Queen Victoria: the monarch who shaped modern Britain

Aged just 18 when she was crowned Queen, Alexandrina Victoria was the longest reigning British monarch when she died at the turn of the twentieth century. Throughout her rule, Queen Victoria was instrumental in striking up unique and intimate relationships with various figures which improved the crown’s standing on the world stage. This ranged from her loving marriage to Prince Albert which strengthened Anglo-German relations, the close bond she established between crown and Prime Minister during Lord Melbourne’s tenure and even an unlikely friendship she developed with her Indian attendant Adbul Karim.

Despite being synonymous with her country’s extraordinary strides in industrial and social reform over her 63 years as monarch, as documented in Life in Victorian Times, Queen Victoria’s private life was a more turbulent affair. This was evident in Victoria and Abdul’s relationship - in what became a strained reminder of the tense state of affairs between Britain and its Empire - prophetic of problems she would face during her six-decade reign.

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Queen by necessity: Victoria’s family tree crisis 

Despite her place in history, and even being the root of the word ‘Victorian’, Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne was only due to necessity. Her family tree was plagued with a succession crisis. As niece to the monarch Victoria was an unlikely choice, but given the absence of any legitimate children from the king and the tragic successive deaths of all heirs standing between Victoria and the throne, she would have to do.

Victoria’s distant parents

Prince Edward, Duke of Kent was born on 2nd November 1767, the fourth child of the reigning monarch King George III. After a successful military career as Governor of Gibraltar and Field-Marshal of the Forces, Edward was suddenly required to produce an heir after the tragic death of the Prince Regent’s child, Princess Charlotte in 1817. At the ripe age of 50 Edward married the widowed Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and the Royal parents welcomed Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent into the world on 24th May 1819.

Queen Victoria was exposed to much of this tragedy throughout her early childhood. The young Queen quickly rose up the line of succession, from fifth in line when born to heir presumptive upon the sudden death of her father on 23rd January 1820. Victoria’s mother, now the Duchess of Kent, was seen by many - including the often neglected Victoria - to use the future heir to the throne as a tool to power and was distrusted by most, including King William IV. A regency, where the Duchess would have acted as temporary monarch, was avoided as the King lived just long enough to see Victoria’s 18th birthday.

Meeting Prince Albert

Victoria’s childhood was, in her own words, ‘rather melancholy.’ As a teenager she witnessed many of her relatives die and on 28th June 1838 had found herself crowned Queen at the most public coronation in history. Now the country had a Queen, it needed an heir. Thankfully Victoria’s fortune had changed when she met a suitable candidate on her 17th birthday, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Immediately smitten, she wrote to her adviser - and uncle - King Leopald I of Belgium that ‘he is excessively admired here’, and it was clear her feelings were reciprocated by the young prince. Although Victoria was reluctant to rush into a whirlwind romance, she recognised the necessity for a royal marriage and the two married at Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace on 10th February 1840. Victoria hoped this marriage would free her from a domineering mother whom she was forced to live with under social convention, but Albert: The Power Behind Victoria examines if by marrying Albert she had entered another relationship of control.

A prolific diarist

Perhaps Queen Victoria’s most enduring relationship was that with her pen. Not only was she a keen painter, taking drawing classes from the age of eight, but she was one of the most prolific diarists of the 19th century. In Victoria’s Letters: Constraint, discover how the monarch’s often brutally honest diary entries caused shockwaves which reverberated through the British Royal Family. So potentially catastrophic were some of her diary entries that even after Victoria’s death they were burned by her daughter.

From the age of thirteen to her death Victoria wrote over two thousand words a day. From her fruitful relationship with Lord Melbourne - her first Prime Minister who acted as a mentor for the young Queen - to her four-decade long period of mourning after Prince Albert passed away in December 1861; it was all captured in her diary. While Victoria’s writing suggests she never truly recovered from the death of her husband, Victoria’s Letters: Liberation looks at how the Queen was able to navigate the political world with much more ease. It was during this period in her life she also wrote about one of her most unexpected relationships: her Indian servant Abdul. So fascinated and inspired was she by the man later known as ‘Munshi’ (teacher), she would reward him incredibly handsomely for his dedication to her.

Victoria’s lasting legacy

Mother to nine children, Victoria secured the future of the Royal Family after the rocky succession crisis which had initially seen her crowned Queen. Upon her death on 22nd January 1901, Victoria and Albert’s eldest son Edward VII became monarch. This brought in an age of stability to the crown that was only rocked by Victoria’s great-grandson Edward VIII and his infamous decision to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson and abdicate the throne. After this constitutional crisis was resolved in 1936 and George VI took his brother’s place as monarch, the fate of the Royal Family was secured and Queen Elizabeth II - Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter - succeeded her father upon his death in 1952.

Due to Queen Victoria’s extraordinary amount of writing, her biography is by far one of the most detailed of all the British monarchs. However, Queen Victoria: Secrets of a Queen dissects this renowned figure, the lesser known seven attempts on her life which she survived and delves into the human being behind the crown.

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