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.

The Childhood of Prince Philip

Unlike his future wife Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip did not have a stable childhood. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece, fought in a military campaign against the Turks in the 1920s. Philip was born during the campaign. Unfortunately for Andrew, the Greeks lost and he and other military leaders were blamed. Andrew’s wife Alice had ties to Britain, which she used to beg the British king to spare her husband’s life. Prince Andrew, Alice and the children reunited on the British ship HMS Calypso. While on shipboard, young Philip took his first steps.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Coronation Portrait

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Coronation Portrait

From the time of his father’s exile from Greece, Philip’s family never had their own home. Instead Philip and his sisters stayed at the homes of relatives or other royal families in Europe. Philip’s parents took little interest in the raising of their son, but Nanny Roose remained a constant presence as the prince grew up. Since his nanny was British, English was Philip’s first language. She tried to train him as an English gentleman. She had her work cut out for her, since the prince delighted in teasing and pranks. For example, Philip loved to escape from his nanny at bath time. He ran naked through the halls of whatever castle he happened to be living in until someone finally caught him and brought him to the bathtub.

Philip’s outgoing personality and kindness helped him get along with the various cousins with whom he stayed. One cousin, Helene Foufounis, felt her mother paid Philip too much attention, but she still “thought he was a very nice little boy.” Helene’s sister had a hip injury and was often unable to play. When Philip received a toy from a family member who neglected to get one for his sick cousin “he came back with an armful of his own toys, and the new one, thrust them on her bed and said, ‘These are for you.’” Philip was not a snob, either. He knew he was a prince, but if an adult called him Prince Philip, he protested that he was “just Philip.”

The young prince attended several schools throughout Europe, but especially enjoyed Gordonstoun, a boarding school in Scotland. The school emphasized athletics and physical labor over subjects like math. Philip excelled there, later remarking that he was “one of those ignorant bums who never went to university—and a fat lot of harm it did me!” Despite the school’s strict rules Philip still pulled pranks—once he sewed up a teacher’s pajama bottoms—but nearly everyone, including the schoolmaster, liked him.

When he turned seventeen Philip left Gordonstoun for Dartmouth Royal Naval College to train for a career in the British Royal Navy. While in Dartmouth, one of his uncles arranged for him to meet thirteen-year-old Elizabeth. Though Philip was unimpressed by Elizabeth at first (after all, a lot of girls closer to his age found him attractive), Elizabeth adored him almost immediately. Several years later, they became secretly engaged.

The Childhood of Queen Elizabeth II of England

Even though she has been the Queen of England for decades, Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t supposed to inherit the throne. Her father George VI wasn’t born to be king either but his elder brother decided to marry a divorced woman. In those days, an English monarch couldn’t marry someone who was divorced without creating a scandal, so he decided to quit his duties as king and left the job to his brother. In 1952, the eldest daughter of George VI inherited the throne.

As a young girl, Elizabeth, nicknamed Lilibet, didn’t receive the formal education of most previous monarchs since she wasn’t expected to rule. Her parents wanted Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret to enjoy childhood and they hired a governess that agreed to carry out their wishes. The governess later wrote that the girls’ parents “were not over concerned with the higher education of their daughters. They wanted most for them a really happy childhood, with lots of pleasant memories…and, later, happy marriages.” Elizabeth’s lessons started when she turned six years old. Her governess taught arithmetic, literature, writing, composition, and geography. In all, the lessons only lasted an hour and a half each day. Even when she became heir to the throne Elizabeth’s parents didn’t want her education to be too rigid, though courses on constitutional history and the monarchy were added.

Elizabeth preferred the outdoors to the schoolroom, especially once she learned to ride horses. She received her first pony at age three and was devoted to riding and caring for the animals. When someone asked her what she would like to do when she grew up, she said, “Live the life of a country lady, with lots of horses and dogs.” As queen she couldn’t always be in the country, but she did get her wish for plenty of horses and dogs.

Since she was a member of the royal family, taking her out to meet “normal” girls and boys was almost impossible without being recognized by the public. Eventually her mother invited some neighborhood girls over so that Elizabeth could have her own group of Girl Guides (known in the U.S. as the Girl Scouts).Though her parents had duties that would sometimes take them away from the children, they made family time a priority. The girls spent as much time as possible with their parents, who read them stories, ate dinner with them, and engaged in pillow fights. Although the relationship between the princesses and their parents does not seem unusual today, most royal children, including Elizabeth’s father, were not close to their parents. George VI’s father, George V, thought that his own children needed to fear him; however, Elizabeth brought out another side of her grandfather. She never learned to fear adults, so she simply announced when she wanted to play and her grandfather got down on the floor and let her lead him around by his beard.

Still, her role models and primary companions were adults. She especially admired her father’s courage and sense of duty when he became king. She knew he didn’t want the job and he struggled with public speaking, but he put his duty to his country first. His example taught her more about what it meant to be a good leader than any of her history books.