Her parents were Victoria Mary Louisa, daughter of the duke of the German principality of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and Edward Augustus, duke of Kent and Strathern, the fourth son of King George III of Great Britain. When Victoria was eight months old, her father died. Victoria’s mother raised her in Kensington Palace with the help of German governesses, private English tutors, and Victoria’s uncle, Prince Leopold (who in 1831 became King Leopold I of Belgium). Victoria learned to speak and write French and German as readily as English. She also studied history, geography, and the Bible. She was taught how to play the piano and learned how to paint, a hobby that she enjoyed into her 60s. Because Victoria’s uncle, King William IV, had no legitimate children, Victoria became heir apparent to the British crown upon his accession in 1830. On June 20, 1837, with the death of William IV, she became queen at the age of 18.
III EARLY REIGN
Immediately after becoming queen, Victoria began regular meetings with William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, the British prime minister at the time. The two grew very close, and Melbourne taught Victoria how the British government worked on a day-to-day basis.
Britain in the 19th century was a constitutional monarchy, and the king or queen ruled through ministers who were members of, and required the support of, the British Parliament. This meant that the monarch had some influence in government, but not a great deal of real power. In the course of h
er reign, Queen Victoria played a role in appointing some cabinet ministers (and even a prime minister), as well as particular ambassadors and bishops of the Church of England, and she consulted regularly with her prime ministers by letter and in person. In private, Victoria was never afraid to speak her mind. Much of her time, however, was devoted to ceremonial activities such as the official opening and closing of each year’s session of Parliament.