Victoria was born at Kensington Palace, London, on 24 May 1819. She was the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III. Her father died shortly after her birth and she became heir to the throne because the three uncles who were ahead of her in the succession – George IV, Frederick Duke of York, and William IV – had no legitimate children who survived.
Warmhearted and lively, Victoria had a gift for drawing and painting; educated by a governess at home, she was a natural diarist and kept a regular journal throughout her life. On William IV’s death in 1837, she became Queen at the age of 18.
Queen Victoria is associated with Britain’s great age of industrial expansion, economic progress and, especially, empire. At her death, it was said, Britain had a worldwide empire on which the sun never set.
In the early part of her reign, she was influenced by two men: her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, and then her husband, Prince Albert, whom she married in 1840. Both men taught her much about how to be a ruler in a ‘constitutional monarchy’, in which the monarch had very few powers but could use much influence.
Albert took an active interest in the arts, science, trade and industry; the project for which he is best remembered was the Great Exhibition of 1851, the profits from which helped to establish the South Kensington museums complex in London.
Her marriage to Prince Albert produced nine children between 1840 and 1857. Most of her children married into other Royal families of Europe.
Edward VII (born 1841), married Alexandra, daughter of Christian IX of Denmark. Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (born 1844) married Marie of Russia. Arthur, Duke of Connaught (born 1850) married Louise Margaret of Prussia. Leopold, Duke of Albany (born 1853) married Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont.
Victoria, Princess Royal (born 1840) married Friedrich III, German Emperor. Alice (born 1843) married Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Helena (born 1846) married Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. Louise (born 1848) married John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll. Beatrice (born 1857) married Henry of Battenberg.
Victoria bought Osborne House (later presented to the nation by Edward VII) on the Isle of Wight as a family home in 1845, and Albert bought Balmoral in 1852.
Victoria was deeply attached to her husband and she sank into depression after he died, aged 42, in 1861. She had lost a devoted husband and her principal trusted adviser in affairs of state. For the rest of her reign she wore black.
Until the late 1860s she rarely appeared in public; although she never neglected her official Correspondence, and continued to give audiences to her ministers and official visitors, she was reluctant to resume a full public life.
She was persuaded to open Parliament in person in 1866 and 1867, but she was widely criticised for living in seclusion and quite a strong republican movement developed.
Seven attempts were made on Victoria’s life, between 1840 and 1882 – her courageous attitude towards these attacks greatly strengthened her popularity.
With time, the private urgings of her family and the flattering attention of Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister in 1868 and from 1874 to 1880, the Queen gradually resumed her public duties.
In foreign policy, the Queen’s influence during the middle years of her reign was generally used to support peace and reconciliation. In 1864, Victoria pressed her ministers not to intervene in the Prussia-Denmark war, and her letter to the German Emperor (whose son had married her daughter) in 1875 helped to avert a second Franco-German war.
On the Eastern Question in the 1870s – the issue of Britain’s policy towards the declining Turkish Empire in Europe – Victoria (unlike Gladstone) believed that Britain, while pressing for necessary reforms, ought to uphold Turkish hegemony as a bulwark of stability against Russia, and maintain bi-partisanship at a time when Britain could be involved in war.
Victoria’s popularity grew with the increasing imperial sentiment from the 1870s onwards. After the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the government of India was transferred from the East India Company to the Crown, with the position of Governor General upgraded to Viceroy, and in 1877 Victoria became Empress of India under the Royal Titles Act passed by Disraeli’s government.
During Victoria’s long reign, direct political power moved away from the sovereign. A series of Acts broadened the social and economic base of the electorate.
These acts included the Second Reform Act of 1867; the introduction of the secret ballot in 1872, which made it impossible to pressurise voters by bribery or intimidation; and the Representation of the Peoples Act of 1884 – all householders and lodgers in accommodation worth at least £10 a year, and occupiers of land worth £10 a year, were entitled to vote.
Despite this decline in the Sovereign’s power, Victoria showed that a monarch who had a high level of prestige and who was prepared to master the details of political life could exert an important influence.
This was demonstrated by her mediation between the Commons and the Lords, during the acrimonious passing of the Irish Church Disestablishment Act of 1869 and the 1884 Reform Act.
It was during Victoria’s reign that the modern idea of the constitutional monarch, whose role was to remain above political parties, began to evolve. But Victoria herself was not always non-partisan and she took the opportunity to give her opinions, sometimes very forcefully, in private.
After the Second Reform Act of 1867, and the growth of the two-party (Liberal and Conservative) system, the Queen’s room for manoeuvre decreased. Her freedom to choose which individual should occupy the premiership was increasingly restricted.
In 1880, she tried, unsuccessfully, to stop William Gladstone – whom she disliked as much as she admired Disraeli and whose policies she distrusted – from becoming Prime Minister. She much preferred the Marquess of Hartington, another statesman from the Liberal party which had just won the general election. She did not get her way.
She was a very strong supporter of Empire, which brought her closer both to Disraeli and to the Marquess of Salisbury, her last Prime Minister.
Although conservative in some respects – like many at the time she opposed giving women the vote – on social issues, she tended to favour measures to improve the lot of the poor, such as the Royal Commission on housing. She also supported many charities involved in education, hospitals and other areas.
Victoria and her family travelled and were seen on an unprecedented scale, thanks to transport improvements and other technical changes such as the spread of newspapers and the invention of photography. Victoria was the first reigning monarch to use trains – she made her first train journey in 1842.
In her later years, she became the symbol of the British Empire. Both the Golden (1887) and the Diamond (1897) Jubilees, held to celebrate the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Queen’s accession, were marked with great displays and public ceremonies. On both occasions, Colonial Conferences attended by the Prime Ministers of the self-governing colonies were held.
Despite her advanced age, Victoria continued her duties to the end – including an official visit to Dublin in 1900. The Boer War in South Africa overshadowed the end of her reign. As in the Crimean War nearly half a century earlier, Victoria reviewed her troops and visited hospitals; she remained undaunted by British reverses during the campaign: ‘We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat; they do not exist.’
Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, on 22 January 1901 after a reign which lasted almost 64 years, then the longest in British history. Her son, Edward VII succeeded her.
She was buried at Windsor beside Prince Albert, in the Frogmore Royal Mausoleum, which she had built for their final resting place. Above the Mausoleum door are inscribed Victoria’s words:
“Farewell best beloved, here at last I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again.”
15 Quick Facts bout Queen Victoria
Her first name wasn’t Victoria.
Born in Kensington Palace on May 24, 1819, Queen Victoria was originally named Alexandrina Victoria, after her godfather, Tsar Alexander I, but always preferred to go by her second name, or the nickname ‘Drina. At birth, Victoria was fifth in the line of succession for the British crown, behind the four eldest sons of George III, including her three uncles and her father, Edward.
She was the first member of the Royal family to live at Buckingham Palace.
Shortly after her accession to the throne, Queen Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace, which was previously owned by her late uncle King William IV. This made Queen Victoria the first reigning monarch to take up residence at Buckingham, though her move did not come without its struggles. As the royal family’s website puts it, “Her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840 soon showed up the Palace’s shortcomings.”
The Palace was in need of extreme renovations if it was going to be a family home as Queen Victoria intended it to be. Victoria put in the work, adding an entirely new wing, and years later, Buckingham continues to serve as a place of royal business and the London residence of Queen Elizabeth.
She was barely five feet tall.
The monarch was four inches shorter than Queen Elizabeth II.
She became Queen when she was 18.
At 6 a.m. on June 20, 1837, Victoria was woken from her bed at and informed that her uncle, King William IV, had suffered a heart attack and died during the night. Less than a month after turning 18, Victoria was Queen.
Growing up, she was under constant supervision.
Less than a year after Queen Victoria’s birth, her father, Edward, Duke of Kent (the fourth son of George III) died of pneumonia, leaving the young princess to be raised by her mother. Following his death, Victoria’s mother, Duchess Victoria, was prepared to rule alongside her daughter if Victoria’s uncle died and she ascended to the throne before she was officially of age. For this reason, Victoria’s mother used a strict code of discipline to shape the Queen-to-be. Later known as the “Kensington System,” it involved a strict timetable of lessons to improve Victoria’s morality and intellect.
This meant she rarely got to interact with children her own age because of the demands on her time. Princess Victoria was under constant adult supervision and was also made to share a bedroom with her mother until she became Queen.
She was multilingual.
The young queen was an adept linguist, fluent in both English and German. Her mother and governess both had German roots, so Victoria grew up speaking the language and later used it frequently when speaking to her German husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The Queen also studied French, Italian, and Latin.
Toward the end of her reign, when servants from India arrived at Windsor Castle in 1877, her attendant, Abdul Karim, taught the Queen many Hindu and Urdu phrases to better communicate with her servants. “I am learning a few words of Hindustani to speak to my servants,” she wrote in her diary, according to a book about the period, Victoria & Abdul. “It is a great interest to me for both the language and the people, I have naturally never come into real contact with before.”
She survived at multiple assassination attempts.
