Full Name: Alexandrina Victoria
Born: 24th May 1819, Kensington Palace
Daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent and Victoria Saxe-Coburg
Reigned: 1837 – 1901
Until Sept 2015, she had been the longest reigning English Monarch. Having been on the throne for 63 years she had not only seen the vast changes of the Industrial Revolution but also (for me the most significant) the revitalisation of the monarchy.
You may have watched the recent ITV series Victoria staring Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell which showed Victoria’s first few years as Queen. These years were difficult for the young Queen, only 18-years-old and with little knowledge and awareness of the complexity of the job. Her isolated childhood at Kensington Palace with no siblings or friends to play with, and her widowed mother, manipulated by Sir John Conroy for power played a significant part in her early reign. Victoria’s first request as Queen was to have her bed removed from the room she shared with her protective mother.
Yet, as many programmes, documentaries and dramas about Queen Victoria heavily emphasise, her difficult early years and her marriage to Albert, I want to focus on her legacy. As earlier stated, to me the most striking part of Victoria’s reign is how she made the monarchy popular again. Prior to her reign, the Hanoverian’s had ruled Britain since 1714, and had generally been more unpopular than popular. Even Victoria herself would refer to her ‘disgraceful Uncles’. Their extravagant lifestyles of excess, no legitimate children and sense of entitlement due to their royal blood tarnished their reigns’.
This was particularly the case with George IV who had been regent during his father’s madness. His public perception was so poor that a polite reference in a newspaper stated that he was ‘lazy, selfish and arrogant’. For Victoria, her reign was a chance to reinvent the monarchy, which some historians have said was essential for the type of monarchy we have now.
So what made Victoria such a successful monarch? It is difficult to pinpoint one area alone. For me, it’s a combination of factors, the first being her marriage to Prince Albert. Despite this only lasting 21 years due to his untimely death, they had a very prosperous one, and it produced nine children. All of their offspring reached adulthood, something that was rare during the 19th century, with many children dying in infancy. This gave the royal family a image of stability and prosperity in difficult times, and led to marriages across European royal families.
The second factor was Victoria’s ability to understand the importance of modernisation. This was shown by her deliberate interest in current affairs and not just politics. For example, she became the patron of over 150 charities and societies during her reign, showing great interest in the arts, literature and music. Science and innovation became much more important, with awareness and funding for research made a priority. The Victoria Cross was also established in her name to honour acts of bravery during the Crimean War. Victoria was fascinated by other cultures. She spoke five languages and in her later years learnt Hindustani and Urdu to be able to communicate with her servants from India. This interest was greatly significant in her success as not only a British monarch, but also a ruler of a vast Empire.
The final factor that made her such a successful monarch was her longevity. This in someways is ‘luck’ owing to the fact she lived into her eighties, however the unpopularity of the monarchy at the beginning of her reign shows how she regained the public’s interest in having a royal family. Victoria had overcome her fair share of difficulties, enduring six assassination attempts. Nevertheless, her death caused mourning in Britain in a way that had not been previously prevalent. Her legacy is even now apparent in her great-great granddaughter, Elizabeth II.