George I (1714-1727)Edit
George I was born in Hanover, Germany on 28 May 1660. He was the eldest son of Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, a German prince, and of his wife, Sophia. He was Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg from 23 January 1698, and King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 1 August 1714, until his death on 11 June 1727. He was also a Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. George I was the first Hanoverian monarch of Great Britain and Ireland, but was not a fluent speaker of English. He spoke his native German, and was ridiculed for this by his British subjects. During his reign, the powers of the monarchy reduced as the modern Cabinet system of government developed. During the later years of George's reign, the real power was held by Sir Robert Walpole, who is now generally thought of as being Britain's first prime minister.
Marriage and childrenEdit
In 1682, George married his first cousin, Princess Sophia of Celle. They had two children, George and Sophia Dorothea. The couple soon split up, with George preferring to be with his mistress, with whom he had at least three illegitimate children. George's marriage to Sophia was later dissolved.
George I was active in directing British foreign policy during his early years. In 1717, he contributed to the creation of the Triple Alliance, an anti-Spanish league composed of Great Britain, France and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. In 1718, the Holy Roman Empire was added to the body, which became known as the Quadruple Alliance. The subsequent War of the Quadruple Alliance involved the same issue as the War of the Spanish Succession. The Treaty of Utrecht had allowed Philip, the grandson of Louis XIV, to succeed to the Spanish Throne on the condition that he gave up his rights to succeed to the French Throne. However, when Louis XIV died, Philip tried to take the Crown of France. But Philip's armies fared poorly, and the Spanish and French Thrones remained separate.
In 1719 came the South Sea Bubble. It happened when the South Sea Company proposed to convert £30,981,712 of the British national debt. At the time, government bonds were extremely difficult to trade due to unrealistic restrictions; for example, it was not permitted to redeem certain bonds unless the original debtor was still alive. Each bond represented a very large sum, and could not be divided and sold. Thus, the South Sea Company sought to convert high-interest, untradeable bonds to low-interest, easily-tradeable ones. The Company bribed ministers to help them. Company prices rose rapidly. Shares which cost £128 in January 1720 were valued at £550 when Parliament accepted the scheme in May. The price reached £1000 by August. Uncontrolled selling, however, caused the stock to plummet to £150 by the end of September. Many people were completely ruined.
The economic crisis, known as the South Sea Bubble, made George I and his ministers extremely unpopular. One of the responsible ministers died, and the other resigned in 1721, which allowed the rise of Sir Robert Walpole. Walpole became George's primary minister, although the title "Prime Minister" was not formally applied to him. Officially, he was only the First Lord of the Treasury. His management of the South Sea crisis helped avoid a dispute between the King and the House of Commons over responsibility for the affair. Walpole strengthened his influence in the House of Commons through bribery.
Walpole became extremely powerful. He, not the King, truly controlled the government. Walpole was allowed to choose and remove all ministers, and George I merely rubber-stamped his decisions. George I did not even attend meetings of the Cabinet. George I only exercised substantial influence with respect to British foreign policy.
Death and legacyEdit
George, although increasingly reliant on Sir Robert Walpole, could still have removed his ministers at will. Walpole was actually afraid of being removed towards the end of George I's reign, but such fears were put to an end when George I died in Osnabrück from a stroke on 11 June 1727. George was on his sixth trip to his native Hanover, where he was buried in Chapel Schloss Herrenhausen. George I's son succeeded him, becoming George II.
George I was extremely unpopular in Great Britain, especially due to his supposed inability to speak English; recent research, however, reveals that such an inability may not have existed later in his reign. His treatment of his wife, Sophia, was not well received. The British perceived him as too German, and despised his succession of German mistresses.
George II (1727-1760)Edit
George II was born at Schloss Herrenhausen, Hanover on 10 November 1683. He was King of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire from 11 June 1727 until his death on 25 October 1760. He was the second British monarch of the House of Hanover, and the last British monarch to personally lead his troops into battle (at Dettingen in 1743). He was also the last British monarch to have been born outside of Great Britain. George II was famous for his numerous conflicts with his father and afterwards with his son. His relationship with his wife was much better, despite his numerous mistresses. George II exercised little control over policy during his early reign, the government instead being controlled by Great Britain's first (unofficial) "Prime Minister", Sir Robert Walpole.
