Presented byProfessor Kate WilliamsRoyal historian

A headstrong head of state

Queen Victoria restored the reputation of a monarchy tarnished by the extravagance of her royal uncles. She also shaped a new role for the Royal Family, reconnecting it with the public through civic duties.

At just 4ft 11in tall, Victoria was a towering presence as a symbol of her Empire. She and her husband Albert and their nine children came to symbolise a new, confident age.

24 May, 1819

A queen in waiting

Bridgeman

Princess Victoria

A portrait of Princess Victoria and her mother Victoria, Duchess of Kent in 1824.

Alexandrina Victoria was born to the Duchess of Kent. Her father was the fourth son of George III and she was fifth in line to the throne.

However, she had three elderly uncles ahead of her in the succession. So when her father died when she was eight months her prospects of becoming queen were good. The princess, known as Victoria, was raised at Kensington Palace. She was educated by her governess Baroness Lehzen, who taught her languages, arithmetic, drawing and music. Her widowed mother was lonely and depended utterly on John Conroy – a servant of her former husband who was bent on power.

King George III: Victoria's grandfatherKing William IV: Victoria's uncle

As plump as a partridge

Baby Victoria described by Baron Stockmar, doctor to her German uncle Prince Leopold

1820-1837

A controlled childhood

Mary Evans

Victoria - Mary evans

An engraved portrait showing Victoria in 1834. She had a sheltered childhood.

After the death of two uncles, the teenage Victoria became heir to her final surviving uncle King William IV.

But Victoria's youth was dominated by strict rules known as the 'Kensington System'. These rules included sharing a room with her mother and having no time alone. The system was designed by John Conroy, who hoped to manipulate her to gain further power and influence. When Victoria was 13 she was taken on a tour of the Midlands so that Conroy and her mother could show her off to the public. The princess found it exhausting and became increasingly stubborn. She started writing a diary.

Who was Sir John Conroy?

The men, women, children, country and houses are all black... I just now see an extraordinary building flaming with fire.

Victoria's first journal entry, a train near Birmingham, 2 August 1832

20 June 1837

Victoria becomes Queen

Victoria

Victoria is welcomed into the City of London for the first time as Queen.

Victoria succeeded her uncle William IV, just weeks after her 18th birthday. Her first request was an hour alone, something denied to her until then.

Victoria moved to Buckingham Palace making it her official royal residence in London. She began exerting her will by exiling her mother to live in distant rooms. She also banned John Conroy the courtier who made her childhood miserable – from her state apartments. The young Queen was charmed by her first prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who was both fatherly and admiring. She became the richest woman in the world after Parliament granted her an annuity of £385,000.

Lord Melbourne: An early confidanteBuckingham Palace: A new royal home

Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more… and consequently that I am Queen.

Journal entry, 20 June 1837

28 June 1838

A slightly chaotic coronation

Bridgeman

Coronation

The Queen is shown kneeling in Westminster Abbey on her Coronation Day.

A crowd of 400,000 gathered on the streets of London to catch a glimpse of the Queen on her Coronation Day. She was crowned in Westminster Abbey.

She wore robes of white satin and red velvet. The five-hour ceremony was a little chaotic as the Dean of Westminster, who had presided over previous coronations, was ill. Victoria was handed the orb at the wrong moment and the Archbishop of Canterbury forced a ring on the wrong finger, which took her an hour to remove. After the ceremony Victoria returned to Buckingham Palace for a family banquet and watched fireworks from her mother’s balcony.

A newspaper account of the coronation

The Crown being placed on my head… a most beautiful impressive moment; all the Peers and Peeresses put on their Coronets at the same instant.

Journal entry, 28 June 1838

1839

The Bedchamber Crisis

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Lady Flora Hastings

Many believed that Lady Flora Hastings had been victimised by the Queen.

The Queen made some unwise choices early in her reign as she allowed her emotions to sway her judgement.

