Victoria was born in Kensington Palace, the daughter of Prince Edward, who was fourth in line for the throne. Victoria herself was fifth in line for the throne at the time of her birth. In 1820 both her father and her grandfather died, placing her uncle George IV on the throne and putting her third in line behind her surviving uncles. Victoria was taught throughout her childhood by private tutors, and heavily isolated by her mother, the Duchess, and her mother's comptroller Sir John Conroy, who wished to keep Victoria weak and under her control. The Duchess was disgusted by the sexual impropriety running rampant in the royal family, and made efforts to ensure her daughter would never be tied in with similar scandals. It has been suggested this led to the development of the strict Victorian morality that would later characterize her rule.
In 1827 the Duke of York died, and then three years later King George IV died, leaving the throne to King William IV and making Victoria heiress presumptive. This same year, and again several times throughout the first half of the 1830s, Victoria was taken by her mother on several tours throughout England
, where she was greeted enthusiastically by the populace. William did not like the trips, and Victoria herself hated them as they made her ill. Her mother ignored her pleas to stop the tours, and forced the young girl to continue them. In 1835 she came down with a severe fever due to the constant travelling. Her mother and Conroy attempted to force the ill girl to appoint him her secretary or to her staff.
In 1836, when Victoria was 17, her mother and maternal uncle, King Leopold I, contrived to introduce her to Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, her maternal cousin, in the hopes of marrying the two off. Though King William IV was opposed to the match, Victoria was very fond of Albert, even writing a letter to Leopold to thank him for introducing the pair. They did not become engaged at the time, but it was assumed that an engagement would take place soon.
Early in the morning on June 20th, 1837 Victoria's uncle, King WIlliam IV, passed away, and Victoria ascended to the throne at the age of 18. The realm of Hanover was removed from her reign, as she was a woman and not allowed to rule it. At the time of her accession, the role of sovereign of the United Kingdom was mostly a figurehead and England was a constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minster at the time was a Whig, Lord Melbourne, who became involved in advising the young and inexperienced queen. Initially she was popular, but a scandal in the palace had a huge influence on her perception in public, and she was criticized as too reliant on Melbourne's advice.
Melbourne resigned in 1839 after a bill he supported was defeated. A Tory, Sir Robert Peel, was then commissioned to form a new government, but he resigned after the "bedchamber crisis", when Victoria refused to allow her Ladies of the Bedchamber to be replaced by wives of Tories. Melbourne returned to office. During this time her relationship with her mother, who continued to associate with the much loathed Sir John Conroy, grew incredibly strained, and though she had to live with her mother due to social conventions as an unmarried woman, she forced her mother to distant apartments in the palace, and often refused to see her.
The Queen continued to feel strong affection for Albert, however, and in October of 1839 proposed marriage to him as he visited her in Windsor. They were married in February of 1840. Albert had two major influences on the queen's life; first, he replaced Melbourne as her advisor and, though their marriage allowed Victoria to banish her mother from the palace, he mediated their relationship and helped them to become close again.
In early 1840, when she was pregnant with her first child, Victoria survived her first assassination attempt, when a young man fired twice on her carriage. He missed both times, and the Queen was unhurt. In November she gave birth to her first child, Victoria, Princess Royal. In 1841 the Whig government led by Melbourne was defeated, and was replaced again by Peel, who was allowed to replace the Ladies of the Bedchamber this time around. Also in 1841 her second child, Albert Edward, was born. In May of 1842 another man attempted to shoot her as she rode in a carriage. Two months later John William Bean also attempted to shoot her, an act which eventually led to the passage of the Treason Act 1842.
In the early 1840s she began to dedicate herself to improving Anglo-French relations. In 1843, and again in 1845, she visited the French King Louis Philippe I, the first British monarch to visit the French monarch since the 16th century. He was later deposed in 1844, and the revolution scare spread briefly to England in 1848, causing Victoria and her family to retreat to a safer house, before it eventually died down. During the time period between 1843 and 1844 she had two further children, Alice and Alfred.
In 1845 Ireland
was struck by the Great Famine. Though the queen involved herself heavily in relieving the stricken Ireland, donating 2,000 pounds to the relief effort, which was more than any other single donor. Despite this rumours circulated in Ireland that she had donated only 5 pounds, and the Irish people nicknamed her "The Famine Queen".
In 1846 she supported the repeal of the Corn Laws, and Sir Robert Peel's government was replaced by that of Lord John Russell, who she did not like. Also in 1846 she gave birth to her fifth child, Helena, and in 1848 gave birth to her sixth, Louise. In 1849 she made her first visit to Ireland, and she returned in 1853 to attend the Great Industrial Exhibition. In 1849 and 1850 she survived two further assassination attempts, one of which was the first to wound her, but only by bruising her face. Her seventh child, Arthur, was born in 1850, and her eighth, Leopold, was born in 1853.
