While best known in Britain for his affairs with actress Lillie Langtry and society hostess Alice Keppel Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall's great-grandmother he was also busy France, refining his reputation as a worldclass playboy, inveterate gambler and original sex tourist. He had affairs with the most famous French aristocrats, prostitutes, actresses and cancan dancers in the city.
Bertie was such a fixture in all strata that leading French authors included him in their novels. The dancer nods to him and off they go in his carriage. This was exactly the sort of mischief Bertie got up to every time he was in the city. In the late s there were no paparazzi so it was possible to cross the Channel and enjoy an entirely new life filled with champagne, cigars and beautiful women - and free from the disapproval of one's authoritarian Victorian parents.
That the notoriously stuffy Prince Albert should have produced such an heir was something from which Victoria's adored husband never recovered. Albert insisted his pleasure-seeking son should be kept away from children his own age, schooled in the classics eight hours a day and thrashed when he failed to make the grade. In a last bid to control the young prince, Albert sent him off to join the army.
When his underlings put a prostitute in his bed he took full advantage and when news reached Albert the woman in question had started styling herself Princess of Wales it virtually finished him off. He was able to listen to people and was very modern, with a knack of surrounding himself with intelligent women and high achievers. He was brilliant at pomp, and the meet and greet but his mother never realised it. BUT most importantly, without Bertie's love of France - and France's love for him, his accent, his fashion sense, his sheer Englishness - there would have been no entente cordiale: Most biographers ignore Bertie's French escapades or dismiss them as failings, often depicting Edward VII as an ineffectual monarch overshad-owed by his mother.
But Clarke insists it was his secret life in Paris that turned Bertie into the only man in Europe who could control the Kaiser. He was also the only person in Europe who knew all the heads of state. He has besides the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance you can possibly see. The parties did not undertake a formal engagement, but assumed that the match would take place in due time.
Victoria turned 18 on 24 May , and a regency was avoided. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room only in my dressing gown and alone , and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen.
Since , Britain had shared a monarch with Hanover in Germany, but under Salic law women were excluded from the Hanoverian succession. While Victoria inherited all the British dominions, Hanover passed instead to her father's younger brother, her unpopular uncle the Duke of Cumberland , who became King of Hanover.
He was her heir presumptive until she married and had a child. At the time of her accession, the government was led by the Whig prime minister Lord Melbourne. The prime minister at once became a powerful influence on the politically inexperienced Queen, who relied on him for advice. Over , visitors came to London for the celebrations.
Financially prudent, she paid off her father's debts. At the start of her reign Victoria was popular,  but her reputation suffered in an court intrigue when one of her mother's ladies-in-waiting, Lady Flora Hastings , developed an abdominal growth that was widely rumoured to be an out-of-wedlock pregnancy by Sir John Conroy.
In , Melbourne resigned after Radicals and Tories both of whom Victoria detested voted against a bill to suspend the constitution of Jamaica. The bill removed political power from plantation owners who were resisting measures associated with the abolition of slavery.
At the time, it was customary for the prime minister to appoint members of the Royal Household , who were usually his political allies and their spouses.
Many of the Queen's ladies of the bedchamber were wives of Whigs, and Peel expected to replace them with wives of Tories. In what became known as the bedchamber crisis , Victoria, advised by Melbourne, objected to their removal. Peel refused to govern under the restrictions imposed by the Queen, and consequently resigned his commission, allowing Melbourne to return to office.
Though Victoria was now queen, as an unmarried young woman she was required by social convention to live with her mother, despite their differences over the Kensington System and her mother's continued reliance on Conroy.
Victoria continued to praise Albert following his second visit in October Albert and Victoria felt mutual affection and the Queen proposed to him on 15 October , just five days after he had arrived at Windsor. She spent the evening after their wedding lying down with a headache, but wrote ecstatically in her diary:. This was the happiest day of my life! Albert became an important political adviser as well as the Queen's companion, replacing Lord Melbourne as the dominant, influential figure in the first half of her life.
During Victoria's first pregnancy in , in the first few months of the marriage, year-old Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate her while she was riding in a carriage with Prince Albert on her way to visit her mother.