It was widely believed that George would dismiss Sir Robert Walpole, but in the event retained him. Against Walpole's advice, George II once again entered into war with Spain in 1739 (the War of Jenkins' Ear). The entire continent of Europe was plunged into war upon the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1740. At dispute was the right of his daughter, Maria Theresa, to succeed to his Austrian territories. George II's war with Spain quickly became part of the War of the Austrian Succession.
Accused of rigging an election, Walpole retired in 1742 after over twenty years in office. He was replaced by Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington. Lord Wilmington, however, was a figurehead as actual power was held by Lord Carteret. When Lord Wilmington died in 1743, Henry Pelham took his place.
George II's French opponents in the War encouraged rebellion by the Jacobites. The Jacobites were the supporters of the Roman Catholic James II, who had been deposed in 1689 and replaced not by his Catholic son, but by his Protestant daughter. James II's son, James Francis Edward Stuart (the "Old Pretender") had attempted two prior rebellions. The Old Pretender's son, Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie"), however, led a much stronger rebellion on his father's behalf in 1745, which almost dethroned George II.
Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland in July 1745. Many Scotsmen were loyal to his cause, and he defeated British forces in September. He then tried to enter England, where even Roman Catholics seemed hostile to the invasion. The French king, Louis XV, had promised to send twelve thousand soldiers to aid the rebellion, but did not deliver. A British army under the Duke of Cumberland, meanwhile, drove the Jacobites back into Scotland. On 16 April 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie faced the Duke of Cumberland in the Battle of Culloden, the last battle ever fought in Great Britain. The Jacobites were beaten heavily. Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped to France, but many of his Scottish supporters were caught and executed. The War of the Austrian Succession finally ended in 1748, with Maria Theresa being recognised as Archduchess of Austria.
For the remainder of his life, George did not take any active interest in politics or war. During his last years, the Industrial Revolution began, and British dominance in India increased with the victories of Robert Clive at the Battle of Arcot and the Battle of Plassey.
George II died on 25 October 1760 whilst using his toilet. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. George had married Caroline of Ansbach in 1705. Their first son was Frederick, Prince of Wales who was born on 1 February 1707, but Frederick died before his father in 1751, and so it was Frederick's son George who became the next king. They also had two other sons and five daughters. He was succeeded by his grandson, who became George III.
George III (1760-1820)Edit
George III was born at Norfolk House in London on 4 June 1738. He was the son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and the grandson of George II. George's mother was Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. He was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 25 October 1760 to 1 January 1801, and then King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death on 29 January 1820. He was also the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and Elector (and later King) of Hanover. George was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, but the first to be born in Britain and use English as his first language.
During George III's reign, Britain lost many of its colonies in North America, which became the United States. Later in his reign George III suffered from mental illness. In 1811, this led to George's eldest son, who was also named George, taking over ruling the country as Prince Regent. Upon the king's death, he succeeded his father as George IV. George III has been nicknamed Farmer George, for "his plain, homely, thrifty manners and tastes" and because of his passionate interest in agriculture.
Marriage and childrenEdit
After George became king, there a search throughout Europe for a suitable wife for him. On 8 September 1761 the King married Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. A fortnight later, both were crowned at Westminster Abbey. The couple enjoyed a happy marriage and George never took a mistress. They had nine sons and six daughters. Two of their sons became Kings of the United Kingdom; another became King of Hanover; a daughter became Queen of Württemberg.
Conflict in North AmericaEdit
In 1763, the British government under George III issued a Royal Proclamation to limit the westward expansion of the American colonies. The Proclamation's goal was to force colonists to negotiate with the Native Americans for the lawful purchase of land. The idea was to reduce frontier warfare over land conflicts. The Proclamation was very unpopular with the American. The American colonists paid little tax, which made it difficult for the Crown to pay for military activity, such as defending the American colonies from being attacked by the natives. So, after George Grenville became Prime Minister, he introduced the Stamp Act 1765, which levied a stamp duty on all printed paper in the British colonies in North America. Grenville attempted to reduce George's power, so George replaced him with the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham in 1765.
