Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 at the young age of eighteen, herself
almost a child, and ill-prepared at such an age to rule the vast empire then
under British rule. William IV's reign had been short lived (1830-1837) and
Victoria, born in 1819, had been the only child of William's brother Edward.
Victoria's father, The Duke of Kent, and the 4th son of George III, had not
married until the age of fifty, when on May 29, 1818 he married the dowager
Princess of Leiningen, now part of Germany. The couple soon gave birth to little
Victoria on May 24, 1819, and while some in the Royal family had reason to doubt
that she would ever come to the throne, from the very beginning her father the
Duke of Kent had no doubt. She was virtually brought up by her governess, the
beloved Baroness Lehzen, and her childhood was ordered and disciplined in a
manner befitting a future queen.
As a child, she lived by a timetable: she did her lessons from 9:30 to 11:30,
then played and went for a walk after which she had dinner at 1 pm., did more
lessons from 3-5 pm and learned poetry by heart (English, French and German)
from 5 to 6. Her instruction was very regulated, with lessons in foreign languages,
music and strict religious training in the Church of England.
In her private life, her affection for animals soon became obvious, and as a
child she sketched many of the household pets. At the age of eleven she is portrayed
by her early art teacher Richard Westall, for instance, with her favorite Black
and Tan Terrier, the little Nellie, frolicking by her side (illustration 3-125).
The artist most closely associated with the Queen, however, was Sir Edwin Landseer,
whose youthful output alone outshone the life's work of many of his contemporaries.
By the age of sixteen Landseer was a regular exhibitor at The Royal Academy,
and he quickly became established among an aristocratic social set from whom
he was to receive patronage the rest of his life.
Landseer was not from the aristocracy himself, however, and his acceptance among
them was a reflection of his talent, but also his attractive good wit and strong
ambition. The artist was born of a family of modest means, but one to whom the
importance of education and the arts was always stressed. His father John, for
example, was a well-known engraver who for years fought to have the art of engraving
promoted to the status of a primary art form.
The art of engraving, or in effect copying an artist's image onto a plate from
which prints were then pulled, was well established in early nineteenth century
England. Such prints were sold for modest sums and in many cases actually established
the reputation of artists.