Did Queen Victoria become more flexible during later years?

Did Queen Victoria become more flexible during later years?

I came across a English exam practice question that basically says Queen Victoria was initially very stubborn but became more flexible during her later years (on formal matters such as the state, rather than personal matters). I want to know if this is in actual history a true claim or a false one.

And if it is indeed true, I want to know some short evidence of each stage as well (I don't want to know details so one or two sentences is fine), that shows she is stubborn when young and softer after getting older.

Note: I am not a native English speaker and I have no prior knowledge about the Queen, so I would appreciate answers even seemingly trivial to Anglophiles.


The secrets of Queen Victoria

From the age of 13, Queen Victoria kept diaries, 141 volumes, about 2,000 words a day, and 60 million words throughout her lifetime. However, after her death, following the Queen's instructions, her daughter, Princess Beatrice removed anything that might upset the royal family.

Beatrice created 11 hand-written volumes but most of the originals dating from the 1840s onwards were destroyed, despite the opposition of Queen Victoria's grandson King George V. Beatrice's editing can be clearly seen.

Typescript copies, which were made earlier by Lord Esher for his book, The Girlhood of Queen Victoria cover the period from 1832 to 1840. One example on Feb 13, 1840, Victoria recorded her delight at Albert putting on her stockings and then watching him shave. This incident does not appear in Beatrice's copy.

Victoria started the journal, in 1832, when she was just 13. The first words read: "This book, Mamma gave me, that I might write the journal of my journey to Wales in it."

The Queen continued writing until just ten days before her death, 69 years later. During the life extracts of her journals were published, such as Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, which was published in 1868. The first edition sold 20,000 copies, which was a great success.

Further editions were printed and a sequel was published — More Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands. Extracts of her journals also appeared in Theodore Martin's biography of Prince Albert — The Life of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort — which was published in five volumes from 1875 to 1880.

The complete collection of Queen Victoria’s Journals is now available online. Launched on the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birthday by HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace, the website is part of a digitization programme to make historic documents from the Royal Archives widely available for the first time.


Widowhood of Victoria

After Albert’s death Victoria descended into deep depression—“those paroxysms of despair and yearning and longing and of daily, nightly longing to die…for the first three years never left me.” Even after climbing out of depression, she remained in mourning and in partial retirement. She balked at performing the ceremonial functions expected of the monarch and withdrew to Balmoral and Osborne four months out of every year, heedless of the inconvenience and strain this imposed on ministers. After an initial period of respect and sympathy for the queen’s grief, the public grew increasingly impatient with its absent sovereign. No one, however, could budge the stubborn Victoria.

Although Victoria resisted carrying out her ceremonial duties, she remained determined to retain an effective political role in the period after Albert’s death and to behave as he would have ordained. Her testing point was, then, her “dear one’s” point of view and this she had known at a particular and thereafter not necessarily relevant period in British political life. Her training and his influence were ill-suited to the “swing of the pendulum” politics that better party organization and a wider electorate enjoined after the Reform Bill of 1867. And since she blamed her son and heir for Albert’s death—the prince consort had come back ill from Cambridge, where he had gone to see the prince of Wales regarding an indiscretion the young prince had committed in Ireland—she did not hesitate to vent her loneliness upon him or to refuse him all responsibility. “It quite irritates me to see him in the room,” she startled Lord Clarendon by saying. The breach was never really healed, and as time went on the queen was clearly envious of the popularity of the prince and princess of Wales. She liked to be, but she took little trouble to see that she was, popular.

It was despite, yet because of, Albert that Victoria succumbed to Benjamin Disraeli and thus made herself a partisan in the most famous political rivalry of the 19th century. Albert had thought Disraeli insufficiently a gentleman and remembered his bitter attacks on Peel over the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 the prince, on the other hand, had approved of Gladstone, Disraeli’s political rival. Yet Disraeli was able to enter into the queen’s grief, flatter her, restore her self-confidence, and make the lonely crown an easier burden. Behind all his calculated attacks on her affections there was a bond of mutual loneliness, a note of mystery and romanticism, and, besides, the return to good gossip. Disraeli, moreover, told the queen in 1868 that it would be “his delight and duty, to render the transaction of affairs as easy to your Majesty, as possible.” Since the queen was only too ready to consider herself overworked, this approach was especially successful. Gladstone, on the other hand, would never acknowledge that she was, as she put it, “dead beat,” perhaps because he never was himself Disraeli, however, tired easily. The contrast between Disraeli’s gay, often malicious, gossipy letters and Gladstone’s 40 sides of foolscap is obvious. And there was no Albert to give her a neat précis. Gladstone, moreover, held the throne as an institution in such awe that it affected his relations with its essentially feminine occupant. His “feeling” for the crown, said Lady Ponsonby, was “always snubbed.” The queen had no patience with Gladstone’s moralistic (and, she believed, hypocritical) approach to politics and foreign affairs. His persistent and often tactless attempts to persuade her to resume her ceremonial duties especially enraged her.

