When Queen Victoria died at the age of 81 on 22 January 1901, it took her family, court and subjects by surprise. Very few had been able to contemplate the mortality of the monarch who had ruled over Britain and its empire for almost 64 years.


By the start of 1901, the queen was fading. Her appetite had disappeared, and she had lost almost half her body weight. She wrote: “Another year begun, I am feeling so weak and unwell, that I enter upon it sadly.”

No more than three weeks later, the queen suffered a series of strokes, and many members of the royal family were suddenly summoned to the Isle of Wight.

When the end came, Osborne House – the queen’s island residence – was surrounded by police to prevent the news leaking out before the new king Edward VII had concluded the formalities. A short while later, the small notice of announcement was pinned on the bulletin board where a large crowd of journalists were waiting.

Panic gripped the government when the queen’s personal instructions for her funeral were revealed. Previous royal funerals had been private candlelit affairs, taking place at night, but Queen Victoria had requested a full military state funeral.

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As the date of the funeral approached, the processional route was prepared. Around 33,000 soldiers entered London and had to be fed and billeted.

The coffin was transported from Osborne House to the port of Cowes, then across the Solent on the royal yacht Alberta, on 1 February 1901. One reporter recalled looking at the new king (who was aboard another yacht) through his telescope. He observed that Edward’s face was “so white and very set, the real king, unaware that any man could see him, intensely melancholy, intensely sad”.

The journey from the coast to London by train was followed by the largest military procession since the Duke of Wellington’s funeral in 1852, through Hyde Park to Paddington. The procession lasted two hours, with the queen’s coffin standing high on the gun carriage drawn by eight white and cream ponies through the crowded yet eerily silent streets.

Later, when the ponies’ traces came loose, 138 naval bluejackets propped up their weapons, attached ropes to the carriage where the harnesses had been, and dragged the gun carriage to St George’s Chapel.

The official service was followed by a ceremony for the family on 4 February, in the mausoleum the queen had built for her husband Albert at Frogmore, adjoining Windsor Castle.

King Edward VII and his grandson, the six-year-old future Edward VIII, knelt as the queen was slowly lowered into the crypt to be laid to rest beside her beloved Prince Albert.


The queen’s death marked the end of the Victorian era and ushered in a new Edwardian age.

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Elinor EvansDigital editor

Elinor Evans is digital editor of HistoryExtra.com. She commissions and writes history articles for the website, and regularly interviews historians for the award-winning HistoryExtra podcast