Queen Victoria dies
On January 22 1901 the reign of Queen Victoria ended with her death of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 81 while staying at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, as was her custom every Christmas. Her reign had lasted 63 years seven months.
Her son ‘Bertie’ the future Edward VII , and her eldest grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, were present at her deathbed. As she had wished, her sons lifted her body, dressed in white and with her wedding veil covering her face, into the coffin. She had worn black since the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in 1861.
The nation and indeed the empire, with a population of more than 400 million people, went into mourning, though the new king decreed that it should not last longer than three months. Though Victoria had worn her widow’s weeds for forty years she reportedly disliked black funerals, so many of the banners in London for her funeral on February 2 were purple and white.
Victoria was buried on February 4th, after two days of lying-in-state, beside Prince Albert at the Frogmore Mausoleum in Windsor Great Park.
Her reign still stands as the longest in British history, though the current queen has surpassed her as the oldest reigning British monarch. There were enormous social changes during her reign, with the industrial revolution at its peak, the railway age changing transport in the land, and the rise of the middle classes as parliament was reformed and the franchise expanded.
The empire reached its zenith during Victoria’s reign , but even before her death there were signs that British power was beginning to fade. The Crimean campaign had been reported as no other had been previously, showing the poor preparation and organisation of the military, the higher echelons’ disregard for the common soldier, and the incompetence of many of the army’s leaders. The Boer War showed that Britain could be made to look foolish by colonial subjects. And with the unification of Germany a new European superpower was an ever more confident threat to Victoria’s kingdom.
Victoria was mourned partly because it was the done thing, but also because she by then had a special place in the national affections. When she succeeded William IV in 1837 however there was great political discontent in the land, and the monarchy was far from popular. The Peterloo Massacre of 1819 was still fresh in the minds of radicals. The Corn Laws still held sway, enriching the landowning classes and impoverishing the workers. Parliamentary reform had begun, but suffrage was still limited and power remained in the hands of the few. There were many attempts on Victoria’s life during her reign, and not all by the deranged.
With Victoria’s death too an era of moral repression ended. Her own sadness after 1861 was at times a pall over the country, and for many years made her personally unpopular. But public morality was very tightly preserved under the ageing queen (even if away from public gaze a huge number of prostitutes, tragically including many children, satisfied hidden desires). With the womanising and gambling ‘Bertie’ on the throne the Edwardian era of rather freer social morals, and a slightly more open society, began.
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