Queen Victoria's Wars 1837-1901
During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), the British Army was called upon to fight in many wars, military expeditions and actions in many parts of the world. British and colonial soldiers fought and died together in these wars, most of them now hardly mentioned, except in the battle honours of still-existing regiments.
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence for Britain. The era was preceded by the Georgian period and followed by the Edwardian period. The latter half of the Victorian age roughly coincided with the first portion of the Belle Époque era of continental Europe and the Gilded Age of the United States.
In international relations the era was a long period of peace, known as the Pax Britannica, and economic, colonial, and industrial consolidation, temporarily disrupted by the Crimean War in 1854. The end of the period saw the Boer War. Domestically, the agenda was increasingly liberal with a number of shifts in the direction of gradual political reform, industrial reform and the widening of the voting franchise.
The last half of the nineteenth century is often called the Victorian Age. Victoria, born May 24, 1819, was the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn and Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Edward died when Victoria was but eight months old, upon which her mother enacted a strict regimen that, shunned the courts of Victoria's uncles, George IV and William IV. She married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840; the union produced four sons and five daughters. She died at eighty-one years of age on January 22, 1901, after a reign of sixty-three years.
She ascended the throne upon the death of William IV. Barely eighteen, she refused any further influence from her domineering mother and ruled in her own stead. Popular respect for the Crown was at low point at her coronation, but the modest and straightforward young Queen won the hearts of her subjects. She wished to be informed of political matters, although she had no direct input in policy decisions. The Reform Act of 1832 had set the standard of legislative authority residing in the House of Lords, with executive authority resting within a cabinet formed of members of the House of Commons; the monarch was essentially removed from the loop. She respected and worked well with Lord Melbourne, Prime Minister in the early years of her reign, and England grew both socially and economically.
Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, who replaced Melbourne as the dominant male influence in Victoria's life. She was thoroughly devoted to him and completely submitted to his will. The public, however, was not enamored with the German prince; he was excluded from holding any official political position, was never granted a title of peerage and was named Prince Consort only after 17 years of marriage. Victoria did nothing without her husband's approval. His interests in art, science and industry spurred him to organize the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851, a highly profitable industrial convention. He used the proceeds, some £186,000, to purchase lands in Kensington for the establishment of several cultural and industrial museums. His death from typhoid in 1861 deeply affected Victoria's psyche - she went into seclusion for more than 25 years, not emerging until the Golden Jubilee of 1887, the celebration of her fiftieth year on the throne. An entire generation was raised without ever having seen the face of their Queen.
The reform of government allowed England to avoid the politically tumultuous conditions sweeping across Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. The continent experienced the growing pains of conservatism, liberalism and socialism, and the nationalistic struggle for political unification. England focused on developing industry and trade and expanding its imperial reach; during the reign of Victoria, the empire doubled in size, encompassing Canada, Australia, India and various locales in Africa and the South Pacific. Her reign was almost free of war, with an Irish uprising (1848), the Boer Wars in South Africa (1881, 1899-1902) and an Indian rebellion (1857) being the only exceptions. Victoria was named Empress of India in 1878. England avoided continental conflict from 1815 through 1914, the lone exception being the Crimean War (1853-56). The success in avoiding European entanglements was, in large part, due to the marriage of Victoria's children: either directly or by marriage, she was related to the royal houses of Germany, Russia, Greece, Rumania, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Belgium. Nicholas II of Russia was married to Victoria's granddaughter Alexandra, earning him the nickname "dear Nicky", and the dreaded Emperor of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II, was her grandson "Willy". During her seclusion, she ruled her family with the iron hand that was denied her by the English constitutional arrangement.
The old political parties of England, the Whigs and the Tories transformed during the reign of Victoria. John Peel's support of the Corn Law Repeal splintered the Tories into two camps. Peel's supporters joined with Whigs to create the Liberal Party and the anti-Peel Tories became the Conservative Party. Unlike most of Europe, English politicians agreed on the larger issues of governmental structure and political ideology, but differed on the smaller issues of policy practicality and implementation. Liberals represented traders and manufacturers, with Conservatives representing the landed gentry. Victoria's role after this political realignment was one of mediation between departing and arriving Prime Ministers (the Prime Minister was chosen by the party in control of the House of Commons). She was particularly fond of Conservative Benjamin Disraeli, who, by linking Victoria to the expansion of the empire, garnered respect for the monarchy that had been lacking since Victoria's seclusion. She despised the other prominent Prime Minister of the day, the Liberal William Gladstone, whose party dominated Parliament from 1846-1874. Even in the throes of grief during her seclusion, Victoria gave close attention to daily business and administration, at a time when England was evolving politically and socially. Legislation passed in the era included the Mines Act (1842), The Education Act (1870), The Public Health and Artisan's Dwelling Acts (1875), Trade Union Acts (1871 and 1876) and Reform Acts in 1867 and 1884 which broadened suffrage.
The national pride connected with the name of Victoria - the term Victorian England, for example, stemmed from the Queen's ethics and personal tastes, which generally reflected those of the middle class. The Golden Jubilee brought her out of her shell, and she again embraced public life. She toured English possessions and even visited France (the first English monarch to do so since the coronation of Henry VI in 1431). When she died of old age, an entire era died with her.
Victoria's long reign witnessed an evolution in English politics and the expansion of the British Empire, as well as political and social reforms on the continent. France had known two dynasties and embraced Republicanism, Spain had seen three monarchs and both Italy and Germany had united their separate principalities into national coalitions. Even in her dotage, she maintained a youthful energy and optimism that infected the English population as a whole.
