The Grandmother of Europe: How Queen Victoria Rules the Continent

Queen Victoria spent sixty-four years on earth sitting on the British throne, becoming queen at the age of eighteen. How did she earn the nickname “Grandmother of Europe?”

Mar 6, 2021By Alexander Standjofski, BA in History & Political Theory w/ pre and post-Christian Ideology
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Left to right: Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Queen Victoria, King George V of England, and Tzar Nicholas II of Russia


Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901) proposed to her first cousin Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1839 and they married in 1840.  Their loving and prolific marriage produced nine children between 1840 and 1857, most of whom married into other European royal families. Of these matches, Victoria, who lent her name to the era of human history marked by her reign, stands at the head of a legacy that echoes to this day.

 

Queen Victoria And Albert: Nuclear Family In Britain

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in a re-enactment of their wedding ceremony, 1854, via historyextra.com

 

Victoria and Albert descended from related royal families. Queen Victoria descended from the House of Hanover – a German family in origin that had sat on the British throne since its first ruler George I of Britain (who spoke no English) in 1714. Prince Albert descended from the extensive ducal House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Originating in Bavaria, Germany, Albert’s family consistently served the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg prior to his marrying into the British Royal Family.

 

Having a German mother and governess, German was likely Victoria’s mother tongue. The queen allegedly spoke English with a slight German accent in childhood, requiring private tutoring to purge her English of her German accent. As an adept polyglot, Queen Victoria was regularly overheard speaking to her husband Albert privately in German.

 

The children of the pair took the name of the house of their father over their mother. For this reason, the House of Hanover died with Victoria even though her bloodline lived on.

 

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Queen Victoria and Family at Coburg by Eduard Ulenhuth, 1894, via Royal Collection Trust 

 

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When Queen Victoria died in 1901, she was succeeded by her son Edward VII (r. 1901-1910) – the first member of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to sit directly on the British throne. From Edward sprang the short-lived-in-name British Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty, which consisted of Edward VII himself and his son and successor George V (r. 1910-1936).

 

In 1917, due to anti-German international sentiment from the First World War, George V changed the name of his dynasty from the German-originated house of his grandfather Albert to the more British sounding Windsor, after the name of the royal palace. The House of Windsor occupies the throne to this day, headed by the reigning British monarch Queen Elizabeth II (r. 1952-present).  

 

With a clear line of succession established for the current British queen, Victoria’s bloodline is evidently still firmly in place in the British line of succession.

 

World War One (1914-1918)

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Left to right: King George V of England, Tzar Nicholas II of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, via wikipedia

 

At the outbreak of World War One in 1914, the three greatest powers in Europe were Britain, Russia, and Germany. Their sovereigns were all first cousins. George V of England, Nicholas II of Russia (who bear a striking resemblance to one another), and Wilhelm II of Germany all shared a grandmother in Queen Victoria.  

 

Prior to the conflict, uncovered friendly correspondence between the Russian and German sovereigns interestingly discuss looming war with one another. In these eponymous “Willy-Nicky Telegrams,” written to each other in English, the Tzar and Kaiser affectionately refer to each other as Willy and Nicky. At the outbreak of war, the German Kaiser sarcastically quipped, “if our grandmother [Queen Victoria] were alive, she never would have allowed it.”

 

George V of England inherited his grandmother Queen Victoria’s throne with the death of his father Edward VII in 1910. With war sentiment, George changed the name of his familial dynasty in England to hide its German origin.

 

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Queen Victoria with her son and heir Edward (right), distant cousin and grandson-in-law Tzar Nicholas II of Russia (left) and granddaughter Tzarina Alix (seated) with baby Olga, 1896, via Royal Collection Trust

 

Nicholas II of Russia (r. 1894-1917) was the most distantly related to Queen Victoria. The two did share a common ancestor by blood, though it was antecedent. The Tzar also wedded the queen’s granddaughter Alexandra of Hesse. Their son and only heir, the Tzarevich Alexei, suffered from hemophilia – a disease suffered by Victoria herself.

 

Wilhelm II of Germany (r. 1888-1918) was the son of Victoria’s eldest daughter and was himself the eldest grandchild of the queen. Victoria married her daughter to Wilhelm’s predecessor, the then-heir of Prussia, producing Wilhelm.

 

Familial Ideology

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King Christian IX of Denmark, from Grandest Century in the World’s History by Henry Davenport Northrop, 1900, via Internet Archive

 

King Christian IX of Denmark (r. 1863-1906) was a contemporary of Queen Victoria. The Danish sovereign was also a distant cousin of the queen: the two shared a common ancestor in King George II of Britain (r. 1727-1760).

 

The two also shared a common ideology. Like any politician, the ultimate goal was to sustain the longevity of the family and remain in power. In the wake of the French Revolution, European monarchs learned their lesson on liberalism and adhering to power.

