Queen Victoria’s Coronation, 28 June 1838
That people in the first half of the 19th century were no strangers to illness and death is richly illustrated by the antecedents and birth of Queen Victoria of Britain (r. 1837-1901). Born 24 May 1819, she was originally fifth in line of succession to the throne, but in the 18 years that elapsed between birth and coronation, the people nearer the throne than her all died, her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathern, in 1820 of pneumonia, less than a year after her birth. By 1830, she had become heiress presumptive.
Not that England stagnated during the years prior to Victoria’s coronation: her immediate predecessor, William IV, oversaw an updating of the poor law, the restriction of child labor, and the abolition of slavery in the the British Empire. As if this were not enough, the Reform Act of 1832 was passed by Parliament during his reign. No small achievements, these.
Diminutive, obstinate, and honest, Victoria oversaw the continuing transition of the United Kingdom into a constitutional monarchy even as the British Empire reached the peak of its power. As an adult, she wrote more than 2500 words a day, an achievement any professional writer could admire, and most of her diary survives, a telling account of the Queen’s personal influence during one of the greatest periods of prosperity in human history.
There are no perfect monarchies, and certainly Victoria’s reign produced its share of difficulties, even as the intellectual ferment characterized by the works of Darwin and Marx would go on to shape battle lines in the 20th and 21st centuries. But Victoria helped provide a framework of peaceful political evolution, at least in Britain, the hope that mankind can indeed produce, in the words of Tennyson, “a Parliament of Man.”
The world is working towards a new synthesis, one that is more inclusive, just, and loving. As much as any person in modern history, Victoria has helped set the stage for what may end up being humankind’s ultimate achievement, a prosperous world at peace.
Image: The coronation of Queen Victoria (1838). Author: Edmund Thomas Parris. WikiCmns; Public Domain.