Lytton Strachey chronicled her last days with the sentimentality that had developed by the end of her reign, in the biography, Queen Victoria: " By the end of the year the last remains of her ebbing strength had almost deserted her; and through the early days of the opening century it was clear that her dwindling forces were kept together only by an effort of will. On January 14, she had at Osbourne an hour's interview with Lord Roberts, who had returned victorious from South Africa a few days before. She inquired with acute anxiety into all the details of the war; she appeared to sustain the exertion successfully; but, when the audience was over, there was a collapse. On the following day her medical attendants recognised that her state was hopeless; and yet, for two days more, the indomitable spirit fought on; for two days more she discharged the duties of a Queen of England. But after that there was an end of working; and then, and not till then, did the last optimism of those about her break down. The brain was failing and life was gently slipping away. Her family gathered round her; for a little more she lingered, speechless and apparently insensible; and, on January 22, 1901, she died." Victoria's was the longest reign in English history.
Queen Victoria always took a lively interest in all state matters, and has in many cases felt sorry for the numerous wars fought during her reign. Among these are several wars in Afghanistan, fought either against the natives or against the Russians, who quarrelled with the British about the frontier. Then there have been a number of wars with the Chinese. In another war, an English general, who is generally known as "Chinese Gordon," put down a Chinese rebellion, and in reward received from the emperor a mandarin's yellow gown and some gay peacock feathers, these being among the Chinese, like the Order of the Garter among the English, a mark of especial honour.
In India the British waged two wars against the Sikhs, defeated them, and took possession of their territory, the Punjab. Next they fought against the Burmese, and took possession of Lower Burma. In 1857 broke out the terrible "Indian Mutiny," or the revolt of the sepoys. These sepoys were native soldiers who had been trained to fight by British officers. When new rifles were introduced, and they had to use greased cartridges, the sepoys fancied that the British wanted to make them do what their religion forbade; that is to say, touch grease taken from their sacred animal, the cow, or from the hog, an animal the least contact with which, they fancied, made them unfit to enter heaven.
The officers tried to pacify the men by telling them that they could either grease the cartridges themselves with anything they pleased, or use other guns; but it was too late. The revolt spread from Meerut to Delhi, Cawnpore, and Lucknow. Everywhere the British were killed without mercy, and at Cawnpore men, women, and children were cruelly butchered and cast into a well, after they had heroically defended themselves for many a day.
A brave general named Havelock fought like a tiger to reach Cawnpore in time to save his countrymen; but he got there too late. In spite of the awful heat, he next hurried on to Lucknow, where he found the English still alive. But there were so many women and children that he could not fight his way out with them. He therefore joined them in their heroic resistance, which was kept up until a brave Scotchman named Campbell came marching to the rescue, just as one of the women had dreamed.
When the English heard the Scotch bagpipes in the distance, playing "The Campbells are Coming," they almost died of joy. Lucknow was relieved; but Havelock, worn out by his heroic exertions, soon breathed his last. The mutiny was put down, and India was taken away from the East India Company and placed under the rule of the queen. Since then there have been a few other revolts, which have quickly been put down. But railways, telegraphs, schools, and colleges are making rapid changes in India, where there are more than two hundred million people, speaking many different languages, practising many religions, but all subject to Victoria, who was crowned Empress of India in 1877.
Great Britain also fought one war in Europe, against Russia—a war of which you will hear a great deal. It is called the "Crimean War," and it was during this contest that, owing to a mistaken order, the Light Brigade made the gallant charge at Balaklava (1854). Their prompt obedience, their courage, and the death of nearly the whole company, have made them for ever famous. If you want to hear what dangers they braved, you had better read Tennyson's poem, "The Charge of the Light Brigade," and then you will see why every one admires them.
Great britain's wars in Africa have been numerous, for she has fought, north, south, east, and west, against many of the small tribes; and a large part of that continent is now under her rule. In one of these wars the French prince imperial, son of Napoleon III., was killed by the Zulus; in another brave "Chinese Gordon" fell at Khartum; and on his way to a third, the Prince of Battenberg, Victoria's son-in-law, lost his life from fever.
During the Civil War in America, in 1861, England and the United States pretty nearly came to blows; but a kindly message, suggested by the dying Prince Consort, and a prompt and graceful apology on the part of the United States, averted this catastrophe._ Later on, when other disputes occurred between the two nations, they were settled by arbitration, which is always the best method for civilized people to adopt as a means of settling disputes.
By all the wars, and by sundry others which we need not mention here, Great Britain has spread her territory farther and farther, and grown stronger and stronger. She has also planted many colonies without having to fight great battles, the most prosperous of these being in Australia, where gold was discovered in 1851. About one quarter of all the people on the globe now belong to Great Britain, for Victoria is said to rule over nearly four hundred million subjects.
The queen married in 1840, and had nine children. A careful mother, she watched over her children herself, praising them when they did right, correcting them when they did wrong, and always giving them clearly to understand that their exalted position demanded that they should set a good example to others. The princess royal, her eldest daughter, who later became Empress of Germany.
After a happy married life of more than twenty years, the Prince Consort, who had always worked very hard for his wife's subjects, fell suddenly and dangerously ill. In spite of the utmost care and skill, he sank rapidly, and died in the queen's arms, whispering loving words to her.
Prince Albert was such a good and noble man that he was mourned by the whole people. They erected a beautiful public monument for him in London, the Albert Memorial, while his sorrowing wife and children put up a private tomb for him at Frogmore.
Victoria is always busy and is always striving faithfully to do her best for her people. When state affairs do not need her attention, she reads, writes, sews, and studies. When she was younger she used to practise on the piano, sing, and draw. And in spite of the fact that she already knew several languages, we are told that, although nearly sixty years old when she became Empress of India, she began to study Hindustanee, so that she could talk in their own language to her Indian servants and visitors.
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