Princess Victoria, born 1819, grew up at Kensington Palace. She became queen aged 18 and ruled for 63 years. The Victorian era saw massive social and political change in Britain, which became the greatest of all imperial powers.
The tiny (5ft) queen was a slim girl but in old age her waist measured 49in, making her look almost spherical.
Victoria was born at Kensington Palace on 24 May 1819. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Kent were royal, but not wealthy. After her father died in 1820, Victoria’s mother controlled every aspect of the Princess’s upbringing and education, together with the manipulative Sir John Conroy, the Duchess’s ‘adviser’. It was known very early on that Victoria was very likely to inherit the throne, so the little Princess was closely supervised. Her mother even shared her bedroom! Victoria’s beloved governess, Baroness Lehzen, was an ally, and supported her against her mother and Sir John. And even as a little girl, Victoria’s iron will showed through.
Image: Princess Victoria with her spaniel, Dash.
Victoria married her German cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Corburg Gotha; a union largely arranged by scheming relatives. However, it was a marriage based on genuine love, affection and shared interests. The couple first met at Kensington Palace in 1839. When they met again at Windsor in 1839 Victoria fell madly in love and they were married in 1840. The couple produced nine children and the happiness of family Christmases and birthdays were all recorded in Victoria’s diaries. She also followed Albert’s taste in music, art, and literature. Together they shared an ardent interest in raising and educating their children.
Prince Albert died from what was though to be typhoid fever on 14 December 1861, aged 42. Victoria was devoted to her husband and her grief was overwhelming. She wore black for the rest of her reign and for the next decade rarely appeared in public. Victoria never recovered fully from the shock of his death. She became close to her personal servant John Brown and the exact nature of their relationship continues to be controversial today. Although she never neglected her duties, Victoria was widely criticised for living in seclusion.
Albert once designed a brooch for Victoria containing their first daughter Vicky’s milk tooth!
Queen Victoria came to the throne as Britain was moving from an agriculturally based economy. By the end of her reign colonial expansion, industrial production and new technologies had transformed the way people viewed the world, how they communicated with one another and how they moved from place to place. Victoria embraced many of these advances. She enthused about the telegraph machine she had seen at the Great Exhibition of 1851. She used cholorform to ease the labour pains during the birth of two of her children and made a voice recording in 1888. The British Empire expanded until it stretched across Africa, Asia, Australia and Canada.
Explore Queen Victoria's long and extraordinary life in her own words at Victoria Revealed, the Queen Victoria exhibition.
Opens end of June
Go on an interactive adventure at Kensington Palace. Meet a character from history, explore all around you, do challenges and win a badge!
Explore the lives of three German princesses, whose marriage into the British royal family and wide-ranging interests placed them at the very heart of the enlightenment underway in 18th century Britain.
22 June - 12 November 2017