Victoria was of mostly German descent, the daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and granddaughter of George III and the niece of her predecessor William IV. She arranged marriages for her nine children and forty-two grandchildren across the continent, tying Europe together and earning her the nickname "the grandmother of Europe". She was the last British monarch of the House of Hanover; her son King Edward VII belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Victoria ascended the throne at a time when the United Kingdom was already an established constitutional monarchy, in which the king or queen held few political powers and exercised influence by the prime minister's advice; but she still served as a very important symbolic figure of her time. Victoria's reign was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire. During this period, it reached its zenith and became the foremost global power of the time.
Heiress to the throne
Victoria was born in Kensington Palace in 1819. At the time of her birth, her grandfather, George III, was on the throne, but his three eldest sons, the Prince Regent (later George IV), the Duke of York, and the Duke of Clarence (later William IV), had no surviving legitimate children. The princess was christened privately by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Manners-Sutton, on 24 June 1819 in the Cupola Room at Kensington Palace. Her godparents were Emperor Alexander I of Russia, the future King George IV of the United Kingdom (her uncle), Queen Charlotte of Württemberg (her aunt, whose sister The Princess Augusta Sophia stood in proxy) and Duchess Augusta of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield (her maternal grandmother, for whom Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh, the infant princess' aunt, stood proxy). The princess was named Alexandrina, after Emperor Alexander I of Russia, and Victoria after her mother.
The young Princess Victoria was the only legitimate child of the fourth son of George III, the Duke of Kent, who died in 1820. As such, she became heiress presumptive after the death of George IV in 1830. The law at the time made no special provision for a child monarch. Therefore, a Regent needed to be appointed if Victoria were to succeed to the throne before the age of eighteen. Parliament passed the Regency Act 1830, which provided that Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, would act as Regent during the Queen's minority, if she acceded to the throne while still a minor. Parliament did not create a council to limit the powers of the Regent. King William disliked the Duchess and, on at least one occasion, stated that he wanted to live until Victoria's 18th birthday, so that the regency could be avoided.
Victoria later described her childhood as "rather melancholy." Victoria's mother was extremely protective of the princess, who was raised in near isolation under the so called "Kensington System", an elaborate set of rules and protocols devised by The Duchess and her comptroller and supposed lover, Sir John Conroy, to prevent the princess from ever meeting people whom they deemed undesirable, and to render her weak and utterly dependent upon them. She was not allowed to interact with other children. Her main companion was her King Charles spaniel, Dash, and she was required to share a bedroom with her mother every night until...