 

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Children of Christian IX, King of Denmark: Dagmar, Frederick, Alexandra, Thyra and Vilhelm

 

Equipped with the same worldview, Christian and Victoria made the optimal matchmaking pair. Today, there is only one reigning sovereign in Europe – King Willem Alexander of the Netherlands (r. 2013-present) – who is descended from neither the British nor Danish potentate.

 

Christian IX managed to export and install children or grandchildren on the thrones of Greece, Russia (his grandson Nicholas II is the line Queen Victoria is related through), Norway, Britain, Germany, and Spain: all alongside his cousin Victoria. Christian’s lines of descent in Greece and Britain are how current British monarch Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip are related to one another, and to Victoria.

 

Alongside his cousin the Grandmother of Europe, Christian IX earned the nickname the “Father-in-Law of Europe.”

 

The Nine (Ten) Sovereigns Of Victoria And Christian

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Nine Sovereigns at the Funeral of Edward VII of Britain, from Crown & Camera, 1987

 

The above photograph was taken in 1910 at the state funeral for the British sovereign Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son. The photograph is the only photo ever taken of nine simultaneously reigning monarchs in one single picture. There were ten intended monarchs in this photograph, but Tzar Nicholas II of Russia could not attend his uncle’s funeral. All ten (including Nicholas) sovereigns are related.

 

In the back row to the left stands King Haakon VII of Norway (r.1905-1957): a grandson of Christian IX of Denmark. The current Norwegian King Harald V (r. 1991-present) is the grandson of Haakon VII.

 

Next is Tzar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria (r. 1887-1918): a member of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, whose father was a first cousin to both Queen Victoria and Albert.

 

Third in line is King Manuel II of Portugal (r. 1908-1910): a distant member of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, descended from a German Prince installed on the Portuguese throne through marriage in 1836.

 

Fourth in the standing line is Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, grandson of Queen Victoria.

 

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Queen Victoria photographed by Alexander Bassano, 1882, via The National Portrait Gallery, London 

 

After the Kaiser stands King George I of Greece (r. 1863-1913): a son of Christian IX of Denmark elected democratically to sit on the Greek throne at the age of 17 in 1863.  George is the grandfather of Prince Philip, the husband of British incumbent Elizabeth II.

 

To the right of George is King Albert I of Belgium (r. 1909-1934): another member of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, related to both Alfred and Victoria. The reigning King Philippe of Belgium (r. 2013-present) is a great-grandson of Albert I.

 

Seated to the left is King Alfonso XIII of Spain (r. 1886-1931): though himself a descendant of the Bourbon dynasty related to the French monarchs, he married a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. The current Spanish King Felipe VI (r. 2014-present) is a great-grandson of Alfonso XIII.

 

Seated in the center of the photo is George V of Britain, the successor of Edward VII and grandson of Queen Victoria. George is the grandfather of the reigning Queen Elizabeth II.

 

To the right of the British king is King Frederick VIII of Denmark (r. 1906-1912), the son and successor of Christian IX. Frederick is the great-grandfather of the reigning Danish Queen Margrethe II (r. 1972-present).

 

Queen Victoria Of Europe

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Queen Victoria photographed by Leonida Caldesi, 1860, via The New York Times

 

Did you make it through all those names and dates?

 

The legacy of Queen Victoria lives on in more ways than just her descendants continuing to reign in Europe. Though her bloodline still governs large swaths of the continent, many cultural and customary practices first indoctrinated by Queen Victoria are continually adhered to today.

 

Victoria single-handedly popularized weddings as we know them. One of the first women to wear a white lace dress, and to insist none of the guests follow suit, Victoria unknowingly modernized bridehood for centuries to come. By contrast, Queen Victoria also obsessively donned black clothing following the death of her husband Albert to symbolize her forty-year-long period of mourning.

 

Queen Victoria and Albert popularized the celebrated use of a Christmas tree. Starting in 1848, it became a family tradition for Queen Victoria and Albert to bring a fir tree into Windsor Castle themselves and decorate it on December 24. The practice was common in Germany since the medieval era, though it took the importation of a German prince to make the British mainstream.

 

Through her children and through her worldview Victoria captivated an era of human history and issued a legacy that ripples to this day. Though the queen is gone, her descendants are still prominent throughout Europe, and her practice is still celebrated: when one thinks of Europe, one thinks of Victoria Regina as its Queen.



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By Alexander StandjofskiBA in History & Political Theory w/ pre and post-Christian IdeologyAlexander holds a BA in history and political theory from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. He has studied the historical narrative of the western world as well as pre and post-Christian political thought and ideology spanning from 500 BCE to 1800 CE.