Over the problem of Ireland their paths separated ever more widely. Whereas “to pacify Ireland” had become the “mission” of Gladstone’s life, the queen (like the majority of her subjects) had little understanding of, or sympathy for, Irish grievances. She disliked disorder and regarded the suggestion of Irish Home Rule as sheer disloyalty. The proposal of an Irish “Balmoral” was repugnant to her, especially when it was suggested that the prince of Wales might go in her place. To avoid the Irish Sea, she claimed to be a bad sailor yet she was willing in her later years to cross the English Channel almost every year. In all, she made but four visits to Ireland, the last in 1900 being provoked by her appreciation of the gallantry of the Irish regiments in the South African War.

The news of Gladstone’s defeat in 1874 delighted the queen. “What an important turn the elections have taken,” she wrote.

It shows that the country is not Radical. What a triumph, too, Mr. Disraeli has obtained and what a good sign this large Conservative majority is of the state of the country, which really required (as formerly) a strong Conservative party!

If, years before, Melbourne, almost despite himself, had made her a good little Whig, and if Albert had left her, in general, a Peelite, temperamental and subsequently doctrinal differences with Gladstone helped make it easy for Disraeli to turn Victoria into a stout supporter of the Conservative Party.

One of the bonds shared by Victoria and Disraeli was a romantic attachment to the East and the idea of empire. Although she supported Disraeli’s reform of the franchise in 1867, Victoria had little interest in or sympathy with his program of social reform she was, however, entranced by his imperialism and by his assertive foreign policy. She applauded his brilliant maneuvering, which led to the British purchase of slightly less than half of the shares in the Suez Canal in 1875 (a move that prevented the canal from falling entirely under French control), especially since he presented the canal as a personal gift to her: “It is just settled you have it, Ma’am.” The addition of “Empress of India” in 1876 to the royal title thrilled the queen even more. Victoria and Disraeli also agreed on their answer to the vexing “Eastern question”—what was to be done with the declining Turkish empire? Even the revelation of Turkish atrocities against rebelling Bulgarians failed to sway the sovereign and her prime minister from their position that Britain’s best interests lay in supporting Turkey, the “Sick Man” of Europe. The fact that Gladstone took the opposing view, of course, strengthened their pro-Turkish sympathies. With the outbreak of a Russo-Turkish war in 1877, however, Disraeli found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to restrain his bellicose sovereign, who demanded that Britain enter the war against Russia. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878 Disraeli emerged triumphant: Russian influence in the Balkans was reduced, and Britain gained control of the strategically located island of Cyprus. The queen was ecstatic.

Victoria’s delight in Disraeli’s premiership made further conflict with Gladstone inevitable. When in September 1879 a dissolution of Parliament seemed imminent, the queen wrote to the Marchioness of Ely (who was, after the duchess of Argyll, perhaps her most intimate friend):

Dear Janie,…I hope and trust the Government will be able to go on after the Election, as change is so disagreeable and so bad for the country but if it should not, I wish the principal people of the Opposition should know there are certain things which I never can consent to.…

I never COULD take Mr. Gladstone…as my Minister again, for I never could have the slightest particle of confidence in Mr. Gladstone after his violent, mischievous, and dangerous conduct for the last three years.

After the blow fell with the Conservative Party’s defeat in 1880, Victoria sent for Lord Hartington.

Mr. Gladstone she could have nothing to do with, for she considers his whole conduct since ’76 to have been one series of violent, passionate invective against and abuse of Lord Beaconsfield, and that he caused the Russian war.

