24th May 2019 marks 200 years since the birth of Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace.
Although there were 4 other people in line to the throne before her, a succession crisis was looming.
On the throne was her grandfather George III, dubbed “Mad King George” but due to his illness his son George Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent was acting monarch. (If you’ve ever wondered where Regent’s Park and Regent’s Street got their names, it is for him). He became King the following year however he had no surviving legitimate children and, in fact, neither did any of his brothers despite searing an impressive number of children between them. George IV was estranged from his wife and their only legitimate offspring, their beloved daughter Charlotte had died in childbirth in 1917 (read more about her in my blog ‘Princes Charlotte - The Original English Rose’).
Hasty marriages were arranged in a bid for one of the brothers to produce a legitimate heir. The future William IV, who succeeded George IV, married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen but despite numerous pregnancies they had no surviving children. The personal toll on Adelaide must have been unbearable.
This left Victoria, christened Alexandrina Victoria in the Cupola Room at Kensington Palace, the only legitimate grandchild of George III and therefore, in the line of succession after her uncles and father.
Victoria, the name she would adopt as Queen, had a lonely and closeted childhood. Her every move was carefully monitored by her mother and her father’s equerry John Conroy who, after her father’s death when she was only 8 months old, assumed a position of considerable support to Victoria’s mother, Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield. Her childhood was lonely, even isolated and her collection of dolls provided the friendship she lacked elsewhere.
Conroy was hoping to hold significant power via his continued support to Victoria’s mother who he was hoping would be made regent for her daughter if she became queen before her 18th birthday. In the event, Victoria was 18 years and 27 days old on 20th June 1837 when her uncle, William IV died and she became queen!
Victoria was young, female and small in stature which meant that from the beginning she was fighting biased assumptions made about her ability to rule. She held her first council meeting at Kensington on the morning of her accession.
She would go onto rule over a period of significant change and progress in Britain and over a rapidly expanding British Empire.
She died, after 63 years on the throne, the longest reigning monarch in our history only now surpassed by that of her great-great granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Her 9 children had led to 42 grandchildren and her direct decendents occupied many of the thrones of Europe, earning her the nickname ‘The Grandmother of Europe’.
Image: Kensington Palace - The room in which Queen Victoria held her first privy council meeting
Happy 200th Birthday Queen Victoria!
- Philippa Brewell
History Writer and History Tour Creator