Victoria's longevity as queen coincided with Britain's peak in political, industrial and military power. Therefore, to many, she was the quintessential imperial monarch. She was queen long enough to witness many first ministers implement their foreign and imperial policies. In the early years of her reign, she and her husband Albert were keen modernisers and reformers. As her reign continued, she became more conservative in her values. A more ceremonial role was carved out for her including her promotion to be Empress of India by Disraeli. Despite never visiting her vast Empire, she was taken with the concept of being the figurehead and surrounded herself with the symbols and personnel of imperial grandeur. Her diamond jubilee demonstrated the vast imperial stretch of Britain just before the beginning of the decline with the start of the Boer War in 1899.
The Prince Consort
Prince Albert married Victoria in 1840, there were many members of the establishment who were concerned about a foreigner being so influential around the Queen of the world's largest Empire. Albert worked hard to prove that he was an asset to the country and to his queen through providing modern and forward thinking ideas and policies. He did have to tread carefully about his constitutional role and Queen Victoria made it clear that hers was not a job that she could share with her husband. Notwithstanding these reservations, the Duke of Wellington spied him as being just the person to take over from himself as he approached his 80s. The opportunity to become the Commander-in-Chief of the british Land Forces lay at his feet, but Albert recognised the dangers of becoming so closely identified with such a prominent role with impeccable logic:

'Suppose there was to be serious rioting, as there nearly had been in 1848. It would be Commander-in-Chief's duty to quell it. But how could the Queen's husband shed the blood of the Queen's subjects without imperilling the throne.

In effect, he recognised that the role of the army as preservers of the peace could provoke resentment against the Crown if he were seen to be running the institution. Despite this reticence, he did play a keen role in modernising the British Army in the aftermath of its lamentable role in the Crimean War. He correctly identified that the War Ministry and the Army were woefully inadequate to the task of modern warfare:

'I hazard the opinion that our Army, as at present organised, can hardly be called an army at all., but a mere aggregate of battalions of infantry, with some regiments of cavalry, and an artillery regiment - we have nothing but distinct battalions.'

He recognised that the British Army was not able to take on the modern armies of Europe and hope to win. They had been relying on the power of the Royal Navy and their own reputation at Waterloo and had not adapted to the changing face of warfare. He set about helping to modernise and reform the army. He made detailed proposals on reorganising the battalions into brigades and divisions with dedicated artillery and cavalry. He asked that all commanders give weekly reports on the strength of their forces and number of soldiers fit for active duty. He proposed a new army base at Aldershot to act as headquarters and base should the capital ever be threatened (by landings from France). He set up a research institute and inaugurated the Victoria Cross as a single medal of honour open to all ranks. In short, the Prince Consort demonstrated that persuasion and suggestion from royalty could be immensely influential. He was showing the strength of soft power available, not to a monarch, but to the consort of a monarch.

1819 in Kensington Palace
1901 at Osborne House, Isle of Wight
Acceded to Throne
Further Reading
Queen Victoria: A Personal History
By Christopher Hibbert
We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals
By Gillian Gill
Queen Victoria (Essential Biographies)
By Elizabeth Longford
Becoming Queen
By Kate Williams
Queen Victoria (Penguin Classic Biography)
By Lytton Strachey
David Starkey's Monarchy
Queen Victoria
Young Victoria
Victoria And Albert
Mrs Brown


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