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Suffragists were enraged by their opponents' tactics. Surveying Queen Victoria's accomplishments from the vantage point of the 1870s and 1880s, feminist activists could plainly see that Victoria was not merely the “figurehead” that so many anti-suffragists purported her to be. Yet, in their quest to challenge those who insisted that Victoria was merely a puppet, they faced a fresh dilemma: how to promote the rights of the sovereign in an increasingly democratic political culture? This chapter explores this conundrum, following women's rights activists as they tried to wrest the queen from their opponents during the Golden and Diamond jubilee celebrations of 1887 and 1897.
This chapter charts social conservatives' efforts to provide new historical and philosophical foundations for female sovereignty -- ones in keeping with, rather than at odds with, a patriarchal state. They did this by rewriting the histories of past English queens in order to downplay their agency and leadership. They also did this by valorizing particular Victorian statesmen who they insisted were doing Victoria's work on her behalf. Finally, they did this by stressing the decorative, moral, and fundamentally apolitical role of the female sovereign within the modern British nation-state.
This chapter places the nineteenth-century feminist interest in Victoria in conversation with discourses on queenship of earlier periods. It shows that many Britons were already beginning to equate female sovereignty with robust interpretations of liberty and equality long before Victoria became queen. Although this chapter touches on the Elizabethan period, its primary focus is on the period from 1688 to 1837.
This chapter traces how critics of women's rights, and especially of women's political rights, used arguments about the limited and dependent role of the female sovereign to minimize the queen's feminist potential, and to erode faith in the larger aims of the women's movement more generally. It focuses especially on the later decades of Victoria's rule, from the 1860s, when anti-suffragists were particularly zealous in their efforts to mobilize Victoria for their own alternative purposes.
At various moments during her long rule, Queen Victoria (r. 1837–1901) made clear that she was no fan of women’s rights. In a letter written in 1852 to her Uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, the queen – then in the throes of motherhood – observed that her husband Albert “grows daily fonder and fonder of politics and business, and is wonderfully fit for both – showing such perspicuity and such courage – and I grow daily to dislike them both more and more. We women are not made for governing: and, if we are good women, we must dislike these masculine occupations!” In 1870, faced with the prospect of a women’s franchise bill passing in Parliament, the now-widowed queen engaged in a lengthy correspondence with Prime Minister William Gladstone, in which she registered her “strongest aversion for the socalled & most erroneous ‘Rights of Woman
This chapter demonstrates the popularity of Queen Victoria in women's rights campaigning, with a particular focus on the period from 1832 to 1876. It was during this period that a range of influential women's rights activists, including William Johnson Fox, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Harriet Taylor, and John Stuart Mill featured Victoria in their campaigning. The chapter discusses why so many activists found Victoria compelling and how they leveraged her in their arguments for women's emancipation.
Feminist campaigners’ tactics during the jubilee celebrations may have attracted attention, but they did not ultimately change policies. This frustrated reformers – a frustration only exacerbated by the fact that Victoria had as yet given little open public encouragement to the Women's Movement and its projects. When Victoria died in 1901, therefore, women's rights proponents were at best ambivalent about the queen and her legacy. This concluding chapter traces how feminists struggled to keep Victoria in play during the Edwardian period. This was an initiative that only became more complicated once Victoria's own negative views on female suffrage became public knowledge in 1902.
Queen Victoria is often cast as a foe of the women's movement - the sovereign who famously declared women's rights to be a 'mad, wicked folly'. Yet these words weren't circulated publicly until after the Queen's death in 1901. Beginning with this insight, this book reveals Victoria as a ruler who captured the imaginations of nineteenth-century feminists. Women's rights activists routinely used Victoria to assert their own claims to citizenship. So popular was their strategy that it even motivated anti-suffragists to launch their own campaign to distance Queen Victoria from feminist initiatives. In highlighting these exchanges, this book draws attention to the intricate and often overlooked connections between the histories of women, the monarchy, and the state. In the process, it sheds light on the development of constitutional monarchy, concepts of female leadership, and the powerful role that the Crown - and queens specifically - have played in modern British culture and politics.