Queen Victoria - British History - United Kingdom
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Queen Victoria

Victoria
Queen Victoria

When the King of England, William IV, died in 1837, his niece Victoria became queen of England, and also many other titles. She was only 18 years old. Like the kings before her, Victoria didn't really have much power - her Prime Ministers and Parliament mostly ran the country - and even though Victoria tried to get power, she actually had less and less power as time went on. But the same colonialist policies continued. In 1839, Victoria's prime minister Lord Melbourne attacked China to force China to trade with Britain.

In 1845, the first major crisis of Victoria's reign hit - the Irish Potato Famine. Victoria's government let rich people in Ireland keep on selling food to England, even though millions of Irish farmers were starving to death. Many Irish people gave up and left for the United States.

In 1860, the British had to consider what to do about the American Civil War. Most British people were against slavery, but rich people in Britain really wanted the cotton the slaves grew, to make cloth to sell and get rich. Britain stayed neutral, but rich British people secretly helped the South. Britain also relied on cotton from British colonies in Africa and India. But after the Civil War, as African-American men got the vote in the United States, Britain also let more men vote through the Reform Act of 1867.

The British government spent a lot of time on diplomacy, trying to manage other countries around the world in the ways that would be best for rich people in Britain, though not necessarily for the poor, or for the other countries. One big concern was keeping control of India and its cotton. The British prime ministers worried that if the Ottoman Empire, Russia, or China got too powerful, they would push the British out of India, and so the British spent a lot of time trying to weaken those countries. In the 1880s, Britain took control of Egypt and Sudan away from the Ottomans. In 1876, as the Uighurs tried to get their independence from China, Britain worried that Uighur independence would make Russia too strong, and maybe Russia would attack British India.

white men in suits fighting policemen
Demonstration for voting rights in
Hyde Park, London (England, 1866)

So Britain sent a lot of money to the Empress Cixi in China to help her fight the Uighurs and force them to stay part of China. But at the same time, the British started the Opium Wars in China, selling opium to Chinese people, and fought the Crimean War against Russia. In 1885, the British took control of Botswana. Other countries got poorer, and rich people in Britain became very, very rich.

At the same time, though, people were starting to see voting as a right for all people. Thanks to public protests, by 1885 most men in Britain could vote. When Victoria died in 1901, after ruling for 63 years, the British Empire was very strong, but British women were still trying to get the vote, along with the poorest British men.

World War I

Bibliography and further reading about Queen Victoria:

World War I
Ottoman Empire
Russia
United States
Modern Europe
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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