Victoria (1819-1901), queen of Great Britain and Ireland and empress of India. Her baptismal name was Alexandrina Victoria. Victoria reigned nearly 64 years (1837-1901), the longest rule in English history. In her reign the British built the world's largest empire—an empire, it was said, on which the sun never set. English literature, science, and industry flourished. She presided over a golden era that became known as the Victorian Age.
Victoria ascended to the throne at a time when the prestige of the monarchy was low. Through her dignity and morality, she restored its reputation and made it a symbol of national unity. Although the monarchy lost much of its political power during her reign, it took on a ceremonial function that actually strengthened it as an institution.
Victoria's character had many sides. Her public image was one of strict virtue, and she was a devoted and affectionate wife and mother. However, she could on occasion be obstinate and self-indulgent. Although unpopular at times, Victoria was deeply mourned at her death.
Victoria was born in Kensington Palace, London, on May 24, 1819. (This date is celebrated as a holiday in much of the British Commonwealth.) She was the only child of the Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III, and Mary Louisa Victoria, princess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in Germany. Victoria's father died when she was eight months old. Her education was supervised by her German uncle Leopold, who in 1831 became king of the Belgians.
Victoria became queen on June 20, 1837, when she was only 18. She succeeded her uncle William IV. In 1838 she was crowned in Westminster Abbey.
In 1840 Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, her first cousin. Although the marriage was arranged for political and dynastic reasons, the two were deeply devoted to each other. Albert became a trusted adviser in governmental and foreign affairs.
Victoria and Albert had nine children, five daughters and four sons. They insisted on thorough religious instruction for their children and imposed strict discipline on them. Their public image as a righteous, dutiful couple served as an example for many Britons and Americans.
In 1861 Albert died of typhoid fever. His death so saddened Victoria that she went into seclusion from all except her household and cabinet. She stayed at Windsor Castle and her country homes, rarely visiting London.
Victoria had many able ministers, including Sir Robert Peel, William Gladstone, and Benjamin Disraeli (whom she preferred above all others). These statesmen respected her judgment.
Throughout her reign Victoria was deeply interested in the welfare of her people and in the growth of the empire. In 1846 she supported repeal of the Corn Laws of 1815 to lower the price of bread, chief food of the working people. In 1858 she favored the bill that transferred India from the East India Company to Great Britain. This act later resulted in Victoria's becoming empress of India (1876). The Education Act of 1870 established elementary schools financially aided by the government. In 1875 Britain bought control of the Suez Canal, and in 1886 it annexed Burma. In 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed.
Wars also marked Victoria's reign. Britain and its allies drove Russia from the Balkans in the Crimean War (1854-56). Naval bombardment of Alexandria brought Egypt under Britain's control (1882). British troops in South Africa conquered Dutch settlers in the Boer War (1899-1902). Victoria often broke down and cried at the lists of casualties, but she remained a firm supporter of British imperialism.
In 1887 Victoria took part in the Golden Jubilee marking the 50th year of her reign. In 1897 representatives from every part of the British Empire greeted her on her Diamond Jubilee. By this time Victoria had come to symbolize the unity and strength of the empire.
The beloved "Good Queen" died at Osborne, her country home on the Isle of Wight, on January 22, 1901. Her oldest son became Edward VII. Her oldest daughter. Victoria, married Frederick III of Germany. The queen also left 40 grandchildren (including George V of Great Britain, William II of Germany, and Nicholas II of Russia) and 37 great-grandchildren.
Victoria wrote about some of her happiest days in Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands (1868) and More Leaves (1883). Collections of her letters were published in 1907, 1926-27, and 1930-32.