The Childhood of Queen Victoria

Princess Alexandrina Victoria, born in spring of 1819 in Kensington Palace, London was an unlikely successor to the English throne. Her older uncles were expected to produce heirs. King George IV had one child named Charlotte who died in childbirth. King William IV succeeded George IV but had no legitimate children.

When Victoria’s father the Duke of Kent noticed that his brothers were failing to produce children, he decided that he should start a family. His search for a wife ended with the Dowager Princess of Leinigen who already had two young children by her first marriage. As a child with an English father and a German mother, Victoria soon mastered both languages.

Since she was not initially expected to be heir to the throne, Victoria’s early childhood was less restricted than it was later on. She enjoyed going to concerts and the theater. After attending a concert or play, she would often dress up her dolls as her favorite characters or she would draw sketches of them.


Princess Victoria, age 4

Like other young girls, Victoria loved to play with dolls although she had a few more than most. With help from her governess Louise Lehzen she made beautiful clothes for her collection of over 100 dolls. Though the dolls were put away when she grew up, Victoria continued to be an avid sketcher and painter throughout her life. As a child she particularly loved to draw her pet dog Dash.

Though the future Queen Victoria had multiple pets including some very fast horses, Dash the Cavalier King Charles spaniel was her favorite. She loved him so much that after her coronation she rushed home to give him a bath.

Her female companions consisted of her mother, with whom she had a complex relationship, her half-sister Feodora, and her German governess Baroness Lehzen. Feodora was 12 years older than Victoria. She married a German prince in 1828 and went to live with him, leaving Victoria without one of her favorite companions. After one of Feodora’s visits an emotional 15-year-old Victoria said, “I clasped her in my arms and kissed her and cried as if my heart would break; so did she, dearest Sister.” The two would correspond and visit each other throughout their lives.

When it became clear that Victoria was next in line to the throne, her mother decided to employ the so-called Kensington System for Victoria’s remaining upbringing. At all times Victoria was to be accompanied by an adult; she even had to sleep in the same room as her mother until she became queen at age 18.

Victoria’s mother had a bad habit of listening to her advisor Sir John Conroy who wanted only to enhance his own power. Victoria’s mother took a great deal of bad advice and never completely understood her adopted country, but her two daughters Fedora and Victoria were successful and accomplished young women. Despite her mother’s faults, it is likely that the Duchess had something to do with Victoria’s character.

Though her closeness with Baroness Louise Lehzen would complicate her adult relationships, when she was younger Victoria believed her to be nearly perfect. She was Victoria’s closest companion and someone she in whom she could safely confide.

Victoria’s father the Duke of Kent died when she was an infant, and the scheming Sir John Conroy was certainly not someone that Victoria could look up to as a father figure. That role was filled by her Uncle Leopold. He was her uncle from her mother’s side and eventually became King of the Belgians in 1831. He tried to give Victoria advice on how she should behave and to prepare her for the possibility of becoming queen. He told her “high personages are a little like stage actors – they must always make efforts to please their public.” Victoria relied on Leopold’s letters and took his advice to heart.

At the age of 18, Victoria learned that she was to become queen of England. She remembered, “I cried much on learning it and even deplored this contingency.”

The Education of Queen Victoria of England

As a little girl, the future Queen of England already had a stubborn streak. She refused to behave and her mother described her as “unmanageable.” Fortunately, four-year-old Victoria’s first tutor, George Davys, came up with ways to make lessons interesting. Though Victoria resisted learning to read, her tutor decided to create a word game for his student. He wrote words on cards and hid them in the nursery. Victoria adored searching for the cards as Davys called out the name of each one. The princess learned quickly, but Davys noted that she still had “a will of her own.”

By age five, Victoria’s mother appointed Louise Lehzen as Victoria’s governess. The relationship did not always go smoothly, since Lehzen insisted that Victoria behave and practice her lessons. Victoria rebelled with tantrums. Once the princess threw scissors at the governess. The older woman proved as stubborn as Victoria though and she devoted hours to the child’s lessons, piano practice, and playtime with Victoria’s collection of dolls. Eventually Victoria began to like her governess. Victoria later said of Lehzen that, “I adored her, though I was greatly in awe of her.”

Lehzen remained an important part of Victoria’s life, but she as she grew she had tutors who specialized in certain subjects. The princess’ school day started at 9:30 and went to 11:30. Then she and ate until 3pm when lessons began again and lasted until 6pm. Victoria loved drawing, dancing, and history. She wrote to her uncle that, “I am very fond of making tables of the Kings and Queens.” In contrast, she hated practicing the piano. When she was told that she must practice, Victoria slammed the lid of the piano shut and declared, “There! There is no must about it.”

Despite her occasional outbursts, Victoria managed to concentrate on her studies, which included an increasingly wide range of subjects. She made progress in learning languages, including French, German, and English, though grammar was not her strong point.

Her education was very focused on the knowledge she would need as a future monarch and had little in common with other girls’ education in the nineteenth century. For example, instead of learning to sew, Victoria studied arithmetic. For many young ladies, beauty and the opinions of men mattered a lot, but Victoria spent little time worrying about her appearance or what others thought of her. In a letter to her half-sister, Victoria poked fun at her own portrait.

The emphasis that her mother and tutors placed on her education made the future queen inquisitive. As queen, Victoria refused to sit back and let her ministers advise her. Instead, she studied and asked questions about issues in England and foreign affairs, frequently surpassing her advisors with her knowledge. To date Queen Victoria is England’s longest reigning monarch, though she may be surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II.