Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was crowned Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in June 1837. She was 18 years old and would reign for 63 years – the longest of any monarch before our present Queen. She married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840, and they went on to have 9 children. During the birth of her last two children in 1853 and 1857, Victoria used the newly discovered anaesthetic Chloroform, although its use was opposed by members of the clergy who considered it against biblical teaching.
Queen Victoria saw the expansion of the British empire as civilising and benign and, during her reign, the British Empire reached the height of its powers, covering about a quarter of the world's population – over 400 million people at the time – in colonies in India, Australia and New Zealand, Africa, Canada, Egypt, the West Indies, the Pacific, and elsewhere. In 1857 Indian troops rebelled against British rule. The rebellion was crushed with considerable bloodshed, and thousands of Indian Civilians were murdered in retribution.
The Indian rebellion brought about a reorganisation of the British Army in India and improvements in opportunities for the Indian middle class. In 1858 Queen Victoria issued a proclamation declaring that Indians would be treated equally to British citizens regardless of race or creed. Efforts were made to remove racial barriers, but these were resisted by many white civil servants and officers and had only limited effect. Queen Victoria was crowned Empress of India in 1876.
Queen Victoria was subject to 5 assassination attempts between 1840 and 1850, although these were not major conspiracies but rather the acts of unbalanced individuals. None of them appear to have been a serious attempt on her life.
Over a million people died in the Irish Potato famine between 1845 and 1849, and Queen Victoria personally donated a considerable sum to famine relief, although Irish propaganda of the time and later portrayed her as uncaring.
Victoria was keenly interested in improving relations with France and Britain allied with France and the Ottoman Empire against Russia in the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856. The war was fought to prevent Russian territorial expansion into the Balkans and the Black Sea. Although relatively short, the war was particularly bloody, with around 450,000 casualties, with many of those dying of their wounds or of disease. One of the main outcomes of the war was a demand for professional medical services, led by Florence Nightingale. She created the profession of nursing, establishing a training school for nurses, and establishing nurses in hospitals. She was also a leading campaigner for improving sanitation and was influential in the enactment of the Public Health Acts of 1874 and 1875. The implementation of these acts led to a 20-year increase in average life expectancy in Britain between 1871 and 1931.
The Crimean War can also be argued to have created diplomatic and territorial tensions, which ultimately sparked the First World War.
Queen Victoria's husband, Albert, was the driving force behind the Great Exhibition of 1851. It featured more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world and was designed to showcase Great Britain's industrial might. The British exhibits portrayed Britain's superiority in textiles, machinery, steam locomotion, and iron and steel. However, it also showed how quickly the United States and Germany were catching up in terms of their industrial abilities. For example, Samuel Colt demonstrated the prototype Colt Navy revolver – one of the first pistols of the American West.
Prince Albert, Victoria's husband, died of typhoid in December 1861. Victoria was devasted and went into seclusion for 10 years. She wore black for the remainder of her life.
In 1871 Queen Victoria was successfully treated for an abscess by Joseph Lister using his newly invented antiseptic carbolic acid spray. Introduced by Lister in 1865, antiseptic surgery reduced the death rate from operations from 50 percent to around 15 percent.
Victoria returned to public life with a service of thanksgiving to commemorate the tenth anniversary of her husband's death and the recovery of one of her sons from Typhoid.
Queen Victoria opposed home rule for Ireland, and Irish nationalists sympathised with the plight of the Boers in South Africa oppressed by British imperialism. A small number of Irish volunteers even fought on the Boer side during the Boer War from 1899 to 1902. However, there were many Irish fighting in the British Army.
The 60th year of Victoria's reign in 1897 was celebrated with festivals and parades attended by vast crowds. By this time, Victoria and old and unwell, and she prepared written instructions for her funeral. She died in January 1901, aged 81. She was succeeded by her son Edward. Four of her nine children had predeceased her.
Queen Victoria's reign was the first of the modern age. During it, Great Britain was established as a constitutional monarch, and voting was reformed to extend to all men with land worth over £10. However, 40% of adult males and all women were still denied the right to vote.
Thank you for listening to this lesson. In our next lesson, we discuss the four kings who reigned between 1902 and 1953.