Case Study #2: Queen Victoria | The Queen of the UK & Ireland

Case Study #2 will focus on the Queen of the UK & Ireland, and that is Queen Victoria. This second case study comes hot on the heels of the first one I did that made the King of England, Henry VIII, the centre of attention on Mother Nature.

Born on the 24th May 1819, Queen Victoria was the Queen of the UK and of Great Britain & Ireland from the 20th June 1837 until her death on the 22nd January 1901. From the 1st May 1876, she would carry the additional title as the Empress of India. She was also the daughter of Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent & Strathearn, the fourth son of King George III.

During her life, both the Duke of Kent & King George had died in 1820, with Queen Victoria being raised under close supervision by her German-born mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. On the 20th June 1837, Queen Victoria inherited the throne at the age of 18, after her father’s three elder brothers had all passed away, leaving behind no legitimate, surviving children.

The United Kingdom at this time had already become an established constitutional monarchy, in which the sovereign would relatively hold little direct of political power. In private, however for Queen Victoria, she would go on to attempt to influence the government policy and ministerial appointments. However, with Queen Victoria herself being in the public eye all or most of the time, she became a national icon, and was also identified with the strict standards of personal morality.

In 1840, Queen Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Together, their 9 children were married into royal and noble families all across the continent, which would tie them together, earning Queen Victoria the nickname: “the grandmother of Europe”.

After Prince Albert passed away in 1861, Queen Victoria plunged into deep mourning, and had also avoided public appearances. As a result of her own seclusion, the republicanism did temporarily gain strength, but, in the latter half of her 63 year and seven month reign, Victoria’s popularity recovered. Both of her Golden & Diamond Jubilees were the times of public celebration.

For Victoria’s reign as Queen to last for 63 years and 7 months, this made her the longest running Queen than that of any other British monarch, and also the longest running than any of the other female monarchs in history. This, for Victoria, made her era become known as the Victorian era.

The Victorian era was a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific and was a military change within the United Kingdom, which was also marked by a great expansion of the British Empire. Queen Victoria was also the last British Monarch of the House of Hanover. Her son and successor, Edward VII, belonged the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in the line of his own father.

Queen Victoria’s Early Reign – A Journey of Time & A Timeline of Events.

On the 24th May 1837, Queen Victoria marked her 18th birthday, which meant that a regency was avoided, however, just a few weeks later, on the 20th June 1837, William IV passed away at the age of 71, with Victoria officially becoming the Queen of the United Kingdom & Ireland. In her diary, she wrote:

“I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went to my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown), and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that am Queen.” – Queen Victoria.

The official documents that were prepared on the first day of her reign would describe her to be known as Alexandrina Victoria, though the first name, however, was withdrawn at her own wishes, and it was a name she would never use again. Since 1714, Britain always shared a monarch with Hanover in Germany, but under the Salic law, women were excluded from the Hanoverian succession.

While Victoria herself was able to inherit all of the British dominions, Hanover instead passed to her father’s young brother, her unpopular uncle, who was the Duke of Cumberland & Teviotdale, who would become King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover. From there, he would become Queen Victoria’s heir presumptive until she got married and had a child.

During the time of her own accession, the government at that time was led by the Whig prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who did once become a powerful influence on the politically inexperienced Queen, who would often rely on him for his advice. Charles Greville had initially supposed that the widowed and childless Melbourne was: “passionately fond of her as he might be of his daughter if he had one”, with Victoria herself probably seeing him mainly as the father figure.

Victoria’s coronation took place on the 28th June 1838, making her the first sovereign to take up the residence at Buckingham Palace. She would go on to inherit the revenues of the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, and was also granted a civil list of around £385,000 per year. By being financially prudent to herself, Queen Victoria was able to pay off her own father’s debts.

At the start of her reign as the Queen of the UK & Ireland, Victoria was already popular, but her reputation eventually suffered as a result of the 1839 court intrigue, when one of her mother’s ladies-in-waiting, Lady Flora Hastings, developed an abdominal growth that was initially rumoured to be what was a possible out-of-wedlock pregnancy by Sir John Conroy and the Duchess of Kent in the Kensington System. At first, Lady Flora initially chose to refuse to submit to a naked medical examination, until mid-February, in which she had eventually agreed, and was found to be a virgin.

Sir John Conroy, the Hastings family and the opposition Tories had organised a press campaign, which would implicate the Queen in the spreading of the false rumours that were made up about Lady Flora. However, when Lady Flora died in July, the post-mortem examination had revealed that there was a large tumour on her liver, which had distended her abdomen. During the course of her public appearances, Queen Victoria was hissed at and jeered at, being called: “Mrs. Melbourne”.

Just two years after Victoria became the Queen, in 1839, following the controversy at that time, Melbourne decided to resign after the Radicals and Tories (both parties of which Victoria had absolutely hated) voted against a bill to suspend the constitution of Jamaica. The bill itself would remove the political power from plantation owners who chose to resist the measures that were associated with the abolition of slavery.

Victoria commissioned a Tory, Sir Robert Peel, to form a new ministry. At this time, it was customary for the Prime Minister to appoint the members of the Royal Household, who were usually his political allies and their spouses. Many of the Queen’s ladies of the bedchamber were the wives of Whigs, and Peel was expected to replace them with the wives of Tories. In what was to become known as the bedchamber crisis, Queen Victoria, advised by Melbourne, was to object to their removal. Sir Robert Peel chose to refuse to govern under the restrictions that were imposed by the Queen, and had consequently decided to resign from his commission, allowing Melbourne to return to office.

