British History 2:
From the French Revolution to World War II
Topic: "Majesties and Royal Highnesses"

by Laura Cenicola & Mareike Aumann

6) The Life of Queen Victoria and her Secret Letters with Mr. Brown

The Victorian age was a somehow mystical and mysterious time to live in - and Queen Victoria fit quite well in exactly that concept, otherwise the period of her reign wouldn't be called the Victorian era nowadays. Queen Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to 1901 and she also was Empress of India from 1876 to 1901. What Queen Victoria experienced during her reign - the longest reign of any British monarch so far with a duration of 63 years, 7 month and 2 days - can be read below in greater detail:

 

Queen Victoria's life in detail:

 

Before actually starting with the queen's life, please have a look at this video first, which shows pictures of queen Victoria from childhood to death.

 

 

Victoria's first years:

Victoria was born in London on 24th of May in 1819. Her father was Prince Edward, a son of George III and her mother was Princess Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Victoria's father died eight month after she was born. She belonged to the House of Hanover and her full, christened name was "Alexandrina Victoria" - therefore her nickname within her family was simply 'Drina'.

Since Victoria came from a German family background her first language was German. When she was three years old she had to begin learning English and French and she mastered speaking the three languages very well, although she was taught at home by her governess instead of being taught in school by a 'real' teacher. Later in her life she also learned to speak Hindustani, because she became Empress of India as well.


Victoria: Fifth in line to succession to the throne - Why did she become queen?

Please have a look at the picture below in connection with the following explanation:

Queen Victoria's family tree (and all further monarchs): Just click on the picture so that you can see it in a bigger format.

 

"Victoria's father, the fourth son and fifth child of George III, died [in] 1820 - just eight months after Victoria was born. King George III, her grandfather, died six days later on 29 January 1820. At that point, Victoria's uncle, the Prince Regent, inherited the Crown, becoming King George IV. George IV died in 1830 and because the second son of George III, Prince Frederick [...] had died [...] in 1827, George IV was therefore succeeded by another brother. This was the third son of George III, Prince William [...] who reigned as William IV. [...] Although William IV was the father of ten illegitimate children by his mistress [...] he had no surviving legitimate children. As a result, the young Princess Victoria, his niece, became heiress presumptive."         See Source

 

1837: Ascendant to the throne - Queen Victoria:

Victoria became heiress presumptive when she was twelve years old. However, she couldn't act as monarch at that age an so the Regency Act of 1830 was introduced, which made it possible for Victoria to act as queen at the age of eighteen. In the meantime her mother, Duchess of Kent, acted as regent.

In May 1837 Victoria turned eighteen and already in June that year her uncle William IV died, so that she was declared queen of the United Kingdom. Her coronation took place one year leater, in June 1838.

 

We have selected a text passage out of queen Victoria's diary, which we would like you to read. It deals with  Victoria writing about the day when she got to know that she was queen and about her coronation one year later. Please download this file in order to read the extract of queen Victoria's diary.


Political situation at that time

The Whig party was the leading power in government at the time of Victoria's accession to the throne. The Prime Minister of the Whigs, Lord Melbourne, was an important advisor for young queen Victoria, who was politically inexperienced due to her young age. Lord Melbourne was not only Victoria's most important political advisor she could rely on, but also a good friend from whom she learned how to behave as the head of a 'constitutional monarchy'.

 

Wedding: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Victoria met her first cousin Prince Albert (Albert's father was Victoria's mother's brother) already when she was seventeen. She liked him right from the beginning. In February 1840 they married each other and their marriage proved to be a very happy one. They had nine children together. Albert soon took over Lord Melbourne's role of Victoria's advisor and he helped his wife with political and royal decisions.

 

Assassination attempts on Queen Victoria:

In total, Victora survived seven assassination attempts.

The first one already took place in the year of her wedding, 1840, when Victoria was pregnant: An eighteen-year-old and insane man named Edward Oxford tried to assassinate queen Vitoria in her carriage, where she was with her husband Albert. The two bullets Oxford fired missed and in the end nothing happened to pregnant Victoria.

Two years later, in 1842 - the year in which Victoria made her first journey by train - two further attempts on Victoria's life took place: One took place while she was in her carriage again, but the police was able to put the man under arrest immediately. The other attempt of that year was again a man trying to shoot at her, but the attempt failed as well.

In 1849 an unemployed Irishman also shot at Victoria while she was riding in her carriage. The attempt failed as well.

One year later, in 1850, an insane ex-Army-officer got into Victoria's carriage and he beat her with his cane, so that Victoria was slightly injured. The man was caught and tried to the maximum sentence.

Other assassination attempts followed in later years, but Victoria was lucky and nothing severe ever happened to her.

 

1861 - A sad year for queen Victoria

In 1861 Victoria's mother died. She was shocked when she got to know what happened, because they had a very good mother-daughter-relationship. Still shocked, the queen's consort Prince Albert died on 14th of December that year at the age of only 42 from typhoid fever. From that day on Victoria wore black clothes for the rest of her life. In the first years after Albert's death Victoria lived in seclusion, avoided public appearances and fell into a deep state of mourning and even depression, which led to the fact that her popularity among the common people decreased a bit in that phase of her reign.

 

The beginnings of Victoria's relationship to servant John Brown:

After Albert's death Victoria was in need for a servant more and more. John Brown, a Scotsman, came into her life. At first he was only there to be Victoria's fishing and hunting guide, but later on he accompanied her majesty on nearly every step. Brown was responsible for keeping an eye on queen Victoria when she rode in her carriage, because some assassination attempts had already taken place while Victoria rode in her carriage and it was Brown's job to do everything that is possible in order to protect her majesty's life, which he managed to do perfectly.

 

About John Brown:

The Scotsman John Brown was born in 1826 and he died in 1883, aged 56. He was a personal servant for queen Victoria at Balmoral castle in Scotland - a summer residence that queen Victoria and Albert bought in 1853. When Albert died in 1861, John Brown took special care of her majesty for nearly 20 years! He already was Albert's favourite servant. Brown treated Victoria somewhat different than all the other servants treated the queen - he was more informal, rather like a friend. And in fact he became queen Victoria's dearest friend after Albert's death!

 

Close Friendship:

Victoria and John Brown wrote lots of letters to each other - and some of them have been found. They used to compliment each other very often in those lettres. Victoria once wrote to Brown that he was her "best, most loyal servant" and that he was "the most trusted, the most dear friend" for Victoria. Furthermore she described their friendship as "so warm and affectionate" and Brown used to write to Victoria in similar words.

John Brown was able to save the queen twice when she rode in her carriage (because of accidents) and because Victoria judged Brown as most capable, he was allowed to lead her pony when she was riding. Moreover, he gained the role of her personal servant, which was a special job: He was with her nearly all day, whatever Victoria did. He was allowed to sleep in a room near hers and he even was allowed to enter the room without knocking, which no other servant of the queen was to do.

"Strong and courageous, mind-minded, honest, kind-hearted and full of love" - with these words Victoria once praised her closest friend. Was there really only a close friendship between them? The relationship between the queen and John Brown already caused much gossip at that time (Victoria's ministers even wanted Brown to find a wife so that the gossip would come to an end, but Brown remained a bachelor) - and the uncertainty about the truth still exists today!

 

Love affair or not?
The Secret Letters between Victoria and Brown:

In 1997 a film called "Mrs. Brown" was produced. It deals with the relationship between queen Victoria and her servant John Brown. The term "Mrs. Brown" is supposed to represent queen Victoria.
When Douglas Rae, a Scottish executive film producer began researching for that film, he and his team found some secret 'love letters', written by queen Victoria and John Brown to each other, in an old attic in Scotland, which belongs to one of John Brown's descendants. Rae says that those letters gave him a "useful insight into the queen's relationship". However, the name of the family who own the letters, is still kept secret so that the letters have not been made public yet. The reason for that is that Rae does not want to publish the letters, because "present members of the royal family, particularly the Queen Mother, are still alive".

The fact that Victoria's daughters are said to have called John Brown "Mama's lover" of course makes people believe even more in the fact that they must have been lovers. However, there is no clear evidence that proves the idea of a relationship that was simply more than a close friendship yet. Maybe the 'secret love letters' will be published in a few years and then we'll know. Victoria felt deep grief and she wanted Brown's room to remain as Brown has left it, just like Albert's. Victoria even wanted a statue of John Brown to be erected at Balmoral castle.

