Wanted: A Husband for the Queen–Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

As Queen of England, Victoria was expected to produce an heir. Soon after her coronation in 1837 a search for a husband started. Since the Queen of England ruled in her own right, finding a husband presented some unique issues since there was really no precedent. Queen Elizabeth I ruled alone but never married. In the end Victoria chose her German cousin on her mother’s side. He became known in England as Prince Albert.

The extraordinary circumstances of their marriage were no doubt helped by the fact that Victoria and Albert were very much in love with each other. Prince Albert soon carved out his own role beside Victoria. He served as her private secretary and closest advisor. He often stood in for her when she was feeling particularly unwell during one of her nine pregnancies. Albert also influenced Victoria with his interest in science and technology. As a result the queen remained a patron of both throughout her reign.


The Marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Feb. 1840

Husband and wife and their nine children made for quite a happy family. Though it has been said that Victoria did not like children, this was mostly true of children six months of age and younger. Like most women, she did not enjoy the experience of childbirth. In contrast to Victoria, Albert liked the company of very small children. The Queen admitted that Albert made a better nurse than she did after the birth of their first child and later reminded her daughter “dear Papa always directed our nursery and I believe that none was ever better.”

Victoria had many photographs and portraits made of her and her family, although she was often away on official business. Neither mother nor father could spend as much time with the children as they would’ve liked, but this was common among wealthy British families. Both parents took a keen interest and concern in their children’s education. They tended to stay away from the traditional clerics and selected more liberal tutors.

Albert and Victoria’s personalities also balanced one another out. Albert had tendency to be serious, while Victoria appeared more serious in portraits than in real life. Many people who met her in person were surprised to see Victoria smile and laugh so often.

When Albert died in 1861, the Queen was devastated. After his death, she wrote “What a dreadful going to bed! What a contrast to that tender lover’s love! All alone!” Victoria mourned in private for almost three years until she was finally seen in public riding in her carriage.

Katherine (Catherine) Parr: Henry VIII’s Regent

In the summer of 1544, the future Queen Elizabeth I had one of the most important experiences of her life. While her father Henry VIII was on a military campaign in France, he left his wife Queen Katherine Parr in charge of England. Elizabeth watched as her stepmother successfully ruled England. Although Katherine did have male advisors, the queen made final decisions on any important matter.

As regent (meaning someone who took over the king’s duties), Katherine proved that Henry chose his temporary replacement well. Careful of her country’s interests abroad, she kept the king’s troops supplied with food and weapons. If England’s enemies thought they could take advantage of the king’s absence, they were wrong. Under her orders, men captured a ship from England’s rival Scotland and obtained letters that proved the Scots supported the French. In addition, Katherine squashed false rumors that the French were trying to invade England. During her regency, she kept Henry informed. She wrote of the false invasion rumor “We thought good to advertise you of the same, lest any other vain report passing over might have caused the king’s majesty to have conceived other opinion of the state of things here…all things here are in very quiet and good order.”

In addition to sending information and supplies to the king, Katherine had to make decisions about domestic problems. She released Scottish prisoners when England’s jails became too crowded with the exception of those who might do harm. Even these prisoners, however, would have food paid for by the king. She also issued a proclamation for tolerance of French citizens in England who worried that the king’s war might put them in danger.

During her stay with her stepmother, Princess Elizabeth learned to combine the male qualities of a ruler with those of a woman. Katherine wrote Henry, “And even such confidence I have in your majesty’s gentleness, knowing myself to never have done my duty as were requisite and meet to such a noble prince, at whose hands I have received so much love and goodness that with words I cannot express it.” Katherine’s description of her faults to Henry despite the fact that England was doing fine without its king shows her intelligence as a wife and female ruler. Elizabeth would later encounter prejudice against female rulers and she would refer to herself as a “mere woman.” Through Katherine, however, she learned that mere women could handle the pressure of decision-making and could rule a country just as well or better than some men.

