Sullivan and the Crowned Heads of Europe

sullivan-young-manI love the old Victorian phrase, “the crowned heads of Europe” as a description of the members of the various royal families. It reminds me of the scene in The Wizard of Oz, where the wizard’s little wooden trailer is decorated on the side with the following legend:


Dorothy, of course, can’t help but read this boast, and since she wants to get away from Kansas, she pleads:


DOROTHY: Oh, please, Professor, why can’t we go with you and see all the Crowned Heads of Europe?

PROFESSOR: Do you know any?  Oh, you mean the thing – Yes, well, I – I never do anything without consulting my crystal first.


Arthur Sullivan did know a fair few crowned heads of Europe. One was Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s second son. The two men had music in common. Alfred studied violin at Holyrood, Edinburgh, and sometimes Arthur Sullivan played as his accompanist.

prince_alfred_1865In the Summer of 1881, Arthur Sullivan was invited by the Duke of Edinburgh to join him on the HMS Hercules for the Reserve Fleet’s annual maneuvers in the Baltic Sea.

Sullivan wrote to his mother, “I have a lovely cabin in the Admiral’s quarters at the stern of the ship, and am very luxuriously lodged altogether. … The officers seem pleasant fellows, the ship is splendid, the sea like glass & the weather heavenly, and I have nothing to do.”

Nothing to do but enjoy himself in the finest company, it seemed.

When the ship arrived in Copenhagen, Sullivan was among the dinner guests of King Christian IX and his queen. Then they stopped in St. Petersburg and stayed in a villa near Czar Alexander’ III’s villa. When the fleet departed, the czar and czarina saw them off, with guns firing royal salutes as they sailed away.

To me, the most remarkable encounter of the trip was when they docked at Kiel and were met by Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, the eldest son of Queen Victoria’s daughter Victoria, who would eventually grow up to become Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, during World War I.

wilhelm_ii_of_germanyHowever, that war was many decades in the future when the 22-year-old Prince Wilhelm greeted Sullivan by singing, “He Polished Up the Handle of the Big Front Door,” from HMS Pinafore.

“I burst out laughing,” Sullivan reported, “and so did everyone. It was too funny.”

It’s interesting to think that despite the rigid class structure of the Victorian era, some individuals whose lives began in very humble circumstances were able to climb to the very pinnacle of society.

So I have to wonder what Sullivan was thinking as he watched a Prince sing for him.

Fourteen years earlier, snobbish Mrs. Scott Russell forbade her daughter Rachel from marrying Sullivan, because she thought the poor musician and composer wouldn’t rise very high on the social scale.

If Mrs. Scott Russell could have seen him then!




By Franz Xaver Winterhalter – Winterhalter and the courts of Europe, Public Domain,

By Uploaded from en:Image:KaiserBill2.JPG, contributed by en:User:Infrogmation, 19:47, 4 Nov 2002., Public Domain,


An Unexpected G&S Performance

I was going to do a serious post today, but then I remembered this little gem and had to share it. When I was a mere child of ten, I discovered the very first “Doctor Who” — featuring the first Doctor, portrayed by William Hartnell. Even though I missed some of the finer details of the plot during that first season because the episodes were broadcast in Spanish on Mexican television (I grew up in Mexico City), the Daleks still were capable of scaring the bejeezus out of me and my nine-year-old brother.

And so, without further ado, here’s a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan that’s really out of this world. (If the embedded video doesn’t come through, you can click on the highlighted text and enjoy the Daleks singing Gilbert and Sullivan on YouTube).



Hope you enjoy~


Victorian Tweets to Tickle Your Fancy

I browsed around Twitter today, and found the following gems! If you’re looking for some interesting, pretty, funny and inspiring tidbits of information, check out these tweets:

Victorian Cat Funerals

Victorian Samplers embroidered by young girls

Digital Dickens-Finding Boz online

A 1898 Critic’s Choice List of Best Novels – Have you read them all?

