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Queen Victoria's father was Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, a son of King George III. Because the king was insane, Edward's oldest brother George served as the country's regent. The Prince Regent and his estranged wife Caroline had just one child, Princess Charlotte of Wales. After Charlotte's death in 1817, people began to worry about the royal succession. Although the king had twelve living children, none of them had offspring who were eligible to inherit the throne.
Parliament and the public wanted the king's four unmarried sons to find wives, and three of them - including the 50-year-old Duke of Kent - quickly did so. His chosen bride was a German princess, Victoire of Saxe-Coburg, age 31. She was the widow of Prince Emich Charles of Leiningen, and had two children from that marriage, Charles and Feodora.
Edward and Victoire were married in July of 1818. Although they barely knew each other on their wedding day, they soon became fond of one another, and their marriage seems to have been happy.
On May 24, 1819 the Duchess of Kent gave birth to a daughter. (The baby was delivered by a female doctor, Frau Siebold, who later that year attended the birth of Victoire's nephew, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg.) The duke and duchess planned to name their daughter Georgiana Charlotte Augusta Alexandrina Victoria. However, the Prince Regent, who was one of the baby's godfathers, refused to allow his own name (George) or his late daughter's name (Charlotte Augusta) to be bestowed upon this possible future queen. He announced that the baby would be named Alexandrina after her other godfather, Russian tsar Alexander I. When Edward suggested Elizabeth as a second name, the Prince Regent shook his head and declared, "Give her the mother's name also then, but it cannot precede that of the emperor."
So the future Queen Victoria was christened Alexandrina Victoria. As a small child she was nicknamed Drina, although her mother preferred to call her Victoria.
That winter the Duke of Kent caught a cold which turned into a pneumonia. He died when his daughter was eight months old. Within a week King George III had also died. The Prince Regent became King George IV.
Little Princess Drina was brought up at Kensington Palace. The Duchess of Kent feared that Drina would be murdered by one of her uncles so that he could claim her place in the line of succession, so the princess was never left alone. Even in the schoolroom she was surrounded by watchful eyes.
Until the age of three she spoke only German, but she learned to speak English without a trace of an accent. She also chose to learn Italian because she loved opera. Although her favorite subject was history, she did not realize at first that she was destined to play a major historical role. When she was 11 years old she saw a royal family tree and supposedly remarked, "I am nearer to the throne than I thought." Then (according to her governess) she vowed, "I will be good." By Victoria's own account, she "cried much" on learning that she might one day be queen.
Victoria was so overprotected that she was not permitted to walk up or down a staircase unless she was holding someone's hand. The person mainly responsible for keeping her under close guard was her mother's comptroller, John Conroy, who hoped to gain an important post in Victoria's government. It has been said that King George IV considered marrying Victoria's older sister, Feodora. Instead the Duchess of Kent arranged for Feodora to marry a German prince -- purportedly at Conroy's urging, because if she married the king she might have children who would precede Victoria in the line of succession. (Despite their age difference, Feodora and Victoria were close friends.)
Although Victoria was generally healthy, once during her teens she became very sick, probably from complications of tonsilitis. Thinking to exploit her weakness, Conroy asked her to sign a document stating that he would be her secretary when she became queen. Victoria refused.
George IV died in 1830 and was succeeded by his brother, William IV. When William died on June 20, 1837, eighteen-year-old Alexandrina Victoria became Britain's queen.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
Victoria immediately began to take charge of her own life. Before becoming queen she had been required to sleep in her mother's room; now she slept in her own bedchamber. She avoided both her mother and Conroy, who continued to work for the Duchess of Kent. Two years after Victoria's accession Conroy was indirectly involved in one of the greatest scandals of her reign. One of the queen's unmarried ladies-in-waiting, Flora Hastings, showed signs of pregnancy, and Victoria believed her to be carrying Conroy's child. In fact, Hastings was a virgin, and her symptoms were caused by an illness which killed her. Victoria's unkind treatment of Hastings -- which she came to bitterly regret -- caused a public outcry. As a result of the Hastings scandal Conroy resigned his post in the Duchess of Kent's household and left the country.
Victoria's first prime minister was Lord Melbourne. They became close friends and he helped her learn her role as queen. Because of her loyalty to Melbourne, the queen supported his party, the Whigs, early in her reign. Later her husband, Prince Albert, persuaded her that the monarch should not favor any particular party.
Albert was Victoria's first cousin. They had first met at the age of sixteen. Although they did not fall in love immediately, they enjoyed each other's company. Their family wanted them to marry, and Victoria readily agreed. Albert visited England again in 1839, when Victoria was nineteen and queen. This time Victoria fell in love at first sight. She described Albert as "excessively handsome, such beautiful eyes . . . my heart is quite going." She soon proposed to him, and Albert accepted. Their wedding took place the following year, and the marriage was an extremely happy one.
Victoria and Albert had nine children. Because the queen was confined by her multiple pregnancies, Albert undertook many of her responsibilities. Victoria herself said that Albert was king in all but name. In fact, she wished to give him the title "king," but that was something the English people would not accept. At first Albert was unpopular, but in time his hard work brought him greater acceptance. In 1857 the queen persuaded Parliament to officially grant him the title "Prince Consort."
Albert's health was always poor. In November 1861 he contracted typhoid fever; he died the following month at the age of 42. Victoria was distraught. She wrote to her eldest daughter, "How I, who leant on him for all and everything - without whom I did nothing, moved not a finger, arranged not a print or photograph, didn't put on a gown or bonnet if he didn't approve it shall go on, to live, to move, to help myself in difficult moments?"
