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Queen Victoria (1819–1901)

Queen Victoria was the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent (1767–1820) and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1786–1861), and the granddaughter of George III (1738–1820). She became Queen in 1837 at the age of eighteen, and ruled for 63 years. Her reign coincided with a period of great transformation in the United Kingdom – socially, economically, politically and industrially. As Great Britain expanded as an Imperial power she became Empress of India in 1877.

The young Princess Victoria lived at Kensington Palace until her accession in 1837. On the announcement of her accession, the young Princess recorded in her journal:

I was awoke at 6 o'clock by Mamma, who told me that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here, and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing-gown), and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham (the Lord Chamberlain) then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes p.2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen ... Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfil my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure, that very few have more real good will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.

Queen Victoria's Journal RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W) 20 June 1837 (Princess Beatrice's copies)

During the early years of her reign, Victoria was in regular correspondence with her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. She married Prince Albert later Prince Consort (1819–61) in 1840 and they had nine children: Victoria, Princess Royal, later Empress of Germany (1840–1901), Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII (1841–1910), Princess Alice, later Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine (1843–78), Prince Alfred, later Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1844–1900), Princess Helena (1846–1923), Princess Louise, later Duchess of Argyll (1848–1939), Prince Arthur, later Duke of Connaught (1850-1942), Prince Leopold, later Duke of Albany (1853–84) and Princess Beatrice (1857–1944).

Queen Victoria was a keen amateur artist and received instruction in drawing and painting from her youth onwards. Her output was prolific, with over 4,000 of her drawings, watercolours, etchings and lithographs still in the collection, produced over 60 years of her reign. Queen Victoria was also an avid diarist and letter-writer, and her interest in the arts and artists throughout her life is clear from the extensive archive of her writings.

Queen Victoria’s collecting and commissioning of contemporary British and European art and photography flourished in partnership with her husband, Prince Albert. Their joint patronage of artists, craftsmen and sculptors contributed to an illustrious era of the arts in Britain.