Queen Victoria

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Queen Victoria is associated with Britain’s great age of industrial expansion, economic progress, and especially, empire. At her death it was said, “Britain had a worldwide empire on which the sun never set” (Axelrod-Contrada 23). Queen Victoria set the tone of the British Empire for later monarchs by ruling through a series of powerful prime ministers who took political control of Britain. In the early part of her reign, two men influenced her greatly: her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, as well as her husband, Prince Albert, whom she married in 1840. Both men taught her much about how to be a ruler in a ‘constitutional monarchy’ where the monarch had very few powers but could wield much leverage. It was during Victoria’s reign that the modern idea of the constitutional monarch, whose role was to remain above political parties, began to evolve. However, Victoria was not always non-partisan, and she would exploit opportunities to express her opinions, sometimes very forcefully, in private. Victoria was born at Kensington Palace, London, on the May 24, 1819. She was the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent. Her father died shortly after her birth, making her heir to the throne because the three uncles who were ahead of her in the line of succession (George IV, Frederick Duke of York, and William IV) had no legitimate children who had survived. Victoria was warmhearted and lively. She had a gift for drawing and painting. Victoria was a natural diarist and kept a regular journal throughout her life. On William IV’s death in 1837, she became Queen at the age of 18. “I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here, and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing-gown), and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham (the Lord Chamberlain) then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am now Queen” (Nevill 103). On her first day as monarch, Queen Victoria assured Lord Melbourne that it had long been her “intention to retain him and the rest of the present Ministry at the head of affairs” (Arnstein 37). In practice, she had no alternative because Melbourne’s coalition of Whigs and Radicals outnumbered the opposition Tory (or Conservative) party, headed by Sir Robert Peel in the House of Commons and by the Duke of Wellington in the House of Lords. Before long, the young queen’s primary concern became Melbourne’s retaining his majority in Parliament while she retained Melbourne as her chief minister. Within a very few weeks she had persuaded herself that Melbourne was “a thoroughly straightforward, disinterested, excellent and kindhearted man” (Arnstein 38). Whatever the subject, the prime minister was able to explain it to Victoria “like a kind father would do to his child; he has something so . . . affectionate and kind in him,

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