Victorian Spinning Tops, now in GIF form

Ode to Kate Greenaway, Victorian illustrator


Illustration by Kate Greenaway










Victorian Love Letters from a Valet to a Housekeeper

Newly discovered Charlotte Bronte poem

Victorian Halloween Costumes

Why Victorians thought women taking Tea Breaks was dangerous

Browse and enjoy!




The Legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan – on TV

Over the 150 years that their works have been shared with the world, Gilbert and Sullivan have had an indelible effect on popular culture in the English-speaking world. Last week, I shared a list of movies that have a Gilbert and Sullivan connection – and this week, I’m offering you a short (and by no means exhaustive) list of G&S television references!

Let’s start with some lively tunes from The Mikado.

In this clip, popular singer and TV talk show hostess Dinah Shore pairs up with jazz great Ella Fitzgerald and opera diva “La Stupenda” Joan Sutherland for a fun rendition of “Three Little Maids From School Are We”:


(They also sing “Lover Come Back to Me,” and who can ever have enough of this lovely trio?)

The classic sitcom Frasier featured a number of Gilbert and Sullivan references. In the first clip, the “endearingly pompous” Frasier and his brother Niles (both psychiatrists by training) sing “Tit Willow”:



And in this Vine video, Frasier’s radio station co-workers trick him into singing “Three Little Maids” in a falsetto voice –which is then broadcast live on the air (Episode 3.04 Leapin Lizards):



From the TV show Angel, vampire hunter Charles Gunn is overheard singing “Three Little Maids” – until someone catches him:



Other Gilbert and Sullivan works have gotten their moments on the air, including H. M. S. Pinafore’s “For He Is An Englishman” and the Major-General’s Song from The Pirates of Penzance.

American screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin is a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, and wrote in several delightful references to their works in his long-running TV drama, The West Wing.

In this clip from the episode, “And it’s Surely To Their Credit,” Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter) is a conservative Republican who has just joined a very Democratic White House staff as an associate White House Counsel. Her right to be there is challenged by her very left-leaning boss, White House Counsel Lionel Tribbey (John Laroquette).



That clip sets up this one, in which the other staffers finally accept Ainsley, decorating her office with Gilbert and Sullivan posters and surprising her with a song:



In the sitcom Home Improvement, Tim the Handyman’s sidekick Al thinks no one can hear him singing The Major General’s song from The Pirates of Penzance:



In fact, the Major General’s song is very popular! Here is a collection of references to this song:


And, I couldn’t leave out my very favorite parody of the Major General’s song – “The Elements.” The inimitable song-writer and humorist Tom Lehrer took all the elements listed on the Periodic Table, and set them to that rousing tune:



Younger folks might remember this version of the song because Daniel Radcliffe sang “The Elements” as a party trick on the Graham Norton Show.



Tom Lehrer also referenced Gilbert and Sullivan in his version of “My Darling Clementine.” He took that famous folk tune and re-imagined it as it might have been written by Noel Coward, Mozart, Thelonious Monk, and finally, Gilbert and Sullivan.




30 Victorian Mystery Novel Series to Read Now!


Just let me finish this chapter

Just let me finish this chapter

The following books are some of the best Victorian-set historical mysteries that I know about. The books named are the first in each series – the sleuth named appears in all the books. Most are set in Victorian England, but a few are set in the USA and some others (particularly the Sherlock Holmes-related ones) spill over into the Edwardian period.

You can read more about them on Goodreads and Amazon. I’ll include links to Goodreads so you can find out more about the ones that interest you.  For even more historical mysteries, you can check out this amazingly comprehensive list (just watch out for the pop-ups):

Enjoy your armchair sleuthing!