Lord Rockingham got rid of Grenville's unpopular Stamp Act, but was replaced in 1766 by William Pitt, whom George made Earl of Chatham. Lord Chatham proved to be pro-American. George III, however, decided that the chief duty of the colonists was to submit to him and to Great Britain. Lord Chatham fell ill 1767, which led to his being replaced, and by 1770 the Tory Lord North was in government.
Lord North was chiefly concerned with the American Revolution. The Americans grew increasingly hostile to British attempts to levy taxes in the colonies. In the Boston Tea Party in 1773, a mob threw 342 crates of tea into Boston Harbour as a political protest, costing over $1 million. In response, Lord North introduced laws which shut down the Port of Boston and elections in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay were suspended.
War broke out in America in 1775. On 4 July 1776, the colonies declared their independence from the Crown. On the same day, George III wrote "Nothing Important Happened Today" in his diary. In 1783, defeated, the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Paris recognizing the United States.
George's first major episode of madnessEdit
When North finally resigned, William Pitt took his place. During Pitt's ministry, George III was extremely popular. The public supported the exploratory voyages to the Pacific Ocean that he sanctioned. George also aided the Royal Academy with large grants from his private funds. The British people admired their King for remaining faithful to his wife, unlike the two previous Hanoverian monarchs. Great advances were made in fields such as in science and industry.
George III's health, however, was in a poor condition. He suffered from mental illness. The King had previously suffered a brief episode of the disease in 1765, but a longer episode began in 1788. In February 1789, the Regency Bill, authorising the Prince of Wales to act as Prince Regent, was introduced and passed in the House of Commons. But before the House of Lords could pass the bill, George III recovered from his illness and resumed full control of government.
After George recovered from his illness, his popularity greatly increased. The French Revolution, which saw the overthrow of the French monarchy, worried many British landowners. France declared war on Great Britain in 1793 and George soon represented the British resistance. George allowed Pitt to increase taxes and raise armies in the war attempt. Great Britain was well-prepared, but France was stronger. The First Coalition, which included Austria, Prussia and Spain, was defeated in 1798. The Second Coalition, which included Austria, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, was defeated in 1800. Only Great Britain was left fighting Napoleon Bonaparte, the military dictator of France.
Soon after 1800, a brief lull in fighting allowed Pitt to concentrate on Ireland, where there had been an uprising in 1798. Parliament passed the Act of Union 1800, which, on 1 January 1801, united Great Britain and Ireland into a single nation, known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1802, Pitt's successor, Henry Addington made peace with France in 1802.
In 1803, the two nations once again declared war on each other, and soon after, Pitt returned. Pitt tried to form a coalition with Austria, Russia and Sweden. The Third Coalition met the same fate as the First and Second Coalitions, and collapsed in 1805. It looked as though Napoleon would invade, until Vice-Admiral Nelson won his famous naval victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Pitt died in 1806.
Later years and deathEdit
In 1810, George III became dangerously ill. By 1811, George III had become permanently insane and was locked away at Windsor Castle until his death. Sometimes speaking for many hours without pause, he claimed to talk to angels and once greeted an oak tree as King Frederick William III of Prussia. Parliament then passed the Regency Act 1811. The Prince of Wales acted as Regent for the remainder of George III's life.
Lord Liverpool became the leader of the government in 1812. He oversaw British victory in the Napoleonic Wars. Meanwhile, George's health deteriorated. Over the Christmas of 1819, he suffered a further bout of madness and spoke nonsense for 58 hours, then sank into a coma. On 29 January 1820, he died, blind, deaf and insane, at Windsor Castle. George III had lived for over 81 years and reigned for more than 59 years. George III was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor. George was followed by his eldest son, the Prince Regent, who became George IV.
George IV (1820-1830)Edit
George IV was born in St James's Palace on 12 August 1762. George was the eldest son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. He was king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Hanover from 29 January 1820 until his death on 26 June 1830. He had earlier served as Prince Regent when his father, George III, went insane. The Regency, which is the name given to this period, started in 1811 and ended with George III's death in 1820. It was marked by victory in the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. George was a stubborn monarch, often interfered in politics. For most of George's regency and reign, Lord Liverpool controlled the government as Prime Minister. George is often remembered largely for the extravagant lifestyle that he maintained as prince and monarch. He had a poor relationship with both his father and his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, whom he did not allow to attend his coronation. He was a patron of new forms of leisured style and taste, and was responsible for the building of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.
