Queen Victoria – King George VI
Full name: Alexandrina Victoria
Born: May 24th, 1819
Titles: HRH Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent; Her Majesty the Queen; Her Imperial Majesty The Queen-Empress
Reign: June 20th 1837 – January 22nd, 1901
No one imagined that Princess Victoria of Kent would one day become an icon of majesty.
Victoria was the daughter of the Duke of Kent, the fourth son of King George III. The Duke was just one of the king’s seven surviving sons, and the eldest already had a legitimate heir to the throne. The Prince of Wales (later George IV) provided his father with a granddaughter named Charlotte Augusta. She was expected to be queen, but sadly, the princess died while giving birth to a stillborn baby in November 1817. It would change the course of history.
Victoria’s forebears had been rulers of Hanover in Germany. When the crowns of Hanover and Britain merged, the newly anointed King George I was viewed as a foreigner in his adopted kingdom. In fact, the first two kings, Georges I & II, spoke no English and spent more time in Germany than in Britain. George III, thankfully, was born on British soil and spoke English like a pro. Unfortunately, he became infamous for losing his American colonies and becoming mentally incapacitated. His heir, the notorious spendthrift Prince George of Wales, acted as Regent for him when he became seriously ill.
The Prince, eventually crowned King George IV, led an extravagant lifestyle. The Royal Pavilion in Brighton was one of his iconic pet projects, and he had architect John Nash remodel Buckingham Palace for millions of pounds. He was also famous for being a selfish adolescent trapped in a middle-aged body. The British public was unimpressed with him, to say the least.
George’s brother, who became King William IV, fared a bit better. He was more modest in his spending and did not share George’s elaborate taste. William was a conscientious monarch, appreciated by the public for his simple lifestyle of a “Sailor King” who had served in their Royal Navy. Not to mention that a great many reforms were made possible during his reign – The Reform Act abolished major abuses of the electoral system as well as emancipating slaves.
William was very fond of his young niece, Princess Victoria, and appreciated her vitality and intelligence. She, in turn, liked the king and queen and saw them as surrogate parents.
Like most of his brothers, William had no true heirs. His only two legitimate children, both daughters, died as babies. The king’s other ten children with actress Dorothea Jordan were all illegitimate.
Despite his fondness for Victoria, William was constantly at odds with her mother. After the death of Edward, the widowed Duchess of Kent took on a private secretary named John Conroy, who became her close advisor. The king’s court looked upon him with suspicion, thinking that he may try to make a power grab if he was close enough to the heir to the throne. They were not entirely wrong – the ambitious Conroy harbored a desire to see Victoria come to the throne before age 18 so that there would be a regency. The Duchess could act in Victoria’s stead, and Conroy could manipulate things behind the scenes.
Conroy’s scheming and the Duchess’s unquestioning support of him led to a rift between Victoria and her mother. Not only did the princess dislike Conroy’s influence, she resented the Duchess trying to keep her away from the king and queen.
It was no secret that the king aimed to keep the Duchess of Kent and Conroy away from his crown. William prayed that he would live until Victoria came of age, and, though gravely ill, William did survive until just after her 18th birthday. There would be no regency, and the new Queen Victoria took control of her life and her court.
Once saddled with a mother who wouldn’t let her out of her sight, the Queen banned the Duchess from sleeping in the same bedroom and from constantly accompanying her around the palace. She also banished Conroy from her household.
The British public now had to get used to a female monarch, but Hanover was a different story. Under Salic Law, a woman could not rule Hanover, and so the Hanoverian Crown went to George III’s fifth son, Victoria’s uncle Ernest Augustus.
The crowns diverged, and while Hanover’s kingdom eventually went the way of the dinosaurs, Queen Victoria became one of the most famous British queens in history with a monarchy more stable than any other.
Victoria was one of the most influential (and for a time, one of the longest-lived) monarchs of the United Kingdom. She established an era of moral value and Britain flourished as a nation and as an empire; it was the most powerful industrial country in the world. The Queen had territorial gains in India, Egypt, Afghanistan, Zululand, the Sudan, South Africa, Burma, and the Pacific. Britain’s empire doubled, and Victoria was made Empress of India in 1876.
At times the Queen faced controversy. When Whig party member Lord Melbourne became Prime Minister, Victoria was very pleased. She felt that she could trust him to give her sound advice. When he had left office and was replaced with Sir Robert Peel, a Tory, Peel wanted her to get rid of all her ladies-in-waiting. He wanted the Queen to replace them with ladies who held more of a Tory viewpoint, rather than Whig. That was the usual thing to do when a new administration came to power, but Victoria refused and even called for Melbourne’s return. Peel was quite put out by her attitude, and thus came forth the taunts of “Mrs. Melbourne” from other agitated Tories.
In the meantime, “Mrs. Melbourne” became the wife of a certain Saxe-Coburg-Gotha prince: Albert, the man who gave his name to the British monarchy. He was the great love of her life, and a marvelous father to their nine children.
He would tour the common work places of their subjects to see how people were treated. He was the founder of the Great Exhibition – the Exhibition of the Works of Industry. Albert was always keen to take part in the administration of the kingdom. The prince wanted to prove to the aristocratic British Court that he was more than a lowly “foreign prince”.
Eventually Albert was named “Prince Consort” in honor of his dedication to England and the monarchy. Rightfully so; by the time he and Victoria reached middle age, he had become the de facto head of state. It was he who met with government ministers and read state papers. Victoria was involved, but was less so than Albert. She had only just reconciled with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, when the elderly woman died. After her mother’s death, the grief-stricken Victoria left the duties of state mainly to her husband and became more reclusive, an ominous sign of things to come.
After nearly two decades of being a mainstay in the monarchy, Albert had gained the respect of not only his subjects but the government ministers and aristocracy.
Albert, too, was to be taken from the Queen at the relatively young age of forty-two. He had contracted typhoid and died soon after. Queen Victoria was quite shaken by this, and fell into perpetual widowhood. She erected several memorial tributes to her husband all over England. It is safe to say that she was obsessed by Albert, whom she madly loved and respected. For the rest of her life, the widowed queen dressed in black and became reclusive. It was a tragic thing to happen, and it also served to dull the lustre of the monarchy. There were no parades down the Mall, no opening of Parliament. Victoria shied away from the public. She also issued an edict that no male successor ever be crowned King Albert. This is why her son, Albert Edward and her great-grandson, Albert Frederick Arthur George, were crowned as Edward VII and King George VI respectively. No one could ever (or should ever) top Prince Albert in Victoria’s eyes.
The marriages and children of Victoria’s own children would officially make her the grandmother of Europe. Vicky’s eldest son was Kaiser Wilhelm II and daughter Sophie became a Greek royal consort; Beatrice married Prince Henry of Battenberg, and they produced the future Queen Ena of Spain; Alice wed Grand Duke Louis of Hesse-Darmstadt, and their daughter Alexandra married Russian Tsar Nicholas II; Helena married Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, whose son became the titular Duke of Schleswig-Holstein and the Head of the House of Oldenburg. Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, produced the flamboyant Queen Marie of Romania.
By the age of 81, Victoria was revered by her people. She had been Queen for most of her subjects’ lives. The public came in droves to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, but it was obvious that the Queen was weak. On January 22, 1901, a little over one year into the new century, Queen Victoria passed away. Taking over the reins for his mother was Bertie, now King Edward VII.
Full name: Albert Edward
Nicknames: Bertie; The Uncle of Europe
Other Titles:HRH The Prince of Wales
Edward, as Prince of Wales, was irresponsible and an irritation to his mother and father. He loved hunting, traveling all over the world, horse racing (a popular Windsor sport of today) and most of all, he loved women. He was quite the ladies’ man, and he so angered Victoria with his promiscuous ways that she kept all affairs of state private from her son.
Edward was 21 years old when he married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. She was an elegant, shy, and beautiful girl, a daughter of King Christian the IX of Denmark. As lovely and as tolerant as she was, it did not keep Edward faithful. He had many mistresses, one of the most famous being Alice Keppel.
Alix, as Queen Alexandra was nicknamed, learned to live with her husband’s many love affairs, but the queen constantly fretted about his personal affairs affecting his public image. Edward maintained that he was merely waiting to succeed his thriving mother, and along with Alix, lived a glamorous lifestyle for the era.
“I don’t mind praying to the Eternal Father, but I must be the only man who is afflicted with an eternal mother!”
Though he was considered by both of his parents as embarrassingly promiscuous, Edward proved to be a great king once crowned at age 59. He could speak fluent German and French. He was also a force in the creation of the Entente Cordiale and was soon known as the “Uncle of Europe”.
The King took the monarchy to new heights of public esteem, re-instituting public royal events such as the opening of Parliament. His reign sadly lasted for only nine years, dying at the relatively young age of 68 on May 6, 1910.
His heir was George V, who found himself in the center of a brewing storm that would become World War I. It wouldn’t just be any war: it would be war against his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.
Full name: George Frederick Ernest Albert
Other Titles: HRH The Duke of York; HRH The Prince of Wales
Prince George became heir to the British throne after the death of his eldest brother,
Prince Albert Victor (“Eddy”). George had never been prepared for the duties of kingship because he was a second-born son, but he had to step into the role as heir behind his
father Edward, the Prince of Wales.
The late Prince Eddy had been engaged to a German princess named Mary of Teck. Upon his death, Queen Victoria steered the girl towards George’s affections. It wasn’t because Victoria disliked her grandson or wished to forget him; rather, the queen liked Mary so much that she insisted that she remain in the royal family through marriage to George instead. The queen approved of Mary and felt that she was solid consort material who would be a great support to her husband.
Mary would come to love George very deeply,and George loved her. They had a very good marriage together, producing Edward, Albert, Henry, John, George, and Mary.
As Duke of York and then as Prince of Wales, George maintained a quiet life with Mary. They lived in a small home on the Sandringham Estate called York Cottage. It was very tiny and cramped for all of their staff and family, but George loved it. It reminded him of his childhood. He shot grouse on the moors and collected stamps, and as king his quiet dignity drew the admiration of his subjects. Then World War I turned his people against him.
It was the Germanic Saxe-Coburg-Gotha surname that was the problem. It had been attached to the monarchy since Prince Albert married Queen Victoria. She happily took his name out of love and practicality: the kingdoms of Britain and Hanover had been jointly ruled through Victoria’s immediate predecessors, who were all men. The Salic Law that governed the German throne made it a male-only institution. When she became queen, she was not recognized as monarch and the link between thrones was broken.
During the first World War, the Royal Family became worried about their German heritage. Britons everywhere came to despise anything that was even remotely Germanic. Wary of revolution taking place, King George V was persuaded that a name change would be further proof of loyalty to his country. He was solidly committed to Britain and her people; like his grandmother Queen Victoria, he was German in heritage but had a deep love for England that nothing could supplant.
Despite his loyalty, the fact that George was related to Kaiser Wilhelm was damaging. Thus, King George made a highly publicized move in making the royal family’s name distinctly English. The King was absolutely furious when he heard someone say that he had an “alien and uninspiring court.”
“I may be uninspiring,” George thundered, “but I’m damned if I’m an alien!”
The royal family became known as the House of Windsor, after the castle built by William the Conqueror in the town of Windsor. Even titles were changed to reflect “Englishness” – many relatives who were German nobility changed to English marquesses, dukes, and lords. Surnames were Anglicized, like ‘Battenberg’ to ‘Mountbatten’.
To prove that the newly minted Windsors were English from “top to toe”, as
Queen Mary described them, the king decided not to give asylum to his cousin,
Russian Tsar Nicholas II. The tide of revolution was sweeping through Russia and the Imperial family was seen as out of touch with the nation’s misery. Part of the Tsar’s woes, especially within his court, were due to his marriage to a German. Tsarina Alexandra, formerly a princess of Hesse-Darmstadt, was shy, unfriendly, and seen as a demon on the shoulder of her husband. To make matters worse, Alexandra was blatantly dependent upon the mysterious Rasputin for his alleged healing powers over her hemophiliac son. The Russian people began to turn against the Imperial family and the Tsar’s power began to dwindle quickly.
Back in England, George reasoned that it would look best to his subjects if the Imperial family were not given asylum in England. Sadly, the Tsar and Tsarina, along with their children, were brutally murdered by Bolshevik revolutionaries.
George could not imagine that the Tsar would be killed. When word came that the Romanovs had been executed, George was deeply grieved. For the rest of his life, he was haunted by his decision to abandon Nicholas. When the time came to spring into action, George was prepared. When Greece was invaded by Turkey in the 1920s, George immediately sent warships to evacuate Prince Andrew of Greece and his family. Andrew’s wife, Alice of Battenberg, was George’s cousin. The king was determined that another member of his family should not be lost to revolutionaries.
As the war came to a close and time marched on, George’s health declined. He tried to carry on with his duties despite illness and the need for various operations. His family worried; not just about him, but about his heir, Edward. The Prince of Wales was a cause for concern. He was bored with his duties, and hated royal life. King George V predicted that, “After I am gone, the boy will ruin himself within 12 months”. He had secretly hoped that Edward would somehow remove himself from the picture so that the king’s second son, Albert, would ascend the throne and keep some dignity for the House of Windsor. The old king knew his eldest son was not fit to reign, though he knew the succession must pass to him. In the end,
Edward would in fact remove himself from the position of king to become the skeleton in the family cupboard – The Duke of Windsor.
Full name: Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David
Titles: HRH The Prince of Wales; HM King Edward VIII; HRH The Duke of Windsor
Reign: January – December 1936
Edward, known as David, was the eldest son of George V. Destined to be King Edward VIII, he had followed in much the same footsteps as his grandfather Edward VII; a jetset darling of the public, making popular official tours. When he became King, however, he did not go on to become an exceptional ruler as his grandfather had. In fact, his reign lasted for about a year, and he renounced the throne to marry a twice divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson. He began to court her and consider her seriously as a bride while Prince of Wales, and was determined to make her queen when he ascended.
After being ill for some time, King George V’s condition worsened. In order for news of his death to be announced in the more prestigious morning papers, he was given a lethal dose of cocaine and morphine by his doctor. The king died January 1936, and David was officially proclaimed King Edward VIII of England. But the wheels were turning on how to escape. He started to bring his brother Albert with him to meetings with the Prime Minister and show him official papers every now and then. Everyone realized what was in store; he was preparing Albert for kingship so he could go and marry Wallis. Edward knew that the government was already unhappy with his marrying a divorced American, but he realized that the government was also not going to stand for the fact that both he and Wallis were Nazi sympathizers.
Many have considered his giving up the throne for love as the greatest romantic gesture of all time, but it was not just the love affair. To have a pro-Nazi king was unimaginable and was denounced by the government. He was told he would have to give up the throne, but there was not a lot of argument; David did not want to be King Edward VIII in any case, and decided to pack up and leave Britain with his American love.
He ascended on January 20, 1936 and abdicated December 11 of the same year, leaving the heavy burden of sovereignty on his brother, Prince Albert, and his wife, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. When Albert became King George VI, he gave Edward the title ‘Duke of Windsor’. It was as if George V’s prayers had been answered – that Albert succeed him, along with his dutiful and loyal daughter, Princess Elizabeth.
As his father predicted, Edward had “ruined himself” within the year.
Albert became known as King George VI to honor the continuation of his father’s reign. His wife became Queen Elizabeth, and their eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was now directly in line for the throne as the future queen.
The new sovereign, with his wife at his side, bravely helped Britain stagger through the terrible Second World War and established a ‘family values’ type of monarchy.
Once king, George VI created the former King Edward the Duke of Windsor. When David married Wallis, she became the duchess, but was denied the style of “Her Royal Highness”. The king whipped up a few Letters Patent, declaring that while Edward was to “enjoy the style, title, and attributes of His Royal Highness,” the duchess was barred from these privileges and only referred to as “Your Grace”.
David was appointed as the Governor of the Bahamas after receiving his dukedom. He was, in effect, banished. The brothers, who were once so close, were no longer speaking. Angry over his brother’s snub to Wallis, David called him “the stammering idiot”.
George VI had been afraid of his father, as were all of his brothers, and he had developed a crippling stammer out of the fear. Elizabeth considered their Royal Family ‘firm’ to be priceless, so she helped her husband obtain the services of a speech therapist to help coach him. Along with speech therapist Lionel Logue, the queen helped her husband seem less shy and more kingly.
The king and queen toured the United States, which was quite successful for them as monarchs in the eyes of the public and for Britain herself, who was lobbying for support from the U.S. during WWII. When asked if it might be better for daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret to be abroad during the war in order to avoid danger, the Queen replied,”The children won’t leave without me, I won’t leave without the king and the king will never leave”.
When George became weak and ill from the beginning stages of cancer, the queen tried to keep him as cheerful as she possibly could. Soon, arteriosclerosis and lung cancer wore the king down to the point that he could no longer travel extensively. Princess Elizabeth, newly married, had to make some of his official engagements and tours with Prince Philip.
On one particular trip to Africa, the king could not go, so he sent his daughter and son-in-law. He went to Heathrow airport to see them off, standing hatless in the cold biting wind. He gave the royal wave to his beloved Lilibet, and watched as the plane became nothing more than a speck in the sky. He and the queen, along with their younger daughter, Princess Margaret, headed home to Buckingham Palace. It would be the last time Princess Elizabeth saw her father again.