Nevertheless, as Hartington pointed out, it was Gladstone whom she had to have. She made no secret of her hostility, she hoped he would retire, and she remained in correspondence with Lord Beaconsfield (as Disraeli had become). Gladstone, indeed, said that he himself “would never be surprised to see her turn the Government out, after the manner of her uncles.” The queen abhorred Gladstone’s lack of Disraelian vision of Britain’s role in the world. Over the abandonment of Kandahar in Afghanistan, in 1881, for example, Sir Henry Ponsonby had never seen her so angry: “The Queen has never before been treated,” she told him, “with such want of respect and consideration in the forty three and a half years she has worn her thorny crown.”

Victoria convinced herself that Gladstone’s government, dominated (she believed) by Radicals, threatened the stability of the nation:

No one is more truly Liberal in her heart than the Queen, but she has always strongly deprecated the great tendency of the present Government to encourage instead of checking the stream of destructive democracy which has become so alarming.…She will not be a Sovereign of a Democratic Monarchy.

Nevertheless, Victoria did act as an important mediating influence between the two houses to bring about the compromise that resulted in the third parliamentary Reform Act in 1884.

Victoria never acclimatized herself to the effects of the new electorate on party organization. No longer was the monarchy normally necessary as cabinet maker yet, the queen was reluctant to accept her more limited role. Thus, in 1886 she sought to avoid a third Gladstone ministry by attempting to form an anti-Radical coalition. Her attempt failed. Irish Home Rule, not the queen, would defeat the “People’s William.”


Did Queen Victoria have an unhappy childhood? Lucy Worsley on the monarch’s life under the ‘Kensington System’

What was Queen Victoria like as a child? And did she have a normal childhood? Here, historian Lucy Worsley explores the monarch’s youth at Kensington Palace – where she lived under the rules of the 'Kensington System' – and finds that it might not have been as unhappy as Victoria herself would have had us believe

This competition is now closed

Published: May 22, 2020 at 4:45 pm

On 24 May 1819, a baby girl was born at Kensington Palace. It was then the least fashionable of the royal palaces, hidden away behind the lime trees of its wide green gardens to the west of London.

The arrival of Alexandrina Victoria, as she was christened, did cause some excitement. A long line of carriages calling for news about the health of the mother, the Duchess of Kent, reached all the way to Hyde Park Corner. But at that point the new baby, King George III’s latest granddaughter, was fairly low down the royal pecking order.

As the years of her childhood passed, however, and as her elder cousins failed to thrive and died, Alexandrina Victoria grew in importance. It gradually emerged that the little girl growing up quietly behind closed doors at Kensington Palace would one day reign over the whole of the British Isles, including Ireland. And, in due course, a quarter of the globe’s landmass.

Just as Queen Victoria’s path to the throne was not obvious at the time of her birth, her education and training for the position seem at first sight to have been quite shockingly inadequate. One of the problems was the early loss of her father, the Duke of Kent.

He had terrible debts, caused partly by an expensive refurbishment of his apartment at Kensington. In the winter of 1819–20, he tried to save money by taking his beloved wife and baby daughter to live cheaply in a rented holiday house, out-of-season, at Sidmouth in Devon. There he caught pneumonia and passed away.

This left his widowed duchess, whose name was Victoire, in a difficult position. German, and only recently married to her duke, she spoke no English and felt ostracised by the rest of the royal family. She had few resources, either financial or intellectual, on which to fall back for the care of her daughter.

Living under the ‘Kensington System’

One person who knew Victoire, Duchess of Kent, described her as “very delightful, in spite of want of brains”. If she was scatty and disorganised, she was also warm and loving. Her late husband’s will now placed Victoire in an unusual situation. Normally, a child in the line of succession would be handed over to the reigning monarch for education and guardianship. But the Duke of Kent had loved and trusted his wife, and made her guardian of their daughter instead. This was a duty Victoire intended to carry through. The rest of the royal family would perhaps have preferred it if she’d slipped back off to her native Germany – but Victoire remained. The daunting implication was that, if her daughter came to the throne before she was 18, Victoire herself would become regent of Britain. She would effectively be reigning over a country of which she could not even speak the language.

Unfortunately, Victoire lacked confidence in herself. “I am not fit for my place, no, I am not,” she would say. “I am just an old stupid goose.” No wonder that she now fell into the outstretched hands of a man on whom she would come greatly to rely: her late husband’s adjutant from his army days, John Conroy.

