On this day (24 May) Queen Victoria was born in 1819 at Kensington Palace in London. She was the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent and Victoria of Saxe-Cobury-Saalfield. She became queen in June 1837, succeeding her uncle, William IV and was crowned at Westminster Abbey a year later in 1838.
Queen Victoria spent a lot of time at Windsor Castle and visitors to the town cannot miss the statue of the queen (1887) at the bottom of
Castle Hill on the way to the castle entrance.
So what do we know about this fascinating queen?
Well, her full name was Alexandrina Victoria after her godfather Tsar Alexander I. She preferred to use her second name during her reign.
She suffered from headaches and the Windsor statue shows the queen wearing a small coronet, much preferred to the heavy crowns of state. At barely 5’ tall, Queen Victoria was 4” shorter than Queen Elizabeth II.
She was the first monarch to live at Buckingham Palace, previously owned by her uncle William IV. Extensive renovation work was needed for it to become the family home Victoria wanted.
Victoria was a linguist as she could speak German and studied French, Italian and Latin. In later life, she learnt Hindustani and Urdu from her Indian servant Abdul Karim who arrived at Windsor Castle in August 1887.
Despite a difficult and unhappy childhood, Victoria had a happy marriage. Being queen, she proposed to her cousin Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and they were married in February 1840. They had 9 children between 1840-57 – Victoria, Edward, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice.
Victoria was known as ‘the grandmother of Europe’ as several of her children were married into the royal families of Europe. Within a couple of generations, Victoria’s descendants were spread across the continent. Her 42 grandchildren could be found in the royal families of Germany, Russia, Greece, Romania, Sweden, Norway and Spain.
Prince Albert died at Windsor Castle in December 1861 when Queen Victoria was 42 years old. She never recovered from his death
and wore black for the rest of her reign. She had been intensely reliant on Albert’s support, practically and politically as well as emotionally. Known as ‘the widow of Windsor’, it was not until the 1870s that Queen Victoria was coaxed back into public life.
Queen Victoria ruled for over 60 years – 63 years, 7 months and 2 days to be exact – and she was the longest-reigning British monarch until her great great great granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II overtook her in 2012.
Queen Victoria was Empress of India from the 1 May 1876 and so consequently there are many places around the world which formed part of the British Empire that were named after her – Queensland (Australia), Victoria Falls (Zambia and Zimbabwe), Victoria Park (Hong Kong) and two Mount Victoria’s in New Zealand to name but a few. There are numerous statues of the queen to be found in Asia – Georgetown in Penang for example and there are 33 Victoria Roads in the UK.
She survived at least 6 assassination attempts on her life, including one in Windsor Royal Station in March 1882.
She initiated many wedding traditions for example, the wearing of a white dress. Queen Victoria chose a white dress of white satin to enhance the Honiton lace that adorned it. She wanted it to be seen. The use of myrtle in the wedding bouquet – a sprig of myrtle from her wedding bouquet was grown at Osborne House, a piece of which has been in every royal bouquet ever since. Victoria initiated the first balcony appearance at Buckingham Palace after Crown Princess Victoria’s wedding to the Crown Prince of Prussia in 1858 – this enabled all the crowds to see the wedding couple. She ordered the entire royal family onto the balcony.
Queen Victoria died in January 1901 aged 81. She was buried next to her husband Prince Albert in the Frogmore House Mausoleum in Windsor. Her name denotes an entire era in British history. She lived through a period of Empire and innovation with Britain being the ‘workshop of the world’ due to the Industrial Revolution, the first in the world. She was the first monarch to ride on a train in 1842 – Slough to Paddington. She and Prince Albert popularized Christmas traditions with the family, usually at Windsor Castle, inspiring the use of a Christmas tree (the idea of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III).
Queen Victoria was an amazing woman that you must think of next time you are at a wedding, getting on a train to London from Slough, visiting a friend in Victoria Road or just simply putting up your Christmas tree.
Debbie Keenan is a Blue Badge Guide working in Southern England and specialising in tours of Windsor.