The Victorian Era

Queen Victoria gives her name to the period between 20 June 1837 and 22 January 1901, when she was on the throne for 63 years and 216 days.

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the husband of Queen Victoria died on 14 December 1861 in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle, in the presence of the Queen and five of their nine children. He was 42 years old and his death plunged the Queen into a deep mourning which lasted for the rest of her life. He had married his first cousin Victoria on 10 April 1840. At first he was not popular with the British public and was perceived to be from an impoverished and undistinguished minor state, barely larger than a small English county. Over time he adopted many public causes, such as educational reform and the abolition of slavery, and took on the responsibilities of running the Queen's household. His biggest contribution to the UK was arguably the organisation of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Albert also aided in the development of Britain's constitutional monarchy by persuading his wife to show less partisanship in her dealings with Parliament and introducing the principle that the Royal Family should remain above politics.

The British Empire

In India the 1857 mutiny of sepoys (Indian troops under British officers) had grown into a wider conflict which ended with the dissolution of the then-ruling East India Company. The Indian Rebellion took six months to suppress, with heavy loss of life on both sides. From then onwards, the British government assumed direct control over India. This period was known as the British Raj, and a UK government appointed governor-general administered the country on behalf of Queen Victoria, who was crowned the Empress of India.

The New World in 1861

North America was in the first year of a civil war. Eleven Southern slave states declared their secession from the United States early in the year and formed the Confederate States of America known as the Confederacy. Led by Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy fought for its independence from the United States. The U.S. federal government was supported by twenty mostly-Northern free states in which slavery already had been abolished, and by five slave states that became known as the border states. These twenty-five states, referred to as the Union, had a much larger base of population and industry than the South. The war was to last for four years of bloody and devastating warfare (mostly within the Southern states) until the Confederacy surrendered on 9 April 1865. Five days later president Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

Notable events of 1861

20 February — Storms damage the Crystal Palace in London and cause the collapse of the steeple of Chichester Cathedral
21 March to 26 March — Major fire in Southwark destroys several buildings
30 March — Sir William Crookes announces his discovery of Thallium.
13 May — British government pledges to remain neutral in the American Civil War.
17 May — Thomas Cook runs the first package holiday from London to Paris.
31 July — Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act codifies company law.
27 August — Last execution in Britain for attempted murder — Martin Doyle in Chester.
16 September — Post Office Savings Bank opens.
24 October — HMS Warrior, the world's first ocean-going iron-hulled armored battleship is completed and commissioned.
8 November — Trent Affair: Union captained ship USS San Jacinto intercepts the British mail packet Trent at sea and removes two Confederate diplomats.
25 November — A tenement collapses in the Old Town of Edinburgh killing 35 with 15 survivors.


12 June — William Attewell, cricketer (died 1927)
19 June — Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, soldier (died 1928)
20 June — Frederick Hopkins, biochemist, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (died 1947)
23 September — Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, poet and novelist (died 1907)
16 October — J. B. Bury, historian (died 1927)


29 January — Catherine Gore, novelist and dramatist (born 1799)
16 March — Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duchess of Kent and mother of Queen Victoria (born 1786, Germany)
29 June — Elizabeth Barrett Browning, poet (born 1806)
14 December — Albert, Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria (born 1819)