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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

Queen of the United Kingdom from 1837 and empress of India from 1876; only child of Edward, duke of Kent, and Victoria of Saxe-Coburg; married Albert of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha (1840). Victoria's father, the fourth son of George III, was one of three royal dukes who married hurriedly in 1818, in an attempt to produce an heir to the throne; the death in 1817 of princess Charlotte, only child of *George IV, had left not a single living legitimate grandchild of George III.

Of those three marriages other children were born, senior to Victoria in order of succession, but they died as infants. Victoria was not told that she was heir to her uncle, *William IV, until she was 12 – the occasion on which she solemnly declared 'I will be good'. She inherited the throne when she was 18, and in the early years of her reign was much influenced by her prime minister, Lord *Melbourne. He was the first of four men in whom she put a deeply emotional trust.

The next, and by far the most important of the four, was her husband, Prince *Albert. The virtues of moral rectitude and hard work, known now as Victorian values, were his rather than hers; and her admiration for his talents and ideas meant that she allowed him a prominent role in British affairs. Their family life (they had nine children) was intensely happy, much of it spent in the two country houses which they built, *Osborne and *Balmoral.

Albert's early and sudden death devastated the queen and for her remaining 40 years she dressed as a widow. She next found comfort in the friendship of John Brown, a gillie from *Balmoral. From 1864 until his death in 1883 she took him everywhere as her personal servant, in his distinctive Highland dress; she liked his forthright manner (he addressed her as 'woman'), though such informality inevitably led to gossip and jokes about Mrs John Brown.

The last of these intense friendships was with *Disraeli, who first became her prime minister in 1868. The queen shared his commitment to British imperial interests and was delighted in 1876 when he steered through parliament, against considerable oppostion, a bill making her empress of India.

Through the marriages of her children Victoria was increasingly the matriarch of Europe, and the great celebrations of the last two decades of her reign (Golden Jubilee 1887, Diamond Jubilee 1897) brought together an astonishing array of interconnecting royal families. At the time of her death (at Osborne House) there were 37 great-grandchildren alive; in World War I one of her grandsons was the British king, another the German kaiser. Her reign, the longest of any British sovereign, saw the gradual effect of the *Reform Act, introducing what we now mean by *constitutional monarchy. But if the crown had lost much of its political power, it had gained greatly in symbolic stature as the empire grew and with it Britain's power. Victoria ranks now with *Elizabeth I, in public perception, as one of the country's two greatest monarchs.

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