As a child George was a talented student, quickly learning to speak not only English but also French, German and Italian. The Prince of Wales turned 21 in 1783, when he obtained a grant of £60,000 from Parliament and an annual income of £50,000 from his father. He then established his residence in Carlton House, where he lived an extravagant life.
Marriage and childrenEdit
Soon after he reached the age of 21, the Prince of Wales fell in love with a Roman Catholic, Maria Anne Fitzherbert. A marriage between the two was banned by the Act of Settlement 1701, which says that those who marry Roman Catholics cannot become king. In addition, the Royal Marriages Act 1772 meant that the Prince of Wales could not marry without the consent of the King, which would have never been granted in this case. However, the couple did go through a marriage ceremony on 15 December 1785. Legally the union was void, as the King's assent was never requested. However, Mrs Fitzherbert believed that she was the Prince of Wales's canonical and true wife, holding the law of the Church to be superior to the law of the State. For political reasons, the union remained secret and Mrs Fitzherbert promised not to publish any evidence relating to it.
By 1787, George was in debt because of his exorbitant lifestyle. His father refused to help him, amd Parliament had to bail him out. His debts continued to mount, and his father refused to help him unless he married his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. In 1795, George and Caroline married. The marriage was a disaster though, with both hating each other. The two were formally separated after the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte, in 1796. George remained attached to Mrs Fitzherbert for the rest of his life, although there were some times when they were apart. George also fathered numerous illegitimate children.
Meanwhile, the problem of George's debts, which were £660,000 in 1796, was solved (at least temporarily) by Parliament. Being unwilling to make an outright grant to relieve these debts, it provided him an additional sum of £65,000 per annum. In 1803, a further £60,000 was added, and the George's debts were finally paid.
As we saw earlier, in late 1810, George III became ill again, and in 1811 the Regency Act was passed, which made Prince George regent. At this time Catholic Emancipation was at the top of the political agenda. Catholic Emancipation was the project to relieve Roman Catholics of various political disabilities. The Tories, who were in government, opposed it, whilst the Whigs supported it. George was expected to support the Whigs, but instead left the Tories in office. In 1812, when the Tory prime minister, Spencer Perceval, was assassinated, he appointed another Tory, Lord Liverpool to carry on the government. The Tories also sought to continue the war against the powerful and aggressive Emperor of France, Napoleon I. With the aid of Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria and other countries, the United Kingdom defeated Napoleon in 1814. Napoleon made a return in 1815, but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington.
During this period George as Regent took an active interest in matters of style and taste, and his associates such as the dandy Beau Brummell and the architect John Nash created the Regency style. In London Nash designed the Regency terraces of Regent's Park and Regent Street. George took up the new idea of the seaside spa and had the Brighton Pavilion developed as a fantastical seaside palace, adapted by Nash in the "Indian Gothic" style inspired loosely by the Taj Mahal, with extravagant "Indian" and "Chinese" interiors.
When George III died in 1820, the Prince Regent became King George IV, with no real change in his powers. By this time he was obese and also showed some signs of the disease that had affected his father. George's wife, from whom he had separated many years before, tried to return for her husband's coronation. However, George IV refused to recognise Caroline as Queen. The King wanted a divorce, but his advisors said that the king's own adultery might also be made public if he did. George tried to get an Act of Parliament to annul the marriage, but the bill proved extremely unpopular, and was withdrawn from Parliament. George IV decided, nonetheless, to exclude his wife from his coronation at Westminster Abbey on 19 July 1821. Caroline died soon afterwards, on 7 August of the same year.
George's coronation was a magnificent and expensive affair, costing about £943,000. The coronation was a popular event. Many across the nation bought souvenirs that bore copies of the coronation portrait. In 1822 the King visited Edinburgh for "one and twenty daft days". His visit to Scotland was the first by a reigning monarch since Charles II went there in 1650.
George IV spent most of his reign at Windsor Castle, but he continued to interfere in politics, particularly to try to prevent Catholic Emancipation. It was only in 1829 that the then prime minister, the Duke of Wellington, successfully passed a Catholic Relief Bill.
