On this day in 1819 Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was born in Kensington Palace. She was the last monarch of the House of Hanover and ruled for 63 years. Her reign, which is known as the Victorian Era, was a period of great industrial, scientific, social and political development. This era is also considered the gilded age of the British Empire.
Early Years and Ascension to the Throne
Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819. Her father, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, was the fourth son of King George III and her mother was Victoire of Saxe-Coburg, Princess of Leiningen. When Victoria was one-year-old, both her grandfather and father passed away.
Victoria was raised in a German-speaking household and received a liberal education. In 1830, her grandfather’s successor, King George IV, passed away and was succeeded by his brother William IV. As the latter didn’t have any legitimate heir, Victoria’s chances of becoming the heir to the throne started to become higher. Her life then underwent a drastic change and she became the pawn of several family feuds. In 1836, she met her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg Gotha and fell in love with him, although they were not allowed to get married until she reached the age of eighteen. When King William died in 1837 the princess was crowned Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland.
Queen Victoria ruled for 63 years, a period which is known as the Victorian Era. Right after she was crowned, she married Prince Albert, whose influence made her share his sympathy for the Conservative party. Throughout their marriage, they had nine children. In the meanwhile, the country was undergoing great political and social changes. Britain became the most industrialized country in the world and many cities experienced rapid growth in population as the new working class moved from the rural areas to the city. Still, the Early Victorian Era was a period of peace considering that other European countries such as France, Germany and Italy were all dealing with anti-monarchical and nationalist movements.
It was a few years later when Queen Victoria had to face her first major foreign conflict: the Crimean War. The Parliament, supported by public opinion, decided to enter the war without consulting the Queen, who eventually ended up backing the Government. In 1853 the British army joined the war in support of Turkey against Russia, which pulled out from the Balkans in 1856. This conflict showed that the Queen’s influence on politics was not that strong anymore and served as proof of the rise of authority of the Parliament. However, it was Prince Albert’s death in 1861 that marked a turning point in the Queen’s reign. His death made her stay in seclusion and rarely appear in public for years. As a consequence, her popularity decreased rapidly and several republican movements arose.
After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British East India Company disappeared and the Indian protectorates were incorporated into the British Empire, which led to Victoria becoming the Empress of India. The expansion of the Empire brought enormous economic benefits to the country, and as a result, the Queen’s popularity recovered.
Death and Legacy
On 23 September 1896, Queen Victoria surpassed her grandfather George III as the longest-ruling monarch in British history. However, her ill health prevented her from taking an active part in politics and rendered her disabled. She passed away on 22 June 1901 at the age of 81 and was succeeded by King Edward VII.
Victoria’s last years marked the beginning of the gilded age of the British Empire. By the time she died, the Empire covered a fifth of the Earth’s surface. During this time, she also received the nickname “Grandmother of Europe” due to the fact that many of her children had married into the houses of Prussia, Denmark, Russia, Schleswig-Holstein, Waldeck and Battenberg. Among her grandchildren were Emperor Wilhelm II, Queen Sophie of Greece and Alexandra of Russia.
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