Queen Victoria took the words of the national anthem to heart. She was the most long-lived monarch, who reigned for almost a century over the British Empire. She was the Mother of the Empire, truly, the First Lady in every sense.

Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, aged 18, when her uncle, King William IV, died without legitimate heirs. She was relatively unknown, and was not meant to have been queen at her birth. Her father was Edward Augustus, the Duke of Kent and fourth son of King George III. Due to a bizarre set of circumstances, with most of the monarchs of that age being mentally ill, proliferate and disinclined, or unable, to produce legitimate heirs, the young Alexandrina Victoria was the only heir to the throne of Britain.

Virtually her first act as Queen was to rid herself of her mother's suffocating influence. The young Victoria had been very carefully brought-up, shielded from the excesses of the time, but almost stifled by her mother's strictness. Victoria showed that, as Queen, she had no intention of allowing her mother to go on influencing her. She was an independent and strong-willed young woman even then: probably the main reason why the Victorian age was so exciting, progressive and creative.

Although she had to take the good of the country to heart, Victoria was able to marry a man she genuinely loved. Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha, was her mainstay. Together, they lived as happy a family life as they were able, despite being at the head of the largest Empire in the world. One visitor to one of their homes remarked that one could almost forget that they were the monarch and consort, so homely and comforting was their family life. The Queen was heartbroken when Albert died in 1861, still a relatively young man. She retreated into her memories and was only coaxed back into public life several years later.

Poignantly, her last visitor as she was dying, was her grandson, William II and Kaiser of Germany. He supported her in her last hours, cradling her. She was the grandmother of most the royal houses of Europe, including the Russian Czar. Queen Victoria died on january 22, 1901, having lived out the century. At the end she was tired and "sick of the future". But her reign had witnessed the Industrial Revolution, inventions such as the phonograph, the camera and the early computer. There were great leaps in the fields of science, archaeology and medicine. Poets, writers and artists flourished. Of course, there was also great poverty, not to mention deportation and slavery.

But if we have any opinion about the Victorian age, it is of an age of elegance, beauty, manners and gentility. Of an age that was happy, glorious and victorious!


The photograph above was originally published in The Daily Graphic and is an engraving from a photograph by Sir William Hatter, of the Queen at her succession to the throne in 1837.