xxxxxFor Victoria the year 1861 had been the saddest in her life. Her mother had died in March (and they had long been reconciled by then), and the Prince of Wales had brought shame on the royal family following his publicised affair with a young actress. But nothing had prepared her for the loss of her beloved Albert, her soul-mate and guide, in the last month of the year. She was utterly devastated. “My life as a happy one,” she wrote, “is ended”. She wore black for the rest of her life and for the next ten years she did not show herself in public. She refused to attend privy council meetings, did not open Parliament until 1866, and for many months of the year hid herself away, be it at Windsor, Balmoral or Osborne House, the royal home on the Isle of Wight built under Albert’s supervision in 1848. When the Prince of Wales married Princess Alexandre of Denmark in March 1963 she did not take part in the service or attend the wedding reception, and five years later the marriage of Princess Alice was a gloomy affair with all her family dressed in deep mourning.

xxxxxNot surprisingly, as the years went by, there was mounting criticism of the monarchy. In her absence the value of the sovereign’s role was seriously questioned. At best there was a demand for her abdication in favour of the Prince of Wales. At worst there was growing support for the republican movement. In 1870 there was a rally of republican supporters in Hyde Park, London, and a year later she was openly accused of neglecting her royal duties.

xxxxxThatxshe eventually managed to return to public life and regain some of the happiness she had lost, was due in large measure to two men of very different social status: her man servant John Brown (illustrated), and her prime minister for some years, Benjamin Disraeli. Both, in their different ways, provided the affection, the comfort and the guidance she had lost with the death of Albert. Brown, a blunt Scotsman, treated her as a woman in need of protection, and stood on no ceremony. As a royal gillie he provided much needed companionship at holiday times and, later, at Windsor. This liaison - though no more, it would seem, than an affectionate friendship - alarmed senior members of the royal household and, in the public domain, earned her the title of “Mrs Brown”. It was, indeed, an odd relationship, but it worked nonetheless. (As we shall see, she was to enter into a similar kind of relationship with an Indian servant, Abdul Karim, in 1887.)

xxxxxBrown’s death in 1883 saddened her deeply, but by then she had overcome much of her anguish, due in large measure to the close friendship she had enjoyed with her prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli (illustrated), during his years of office 1874 to 1880. It was an understanding based on mutual respect and affection. She enjoyed his company, was flattered by his concern for her, and gained comfort from his support. She found him “full of poetry, romance and chivalry”. Furthermore, it was a meeting of like minds. She shared his political views, and especially his belief in British imperialism. She was delighted with his purchase of shares in the Suez Canal in 1875 - giving Britain a controlling interest in this vital waterway - applauded his support for the Turks against Russian ambitions in the Balkans, and was delighted when, at his instigation, she was proclaimed Empress of India at a grand ceremony at Delhi in 1877. By 1880, when Disraeli was unseated by the liberal William Ewart Gladstone, a man she considered “arrogant, tyrannical and obstinate”, she was back in favour with the British people and taking a full part in public affairs.

xxxxxThis period of Victoria’s reign was to witness momentous changes in Europe - the humiliation of France; the emergence of a powerful, united Germany; the decline of Austria as a great power; and the isolation of Russia. These events - destroying as they did the old balance of power - were to have a profound effect upon the history of the continent as the century moved to a close. At the same time, there were impressive advances in medicine, transport and communication, the emergence of Modern Art in the form of Impressionism, a volume of  music by such masters as Brahms, Grieg and Tchaikovsky,  and a wealth of literary giants, including Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy and Émile Zola. And there were two events which were to have long-term consequences for the world at large: the publication of Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and the completion of Das Kapital, the work of the communist philosopher Karl Marx.

QUEEN VICTORIA  1862 - 1880   (Vb)  Reigned 1837 - 1901


The American Civil War continues with the Second Battle of Bull Run. This is another victory for the Confederates, but in the west Federal forces begin to gain ground.

Napoleon III of France establishes Maximilian, a Habsburg prince, on the throne of Mexico, but is forced to withdraw his troops four years later, and Maximilian is executed.

Victor Hugo, one of France’s greatest  men of letters, publishes Les Misérables whilst in exile. His stand against Napoleon III makes him a symbol of French republicanism.

The Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev publishes his major work Fathers and Sons. His brilliant novels and short stories make him one of Russia’s greatest writers.


Confederate forces under the command of General Robert E. Lee are soundly defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg. This puts an end to Lee’s second and final invasion of the North.

By its style and subject matter, Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Picnic on the Grass), the work of the French artist Édouard Manet, sets the stage for the advent of Impressionism.

The French composer Georges Bizet produces his opera The Pearl Fishers. His masterpiece, Carmen of 1875, becomes world famous, but he does not live to see its success.


Following the Second Schleswig War, Prussia takes Schleswig from Denmark and Austria receives Holstein. This settlement becomes the cause of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.

In his paper A dynamical theory of the Electromagnetic Field the brilliant Scottish physicist and mathematician J.C. Maxwell puts forward the theory of electromagnetic waves.

