Women Who Ruled: Queen Victoria, part 1

Queen Victoria was born May 24, 1819 as Alexandrina Victoria. She was the fifth heir to her grandfather King George III’s throne, after her father and his three elder brothers, and before her father’s younger brother. A few years before her birth, the death of her older cousin Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent and wife of Victoria’s uncle Leopold, King of Belgians, in 1817 had raised succession fears. 

Charlotte had been King George’s only legitimate grandchild. He advised his unwed sons to marry and produce legitimate children quickly. The Prince Regent George (father of Charlotte) and Duke of York were already married, to estranged wives past childbearing, so unlikely to produce heirs. Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, and third uncle, the Duke of Clarence, wed on the same date in 1818. Both infant daughters of the Duke of Clarence died early. 

First Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, and then her grandfather King George III died in 1820. The crown went to her first uncle, who took the regnal name King George IV. Victoria’s second uncle, the Duke of York, died without children and without inheriting the crown in 1827. King George IV was succeeded by his brother, third son of George III, the Duke of Clarence, who became King William IV, upon George IV’s death in 1830.

With no surviving children or siblings, King William’s presumptive heir became the young princess. During all the years of her unhappy childhood, only-child Victoria was cloistered away from other children. She slept every night in a room she shared with her mother, and spent days with her German governess Baroness Louise Lehzen and a series of tutors. Victoria was often lonely. 

Her mother devised a complex set of rules and schedules called the Kensington System, after the palace where she raised the future queen. This system forbade the princess from associating with the majority of her father’s family, and kept her under constant supervision by her mother’s associates. Upon reaching majority her first two requests were to no longer share a bedroom with her mother, and to be granted an hour alone each day, a freedom she’d been denied until then. 

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