 

Death of John Brown:

John Brown died in 1883 at the age of 56 from erysipelas.
"The shock - the blow, the blank, the constant missing at every turn of the one strong, powerful, reliable arm and head almost stunned me and I am truly overwhelmed", Victoria wrote into her diary when she got to know that John Brown had died. The inscription that was written on the statue was the following:

"Friend more than Servant, Loyal, Truthful, Brave,
Self less than Duty, even to the grave."

Although Victoria couldn't really get over the fact that Albert and John Brown both had left her alone, she somehow managed to recover and concentrated on her reign and on her own health rather than on relationships to men for the rest of her life. (After all Victoria was already 64 years old when John Brown died.)


1887 - Golden Jubilee of queen Victoria (50 years of reign):

By the time of queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee she was a very popular monarch. The whole country celebrated her Jubilee and queen Victoria herself wrote in her diary about that day: "There was such an extraordinary outburst of enthusiasm as I had hardly ever seen in London before; all the people seemed to be in such a good humour."

However, an assassination attempt was planned for the day of her majesty's golden jubilee as well, which was called the Jubilee plot. Fortunately the attempt failed, because the police was able to uncover it just in time.


1897 - Diamond Jubilee of queen Victoria (60 years of reign):

The Diamond Jubilee of queen Victoria was celebrated in an equal way as her Golden Jubilee ten years ago. The Prime Ministers of all dominions were invited and again "there were great crowds, who cheered very much", as she wrote into her diary. Although queen Victoria had to stay seated in her wheelchair, since she wasn't able to stand a longer time anymore, she called that day a "never-to-be-forgotten day" in her life.

 

What happened to Britain while queen Victoria reigned?

The time queen Victoria reigned is called the 'Victorian Era'. These years represent the time of the total Industrial Revolution of the United Kingdom. Significant progress was made in fields such as technology or science.

Also, the British Empire enlarged a lot during this period of time - until Britain became the biggest and most important global power. The map below shows the British Empire in Victorian times. The red areas represent the countries which belonged to the British Empire - Victoria ruled over a quarter of the world's population!

Important acts or other political changes Victoria introduced to Britain during her reign were the following:

Please read more about the acts in our glossary.

 

Victoria's death and her successor:

Victoria died on 22nd of January in 1901 from a celebral hemorrhage at the age of 81. Her eldest son and thus the future King Edward VII stayed beside her at her deathbed. She had wished her funeral to be a rather happy event instead of a sad one. Therefore she wanted the people to dress in white and/or purple. She was buried at Frogmore Mausoleum beside Albert.

Please watch this rather short video in order to get an impression of how immense queen Victoria's funeral must have been:

Since Victoria, who has been the last monarch of the House of Hanover, had married Albert, who belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha, Victoria's eldest son and thus her successor was the first monarch belonging to the new house "Saxe-Coburg Gotha".

 

Victoria as the first known carrier of haemophilia in the royal family:

The hereditary disease haemophilia got into the royal family line with Victoria as a female carrier. It is assumed that she carried the diseased gene in her due to mutation of that gene. The picture below shows the descendants of queen Victoria and in how far the diseased gene was passed on to them. Only male carriers suffer the disease - the fully coloured boxes show these males. The likelihood that the diseased or the healthy gene is passed on is 50% to 50%.


Facts about queen Victoria: Did you know that...

          Just in case somebody is interested: Here are the top 5
         Greatest Britons:

          1) Sir Winston Churchill (Prime Minister during WW2)

          2) Isambard Kingdom Brunel (Creator of Western Railway)

          3) Diana, Princess of Wales

          4) Charles Darwin (Originator of the theory of evolution)

          5) William Shakespeare

 

But let's finish the main topic now:

Victoria wrote a detailed diary throughout her whole life.

The last step would now be to download the following file in order to see an extract of the most important events of her life that she wrote about in her journal: Download

If you are interested in reading those extracts of Victoria's most important personal diary entries, please find our recommended selection below: