A blend of majesty, wisdom and insight
The Victorian Age was the "era of confidence", because Victoria happened to be the British monarch during that long and significant period. With her optimistic character, her serious, even if limited, views and her sense of duty, she was the unique Queen of England.
The Duchess of Kent, Victoria's mother, instilled into her daughter a dislike of the lax moral standards of her uncles, the Georges. Victoria up to a point responded; but immediately after the coronation removed her couch from her mother's bedroom to escape from those over-insistent demands.
The only child of Edward, the Duke of Kent, who was the fourth son of George III, Victoria was born on May 24, 1819, at Kensington Palace in London. She succeeded her uncle William IV and became the Queen of the United Kingdom in 1837, at the age of 18. Married to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840, she bore him four sons and five daughters.
At the time of her succession, the country was seething with discontent. Although Britain was a rich country, thanks to the use of steam power in industry, the industrial proletariat lived in filthy slums and extreme poverty. Parliament was dominated by aristocracy and the squires. The middle class was given some representation, but there was a general fear of revolution and, from the governing classes, an increasingly stern resistance to change. But the widespread belief among European intellectuals was that the growing industrial prosperity, accompanied as it was by the satisfaction of nationalist aspirations, meant the beginning of universal peace. The British especially believed that their Empire would last for a long time.
Victoria did not actually want to marry, but handsome Albert, who came on a visit, charmed her by his intellect. Initially he was not encouraged to take an interest in politics, but with her love for him growing, Victoria perceived that, like her, he was animated by a sense of duty and the importance of the Crown; moreover he had a better and clearer mind. Britain loved this love match and liked a household, which combined the advantages of royalty and virtue. There was no breath of scandal, no shadow of indecorum; in fact, it was an image the middle classes desired for themselves.
The Prince soon started dominating his wife. He would open the bedroom door only when Victoria answered, ''Your wife, Albert'', to the query, ''Who is that'' and not ''The Queen of England''.
Victoria could not ignore Albert's advice because it was often so sensibile. The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park marked the triumph of Albert's work on behalf of industry. He drove himself hard. He was a man who could not relax. His health suffered and the once beautiful young Hussar grew into a sallow, tired-looking man. He contracted an illness, which was diagnosed as typhoid only after he died in 1861.
Victoria's grief was terrible and long lasting. So rigid was her mourning that though she still carried out her royal business with exactitude and tenacity, she had no time for public appearances. She lived mainly in retirement; nevertheless, kept control of affairs, refusing the Prince of Wales (Edward III) any active role. Edward, who came to the throne after her death, was quite an old man by then and stayed on as King only for a few years, unlike his mother who sat her ample form on the British throne for 63 years. She died at Osborne house, her home in the Isle of Wight, on January 22, 1901, and was buried at Windsor.
Victoria played an important role in the history of that time and watched the power and glory of the British Empire spread far and wide during her reign also witnessing the rise and fall of many an empire in Europe. She possessed a strong desire to preserve the majesty of her own kingdom, and ruled with wisdom and insight. When trouble brewed in Canada, a British colony, which wanted to join the neighbouring US, she cleverly prevented the loss of the colony by giving Canadians self-rule. As the colony remained in the comfortable fold of Britain, hordes of British capitalists and industrialists migrated to the vast and less populated Canada for a gold rush, establishing a strong British bond.
In 1857, India was going through turbulent times and the First War of Independence (dubbed as Sepoy Mutiny by the East India Company) against the misrule of the Company, Victoria became the self-proclaimed Empress of India, making India feel the weight of her majestic reign.
As the Queen, she made a greater contribution to the political solidarity of the British people than any other single individual. Britons constantly honoured their Queen in various ways. Those included Victoria and Albert Museum, originally called the Museum of Ornamental Art; the Victoria Cross, a British decoration and an award for conspicuous bravery in war time instituted by her in 1856; Victoria Falls, the name given by the Scottish explorer Livingstone in 1855, to the largest in Africa; and the Victorian Lake on the Equator, bounded by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
The Victorian age and rule gave little freedom to women, be it in clothing style or voting rights. The `stays' (tightly fitting bodices) the women wore, pushed their bosoms to giddy heights, and it was difficult to tell if a girl was breathless due to dress constraints or the sight of a handsome beau! As for the beau, catching a glimpse of a well-turned ankle from under the flounces and petticoats was indeed a rare treat! This style of dressing, to preserve apparently moral standards was `play'fully ridiculed by dramatist Ibsen in his famous "Doll's House".
Victoria's relations with her prime ministers ranged from affectionate (Melbourne and Disraeli) to the stormy (Peel, Palmerston and Gladstone). Her `kleptomania' was a blatant act in which she took great pride. She flicked items like scarves, handkerchiefs, silverware, knives, forks, etc., at gatherings and chuckled in enjoyment at her own dexterity. The victims would pretend to be unaware of the offence. Disraeli, often obligingly returned the articles to their owners with due apologies. The Lords and Privy Councilors swallowed the explanations out of sheer awe of their ruler.
Victoria's nonchalance at robbing petty objects extended itself to robbing Indians of their freedom, too. With a similar nonchalance, Indians forgave this Grande Dame and celebrated her 50 years reign along with the rest of her empire on June, 20, 1887.
Vizagites, reflecting the spirit of jubilation, installed her imposing image in the Old Town area. When you look at the statue, you cannot but marvel at the vastness of the empire those hooded eyes envisaged and ruled!
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