Victoria Becomes Queen, 1837
She became England's longest reigning monarch, her offspring governed Europe, she gave her name to an era, but she was only a teenager when she ascended the throne of the world's mightiest empire.
The British monarchy had suffered bad times, discredited by the madness of George III (1760-1820), the excesses of George IV (1820-1830), and the unimpressive reign of William IV (1830-37). Victoria was William's niece and had been designated the heir to the childless king from her birth. On Tuesday June 20, 1837 the king died of pneumonia.
Victoria with son Edward (the
future King) and daughter
Vickie (the future mother of
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany)
Victoria lived with her mother in Kenningston Palace, London (the same palace Lady Di lived in before her death). It was there that the eighteen-year-old was told of her Uncle's death.
Victoria refers often in her diary to seeing her visitors "alone" or "quite alone". This is an indication of the teenager establishing her independence with her ascendancy to the throne. Victoria's mother (the Duchess of Kent) had raised Victoria in a cloistered and highly controlled environment (the two in fact shared the same bedroom). The mother had hoped to extend her control once her child became Queen and had lobbied unsuccessfully to be named Regent. Victoria's pointed references to seeing her visitors "alone" reveal that the young girl will be charting her own course as Queen. We can only imagine her mother's chagrin when Victoria tells her that her presence will not be required during her various meetings that day. Victoria recorded the day in her diary:
"Tuesday, 20th June 1837
I was awoke at 6 o'clock by Mamma, who told me that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here, and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing-gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham (the Lord Chamberlain) then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen. Lord Conyngham knelt down and kissed my hand, at the same time delivering to
me the official announcement of the poor King's demise. The Archbishop then told me that the Queen was desirous that he should come and tell me the details of the last moments of my poor good Uncle; he said that he had directed his mind to religion, and had died in a perfectly happy, quiet state of mind, and was
quite prepared for his death. He added that the King s sufferings at the last were not very great but that there was a good deal of uneasiness. Lord Conyngham, whom I charged to express my feelings of condolence and sorrow to the poor Queen, returned directly to Windsor. I then went to my room and dressed.
Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure that very few have more real good-will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.
Breakfasted, during which time good, faithful Stockmar [Baron Stockmar - a friend] came and talked to me. Wrote a letter to dear Uncle Leopold [King of the Belgians] and a few words to dear good Feodore [Victoria's stepsister]. Received a letter from Lord Melbourne [the Prime Minister] in which he said he would wait upon me at a little before 9. At 9 came Lord Melbourne, whom I saw in my room, and of course quite alone, as I shall always do all my Ministers. He kissed my hand, and I then acquainted him that it had long been my intention to retain him and the rest of the present Ministry at the head of affairs, and that it could not be in better hands than his. He again then kissed my hand. He then read to me the Declaration which I was to read to the Council, which he wrote himself, and which is a very fine one. I then talked with him some little time longer, after which he left me. He was in full dress. I like him very much and feel confidence in him. He is a very straightforward, honest, clever and good man. I then wrote a letter to the Queen. At about 11 Lord Melbourne came again to me, and spoke to me upon various subjects. At about half-past 11 I went downstairs and held a Council in the red saloon.
I went in of course quite alone and remained seated the
whole time. My two Uncles, the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex, and Lord Melbourne
conducted me. The Declaration, the various forms, the swearing in of the Privy
Councillors of which there were a great number present, and the reception of
some of the Lords of the Council, previous to the Council, in an adjacent room
(likewise alone) I subjoin here. I was not at all nervous and had the satisfaction
of hearing that people were satisfied with what I had done and how I had done
it. Received after this, audiences of Lord Melbourne, Lord John Russell, Lord
Albemarle (Master of the Horse), and the Archbishop of Canterbury, all in my
room and alone. Saw Stockmar. Saw Clark, whom I named my Physician. Saw Mary.
Wrote to Uncle Ernest. Saw Ernest Hohenlohe, who brought me a kind and very feeling
letter from the poor Queen. I feel very much for her, and really feel that the
poor good King was always so kind personally to me, that I should be ungrateful
were I not to recollect it and feel grieved at his death. The poor Queen is wonderfully
composed now, I hear.
Victoria in the 1880s
Wrote my journal. Took my dinner upstairs alone. Went downstairs. Saw Stockmar. At about twenty minutes to 9 came Lord Melbourne and remained till near 10. I had a very important and a very comfortable conversation with him. Each time I see him I feel more confidence in him; I find him very kind in his manner too. Saw Stockmar. Went down and said good-night to Mamma, etc. My dear Lehzen [Victoria's governess as a child] will always remain with me as my friend, but will take no situation about me, and I think she is right."
Benson, Arthur Christopher and Viscount Eshers, ed. The Letters of Queen Victoria 1837-1861 (1907); Erickson, Carolly, Her Little Majesty: The Life of Queen Victoria (1997)
How To Cite This Article:
"Victoria Becomes Queen, 1837," EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (1999).