Seven places celebrating Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday

Statue of Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace. It was designed by her daughter, Princess Louise, in 1893 and shows the Queen in her coronation robes in 1837.

Statue of Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace. It was designed by her daughter, Princess Louise, in 1893 and shows the Queen in her coronation robes in 1837. © Historic Royal Palaces

The bicentenary of the births of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert occur in 2019. These historic Royal events are being marked by several exhibitions and other activities as Val Baynton explains.

Kensington Palace

To mark the bicentenary of Queen Victoria’s birth, Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) is re-presenting the rooms at London’s Kensington Palace, that were the home of the young Princess Victoria, and organising a temporary exhibition about the world famous monarch. Both will open on her birthday 24th May 2019.

Mezzoprint of portrait of Queen Victoria

Mezzoprint of portrait of Queen Victoria © Historic Royal Palaces

At Kensington Palace Victoria spent her formative years under the gaze of her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and following research by curators, the suite of rooms Victoria and her mother occupied will be re-imagined in an evocative and family-friendly exploration of royal childhood. In Victoria: A Royal Childhood, visitors will follow the Princess’s journey to the crown, experiencing how an idyllic childhood became governed by the strict rules of what has become known as the ‘Kensington System’, and how Victoria escaped isolation and family feuding by creating a fantasy world of story writing, doll making and drawing inspired by her love of opera and ballet. Her education, family life, closest friendships and bitter struggles will be explored, charting how an indulged young princess became a hugely powerful monarch. Objects relating to her early years will be on show including a scrapbook of poignant mementos created by her German governess, Baroness Lehzen.

In the Pigott Gallery – the temporary exhibition area at the Palace – Victoria: Woman and Crown will consider the private woman behind the public monarch. It will consider how she balanced the role of wife and mother with that of being Queen of an expanding empire, and it will re-examine her later life and her cultural legacy assessing her impact on world affairs, much of which is still felt today.

Queen Victoria’s Petticoat

Queen Victoria’s Petticoat © Historic Royal Palaces

Rare survivals from Victoria’s private wardrobe will go on display at Kensington Palace for the first time – including a simple cotton petticoat dated to around 1840, and a fashionable pair of silver boots recently acquired by HRP with support from Art Fund – providing a stark contrast to the exquisitely made, black satin gowns she was so famous for wearing.

The exhibition will show how she carefully curated her own public image. As the most famous woman in the world at the dawn of the photographic age, Victoria understood and consciously harnessed this new technology, using it both to project an image of Imperial power across continents and document the minutia of family life. The display will also consider how her organisation of the marriages of her nine children – and those of her 42 grandchildren – into the ruling families of Europe marked a deliberate exercise in shaping dynastic politics across the continent, and earned her the nickname ‘the Grandmother of Europe’.

Pair of Shoes by Gundry & Sons worn by Queen Victoria

Pair of Shoes by Gundry & Sons worn by Queen Victoria © Historic Royal Palaces

Victoria’s complex love affair with India will also be explored, from her Anglicisation of the deposed Maharajah Duleep Singh to the role played by her Indian servant Abdul Karim, on whom the Queen bestowed the title of “Munshi” or “teacher”. Under his tutelage, she learned to read and write Urdu and examples of her diaries carefully inscribed in the language form a centrepiece of the display.

Entry is included within the standard admission to Kensington Palace. Benefits for groups include free admission for coach drivers, for full members of AGTO when bringing a group of at least 30 paying visitors and for locally registered Blue Badge Guides. Group discounts apply to parties of 15 or more. A sales team is on hand to help with planning your visit.

Buckingham Palace

The Grand Staircase at Buckingham Palace, State Ball, 5 July 1848 by Eugène Louis Lami. Royal Collection Trust

The Grand Staircase at Buckingham Palace, State Ball, 5 July 1848 by Eugène Louis Lami. Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Buckingham Palace is the London residence of HM The Queen and is one of the few working royal palaces in the world today. During August and September, when the Palace is not used for official business, the State Rooms are opened to the public.

Each year a special exhibition is planned for the Summer Opening of the State Rooms and in 2019, Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday will be the theme. Queen Victoria’s Palace will tell the story of how the young queen transformed Buckingham Palace from a private house into a working royal residence. She made Buckingham Palace a rallying point for the nation, a powerful symbol of the British Monarchy, and a family home.

The Palace will be open from 20th July until 29th September and booking is now open. Groups of 15 or more receive discounted entry and GTOs can also book a Gardens Highlights Tour to create a very memorable day.