Female Sleuths

  1. Elizabeth Peters – Amelia Peabody – Crocodile on the Sandbank
  2. Deanna Raybourn – Lady Julia Gray – Silent in the Grave
  3. Robin Paige – Kathryn Ardleigh – Death at Bishop’s Keep
  4. Nancy Herriman – Celia Davies – No Comfort for the Lost
  5. Tasha Alexander – Lady Emily – And Only To Deceive
  6. Emily Brightwell – Mrs. Jeffries –The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries
  7. Martin Davies – Mrs. Hudson – Mrs. Hudson and the Spirit’s Curse
  8. Carole Nelson Douglas – Irene Adler – Good Night, Mr. Holmes
  9. Anne Perry – Charlotte and Thomas Pitt – The Cater Street Hangman
  10. Kate Parker – Georgia Fenchurch – The Vanishing Thief
  11. Ann Granger – Lizzie Martin – The Companion (aka A Rare Interest in Corpses)
  12. Susan Wittig Albert – Beatrix Potter – The Tale of Hill Top Farm
  13. Carol Carr – Madam India Black – India Black, Madam of Espionage
  14. Lee Jackson – Sarah Tanner – A Most Dangerous Woman
  15. Alanna Knight – Rose Quinn – The Inspector’s Daughter


Male Sleuths

  1. Barbara Hambly – Benjamin January – A Free Man of Color
  2. Gyles Brandreth – Oscar Wilde – Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance
  3. Oakley Hall – Ambrose Bierce – Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades
  4. Anne Perry – William Monk – The Face of a Stranger
  5. Peter Heck – Mark Twain – Death on the Mississippi
  6. Charles Finch – Charles Lenox – A Beautiful Blue Death
  7. David Ashton – Inspector MacLevy – Shadow of the Serpent
  8. Peter Lovesey – Albert Edward, Prince of Wales – Bertie and the Tinman
  9. Peter Lovesey – Inspector Cribb – Wobble to Death
  10. Edward Marston – Inspector Robert Colbeck –The Railway Detective
  11. Amy Myers – Chef Auguste Didier – Murder in Pug’s Parlour
  12. Francis Selwyn – Inspector Verity – Cracksman on Velvet
  13. Ray Harrison – Detective Sergeant Bragg – Why Kill Arthur Potter?
  14. Alanna Knight – Inspector Faro – Enter Second Murderer
  15. Joan Lock – Inspector Best – Dead Image


Have I missed any of your favorites? Please let me know in the comments.

Black History Month: Black Victorians

In honor of Black History month, I’d like to share with you a few notes about Black Victorians – people of color who lived and prospered in England (and in America too) during the 19th century.

Despite the prejudice and discrimination that people of color endured in Victorian England, there were a number of notable and distinguished black men and women in Britain.

220px-Mary_Seacole_DrawingMary Seacole (1805-1881) was born in Kingston, Jamaica, the daughter of a Scottish soldier and a Jamaican mother who taught her nursing. In 1854 she traveled to England and asked the War Office to send her to Crimea to nurse the wounded soldiers during the war. When they refused, she paid for her own trip there and established the British Hotel to provide a place to nurse sick officers. She also nursed the wounded on the battlefield, sometimes under fire.

“Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert’s chapter on Mrs. Seacole’s book about her experience, Wonderful Adventures in Many Lands, describes her curious progress from West Indian healer to anti-Nightingale on the battlefield. Paravisini-Gebert argues that Seacole “assumes her place in a British society–and history–from which she is initially rejected, by finding in the Crimea a substitute for ‘England,’ a war zone where the expected barriers to someone of her class, race, and colonial origins can be temporarily lifted.”  (from Being Black in Victorian England)


Samuel_Coleridge-TaylorSamuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), was a composer known as the “African Mahler.” His father, Daniel Taylor, was from Sierra Leone. His mother, the London-born Alice Hare, named him in honor of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

He grew up in Croydon and studied violin and composition at the Royal College of Music. He later taught music as a professor at the Crystal Palace School of Music, conducted orchestras and composed music.  He was mentored by Edward Elgar and influential music critic August Jaeger, who thought Taylor was a genius.

His most famous work was “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,” which premiered in 1898. He was determined to do for traditional African music what Brahms did for Hungarian music and Antonin Dvorak did for Bohemian music.

Coleridge-Taylor died of pneumonia at age 37, leaving behind his wife Jessie, son Hiawatha, and daughter Gwendolyn (who later took the name Avril and became a conductor-composer in her own right).


