Victoria was born on 24 May 1819 at 4.15 AM at Kensington Palace in London as the only child of Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn. Until 1817 Princess Charlotte of Wales was the only legitimate grandchild of George III and her death in childbirth caused a marriage race between the King George III’s unmarried sons. George IV did not remarry. Prince Frederick was married, but his wife was past childbearing age. George III’s third son became William IV, and he had married Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen in 1818, setting aside his mistress. The couple had several children, but none lived longer than four months. Victoria’s father was the fourth son and thus stood in line to inherit the throne after his brother William IV. However, he died when Victoria was not yet one year old. And so when William IV succeeded in 1830, Victoria was his heiress presumptive. She was just 11 years old, and a regency was a very likely scenario. The Regency Act of 1830 made her mother regent in case William IV died when Victoria was still a minor, but William declared he would live long enough to see Victoria become of age, as he distrusted her mother.
Victoria grew up at Kensington Palace, under the so-called Kensington System. Victoria herself would describe her upbringing as ‘rather melancholy’, and she would share a bedroom with her mother until she became Queen. It must have been a strange time.
William IV got his wish. He died on 20 June 1837, just under a month after Victoria’s 18th birthday. Victoria wrote in her journal, “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 into 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 two this morning, and consequently that I am Queen.”
Victoria’s accession broke the personal union with the Kingdom of Hanover, which was under Salic law, preventing her from becoming Hanover’s Queen. Instead, her uncle became Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, and he was also her heir presumptive until the birth of her first child.
Victoria’s coronation took place on 28 June 1838 at Westminster Abbey, and she was the first sovereign to live in the newly renovated Buckingham Palace. In her early reign, she was quite popular, though her reputation suffered when she believed the rumours of her mother’s lady-in-waiting Lady Flora Hastings pregnancy. Lady Flora died, and the autopsy revealed a large tumour on her liver that had distended into her abdomen, thus explaining her appearance.
Her popularity was revived when she married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840. They would go on to have nine children, even though Victoria hated being pregnant, viewed breastfeeding with disgust and thought newborn babies were ugly.
The majority of her reign was blighted by the death of her husband. He died in 1861, possibly of typhoid fever, though his long-term complaints could suggest something else. She dressed in mourning for the rest of her life and even had his clothes laid out every day. Her self-isolation caused her popularity to plummet. By 1872 this had recovered slightly as her son recovered from the same illness that had killed her husband. On 23 September 1896, Victoria surpassed her grandfather George III as the longest-reigning monarch in English, Scottish, and British history, though this record was broken by Queen Elizabeth II last year.
By Christmas 1900 Victoria was rendered lame by rheumatism in her legs, and she had cataracts. By January she felt weak and unwell. She died on 22 January 1901 at 6.30 PM at the age of 81. She was succeeded by her eldest son, King Edward VII. She was buried in a white dress, with her wedding veil and several mementoes. After a funeral at St. George’s Chapel she was interred beside Prince Albert at Frogmore.
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