Women Who Ruled: Queen Victoria, part 10

During the first two decades of Queen Victoria’s reign several international events occupied her attention, in addition to her nine children, rotating prime ministers, and numerous assassination attempts.  Victoria and her husband Albert saw themselves as liberal, in the classical European sense of the word. They sought to improve relations with the rest of Europe through diplomacy and marriage alliances. 

Relations between the United Kingdom and France were long and complicated. They’d had periodic wars since the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Henry VIII of England had been the last English monarch to visit France, at the spectacular Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1519. There he literally physically wrestled the King of France, Louis I and the two men bonded. But Henry’s subsequent defection from Catholicism and establishment of the Protestant leaning Church of England reignited tensions between the United Kingdom and Catholic France. Religious oppression in each country led to an exchange of religious refugees. 

In 1843 and 1845, Queen Victoria anf Albert paid visits to King Louis Philippe I of France. In between these trips in 1844 he visited them in England. This made Louis Philippe the first French king to visit a British sovereign, ever. Victoria also arranged several harmonious visits between members of the British royal family and the French royal house of Orleans, who were related to her and Albert through their Coburg family. 

1845 was the start of the four year potato blight and Irish Famine. 1846 saw crop failures across Europe, especially in Scotland. Queen Victoria and the Whigs supported repealing the Corn Laws, a set of tarrifs on imported grain meant to favor domestic crops, however the Prime Minister and his Tory party didn’t. Fights over home rule for Ireland and the role of Anglo-Irish landlords took center stage iin Parliament. Victoria donated 2,000 Pounds from her personal wealth, the most of any individual. In Ireland she was hated and called “The Famine Queen”. 

The pan European crop failures of 1846, widespread literacy, newspapers that spread democratic ideas, and books such as Karl Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party all contributed to the series of anti feudalist uprisings across Europe, the revolution of 1848. In France this saw Louis Philippe deposed; he fled to England for safety. 

At the height of the revolution, Queen Victoria and her family relocated to a private estate on the Isle of Wight. However the various factions were unable to form a coalition against her and by 1849 they were back at Buckingham Palace. Victoria took a successful public relations trip to Ireland that year, which improved her reputation there without leading to lasting improvement for Irish. 

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