Ira_AldridgebyNorthcoteActor Ira Frederick Aldridge (1807 –1867) was born in New York City, but made his career mostly on stage in London and Europe.

After acting in African theater companies in New York, in 1825 he made his London stage debut as Oroonoko in The Revolt of Surinam, or A Slave’s Revenge, which was based on Aphra Behn’s play Oroonoko. He was also known for playing Othello, and in later years was praised for his performance as King Lear. Aldridge is the only actor of African-American descent among the 33 actors of the English stage honored with bronze plaques at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon.




220px-Sake_Dean_MahomedSake Dean Mohamed (1759-1851) or Sheikh Din Muhammad grew up in India. His father was of the barber caste, and Dean Mohamed learned a great deal about the soaps and shampoo used by the Mughals. He served in the English Bengal Army as a surgeon.

In 1786, age 25, he traveled to Ireland where he wrote and published his book, entitled ‘The Travels of Dean Mahomet’. He became the first Indian to write a book in English. He opened the first Indian take-away restaurant in London, the Hindustani Coffee House, in 1810. Customers could smoke a hookah and try all sorts of curries. Then, in 1814 Dean and his wife moved to Brighton and opened the first commercial bath-house, featuring “The Indian Medicated Vapour Bath (type of Turkish bath), a cure to many diseases.” The bath-house was very popular, and both King George IV and William IV were among his customers.


Pablo_FanquePablo Fanque (1796-1871) was born poor as William Darby in Norwich. He began his career as an equestrian stunt-rider and a rope-walker at Astley’s Amphitheatre and from there rose to become the proprietor of Victorian Britain’s most successful circus.  He was the first non-white circus owner in Britain.

He was celebrated for his skill in manège, the art of training horses to perform certain routines. Thirty years after his 1871 death, the chaplain of the Showman’s Guild said: “In the great brotherhood of the equestrian world there is no colour line, for, although Pablo Fanque was of African extraction, he speedily made his way to the top of his profession. The camaraderie of the ring has but one test – ability.”

He was featured in the lyrics of The Beatles song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.


sarah forbes bonetta 2Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880) was orphaned at the age of eight in a brutal massacre in her home country in West Africa. She was kidnapped and given to King Ghezo of Dahomey to be used as a human sacrifice, but was rescued from captivity by a Captain Forbes who told King Ghezo that the girl should be a gift to Queen Victoria.  Sarah’s original name was “Aina” but the Captain named her Sarah, plus Forbes after him and Bonetta after his ship. Impressed by the girl’s intelligence, Queen Victoria made Sarah her goddaughter. She paid for Sarah’s education, and took a great interest in her.

Sarah married Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, a wealthy Yoruba businessman and philanthropist. They moved back to Africa and raised three children there.





Was Arthur Sullivan black?

sullivan-young-manOne thing I learned in my research was that being “black” during the Victorian Era wasn’t quite the same thing as it may be today –  according to Being Black in Victorian England  many people were called black, but that didn’t necessarily mean that they had African ancestors (they could have been from India or any number of other countries) nor did it mean that the individuals so identified viewed themselves as part of the same community.

So was Sir Arthur Sullivan black?  He was described in a news article as a “little dark brown man” and images of the time show that he had dark curly hair and dark eyes. But in my researches I can’t find any evidence that Sullivan had African ancestors. The only reference I’ve discovered is one unfounded comment on the subject, but I’m not sure that qualifies as reliable.

This much seems certain and verifiable: Sir Arthur Sullivan, one of Victorian Britain’s preeminent composers and musicians, was the son of music teacher Thomas Sullivan and his wife Mary Clementina Coghlan.  Arthur’s father Thomas was born in Cork, the son of an Irish soldier also named Thomas Sullivan.

Arthur’s mother, Clementina, was partly Italian: her grandfather Joseph Righi (later Anglicized to Righy) had come to England from Nice, which was then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. So it seems likely to me that he inherited his dark hair and eye color from her.

