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How I, who leant on him for all and everything - without whom I did nothing, moved not a finger, arranged not a print or photograph, didn't put on a gown or bonnet if he didn't approve it, shall go on, to live, to move, to help myself in difficult moments?
- Queen Victoria in a letter to her oldest daughter Princess Victoria.
After the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria lived in virtual seclusion for many years and wore black for the rest of her life. This obsessive mourning gave rise to the tradition that female members of the Royal Family wear black only to funerals and memorial services1. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli tried in vain to persuade her to return to public life but she remained sequestered at Osborne House. The Queen's youngest child, Princess Beatrice, was just four years old when her father died, and her mother became possessive to the point where she kept her daughter with her at all times.
John Brown (1826 - 83) was a Scottish servant who entered Royal service around 1853. After Prince Albert's death the Queen formed an attachment to Brown and liked to sketch his portrait. Brown mixed together equal parts Scotch whisky and claret which the Queen liked to imbibe. Much has been made of their relationship, with speculation that they married in secret and even had a child, but the rumours are unfounded. The 1997 film Mrs Brown, starring Dame Judi Dench2 as Queen Victoria and Billy Connolly as John Brown, took much poetic licence.
In the Victorian era most people believed the Bible which stated that the Earth was created in six days, in the year 4004 BC3, so in the 19th Century the scientific world had to contend with accusations of hoaxing and making sacrilegious claims. 'Dinosaur hysteria' gripped the Victorians, who could not imagine that gigantic creatures had walked the Earth millions of years before human beings evolved.
The term 'evolution' had first come to prominence in 1859 when Charles Darwin used it in his groundbreaking and controversial book The Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection4, causing disagreements between those who believed in the Biblical account of Creation, and those who supported Darwin's theory of evolution. Ordinary Victorians, once cosy in the belief of an omnipresent but invisible God, had their faith rocked to the core, and they panicked. Their life on Earth was a miserable existence, all they had to look forward to was eternal peace in Heaven. With the Queen's voluntary exile, living a life of indulgence and luxury on the Isle of Wight, the future of the Monarchy looked decidedly shaky, and the republican movement gathered pace.
On 14 March, 1863, Goulburn, the first inland city in Australia, was the last 'established' Australian city to receive a Royal Letters Patent from Queen Victoria. Other features include the beautiful green-stone Roman Catholic Cathedral and a Methodist church. With a Buddhist monastery and a Greek Orthodox church as well, this gives the city a multicultural feel.
Powerless but Influential
Religion played an important role in 19th-Century British society and the Queen's views have been described as typical of her subjects. The Queen's role was Supreme Governor of the Church of England, as well as Head of State. She may have been toothless when it came to ultimate power, but she often influenced public policy. For example, her well-known preference for the vacant post of Archbishop of Canterbury was Archibald Tait, and he was invested in 1868.
In 1868 there was a change of Government, and Britain had a new Prime Minister, William Gladstone (1809 - 98). The 'grand old man' was a completely different kettle of fish to his predecessor and political rival Disraeli, who enjoyed a warm friendship with the Queen. Gladstone was PM for the next six years and he annoyed Queen Victoria so much that she remarked:
He always addresses me as if I were a public meeting.
Under Gladstone's six-year tenure the Education Act 1870 declared that School Boards had to provide primary education for children aged five to 12 years5.
Chloroform, Ether and Anorexia
Although the Queen was healthy throughout most of her life, in 1871 she developed an abscess of the throat. The royal physicians called in an expert, Joseph Lister6 the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, who pronounced that Her Majesty would be dead within 24 hours unless she was operated upon immediately. Dr Lister rendered the Queen unconscious with chloroform and drained the abscess, then froze the affected area with ether. While the gases were being administered, the Queen's face was accidentally sprayed with some, but this apparently had no lasting ill-effect. Queen Victoria had inadvertently had the world's first recorded face-lift. Dr Lister used a rubber tube to aid drainage of the wound and eventually the Queen recovered, albeit slowly. She was most certainly not amused, but the operation saved her life. In 1897 Dr Lister was rewarded with a peerage for his outstanding contribution to medicine, becoming Baron Lister.
Before singer Karen Carpenter died in 1983, no-one spoke in public of anorexia nervosa. It was deemed 'a bad habit' that one did not discuss. High society Victorian girls starved themselves to attain a minimal waist measurement, not knowing that their unnatural eating habits could kill them. Sir William Gull7 (Queen Victoria's chief physician) believed anorexia came from 'a sick mind'. However, many of the sufferers Gull encountered were wealthy, so he rarely sent them to a mental institution. Karen Carpenter's tragic death from heart failure at the age of 32 brought the illness into the public spotlight and nowadays sufferers are offered treatment and counselling.
Venus and a Victorian Gentle Giant
Born in 1874, 'gentle giant' footballer and cricketer Billy 'Fattie' Foulke, mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records as being 6'3" tall and weighing 310lb, played in goal for England during his career. From his goal mouth he could punch the ball over the half-way line. One match had to be abandoned after he broke the crossbar while saving a goal-bound shot. Anyone who teased him was punished by being sat upon until they said sorry - if they could! During his day, he was the most talked-about football player in the world. He died of pneumonia in 1916, aged 42.
On 9 December, 1874, there occurred the first visible transit of Venus across the face of the Sun in 105 years. Only a lucky few were able to witness the spectacle, or even knew about it, or cared. This transit had the distinction of being the first ever to be photographed and recorded for posterity. The Astronomer Royal from 1835 to 1881, Sir George Biddel Airy (1801 - 92), started making plans to view the 1874 transit 17 years prior to the event and luckily, all went to plan.
Empress of India
In 1877 Queen Victoria became Empress of India under the Royal Titles Act passed by Benjamin Disraeli's government. The title was brought into being to ensure that the Queen would not be outranked by her eldest daughter Princess Victoria, who had married the Heir to the German Empire.
Queen Victoria had been informed in 1875 that Disraeli's government had purchased four million pounds' worth of shares in the Suez Canal, an offer she had supported. She was so delighted with the positive outcome that she wrote at length about the immensity of it in her journal, praising Disraeli for securing their position in India. The Queen's viceroy in India, Edward, the first Earl of Lytton, represented Her Majesty at her official proclamation in Delhi. He later wrote that 'a vast concourse of native Princes and nobles from all parts of India' were also in attendance.
Australia and England played the first-ever cricket Test match in 1877 in Melbourne, the city named after Lord Melbourne, the Queen's early confidant and life-tutor. When Prime Minister Disraeli died in 1881, Queen Victoria wrote to his private secretary stating her devastation, and that she could not stop crying.
There is a statue of Queen Victoria in Cubban Park, Bangalore, India.
On 28 March, 1884, the Queen's youngest son Leopold, Duke of Albany, died aged 31 years, a victim of haemophilia. Many books have been written about the haemophilia gene which Queen Victoria passed on to her descendants. Princess Beatrice, who had married Prince Henry of Battenberg, passed on the haemophilia gene to her sons.
Returning Prime Minister William Gladstone believed that Great Britain should never support a cause that was morally wrong; Queen Victoria thought that misguided, and objected (unsuccessfully) to the introduction of the 1884 Reform Act. However, there are other ways of making one's disapproval known. In 1885, the Queen sent her Prime Minister an ordinary telegram blaming his inaction for the loss of General Charles Gordon at Khartoum in The Sudan. Gladstone was apoplectic with rage when the contents of the insecure missive became public knowledge. The relationship deteriorated even further when he found out that the Queen had invited his nemesis Robert Cecil, the then Marquess of Salisbury and leader of the Conservative Party, to tea. In 1885, Salisbury's political party won the General Election and, much to the Queen's delight, he became Prime Minister. Although he was replaced by Gladstone in January 1886, political power swung once again and Salisbury took back the top job on 25 July, 1886.