A Glimpse of Queen Victoria through Her Journals - Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History

A Glimpse of Queen Victoria through Her Journals

 

 

William Craig Hosch

Armstrong State University

 

 


1860, by George Hayter
Government Art Collection, UK

Short, stubborn, and occasionally ill-tempered, Queen Victoria (r.1837–1901) ruled the greatest Empire the world had ever known. It is more interesting to understand that she accomplished most of this from her sitting-room!  As a young girl, she was dominated by her mother, and upon her accession to the throne, she was manipulated by a host of elder gentlemen. Victoria hated being “bossed about,” and because of this she became rigid in her dealings with men of any rank. She took an active role in the governance of her realm and often interfered with policies in which she disagreed. The queen believed it was extremely important to establish a standard for family life in Britain, and she set out to make the royal family a model for all citizens. Victoria was highly vocal and occasionally obstinate in matters of state.  She greatly admired some of her Prime Ministers; others she could not tolerate. The monarch ruled for sixty-three years and seven months, longer than any other.  She was well loved by her people, and made a lasting impression on the world.

 

No monarch in history wrote as much, or as well, as Queen Victoria.  She penned an average of twenty-five hundred words every day of her adult life, totaling approximately sixty million during her reign.  This would amount to seven hundred volumes published at the rate of one per month.  The Queen’s handwriting was quite atrocious. Henry Posonby, her Private Secretary, often spent hours trying to decipher some of her sentences.  She was famous for underlining passages in her writings that she wished to emphasize, and she used exclamation points frequently. Posonby was amused by the fact that the queen often remarked on the poor quality of others’ handwriting, without regard for her own.[1]  Since the queen wrote throughout her entire lifetime, it is possible to present contrasting portraits of major events during the Victorian era, as well as differing qualities of life amongst the various classes of people.

 

Childhood


Victoria aged 4
by Stephen Denning, 1823
Dulwich Picture Gallery

Victoria was brought up at Kensington Palace and believed her childhood to be rather unpleasant. In 1872, she reflected on an account of her early childhood: “My earliest recollections are connected with Kensington Palace where I can  remember crawling on a yellow carpet spread out for that purpose and being told that if I cried or was naughty my ‘Uncle Sussex’ would hear me and punish me, for which reason I always screamed when I saw him.”[2]


Although Victoria was a Royal, her childhood was similar to any other within England in many ways, which she possibly perceived as being unpleasant. She would not have understood at the time that she was treated quite well or at least as well as most children in her era: “I was brought up very simply-never had a room to myself till I was nearly grown up-always slept in my Mother’s room till I came to the Throne… I sat and took my lessons in my Governess’s bedroom. I was not fond of learning as a child and baffled every attempt to teach me my letters up to 5 years old…”[3]

 

In 1832, when the Queen first started keeping a journal, she wrote in one of her earliest entries about a trip to Wales, where she witnessed a disturbing way of life; one of which she was completely unaware: “It rains very hard. We have just passed the manufactories which are very curious. We just passed a town where all coal mines are and you see the fire glimmer at a distance in the engines in many places. The men, women, children, country and houses are all black. But I cannot by any description give an idea of its strange and extraordinary appearance. The country is very desolate everywhere; there are coals about and the grass is quite blasted and black…the country continues black, engines flaming, coals in abundance, everywhere, smoking and burning coal heaps, intermingled with wretched huts and carts and little ragged children.”[4]

 

The contrast between her world and that of the Welsh had a tremendous effect on her, and she would later work toward improving conditions throughout the realm. Another of her childhood concerns was for the Romanies. There was a camp near Claremont (home of the Queen’s uncle Leopold) where she interacted with them in December of 1836.  The account she recorded shows a sympathetic concern: “I know too well in truth, from experience, that whenever any poor Gipsies are encamped anywhere and crimes and robberies etc. occur, it is invariably laid to their account, which is shocking; and if they are always looked upon as vagabonds, how can they become good people? I trust in Heaven that the day may come when I may do something for these poor people, and for this particular family!”[5]

 

 


Family of Queen Victoria, 1846
by F. X. Winterhalte. Royal Collection, UK

 

Marriage and Family

 

 

Queen Victoria held a very different view of marriage than other English women.  Because she had been dominated by her mother and also by the many men in her life while young, she was apprehensive about the prospect of matrimony.  The queen was extremely attracted to her first cousin Albert. They had much in common and Victoria believed that he would make a good husband and Prince Royal.  Because no one could propose to the Queen, Victoria had to propose marriage to Albert, a sharp contrast to Victorian courtship indeed. She informed Albert that she did not want to have a lot of children and he was not to “boss her about.” She had nine children, and they had periodic fights that were so intense they frightened the servants as well as family members. She loved Albert most passionately and he worshiped her every move, but when they disagreed―they disagreed! In 1840, Victoria wrote in a journal about her wedding day.  She wore a white satin gown and donned an arrangement of orange flowers which were to become the rage for all Victorian brides thenceforth: "Had my hair dressed and the wreath of orange flowers put on. At ½ past 12, I set off, dearest Albert having gone before. I wore a white satin gown with a very deep flounce of Honiton lace, imitation of old. I wore my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings, and Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch…The Ceremony was very imposing, and fine and simple and I think ought to make a lasting impression on every one who promises at the Altar to keep what he or she promises.”[6]                                                                      

 

