She was one of the most recognisable faces of her day. She gave her name to an era. Her empire stretched from Europe to all corners of the earth. A Queen as well as an Empress, a woman as well as a mother, a wife, a grieving widow, a friend… Queen Victoria was all these things much more, and today we remember her because 24 May 2019 marks the bicentenary of her birth.
From the expansion of the British Empire to sensational television
Many of you will remember Queen Victoria from studying her reign in school, and will no doubt associate her name with the expansion of the British Empire, the consolidation of the Industrial Revolution, and the strict, moralistic and divided society over which she ruled supreme. Many of you may have come to know about Queen Victoria’s life through less academic channels, thanks to TV series like Victoria, starring Jenna Coleman, or films like, The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt, or Mrs Brown starring Dame Judi Dench (a role she reprised recently when she starred in Victoria and Abdul). Yet Victoria led a life that needs no dramatisation.
A Queen was born
The future queen was born Princess Victoria of Kent in 1819, the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent and his wife, the German-born Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The Duke died when Victoria was still a baby, and her mother came under the influence of her comptroller (and possible lover) Sir John Conroy, whom Victoria despised. At first, the young Victoria knew nothing of how close she actually was to the throne, or why Conroy would want to influence her mother and herself. It was only when her uncle, the Duke of York, died, that she came second in line to the throne, after her younger uncle, the future William IV, whom she succeeded not long after she turned eighteen.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
Shortly after ascending the throne in 1837, Victoria married her first-cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. It was beyond any doubt a love match, though the union was not without its ups and downs. Nine children were born to the couple between 1840 and 1857, but sadly Albert’s early death in 1861 plunged the still young Victoria into a morbid state of mournful depression.
“The Grandmother of Europe”
Unsurprisingly, Albert and Victoria’s descendants multiplied with every passing year after their eldest child, the Princess Royal, married the nephew of the King of Prussia (and the future German Emperor). Through the subsequent marriages of Victoria’s other children, she would go on to become the grandmother of an Emperor (William II of Germany), an Empress (the future Alexandra Fyodorovna of Russia), a King (George V of the United Kingdom) and four Queens (Sophie of Greece, Maud of Norway, Marie of Romania and Victoria Eugenie of Spain), earning Victoria the sobriquet of the “Grandmother of Europe”.
The successor of births, marriages and deaths
When Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901 at the age of 81, she had actually outlived three of her nine children, and eleven of her forty-two grandchildren. Four of her grandchildren married each other (Princess Irene of Hesse married Prince Henry of Prussia, and her brother Prince Ernest married Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh). Interestingly, Prince Albert died having only seen one of his children marry, and only lived to see the birth of two of his grandchildren. Victoria, on the other hand, would live to see the birth of many of her eighty-seven great-grandchildren!
Hundreds and thousands
Queen Victoria’s living descendants are counted today in their hundreds. Among them are several of Europe’s monarchs (only the King of the Netherlands, the King of Belgium, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the Prince of Monaco and the Prince of Liechtenstein are not direct descendants of Queen Victoria), but most of her descendants don’t have any titles nor do they hold any kind of official position or public office.