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Queen Victoria

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Important Terms, People, and Events

Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819. She was the daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, minor son of the reigning King George III, and Victoire of Saxe-Coburg, a German princess. Both her father and grandfather died in 1820, the year her uncle succeeded as King George IV. When George died without issue in 1830, Victoria stood to inherit the throne after the daughter of her second royal uncle, King William IV, died in infancy. William himself died in 1837, and the eighteen-year-old princess became Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland on June twenty that year.

Victoria was a virgin queen until February 10, 1840, when day she married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg Gotha. Victoria bore nine children within the next seventeen years, among them the future King Edward VII. Albert was an avid patron of the arts, sciences, and burgeoning industries, and he helped organize the famous Great Exhibition of 1851 at the "Crystal Palace." Victoria doted on her husband, who influenced her greatly and became her most trusted adviser in matters of state. The other major influence early in her reign was her first Prime Minister William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne, of the liberal Whig party. These early years of Victorian rule saw major reforms in British education, with the Grammar Schools Act of 1840 and the founding of Queen's College for women in London in 1848.

When Prince Albert died in 1861, the queen was devastated and went into deep mourning. She rarely appeared in public until the end of the 1860s, and during this time Great Britain saw a major movement in favor of republican government and for the abolition of monarchic powers. However, with the help of the Conservative party's Benjamin Disraeli, prime minister in 1868 and again from 1874 to 1880, the queen eventually reassumed a more public and influential role in the government.

Throughout the middle years of her reign, Victoria presided over Britain's involvement in the Crimean War (1854–56), non-intervention in the Prussia-Austria-Denmark war of 1864–1866, and the aversion of a Franco- German war in 1875. She also presided over major domestic reforms in the British government, including the Second Reform Act of 1867 and the Representation of Peoples Act of 1884, both of which greatly expanded the population of her subjects permitted to vote in parliamentary elections. Victorian England also saw great advances in commerce and industry, aided by the spread of railroad lines throughout Great Britain and the laying of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable in 1866.

During Victoria's reign, the British overseas Empire achieved its greatest size and power. The queen added the title Empress of India to her crown in 1876. She was a strong supporter of empire, which often pitted her against the Liberal party's William Gladstone, prime minister from 1869–1874, 1880–1885, and again from 1886–1894. She had better relations with her last prime minister, the Marquess of Salisbury, also a strong supporter of empire and opponent of Irish Home Rule, which was one of the most contentious issues of the day.

Victoria lived to celebrate both her Golden Jubilee in 1887 and her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. These events were celebrated as great public affairs, and by this time the queen had achieved great popularity in Britain and she had come to be seen as the great symbol of the British Empire. The last years of her reign were preoccupied with the Boer War in southern Africa (1899–1902).

After sixty-three years as queen—the longest reign of any English monarch—Victoria died on January 22, 1901. She was eighty-one years old.

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