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(1819—1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India

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queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1837–1901) and empress of India (1877–1901). Victoria would have agreed that her life fell into three parts—before Albert, with Albert, after Albert. The death in childbirth in November 1817 of Princess Charlotte, only daughter and heir to the prince regent, prompted a famous ‘rush to the altar’. The duke of Cambridge married in May 1818. His elder brothers, the dukes of Clarence and Kent, were married in a joint ceremony a month later. Clarence's two daughters died as infants, leaving the probable succession to the duke of Kent's daughter the Princess Victoria, born 18 May 1819, christened Alexandrina, and known at first as ‘Drina’. Eight months later her father was dead, taken off by pneumonia in winter at Sidmouth, leaving her to be brought up in a household almost totally female and totally German. Her mother, Princess Victoria of Leiningen, was of the house of Saxe‐Coburg: recently arrived in England, she found the language difficult. The other person in constant attendance was Fräulein Lehzen, brought over as governess and companion from Hanover when the princess was 6 months old. They lived at Kensington palace, Victoria sleeping in her mother's room until she came to the throne. The centre of the princess's life was her 132 dolls, given imposing names and elaborate costumes.

Victoria grew up intelligent and self‐possessed. Her upbringing, though sheltered, endowed her with an artlessness and directness—a lack of introspection—which is rare, and never left her. Inevitably the duchess of Kent was on bad terms with George IV and even worse with his successor William IV, to whose demise she looked forward with ill‐concealed relish. A clash over precedence meant that the duchess and the young princess boycotted William's coronation in 1831, the princess writing that not even her dolls could console her. ‘I longed sadly for some gaiety’, she wrote to her uncle Leopold at 16, ‘but we have been for the last three months immured within our old palace.’ As news of the gravity of King William's illness emerged in 1837 she wrote to Leopold: ‘I look forward to the event which it seems is likely to occur soon with calm and quietness: I am not alarmed at it.’ At her first council, Charles Greville wrote that ‘she appeared to be awed, but not daunted’.

Victoria's education for life started with her first prime minister Melbourne, whom she liked from their first audience, and who stood for father‐figure and first love. His kind and pleasant manner, mellow and relaxed, eased her into her new duties: after five days she wrote to Leopold, ‘I do regular, hard, but to me delightful work.’ Greville wrote, not unkindly, in 1839 when the queen's affection for Melbourne had dragged her into the Bedchamber crisis, ‘Melbourne is everything to her…her feelings are sexual, though she does not know it.’

She told Melbourne that she might not marry at all: ‘I don't know about that,’ replied Melbourne, sensibly. In October 1839 Leopold played his trump card, sending Victoria's cousin Albert over from Saxe‐Coburg on approval. In the event, one look was enough. ‘It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert,’ she wrote, ‘who is beautiful…so excessively handsome.’ Two days later, even disconcerting the urbane Melbourne, she declared that no time should be lost, and the following day she sent for Albert to propose marriage. The second phase of her life had begun.


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