Victoria had gone to bed knowing that her uncle King William IV was in terrible health and was not expected to live much longer. He had already reached his ultimate goal – living until Victoria had turned 18. He had been unable to attend her 18th birthday, but he sent her a grand piano as a birthday present. He also sent her an offer of her own establishment independent of her mother. By June 15th, William’s strength was fading, and he was unlikely to recover. On 18 June, he received the sacrament from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Queen Adelaide had not gone to bed for over ten days, and she was exhausted. She broke down as he received the sacrament to which he said, “Bear up! Bear up!” He was more concerned with her distress than his own suffering.
Victoria was looking forward to her upcoming accession with calmness and quietness, as she had written to her uncle King Leopold I of the Belgians on the 19th. Meanwhile, William was propped up in a leather chair to help with his breathing. His last spoken word was the name of his valet. He died that night at 2.20 A.M. His chamberlain, Lord Conyngham and the Archbishop of Canterbury sped from Windsor Castle to Kensington Palace in a coach. They arrived at Kensington Palace at five to closed gates, and the snoring porter was deaf to their calls. They rang the bell repeatedly until the porter finally heard and he led them into one of the lower rooms. They were soon forgotten again and were asked to wait. The Duchess of Kent finally woke Victoria at 6.
Early on the morning of 20 June 1837, the Princess awoke a Queen. She stood up and put a cotton dressing robe over her white cotton nightgown. Her mother held her hand as she escorted her down the stairs. Victoria closed the door behind her, shutting out her mother.
She later wrote in her diary, “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.” Lord Conyngham kissed her hand and handed her the certificate of the King’s death. The Archbishop told her that God would be with her. She then excused them, walked out and cried on her mother’s shoulder. The first thing she asked for was some time alone. She ordered her bed to be moved out of her mother’s room and into a room of her own. She had breakfast with Baron Stockmar and then wrote three letters – one to King Leopold, one to her half-sister Feodora and one to Queen Adelaide. She also received a note from the now widowed Queen Adelaide. She wrote, “Excuse my writing more at present, my heart is overwhelmed, and my head aches very much. Accept the assurance of my most affectionate devotion, and allow me to consider myself as Your Majesty’s most affectionate Friend, Aunt and Subject.”
At 9 in the morning, she received the Prime Minister “quite ALONE”, and they wrote a draft of her statement to the Privy Council which was to meet at 11. At the Privy Council, Victoria was led in by her uncles the Duke of Cumberland – who had succeeded William as King of Hanover – and the Duke of Sussex. Victoria spoke, “The severe and afflicting loss which the nation has sustained by the death of His Majesty, my beloved uncle, has devolved upon me the duty of administering the government of this empire. This awful responsibility is imposed upon me so suddenly, and at so early a period in my life, that I should feel myself utterly oppressed by the burden were I not sustained by the hope that Divine Providence, which has called me to this work, will give me strength for the performance of it, and that I shall find in the purity of my intentions, and in my zeal for the public welfare, that support and those resources which usually belong to a more mature age and to longer experience… Educated in England, under the tender and enlightened care of a most affectionate mother, I have learnt from my infancy to respect and love the constitution of my native country. It will be my unceasing study to maintain the reformed religion as by law established, securing at the same time to all the full enjoyment of religious liberty; and I shall steadily protect the rights, and promote to the utmost of my power the happiness and welfare, of all classes of my subjects.” She had made a marvellous first impression.1