Death and legacyEdit
George IV died in 1830 and was buried in Windsor Castle. As his daughter and his eldest brother had died before him, he was succeeded his brother, William, Duke of Clarence.
William IV (1830-1837)Edit
William IV was born at Buckingham Palace, which was then known as Buckingham House, on 21 August 1765. He was the son of George III and Queen Charlotte. He had two elder brothers, George and Frederick, and was not expected to inherit the Crown, but he did. He was King of the United Kingdom and of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death on 20 June 1837. His reign was one of several reforms. The poor law was updated, municipal government was made democratic, child labour was restricted and slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. Also the Reform Act of 1832 refashioned the British electoral system. William did not meddle in politics as much as either his brother or his father, though he did prove to be the last monarch to appoint a Prime Minister contrary to the will of Parliament, which he did in 1834.
At the age of thirteen, he joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman, and was present at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. He served in New York during the American War of Independence. He became a lieutenant in 1785 and a captain the following year. In 1786, he was stationed in the West Indies. William sought to be made a Duke like his elder brothers, and to receive a similar Parliamentary grant, but his father was reluctant. To put pressure on him, William threatened to run for the House of Commons for the constituency of Totnes in Devon. Defeated, George III made him Duke of Clarence and St Andrews in 1789.
The newly created Duke ended his active service in the Royal Navy in 1790. He was promoted to Rear-Admiral upon retirement. When the United Kingdom declared war on France in 1793, he was eager to serve his country, but was not put in command of a ship, but instead he spent time in the House of Lords. There he spoke in favour of slavery (which, although it had virtually died out in the United Kingdom, still existed in the British colonies), and he used his experience in the West Indies to defend his positions.
After he left the Royal Navy, William had a long affair with an Irish actress, Dorothea Bland, better known by her stage name, Mrs Jordan. From 1791, the couple had at least ten illegitimate children. The affair would last for twenty years before ending in 1811 for political reasons. The same year, William was appointed Admiral of the Fleet. On 13 July 1818, he married Princess Adelaide, daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, a woman half his age. William only had two short-lived children by his wife.
In 1827, George IV appointed William to the office of Lord High Admiral, which had been in commission (that is, exercised by a board rather than by a single individual) since 1709. While in office, Clarence attempted to take independent control of naval affairs, although the law required him to act, under most circumstances, on the advice of at least two members of his Council. The King requested his resignation in 1828.
The Reform CrisisEdit
When George IV died in 1830, William became king. He was aged 64, which makes him the oldest man ever to assume the throne. In contrast to George IV, who tended to spend most of his time in Windsor Castle, William was known, especially early in his reign, to walk, unaccompanied, through London or Brighton. Until the Reform Crisis, he was very popular among the people.
At the beginning of William IV's reign, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister. During the general election of 1830, however, Wellington's Tories lost to the Whig Party under Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. When he became Prime Minister, Lord Grey immediately announced that he would try to reform an electoral system that had seen few changes since the 15th century. The existing system had many problems great. For example, large towns such as Manchester and Birmingham elected no members, whilst minuscule boroughs such as Old Sarum (with seven voters) elected two members of Parliament each. Often, the small boroughs, also known as rotten boroughs and pocket boroughs, were "owned" by great aristocrats, whose "nominees" would invariably be elected by the constituents.
William IV played an important role in the Reform Crisis. When the House of Commons defeated the First Reform Bill in 1831, Lord Grey wanted to call a new general election. At first, William hesitated to exercise the power to dissolve Parliament, but after the Opposition annoyed him, he personally went to the House of Lords and dissolved Parliament. This forced a new election for the House of Commons, which Grey won, but the House of Lords continued to oppose the Reform Bill. This led to several "Reform Riots". The nation saw a political crisis greater than any since the Glorious Revolution in 1688.
Grey re-introduced the Bill. It passed easily in the House of Commons, but was once again faced with difficulties in the House of Lords. Bowing to popular pressure, the Lords did not reject the bill outright, but instead changed its basic character through amendments. Grey did not like this so he suggested that the King "swamp" the House of Lords by creating a sufficient number of new peers to ensure the passage of the Reform Bill. When William IV refused, as he did not want a permanently expanded Peerage, Grey and his fellow ministers resigned. The King tried to get the Duke of Wellington as prime minister again, but first heard of an official resolution of the House of Commons requesting Grey's return. After this the King agreed to reappoint Grey, and also agreed to create new peers if the House of Lords continued to pose difficulties. With this threat in place, the House of Lords agreed to pass the Reform Act 1832. Parliament went on to make other reforms, including the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire and the restriction of child labour.
