By Lee Cohen
Senior Fellow, London Center for Policy Research
Published in THE HILL
Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, an iconic figure upon whose empire the sun never set. Ironic that this bicentennial of a woman who embodied Britain at the height of its power coincides with Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that she intends to resign on June 7, defeated in her singular mission to deliver Brexit. As Victoria famously said: “We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat.”
Victoria came to the throne in 1837 and, in the ensuing years, not only shaped the territories over which she ruled but also had an impact the world over. But, as with all important historical figures, much mythology exists about the queen nicknamed the “grandmother of Europe” after her nine children married into other royal and noble families.
Victoria, whose first name actually was Alexandrina, acceded to the throne at the age of 18. She became queen when Martin van Buren was the U.S. president, only the eighth man to hold that office in a nation still forging its evolving relationship with its one-time motherland, Great Britain.
Victoria presided over a global empire as her nation rose to its apex economically, militarily and technologically. So influential was Great Britain that her 63-year reign became known as the “Victorian era.”
Among the myths about Queen Victoria that bear clarifying:
- First, the queen was not a prim, humorless prude. This conclusion results from the strict moral uprightness of the times, as well as Victoria’s most well-known quote: “We are not amused.” Author and historian Dr. Helen Rappaport refutes this, noting, “I think we need to dispel this idea that she was this dreadful, mournful woman in black. … She did have a sense of humor. She adored gossip and risqué jokes. … She was, by birth, a full-blooded Hanoverian, so there was under the surface quite a strong, passionate, sexual nature.”
- Second, and perhaps owing to the lens of Hollywood, there is the revisionist, romanticized notion that Victoria was a near-feminist icon who “called the shots.” One needs but consider the queen’s own words on the issue of women’s rights to be immediately dispelled of this fairy tale: “The Queen is most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of woman’s rights with all its attendant horrors on which her poor, feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.”
Or, if they remain unconvinced, in another quote from her: “Were women to ‘unsex’ themselves by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hateful, heathen and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without male protection.”
- Third, and perhaps most alarming, writer and TV producer Daisy Godwin, creator of the successful miniseries, “Victoria,” has speculated that the queen “would have been horrified by Brexit.” This newer myth is illogical at best, and heretical at worst, considering Queen Victoria was an unparalleled national patriot who was unapologetic in her sense of “British exceptionalism.” Consequently, she would have rejected a United Kingdom constrained to bow to the whims and laws of Brussels, and thus would have approved of the British people’s choice to regain lost sovereignty through European Union divorce.
Further evidence that Queen Victoria would have supported Brexit was the influence of her purported favorite prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli. The British PM most connected with British expansion of power, Disraeli uncategorically would have supported Brexit. For Disraeli and Queen Victoria, it would be unthinkable to surrender the slightest sovereignty to the EU. We know this from Disraeli’s own words: “The program of the Conservative party is to maintain the Constitution of the country.” National sovereignty was prized above all else: “When the people are led by their natural leaders, and when, by their united influence, the national institutions fulfill their original intention … then, under Providence, it will secure the prosperity and the power of the country.”
Unlike the politically correct revisionist depictions of the queen, designed to satisfy even the most statue-offended university student body, the real Victoria was a traditional conservative guided by a strong Protestant faith, an effective moral compass, and a robust pride in her nation that translated into great progress for the globe.
President Trump, whose mother was Scottish and who has himself exhibited support and encouragement for Brexit, could reflect upon the inspirational qualities of the second-longest reigning British monarch (after Queen Elizabeth II) when he sits in the Oval Office at the Resolute desk, a gift from Queen Victoria to the White House in 1880, during the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes.