King George III (1738-1820) was king of Great Britain from 1760 until his death, making him the longest-reigning monarch at that time. His reign began well with the defeat of France in the Seven Years War, making Britain the dominant European power, but he is known more commonly as being ‘The King who lost America’ – many of Britain’s colonies were lost in the American War of Independence (1175-1783). In later life, King George suffered from mental illness which confused doctors at the time but is now thought to have been porphyria, a blood disease. Unable to reign, in 1810 a Regency was established in which his son, George IV, was acting king until his father’s death in 1820. King George was criticised heavily until the later half of the twentieth century, seen as a scapegoat for the failure of British imperialism and loss of important colonies. He is still remembered as ‘The Mad King’, although now with a greater deal of sympathy, and was the inspiration for the Alan Bennett play and 1994 film ‘The Madness of King George’.
George IV(1762-1830) reigned from 1820 until his death. He was not a popular king – an extravagant lifestyle and little national leadership made the public contemptuous and angry at the way in which taxpayers’ money was spent.
Although very artistic and cultured – buildings dating from the Regency period
Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) was born on 24th May 1819 at Kensington Palace, where she spent her childhood. Granddaughter of George III, her father Edward, Duke of Kent, died shortly after her birth and she was raised by her mother until she became Queen at the age of eighteen in 1837.
The winter of 1819-20 was a very severe winter, with temperatures of -23°C recorded in Tunbridge Wells. The coldest London winter of the 19th century came a few years later on, in 1837-8, when central London reached an unheard of -16°C. Throughout the Victorian era the Thames froze over during several winters, and the longest winter was 1820-21: in May 1821 snow fell in London – the latest recorded snowfall until June 1975.
More on the history of British weather.
This may refer to the Scottish Insurrection of 1820, or the ‘Radical War’ which was centred on the city of Glasgow. Radical demands for reform led to a call for strike action in early April and small groups of people began to march in protest in and around the city and its factories. Government troops put down the demonstration and three leaders were hanged; a further twenty sentenced to deportation. It was evident that the unrest had been activated by the government through the dissemination of rumours, as a ploy to bring the Radical leaders into the open and publicise the dangers of radicalism. After this, the sentiment died down and the event was largely forgotten.
View a short clip from the BBC about the Radical War.
Queen Victoria inherited the throne of Great Britain and Ireland on 20th June 1837. Her uncle, William IV, died leaving no children and his younger brothers, including Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, did not outlive him. Victoria had just turned eighteen on 24th May 1837 which meant a regency – whereby her mother would have been appointed to rule on her behalf if she was still a minor – was avoided; desirable to both the old King and Victoria as her mother was heavily influenced by her advisor Sir John Conroy. Nevertheless, Victoria was still very young and inexperienced due to her sheltered childhood – the world she was cast into was overwhelming and she relied heavily on advice, first from the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, and later from her husband, Prince Albert.
Victoria’s diary for 20th June 1837 reads:
I was awoke at 6 o'clock by Mamma, who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen. (St Aubyn, pp. 55–57; Woodham-Smith, p. 138)
The Gentleman’s Magazine was a British magazine published between 1731 and 1922. Founded by Edward Cave, it was the first publication to use the word ‘magazine’ as opposed to periodical. The content of the magazine was news, topical issues and focus on any subject which the public were interested in; there were original articles from regular contributors (one of whom was a young Samuel Johnson), extracts from other periodicals and books and letters to the editor. The magazine was published every month and each issue featured an image of St John’s Gate, Edward Cave’s home.
The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine was published between 1852 and 1879. Samuel Beeton published articles on domestic issues, fashion and fiction, with a correspondence section which, as of 1867, featured contribution from men. Aimed at middle-class women to ‘tend to the improvement of the intellect’, Beeton’s wife also wrote a supplement to the magazine between 1859 and 1861, which would later become Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.
The Times is a national British daily newspaper, first published in 1785. Founded by John Walter, it was originally called The Daily Universal Register but adopted the name The Times on 1st January 1788. The Sunday Times is its sister newspaper but was founded separately, although both newspapers are now owned by News International. The Times was the first publication of that name, sparking a whole array of others across the world; it was also the first newspaper to send out war correspondents and the origin of the typeface Times New Roman. In the nineteenth century, due to a lack of competition, it was the biggest and most influential paper in Britain. Printed in broadsheet format until 2004, The Times has traditionally been a moderate newspaper and today has a circulation of over 400,000.
The Morning Chronicle was a London newspaper which ran between 1769 and 1862. The first editor was William Woodfall, and the paper was most notable for being the first employer of Charles Dickens, who reported and also began writing short stories for the paper under the name ‘Boz’.
Westminster Abbey, a year after she had inherited the throne of Great Britain. As with all coronations of British monarchs, the Archbishop of Canterbury held the ceremony, at which were present Members of the Houses of Parliament, state, church and royal officials. The coronation oath was taken, the queen seated in King Edward’s chair and the crown placed upon her head, the orb and sceptres in her hands. After this, homage was paid by the Archbishop and officials before a Holy Communion. Unfortunately, the coronation ring which was made for Victoria’s little finger was forced onto her fourth finger by the Archbishop and had to be bathed in iced water later before it could be removed.
At her coronation, Queen Victoria wore a robe of velvet and ermine and the train was carried by eight young ladies dressed in white satin. A magnificent procession brought the Queen to the Abbey from Buckingham Palace and back again, and the way was lined with crowds who had turned out to glimpse the new Queen. Commemorative medals or coins are usually issued on occasions such as coronations and jubilees and would have been thrown to the waiting crowds during the procession as memorabilia.
Buckingham Palace – after growing up in Kensington, Queen Victoria moved to Buckingham Palace three weeks after her accession. Bought by George III in 1761, work to make the palace a royal home had been so costly and extensive that no monarch had ever lived there in permanent residence. Victoria and Albert began an extensive programme of renovation to make the house suitable for the family they wished to have – adding nurseries and guest bedrooms, moving the Marble Arch to Hyde Park and building a fourth wing.
Frogmore House – standing in the Park of Windsor Castle, Frogmore House was one of Queen Victoria’s favourite weekend homes. However, in 1841 she gave it to her mother, so renovations may well have been carried out around this time.
April 1840 was a very dry, hot month in Britain. Greenwich records show a rainfall of only 2mm for the month, and temperatures soared. A letter to the editor of The Times indicates temperatures of up to 114°Farenheit (45.6°Celsius) in the sun.
All the bridesmaids wore white satin off-the-shoulder dresses which, like the Queen’s wedding dress, had been designed by herself and were ornamented with sprays of roses.
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848) was a Whig politician and Britain’s Prime Minister in 1834 and from 1835-41. He was also Home Secretary from 1830-34. During his term in office no great reforms were passed – he was cautious of change for change’s sake and there were no great issues to be dealt with either at home or abroad. He is most famous for being a favourite of Queen Victoria and instructing the young queen in politics, a relationship which was viewed with great suspicion by the British public and Melbourne’s political rivals. The city of Melbourne in Australia, founded in 1835, was named for him.
Melbourne’s dealing with the Jamaican planters refers to the issues caused in Jamaica by the abolition of slavery. The Abolition Act of 1833 stipulated that all emancipated slaves in the colonies should remain working for their former masters in an ‘apprenticeship’ scheme for six years, thereby allowing a gradual transition from slavery to employment – this was mostly for the benefit of the planters, who received financial compensation for the loss of their slaves. However, after peaceful protests in Trinidad the apprenticeship scheme had to be rethought and in 1838 Trinidad became the first nation to fully emancipate slaves, with Jamaica following close behind. The British landowners in Jamaica were unhappy about this and the Prisons Act which made it illegal to imprison ex-slaves, and the Assembly of Jamaica (a national governing body overseen by the British government) tried to overrule it. The British government passed a bill in 1840 to suspend the constitution of Jamaica for five years which in the end was not implemented due to changes in the political landscape in Britain itself.
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, or the Prince Consort, (1819-1861) was the husband of Queen Victoria, his first cousin. Born and brought up in Germany, Albert was highly intelligent and studied law, political economy, art history and philosophy at the University of Bonn. He first visited Victoria in 1836 as part of a plan by his uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium, to marry the two and although the cousins grew fond of each other, there was no rush to marry. It was not until after Victoria’s coronation, in 1839, that Albert visited again and Victoria proposed within five days. They were married on 10th February 1840 at St James’s Palace. At first Albert remained simply ‘Prince Albert’ – due to some unpopular anti-German feeling, he was not named ‘Prince Consort’ until 1857.
Initially struggling with his role of playing second to his wife, with no power or duties, Albert began to take an active role in running the Queen’s household and estates as well as advising and educating her in politics. Causes close to his heart included child labour, the conditions of the slums in London and the abolition of slavery and he became involved in many committees for public reforms. The Great Exhibition of 1851 also owed a lot to his vision and organisation.
nine children and a very happy family life. In 1860 he became ill, severely so in 1861, and died on 14th December 1961 at Windsor Castle. The diagnosis of the time was typhoid fever, but it is now thought that a terminal illness may have been the real cause, due to the length of time he was ill before his death. Distraught, Victoria remained in deep mourning for the remaining forty years of her life – she withdrew from public life, wore black and kept Albert’s rooms exactly as they had been, even having hot water brought each morning. The public feelings towards him changed to great sympathy, brought on by Victoria’s mourning, and monuments were erected to him across the country – the most famous being the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial in London. After her death, Victoria and Albert were buried together in the mausoleum of Frogmore House at Windsor Castle.
The 2009 film The Young Victoria looks at the early years of Victoria’s reign and her courtship and marriage to Albert.
Hariette Wilson (1786-1845) was a British Regency courtesan, whose published memoirs named and shamed the British aristocracy, including the Prince of Wales, Duke of Wellington and four future Prime Ministers. Her career began at the age of fifteen and she had many famous, wealthy lovers, all of whom broke their promises to her and resulted in the exposé in her memoirs. At the age of thirty-five she ended her relationship with the Duke of Wellington, resigned from the business, married and moved to Paris where she became an author.
Milk pudding is a general term for a traditional British dessert (although variations are found in other cultures across the world) made of sweetened milk and a starchy ingredient, commonly rice, semolina, sago or tapioca. It can be cooked over a hob or baked in the oven. Find a recipe here.
Smallpox was an infectious viral disease infecting humans from around 10,000BC until 1979, when the World Health Organisation confirmed its eradication. The virus finds its way into the small blood vessels of the skin, causing a rash and flu-like symptoms, then fluid-filled blisters which erupt across the body. The more serious strain of smallpox has a mortality rate of 30-35% and the survivors are commonly left with scars on the face and sometimes blindness. The disease was airborne and very contagious – in the late 18th century it was estimated that around 400,000 Europeans died from it every year, and in the 20th century it caused between 300 and 500 million deaths worldwide. Vaccination programmes were carried out in the 19th and 20th centuries, controlling outbreaks by vaccinating all those in the area and then eventually making smallpox innoculation mandatory (these injections were stopped in 1980). The WHO was able to confirm its eradication in 1979 and all specimens of the virus have been destroyed or moved to secure laboratories for research purposes.
corset (or ‘stays’) was an indispensable part of the Victorian woman’s wardrobe – certainly for those in the middle and upper classes. An undergarment made of cloth stiffened with boning, and sometimes decorated with lace or embroidery, the corset shaped a woman’s silhouette into a fashionable, usually curvy appearance, slimming the waist and exaggerating the bust and hips. Late-Victorian women often also wore a bustle – a framework worn at the back under the skirt to support its drapes and emphasise the hips and rear further, making the waist look even smaller. The corset was worn over a thin undershirt and fastened with hooks and eyes or buttons at the front and lace at the back. To achieve effect, the corset had to be very tightly laced which is impossible for the wearer, therefore ladies’ maids were usually in charge of lacing corsets. Wearing a corset over a long period of time can naturally reduce the waist size and, although primarily a ladies’ garment, they were also sometimes worn by men for their slimming effect. In the 19th century there were corsets made especially for activities such as horse-riding, cycling or playing tennis and a proper corset was always tailored specifically for its owner.