The Popularity of Queen Elizabeth I of England

From the very beginning of her reign, Queen Elizabeth I knew how to gain popularity with the common people. As she rode through London in the first week of her reign, she made each person who had lined the streets to see her feel that she was singling them out for her attention. One of her subjects stated, “All her faculties were in motion, and every motion seemed a well-guided action; her eye was set upon one [person], her ear listened to another, her judgment ran upon a third, to a fourth she addressed her speech.” At the age of twenty-five, Elizabeth already knew how to play to an audience. Her talents for good public relations would serve her well throughout her reign.

Unlike her shy sister Mary Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I actively sought out the praise and adoration of her subjects. She asked to have her carriage brought into the crowds that came to see her on various state occasions and stood up to thank the people for their good wishes. Her progress was often slow as she stopped to accept flowers and small gifts from her subjects. Though she was most accessible to people in London, the queen made visits to southern England during the summer so the people could see their ruler and feel a greater connection to her.

The queen’s popularity gave her an advantage in the male-dominated sixteenth century. Most people at the time thought that women were less capable of ruling a country than men. Elizabeth used her gender to her advantage by acknowledging that she was a “mere woman”, but she also emphasized that she was chosen by God to lead her people.  In her view, the deaths of her sister and brother were not accidental—God wanted her to be queen because of her unique talents. As God’s chosen ruler, she was superior to others, even men. Eventually, painters portrayed her as a goddess, the Virgin Queen, ruling over England.

Elizabeth’s popularity soared with the defeat of the Spanish Armada, a fleet of ships sent by the king of Spain to invade England in 1588. She boosted the spirits of her troops as they went into battle and received credit for the victory, even from people who disliked her. After the victory, the Pope said, “She is only a woman, only the mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by Empire, by all!” Queen Elizabeth I became more than a female substitute for a king—she was a respected ruler and legend in her own lifetime.

Elizabeth I: The Education of the Future Queen of England

King Henry VIII once said, “without knowledge our life would not be worth our having.” In fact, he took pride in the intelligence of his wives and determined that his daughters would be equally smart. Since his first daughter Mary Tudor received an education that included not only “women’s work” but also the study of other languages and the classics, it made sense that his second daughter should be similarly educated.

Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I, took her first lessons from her governess Katherine Champernowne. Katherine taught her student the fundamentals of languages such as French, Italian, and Spanish. She also introduced the young girl to history, math, and science. Since Elizabeth’s mother died when she was very young, she had a close bond with her kind, intelligent governess. Katherine took motherly pride in Elizabeth’s accomplishments, but she knew her bright student would need to continue her studies with a more accomplished teacher.

When her father married Katherine Parr, the new stepmother took an interest in Elizabeth’s education. She appointed a private tutor for the young girl. William Grindal was a Latin scholar who also excelled in teaching Greek. Under his instruction, Elizabeth mastered both languages, exceeding her sister Mary’s knowledge of them as well as her father’s.

After William Grindal died of the plague, Grindal’s teacher Roger Ascham became Elizabeth’s tutor. The schedule Ascham arranged for his pupil makes today’s school day seem easy by comparison. In the morning Elizabeth studied Greek, including the Greek New Testament and Greek literature. In the afternoon she worked on Latin authors, and in the evening she learned history and studied oratory. Unlike other teachers in the sixteenth century, however, Ascham thought that learning should be enjoyable. He believed in praising rather than punishing students. He wrote, “I have dealt with many learned ladies, but among them all the brightest star is my illustrious Lady Elizabeth.” He also thought his students should learn about a variety of things, so in addition to her schoolwork Elizabeth also played musical instruments, hunted, and rode horses.

Although her father never intended her education to aid her as a ruler, her tutors gave her a love of learning that aided her when she took the throne. Her knowledge of languages and speech-making skills helped her talk with foreign ambassadors. As Queen she “entered…first into the school of experience” and had to devote herself, as she stated, to “the study of that which was meet for Government.” Her desire to learn new things and her education helped her to become a successful ruler.