Based on the idea of the Swiss humanitarian Jean Henri Dunant, put forward after visiting the battlefield of Solferino in 1859 (Va), the First Geneva Convention establishes the International Committee of the Red Cross.


The American Civil War ends in April with the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, but President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated five days later.

After eight years studying plant growth, the Austrian botanist Gregor Mendel produces his

laws of biological inheritance, but his findings are not valued until the turn of the century.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  is published by Lewis Carroll, a lecturer in mathematics at Oxford University. Its sequel Through the Looking Glass is produced six years later.

The English surgeon Joseph Lister, believing in the germ theory of disease, uses carbolic acid to stop the spread of infection. In France Louis Pasteur saves the silkworm industry.


In South America war breaks out between Paraguay and its three neighbours, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The so-called War of the Triple Alliance ends in 1870.


The Austro-Prussian War breaks out over Schleswig-Holstein. In this Seven Weeks’ War, engineered by the Prussian minister Otto Von Bismarck, Prussia gains a resounding victory at the Battle of Sadowa.

The Russian novelist  Fyodor Dostoevsky publishes Crime and Punishment, his first major work. This and his later works, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov, are noted for their deep psychological insight.


After five attempts a transatlantic cable is successfully laid from Ireland to Newfoundland. The American financier Cyrus Field and the Irish physicist William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) play important parts in the success of this project.

Alfred Nobel, a Swedish scientist, invents dynamite, a powerful yet stable explosive. Later, with the fortune he makes from explosives and oil, he founds the famous Nobel Prizes.


The Fenian Movement, aiming to gain Irish independence by force, fails in its bid to seize

 armaments from Chester Castle in England in support of a full-scale uprising in Ireland.   


In North America, the United States buys Alaska from Russia for less than 2 cents an acre, and the Dominion of Canada is established by the British North America Act.

Hungary is united with Austria under one monarch, Franz Joseph, and gains a large measure of independence. This marks the birth of the dual kingdom of Austria-Hungary.

The German philosopher Karl Marx completes the first

volume of his major work Das Kapital. The two additional volumes are edited and published after his death by his friend

and collaborator Friedrich Engels.

Napoleon III of France establishes a colony in the southern part of Vietnam in South-East Asia. Named Cochin-China it proves the first step in the creation of French Indo-China.


A revolt in Spain forces Queen Isabella II to abdicate. This leads to the Third Carlist War

and a powerful but unsuccessful uprising against Spanish rule on the island of Cuba.

With the abdication of Yoshinobu, the Shogunate in Japan is abolished and imperial rule  is restored. The samurai are stripped of their power but do not go without a struggle.


In Egypt the Suez Canal is opened. In the United States the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads join up in Utah to complete the first trans-continental railway.

The Russian author Leo Tolstoy completes his epic work War and Peace. This, together with his novel Anna Karenina, make him one of the world’s great writers of realistic fiction.

The Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev compiles the first version of the periodic table of elements. His textbook Principles of Chemistry, completed a year later, proves very popular.

Matthew Arnold, the English poet and social and literary critic, writes his Culture and Anarchy, a scathing attack upon the immorality and materialism of Victorian England.


In the Franco-Prussian War, engineered by the Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck, Napoleon III is defeated and captured at  the Battle of Sedan. However, the Third Republic is formed and resistance continues.

Following the withdrawal of the French troops from Rome, the Pope is left unprotected. Italian forces are able to occupy the Papal States and complete the Unification of Italy.

Under the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelite movement gains importance in the fields of handicraft and interior design.

The French writer Jules Verne, the leading pioneer in science fiction, publishes his Twenty

Thousand Leagues under the Sea, one of his many exciting adventures into the unknown.


The French composer Léo Delibes produces the famous ballet Coppélia. This and his ballet Sylvia of 1876 establish his reputation as an outstanding composer of dance music.

Lorna Doone, a romantic novel by the English writer Richard Doddridge Blackmore, is

 published.  Set in the 17th century in the region of Exmoor, it becomes a huge success.


In January the Germans force an end to the Siege of Paris and declare the Unification of Germany. In March the Paris Commune is set up to oppose the new French government, but this is crushed two months later.

The English naturalist Charles Darwin publishes his The Descent of Man, a work which traces the origin of man within his theory of evolution, and stirs up further controversy.

A search party, led by the American journalist  Henry Morton Stanley, finds the Scottish explorer David Livingstone at Uiji, a trading post on Lake Tanganyika in east Africa.

The grand opera Aida, a major work of the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1853 Va), is performed in Cairo. Later compositions include the operas Otello and Falstaff.

The American artist James Whistler paints Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the

Painter’s Mother, a work which exemplifies his belief in the doctrine of “art for art’s sake”.

British Columbia, situated on the west coast of North America, enters the Canadian

Federation following the promise of a railway link across the continent by the 1880s.


The Three Emperors’ League is formed between Germany, Austro-Hungary and Russia to stop the growth of liberalism, but Russia leaves it following the Congress of Berlin in 1878.


The French artist Claude Monet paints Impression: Sunrise, a work which, two years later, gives birth to Impressionism. Among the movement’s leading exponents are Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley.


The Third Anglo-Ashanti War breaks out and leads to the capture of the capital Kumasi and the eventual absorption of the southern provinces into the colony of the Gold Coast.

The German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, working in Turkey, claims to have discovered the site of ancient Troy. He later discovers treasure at Mycenae in Greece.


The English writer Thomas Hardy completes Far from the Madding Crowd, his first successful novel, and one of many stories based on country life in his native Dorset.

The Austrian composer Johann Strauss, famous for his waltz The Blue Danube, produces his operetta Die Fledermaus. He gained worldwide recognition and fame as “the Waltz King”.

The Impressionists stage an exhibition in Paris, the first of eight. On display are  works by Monet, Degas, Renoir, Sisley, Morisot , Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne.


The first performance takes place of the opera Carmen , the work of the French composer Georges Bizet. It fails to impress, but was to gain worldwide fame after his death.


The Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky produces his piano concerto in B flat minor, one of his greatest works. He wrote symphonies, concertos and music for ballets and operas.  

Benjamin Disraeli, the British Prime Minister, acting on his own initiative, buys Egypt’s shares in the Suez Canal Company and gains a controlling interest in this vital waterway.


The American writer Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Clemens) produces The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is published in 1885 (Vc).

The American scientist  Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone. Demonstrated at an Exposition in Philadelphia, it comes to revolutionize the world of communications.

Sioux Indians kill Colonel Custer and his 210 men at the Battle of The Little Bighorn. The U.S. Government wreak revenge fourteen years later at the Battle of Wounded Knee.

In Norway Edvard Grieg composes his Peer Gynt Suite,  whilst in Germany,  composer Richard  Wagner produces his masterpiece, the opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung,

The title Empress of India is conferred on Queen Victoria, and she is proclaimed empress at the Delhi Durbar, a gathering of Indian princes and nobles held in May 1877.


The German composer and pianist Johannes Brahms produces his 2nd Symphony. Writing in the classical tradition, his works included symphonies, concertos and chamber music.

A Russo-Turkish War breaks out amid uprisings against Turkish rule in the Balkans. The

Russian advance towards Istanbul alarms the powers of Western Europe, especially Britain.  

In America Thomas Edison invents the phonograph, forerunner of the gramophone. Two years later he produces the first practical light bulb, and starts the age of electricity.  

In South Africa the British annex Transvaal, granted independence in 1852 (Va). Later, however, the Boers revolt and defeat the British at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881 (Vc).


The Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observes “canals” on the surface of Mars. This leads to much speculation about the possibility of intelligent life on this planet.


The Treaty of San Stefano, imposed on Turkey at the end of the Russo-Turkish War, is seen as too favourable to Russia, and is revised by the international Congress of Berlin

In a further attempt to stop Russian expansion into Central Asia,  the British engineer the

Second Anglo-Afghan War and gain control of Afghan foreign affairs until 1919.

The evangelist William Booth founds the Salvation Army, a religious and charity organisation which he began as a Church Mission in London in 1865. By his death in 1912 it was at work in 58 countries.


In South Africa the British put an end to the Kaffir Wars, begun in 1779, and, after a serious setback at the Battle of Isandlwana, defeat the Zulus at the Battle of Ulundi.


The “War of the Pacific” breaks out in South America between Chile and the combined forces of Peru and Bolivia. Fought over a mineral-rich region, it does not end until 1884.

The Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen writes A Doll’s House, one of several realistic plays   

which broke away from the romantic melodrama and laid the foundation of modern drama.

A cave decorated with stone-age wall paintings, the first prehistoric art to be discovered, is found at Altamira in northern Spain. The paintings date from 14,000 to 12,000 B.C.


The legendary Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, wearing a metal helmet and body armour, makes his last stand at Glenrowan. He is captured, convicted of murder, and hanged.


In France, the novelist Émile Zola publishes Nana, one of his major works, and the writer Guy de Maupassant gains overnight fame with his short story entitled Boule de Suif.

In Britain the Conservative Party is defeated by the Liberals and, to the dismay of Queen Victoria, William Gladstone becomes prime minister for the second time. As we shall see,  the remainder of her reign, Vc (1881-1901) covers a new period of imperialism, centred mainly around the “Scramble for Africa”.


Victoria:  detail, by the British artist Lady Julia Abercromby (1840-1915),  after a portrait by the Austrian painter Heinrich von Angeli (1840-1925), 1875 –  National Portrait Gallery, London.  Brown:  detail of photograph, c1860s, by the photographic firm of Hills and Saunders,  founded  in  Oxford,  June  1860. Disraeli:  date  and artist unknown –  Utopia  Portrait  Gallery, University  of  Texas Libraries, USA. Coat of Arms: licensed under Creative Commons. Author: Ipankonin – Dostoevsky: detail, by the Russian painter Vasily Perov (1833-1882), 1872 – Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.





































































Snippets During VictoriaB reign Synopsis of Victoria Reign (Vb)

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