Conroy was a 6ft, black-haired, good-looking chancer from an Irish background. It’s easy to see how Victoire was forced by necessity, loneliness and incapacity to depend on the man who became her advisor and factotum (an employee who takes on several types of work). Her husband’s death had left her both distraught and penniless. Her brother Leopold came down to Sidmouth to help out, but failed to bring her any ready money. “Gut, gut Leopold,” as Victoire called him, in her German accent, was nevertheless “rather slow in the uptake and in making decisions”. It was Conroy, with his “activity and capability”, who arranged a loan for her at Coutts bank.

Listen: Professor Jane Ridley reveal some lesser-known aspects of Queen Victoria’s life

And Conroy could see, as the duchess’s chief advisor, that he might one day become the power behind the throne. He encouraged Victoire and the little Victoria to go back to live at Kensington Palace, and there devised something called the ‘System’, a set of strict rules under which the princess would live.

It sounds rather sinister, and on some levels it was. At its most basic, the System (as Conroy himself called it, with capital S) was for the young Victoria’s personal safety. It demanded she be kept in semi-seclusion at Kensington Palace. Behind the garden walls, she’d be isolated from both disease and assassination attempts. Secondly, the fact that she was rarely seen at court distanced her, in people’s minds, from the unpopular regime of her uncles, Kings George and then William IV. As a possible future queen, she’d remain untainted by association with them. She would be a fresh start – or, as Conroy put it, “the Nation’s Hope”.

But thirdly – and sinisterly – the System also seems to have been about breaking Victoria’s spirit, and getting her to submit. It contained an element of surveillance: she wasn’t allowed to sleep alone, play with other girls or even walk downstairs without having someone holding her hand. And each day she had to write in her ‘Behaviour Book’ how well – or badly – she’d behaved.

8 rules of the ‘Kensington System’ that governed Queen Victoria’s childhood

  1. Victoria was not allowed to spend time by herself and she always had to sleep in her mother’s room.
  2. Victoria could not walk downstairs without holding the hand of an adult in case she fell. (It sounds melodramatic, but Victoria did actually confirm in later life that this was a rule she had to abide by.)
  3. Victoria was not allowed to meet any strangers or third parties without her governess being present.
  4. The young Victoria had to write in a ‘Behaviour Book’ how well she’d behaved each day, so that her mother could assess her progress. Sometimes it was good, sometimes “VERY NAUGHTY”.
  5. Victoria could only appear in public on carefully stage-managed ‘publicity tours’. This was to distance her from the unpopular regime of her uncles, Kings George IV and William IV, and to present her as “the Nation’s Hope”.
  6. Victoria was not allowed to dance the scandalous and intimate new dance called the waltz, not even (as is often said) with other royal relations. She would never waltz until married to Prince Albert.
  7. Victoria had to build up her strength by exercising with her Indian clubs [a pair of bowling-pin shaped wooden clubs] and a machine with pulleys and weights, and was mandated to have plenty of fresh air. She would be a life-long devotee of open windows, to the extent that her courtiers would always be shivering.
  8. The young Victoria was not allowed to gorge on her food. She was allowed to eat bread with milk and plain roast mutton, and was restricted from eating her favourite things: sweetmeats and fruit.

Accounts of Queen Victoria’s childhood usually take at face value her adult recollections of this period in her life, in which she complained of trauma and loneliness. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that she did have a natural tendency to make a drama out of her own life. And perhaps there were some elements of the System that helped to make her reign a success.

There is no doubt that Conroy was indeed a manipulative bully, but there is also something more to his poor reputation among historians than just Victoria’s well-recorded dislike. The snobbish court establishment looked down on his lack of an aristocratic background. Born in Wales to Anglo-Irish parents – his father was a barrister – Conroy had reached his position of influence entirely by his own efforts, which contemporaries found troubling.

Secondly, if the System Conroy had devised had three components, the first two were wildly successful. He did keep Victoria safe. And, through a carefully stage-managed series of public appearances in her teenage years, he did manage to create an enormous groundswell of warmth for her when, eventually, she became queen.

