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Queen Victoria

Widowhood

When Albert died on December 14, 1861 of typhoid fever (many modern historians believe he may have succumbed to stomach cancer), Victoria was left with an empty void that she struggled with for many years. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent, had also died earlier in the year and Victoria was left feeling the loss of those who had been there for her since her youth. For a considerable time period, she disappeared from all public appearances, preferring to stay in a self-imposed isolation of mourning, depending on the company of only those who could minister to her broken spirit. Until her death in 1901 she wore the black widow’s weeds to convey her loss of the one individual who she depended upon totally for her personal happiness. Her prime minister of the time, Benjamin Disraeli, teetered in a delicate balance of placating her need to mourn her loss and trying to convince her that the country needed to see her presence in order to know Great Britain still had a monarch. Eventually she reemerged from her self-imposed exile, but celebrations were few and far between. She depended heavily on the company of her children, insisting that several of them make their homes permanently in England so they could be near her. Her servant John Brown, a Scottish manservant of Albert’s, became a close and inseparable confidante to Victoria. He was a connection to her beloved Albert and he treated her like a peer when they were in private, which she appeared to have relished. In front of her family, he was completely solicitous to her every need. When he himself died in 1883, Victoria was beside herself once again. As she wrote to John Brown’s sister-in-law after his death: “Weep with me for we all have lost the best, the truest heart that ever beat. My grief is unbounded, dreadful and I know not how to bear it, or how to believe it possible…Dear, dear John –my dearest best friend to whom I could say everything & who always protected me so kindly. You have your husband—your support, but I have no strong arm now.” (Hibbert, p. 441) Victoria felt the loss of those who died very painfully and emotively. Her demonstrative nature made itself apparent when she felt no longer in control of a situation. Her widowhood was a time of enormous consternation to her mental health, but at the same time she saw some of her happiest times as the family expanded with grandchildren, her relationship with her subjects stayed strong and her empire grew beyond the island nation so that the “sun never set on the British Empire.” The loss of Albert was a perpetual pain to her heart but her popularity and significance as a ruler did not fade, even after her death.

Prime Ministers

From the first days of Queen Victoria’s reign, she had a love/hate relationship with her many prime ministers. In many ways, she treated the change of leadership as an upheaval in her personal life. Her first prime minister, Lord Melbourne (Whig), was like a father figure to her, instructing her on the duties and responsibilities of a constitutional monarch while giving her a strong shoulder to lean on in helping her find her balance between her duty-bound responsibilities and her personal happiness. Because of her fatherless years as a child, he was a surrogate father to a girl who had never experienced a paternal influence on her life. He would retain this position in her life until her marriage to Prince Albert. In 1841 Sir Robert Peel (Tory) became the prime minister. Victoria was devastated upon her loss of Lord Melbourne and his wise advice. A succession of prime ministers would cause Victoria a good deal of grief, especially those whom she never warmed up to. She trusted and admired Benjamin Disraeli (Tory), who acquired the position in 1868, but she strongly disliked and distrusted William Ewart Gladstone (Liberal) who later in the year took over. These two prime ministers were to be closely identified with their relationship with the Queen, whether positively or negatively.


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