1842–1860On 29 May 1842, Victoria was riding in a carriage along The Mall, London, when John Francis aimed a pistol at her but did not fire. The following day, Victoria drove the same route, though faster and with a greater escort, in a deliberate attempt to provoke Francis to take a second aim and catch him in the act. As expected, Francis shot at her, but he was seized by plain clothes policemen, and convicted of high treason. On 3 July, two days after Francis's death sentence was commuted to transportation for life, John William Bean also fired a pistol at the Queen, but it was loaded only with paper and tobacco. Oxford felt that the attempts were encouraged by his acquittal in 1840. Bean was sentenced to 18 months in jail. In a similar attack in 1849, unemployed Irishman William Hamilton fired a powder-filled pistol at Victoria's carriage as it passed along Constitution Hill, London. In 1850, the Queen did sustain injury when she was assaulted by a possibly insane ex-army officer, Robert Pate. As Victoria was riding in a carriage, Pate struck her with his cane, crushing her bonnet and bruising her face. Both Hamilton and Pate were sentenced to seven years' transportation.
Melbourne's support in the House of Commons weakened through the early years of Victoria's reign, and in the 1841 general election the Whigs were defeated. Peel became prime minister, and the Ladies of the Bedchamber most associated with the Whigs were replaced.
In 1845, Ireland was hit by a potato blight. In the next four years over a million Irish people died and another million emigrated in what became known as the Great Famine. In Ireland, Victoria was labelled "The Famine Queen". She personally donated £2,000 to famine relief, more than any other individual donor, and also supported the Maynooth Grant to a Roman Catholic seminary in Ireland, despite Protestant opposition. The story that she donated only £5 in aid to the Irish, and on the same day gave the same amount to Battersea Dogs Home, was a myth generated towards the end of the 19th century.
By 1846, Peel's ministry faced a crisis involving the repeal of the Corn Laws. Many Tories—by then known also as Conservatives—were opposed to the repeal, but Peel, some Tories (the "Peelites"), most Whigs and Victoria supported it. Peel resigned in 1846, after the repeal narrowly passed, and was replaced by Lord John Russell.
|Victoria's British Prime Ministers|
|Year||Prime Minister (party)|
|1835||Lord Melbourne (Whig)|
|1841||Sir Robert Peel (Conservative)|
|1846||Lord John Russell (W)|
|1852 (Feb.)||Lord Derby (C)|
|1852 (Dec.)||Lord Aberdeen (Peelite)|
|1855||Lord Palmerston (Liberal)|
|1868 (Feb.)||Benjamin Disraeli (C)|
|1868 (Dec.)||William Ewart Gladstone (L)|
|1885||Lord Salisbury (C)|
|1886 (Feb.)||Gladstone (L)|
|1886 (July)||Salisbury (C)|
|1894||Lord Rosebery (L)|
|See also List of British Prime Ministers|
and, for her British and Imperial premiers,
List of Prime Ministers of Queen Victoria
Internationally, Victoria took a keen interest in the improvement of relations between France and Britain. She made and hosted several visits between the British royal family and the House of Orleans, who were related by marriage through the Coburgs. In 1843 and 1845, she and Albert stayed with King Louis Philippe I at château d'Eu in Normandy; she was the first British or English monarch to visit a French one since the meeting on the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. When Louis Philippe made a reciprocal trip in 1844, he became the first French king to visit a British sovereign. Louis Philippe was deposed in the revolutions of 1848, and fled to exile in England. At the height of a revolutionary scare in the United Kingdom in April 1848, Victoria and her family left London for the greater safety of Osborne House, a private estate on the Isle of Wight that they had purchased in 1845 and redeveloped. Demonstrations by Chartists and Irish nationalists failed to attract widespread support, and the scare died down without any major disturbances. Victoria's first visit to Ireland in 1849 was a public relations success, but it had no lasting impact or effect on the growth of Irish nationalism.
Russell's ministry, though Whig, was not favoured by the Queen. She found particularly offensive the Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, who often acted without consulting the Cabinet, the Prime Minister, or the Queen. Victoria complained to Russell that Palmerston sent official dispatches to foreign leaders without her knowledge, but Palmerston was retained in office and continued to act on his own initiative, despite her repeated remonstrances. It was only in 1851 that Palmerston was removed after he announced the British government's approval of President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's coup in France without consulting the Prime Minister. The following year, President Bonaparte was declared Emperor Napoleon III, by which time Russell's administration had been replaced by a short-lived minority government led by Lord Derby.
In 1853, Victoria gave birth to her eighth child, Leopold, with the aid of the new anaesthetic, chloroform. Victoria was so impressed by the relief it gave from the pain of childbirth that she used it again in 1857 at the birth of her ninth and final child, Beatrice, despite opposition from members of the clergy, who considered it against biblical teaching, and members of the medical profession, who thought it dangerous. Victoria may have suffered from post-natal depression after many of her pregnancies. Letters from Albert to Victoria intermittently complain of her loss of self-control. For example, about a month after Leopold's birth Albert complained in a letter to Victoria about her "continuance of hysterics" over a "miserable trifle".
In early 1855, the government of Lord Aberdeen, who had replaced Derby, fell amidst recriminations over the poor management of British troops in the Crimean War. Victoria approached both Derby and Russell to form a ministry, but neither had sufficient support, and Victoria was forced to appoint Palmerston as prime minister.
Napoleon III, since the Crimean War Britain's closest ally, visited London in April 1855, and from 17 to 28 August the same year Victoria and Albert returned the visit. Napoleon III met the couple at Dunkirk and accompanied them to Paris. They visited the Exposition Universelle (a successor to Albert's 1851 brainchild the Great Exhibition) and Napoleon I's tomb at Les Invalides (to which his remains had only been returned in 1840), and were guests of honour at a 1,200-guest ball at the Palace of Versailles.
On 14 January 1858, an Italian refugee from Britain called Orsini attempted to assassinate Napoleon III with a bomb made in England. The ensuing diplomatic crisis destabilised the government, and Palmerston resigned. Derby was reinstated as prime minister. Victoria and Albert attended the opening of a new basin at the French military port of Cherbourg on 5 August 1858, in an attempt by Napoleon III to reassure Britain that his military preparations were directed elsewhere. On her return Victoria wrote to Derby reprimanding him for the poor state of the Royal Navy in comparison to the French one. Derby's ministry did not last long, and in June 1859 Victoria recalled Palmerston to office.
Prince Frederick William of Prussia in London. They had been betrothed since September 1855, when Princess Victoria was 14-years-old; the marriage was delayed by the Queen and Prince Albert until the bride was 17. The Queen and Albert hoped that their daughter and son-in-law would be a liberalising influence in the enlarging Prussian state. Victoria felt "sick at heart" to see her daughter leave England for Germany; "It really makes me shudder", she wrote to Princess Victoria in one of her frequent letters, "when I look round to all your sweet, happy, unconscious sisters, and think I must give them up too – one by one." Almost exactly a year later, Princess Victoria gave birth to the Queen's first grandchild: Wilhelm.
WidowhoodIn March 1861, Victoria's mother died, with Victoria at her side. Through reading her mother's papers, Victoria discovered that her mother had loved her deeply; she was heart-broken, and blamed Conroy and Lehzen for "wickedly" estranging her from her mother. To relieve his wife during her intense and deep grief, Albert took on most of her duties, despite being ill himself with chronic stomach trouble. In August, Victoria and Albert visited their son, Edward, Prince of Wales, who was attending army manoeuvres near Dublin, and spent a few days holiday in Killarney. In November, Albert was made aware of gossip that Edward had slept with an actress in Ireland. Appalled, Albert travelled to Cambridge, where his son was studying, to confront him. By the beginning of December, Albert was very unwell. He was diagnosed with typhoid fever by William Jenner, and died on 14 December 1861. Victoria was devastated. She blamed her husband's death on worry over her son Edward's philandering. He had been "killed by that dreadful business", she said. She entered a state of mourning and wore black for the remainder of her life. She avoided public appearances, and rarely set foot in London in the following years. Her seclusion earned her the name "widow of Windsor".
Victoria's self-imposed isolation from the public diminished the popularity of the monarchy, and encouraged the growth of the republican movement. She did undertake her official government duties, yet chose to remain secluded in her royal residences—Windsor Castle, Osborne House, and the private estate in Scotland that she and Albert had acquired in 1847, Balmoral Castle. In March 1864, a protester stuck a notice on the railings of Buckingham Palace that announced "these commanding premises to be let or sold in consequence of the late occupant's declining business". Her uncle Leopold wrote to her advising her to appear in public. She agreed to visit the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society at Kensington and take a drive through London in an open carriage.
John Brown. Slanderous rumours of a romantic connection and even a secret marriage appeared in print, and the Queen was referred to as "Mrs Brown". The story of their relationship was the subject of the 1997 movie Mrs. Brown. A painting by Edwin Landseer depicting the Queen with Brown was exhibited at the Royal Academy, and Victoria published a book, Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, which featured Brown prominently and in which the Queen praised him highly.
Palmerston died in 1865, and after a brief ministry led by Russell, Derby returned to power. In 1866, Victoria attended the State Opening of Parliament for the first time since Albert's death. The following year she supported the passing of the Reform Act 1867 which doubled the electorate by extending the franchise to many urban working men, though she was not in favour of votes for women. Derby resigned in 1868, to be replaced by Benjamin Disraeli, who charmed Victoria. "Everyone likes flattery," he said, "and when you come to royalty you should lay it on with a trowel." With the phrase "we authors, Ma'am", he complimented her. Disraeli's ministry only lasted a matter of months, and at the end of the year his Liberal rival, William Ewart Gladstone, was appointed prime minister. Victoria found Gladstone's demeanour far less appealing; he spoke to her, she was supposed to have complained, as though she was "a public meeting rather than a woman".
In 1870, republican sentiment in Britain, fed by the Queen's seclusion, was boosted after the establishment of the Third French Republic. A republican rally in Trafalgar Square demanded Victoria's removal, and Radical MPs spoke against her. In August and September 1871, she was seriously ill with an abscess in her arm, which Joseph Lister successfully lanced and treated with his new anti-septic carbolic acid spray. In late November 1871, at the height of the republican movement, the Prince of Wales contracted typhoid fever, the disease that was believed to have killed his father, and Victoria was fearful her son would die. As the tenth anniversary of her husband's death approached, Edward's condition grew no better, and Victoria's distress continued. To general rejoicing, Edward pulled through. Mother and son attended a public parade through London and a grand service of thanksgiving in St Paul's Cathedral on 27 February 1872, and republican feeling subsided.
On the last day of February 1872, two days after the thanksgiving service, 17-year-old Arthur O'Connor (great-nephew of Irish MP Feargus O'Connor) waved an unloaded pistol at Victoria's open carriage as it drove through the gates of Buckingham Palace. Brown, who was attending the Queen, grabbed him and he was later sentenced to 12-months' imprisonment. As a result of the incident, Victoria's popularity recovered further.
Empress of India
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Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British East India Company, which had ruled much of India, was dissolved, and Britain's possessions and protectorates on the Indian subcontinent were formally incorporated into the British Empire. The Queen had a relatively balanced view of the conflict, and condemned atrocities on both sides. She wrote of "her feelings of horror and regret at the result of this bloody civil war", and insisted, urged on by Albert, that an official proclamation announcing the transfer of power from the company to the state "should breathe feelings of generosity, benevolence and religious toleration". At her behest, a reference threatening the "undermining of native religions and customs" was replaced by a passage guaranteeing religious freedom.
In the 1874 general election, Disraeli was returned to power. He passed the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874, which removed Catholic rituals from the Anglican liturgy and which Victoria strongly supported. She preferred short, simple services, and personally considered herself more aligned with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland than the Episcopalian Church of England. He also pushed the Royal Titles Act 1876 through Parliament, so that Victoria took the title "Empress of India" from 1 May 1876. The new title was proclaimed at the Delhi Durbar of 1 January 1877.
On 14 December 1878, the anniversary of Albert's death, Victoria's second daughter Alice, who had married Louis of Hesse, died of diphtheria in Darmstadt. Victoria noted the coincidence of the dates as "almost incredible and most mysterious". In May 1879, she became a great-grandmother (on the birth of Princess Feodora of Saxe-Meiningen) and passed her "poor old 60th birthday". She felt "aged" by "the loss of my beloved child".
Between April 1877 and February 1878, she threatened five times to abdicate while pressuring Disraeli to act against Russia during the Russo-Turkish War, but her threats had no impact on the events or their conclusion with the Congress of Berlin. Disraeli's expansionist foreign policy, which Victoria endorsed, led to conflicts such as the Anglo-Zulu War and the Second Anglo-Afghan War. "If we are to maintain our position as a first-rate Power", she wrote, "we must … be Prepared for attacks and wars, somewhere or other, CONTINUALLY." Victoria saw the expansion of the British Empire as civilising and benign, protecting native peoples from more aggressive powers or cruel rulers: "It is not in our custom to annexe countries", she said, "unless we are obliged & forced to do so." To Victoria's dismay, Disraeli lost the 1880 general election, and Gladstone returned as prime minister. When Disraeli died the following year, she was blinded by "fast falling tears", and erected a memorial tablet "placed by his grateful Sovereign and Friend, Victoria R.I."