Publicity tours

One of the items on display in a new exhibition at Kensington Palace, opening on 24 May (see page 79 for more information), is the small wooden travelling bed that Victoria used for another strand of Conroy’s System: the country-wide ‘publicity tours’ that he organised for her. Taking her on closely choreographed visits to provincial towns and nobleman’s houses around Britain gave her future subjects an intriguing glimpse of their future monarch. It was a strategy that paid off entirely. When, in the early hours of 20 June 1837, the 18-year-old Victoria was woken up at Kensington Palace with news that her uncle had died in the night, she was able to emerge – as Conroy had planned – as a fresh start for the monarchy.

Victoria’s journey to the throne was a struggle. But once she was queen, she would not long remain at Kensington Palace. She removed herself as quickly as she could to the relative freedom of Buckingham Palace instead. There’s a well-known and compelling narrative that sees Victoria, on her accession day, cutting free of the System to the extent, even, of changing her name.

When called on to sign her name, the new queen put just plain “Victoria” – not the “Alexandrina Victoria” of her christening. It’s widely believed that she was called “Drina” in childhood, rather than Victoria, and that the change symbolised a break from the past. But her mother had some time earlier agreed that the “Alexandrina” should be dropped quietly, and her toys are marked with a “V”. The duchess had, in any case, also called her daughter by the pet name of “Vickelchen”.

A life in the spotlight

So the System was not entirely a black-and-white affair. Even the most unpleasant aspect of it, that of surveillance, perhaps had an unintended benefit. It toughened Victoria up. She would have to face a lifetime of being watched and judged. The Behaviour Books were just the start. As her mother explained to her: “You cannot escape… from the situation you are born in.” Victoria might as well be given the chance to get used to living under watch and under pressure.

This was far from normal for a 19th-century girl, who was expected by society to shrink away from attention. But even Victoria’s Uncle Leopold, an enemy of Conroy’s, likewise coached his niece about the element of performance that would be so central to her role as a constitutional monarch. “High personages are a little like stage actors,” he explained. “They must always make efforts to please their public.”

Harsh judgement has sometimes been heaped upon the Duchess of Kent for not standing up to Conroy when he bullied her. But while Victoire lacked moral fibre, that did not make her a bad person, and this too is something that Victoria herself in later life came to appreciate. As Victoire explained, she’d simply done her best for her daughter. “My greatest of fears was that I loved her too much,” she said.

And what Victoire did bequeath to her daughter was a huge capacity for love. Most royals of the early 19th century could not afford to look for love in their marriages, which were pragmatic affairs undertaken for blood or politics. Yet Victoire, creature of an age in which romantic novels were beginning to provide a new template for living, had sought and found a soulmate in her husband. She brought up her daughter to desire the same thing – and Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert was a love match.

Victoria came in later life to realise the love her mother had felt for her – despite the System – and she also spent her childhood watching her mother defer so much to the advice of a man. The result of this was that she herself, in due course, would cling all the more closely to her own family.

And in doing so, Queen Victoria would model for the media and the nation a domestic life that was more than acceptable to the age in which she lived.

The dutiful queen

The industrial revolution had allowed a man, working in industry or business, to earn enough money to keep his wife at home, untroubled by the outside world. In her own family life, Victoria would become a kind of super-Victorian: submissive to her husband, Prince Albert, apparently devoted to her children – the perfect pin-up for a populace tired of the debauchery, the mistresses and the general excesses of previous kings.

But while the young Victoria was loved to the extent of being spoilt, there were still terrible gaps in her more formal education.

The System had given her nothing more than the standard education for a genteel young lady being prepared for marriage. The majority of her time was spent on music, drawing (at which she excelled), dancing, religion, French and German. Her tutors reported her as “indifferent” at spelling, but “good” at most other subjects. “The rest of her education,” one of Victoria’s prime ministers later noted, “she owes to her own natural shrewdness and quickness.”

But there was also a curious advantage to having a queen who relied on her “natural shrewdness”. It made her an instinctive, populist politician in a way that her classically educated male court and cabinet could never really appreciate. When she did ultimately come to write a book, for example, it was far from a learned tome. She published an account of holidays she’d taken in Scotland, which became a huge success and a runaway bestseller. Its rather banal content appealed directly to the people among her subjects who mattered, the people who held the balance of political power in the 19th century: the middle class.

While other monarchies across Europe were being threatened by revolution, the British monarchy survived the 19th century unscathed. This was not least because the middle classes thought that their undereducated, dutiful, home-loving queen simply wasn’t worth overthrowing.

