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Queen Victoria

Victoria at Home

A Golden Age of Empire

Grandmother of Europe

In 1874, Victoria pushed through a Public Worship Bill with the intent of purging the Church of England of High Church practices which made its liturgies resemble those of the Roman Catholic Church. The bill passed Parliament, and Victoria wrote afterwards that she hoped there would be no more "bowings and scrapings" at Mass and no more "confession" in Anglican churches.

The Queen's campaign to reform the Anglican Church was part of Victoria's desire to outdo the actions of Otto von Bismarck's campaign against the Catholic Church begun in Germany in 1871 upon his elevation as Chancellor of the German Empire. A pious Lutheran in her faith, Victoria was keenly Protestant in her sensibilities and, though not actively intolerant of other faiths, she was zealous that her position as Head of the Church of England was employed in what she considered the betterment of Anglican worship practices. She preferred simplicity in churches and did not like the formalities and High Church rituals. She had offended many High Church Anglicans—including the Archbishop of Canterbury—by taking the sacrament of Holy Eucharist at a simple, Scottish church called Crathie Kirk, on November three, 1873.

May of 1879 marked Queen Victoria's sixtieth year, and the forty-second year of her reign. Biographer Elizabeth Longford remarks, "The Queen's health at sixty was much better than it had been at fifty," adding that her journals from that time contained fewer references to "My nerves" than they had a decade earlier. However, the year before had marked a great sadness for Victoria: the death of her second daughter, Alice, then Duchess of Hesse. Alice contracted a fatal case of diphtheria. Alice died on December 14, 1878—the anniversary of her father Prince Albert's death.

Outbreaks of violence related to the "Irish Question" coincided with this sad event in the royal family. Dissatisfied with the piecemeal reform of British rule over their country, many Irish took to violent action to protest the government. Members of a movement called Fenianism, which had sprouted in Ireland in the 1860s, engaged in violence against British property and officials, frequently coming to London to make their threatening presence known. An increase in violent Fenian incidents in 1882–1883 made the Queen very nervous to drive into London. As the symbol of British rule the world over, Victoria was a prime target for Irish resentment and hatred.

March 2, 1882 proved that Victoria had reason to fear for her life, though her attempted assassin was unconnected with Irish Fenianism. A mentally disturbed man named Roderick McLean shot a gun toward the Queen's carriage as it stood nearby Windsor station in London. Fortunately for Victoria, two boys in the crowd spotted the gunman before he shot and were able to knock him off balance with their umbrellas, causing the bullet to miss its royal target. The boys were from Eton, one of the best of British preparatory schools, and they were honored in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle three days later with a personal meeting with the Queen. Their 900 classmates stood in attendance. Although Victoria was shaken up by the affair, the outpouring of sympathy from her subjects caused her to write humorously in her diary, "It is worth being shot at—to see how much one is loved."

The Queen's good health and spirits were reversed the following year. On March 17, 1883, she fell down a staircase at Windsor Castle. Afterwards, she spent a week on a sofa, and had much trouble walking. Instead, she preferred to be pushed around in a wheelchair. On the 29th of the same month, her great friend and servant, the Scotsman John Brown, died from a grave illness.

John Brown's death crushed Victoria, almost as much as that of her husband Prince Albert two decades before. Brown had become the one indispensable figure in her life, serving as a caring friend and confidante for nearly twenty years. Although his intimacy with the Queen had always sparked rumors and displeased the rest of the royal family, by the time of his death his presence alongside Victoria had become quite customary and much less of a scandal than it had been originally.

Of Brown's death, Victoria wrote in her diary: "The shock—the blow, the blank, the constant missing at every turn of the one strong, powerful reliable arm and head almost stunned me and I am truly overwhelmed." She mourned him in a manner very similar to the way she had mourned Albert. She had a statue made of Brown at Balmoral in Scotland, and his room in the royal palace became a veritable shrine. Until the day of Victoria's own death many years later, a flower was placed every morning on Brown's pillow. Victoria's grief affected her ability to recover from her fall in Windsor; she rarely walked and for the rest of her life used either a cane or a wheelchair when moving about.

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