More information on Victorian fashion can be found here:
Hyde Park is a Royal Park in central London and one of the largest in the city. Adjoining Kensington Gardens, the two together form the largest green space in central London but are separate entities. Hyde Park spreads over 350 acres and is divided in two by the Serpentine, a snaking recreational lake created in 1730. Hyde Park was acquired from Westminster Abbey in 1536 by Henry VIII and was originally a private deer park for hunting, but opened to the public during Charles I’s reign in 1637. The first landscaping took place in the 1730s, designed by Charles Bridgeman, and additions were made in later years including the Grand Entrance in 1824-5. The most important event of the 19th century was the Great Exhibition of 1851 which was held in the Crystal Palace built in Hyde Park and today the park is used for many public events including concerts, an annual ‘Winter Wonderland’ and demonstrations. Speakers’ Corner, on the north-east corner, is a spot where public speaking, preaching or debate is allowed, as long as the speeches are lawful, a tradition which has been in place since the late 1800s.
In the English language there are many obscure and unusual collective nouns for groups of animals. As well as a ‘murder’ of crows it is also possible to have a ‘storytelling’ of crows. In Western mythology, crows tend to be associated with the dead and as omens of bad luck – originally they were counted as an augury, to determine what fortune would befall the people, although now magpies are traditionally used for this purpose. The children’s nursery rhyme for auguring with birds goes as follows:
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told,
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird you must not miss.
Named for the Prince Regent (later George IV), Regent Street is one of London’s main shopping streets. Built in the West End in 1825, it cut through the maze of smaller streets around it and was an example of early town planning – part of John Nash’s vision for a well laid-out London. It is a long
St James’s Church is an Anglican church designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built from 1672 – 1684. It stands on Piccadilly in central London and was much damaged during the Blitz. Restoration after World War II brought the building back to life and it is now an active church community.
Frances (Fanny) Burney (1752-1840) was an English novelist, playwright and diarist. She was self-educated and began writing at the age of ten, publishing four novels – Evelina, Cecilia, Camilla and The Wanderer - , eight plays, one biography and twenty volumes of letters and diaries. During her lifetime her work was very popular – the novels satirise the English aristocracy and were admired for their intelligent observations, comic wit and questioning of more serious issues such as gender roles. After her death, however, she was regarded primarily as a diarist – her lifetime’s journals provide a fascinating historical account. In more recent times, her novels and plays have been more seriously studied again. More information at The Burney Society.
Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) was an Irish novelist and writer of children’s books. Highly educated, she wrote ten novels, numerous short stories, plays and realist children’s tales, as well as volumes of essays and academic writing on education, social issues, politics and religion. She managed her father’s estate in Ireland for most of her life and kept up a correspondence with learned men, as well as mixing with the Anglo-Irish gentry. In her lifetime, she was a huge commercial success and regarded as the most successful British female novelist after Jane Austen.
Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825) was a celebrated English poet, children’s author, essayist, critic and editor. She taught at the Palgrave Academy and was unique for her time in being a professional female writer – her essays on politics, education and social issues influenced many other women writers as well as society as a whole. Her first book of poems was published in 1773 and was an immediate success, and her fame continued until 1812 when her poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, highly critical of Britain’s role in the Napoleonic wars, provoked a public outcry and ended her career. Despite having helped to found the Romantic movement, many poets also turned against her and she was disregarded until the late 20th century when feminist literary criticism restored interest in her work.
Evelina: Or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World is an epistolatory novel written by Frances Burney. First published anonymously in 1778, the three-volume satirical novel is about the unacknowledged daughter of an English aristocrat. Sentimental, humorous and romantic in style, the plot follows the events of Evelina’s life as she makes her entrance into society and falls in love with a nobleman.
nightsoil men would arrive at a set time of the evening to collect the waste (shouting or ringing a bell as a signal), before disposing of it in common cesspits. In rural areas people were expected to deal with waste themselves, but nightsoil men were prevalent in cities, particularly in slum areas.
Albemarle Street is a road in Mayfair, an affluent area of central London, named for Christopher, 2nd Duke of Albemarle. Running between Piccadilly and Grafton Street, it was built in the late 1600s as part of the development of the Mayfair area on a site which once was occupied by Clarendon House and open fields. It became London’s first one-way street in an effort to control traffic problems. Albemarle Street runs parallel to Dover Street and Old Bond Street and its known for its art galleries, Brown’s Hotel and the Royal Institution. The Albemarle Club was also originally situated here, before moving to Dover Street.