Queen Victoria remained in seclusion for many years after her husband died, and wore black for the rest of her life. Albert's rooms were maintained exactly as they had been when he was alive; the servants even brought hot water for shaving to his dressing room each morning. None of this was particularly unusual during the Victorian era, however. In time Victoria's depression lifted and she resumed her royal duties, but she never ceased mourning for Albert.
Queen Victoria's Children
Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise was born in 1840. Her nickname in the family was Vicky. She married Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia when she was 17. Her husband became emperor of Germany, but died of throat cancer after a three-month reign. Vicky had seven children. Her eldest son became German emperor Wilhelm II; her daughter Sophie married a Greek prince and in time became the queen of Greece.
Prince Albert Edward was born in 1841. His nickname was Bertie. In 1863 he married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. They had six children, including a daughter named Maud who became the queen consort of Norway. After Queen Victoria's death in 1901, Bertie ascended to the throne as King Edward VII. He died in 1910 and was succeeded by his son, King George V.
Princess Alice Maud Mary was born in 1843. At age 18 she married Prince Ludwig or Louis of Hesse (later Grand Duke Louis XIV). Their seven children included a daughter, Alix, who became the wife of Russia's last tsar, Nicholas II. The first of Queen Victoria's children to die, Alice succumbed to diptheria in 1878 at the age of 35.
Prince Alfred Ernest Albert was born in 1844. His nickname in the family was Affie. In 1874 he married Grand Duchess Marie, the daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. When Alfred was 50 he became the duke of Saxe-Coburg. His only son, also named Alfred, died in 1899 as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, so when Affie died in 1900 he was succeeded by his brother Leopold's son, Charles. The eldest of Affie's four daughters, Marie, married the crown prince of Romania, who later became King Ferdinand I.
Princess Helena Augusta Victoria was born in 1846. Her nickname was Lenchen. In 1866 she married Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, with whom she had five children. Their marriage lasted 51 years. Lenchen died in 1923.
Princess Louise Caroline Alberta was born in 1848. At the age of 23 she married John Campbell, Marquis of Lorne (later the Duke of Argyll). It was a troubled marriage, and they had no children. Princess Louise lived until 1939.
Prince Arthur William Patrick was born in 1850. In 1879 he married Princess Luise Margarete of Prussia. They had three children. Prince Arthur lived until 1942, when he died at the age of 92.
Prince Leopold George Duncan was born in 1853. In 1882 he married Princess Helena Frederica of Waldeck. They had two children. Prince Leopold was a hemophiliac, and just two years after his marriage he died at the age of 30. In 1900 his son Charles Edward became the duke of Saxe-Coburg.
Princess Beatrice Mary Victoria was born in 1857. Her nickname in the family was Baby. She married Prince Henry of Battenberg in 1885, despite Queen Victoria's disapproval of the match. Beatrice and Henry had four children, including Victoria Eugenie, who became the queen of Spain. Beatrice died in 1944.
Victoria After Albert
Queen Victoria visited Germany in the summer after Albert's death. Among her attendants on the trip was John Brown, an outspoken Scot who had been a favorite of the Prince Consort. The following year Victoria was involved in two carriage accidents, and both times Brown was on hand to save the day. In 1864 Brown was brought to England to lead the queen's pony when she went riding. The next year Victoria wrote in her diary, "Have decided that Brown should remain permanently & make himself useful in other ways besides leading my pony as he is so very dependable."
Brown quickly became the most important person in the queen's life. He was a good-looking man, five years younger than the queen, and their close relationship caused much gossip. As one nobleman wrote, "The queen has taken a fancy to a certain Scotch servant, by name Brown: will have no one else to wait upon her, makes him drive her out alone in a pony carriage, walk with, rather than after her, gives orders through him to the equerries, allows him access to her such as no one else has . . . [Her Majesty] is talked of as 'Mrs. Brown.'"
In 1998 the producer of the movie Mrs. Brown revealed that he had seen a previously unknown cache of "love letters" exchanged by Queen Victoria and John Brown. It is highly doubtful that Brown and Victoria were actually lovers, although the queen's daughters jokingly called Brown "Mama's lover." His intimacy with the queen did not please Victoria's family, but Brown was indispensible to her, and remained her confidante for nearly twenty years. The scandal faded in time as people became accustomed to his constant presence.
When John Brown died in 1883, the queen wrote, "The shock - the blow, the blank, the constant missing at every turn of the one strong, powerful reliable arm and head almost stunned me and I am truly overwhelmed." Victoria erected a statue of Brown at Balmoral. His room, like Albert's, became a shrine. A flower was placed on his pillow every day until Victoria herself died. The queen was so grief-stricken that she could not walk for a year; for the rest of her life she used a cane or wheelchair.
During Victoria's reign, Britain expanded into an empire. Victoria became an icon and symbol of her age. The fiftieth year of her reign, 1887, was marked with a Golden Jubilee of public celebration, followed ten years later by a Diamond Jubilee.
Queen Victoria died in 1901, at the age of 81. She had left elaborate instructions for her funeral. As she had wished, her own sons lifted her into the coffin. She wore a white dress and her wedding veil. Because Victoria had disliked black funerals, London was festooned in purple and white. She was buried beside Prince Albert in the Frogmore Royal Mausoleum at Windsor Castle. Victoria had reigned for nearly 64 years - the longest reign in British history.