The evolvement of monarchy is important to understanding British civilization because the monarchical system has been adopted for several centuries and has been defining, variably, the sociological and political life in the country.
This paper is going to examine one particular reign: that of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) a monarch who, although knew ups and downs of popularity, ended up her reign as a highly esteemed monarch whereby the dubbing of the 19th, to which she belonged, as The Victorian Age. Indeed, Queen Victoria’s reign has been marked by the internalization of constitutional monarchy nation-wise and the reinforcement of the empire overseas. Her reign has also known the blossoming of cultural and literary life in Britain.
Who is Queen Victoria?
Victoria was born in 1819 to Edward, Duke of Kent, as the only child. She married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg Gotha (1819-1961) (Hibbert, 9-109). She is considered the longest reigning monarch in the history of Great Britain (1837-1901). She is one of the most remembered monarchs, albeit she knew some moment of unpopularity when she retreated from the public eye, as her husband Albert died (BBC, 1). Her name has, in the end, been ascribed to an age (BBC, 1) which proves that her popularity is rather significant. She is remembered for pulling the strings entire empire, and not only continental Britain.
When she took on the reign, at the age of eighteen, Victoria the country had already embarked on a system anchored in the constitution and parliamentary rule. It is a common knowledge for anyone who is into f British history that Magna Carta, 1215, has been the hallmark of constitutional monarchy in Britain.
The supremacy of parliamentary rule over the monarchical executive powers of Queen Victoria had been established, albeit with some reluctance on her part. Many episodes in her reign show that she had to yield to the Parliament or Cabinet and could not pursue her own personal judgment.
For instance, upon encouragement from a then member from the Conservative Party, Benjamin Disraeli, she tried to no avail to evacuate Afghanistan where Britain was at war around the year 1880. The Cabinet threatened to resign and she caved in (Hibbert, pp. 367-369). On some other instance, she overtly expressed her frustration with the limitations that she was under. Describing to Disraeli her dislike to adopt a conciliatory relationship with Russia, she declared was a “miserable thing to be a constitutional Queen…and to be unable to do what is right” (Hibbert, p. 363).
With such dynamic episodes of constitutional rule vs. executive rule of the Queen, the country had inevitably witnessed a deeper internalization of constitutional democracy. “Queen Victoria [was] an essential part of Benjamin Disraeli’s Tory democracy, providing the theatrical circus element to the new artisan democracy” (Hibbert, xxiv).
It must be noted that the political sphere of Queen Victoria, in its physical terms, went beyond the four constituents of Britain: Northern Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland. Queen Victoria was not at the head of continental Britain only but an entire empire; an empire so large that has been said that sun never sets on it.
In the last two decades of Victoria’s reign, the British Empire reached an unprecedented dimension. The last quarter of the Victorian Age, between 1880 and 1890’s, saw the engulfment 66 million colonized people and 4 ¼ million square miles (Seaman, p. 332), in Asia, Africa, and North America. A classic book into the matter of British imperialism called The Expansion of England (1883) by Sir John Seeley points out that the British people seem indeed “to have conquered and peopled half of the World in a fit of absence of mind” (Seaman, p. 332).
A particular empirical title had been self-acclaimed by Victoria which Empress of India in 1876 (Kulke, 266). The interest of Victoria in India seems to have somewhat been of a personal nature. The Queen took Indian lessons and was receiving lessons at her royal palace from Indologist Max Mueller (Kulke, p. 266). This probably betrays that, on a similar wavelength as Seeley refection upon imperialism, the drive had not only been pragmatic-for India surely presented a profitable mercantile route- but rather some kind of personal interest.
The Personal Influence of Queen Victoria
The personal level or the persona of the monarch should in fact not be neglected in the study of history of Victorian England. Another venue in this direction, besides the personal imperial aspirations, is investigating how the person of the Queen was being seen by the people. Monarchy has in fact always drawn the interest of the people.
Queen Victoria was at the public eyes because it was perceived as “contradictory” to reconcile the private female sphere, as a mother and female spouse, and that of a monarch during the Victorian Age, according to some studies (Munich, 265). However, she managed to assert her authority.
There is hardly an investigation on how she managed to do so, however, her lengthy reign is sufficient enough to prove that she indeed was weighing and respected persona among its people. One can intuitively deem that the assertiveness of the Queen helped her mange the monarchy internally and the empire overseas. Queen Victoria has to her glorification various statutes after her, showing the aura that she has enjoyed. The Jubilee Memorial (1887) in Hall of Winchester Castle (Munich, 274) is one of the most famous ones.
To conclude, Queen Victoria has in fact been one of the major British monarchs. Her reign has been characterized by further internalization of the system of constitutional monarchy. Moreover, being at the top of a strong country, the Victorian age had also been the age of great expansion and imperialism. Handling these two dimensions of politics, internal political under the respect of the supremacy of parliamentary rule and the growth of empire, had been managed because the Queen assertive character.
BBC. “Historic Figures: Queen Victoria”
Hibbert, Christopher. Queen Victoria: A Personal History. Cambridge, MA, Basic Books, (2001).
Kulke, Hermann.; Rothermund, Dietmar. History of India, 4Th Ed, Routledge: New York Taylor & Francis, (2004).
Munich, Adrienne. Queen Victoria, Empire, and Excess , Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Vol. 6, No. 2, Woman and Nation (1987), pp. 265-281
Seaman, L. C. B. Victorian England: Aspects of English and Imperial History, 1837-1901, Taylor & Francis: London, New York, (1995).