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Need to Know

Though popularly seen as a dour old woman, Queen Victoria in fact fostered a climate of innovation throughout her empire

1 HEAD OF THE EMPIRE

Grandmother of Europe and, until now, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch (see more on that story on page 67), Queen Victoria is a formidable figure in British history – despite her small stature. Her reign has been described as a golden age of empire, when British global possessions expanded to the largest they had been, and would ever be. But what was Victoria’s role in Britain’s contribution to the great breakthroughs of the age?

Victoria’s approach to politics was proudly imperialist, and she felt a strong a nity with the di erent peoples who lived within her empire. As monarch, she favoured Conservative politicians such as Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Salisbury, who shared her imperialistic feelings.

FAMILY MATTERS German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s famous portrait of Queen Victoria and her family

Although Victoria never travelled beyond Europe, she took a keen interest in her vast empire, particularly India, a country she was proclaimed Empress of in 1876. Her fascination with the country even extended as far as learning Hindustani.

ROYAL PATRON

Both Victoria and her husband Albert shared an enthusiasm for art, and frequently purchased paintings for each other. But they were also supporters of new artistic techniques, particularly photography, commissioning hundreds of photographs of family and friends. The pair even learned the process of making daguerreotypes themselves in a specially built royal dark room.

A DAY TO REMEMBER Albert and Victoria re-enact their marriage ceremony for the camera

Technology, too, was actively encouraged by the couple. Victoria herself sent the first transatlantic telegraph – to US President James Buchanan on 16 August 1858 – and, in January 1878, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his new invention, the telephone, to Her Majesty. She described the process as “most extraordinary” and was so impressed that she wished to purchase her own set of telephones.

Victoria’s interest in technology was encouraged by Albert, himself a keen promoter of British industry and an inventor. Osborne, their family retreat on the Isle of Wight, featured many technical innovations of the day: electric lighting was installed in 1893, and the royal apartments boasted a plumbed-in bath, lavatory and even a shower.

Victoria’s natural curiosity meant that she took a keen interest in the new technologies and developments that were flourishing under her rule, and she was keen to experience many of them personally. In 1853 she became one of the first expectant mothers to try chloroform as an anaesthetic during the birth of her eighth child.

400,000

The estimated number of people who turned out for Victoria’s coronation

NEWSFLASH Crowds gather for news of Prince Bertie’s illness in 1871

OMINOUS ANNIVERSARY

The Prince of Wales’s recovery coincided with the tenth anniversary of the death of his father, Albert.

TROUBLED CHILDHOOD

EARLY YEARS

On 24 May 1819, Princess Alexandrina Victoria was born at Kensington Palace, the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent (the fourth son of George III) and Princess Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Saalfeld-Coburg. A year later, Victoria’s father died, and the one-year-old princess was raised by her mother and her confidant, Sir John Conroy.

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