resumed her determined efforts to steer public affairs. She won particular esteem for defending the popular imperialist policies of the Conservative ministries of Benjamin Disraeli, who flattered her relentlessly and made her empress of India in 1876. Conversely, she flayed William E. Gladstone, theLiberal prime minister, whom she intensely disliked, for ostensibly weakening the empire. Although Victoria also attacked Gladstone for encouraging democratic trends, the celebrations of her golden and diamond jubilees in 1887 and 1897 demonstrated her great popularity.
In Victoria's later career, her attempts to influence government decisions ceased to carry significant weight. The Reform Act of 1867, by doubling the electorate, strengthened party organization and eliminated the need for a mediator--the monarch--among factions in Commons.
Victoria died on Jan. 22, 1901. She was succeeded by her son, Edward VII.Her letters have been published in three series (1907; 1926-28; 1930-32).