It was not the result that Conroy’s strange ‘System’ was intended to achieve. Victoria would look back on her Kensington childhood with horror and regret. But far from being the breaking of her, you could argue that Victoria’s unusual childhood was in fact the making of her reign.

Lucy Worsley is the author of Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow (Hodder & Stoughton, 2018)

Discover a wealth of content on Queen Victoria, from features to podcasts


What Did Queen Victoria Do That Was Important?

Queen Victoria established the modern role of a monarch in a constitutional monarchy and exerted her influence to promote the British Empire's expansion and reforms benefiting the poor, according to the website of The British Monarchy. During her 67-year reign of Britain, the Empire experienced immense social, political and industrial change. Her longevity, combined with her grace and reclusive nature, led to her becoming a national icon of moral strictness.

Queen Victoria ruled during a time when the British monarch held little real political power. Nevertheless, she used her title and personality to influence public affairs as she saw fit. The effects of her behind-the-scenes politicking were observable in foreign policy. Victoria successfully pressed her ministers to avoid involving the nation in the Prussia-Austria-Denmark War, thereby saving Britain from the costs of massive military engagement. According to the official website of The British Monarchy, Victoria prevented a Franco-German war in 1875 by writing a persuasive letter to the Emperor of Germany, whose son had married her daughter.

Through a personal relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria indirectly shaped the foreign policy that made Britain a world empire. During her reign, the Crown took over rule of India from the East India Company the Royal Titles Act made Victoria Empress of India.

Victoria also supported a number of acts that democratized the country, including the establishment of the secret ballot, easing of voting requirements and enacting of wage increases for the working class.


Queen Victoria, Biography and Accomplishments

Queen Victoria, who lived from 1819-1901, was the ruler of England at the height of the British empire.

Beyond politics, Queen Victoria was so influential that the era of her reign (1837-1901) was named the Victorian Age in honor of her.

The literary movements of romanticism and realism abounded, and it was the age of doubt and belief with the emergence of Darwinism and Unitarianism and the response of the Oxford Movement under Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Victoria would be known as the &ldquograndmother of Europe,&rdquo as her forty-two grandchildren were part of the royal families in Germany, Greece, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, and Sweden.

Queen Victoria at age four

Born May 24, 1819, Alexandrina Victoria, who later became queen of England, was the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III.

Her father died shortly after her birth, and Victoria was brought up in Kensington Palace with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her half-sister Féodore under the tutelage of their governess, Louise Lehzen.

After the subsequent deaths of George IV, the Duke of York, and William IV, the Duke of Clarence, who both did not have any legitimate children who survived, Victoria ascended the throne at the age of eighteen on June 20, 1837.

Victoria with her spaniel, Dash

Around the time she became queen, Queen Victoria began corresponding with her cousin Albert and later proposed marriage to him on October 15, 1839. They married on February 10, 1840.

Victoria and Albert had a happy marriage, and she always spoke highly of him throughout her life. As Victoria stated in a letter to Baron Stockmar in 1846, &ldquoWithout him everything loses its interest.&rdquo

During their marriage, the couple would have nine children together (Victoria, Edward, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold, and Beatrice), most of whom married into various European monarchies.

Queen Victoria receiving the news of her accession

Victoria would be known as the &ldquograndmother of Europe,&rdquo as her forty-two grandchildren were part of the royal families in Germany, Greece, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, and Sweden.

At first, the queen insisted that Albert did not aid her in governing the country, but as Victoria became a mother and was frequently pregnant, she relied increasingly more on Albert&rsquos assistance, and he acquired a larger political role.

During her early reign, both Albert and the first Prime Minister who served under Victoria, Lord Melbourne, helped shape Victoria into the epitome of a queen under a constitutional monarchy where the ruler is an excellent figurehead, but does not have much political influence.

Prince Albert stayed by Queen Victoria&rsquos side and helped her with English politics until his death on December 14, 1861 at the age of forty-two.

His death was a huge blow to the queen. What she most feared and wrote about in the same letter to the baron in 1846 had come true: &ldquo[I]t will always be a terrible pang for me to separate from him even for two days, and I pray God never to let me survive him.&rdquo Victoria would in fact spend forty years, or almost half of her life, widowed.

Queen Victoria&rsquos Coronation

Queen Victoria is widowed

During the first several years after Albert&rsquos death, Victoria was severely depressed.

Known as the &ldquoWidow of Windsor,&rdquo she rarely appeared in public during the 1860s although Victoria always kept up official correspondence and met with the ministers and official visitors during her years of seclusion.

In the 1870s, due to support from family and her ministers, Victoria began to engage in public life more. Even so, she wore black during the rest of her reign, slept beside an image of Albert, and had clothes set out for him every morning right up until her own death.

The Queen&rsquos politics and popularity

Queen Victoria during her golden jubilee

With her reappearance in politics, Victoria took a stand of advocating for peace in matters of foreign policy.

In 1864, Victoria told her ministers that she did not want Britain to intervene in the Prussia-Denmark War, and she supported Turkish hegemony in the 1870s&mdashthe so-called Eastern Question&mdasheven when Prime Minister William Gladstone did not.

Additionally, during the Crimean War (1854-1856) early in her reign and the Second Boer War (1899-1902) late in her reign, Victoria remained involved, reviewing troops and visiting hospitals.

As the British empire grew, Victoria became more popular. In fact, she was queen of the largest empire in history. Under Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli&rsquos government in 1877, Victoria became Empress of India.

In the years leading up to her death, Victoria became the symbol for the British empire as exemplified by the lavish Golden (1887) and Diamond (1897) Jubilee celebrations held in honor of the fiftieth and sixtieth anniversaries of Victoria&rsquos accession to the throne.

Even though a series of acts, including the Second Reform Act of 1867 and the Representation of the Peoples Act of 1884, moved power away from Victoria as the British sovereign, Victoria still maintained a high level of prestige.

Her often neutral and non-partisan rule helped shape the modern idea of the British monarch: one who is above political parties and who maintains the dignity of the throne.

Victoria died at Osborne House on January 22, 1901 after a brief and painless illness. With a reign of sixty-four years, Queen Victoria was the longest reigning English monarch until Elizabeth II surpassed her in 2015.

Buried at Windsor beside Prince Albert, Victoria had the following words inscribed above the mausoleum door: &ldquoFarewell best beloved, here at last I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again.&rdquo

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Queen Victoria and her family: Prince Alfred and the Prince of Wales the Queen, Prince Albert Princesses Alice, Helena, and Victoria

Uncovering Her Majesty's pleasure: interview with author Julia Baird

Author and journalist Julia Baird was cradling her new baby in her Upper West Side Manhattan apartment in the autumn of 2009 when her phone trilled. "I don't think Queen Victoria has been properly examined for a long time," read the text message. Its author was Jon Meacham, then the editor of Newsweek magazine.

For some time, Baird, then Newsweek deputy editor, had been tossing around book ideas with her boss. She had always been drawn to stories of women her PhD at the University of Sydney had focused on powerful women and, at Newsweek, she had written about women like Republican Sarah Palin and MSNBC TV host Rachel Maddow. For a while, she had considered Eleanor Roosevelt as a potential book subject.

In the months that followed Meacham's text, Baird read all she could on Queen Victoria. "What I saw … was a constant repetition of the same thing there hadn't been a fresh interrogation for some time," says Baird, sipping chai tea in the cafeteria of the ABC in Sydney's Ultimo, where she works as the host of The Drum. "I wanted to see her as a flesh-and-blood woman."

For her engrossing biography, Victoria: The Woman Who Made the Modern World, Baird drew on previously unpublished material and grappled with Victorian-era mythology. She believes the biggest misconception about Victoria was that she didn't love power and ceded her authority to Prince Albert. "It was actually a great fight of wills between them."

Photographs show the queen as severe and strait-laced but Baird's Victoria is down-to-earth, witty. "She loved the [Scottish] Highlands, she loved the Highlanders, she loved wandering around [their] cottages. She didn't like affectation. She was like, 'I'm not going to wear a corset, I'm the Queen,' " says Baird, 46, who also writes a fortnightly column for The Sydney Morning Herald.

In the biography, Baird highlights Queen Victoria's sensual nature. "She fell so intensely in love with [Albert] she lusted after him." Through her exhaustive research over six years in both British and European archives, Baird also uncovered new primary sources that seem to confirm speculation that, after Albert's death, the Queen had a passionate relationship with her Scottish servant John Brown.