William IV died in 1837 in Windsor Castle, where he was buried. As he had no living legitimate issue, the Crown of the United Kingdom passed to his eighteen-year-old niece, HRH Princess Victoria of Kent. Under what is known as Salic Law, a woman could not rule Hanover, so the Hanoverian Crown went to William IV's brother, HRH Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.
Victoria was born on 24 May 1819. She was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 and Empress of India from 1 January 1877 until her death on 22 January 1901. Her reign lasted more than sixty-three years, longer than that of any other British monarch. The reign of Victoria was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire. The Victorian Era was at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a period of significant social, economic and technological change in the United Kingdom. In that period the United Kingdom became the largest superpower the world had ever seen. Victoria was the last monarch of the House of Hanover, as her son and successor belonged to House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Victoria's father, the Duke of Kent and Strathearn, was the fourth son of King George III. The Duke of Kent and Strathearn, like many other sons of George III, did not marry during his youth. At the age of fifty the Duke of Kent and Strathearn married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Victoria, the only child of the couple, was born in Kensington Palace. Although christened Alexandrina Victoria, was called Drina within the family.
Victoria's father died of pneumonia eight months after she was born. Her grandfather, George III, died blind and insane less than a week later. Victoria's uncle inherited the Crown, becoming King George IV. Though she occupied a high position in the line of succession, Victoria was taught only German, the first language of both her mother and her governess, during her early years. After reaching the age of three, however, she was schooled in English. She eventually learned to speak Italian, Greek, Latin and French. When Victoria was eleven years old, her uncle, King George IV, died childless, leaving the throne to his brother, who became King William IV. As the new king had no living legitimate children, the young Princess Victoria became the heir to the throne.
Marriage and childrenEdit
Princess Victoria met her future husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, when she was sixteen years old. Prince Albert was Victoria's first cousin, his father being the brother of her mother. William IV disapproved of the match, but he did not stop the couple. The Queen married Prince Albert on 10 February 1840. Prince Albert was commonly known as the Prince Consort, though he did not formally obtain the title until 1857. The first child of the royal couple, also named Victoria, was born on 21 November 1840. They had eight more children during what was a very happy marriage.
Early Victorian politicsEdit
In the 1840s, the prime minister, Robert Peel, faced a crisis involving the abolition of the Corn Laws, which imposed import duty on grain. Many Tories (by then known also Conservatives) were opposed to the abolition, but some Tories (the "Peelites") and most Whigs supported it. Peel resigned in 1846, after the Corn Laws did get abolished. He was replaced by the Whig Lord John Russell. Russell's ministry, though Whig, was not favoured by the Queen.
In 1845, Ireland was hit by a potato blight that over four years cost the lives of over one million Irish people and saw the emigration of another million. This disaster is now known as the Irish Potato Famine. In 1851, the Great Exhibition of 1851 was held. Organised by Prince Albert, the exhibition was officially opened by the Queen on 1 May. It proved an incredible success, with its profits being used to start up the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The United Kingdom join the Crimean War in 1854, on the side of the Ottoman Empire and against Russia. It was after this war that Victoria instituted the Victoria Cross, an award for valour.
The Prince Consort died in 1861. Victoria, who was devoted to him, went into a semi-permanent state of mourning and wore black for the remainder of her life. She avoided public appearances and rarely set foot inside London. Afterwards Victoria had a small number of male favourites. These include a Scottish manservant, John Brown. Some even suggest that she secretly married him. Victoria's isolation reduced her popularity, and even encouraged the growth of the republican movement. Although she did perform her official duties, she did not actively participate in the government, remaining secluded in her royal residences.
Meanwhile, one of the most important pieces of legislation of the nineteenth century, the Reform Act 1867, was passed by Parliament. Lord Palmerston was opposed to electoral reform, but he died in 1865. The new prime minister was Lord Russell, and was in turn followed by Lord Derby, during whose premiership the Reform Act was passed.