Victoria believed false pregnancy allegations against her popular lady-in-waiting Lady Flora Hastings, and was booed by the public. She was also engulfed in a political crisis when the Whig government fell and Lord Melbourne resigned. Tory politician Robert Peel agreed to become prime minister provided Victoria replaced some of her Whig ladies-in-waiting with Tory ones. She refused and reappointed Lord Melbourne. The Queen’s act was criticised as being unconstitutional.

Sir Robert Peel: A reforming prime minister

I was very young then and perhaps I should act differently if it was all to be done again.

Victoria in old age, referring to the Bedchamber Crisis

10 February, 1840

A royal white wedding

Mary Evans

Wedding, Mary Evans

An illustration of Victoria and Albert's wedding in the Illustrated London News.

Victoria fell in love with her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha when he visited Britain in 1839.

As head of state she had to propose to him. The couple were married the following year. Victoria wore a large white wedding dress and had a tiered wedding cake. This started a new tradition among brides who in the past had worn their Sunday best to the ceremony. The relationship was a passionate one and Victoria often lost her temper with her new husband. Albert took on the role of 'moral tutor' to Victoria, which irritated her but meant she relied more heavily on him.

Albertopolis: Prince Albert's legacyPower struggles: The real story of Victoria's marriage

He was so kind, so affectionate; oh! to feel I was, and am, loved by such an Angel as Albert, was too great delight to describe!

Journal entry, 15 October 1839

10 June 1840

Victoria survives an assassination attempt

Victoria

A lithograph depicting the first assassination attempt on Victoria.

The Queen – who often rode in an open carriage – was the target of eight attempts to kill or assault her during her lifetime.

In the first attempt a teenager called Edward Oxford fired at her as she was out driving with Albert near Buckingham Palace. The gunman was seized by onlookers. The Queen was shaken but managed to smile at crowds on her return trip through Hyde Park. Oxford was later found to be of ‘unsound mind’ and sent to Bedlam (the state criminal lunatic asylum). He was released in 1867 and deported to Australia. All of the Queen’s assailants worked alone and were judged to have mental health conditions.

Queen Elizabeth II shot at while riding on The Mall

I saw him aim at me with another pistol. I ducked my head, & another shot, equally loud instantly followed.

Journal entry, 10 June 1840

21 November, 1840

A new royal family

Bridgeman

Victoria's family

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert depicted in 1846 with five of their children.

Victoria fell pregnant soon after her wedding and gave birth to her daughter Victoria nine months later.

The Queen hated childbirth and suffered postnatal depression. Despite this she had nine children with Albert over 16 years. An astute diplomat, she helped them marry into the royal families of Europe. Victoria carried the haemophilia gene, which affected 10 of her male descendants including the son and heir of Russian Tsar Nicholas II.

What is haemophilia?Victoria's grandchildren shape European history

After a good many hours suffering, a perfect little child was born… but alas! A girl & not a boy, as we both had so hoped & wished for.

Journal entry, 1 December 1840

1842

Love affair with Scotland

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'Scottishness' at Balmoral. Balmoral (BBC Four, 2009).

Victoria and Albert visited Scotland for the first time. They thought it romantic and wild. The Highlands reminded Albert of his home in Germany.

The couple bought Balmoral in Scotland and from 1853 to 1856 Albert supervised the building of a new neo-Gothic castle for the family. It remains a private residence for the Royal Family today. Victoria promoted the monarchy in Scotland through frequent visits. She attended several Highland Games and wrote a bestselling book, Highland Leaves, about her experiences, which boosted tourism to the country.

Why are Highland Games so popular?Balmoral Castle: Scotland's royal home

We scrambled up to the highest peak, & here we sat down & had our luncheon. The view is truly magnificent, such endless ranges of hills.

Journal entry, 24 August 1849

3 February, 1852

A new parliamentary tradition

carriage

The Irish State Coach has been used for the State Opening of Parliament since 1852.

The Queen began new royal traditions when she attended the first State Opening of Parliament in the new Palace of Westminster.