During her reign, several attempts were made at Queen Victoria’s life, all of them unsuccessful. The first notable attempt was made in 1840, when 18-year-old Edward Oxford fired at the Queen’s carriage in London. Oxford was accused of high treason for his crime and was ultimately found not guilty for reasons of insanity, according to the History channel’s website. Two men tried to shoot her in 1842, and in 1849, her carriage was attacked by William Hamilton, an unemployed Irish immigrant who later pled guilty to the crime and was banished for seven years, History reports. One year later, Robert Pate, a former soldier, used an iron-tipped cane to hit the Queen in the head, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The final notable attempt took place in March of 1882, when a Scottish poet named Roderick Maclean shot at Queen Victoria’s carriage with a pistol while leaving the Windsor train station. According to Time, this was Maclean’s eighth attempt at assassinating the Queen. Maclean was tried for high treason and was found “not guilty, but insane,” so Maclean was sentenced to live out his days in an asylum until his death in 1921, the Guardian reports. Despite the chaos and fear that followed the many assassination attempts, Queen Victoria became more and more popular with the public after each attempt.
She proposed to her husband.
In the lead up to her 17th birthday party, then-Princess Victoria met her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Four years later, Victoria, now the monarch, proposed to Prince Albert on October 15, 1839 and they were married on February 10, 1840, in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace in London.
Victoria was deeply in love with Albert and, once they were married, she claimed to be truly happy for the first time in her life. After their wedding night, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary, “I never, never spent such an evening!! My dearest dearest dear Albert … his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before!”
She began more than one popular wedding trend.
At the time of her wedding, it was common for wedding dresses to come in a variety of colors. Queen Victoria, however, wished to show off the lace embroidery of her dress and requested it in white. She also asked that none of her guests wear white so as not to draw attention away from her, and she even had the pattern for her dress destroyed so that it could not be copied, according to Vogue. Queen Victoria accessorized the dress—complete with an 18-foot train—with white satin shoes, Turkish diamond earrings, and a sapphire brooch that belonged to Prince Albert. Over her veil, the queen wore a wreath of myrtle and orange blossoms.
And a popular Christmas one as well.
You can thank Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert for your Christmas tree. They popularized the custom in 1848 when Albert sent decorated trees to schools and army barracks around Windsor. An image of the royal family decorating a tree was also published that year, inspiring other British families to do the same.
Victoria and Albert were very hands-on in the process. “Queen Victoria and Prince Albert brought the tree into Windsor Castle on Christmas Eve and they would decorate it themselves,” Royal Collection curator Kathryn Jones explained to the BBC. “They would light the candles and put gingerbread on the tree and the children would be brought in.”
She and her husband had nine children.
Over the course of her life, Queen Victoria was mother to nine children with Prince Albert. Her sons and daughters would later go on to marry into several other European monarchies, and would go on to produce the Queen’s 42 grandchildren.
She became the first known carrier of hemophilia, known as the “Royal disease.”
Queen Victoria was the first in her family to carry hemophilia B, a blood clotting disorder, but the Queen herself was not a hemophiliac. Because of Victoria’s vast lineage, the disorder was passed on to the members of royal and noble families across Europe. A 2009 study in Science Magazine even linked the hemophilia mutation to members of the Russian royal family, the Romanovs.
The disease claimed several of her descendants: Queen Victoria’s son Leopold, the Duke of Albany, died at age 30 after he slipped and fell, and two of Queen Victoria’s grandsons— Friedrich and Leopold—also bled to death due to the affliction. It is believed that the last royal carrier of the disease was Prince Waldemar of Prussia, who died in 1945, Science Magazine reports.
She was the first monarch to ride a train.
The Victorian era was a time of rapid technological advancement and industrialization. Electricity started to become more common and photography became a popular medium, and rail systems spread across Britain. In 1842, Victoria became the first monarch to ride a train, according to PBS. The ride from Slough, near Windsor Castle, to Paddington in West London took about 30 minutes to complete. The 23-year-old Queen found the ride delightful and said the “motion was very slight, and much easier than a carriage—also no dust or great heat,” according to People.
She is the second-longest reigning British monarch.
Not long ago, Queen Victoria held the title of longest reigning British monarch, with a total reign of 63 years and seven months. In 2015, Queen Elizabeth II broke Queen Victoria’s record and continues to hold it today.
Her name lives on all over the world.
As the Queen of England during Britain’s imperial height, Queen Victoria inspired the title of everything from lakes and mountains to cities across what was then the empire. From the 33 Victoria Roads in the United Kingdom to Victoria Park in Bhavnagar, India and two Mount Victorias in New Zealand, her name lives on all over the world.
- Queen Victoria Biography and Profile (Royal / Town/Country)