When Alexandrina Victoria was born in Kensington Palace on May 24, 1819, there seemed little chance that she would ever succeed as the ruling monarch of Great Britain and Ireland eighteen years later. Her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, was the fourth son of the reigning King George III. He was one of the less inspiring figures of the populous royal family--a man of somewhat middle-class sensibilities who had been discharged from the army for brutal behavior, accrued large debts, and lived for many years with a French singer before marrying Victoria's mother. King George had other sons who would succeed him--the future George IV and William IV--and it was generally assumed that at least one of them would eventually sire a legitimate male heir to the throne.
Victoria's mother was Victoire of Saxe-Coburg, Princess of Leiningen, a small German principality. The sister of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and widow of Prince Emich Charles of Leiningen, she married Prince Edward with hopes of providing him with a son. However, "Drina," as young Victoria was called, was their only child (Princess Victoire had two other daughters by her first marriage, Charles and Feodora). Edward died in January 1820 of pneumonia, the same year that his father King George III passed away.
While her uncle King George IV reigned over Great Britain and Ireland, Victoria lived a quiet, secluded childhood in Kensington Palace with her mother and a largely German-speaking household. German was Victoria's first language, though she soon mastered English. Not expected ever to reign as monarch, her upbringing was left largely to her mother, who saw to it that her daughter received a liberal education in music, drawing, natural philosophy, history, and foreign languages. A German governess named Louise Lehzen, who sparked the future queen's life-long interest in reading history, tutored Victoria. Young Victoria showed exceptional talent with French and Italian as well as with her drawing and singing lessons.
As a child, Victoria was described as warmhearted, lively, and occasionally mischievous. She also exhibited a natural gracefulness, carrying herself with unselfconscious dignity. During these early years of her life she began to keep regular diaries, a habit that she never dropped, enabling modern historians to gain a thorough, intimate look at the course of her whole life. In those diaries, Victoria revealed a simple Lutheran piety, which she had inherited from her mother, as well as a contrasting, deeply romantic streak that spoke to her complex, introspective personality.
In 1830, King George IV passed away, and the succession of his brother, William IV, signalled to their eleven-year-old royal niece Victoria that she might play more important a role in British politics than her family had expected. King William had several illegitimate children, and also a legitimate royal daughter, who died in infancy. By Victoria's teen years, it became apparent that she would be heir to the throne, and this circumstance greatly altered the quiet, unassuming life she and her mother had led in Kensington Palace. The princess became the pawn of several unfortunate family feuds.
A feud erupted when the duchess kept Princess Victoria from attending her uncle William's coronation, allegedly over the fact that Victoria was improperly assigned a place in the coronation procession behind the dukes rather than directly behind the king, where his heir belonged. Sir John Conroy, the comptroller of the Duchess Victoire's household, was involved in this decision. In 1832, he organized a series of semi-royal tours during which the princess V was formally presented to the nation. These affairs enraged King William, as they were carried about with certain hostility toward his reign, and because Conroy went out of his way to foster a sort of rival royalty, exploiting the emotions aroused that year by the Reform Bill, which had greatly pitted the Whig and Tory parties against one another. Conroy and the duchess were very friendly toward the liberal Whigs while the King and his household was much more conservative and Tory in cast.