With a reign of 63 years, seven months and two days, she is the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-reigning queen regnant in world history until her great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II surpasses her on September 9, 2015. She restores dignity to the English monarchy and ensures its survival as a ceremonial political institution. Edward VII accedes to the throne upon her death.
Born on May 24, 1819 in Kensington Palace, London, Victoria comes to the throne after the death of her uncle, King William IV, in 1837. As a young woman ascending to the throne, her future husband describes her “as one whose extreme obstinacy was constantly at war with her good nature.” Her first prime minister, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, becomes her close friend and adviser, and she succeeds in blocking his replacement by Tory leader Sir Robert Peel in 1839. Two years later, however, an election results in a Tory majority in the House of Commons, and she is compelled to accept Peel as prime minister. Never again does she interfere so directly in the politics of democratic Britain.
In 1839, her first cousin Albert, a German prince, comes to visit the English court at Windsor, and Victoria proposes to him five days after his arrival. Prince Albert accepts and they are married in February 1840. He soon becomes the dominant influence in her life and serves as her private secretary. Among his greatest achievements as Prince Consort is his organization of The Great Exhibition of 1851, the first world’s fair, in the Crystal Palace in London. He also steers her support away from the Whigs to the conservative Tories. She later is a vocal supporter of Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party.
Victoria and Albert build royal residences at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and become increasingly detached from London. They have nine children, including Victoria, later the empress of Germany, and the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. In 1861, Albert dies and Victoria’s grief is such that she does not appear in public for three years. She never entirely gets over the loss and, until the end of her life, has her maids nightly lay out Albert’s clothes for the next day and in the morning replace the water in the basin in his room.
Disraeli coaxes Victoria out of seclusion, and she is impressed by his efforts to strengthen and expand the British Empire. In 1876, he has her made “empress of India,” a title which pleases her and makes her a symbol of imperial unity. During the last few decades of her life, her popularity, which had suffered during her long public absence, increases greatly. She never embraces the social and technological advances of the 19th century but accepts the changes and works hard to fulfill her ceremonial duties as head of state.
Following a custom she maintains throughout her widowhood, Victoria spends the Christmas of 1900 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Rheumatism in her legs has rendered her lame and her eyesight is clouded by cataracts. Through early January, she feels weak and unwell, and by mid-January she is drowsy, dazed and confused. She dies in the early evening of Tuesday, January 22, 1901, at the age of 81. Her son and successor King Edward VII, and her eldest grandson, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, are at her deathbed. Her favourite pet Pomeranian, Turi, is laid upon her deathbed as a last request.
Victoria’s funeral is held on Saturday, February 2, in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and after two days of lying-in-state, she is interred beside Prince Albert in Frogmore Mausoleum at Windsor Great Park. When she dies, she has 37 surviving great-grandchildren, and their marriages with other monarchies give her the name “grandmother of Europe.”