The one mention I’ve found appears in Robert Edward Francillon’s book,  Mid-Victorian Memories:

Among the more intimate of their fellow-students at Leipzig, and the most frequent guests at their mother’s hospitable supper-table there — a highly popular institution among a cosmopolitan flock of young people mostly with appetites too big for their pockets— was the future Sir Arthur Sullivan, as notable then for easy charm of manner, and adaptability to all sorts and conditions of persons and circumstances, as when he became no less welcome a guest at royal tables. It may interest some who only saw him in after years to learn that he was golden-curled in his student days, and this in spite of the strong strain of African blood that became increasingly perceptible with increasing age. He was, in fact, an Octoroon, and was accordingly subjected to inconveniences and annoyances during his visit to the United States which permanently embittered him against Americans and American ways. I never saw much of him, for when my then future wife came home after some years in Italy he had already soared into social planes far above ours.

sullivan-colorI’m not sure how a person who wasn’t all that close to Arthur Sullivan and never saw much of him beyond their student days would have known about Sullivan’s ancestry, and I haven’t found any mention of it elsewhere. If there is more evidence, I’d like to know!


Other resources on Black Victorians:









Victorian Valentines

Valentine image with caption

Valentine image with caption

Across the centuries, humans have loved to celebrate love. From the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, to the Renaissance vision of courtly love, to Ophelia’s sad mention of Valentine’s Day in Hamlet, February 14 and Valentines have been symbols of romantic love.

In Britain around the 1820s, specially-made papers for sending Valentine’s Day greetings began to be marketed. They became so popular that they were soon being made in factories. Often flat paper sheets printed with colored illustrations and embossed borders, they were designed to be folded up and sealed with wax for mailing.

Elaborate lace quarto: Double-layered, openwork, cameo-embossed lace by the English firm of Joseph Meek, circa 1850. Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury

Elaborate lace quarto: Double-layered, openwork, cameo-embossed lace by the English firm of Joseph Meek, circa 1850. Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury

A very fancy Valentine could be made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the 1830s. Books and pamphlets containing sentimental verses and appropriate messages could be purchased by those wanting help in creating their card.

In 1835, 60,000 Valentine cards were mailed in Britain, despite postage being expensive.

After the introduction of the Penny Post in Britain in 1840, when adhesive stamps costing only a penny made mailing letters easy and inexpensive, sending Valentine’s Day cards became even more popular. And as the century progressed and mail deliveries around London became more frequent, a card sent in London in the early morning might easily be delivered to another London address the same day.

The stationery manufacturers Marcus Ward and Company helped to popularize printed Valentine cards. Specializing in stationery and general publishing, the firm won a medal for their color lithography in the Great Exhibition of 1851. In the 1860s, the firm was well-known for its calendars and greeting cards decorated by the likes of Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane.

Valentine by Kate Greenaway: England, circa 1870. Design from an illustration for the book, Melcomb Manor, a Family Chronicle. Printed by Marcus Ward, London,1875. from Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury

Valentine by Kate Greenaway: England, circa 1870. Design from an illustration for the book, Melcomb Manor, a Family Chronicle. Printed by Marcus Ward, London,1875. from Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury



The Laura Seddon Greeting Card Collection at Manchester Metropolitan University gathers 450 Valentine’s Day cards dating from the early nineteenth century, printed by the major publishers of the day.

Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury contains a wealth of information about the history of valentines and information about the National Valentine Collectors Association.

Here is a lovely collection of Victorian Valentines assembled by The Guardian.

And who wouldn’t relish receiving a Victorian Valentine with a picture of Cupid on roller skates?

For those who like their Valentines snarky, check out these “vinegar Valentines. ”



Young Arthur Sullivan at the Crystal Palace

sullivan-young-manIn the fall of 1866, young Arthur Sullivan (he was just 24) got one of his first big breaks: The chance to show off his orchestra-conducting skills as the guest conductor in place of Herr August Manns at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham on September 17, 1866.

Sullivan excitedly wrote, “I am to conduct the Ballad Concert on behalf of Manns—it may lead to greater things.”