The original building had been demolished by fire in 1834. The Queen arrived in the Irish State Coach, which had been built the year before and processed through Parliament before making her speech. The protocols and traditions established then have been followed by every British monarch since.

The Anglo-Saxon origins of the Palace of WestminsterWhat is the State Opening of Parliament?

We drove in under the new covered entrance, which is magnificent & had a beautiful effect... Got through the reading of my speech well.

Journal entry, 3 February 1842

7 September 1858

Victoria and Albert redefine what it means to be Queen

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Leeds

The royal procession on its way to open the new town hall in Leeds. The Illustrated London News.

Victoria, with the assistance of Albert, created a newly visible constitutional monarchy to stem a growing republican movement in Britain.

Victoria became patron of 150 institutions, including dozens of charities, while Albert supported the development of educational museums. The couple went on civic visits to industrial towns such as Leeds, and attended military reviews to support the armed forces. Together they helped stem criticism that the Royal Family didn't earn its keep.

Why does the monarchy matter?

Nothing could have been more enthusiastic than the reception we met with, or better than the way the people behaved.

Journal entry, Leeds, 7 September 1858

29 January, 1856

The Victoria Cross

VC

The Illustrated London News reveals the first recipients of the VC.

The Victoria Cross was introduced by Queen Victoria to honour acts of great bravery during the Crimean War. It was awarded on merit instead of rank.

The Crimean War was fought by an alliance of countries including Britain against Russia. The Queen was suspected of secretly supporting the Russian Tsar. However, she allayed suspicions by taking an interest in the nursing of wounded soldiers. She also awarded the first Victoria Crosses personally to 62 men at a ceremony at Hyde Park in 1857. It was the first time officers and men had been decorated together.

Florence Nightingale and the Crimean WarHow the Crimean War affected Europe

After riding down the Line the ceremony of giving medals, began... with blue ribbons for the Navy, & red, for the Army.

Journal entry, 26 June 1857

1860

Royal photographs sold to the public

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How Victoria and Albert became celebrities. The World's Most Photographed: Queen Victoria (BBC Two, 2014).

A set of 14 photos, known as Carte de Visites, was created of the Royal Family.

More than 60,000 copies were sold, despite having a hefty price tag of four pounds and four shillings. It marked the beginning of photographic celebrity culture. Women tried to replicate Victoria's fashions while some men copied Albert's hairstyle and moustache.

A 'Cartes des Visite' at the Victoria and Albert Museum

December 14, 1861

The death of Albert

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Exploring the close relationship of Queen Victoria and John Brown. The World's Most Photographed: Queen Victoria, BBC Two, 2014

Prince Albert died at the age of 42. The Queen was inconsolable with grief and wore mourning for the rest of her life.

Victoria withdrew from public life after Albert's death, but kept up with her correspondence and continued to give audiences to ministers and official visitors. She decreed that monuments to honour Albert should be built across the country and Empire – including the Albert Memorial. She became very close to John Brown, a servant at Balmoral Castle, even though her children resented him. Victoria was called ‘Mrs Brown’ in the press but despite this she refused to give up her friendship.

A death that rocked the monarchy

Have been unable to write my Journal since the day my beloved one left us, & with what a heavy broken heart I enter on a new year without him!

Journal entry, 1 January 1862

February 1871

Victoria returns to the public eye

Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Thanksgiving royal collection

The Queen rides with her son to a thanksgiving service after he recovers from typhoid.

The Queen was frantic with worry after her son and heir Edward fell ill with typhoid.

It came a year after the founding of the French Third Republic, which had provoked anti-monarchist feeling in Britain. When Edward recovered, the Queen used a carefully orchestrated event to boost royal support. She gave a public thanksgiving service and appeared to crowds on the Buckingham Palace balcony. It marked the queen's gradual return to public life.

Edward VII: Victoria's popular son

I went upstairs & stepped out on the Balcony with Beatrice & my 3 sons, being loudly cheered.