NSW Premier Mike Baird remembers his younger sister as a disciplined student: "Our parents had to poke me and prod me to study whereas they had to poke and prod to stop Julia from studying."

It was much the same with her research for the book. When Baird's substantial advance dried up, she returned to work and juggled journalism, motherhood (she has two children, Poppy, 10, and Sam, 7) and her immersion in the book. "When you're doing a book, it looks like you're harried and you've taken too much on, but inside, you're living in another world and it's very gratifying."


When was Queen Victoria born?

Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was born in Kensington Palace on May 24, 1819.

The only daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, Princess Alexandrina would later ascend the throne as Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria was never expected to be Queen as her father, Prince Edward, was the fourth son of King George III.

All of Prince Edward's older brothers died without a surviving heir, resulting in Victoria taking the throne.

When was Queen Victoria born? How long was her reign? (Image: GETTY)

Queen Victoria reigned for almost 64 years (Image: GETTY)

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1. Victoria was not meant to become Queen

When she was born, Victoria was fifth in line to the throne. Her grandfather was King George III. His first son and heir to the throne, George IV, had a daughter named Princess Charlotte.

Portrait of Victoria aged four by Stephen Poyntz Denning, (1823).

Charlotte died in 1817 due to complications during childbirth. This led to panic about who would succeed George IV. His younger brother William IV took the throne, but failed to produce an heir. The next youngest brother was Prince Edward. Prince Edward died in 1820, but he had a daughter: Victoria. Victoria thus became Queen upon the death of her uncle, William IV.


Female influences

Although Princess Victoria welcomed her uncle's advice, as she grew older her mother's smothering concern and criticisms became increasingly irritating to the sensitive girl. Nearly forgotten today, Feodora (the second child of her mother's first marriage to the Prince of Leiningen) was well-loved by Victoria, and the two sisters maintained a lively correspondence throughout their lives. The emotional 15-year-old Victoria grieved deeply when Feodora and her young family departed England after one of her infrequent visits: 'I clasped her in my arms and kissed her and cried as if my heart would break so did she, DEAREST Sister.'

Louise Lehzen remained Victoria's confidante throughout the entire youth of the princess, and into her first years as Queen. This strong bond would ultimately cause problems within Victoria's relationship with her mother, and with Prince Albert, but in the early years, Lehzen was nearly perfect in Victoria's eyes. During a serious illness in 1835, the Duchess of Kent and Sir John Conroy attempted, among other schemes, to convince Victoria that she would not be fit to rule until she was aged 21 (although legally she would gain her majority at 18). Lehzen fortunately was on hand to nurse Victoria, and supported her refusals of her mother's designs. Although the Duchess of Kent is never accused within her journal, Victoria gushes that 'My dearest best Lehzen has been & still is (for I require a great deal of care still) MOST UNCEASING & INDEFATIGABLE in her great care of me.'


Relationship with Abdul Karim

Following Brown’s death in 1883, Victoria’s servant Abdul Karim ascended into the queen’s inner circle and became her closest confidant. Karim was the son of a hospital assistant in Northern India and was brought to England to serve at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. He quickly impressed the queen with his cooking, and she asked him to teach her Urdu. Victoria lavished Karim with gifts including a private carriage, titles and honors. She also commissioned several portraits.

In letters to Karim, the queen referred to herself as “your loving mother” and “your closest friend.” However, historians do not believe that the two had a physical relationship.

Abdul’s great-grandson Javed Mahmood told The Telegraph in 2010 that they shared 𠇊 mother and son relationship. She became an Indophile in part because of her affection for him. But the prejudice of her family percolated down to Victoria’s staff.”

Victoria and Karim’s close relationship was scandalous to the royal family. Upon the queen’s death in 1901, they had all of the pair’s letters burned, and Victoria’s daughter Beatrice removed all references of Karim from the queen’s journals. Although the family followed through with the queen’s wish for Karim to be among a small group of mourners at her funeral, they later evicted Karim from the home Victoria gave to him and sent him back to India.

Karim’s relationship with Victoria was uncovered decades later by journalist Shrabani Basu, who visited the queen’s summer home in 2003 and noticed several paintings and a bust of Karim. Basu investigated their relationship and wrote a book, Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant.