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The good of Queen Victoria

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Queen Victoria early in her reign. Her unmistakable ‘pepper pot’ silhouette came later.

I took some time to begin this post because the Irish Famine, 1845-1852, occurred on Victoria's watch. There is real good to Victoria. I find the last story quoted in this post very touching, but I have to address what occurred in Ireland first.

Famine

The people of Ireland, then a part of her kingdom, were reduced by one million as a result of starvation and disease and by one million as a result of mass emigration.

Between 1801 and 1845 there had been 114 commissions and 61 special committees inquiring into the state of Ireland and "without exception their findings prophesied disaster". The middlemen who extracted rents from a ravaged population for absentee landowners were "land sharks" and "bloodsuckers". The tenants had no property rights or even secure tenure. They had to work for their landlords in exchange for the patch of land on which they grew food for their own families. Only the potato could be grown in sufficient quantity to feed their families on these minute plots. As late as the 17th century their main diet had revolved around butter, milk and grain products, but that had changed when the potato was introduced and landlords pushed the Irish out of their pastures so they could raise cattle for expanding consumer markets.

When the blight devastated potato crops in Ireland, the Irish proposed closing the ports to keep the abundant crops raised in Ireland for the people of Ireland. This had been done by the British government in the 1780s. However, it was not done in the 1840s. Ireland remained a net exporter of food to England while the Irish starved. The government's inadequate response to the famine and the role of the landlords were denounced in the strongest terms in the London News and the Times.

Although charities raised considerable sums, and the Queen contributed to them, they would never have been necessary if the Irish had been allowed to eat the food they had grown and were so inadequately compensated for. Nor would the Famine have occurred if the Irish had property rights, which was one of the great achievements of the English.

Victoria was 26 when the famine began. She had been crowned queen when she was 19. She was married at 20.

Marriage

She had not been anxious to marry, but she fell in love and married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Within two years Albert was dictating Victoria's official letters and had persuaded her that she preferred rural quiet to urban gaieties. By then Victoria was pregnant with the second of their nine children - Victoria Adelaide (21 November 1840), Albert Edward, prince of Wales (9 November 1841), Alice (1843), Alfred (1844), Helena (1846), Louise (1848), Arthur (1850), Leopold (1853), and Beatrice (1857).

According to the Oxford DNB, Victoria "was used to having her own way, and her fiery temper fitted uneasily with Albert's chilly rationality. . . If she challenged him, he responded by threatening to withdraw his affection. . ." Victoria responded by doing everything she could to please him. She idolized him and became an "almost reclusive wife". During her pregnancies the queen was treated as an invalid.

Their marriage included working on official business every morning, and dining, walking, riding, dancing and building country homes. Albert designed Balmoral Castle, and since he had, the Queen would hear nothing against its architecture or interior decoration. Others were less impressed with the tartan curtains and tartan chair coverings, tartan wallpaper and tartan carpets, "the thistle motifs which were in such abundance that Lord Clarendon thought they would 'rejoice the heart of a donkey if they happened to look like his favourite repast, which they don't'" (Victoria, A Personal History, Christopher Hibbert).

Albert died in 1861 when she was 42. Victoria was devastated. She was to reign for another 40 years.

Having read this far, you might wonder how Victoria ever gave her name to a great age of invention, enterprise and reform. The answer is not only the length of her reign or the aptness of her name to describe the British Empire. A few of her many contributions include:

An image of domestic felicity

It's been said that some of our deepest satisfactions come from our families and that the health of our countries depend on them. The Queen gave ordinary people the feeling that family mattered tremendously. "The apocryphal story of the lady in the audience at a performance of Antony and Cleopatra turning to her companion and saying ‘How unlike, how very unlike the home life of our own dear Queen’ represents something fundamental about the impact of royal domesticity".

In 1853, during the birth of Prince Leopold, the Queen helped to establish a medical breakthrough for women.

She was given chloroform for the first time — ‘soothing, quieting & delightful beyond measure’, she said — and thereby put an end to the arguments about its general use.

In 1855 the Queen suggested and helped to design the medal known as the Victoria Cross.

She provided its famous motto, ‘For Valour’, and personally bestowed the medal on soldiers.

The Queen promised that the Indian Civil Service would be open to any applicant regardless of colour.

In 1863, Satyendernath Tagore became the first of a number of Indians to pass the exam.

In 1865 Queen Victoria urged Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone to expand suffrage.

Gladstone’s bill to give more men the vote in national elections was defeated in Parliament. The following year Disraeli proposed a stronger bill, and Parliament passed it. The measure gave the vote in national elections to all male householders who lived in towns and paid taxes and to renters who paid at least £10 yearly rent.

Viictoria was constant in supporting her country.

When Britain went to war she wrote encouragement to her generals and to the widows of fallen officers. She wept over the lists of casualties, but adamantly refused to despair over trouble in the field. When a minister came to her with a gloomy report, he was cut short - "Please understand that there is no depression in this house; we are not interested in the possibilities of defeat; they do not exist."

If you are right that a war absolutely has to be fought, it's the right attitude to take.

Victoria supported achievement, honesty and fortitude. She rewarded merit. Even at the end of her life, when she could not walk -

. . .the Queen took great interest in the distribution of medals. 'There was a pathetic moment yesterday', Reginald Brett wrote in his diary after one investiture, 'when the Queen was wheeled up to Findlater and the other wounded V.C., both sitting in chairs. They were ordered to rise but the Queen said, "Most certainly not,' and raised herself without help (a very unusual thing) and stood over them while she decorated them with the Cross'. (Queen Victoria, Christopher Hibbert)


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