The only living child of her generation, Victoria became the heir presumptive to the throne of England, eventually becoming Queen in 1837.
William IV, King of England, lay dying in June, 1837. Without a living legitimate child of his own (William had ten illegitimate children with a mistress barred from the throne) only one heir was left to him. William looked to his niece, eighteen-year-old Victoria. Secluded, protected and under the controlled environment of her mother, Duchess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg Saalfeld, Victoria was constantly watched and bullied by not only her mother, but also her comptroller, John Conroy. However, relief came to William when he died, for in 1837, the heir presumptive was at an age where no regency was required. The country was in the hands of a young woman, the last of her generation.
Princess Alexandrina “Drina” Victoria
Born on May 24, 1819 as Alexandrina Victoria, the princess was the legitimate grandchild, after Princess Charlotte (daughter of George IV, dead two years before her birth), of King George III of England. Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was suddenly thrust closer when her grandfather (George III) and father (Edward, Duke of Kent) both died in 1820. Out of the five sons of George III, only two remained alive when she grew out of infancy, George IV and William, Duke of Clarence, leaving her closer to a throne slowly running out of heirs.
After the death of her father, Victoria was raised by her mother, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg Saalfeld, and John Conroy, the duchess’ accountant rumored to be her lover. Describing her childhood as “rather melancholy”, the young princess was set to follow a certain set of rules called the “Kensington System”, in which rendered her controlled and dependent upon her mother and Conroy. Not allowed to go to court, Victoria barely met any of her family and spent her days studying on a tight schedule, sleeping nightly in the same room as the duchess.
Heir to the Throne
After the death of her eldest uncle, George IV, in 1830, William, Duke of Clarence, became William IV. Without any living legitimate children of his own (his daughters dying in their infancy), the king made Victoria his heir. Soon afterward, however, his heir seemed to have turned into an annoyance. Between 1830 and 1835, the duchess and Conroy devised trips for Victoria throughout England and Wales. Welcomed enthusiastically at every location, William IV viewed his niece as a rival in the affections of the people, even though the princess saw these trips as tiring. Telling her guardians that she was ill and citing William IV’s displeasure in the activity, both Conroy and the duchess thought her to be jealous and faking her illness. However, when both realized that Victoria was truthful, they unsuccessfully badgered her into making Conroy her personal secretary and a part of her household, lasting until the rest of her minority.
Even marital plans plagued her. In 1836, the duchess’ brother, Leopold (the Belgians King) hoped to introduce Victoria to his nephew, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Also a cousin of Victoria, Albert was the son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Ernest I. Although Victoria met Albert and enjoyed his company immeasurably, William IV was keener on an alliance with the Netherlands, namely the Prince of Orange’s son, Prince Alexander.
Knowing that she was not ready for marriage, Victoria kept Albert in mind. Although both parties were aware of the attraction between the two, Victoria also remembered the long line of princes she had to endured and turned to Leopold, an advisor. She thanked him, stating that she was grateful “for the prospect of great happiness you have contributed to give me, in the person of dear Albert … he possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy. He is so sensible, so kind and so good, and so amiable, too. He has besides the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance you can possibly see.”
Victoria Becomes Queen of England
William IV became increasingly worried that after he died, Victoria would be under regency with her mother and Conroy controlling her every move. However, after her eighteenth birthday in 1837, he relaxed, knowing that the young woman was capable to expelling her keepers after becoming queen. That happened a month later, on June 20, 1837, when the king died at the age of seventy-one.
In her diary, Victoria wrote of the morning she became Queen of England. “I was awoke at six o’clock by Mamma, who told me 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 then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at twelve minutes past two this morning, and consequently that I am Queen.”