Full name: Alexandrina Victoria
Birth: 24 May 1819
Death: 22 January 1901
Reign: Ascended to the throne on 20 June 1837, and was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 28 June 1838
Marriage: 10 February 1840 to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Family: Nine children – Victoria, Edward, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice
Eighteen-year-old Victoria had been raised under the strict ‘Kensington System’, which kept her sheltered, isolated and controlled. She was accompanied everywhere by governesses and slept in the same room as her mother until the day she became queen.
Albert and his brother Ernest came to Kensington in the spring of 1836. Victoria wrote about the experience in her journal:
‘Albert, who is just as tall as Ernest but stouter, is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth; but the charm of his countenance is his expression, which is most delightful; c’est à la fois full of goodness and sweetness, and very clever and intelligent.’
While both Victoria and Albert were aware of betrothal plans being made for them, Albert later stated that ‘not a word in allusion to the future’ had passed between them. It wasn’t until his second visit in 1839 that love blossomed.
Previously, women had dressed for their wedding in their best dresses (usually in a colour). Victoria’s dress was ‘a white satin gown with a very deep flounce of Honiton lace, imitation of old’. She had a wreath of orange blossom on her head and wore a diamond necklace and earrings, with Albert’s wedding present of ‘a beautiful sapphire brooch’. After this, white became highly fashionable and so began the tradition of the white wedding dress that continues to this day.
Far from being an impartial monarch, Victoria was passionate about politics and not hesitant to make her views known. She was often criticised for this, especially when her firm opinions led to ramifications outside her own private circle. In 1839 her Whig sympathies combined with her young age led to the Bedchamber Crisis.
Victoria wrote of her political inclinations in her letters, as evidenced by one addressed to her uncle in 18 June 1844. It details her feelings about the possible resignation of Tory Prime Minister Robert Peel:
‘My Dearest Uncle …. I am sure you will agree with me that Peel’s resignation would not only be for us (for we cannot have a better and a safer Minister), but for the whole country, and for the peace of Europe – a great calamity.’
Queen Victoria’s physician, John Snow, gave her a controversial new drug called ‘chloroform’ to numb pain during the birth of her youngest son, Leopold. She declared that the drug was ‘soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure’.
After Albert’s death in 1861, Victoria withdrew from the public eye. Sympathy waned as the years passed and by 1865, Victoria was seen to have abandoned her royal duties. Someone affixed a sign to the gates of Buckingham Palace reading: ‘These commanding premises to be let or sold, in consequence of the late occupant’s declining business.’
The famous quote, ‘We are not amused,’ is commonly attributed to Queen Victoria as her response to a vulgar joke at a dinner party. There is no first-hand account of this, however, and no concrete evidence that she ever even said it. It is often used to paint the monarch as dour and stern, but she was actually very fun-loving and would often laugh at jokes that others found shocking and scandalous.