Osborne, Isle of Wight

English Heritage is marking the 200th anniversary of the births of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with a new display and a trail opening in late spring at the couple’s seaside home, Osborne on the Isle of Wight. Whenever possible the royal couple spent their birthdays at Osborne, where their celebrations were very much a family affair, complete with performances of poetry and music by the royal children, dinners, and group photographs – and, of course, there were gifts.

The sumptuous interior of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight

The sumptuous interior of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight © English Heritage

The new bicentenary display will take inspiration from the gifts Victoria and Albert received and exchanged highlighting their varied collecting tastes and interests. A new trail will guide visitors through this unique collection – around the house and out into the garden and estate.

Queen Victoria said of Osborne, ‘It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot’ and the Italianate house is still filled with original furnishings, priceless artworks and the personal mementos of the royal couple and their children. Highlights include the opulent staterooms, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s bedroom, the royal nursery and the Indian inspired Durbar Room.

Outside, in the extensive grounds, groups can visit a walled garden, the refurbished Swiss Cottage where the royal children learnt to keep house and Queen Victoria’s private beach.

Catering options include a waiter-service restaurant, Swiss Cottage refreshment shop serving light snacks and drinks, plus a self-service café at the Visitor Centre, which also has an exhibition and shop. Groups of 11 or more receive 15% discount. Pre-booked guided tours are available at an additional cost.

Houses of Parliament

The Prince’s Chamber at the Houses of Parliament

The Prince’s Chamber at the Houses of Parliament

Prince Albert, who was Consort to Queen Victoria, was born on 26th August 1819. One of his many roles was President of the Fine Arts Commission, which was established in 1841 to oversee the decoration of the new Houses of Parliament. Albert influenced the choice of subjects for the interior decorations and was closely involved with the artists who won the commissions to produce works of art for the new building.

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birthdays of both Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, groups can book a ‘Royalty and Splendour’ tour. The visit showcases the exquisite craftsmanship of architects A. W. N Pugin and Charles Barry, and the artistry of William Dyce and Daniel Maclise amongst many others. The finest British artists of their day designed the wonderful frescoes, portraits, statues, thrones, fireplaces and furniture that are explored in these special tours through the House of Lords.

The tours start at the top of the Royal Staircase in Norman Porch and follow the Queen’s processional route at the State Opening of Parliament through the Queen’s Robing Room, Royal Gallery and Prince’s Chamber before entering the majestic Lords Chamber. The tours take about 75 minutes and, optionally, can be rounded off in style with a glass of champagne in one of the rooms of the Palace of Westminster. Up to 25 people per guide.

Queen Victoria’s sapphire and diamond coronet, designed by Prince Albert, made by Joseph Kitching, London, 1840–42

Queen Victoria’s sapphire and diamond coronet, designed by Prince Albert, made by Joseph Kitching, London, 1840–42 © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Victoria & Albert Museum

The V&A began life as a Museum of Manufactures in 1852 with a mission to be a ‘school room for everyone’ and to improve the standards of British industry by educating designers, manufacturers and consumers in art and science. The foundation stone of the museum we know today was laid by Queen Victoria in 1899 and today its collections span 5,000 years of human creativity in virtually every medium.

Leading the celebrations of the bicentenary of the births of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert will be the William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, which opened at the V&A in 2008 and is recognised as one of the world’s great jewellery displays. The gallery will close for refurbishment in early 2019 before re-opening in April when a gift from the Bollingers, the sapphire and diamond coronet which Prince Albert designed for Queen Victoria in 1840, will be on permanent display for the first time. Queen Victoria also chose to wear the coronet in place of her crown when she opened Parliament in 1866 – the first time she’d attended the occasion after Albert’s death.

Frogmore House. Phillip Craven - Royal Collection Trust

Frogmore House. Phillip Craven – Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Windsor Castle and Frogmore House

Windsor Castle was special to Queen Victoria and it had many romantic associations for her. The tradition of Royal weddings at the Castle are the subject of a special talk looking at how these occasions have evolved over 900 years – with one of the most recent being the marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. The talk can be booked for groups of between 15 and 54 people between March and October.

Frogmore House in Windsor Home Park was also important to Victoria as her mother lived there for 20 years, and she continued to visit after her mother’s death. Frogmore House is only open during August as it is a favourite retreat of the royal family. During this month, only, private evening guided tours are available to groups of between 15 to 54 people on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Tours can be combined with a visit to the Savill Garden.

Queen Victoria is buried at Frogmore House in the mausoleum she commissioned for Prince Albert. Close by is the mausoleum for her mother, the Duchess of Kent, who died in 1861, the same year as Prince Albert but, do note, neither is open to visitors.