Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne

On 20 June 1837, King William IV died in his sleep after a reign of seven years. His niece, the 18-year-old Princess Victoria, inherited the throne. Her accession marked the dawn of a new era in Britain’s history, which would come to represent industrial growth, scientific advances and vast imperial expansion.

On a personal level, Queen Victoria is remembered for her passionate relationship with her husband Prince Albert, the grief that engulfed her after his death, and her longevity, with a reign of over sixty-three years. However, had it not been for the infidelities of her grandfather George III’s offspring and the untimely death of her cousin Princess Charlotte, it is probable that Britain’s longest-reigning monarch (to date) may never have been born.

Born to be Queen

Queen Victoria's coronationGeorge III, commonly remembered as the ‘Mad King’, sired fifteen children, including nine sons, yet among their offspring was only one legitimate heir, Princess Charlotte. Charlotte was the daughter of George III’s oldest son, also called George, who would reign as the Prince Regent and later as King George IV. Charlotte was extremely popular with the British public and made a happy marriage with Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, but she died at a tragically young age following the birth of a stillborn son in 1817.

Edward, Duke of Kent, was the fourth son of George III. Charlotte’s unforeseen death forced him (along with his other brothers) to recognise the necessity of producing an heir, since none of them had any surviving legitimate children. In the spring of 1818 he therefore wed Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, sister of the recently bereaved Leopold. It was a harmonious match and on 24 May 1819 the new Duchess of Kent gave birth to a daughter, who was named Alexandrina Victoria. Edward is reported to have said of the infant, ‘look at her well, for she will be Queen of England’. Alas, he died when she was less than a year old, but he had done his duty and the succession was secure.

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Victoria and Albert’s Children

Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on 10 February 1840. Within weeks of their wedding, she was pregnant. Between November of that year and April 1857, the royal couple had nine children; four princes and five princesses.

Victoria and Albert and childrenAlthough she was besotted with Albert, maternal affections did not always come naturally to Victoria, who expected unswerving obedience from all her offspring in both infancy and adulthood. The family was nevertheless very close and the premature death of Albert on 11 December 1861 devastated all of them. Eight of the children went on to marry members of other prominent royal families and collectively they provided Victoria with forty grandchildren, earning her the nickname ‘The Grandmother of Europe’.

(Pictured: Victoria and Albert, and children, painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846).

Victoria, Princess Royal
Born: 21 November 1840
Married: Prince Frederick William of Prussia
Died: 5 August 1901

Writing about the birth of her first child, Victoria remarked that she and Albert were ‘sadly disappointed’ to have a girl rather than a boy, though they were grateful that the child was in good health. Known as Vicky, the Princess Royal’s full name was Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise. She was highly intelligent and her father doted on her. Vicky married Frederick of Prussia (Fritz) at the age of 17, an alliance that was by no means without political motivation, though the couple were very much in love. Both Vicky and her mother were prolific letter-writers and exchanged around 8,000 letters in their lifetimes. Vicky and Fritz had eight children, the eldest of whom became Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Albert, Prince of Wales
Born: 9 November 1841
Married: Princess Alexandra of Denmark
Died: 6 May 1910

King Edward VII as a boy

Unlike his older sister, the Prince of Wales was not endowed with superior intellect as a child and was often unfavourably compared to her. Bertie, as he was called, had a brief affair with a prostitute called Nellie Clifden in 1861, a scandalous occurrence which subsequently led his mother to blame him for the death of his father later that year. Nevertheless, a match was made with Alexandra of Denmark and the young couple married in 1863. They had six children, five of whom survived infancy. Bertie undertook numerous foreign tours as the heir apparent to the throne and was widely praised for his diplomacy. Following the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, he ascended the throne as King Edward VII.

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Death of Prince Albert

The light is subdued in the Blue Room. He lies in his bed, plumped up with pillows. His breath is slow and laboured, his skin terribly white, his hair stuck down by sweat. Kneeling on the floor beside his bed, trembling, his wife – the queen. Holding his limp hand, she knows he is dying. Beside her, five of her children, their faces pinched with fear. Standing awkwardly, nearby, various ladies in waiting, equerries, doctors, and a minister or two. But she has eyes only for her darling prince. The time is almost eleven in the evening. As he slips away, she mutters, ‘Oh, this is death, I know it.’ On his passing, the queen lets rip a scream that tears down the walls of Windsor.

Prince AlbertOn the 14 December 1861, Albert, the Prince Consort, died. He was only 42. His unexpected death plunged Queen Victoria into grief so overwhelming that it endured for the rest of her life. Her pain was shared by the nation in an outpouring of angst that would not be seen again until the death, 136 years later, of Princess Diana. But after a while, public and politicians alike began to ask whether the Queen’s period of mourning would ever end?

Prince Albert and Princess Victoria meet

The 16-year-old Princess was immediately smitten – on meeting Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha for the first time, she confided in her diary that her German cousin was ‘extremely good looking’. It was 18 May 1836. They would not meet again for another 3½ years by which time, October 1839, Victoria had become queen. This time, her praise went even further – ‘It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert – who is beautiful’. Albert had the teenage queen’s heart ‘quite going’.

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