She maintained her good relationships with France
in 1855, when she was visited by Napoleon III. The Indian Rebellion of 1857 brought India
formally under Victoria's control, bringing India into the British Empire. Also in 1857 her final child, Beatrice, was born with the use of chloroform as anaesthesia despite opposition from church leaders who claimed it opposed God's will and from doctors who worried about the health effects.
In early 1861 her mother died. Grief-stricken, she passed a majority of her duties to her husband, who himself was ailing with chronic stomach problems. Albert travelled to Cambridge where his son Edward was studying, to confront him about a supposed affair. In early December he was diagnosed with typhoid fever and, on December 14th, 1861, he died. Victoria was devastated, and blamed her son's indiscretion for Albert's death. She went into mourning, a state in which she would remain for the rest of her life. She began to wear only black, and retreated from public life, receiving the nickname "Widow of Windsor". While she continued to be involved in the running of the government, she did so from her residences, which brought about a great decline in support for the monarchy, along with a surge in support for republicanism. Her uncle Leopold convinced her to go out in public, but for the most part she remained in semi-seclusion. At this point she began to rely increasingly on a manservant named John Brown, who was later alleged to be her lover. In 1866 she attended the Opening of Parliament for the first time since Albert's death, and in 1867 supported the passage of the Reform Act, which extended the franchise to more working class men, but not to women, as she did not support giving women the vote.
In 1868 Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister. A flatterer, Victoria was quite fond of Disraeli, though his first ministry lasted only a few months, to be replaced by William Gladstone, who Victoria disliked. In 1870 republican sentiment was again on the rise, fueled in large part by her continued absence from public life. In 1871, as the sentiment reached a fever pitch, Edward, Prince of Wales, contracted typhoid fever, the same disease that had killed his father ten years earlier. Though his condition looked grim, he survived, and the ensuing celebration quieted republican sentiment. During the celebration another attempt was made on her life, which only served to increase her returning popularity. In 1874 Disraeli returned to power, and in 1876 he pushed through an act, the Royal Titles Act 1876, which officially gave Victoria the title of Empress of India. Disraeli was defeated again in 1880, and replaced by Gladstone, who attempted to pass a bill for Irish home rule, which was defeated as Victoria had hoped.
In 1882 she survived another assassination attempt, which led to an outpouring of loyalty and support from the public. In 1883 John Brown died, and she began to write a memoir of him that was viewed by her advisors as being too likely to stir up allegations of an affair, and was destroyed. In 1887 her Golden Jubilee was celebrated, and her public support had grown again, and was as high as it had ever been. Around this time she took on an Indian Muslim man, Abdul Karim, as a clerk and also to teach her Urdu. He was not well-liked by most around her, and some claimed he had taken up the place left behind by John Brown. 1896 saw her become officially the longest-reigning English monarch, and in 1897 this was celebrated along with her Diamond Jubilee. This celebration saw further outpourings of support and loyalty for the Queen. In 1889 she travelled through Spain
, becoming the first reigning British monarch to set foot there. In 1900 she avoided traveling to France due to the Boer War, and instead went to Ireland for the first time since her husband's death.
Victoria died of a cerebral haemorrhage on January 22nd, 1901. She was 81-years-old, and had been ruling for over 63 years, the longest reign of any British monarch.
The Grandmother of Europe
Queen Victoria had 9 children and 42 grandchildren, many of whom married into various royal families. Currently she has hundreds of descendants all over the globe who are members of various royal families, including the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II.
Victoria was a carrier for haemophilia, and the proliferation of her descendants in royal families has contributed to a subsequent proliferation in the incidence of haemophlia among royalty. She passed the disease along to one son, Leopold, and also to a number of daughters, who brought it with them into the other royal families in Europe
, most notably in Spain
Jack the Ripper
The Jack the Ripper
case occurred while Victoria was on the throne, in the autumn of 1888. Her only known personal involvement in the case was when several Whitechapel
women wrote a petition begging her to intervene on their behalf. She wrote a letter to the men running the case encouraging them to solve the case as soon as possible. She was also involved in the speculation as to his identity, and she herself speculated that the killer was a butcher or cattle drover.
In 1976 Stephen Knight's Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution
was released, and put forward the idea of the "royal conspiracy". In his book, he asserted that Prince Albert Victor
, Victoria's grandson, had secretly married and impregnated a Catholic shopgirl named Annie Crook
. Victoria supposedly discovered this relationship in 1888 and ordered their love nest raided and the woman remanded to the custody of William Gull
, who declared her legally insane. Mary Kelly
and the other canonical victims of the Ripper, Knight claimed, were aware of the relationship and attempted to blackmail the royal family with the embarrassing affair. Victoria was then alleged to have ordered William Gull to carry out the murders. The royal conspiracy theory has been widely discredited, and there is no evidence that Victoria was involved in the murders.