Queen Victoria’s Coronation Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The sheltered eighteen-year-old princess Victoria ascended the throne of Great Britain in 1837, beginning a reign of almost sixty-four years, the longest in her nation’s history. Her formal coronation a year later recognized the beginning of an era that would restore the tarnished image of the British monarchy and oversee the rebirth of the globe-girdling British Empire.

Summary of Event

For more than fifty years, the reputation and popularity of the British royal family had suffered a steady decline as one scandal after another alternately titillated, shocked, or disgusted the public. With the death of William IV and the accession of his niece Victoria on June 20, 1837, this tawdry chapter in the history of the monarchy came to a close. Since her birth on May 24, 1819, and especially after the death of her father, Edward, duke of Kent, later that year, Queen Victoria had been sheltered from the outside world especially from her father’s family. The dowager duchess of Kent did everything in her power to prevent contact between her daughter and the kings first George IV, then William IV. During Victoria’s minority, the duchess relied on the advice of her brother Prince Leopold Leopold I Leopold I [p]Leopold I[Leopold 01];and Queen Victoria[Victoria] of Saxe-Coburg Gotha (who would soon become Leopold I, the first king of the newly independent Belgium) and his intermediary, Baron Christian Friedrich von Stockmar Stockmar, Baron von . After her accession, Victoria would continue this connection. Victoria, Queen Victoria, Queen [p]Victoria, Queen;coronation of [kw]Queen Victoria’s Coronation (June 28, 1838) [kw]Victoria’s Coronation, Queen (June 28, 1838) [kw]Coronation, Queen Victoria’s (June 28, 1838) Victoria, Queen Victoria, Queen [p]Victoria, Queen;coronation of [g]British Empire;June 28, 1838: Queen Victoria’s Coronation[2060] [g]Great Britain;June 28, 1838: Queen Victoria’s Coronation[2060] [c]Government and politics;June 28, 1838: Queen Victoria’s Coronation[2060] Melbourne, Second Viscount Melbourne, Second Viscount [p]Melbourne, Second Viscount;and Queen Victoria[Victoria] Stockmar, Baron von Leopold I Leopold I [p]Leopold I[Leopold 01];and Queen Victoria[Victoria] Howley, William

Five years before Victoria ascended the throne, the British parliament had passed a bill that began the process of transforming the old, aristocratically based oligarchy known as the House of Commons into a truly democratic body that reflected the actual character of the nation. William IV had endorsed the Reform Bill, and it had become law in 1832. During her long reign, Victoria would give her approval to other reform bills that would extend the franchise Voting rights;in Great Britain[Great Britain] , but in 1837 her understanding of such matters was limited. Her tutelage in the art of governing as an impartial constitutional monarch fortunately began under her first prime minister, William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne. Melbourne, Second Viscount Melbourne, Second Viscount [p]Melbourne, Second Viscount;and Queen Victoria[Victoria] Melbourne was a master politician, and he carefully managed the shaping of the public image of his new sovereign.

For the first time in 234 years, a maiden queen sat on the throne. Popular authors and serious scholars sought comparisons between Queen Elizabeth I Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) and Queen Victoria, and they universally predicted that the reign that was just beginning would bring a new golden age to the nation. They might well have predicted that it would see the middle class gain immense economic and political power, becoming by the end of Victoria’s reign the dominant force in every aspect of British life. Victoria and her husband Albert Albert, Prince who was also her first cousin would become models of middle-class morality, in vivid contrast to the her uncles, especially the dissipated King George IV George IV (r. 1820-1830).

As Victoria mastered the often-exhausting routine expected of the sovereign, the plans for her coronation in June, 1838, were completed. The extravagant display that had marked the crowning of George IV was to be avoided. George had ascended the throne in the midst of the economic depression that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815). The late 1830’s were also a time of economic uncertainty, and ostentatious display would have been an offense to Victoria’s many impoverished subjects. Melbourne Melbourne, Second Viscount Melbourne, Second Viscount [p]Melbourne, Second Viscount;and Queen Victoria[Victoria] insisted that the coronation be stately and dignified unlike that of William IV William IV (king of Great Britain and Hanover) William IV (king of Great Britain and Hanover) [p]William IV (king of Great Britain and Hanover)[William 04 (king of Great Britain and Hanover)];coronation of in 1830 and steeped in history and tradition. Most important, it was to signify a new beginning for the monarchy and the British people. Just as the 1559 coronation of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, had heralded the beginning of a new age for an England racked by religious turmoil, so the consecration of Victoria would mark a reawakening of all that was best in the British character.

Queen Victoria on her coronation day.

(R. S. Peale/J. A. Hill)

The coronation of Queen Victoria on Thursday, June 28, 1838, was not, however, a flawless reenactment of the ancient rite that supposedly stretched back to William the Conqueror. There had been no rehearsal, and Dr. John Ireland Ireland, John , the dean of Westminster who had supervised the last two coronations, was too feeble to attend the ceremony. His successor was unfamiliar with subtleties of the ceremonial. The archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. William Howley Howley, William , could barely be heard. Despite the mistakes made by those in charge, Victoria performed her part with a grace and sense of purpose that convinced even the most cynical of her subjects that the placing of the crown upon the head of that tiny, almost fragile young woman marked a new beginning.

For the average Briton in attendance, who had waited since long before dawn to catch a glimpse of the new queen, there was also a sense that the old had indeed given way to the new. Victoria led a new generation, born after the wars and revolutions that had convulsed the last quarter of the eighteenth century and the first fifteen years of the new century. She and the majority of her subjects belonged to the future and not the past. Neither the young queen, who watched the fireworks that night from Buckingham Palace, nor her subjects, who danced in the streets and toasted her health and long life, could know that they had embarked on a glorious journey. During Victoria’s reign, Great Britain would be transformed into the wealthiest and most powerful nation on Earth. Victoria would add to her dignities the title empress of India. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren including her grandson William II, emperor of Germany would fill the thrones of Europe. Her subjects would conquer the frontiers of science, teach the peoples of the world to speak English, and leave few places unexplored. Above all, they would glory in the appellation “Victorian.”

Significance

The coronation of Queen Victoria was a reaffirmation of the values of Great Britain’s past, but it was also the beginning of a new era. Coming so soon after the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832, it marked the inauguration of the middle class as the future governing class of the British Empire. As an inexperienced girl of eighteen, Victoria had assumed the responsibility for an institution that seemed to have outlived its purpose. Energetically embracing her destiny, she dedicated her long and productive reign to transforming the monarchy into the positive force that held the diverse British Empire together.

As Victoria’s reign progressed, the values of the newly enfranchised middle class became the norm for everyone including the royal family itself. Counseled by men of the caliber of Melbourne Melbourne, Second Viscount Melbourne, Second Viscount [p]Melbourne, Second Viscount;and Queen Victoria[Victoria] , Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli, and William E. Gladstone, Victoria became the epitome of what a constitutional monarch should be. Even during the four decades during which she mourned the death of her beloved Albert, Victoria remained one with her subjects.

When Queen Victoria Victoria, Queen Victoria, Queen [p]Victoria, Queen;death of , crippled by old age, died in January, 1901, there was a true sense of loss among her subjects, a realization that an era had ended and the future was uncertain. Few men or women in her kingdom could even vaguely remember any other monarch. This feeling of uncertainty was not limited to Victoria’s subjects; it was almost universal throughout the English-speaking world.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Charlot, Monica. Victoria: The Young Queen. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1991. Enriched by a wealth of documents from the Royal Archives, this biography views Victoria as an able and perceptive young ruler who was more than equal to the daunting challenges that faced her at her accession to the throne.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Homans, Margaret. Royal Representations: Queen Victoria and British Culture, 1837-1876. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. A feminist study of the life of a woman who dominated a century that saw the beginning of the end of the male supremacy in Western civilization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Plunkett, John. Queen Victoria: First Media Monarch. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2003. This brief work examines how Victoria inherited a regal power that was seriously eroded by the madness of her grandfather and the scandals perpetrated by her “wicked uncles” and then shrewdly used print journalism, her own artistic talents, and photography to restore the public reputation of the British crown.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thompson, Dorothy. Queen Victoria: Gender and Power. London: Virago Press, 1990. A seminal study of the pivotal role of feminine power as personified by Queen Victoria in the evolution of the British Empire during the nineteenth century.

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