The Marriage of Queen Victoria & Prince Albert

Though she was in her first few years of being a Queen, as an unmarried young woman, Victoria was often required by social convention to live with her mother, despite their own differences over the Kensington System, and with her mother’s continued reliance on Conroy. Victoria’s mother was consigned to a remote apartment in Buckingham Palace, though she often refused to meet her. When Victoria complained to Melbourne that her mother’s close proximity would promise: “torment for many years”, Melbourne had sympathised, but had also said that it could be avoided by marriage, in which Victoria called it a “shocking alternative”. She did, however, show an interest in Albert’s education for the future role that he would have to play as her husband, but she had also resisted the attempts to rush her into wedlock.

Victoria, however, continued to praise Albert, following his second visit in October 1839. Albert and Victoria did have quite a lot of mutual affection, and so the Queen proposed to Albert on the 15th October 1839, just five days after he had arrived at Windsor. They both got married on the 10th February 1840, in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace in London. Victoria was besotted, and she spent the evening after their wedding lying down with a headache, but wrote ecstatically in her diary:

I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening!!! MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert … his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before! He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! … to be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life! – Queen Victoria.

Albert, at this time became an important political adviser as well as becoming the Queen’s companion, replacing Lord Melbourne as the dominant and influential figure in the first half of her life. Queen Victoria’s mother was actually evicted from the palace, to Ingestre House, which is located in Belgrave Square. After Princess Augusta passed away in 1840, Victoria’s mother was given both the Clarence & Frogmore Houses, though Prince Albert’s mediation and relations between mother and daughter had slowly improved.

During Queen Victoria’s first pregnancy in 1840, in the first few months of the marriage between her and Prince Albert, 18 year old Edward Oxford attempt to try and assassinate the Queen while she was riding in the carriage with Prince Albert on her way to visit her mother. Edward fired twice, but both of the bullets had either missed, or, as he later claimed, the guns had no shot.

He was tried for high treason and was also found guilty, however, he was acquitted on the grounds of insanity, but, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, Victoria’s popularity had soared, which had also mitigated the residual discontent over the Hastings affair, as well as the bedchamber crisis.

Victoria’s own daughter, who was named just after her, was born on the 21st November 1840. Queen Victoria absolutely detested being pregnant, and saw breast-feeding from her own point of view as a matter of disgust, also with the thought that she saw newborn babies to be ugly. However, over the next 17 years, Victoria and Albert went on to have 8 other children, and their names were:

  • Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (born 1841)
  • Alice (born 1843)
  • Alfred (born 1844)
  • Helena (born 1846)
  • Louise (born 1848)
  • Arthur (born 1850)
  • Leopold (born 1853)
  • Beatrice (born 1857).

Queen Victoria’s household was often run by her childhood governess-at-large, and that was Baroness Louise Lehzen from Hanover. Lezhen was a formative influence on Victoria, and also supported her against the Kensington System. Prince Albert, however, saw Lehzen from his own point of view to be incompetent, and that her mis-management had threatened the health of his daughter. After a furious row broke out between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert over this particular issue, Lehzen was then pensioned off, and her close relationship with Lehzen had ended.

Victoria’s Death & Succession

Following the custom she had maintained throughout her widowhood, almost 40 years after Prince Albert died, Victoria spent her last Christmas of 1900 at the Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The rheumatism in her legs had rendered her lame, and her eyesight was also clouded by cataracts. Through the early course of January 1901, she felt “weak and unwell”, and by the middle of January, she became “drowsy … dazed [and] confused”.

Queen Victoria passed away on Tuesday 22nd January 1901 at 6:30PM at the age of 81, and her son and successor, King Edward VII, and also her eldest grandson, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, were at her deathbed. Her favourite pet Pomeranian, Turri, was laid upon Victoria’s deathbed as her last request.

In 1897, Queen Victoria wrote instructions for her funeral, which was to be military as befitting a soldier’s daughter and the head of the army, and white instead of black. On the 25th January, Edward VII, the Kaiser and Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, helped to lift Victoria into the coffin. She was dressed in a white dress and also her wedding veil.

A wide array of mementoes that commemorated her extended family, friends and servants were laid in the coffin with her, at her own request, by her doctor and dressers. One of Albert’s dressing gowns were placed by her side, with a plaster cast of his hand, while a lock of John Brown’s hair, along with a picture of him, was placed in her left hand concealed from the view of the family by a carefully positioned bunch of flowers. The items of jewellery that were placed on Queen Victoria included the wedding ring of John Brown’s mother, given to her by Brown in 1883.

Queen Victoria’s funeral was held on Saturday 2nd February 1901 at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, and after just 2 days of lying-in-state, she was then interred beside Prince Albert in the Frogmore Mausoleum at Windsor Great Park. As she was being laid to rest at the Mausoleum, it began to snow. With an overall reign of 63 years, 7 months and 2 days, this makes Queen Victoria the longest-reigning British Monarch and also the longest-reigning Queen regnant in world history. She was also the last monarch of Britain from tje House of Hanover. Her son and heir, Edward VII, belonged to her husband’s House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

This second case study now draws to a close. Stay tuned, however, as I will be doing Case Study #3 based on Guy Fawkes.

Thank you for reading this case study.

Alex Smithson

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