Queen Victoria (b.1819 r.1837-1901)
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Queen Victoria (b.1819 r.1837-1901)

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Victoria, born in 1819, succeeded her uncle, William IV, in 1837. Victoria restored respect to the British monarchy, and went on to become a symbol of the spirit and identity of the nation. Her marriage to Prince Albert embodied the middle class qualities and values that Victorian morality has come to represent. In 1876 Victoria was made Empress of India and thus became a ruler of an Empire on which, in the popular phrase, the sun never set. When she died in 1901 Britain was the most powerful nation in the world.

This posthumous portrait of Queen Victoria is a copy made in 1924 by W A Menzies after an original of 1900 by the fashionable French portraitist Benjamin Constant. The original was painted without any sittings by the Queen, and hangs today in Windsor Castle. It was commissioned by 'The Illustrated London News'.

The treatment of his picture is worthy of the painter's genius, and is a fitting memorial of a good and great sovereign.
Morning Post Ad.

The Times called the painting a 'generalisation of the idea of sovereignty, a vision of the head of a great empire crowned with age and authority.' But there were less admiring opinions, like that of the Athenaeum:

The portrait claims attention, but hardly, we fear, admiration.
- Athenaeum.

(2) Queen Victoria (b.1819 r.1837-1901)

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Queen Victoria (b.1819 r.1837-1901)

Victoria succeeded to the throne (aged eighteen) on the death of her uncle, William IV in 1837. At this stage the monarchy was beginning to look very shaky, perhaps even an unnecessary institution. Victoria had led a very sheltered life and was happy to escape an over-protective upbringing by her mother, and so she took on her responsibilities with enthusiasm.

From this low point in British history the monarchy can be said to have been rescued by Queen Victoria. Her achievement was firstly to restore respect to the monarchy, and then to take this one step further by becoming a symbol of the spirit and identity of the nation - like Elizabeth I before her. Unfortunately, at her ascension to the English throne Hanover and Britain ceased to be ruled together - because the law of succession in Hanover stated that women were barred from ruling.

Victoria was quite naturally authoritarian, but she quickly became dependent on advisers - in particular the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, and adopted all his opinions. His attitudes were rather strict and old-fashioned and so she quickly became somewhat unpopular. However, in 1840 she married her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and things changed. Victoria adored her husband and he had an enormous influence on her, and therefore also on British life. Victoria's marriage gave her a genuine sense of responsibility. Family values and strict morality became all important. Victoria's mix of realism and idealism was particularly appropriate to an age of rapid development in the fields of science, industry and travel. Her other great asset seems to have been her relative ordinariness. Victoria embodied the middle class values and qualities that these classes most admired - devotion to family and friends (because she had a family with nine children of her own), security, reliability, frugality - all in all 'respectability'. Victoria really cared for the working people, believing that they were in fact the 'heart of Britain'. This led her to advocate the limiting of the working day to ten hours, the introduction of basic education for all and to improve the conditions of the poor.

Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, was given the title 'Prince Consort' in 1857, but died of typhoid fever four years later - Albert had the drains at Windsor Castle dug out and re-worked which is believed to have caused the typhoid outbreak. Victoria was devastated, and the despair sent her into a retirement from which she only gradually emerged. Victoria blamed her son Edward for precipitating the event by his wild behaviour, and never forgave him. For the next thirteen years she went into mourning, refusing to appear in public or attend government meetings. Victoria lived the life of a recluse in the royal palaces of Osborne, Balmoral and Windsor, wearing funeral black for the rest of her life. The public soon became disenchanted with such an excessive period of mourning. There were calls for her abdication in favour of her son Edward Prince of Wales, and even for the complete abolition of the monarchy altogether.

Victoria finally emerged from mourning in 1874 encouraged by her family, friends and Prime Minister Disraeli. Victoria then seemed to reveal a new zest for activity and public life. She attended state balls, made appearances around the country and appeared in open carriages. Victoria won back the respect and adoration of her people, and she was loved once more by the time of her Golden Jubilee (50 years on the throne) which was marked by celebrations and church services throughout the Empire.

The political events of the later years of Victoria's reign were dominated by Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. Victoria greatly admired and respected Disraeli, and fully supported his policies. However, she disliked Gladstone throughout his lengthy career. Disraeli made Victoria Empress of India in 1876, and she was grief stricken at his death in 1881.

By the end of her life, Victoria was a senior figure in all the royal families of Europe. This brought her considerable influence and authority, and the title of 'grandmother of Europe'. At the time of her death in 1901, Britain was the most powerful nation in the world and the head of a vast empire.


She is a comely little lady with a pair of kind, clear and intelligent grey eyes; still looks plump and almost young; has a fine low voice; soft indeed her whole manner is, and melodiously perfect; it is impossible to imagine a politer little woman.
- Thomas Carlyle, letter to Mrs Aiken, 1869.

Her virtues and powers are not those of a great woman, like Elizabeth or Catherine II, but are the virtues and powers of an ordinary woman: things that any person, however humble can appreciate and imitate ... an example inestimably precious to the whole world.
- Alfred Munby, 1897.

Nowadays a parlourmaid as ignorant as Queen Victoria was when she came to the throne would be classed as mentally defective.
- George Bernard Shaw.

Oh if the Queen were a man she would like to go and give those horrid Russians, whose word one cannot trust, such a beating.
- On herself, 1878.

Lord John Russell may resign, and Lord Aberdeen may resign, but I can't resign.
- On herself, speaking to Lord Clarendon, 1855.

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