Gladstone and DisraeliEdit
In 1868, the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli became prime minister. In time he became Victoria's favourite prime minister. However, he was soon replaced by William Gladstone. Gladstone was famously at odds with both Victoria and Disraeli during his political career. She once remarked that she felt he addressed her as though she were a public meeting. It was during Gladstone's ministry, in the early 1870s, that the Queen began to gradually emerge from a state of perpetual mourning and isolation. With the encouragement of her family, she became more active.
In 1876 Parliament gave the Queen the additional title "Empress of India". Disraeli's period as prime minister ended in 1880 when the Liberals won a general election, and Gladstone became prime minister again.
Victoria's battles with Gladstone continued during her later years. She was forced to accept his proposed electoral reforms, including the Representation of the People Act 1884, which considerably increased the electorate. Gladstone's government fell in 1885, to be replaced by the ministry of a Conservative, Lord Salisbury. Gladstone returned to power in 1886, and he introduced the Irish Home Rule Bill, which sought to create a separate Irish parliament. Victoria was opposed to the bill, which she believed would undermine the British Empire. When the bill was rejected by the House of Commons, Gladstone resigned, allowing Victoria to re-appoint Lord Salisbury as prime minister.
1887 saw Victoria's Golden Jubilee. She had a banquet, to which fifty European kings and princes were invited. The day after there was a large procession through London that was supported by many wellwishers.
Gladstone became prime minister again in 1892. After the last of his Irish Home Rule Bills was defeated, he retired in 1894, to be replaced by the Lord Rosebery. Lord Rosebery was succeeded in 1895 by Lord Salisbury, who served for the rest of Victoria's reign.
On 22 September 1896 became the longest-reigning monarch in British history. At the Queen's request, all special public celebrations of the event were delayed until 1897, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, proposed that the Jubilee be made a festival of the British Empire. Thus, the Prime Ministers of all the self-governing colonies were invited along with their families. The procession, in which the Queen participated, included troops from each British colony and dependency, together with soldiers sent by Indian Princes and Chiefs (who were subordinate to Victoria, the Empress of India). The Diamond Jubilee celebration was an occasion marked by great outpourings of affection for the Queen, who was by then confined to a wheelchair.
During Victoria's last years, the United Kingdom was involved in the Second Boer War, which received the enthusiastic support of the Queen. Her last ceremonial public function came in 1899, when she laid the foundation stone for new buildings of the South Kensington Museum, which became known as the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Throughout her reign, there were a number of attempts on Victoria's life. During Victoria's first pregnancy, eighteen-year old Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate the Queen whilst she was riding in a carriage with Prince Albert in London. Oxford fired twice, but both bullets missed. He was tried for high treason, but was acquitted on the grounds of insanity. Three attempts to assassinate the Queen occurred in 1842. In 1849, an unemployed Irishman tried to alarm the Queen by firing a powder-filled pistol as her carriage passed along Constitution Hill, London. In 1850, the Queen was injured when she was assaulted by a possibly insane ex-Army officer. As Victoria was riding in a carriage, she was struck by a cane, which crushed her bonnet and bruised her. In 1872, when Victoria was getting off a carriage, a seventeen-year old Irishman rushed towards her with an (unloaded) pistol in one hand and a petition to free Irish prisoners in the other. Then in 1882 a Scottish madman fired a bullet towards the Queen, who was seated in her carriage, but missed. Finally, at the time of her Golden Jubilee in 1887, there was a plan by Irish terrorists to blow up Westminster Abbey while the Queen attended a service of thanksgiving. This assassination attempt was discovered and became known as The Jubilee Plot.
Victoria's death was to be a peaceful and natural one. Following a custom she maintained throughout her widowhood, Victoria spent Christmas in Osborne House (which Prince Albert had designed himself) on the Isle of Wight. She died there on 22 January 1901, aged 81, having reigned for sixty-three years, seven months and two days (more than any British monarch before or since). She was buried in the Frogmore Mausoleum beside her husband. Victoria was succeeded by her eldest son, the Prince of Wales, who reigned as King Edward VII. Victoria's death brought an end to the rule of the House of Hanover in the United Kingdom. King Edward VII, like his father Prince Albert, belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.