24 May 1819, 195 years ago, Queen Victoria was born at Kensington Palace in London.
“Walk wide o' the Widow at Windsor, For 'alf o' Creation she owns: / ... Hands off o' the sons o' the Widow, Hands off o' the goods in 'er shop, / For the Kings must come down an' the Emperors frown When the Widow at Windsor says "Stop"!” (Rudyard Kipling, “The Widow at Windsor”)
|A colourised likeness of Queen Victoria, taken in the late 1880s|
It is probably a myth that the Queen was “not amused”. Actually, she “was immensely amused and roared with laughter" quite often, as one of her ladies-in-waiting noted, if not in public. After the death of her beloved husband Albert in 1861, she wore mourning for the rest of her long life. A whimsically fantastical figure, largely withdrawn from public life, ruler of one fifth of earth’s surface and one third of the world’s population, the largest empire in history, only as half educated as many ladies of her generation were, but with a keen sense for the evaluation of political situations, usually just as sound as that of her ten prime ministers serving during her reign between 1837 and 1901, gifted wit a sharp intellect and the ability to persuade logically and in carefully thought out speech. Victoria would probably stood out everywhere, even if she had not been the Queen of the United Kingdom and Empress of India, much as her great predecessor Elizabeth who once mentioned “if I were turned out my realm in my petticoat, I would prosper anywhere in Christendom”. But it was probably her greatest achievement to establish herself not as an absolute monarch, but as an identification figure that provided at least a hint of stability in a time when circumstances of life changed dramatically at short notice as they hadn’t before since the 15th century.
|Stephen Poyntz Denning (1795 - 1863): "Victoria, Aged Four" (1823)|
It is not as if the age she gave her name to would have evolved radically different if she would have not been the Great White Mother and various other factors played a far more important role that Britain did not take the road the rest of Europe pursued during the 19th century with politic, national and ethnic upheavals on a regular basis. Even if social abuses existed in abundance during the days of industrialism and colonialism. And while the actual political power of the Crown dwindled during her reign and the United Kingdom evolved into a constitutional multi-party democracy, a development Victoria was more or less in denial about but did not obstruct either, the monarchy’s traditions and the celebration of the Empire, growing more and more pompous over the decades and contrasting her personal rather modest habits, gave the necessary stability for a by and large calm change of conditions. Her charisma and conspicuous influence over the crowned heads of Europe, usually blood relations of her, added a steadiness in European political conditions towards the end of the century and it was just a decade after her death and period of peace of more than 40 years on the continent that matters exploded into the catastrophe of the 20th century.
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And more on: