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Timewatch: Young Victoria

Updated Thursday, 2nd November 2017

Is the popular image of an austere Queen Victoria fair?

Portrait miniature of Hayter's 1838 state portrait of Queen Victoria. Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Henry Pierce Bone

Many of us have an image of Queen Victoria as a dour, restrictive woman. But, as Dr. Kate Williams explores in ‘Young Victoria’, the reality is very different. Based on her research, ‘Young Victoria’ will show the hidden story of behind the Queen who brought us into the modern age – and how she saved the very institution of monarchy itself.

Princess Victoria was a passionate, vibrant young girl who had to battle to ascend the throne. The intrigues that arose as she grew up were as vicious as the type of machinations for power associated with the Tudor Court. Her battle with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, was the biggest mother-daughter struggle in history.

Victoria was born on 20 May 1819 into an England in crisis. The country was deep in economic depression after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Monarchs across Europe had fallen. In England, George III was mad, and his eldest son, the Prince Regent, was reviled for his debauchery and cruel treatment of his wife.

The remaining brothers were little better. The country invested their hope in the Prince Regent’s daughter, the spirited, liberal-minded Princess Charlotte. When she died at 21 in 1817, all hope seemed gone. The remaining brothers raced to produce the heir to the throne. The fourth son, the Duke of Kent, succeeded. He died shortly after Victoria’s birth.

The Duchess of Kent wanted to be Regent over the young Victoria, and so award herself great riches and power. She and her handsome advisor, John Conroy, tried to force Victoria into slavish obedience to them. As the Princess grew older, the Duchess tried everything to bully her into appointing Conroy her personal secretary, and also into declaring that she would need a Regency past the age of eighteen.

But King William IV, so hated the Duchess of Kent that he tried to hang onto life for as long as possible. When Victoria turned eighteen, he gave up the fight, and died three weeks later. Victoria’s first act as Queen was to ask for an hour alone – away from Mama. But she was not quite free from her yet. Even though she was Queen, she was told it would be unseemly to live alone. The Duchess remained, and caused trouble.

‘Young Victoria’ is both the tale of Victoria’s battle to become Queen, and the story of England on the brink of revolution. The people could not have borne another debauched son of George III as King. Fortunately, they were able to invest their hope in the innocent Princess Victoria, a young girl who seemed utterly different to her Hanoverian uncles.The idea of Victoria kept monarchy strong. Then she became Queen – and the Britain we know today began to emerge.

Further reading

A Royal Conflict: Sir John Conroy and the Young Victoria Katherine Hudson, Hodder & Stoughton

The Girlhood of Queen Victoria: A Selection from Her Majesty's Diaries between the Years 1832 and 1840 Adamant publishers

Queen Victoria Elizabeth Longford, Sutton

Nineteenth Century Britain Jeremy Black and Donald MacRaild, Palgrave Macmillan
- This book offers some good background on Britain at this time.

First broadcast: Friday 20 Jan 2006 on BBC Two. For further broadcast details, and to watch again where available, visit





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