Queen Victoria wanted to set a standard for her subjects with the Royal Family as the supreme model. She was determined to present a picture of a happy and respectful family, a new image of the Monarchy, in contrast to the reputations of her Uncles George IV (r.1820–1830) and William IV (r.1830–1837), who were rather unpopular with the English people. The Royal Family primarily resided at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Prince Albert had first hand in raising the nine children, especially while they were babies.  The Queen remarked that she thought babies were hideous and not worth holding until they were at least six months old.  She said they looked like frogs.  She also refused to breast feed any of them and referred to the act as disgusting. On the other hand, Albert adored the children and wanted to teach them middle-class values.  He thought they should learn to be self-sufficient.  He convinced Victoria to allow the older children to reside in a separate cottage on the grounds of Osborne. He taught them how to cook, clean, work in a garden, and to grow vegetables.  The purpose of this, as Albert saw it, was for them to acquire a set of skills, even if they were never to be used.  While their first born son “Bertie” was sure to inherit the throne, the other eight might someday have to fend for themselves, and Albert believed they should develop a strong backbone in case things did no go well for them in the future.

 

Government

After the coronation, Victoria became dependent on a string of male advisors, but none touched her as much as Lord Melbourne, her first Prime Minister and close friend. Melbourne remained devoted to her until the day he died. She consulted him in both personal matters as well as affairs of state.   The Queen saw the realm governed by no less than thirty-three Prime Ministers. Lord Melbourne, though somewhat weak, was her obvious favorite. In contrast, there were two whom she absolutely despised. Lord Peel, who succeeded Melbourne, got on her nerves so badly she could not stand to be around him.  The queen complained that Peel had a habit of standing with his hands in his pockets and pointing his toes while rocking back and forth. She noted that he was always nervous and shy in her presence and that made her feel shy as well. Queen Victoria favored the Whig party and Peel was a Tory.  She once remarked that “Tories, like insects and turtle soup [a popular dish during the Victorian era], were the things she hated most in the world.”[7] In a letter to Lord Melbourne the queen wrote these words regarding Peel: “I said that I had an excessive dislike for Peel…I was sure we should have quarreled anyhow-very soon… ‘That’s what he says,’ continued Lord M, ‘that you have such a dislike for him that you could never get on together,’ I replied [to Lord Melbourne] that was quite true.”[8]

 

The second Prime Minister, who was even more ill-favored by the Queen, was William Gladstone. He served four terms over various periods during her reign. She could not tolerate him and at one point resorted to name calling, “that mischievous firebrand, arrogant, tyrannical and obstinate, half crazy, and in many ways ridiculous, wild and incomprehensible old fanatic.”[9] Queen Victoria held a popular political belief that the Prime Minister was but a temporary head of the Cabinet, while the monarch was the permanent Premiere.  Parliament forced this way of thinking to be abandoned by following monarchs.

 

Final Years


by Bertha Müller, 1900
National Portrait Gallery, UK

After the death of her beloved husband Albert, the Queen went into a long period of mourning and the country followed her.  For over ten years, there was a great sense of depression throughout the realm as she withdrew from society and any public interest in government.  After Albert’s death, the Queen wore only black until the day she died.  With the help and persuasion of her good Scottish friend John Brown, she did return to public life and the people celebrated along with her. In 1883 she fell down some stairs at Windsor which left her lame for several months. She limped and suffered from rheumatism thereafter. Her overall health began to fail in 1900.  Much of the Queen’s journals after this time reflect short writings about her health, sleep patterns (or lack thereof), and a dislike for the taste of food.  On January 1, 1901 she moaned, “Another year begun and I am feeling so weak and unwell that I enter upon it sadly. The same sort of night as I have been having lately…”[10]

 

Again on January 4, 1901, she briefly writes, “From not having been well, I see so badly, which is very tiresome.”[11]  The Queen’s personal physician, Dr. James Reid, stated that she had begun to suffer several strokes. On January 22, 1901, Victoria Regina died at six-thirty in the evening at her beloved Osborne House, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Her final will was very specific with regard to items she wanted inside her coffin. Prince Albert’s dressing gown was placed in the bottom, along with a plaster cast of his hand and some photos.  Her wedding veil was draped over her face, and a photo of her Scottish friend John Brown was placed in her right hand. The coffin was then closed, carried to the dining room, and covered with the Union Jack where it laid in state. The queen was finally buried beside her husband at Frogmore Mausoleum on February 4, 1901. Above the entrance, Victoria had the words inscribed, “Farewell most beloved. Here at length I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again.”

 

 

About the author

William Craig Hosch is a junior studying Psychology and History at Armstrong. He is a member of Phi Alpha Theta. His focus is Early Modern Britain and the Victorian Age, with emphasis on the British Monarchy. He has travelled extensively throughout Britain and even boasts direct Tudor and Stuart heraldry on his maternal side.

 

Recommended citation

William Craig Hosch, “A Glimpse of Queen Victoria through Her Journals,” Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History 4, no. 1 (April 2014).

 

 

Notes



[1] Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria in Her Letters and Journals (New York: Viking Penguin Press, 1985), Introduction.

[2] Ibid., 9.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 11.

[5] Ibid., 21.

[6] Ibid., 63.

[7] 1Christopher Hibbert, “Queen Victoria and Her Prime Ministers,” BBC History.com, February 17, 2011,    http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/victoria_ministers_01.shtml (accessed March 30, 2014).

[8] Hibbert, Queen Victoria in Her Letters and Journals, 50.

[9]  Hibbert, “Queen Victoria and Her Prime Ministers.”

[10] Hibbert, Queen Victoria in Her Letters and Journals, 348.

[11] Ibid., 349.


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