Journal entry, 27 February 1871

2 January, 1877

The Queen who became an Empress

Punch Magazine, Getty

Empress of India cartoon

Prime Minister Disraeli offers the queen an imperial crown in a satirical cartoon.

Victoria became the Empress of India to tie the monarchy and Empire closer together.

She accepted the title on the advice of her seventh prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, whose political advice she relied on. She approved of his imperialist policies, which established Britain as the most powerful nation in the world. Her popularity in Britain soared as she became a symbol of empire towards the end of her reign.

Who was Benjemin Disraeli?

My thoughts much to taken up with the great event at Delhi today, & in India generally, where I am being proclaimed Empress of India.

Journal entry, 1 January 1877

June 1887

A new favourite from India

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Victoria and her 'munshi'. Queen Victoria's Letters: A Monarch Unveiled (BBC Four, 2014).

The Queen received Indian servants to mark her Golden Jubilee year. She promoted one, Abdul Karim, to become her personal teacher or ‘Munshi’.

Karim instructed Victoria in Urdu and Indian affairs and introduced her to curry. He was just 24 but Victoria was fascinated by India, the country she ruled but would never visit. Politicians and members of the royal household resented his position but despite this, Victoria gave him honours and lands in India and took him with her on visits to the French Riviera.

Victoria's diaries reveal secrets about Abdul KarimHow England got the hots for curry

To-day is the day on which I have reigned longer, by a day, than any English Sovereign & the people wished to make all sorts of demonstrations.

Journal entry, 23 September 1896

20 June, 1887

The Golden Jubilee defines 'brand Victoria'

Queen Victoria jubilee getty

The Queen as she appeared in 1837 and 1887, from a colour supplement.

Victoria's Jubilee bolstered her reputation. Her face was emblazoned on products from mugs to jars of mustard to mark the occasion.

The Jubilee celebrations focussed on the Queen but also affirmed Britain's place as a global power. Soldiers from the British Empire marched in processions through London. Victoria held a feast, attended by 50 foreign kings and princes, along with the governing heads of Britain's overseas colonies and dominions.

What happened on Victoria's Golden Jubilee?Victoria: A jubilee family portrait

50 years today since I came to the throne. God has mercifully sustained me through many great trials & sorrows.

Journal entry, 20 June 1887

22 June 1897

The Diamond Jubilee celebrates Empire

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The first moving footage of Queen Victoria in 1896. The World's Most Photographed: Queen Victoria (BBC Two, 2014) (silent footage).

A day of global celebrations was planned for Victoria. The elderly Queen presided over a number of events though her mobility was limited.

Victoria embraced technology by sending a telegram thanking her subjects across the empire. She attended a procession to St Paul's Cathedral. Street parties were held across Britain, while Sydney Harbour in Australia was lit up with illuminations. In India, 19,000 prisoners were granted a pardon.

Elizabeth II stars at Olympics during Diamond JubileeBritain's first Diamond Jubilee

I started a message which was telegraphed throughout the whole Empire… ‘From my heart I thank my beloved people, May God bless them!’

Journal entry, 22 June 1897

22 January 1901

The end of the Victorian age

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Queen Victoria funeral getty

Victoria's funeral procession leaves Windsor Castle.

Victoria died after weeks of ill health. Her son and heir Edward VII and her grandson Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany were at her deathbed.

The Queen ruled over an Empire that covered a quarter of the globe with 400 million subjects, but she never forgot the men who supported her. She requested that Albert's dressing gown and a plaster cast of his hand be placed in her coffin. She also asked for a lock of John Brown's hair and his picture to be put in her hand. Lastly she left orders that Abdul Karim be among the principal mourners at her funeral. She was an indomitable monarch who, even at the end, was adept at getting her own way.

Film of Queen Victoria's funeral

God help & protect us. May there be peace at home & abroad, & may He guide me aright to do my duty.

Journal entry, 1 January 1899