The University of Southampton

HIST6109 The Victorian Monarchy

Module Overview

Queen Victoria did more than lend her name to the period 1837-1901; her reign is not simply of interest because it is the longest of any British monarch. The Victorian monarchy endured a turbulent period of British history, but also played a central role in the course of that history. As one of her biographers observed, ‘Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, almost without resources and under threat from republicanism, in a period of social political and economic turbulence. By the time she died in 1901, she had revived the failing image of the British monarchy and was head of one of the richest families and the largest empire in the world.’ (Dorothy Thompson, Queen Victoria (1990)). Victoria is herself crucial to this process, not least as a woman. Combining the roles of head of state with those of wife and mother, she was simultaneously the pre-eminent public figure of the age, a model of womanhood and the apparent embodiment of middle class values.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• analyse debates about the role of the monarchy and other forms of government at the height of Britain’s international and imperial influence and thereby to examine the nature of Victorian government, society and the changes occurring within these spheres. The module will highlight how the monarchy operated, its impact on society (at home and abroad) and how it was perceived. • examine the meaning of monarchy, and Queen Victoria, in the Victorian period as a feature of government, politics, society, empire, national identity, and culture. • develop a critical understanding of debates about republicanism and alternative forms of government in modern Britain. Such debates will also be placed in a wider context to consider them within a European, American and imperial context.

Learning Outcomes

Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • work independently, drawing upon advanced research skills, in preparation for seminar presentation and discussion as well as for the principal assignment;
  • display effective time management, not least in adhering to a timetable for the research and writing of a not insubstantial piece of historical investigation;
  • organise and clearly articulate your ideas, interacting purposefully and productively with your tutor, and with other postgraduates (potentially drawn from different disciplines) in a seminar environment;
  • display intellectual maturity in engaging confidently, where appropriate, with disciplines other than your own;
  • adapt and apply the advanced study skills and information-gathering strategies developed during the module to problem-solving and policy-making in the wider world.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • demonstrate advanced research skills, in terms of the ability to gather, assimilate, synthesise, and interpret a wide range of secondary, and especially primary, source material in preparation for both the seminars and the final assignment;
  • adhere to guidelines re referencing/footnotes and demonstrate a mature and sophisticated prose style beyond that normally displayed at undergraduate level;
  • relate the intellectual capital gained through engagement with one particular area of specialist study to parallel and complementary fields of historical inquiry.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • engage with specific texts, comment upon them fluently, cogently, and at length; and in so doing demonstrate depth of knowledge, insight, and understanding appropriate to postgraduate study of a specialist multi-disciplinary area;
  • evaluate in a sharply analytical fashion those texts pertinent to a particular historiographical debate, critiquing the perspectives adopted by individual commentators;
  • translate that analysis into a coherent body of ideas related to identified themes and preoccupations underpinning the intellectual cohesion and identity of the module.


This is therefore the history of modern Britain (and within this of the diverse nature of modern Britain), of its structure of government, of its ‘values’, of its political structure, of its adaptation of tradition in the face of modernity; it is also, however, the history of Britain during its imperial hey-day, when the monarchy was an icon for subjects around the world as well as within Britain and in international terms. As the ‘grandmother of Europe’, Victoria’s impact on the making of the modern world was profound. This module will therefore examine the multi-faceted nature of the Victorian monarchy (as an institution and feature of British politics, society, and culture) and of Victoria herself, to consider the role of the woman on the throne: this was a highly personalised monarchy, often caught in the tension between formalised constitutional practice and theory (especially when driven forward by Prince Albert), and the personal, idiosyncratic nature of the Queen herself. However, whilst Queen Victoria embodied modern Britain, so too did that make her an object of dissent. The Victorian monarchy was a highly contentious one, in which a more ‘democratic’ Britain wrestled with the apparent anachronism of a monarchical system of government. Critics of monarchy, notably, though not exclusively, radicals and republicans, argued consistently, cogently and effectively for a reformed or even abolished monarchy. Victoria became the focus for debates therefore about the nature of modern Britain and for its better government. She was also, as head of state for the empire, explicitly so as Empress of India (from 1877), the target for critics of Britain’s imperial mission. This module is concerned, then, with the public understanding of, reception of, and reaction to, the Victorian monarchy. It will examine the myriad tensions between reverence for the institution and person of the monarch and criticism of its more controversial features as political and imperial figurehead. There will also be scope to consider the different roles for the monarchy as its direct political influence declined: the emergence of a welfare monarchy, driven by philanthropic impulses and an increasingly ceremonial role for the sovereign. The confused position and role of Victoria’s heir, Edward, for instance, illuminates some of the late nineteenth century concerns about the future role of the monarchy. The module is underpinned by a vibrant historiography. Scholars in the field of political history, cultural history, social history, media history and literary studies have in recent years sought to highlight the importance of examining the Victorian monarchy. This course will build on all of these approaches, allowing students to explore the meaning of the monarchy in this period from a variety of approaches. Primary material for the course is voluminous and accessible. Large selections of Victoria’s private letters and journals have been published and will provide a valuable insight into the mind and conduct of the queen. Newspapers and periodicals and other primary sources such as pamphlets and visual material are readily available electronically. Topics to be studied will typically include: • The monarchy in 1837: precedents and contexts • A constitutional monarchy?: the political role of the monarchy • Prince Albert and the Victorian monarchy • Republicanism and anti-monarchism in the 1860s and 1870s • ‘Mrs Brown’: The John Brown affair in History and Memory • The Victorian monarchy and Britishness: Scotland and Ireland • The imperial monarchy: Victoria and India, Australia, Canada and America • Re-inventing the monarchy: the Jubilees of 1887 and 1897 • Victorian values: class and gender • Death and legacy: the Victorian monarchy since 1901

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Identification of key readings • Seminar discussions • Individual tutorials Learning activities include: • Preparing and delivering presentations • Participation in seminar discussions • Individual study and research

Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Completion of assessment task26
Total study time152

Resources & Reading list

Plunkett, John (2003). Queen Victoria: First Media Monarch. 

Wolffe, John (2000). Great Deaths: Grieving, Religion, and Nationhood in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. 

Vallone, Lynne (2001). Becoming Victoria. 

Arnstein, Walter L (2003). Victoria. 

Thompson, Dorothy (1990). Queen Victoria: gender and power. 

Williams, Richard (1997). The contentious crown: public discussion of the British monarchy in the reign of Queen Victoria. 

Bolitho, Hector (1970). Albert, Prince Consort. 

Loughlin, James (2007). The British Monarchy and Ireland, 1800 to the present. 

Olechnowicz, A (2007). The Monarchy and the British Nation, 1780 to the present. 

Connell, Brian (1961). Regina vs. Palmerston: The Correspondence Between Queen Victoria and Her Foreign and Prime Minister 1837-1865. 

Homans, Margaret (1998). Royal representations: Queen Victoria and British culture,1837-1876. 

Taylor, Antony (1999). ‘Down with the crown’: British anti-monarchism and debates about royalty since 1790. 

Prochaska, Frank (2008). The Eagle and the Crown: Americans and the British Monarchy. 

Kuhn, William M (1996). Democratic royalism: the transformation of the British monarchy, 1861-1914. 

Hibbert, Christopher (2000). Queen Victoria: a personal history. 

Hardie, Frank (1970). The political influence of the British monarchy, 1868-1952. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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