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Victoria lived from 24 May 1819 to 22 January 1901 and was Queen of the United Kingdom from 20 June 1837 until her death. She was also made Empress of India on 1 May 1876. The last monarch of the House of Hanover, she ruled for 63 years and 7 months, the longest period of rule of any British monarch: and she lent her name to one of the most distinctive periods of British history, the Victorian era. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Victoria was the only child of the Duke of Kent and Strathearn, who in turn was the fourth son of King George III and Queen Charlotte. George III's eldest son, the Prince of Wales, only had one child, and when she died in 1817, the remaining unmarried sons of George III set out to do their duty and ensure the future of the dynasty. Though 50 years old, the Duke of Kent and Strathearn married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and their only child, Princess Victoria of Kent, was born in Kensington Palace, London, on 24 May 1819.
Victoria was less than a year old when her grandfather George III died, and her uncle George IV succeeded to the throne. And she was eleven when George IV died, to be succeeded by the 64 year-old William IV. William had no legitimate children, and Victoria suddenly found herself to be heir to the throne. In response, Parliament passed the Regency Act 1830, stipulating that Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent and Strathearn, would act as Regent if Victoria succeeded to the throne before she was 18.
On 20 June 1837, just a month after Victoria's 18th birthday, William IV died from heart failure and Victoria became Queen of the United Kingdom. Tradition prevented a female inheriting William's other title of King of Hanover, so this went to another of her uncles.
On 10 February 1840, Queen Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha: his father was her mother's brother. They had first met when Victoria had been 16. William IV had opposed the idea of marriage between the two, but of course no longer had a say after 1837. Many feel that Albert entered into the marriage more for status and duty than love: but whatever his reasons, theirs proved a very happy and successful marriage with Albert, entitled Prince Consort, becoming Victoria's most important adviser as well as her husband.
Victoria and Albert had nine children together, the first being Princess Victoria, who was born on 21 November 1840. Early in Victoria's pregnancy she was subjected to an assassination attempt when Edward Oxford tried to shoot her while she was riding in a carriage with Albert. The would-be assassin's bullets missed. This set something of a trend for the rest of Victoria's reign. There were two further assassination attempts in 1842; others in 1849 and 1850, and a final attempt in 1872. All involved handguns.
Early in her reign Victoria fell in love with Ireland, spending her holidays there: and her affections were returned by the Irish people. However, the potato blight that first struck in 1845 caused widespread famine, which was made much worse by the delayed response of the British Government: which took three years to repeal the Corn Laws that prevented the import of cheap grain into Ireland. Over a period of four years, a million Irish died of starvation and another million emigrated. Queen Victoria personally donated £5,000 towards famine relief in Ireland: though this has to be set alongside the £14,000 raised by Irish soldiers serving in India, and $710 and a quantity of grain donated by the Choctaw Indians. Victoria made an official visit to Ireland in 1849, but was unable to repair the damage that had been done to the reputation of the government.
The famine was to mark the start of a steep decline in Irish regard for the Union. Partly because of this, the Dublin Corporation refused to congratulate Victoria's son, the Prince of Wales, on his marriage in 1863 and, in 1864, on the birth of his son. In response to what she saw as Dublin's snub, Victoria refused to visit Ireland, and in particular rejected advice to establish a royal residence there. Many feel the stance she took contributed considerably to the process that would lead to Irish independence in 1922.
Scotland, which had only been visited twice by reigning monarchs in the previous two centuries, fared rather better from Victoria's attention. In 1848 Victoria and Albert took out a long term lease on Balmoral Castle, in Deeside, which they purchased in 1852 for £31,500 and later significantly extended. They then spent part of each Summer in Balmoral, something made possible by the coming of the railways to Britain.
Prince Albert died on 14 December 1861. Victoria was devastated and entered a semi-permanent state of mourning that meant she wore black for the remainder of her life. She became a near-recluse, becoming known as the "Widow of Windsor".
Victoria's only relief from her mourning for Albert was offered by the company of one of her personal servants, John Brown, a Scot who tended the Queen's pony at Balmoral and subsequently becam a personal servant wherever she was living. John Brown died in 1883, but even during his lifetime there were raised eyebrows about the closeness of his relationship with the Queen, and some even referred to Victoria, behind her back, as "Mrs Brown" (which became the title of a recent film about the relationship). Indeed there were later rumours that the two had actually married in secret, rumours that came to the fore again when in late 2006 it was reported that a late senior member of the Royal Family had said that documents confirming a marriage had many years earlier turned up in the Royal archives at Windsor, and been destroyed.
The Royal Titles Act 1876 made Queen Victoria Empress of India, a title invented to ensure that she would not seem to be outranked by her eldest daughter, also Victoria, who was married to the heir of the newly proclaimed German Empire. Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887 and her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. She died from a cerebral hemorrhage on 22 January 1901 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. She was succeeded by King Edward VII who, taking his dynastic title from his father's side, became the first monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.