In 1837 the then Prime Minister Lord Melbourne bowed early one morning to the petite 18 year old who overnight had become Queen. For the following three years Melbourne and Victoria were devoted to each other. Some thought an affair. Melbourne 's role was to be Victoria's mentor until that role was taken by the marriage to Prince Albert and to the new PM, Peel. Victoria's shrewdest foreign policy advisers were Albert and her uncle, King Leopold I of the Belgians.
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By 1897, it had been sixty years of extraordinary British expansion. It had started in 1837 with rebellion in Canada. Then came war in Afghanistan, in China (the Opium Wars) and the acquisition of Hong Kong. This was also the age of the Chartist riots, Fox Talbot's first photographs and five years later in 1844 the first telegraph line in England.
In 1847 Dickens published Dombey and Son. In the same year, came Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Thackeray's Vanity Fair. In 1854 the Crimea War and the public emergence of Florence Nightingale and Ellen Terry's debut. In 1857 the Sepoy Rebellion that was to change for ever the way the British ruled India. Diamonds were discovered in South Africa, the following year the first bicycle was registered and the transportation of criminals to Australia were banned. In 1869 also, the Cutty Sark was launched, the Suez Canal opened. Then came Bank Holidays, the Ashanti Wars and in 1876 Victoria was proclaimed Empress of Britain. Through all this, the enormous expansion of Britain's economy through its industrial revolution.
By 1897, Victoria had ruled through the greatest domestic, cultural and industrial changes in any 60 year period of British history since 1649. But she still had her head as every stamp enthusiast knew.
Queen Victoria (1819-1901)
The only child of George III's fourth son, Edward Duke of Kent and Princess Mary Louisa Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (which was why Prince Albert was Victoria's cousin). Victoria was less than five feet tall and just 18 when she became queen. Her mother and nanny were forceful characters determined to assume all the trappings of royalty, but Victoria successfully fought against their ambitions. Her marriage to Albert (1840) gave her the personal support she needed and allowed Melbourne to retire. She took against his successors. Some, like Gladstone and earlier, Palmerston, she detested. She referred to him and John Russell as those 'dreadful old men'. For 20 years, Victoria had but one political adviser she trusted, Albert. She became queen-empress at Disraeli's suggestion and her delight, but real power gradually diminished until she held the constitutional position still, in theory, surviving today: The right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn.
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Did You Know...
That Dickens died in the year the first Dr Barnardo's home was opened (1870) and that as if from a Dickensian plot, one policy of Dr Barnardo was to "export" orphaned or unwanted children to the colonies.
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In praise of Queen Victoria's Reign
The rousing end to his long speech in praise of Victoria's reign by yhe Honourable Nicholas Flood Davin QC.
"It may be that we shall see despotism and tyranny and barbarism civilised only in the art of war, combined against this empire with its 50 million of English-speaking men, and millions of loyal subject races. It may be we may have to face an Armageddon in which the oceans and seas of the round world will be purple with blood and flame, and - it may be that this is not beyond the bounds of possibility - it may be that we should succumb. If so, we would use language which my gallant friend and his marines and blue jackets will understand, we would fall as they fall, and die as our fathers died, with the jack still floating nailed to the mast, leaving a name without parallel, and which never could have parallel. Much more like, we would send tyranny skulking to its hold cooped up in narrower bounds and make the three crossed flag still more the world's flag of freedom. This empire will go forward, becoming greater in power and a still greater blessing to mankind. A federation of free nations. The centuries will make millenniums, and yet it is my belief and hope and fervent prayer that beauty's ensign will be purple on those imperial lips, and the day beyond the forecast of man when death's pale flag will be advanced on the imperial brow. "
In praise of Queen Victoria's Reign from the Empire
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From the ladies section of the Mutual Improvement Society of Surat
"We women, your most gracious majesty's most devoted and loyal subjects, inhabiting the ancient city of Surat, the birthplace of the British empire, are particularly proud of it as being thus gloriously ruled over by one of our own sex, and we quite appreciate that we owe our present position, progress, and advancement and education, and our prospective elevation entirely to your majesty's most righteous, philanthropic, and sympathetic reign; and we thank the Almighty for having placed us under the noble-hearted sovereign who always evinces a motherly tenderness, care, and anxiety, and who is always anxious for the promotion of our happiness and the relief of our distress.
It being previously arranged, all the members of the Mutual Improvement Society went in a body to Lal Bungalow, situated just opposite the Bamba Wadi and commanding a very magnificent view of the fields and wastes surrounding it, in order to partake of the feast that was to be given in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee. Great indeed had been the preparations for the dinner to be served, and great had been the rejoicings of the members throughout the day. In mixed the visitors and the sympathisers of the Society with equal enthusiasm and equal raptures to perpetuate the memory of Her Majesty the Queen-Empress."