Oxford fired twice, but either both bullets missed or, as he later claimed, the guns had no shot. The Queen hated being pregnant,  viewed breast-feeding with disgust,  and thought newborn babies were ugly. Victoria's household was largely run by her childhood governess, Baroness Louise Lehzen from Hanover.
Lehzen had been a formative influence on Victoria  and had supported her against the Kensington System. After a furious row between Victoria and Albert over the issue, Lehzen was pensioned off in , and Victoria's close relationship with her ended.
On 29 May , Victoria was riding in a carriage along The Mall, London , when John Francis aimed a pistol at her, but the gun did not fire. The assailant escaped; however the following day, Victoria drove the same route, though faster and with a greater escort, in a deliberate attempt to provoke Francis to take a second aim and catch him in the act.
As expected, Francis shot at her, but he was seized by plainclothes policemen, and convicted of high treason. On 3 July, two days after Francis's death sentence was commuted to transportation for life , John William Bean also tried to fire a pistol at the Queen, but it was loaded only with paper and tobacco and had too little charge. Bean was sentenced to 18 months in jail. As Victoria was riding in a carriage, Pate struck her with his cane, crushing her bonnet and bruising her forehead.
Both Hamilton and Pate were sentenced to seven years' transportation. Melbourne's support in the House of Commons weakened through the early years of Victoria's reign, and in the general election the Whigs were defeated.
Peel became prime minister, and the ladies of the bedchamber most associated with the Whigs were replaced. In , Ireland was hit by a potato blight. By , Peel's ministry faced a crisis involving the repeal of the Corn Laws. Many Tories—by then known also as Conservatives —were opposed to the repeal, but Peel, some Tories the "Peelites" , most Whigs and Victoria supported it.
Peel resigned in , after the repeal narrowly passed, and was replaced by Lord John Russell. Internationally, Victoria took a keen interest in the improvement of relations between France and Britain. Russell's ministry, though Whig, was not favoured by the Queen. It was only in that Palmerston was removed after he announced the British government's approval of President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's coup in France without consulting the Prime Minister.
In , Victoria gave birth to her eighth child, Leopold , with the aid of the new anaesthetic, chloroform. Victoria was so impressed by the relief it gave from the pain of childbirth that she used it again in at the birth of her ninth and final child, Beatrice , despite opposition from members of the clergy, who considered it against biblical teaching, and members of the medical profession, who thought it dangerous. For example, about a month after Leopold's birth Albert complained in a letter to Victoria about her "continuance of hysterics" over a "miserable trifle".
In early , the government of Lord Aberdeen , who had replaced Derby, fell amidst recriminations over the poor management of British troops in the Crimean War.
Victoria approached both Derby and Russell to form a ministry, but neither had sufficient support, and Victoria was forced to appoint Palmerston as prime minister.
Derby was reinstated as prime minister. On her return Victoria wrote to Derby reprimanding him for the poor state of the Royal Navy in comparison to the French one. They had been betrothed since September , when Princess Victoria was 14 years old; the marriage was delayed by the Queen and Prince Albert until the bride was In March , Victoria's mother died, with Victoria at her side. Through reading her mother's papers, Victoria discovered that her mother had loved her deeply;  she was heart-broken, and blamed Conroy and Lehzen for "wickedly" estranging her from her mother.
In November, Albert was made aware of gossip that his son had slept with an actress in Ireland. He had been "killed by that dreadful business", she said. She avoided public appearances, and rarely set foot in London in the following years. Victoria's self-imposed isolation from the public diminished the popularity of the monarchy, and encouraged the growth of the republican movement.
In March , a protester stuck a notice on the railings of Buckingham Palace that announced "these commanding premises to be let or sold in consequence of the late occupant's declining business". She agreed to visit the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society at Kensington and take a drive through London in an open carriage.
Through the s, Victoria relied increasingly on a manservant from Scotland, John Brown. Palmerston died in , and after a brief ministry led by Russell, Derby returned to power. Victoria found Gladstone's demeanour far less appealing; he spoke to her, she is thought to have complained, as though she were "a public meeting rather than a woman". In , republican sentiment in Britain, fed by the Queen's seclusion, was boosted after the establishment of the Third French Republic.
On the last day of February , two days after the thanksgiving service, year-old Arthur O'Connor great-nephew of Irish MP Feargus O'Connor waved an unloaded pistol at Victoria's open carriage just after she had arrived at Buckingham Palace. Brown, who was attending the Queen, grabbed him and O'Connor was later sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment,  and a birching. After the Indian Rebellion of , the British East India Company , which had ruled much of India, was dissolved, and Britain's possessions and protectorates on the Indian subcontinent were formally incorporated into the British Empire.
The Queen had a relatively balanced view of the conflict, and condemned atrocities on both sides. In the general election , Disraeli was returned to power. He passed the Public Worship Regulation Act , which removed Catholic rituals from the Anglican liturgy and which Victoria strongly supported. On 14 December , the anniversary of Albert's death, Victoria's second daughter Alice , who had married Louis of Hesse , died of diphtheria in Darmstadt. Victoria noted the coincidence of the dates as "almost incredible and most mysterious".
She felt "aged" by "the loss of my beloved child". Between April and February , she threatened five times to abdicate while pressuring Disraeli to act against Russia during the Russo-Turkish War , but her threats had no impact on the events or their conclusion with the Congress of Berlin.
On 2 March , Roderick Maclean , a disgruntled poet apparently offended by Victoria's refusal to accept one of his poems,  shot at the Queen as her carriage left Windsor railway station. Two schoolboys from Eton College struck him with their umbrellas, until he was hustled away by a policeman.
On 17 March , she fell down some stairs at Windsor, which left her lame until July; she never fully recovered and was plagued with rheumatism thereafter. He was "the dearest of my dear sons", she lamented. Beatrice and Henry planned to marry, but Victoria opposed the match at first, wishing to keep Beatrice at home to act as her companion. After a year, she was won around to the marriage by Henry and Beatrice's promise to remain living with and attending her. Victoria was pleased when Gladstone resigned in after his budget was defeated.
Victoria marked the fiftieth anniversary of her accession on 20 June with a banquet to which 50 kings and princes were invited. The following day, she participated in a procession and attended a thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey. He was soon promoted to " Munshi ": Victoria's eldest daughter became Empress consort of Germany in , but she was widowed within the year, and Victoria's grandchild Wilhelm became German Emperor as Wilhelm II. Under Wilhelm, Victoria and Albert's hopes of a liberal Germany were not fulfilled.
He believed in autocracy. Gladstone returned to power after the general election ; he was 82 years old. Salisbury remained prime minister for the remainder of Victoria's reign.
The Queen requested that any special celebrations be delayed until , to coincide with her Diamond Jubilee ,  which was made a festival of the British Empire at the suggestion of Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee procession on 22 June followed a route six miles long through London and included troops from all over the empire.
The procession paused for an open-air service of thanksgiving held outside St Paul's Cathedral , throughout which Victoria sat in her open carriage, to avoid her having to climb the steps to enter the building. The celebration was marked by vast crowds of spectators and great outpourings of affection for the year-old Queen. Victoria visited mainland Europe regularly for holidays.
In , during a stay in Biarritz , she became the first reigning monarch from Britain to set foot in Spain when she crossed the border for a brief visit. Instead, the Queen went to Ireland for the first time since , in part to acknowledge the contribution of Irish regiments to the South African war.
My poor darling Affie gone too", she wrote in her journal. Following a custom she maintained throughout her widowhood, Victoria spent the Christmas of at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Rheumatism in her legs had rendered her lame, and her eyesight was clouded by cataracts. In , Victoria had written instructions for her funeral , which was to be military as befitting a soldier's daughter and the head of the army,  and white instead of black.
One of Albert's dressing gowns was placed by her side, with a plaster cast of his hand, while a lock of John Brown's hair, along with a picture of him, was placed in her left hand concealed from the view of the family by a carefully positioned bunch of flowers. With a reign of 63 years, seven months and two days, Victoria was the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-reigning queen regnant in world history until her great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II surpassed her on 9 September According to one of her biographers, Giles St Aubyn, Victoria wrote an average of 2, words a day during her adult life.
Beatrice transcribed and edited the diaries covering Victoria's accession onwards, and burned the originals in the process. In addition to Beatrice's edited copy, Lord Esher transcribed the volumes from to before Beatrice destroyed them. Victoria was physically unprepossessing—she was stout, dowdy and only about five feet tall—but she succeeded in projecting a grand image..