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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

The life of Queen Victoria - Part 1, Early life

To commemorate international women's day, I thought I would delve into Queen Victoria's life as a whole. Today we will be looking into the early part of Queen Victoria's life and reign, tomorrow I will delve into the start of her married life and motherhood. I plan to write about her widowhood and elderly life next week.


From a petite princess to an elderly matriarchal Empress ruling quarter of the world's population. Victoria's reign not only oversaw her nation's industrial, social, and territorial expansion but it also saw a gradual improvement of living standards and working conditions.


Victoria, Duchess of Kent with Princess Victoria signed and dated Sir William Beechey 1821 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Born Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent on the 24th May 1819, she was daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (the fourth son of King George III), and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Alexandrina was originally fifth in line to the throne but became heir presumptive to her uncle George IV after both her father, Prince Edward and grandfather King George III died within a year of each other. Upon the death of King George IV in 1830, King William IV became King and Victoria became first in line to inherit the throne. When William IV died in 1837, Victoria inherited the throne. Because William had no living legitimate children, the British throne passed to his niece Victoria, the only legitimate child of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, George III’s fourth son. Under Salic Law, a woman could not rule Hanover, and so the Hanoverian throne went to George III’s fifth son, Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.


The little Princess had a somewhat controlled childhood at Kensington Palace, living under a strict system dubbed 'The Kensington System' which controlled her development. The later Queen often described her childhood as a 'horrible childhood' which was 'lonely and unhappy' and often blamed her mother for her upbringing. Shortly after the death of her husband, the Duchess of Kent, Princess Victoria’s mother, relied on the advice of her advisor Sir John Conroy who was employed by the Duke of Kent to assist his family. When the Princess's father the Duke of Kent died, Sir John Conroy claimed that he was asked to continue taking care of the Duchess and the Princess. This gave Conroy the ability to take advantage of the duchess and princess and gain control as a prominent figure in the royal family’s life. Sir John Conroy implemented the 'Kensington System'


Princess Victoria's childhood was often secluded, she rarely saw children her own age and was brought up in a stric household where learning was paramount. Under the supervision of Baroness Lehzen, her governess, Victoria was given a rigorous schedule. Reading, writing, music, languages, history, and geography were key to her education from the moment she could talk. The future Queen was also taught many expected skills such as needlework, horse riding and sketching. From 1830, Baroness Lehzen began to monitor Victoria's conduct through a series of 'Behaviour Books'. Victoria herself was obliged to record assessments of her attitude and comportment throughout the day. Although she was often 'good' at her lessons or in her conduct, there were numerous notations through 1832 in which Victoria's behaviour is described negatively, often extravagantly so: for example, she was 'naughty and vulgar' on 1st November, 1831 and (each word is underlined four times) 'VERY VERY VERY VERY HORRIBLY NAUGHTY!!!!!'


Queen Victoria when Princess Victoria Signed and dated Henry Collen 1836 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

In April 1836 Prince Albert and his brother Prince Ernst arrived in England for Victoria's 17th birthday. The cousins were introduced by their uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians who had helped arrange their future marriage. Victoria adored her cousins, "so very very merry and gay and happy, like young people ought to be." athletic Albert she found "extremely handsome." "His eyes are large and blue," she wrote, "and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth." But Albert was also frail, had a tendency to faint, and could not keep pace with his cousin. At her birthday ball at St. James's, Albert retired early; he had "turned as pale as ashes, & we all feared he might faint; he therefore went home." The next day, he stayed in his room all day without eating, due to a "bilious attack," before emerging looking "pale and delicate." Victoria wrote to Leo-pold, with a tinge of frustration, "I am sorry to say that we have an invalid in the house in the person of Albert." At the end, Victoria politely thanked Leopold: "[Albert] is so sen-sible, so kind, and so good, and so amiable too," she wrote, adding that he had, "besides, the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance you can possibly see." But Victoria was not at all interested in marriage. She invited Albert's father to her coronation, but not his sons. They would not see each other again for three years.


The Queen in 1838 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

At 6am on the 20th June 1837, the now Queen Victoria was awoke to be given the news that her uncle William IV had died and she was now Queen of England at just aged 18. Upon hearing the news of her succession, Victoria asked for an hour alone and for her bed moved from the room she shared with her mother. Later that day she held her first Privy council meeting with her most senior advisors and ministers, which took place in the Red Saloon. She dressed that day in a black mourning dress, in honour of her uncle. Desperate to break free of her mother and Conroy, the 18-year old calmly chose to make her first public appearance as queen without them. Sir John Conroy was dismissed from the royal court and was given £3,000 a year until his death.


After just three months of being on the throne, the young Queen moved into Buckingham House which was eventually renamed Buckingham Palace. Although the palace was unfinished the Queen was determined to begin a new life on her own terms. Large areas remained undecorated and many essential fixtures and fittings were still missing but Victoria was adamant to move in. By June 1838 Victoria became be the first monarch to leave Buckingham Palace for a Coronation.


Queen Victoria in her coronation robes signed and dated Sir George Hayter 1838-1840 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Victoria was crowned at Westminster Abbey on the 28th June 1838. Although Victoria’s coronation suffered a few mishaps the ceremony itself was a grand affair which drew crowds from all over the nation. Five hours of pageantry began. The Archbishop of Canterbury declared Victoria the "undoubted queen of this realm" as she turned to face the north, south, and west. She promised to uphold Protestantism before going to St. Edward's Chapel behind the altar, where she took off her robes and tiara and put on a linen shift and gold tunic, as was the custom. She then returned to the altar, sat in St. Edward's Chair, and was anointed under a gold canopy held aloft by knights of the garter. But not everything ran smoothly, due to lack of rehearsal and the fact that the Dean of Westminster was too sick to attend. Victoria had to ask the Bishop of Durham what to do with the heavy orb and scooter. He told her to carry it, along with the scepter, as the robe made of gold and lined with ermine was placed around her shoulders. Unfortunately, the cumbersome coronation ring, which had been specially made for her little finger, was painfully forced onto her fourth finger. London erupred with sound when the splendid new crown was placed upon the Queen's head. Forty one tower cannons thundered and trumpets blared. A long trail of peers climbed the steps to the throne, one by one touching the crown and kissing her hand- not her cheek, though it was the usual custom, as it was decided that for a young girl, having six hundred older men kiss her cheek was an "appalling prospect." When her frail uncle Sussex struggled to climb the steps, the young Victoria threw her arms around his neck. There was a collective gasp when Lord Rolle, a large elderly man who was being supported by two men, fell and rolled down to the bottom of the steps, lying tangled in his robes. He was helped up and tried once more to ascend to the waiting queen, bolstered by shouts of encouragement, but Victoria instead stood up, walked toward him, kindly whispered that she hoped he was not hurt, and stretched out her hand so he could kiss it.


Queen Victoria taking the Coronation Oath by George Hayter © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

The choir sang "Hallelujah" as the Queen made a final, formal exit. She then returned to the robing room, where she tried to pull the ring off her throbbing fourth finger. Already self-conscious about her short fin-gers, Victoria had to soak her hand in ice water for half an hour before it would budge. On the way back to Buckingham Palace, the crowds kept cheering, men tipped their hats and women waved their handkerchiefs. As soon as she arrived back to the palace, she grabbed her little dog Dash and placed him in a tub to wash him. The queen stood on her balcony at midnight to watch the fireworks show that night. The crowd was dazzled by thousands of popping stars and lights, serpents, squibs, and rockets. But most exciting of all was the final spectacle an illumination of Victoria in her full coronation robes, stretching across the sky in lights, twinkling.



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