The Crystal Palace began its existence as The Great Exhibition of 1851, featuring a wide variety of exhibits of art, crafts, manufacturing, and novelty items from around the globe.

Presided over by Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition was originally built in Hyde Park where it was open for 6 months. It was such a success there that a new, permanent building was built in London’s Sydenham area, south of the Thames. The permanent building opened in 1854.

The Crystal Palace was a breathtaking combination of museum, trade show, and entertainment venue, complete with refreshment courts and – a special innovation in those days – public toilets.

An old-time printer marvels at the wonders of the Crystal Palace in this educational YouTube video.

It was the Place to Be from its opening in 1854 until the 1890s, when it began to fall into decline. The impressive iron-and-glass structure burned to the ground in 1936.

There were Egyptian, Roman, Renaissance, Greek and Pompeiian art exhibits. Giant dinosaur sculptures, displays of tropical fruit, handicrafts, and steam engines all could be found within the immense glass walls. Special events included a circus – the famous tightrope walker Blondin did a high-wire act inside the Crystal Palace that included him cooking an omelet 180 feet in the air above the crowd – the Shakespeare Tercentenary Festival, Christmas pantomimes, and weekly concerts at the 4,000-seat concert hall equipped with a complete concert orchestra and a 4,500-pipe Great Organ.

Here is a terrific collection of drawings, colored images and paintings of the exhibits (9 mins):

Beginning in 1855, Herr Manns took over the musical program at the Crystal Palace and stayed there until 1901. He expanded the orchestra from a small wind ensemble with an additional four string players into a full 34-person concert orchestra.

Manns was a mentor and friend to Sullivan for decades. He was the first to introduce Sullivan’s concert music to the English public, when he conducted Sullivan’s Tempest music – Sullivan’s first major work, consisting of incidental music designed to be played during Shakespeare’s The Tempest – in 1862.

The BBC radio show “In Our Time” has a 41-minute radio program on the Crystal Palace





Victorian Time Travel: H G Wells vs. Jack the Ripper

So on New Year’s Day, I traveled back in time.

To be accurate, I watched the 1979 movie “Time after Time,” starring Malcolm MacDowell, David Warner and Mary Steenburgen. It was mind-blowing, being flung 37 years into the past, all the way back to the late 70s.

Well, back to the late 1800s as well. In the movie, the late Victorian era is portrayed as gritty and dangerous, the gaslit alleyways hiding the specter of hideous death in the form of disease, deprivation, and Jack the Ripper.

H.G. Wells is portrayed not as a fantastic storyteller bur as an actual Victorian inventor who built a working time machine. When his friend Dr. John Stevenson is unmasked as the Ripper, Stevenson steals the machine and travels forward into time to 1979 San Francisco, where the Time Machine is on display in a museum.

Here’s the trailer:

Fortunately, the Time Machine will return to its proper time unless the driver has a key to hold it in the alternate time. This will allow the nerdy and idealistic H.G. Wells to pursue Jack the Ripper into the future, in order to bring him back to face justice.

But in 1979, the marvelously evil Ripper takes one look at the horrors of modern life and knows that he’s where he belongs. In the best lines in the movie, he declares, “I belong here completely and utterly. I’m home…The world has caught up with me and surpassed me. Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today I’m an amateur.”

Watching this movie really made me think about how the Victorians must have felt about themselves: So modern, so fast-moving. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean in less than a week! Talking instantly to someone miles away by telephone! Traveling from one end of Britain to another by train in a single day!

And then the two characters journey into the future and discover that it’s not the peaceful paradise that H.G. Wells had so confidently envisioned. The world was moving faster than ever but violence was everywhere, even in cartoons (cartoon violence was a big issue in the 70s, as I recall. Victorians would have sympathized with that, since they had a very sentimental view of childhood). War continued to plague humanity – as was demonstrated when the camera closed in on the forearm of a San Francisco jeweler, who bore the tattoo of a concentration camp survivor.

On the positive side, H.G. Wells meets Amy Robbins (actually Wells’ wife’s name), played by Mary Steenbergen. During the late 70s Women’s Liberation was in full swing. Women were experiencing a heady feeling of sexual freedom, thanks to new, more effective birth control methods. It was delightful to see thoroughly modern Amy putting the moves on Herbert the Victorian nerd.

In sum, the old adage rings true: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Here is an interesting commentary on the film from Alan Spencer:

19th C. Britain’s Changes Under Unchanging Queen Victoria

Queen_Victoria,_1847Queen Victoria was born 24 May 1819, the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent. A year later her uncle, the Prince Regent, became George IV. He reigned for 17 years. When George IV died 20 June 1837, Victoria became queen. She was crowned on 28 June 1838, a mere 18 years old.

Thus began the second-longest reign of an English monarch – Queen Victoria ruled for 63 years and seven months, a length of time which has only been surpassed by the present Queen, Elizabeth II.

During those six decades and more, England underwent great social, political, economic and technological changes.

The English Regency, which lasted from 1811 to 1820, marked the beginning of the end of the old agrarian and feudal social structures. The Industrial Revolution had its roots in the inventions which were pioneered in the late 1700s. By the early 1800s, advances in steam engines, textile-making machinery and iron founding processes made possible the development of efficient new factories.

Factory work prompted a shift in the overall social structure of the nation, since individuals could now sell their labor for hire to the highest bidder, rather than occupy an unchanging position in the hierarchy of a feudal system. Distinctions between social classes began to erode. An individual’s birth and family origins became less important to their later success in life.

The first British steam railway locomotive was built in 1811, and by 1830, the first intercity route, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, was opened. A mere twenty years later, by the early 1850s, Britain boasted of over 7,000 miles (11,000 km) of railways. Now people could move more freely around the country.

In 1838, the first commercial telegraph in the world was installed on the Great Western Railway over the 13 miles (21 km) from Paddington station to West Drayton. This made it possible to accurately communicate messages over long distances anytime day or night. By the mid-1840s, commercial mass communications systems enabled personal long-distance communications, with telegraph instruments being installed in post offices across the country. By the 1870s transoceanic telegraph lines were able to connect the UK with America and Australia.

Queen Victoria married Prince Albert on 10 February 1840. She loved him dearly, and they had 9 children together. Victoria survived 4 assassination attempts and one assault, but the greatest blow she sustained was the death of Prince Albert on 14 December 1861. Queen Victoria was inconsolable and wore black for the rest of her life. However, after several years of mourning, she was convinced to return to public life. Although British society was changing, they still wanted their monarch.

In January 1878, inventor Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his recently developed telephone to Queen Victoria. A few days later the first telephone in Britain was installed, under licence from the General Post Office. From 1878, the telephone service in Britain was provided by private sector companies. In 1896, the service was taken over by the General Post Office.

Wireless technology, including Marconi’s system, began to be possible in the 1890s, but a regular transatlantic radio-telegraph service was not begun until 1907, several years after Victoria’s death.

Queen_Victoria_by_BassanoIn the 1890s, horseless carriages began to appear on the British scene. Frederick Simms, a London-based consulting engineer, became friends with German engineer Gottlieb Daimler, who had invented a high-speed petrol engine in 1885. In June 1895 Simms and his friend Evelyn Ellis promoted motorcars in the United Kingdom by completing the first British long-distance motorcar journey from Southampton to Malvern in July 1895.

The world’s first moving picture was shot in Leeds, England by French inventor Louis Le Prince in 1888. The next year, the first moving pictures developed on celluloid film were made in Hyde Park, London by William Friese Greene, a British portrait photographer and inventor. He patented his celluloid film process in 1890.

Queen Victoria reigned until her death in 1901. Her oldest son, Bertie, then became King Edward VII, ushering in the Edwardian Era.

Queen Victoria lived to see a great many changes in the lives of her subjects and in her own life. What changes in society, politics, and technology have you lived through in your life?

Leave me a comment and let me know!

[Tweet theme=”basic-full”]Queen Victoria and the parade of history [/Tweet]