On January 22, 1901, Queen Victoria, the longest-reigning British monarch died on the Isle of Wight. Victoria was also the longest-reigning queen in the world. The Victorian Era was a period of many revolutions and innovations and the rapid growth of industry and the British Empire made the United Kingdom a major power around the globe.
Queen Victoria was born Alexandrina Victoria on May 24, 1819, at Kensington Palace, London. She was the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn and the fourth son of King George III. Victoria went on to claim the British throne since the heiress Princess Charlotte of Wales had died and Victoria’s uncles George IV, Frederick Duke of York, and William IV had no legitimate surviving children. Prince Edward died in 1920 leaving Princess Victoria the heiress presumptive. Her mother Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was the sister of Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians.
Victoria’s childhood was severe and stringent, and overseen by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and Sir John Conroy. The strict codes of morality that she followed during her growing up period translated into the famed Victorian morality of later years. Victoria grew well-versed in many European languages and in the arts such as drawing and painting. She was well-loved through the country and undertook many tours. Following the death of William IV in 1837, she ascended the throne at the age of 18. On June 28, 1838, Victoria was crowned and moved to the Buckingham Palace, thus becoming the first British sovereign to take up residence there.
Victoria started her reign as a very popular queen. She was immensely influenced by Lord Melbourne, her first Prime Minister. It was widely understood that she would marry her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and they married on February 10, 1840. Victoria was deeply in love with Albert who became a major influence in her reign. Albert imparted much of Victoria’s ideals of “constitutional monarchy” and helped her in remaining a non-partisan influence in British politics. Victoria and Albert had nine children who went on to marry into prominent royal families of Europe.
With Albert as her consort, Victoria took a keen interest in promoting the sciences, arts, industry, trade and commerce in the United Kingdom. Prince Albert gained much popularity with the Great Exhibition of innovations and technology that he helped organize in 1851. The profits from this exhibition went to establishing the South Kensington museum complex in London. Albert took on the running of the royal household upon himself. He advised Victoria on international and domestic policy and guided her to use her influence wisely. Following his death in 1861, Victoria went into a deep mourning and avoided public appearances leading to much criticism. Victoria wore black for the rest of her life earning her the title “Widow of Windsor”. The monarchy sank in popularity with the masses through the 1860s.
It was in the late 1870s and 1880s that Victoria gradually resumed making public appearances in Britain with generous attention from Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. The popularity of the monarchy picked up with the spread of British imperialism. After the Indian Mutiny of 1857 was quelled, the administration of India was transferred from the East India Company to the Crown. In 1877 Victoria was crowned Empress of India. The British Empire came to include Canada, many parts of Africa and Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. By the end of Victoria’s reign, it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire – signifying both the geographic and political outreach of the monarchy. Queen Victoria became the symbol for British supremacy in many parts of the world.
Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887 was celebrated through the nation with pomp and splendor. Later, in 1897, her diamond jubilee became another occasion for celebration. A number of attempts were made on Queen Victoria’s life between 1840 and 1882. While the queen escaped largely unharmed, the attempts brought out her courage and helped endear her to the masses.
The Victorian Era was a period of unprecedented innovations, technological and economic advances in the UK. The steam age evolved and with it communication and transport developed. From the spread of newspapers, to the construction of a train network; from the introduction of the secret ballot to the invention of photography, the Victorian Era changed the way the UK lived.
Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901, at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, after having completed the longest reign in British history – lasting almost 64 years. She was buried beside her husband Prince Albert, in the Frogmore Royal Mausoleum at Windsor. She was succeeded to the throne by her son Edward VII. It was during Victoria’s reign that Great Britain rose as a leading superpower in Europe.
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