Succession to the Crown: Queen Victoria

Gazette Succession to the Crown

As the official public record since 1665, The Gazette has been recording successions to the Crown for over three centuries. As part of our ‘Succession to the Crown’ series, historian Russell Malloch looks through the archives at the accession and reign of Queen Victoria, as described in The Gazette.



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Photo of Queen Victoria by Caldesi

Accession Council

The Accession Council that gathered at Kensington Palace on the day King William IV died at Windsor Castle learned that the Crown had passed to Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, and that she would be known by her second name of Victoria rather than become Queen Alexandrina (Gazette issue 19509).

The accession proclamation of 20 June 1837 dealt with the remote possibility that the late King’s wife may have children, as the document explained that the imperial crown “is solely and rightfully come to the high and mighty Princess Alexandrina Victoria, saving the rights of any issue of His late Majesty King William the Fourth which may be borne of His late Majesty’s consort”.

Queen Adelaide was 44 years old when her husband died and had no further children by the King, and so the nation avoided the extraordinary spectacle of a child exercising the rights that were mentioned at the council, and so removing Queen Victoria from the throne before the spring of 1838.

A few of the counsellors who witnessed the launch of the Victorian era were present at the gatherings that had proclaimed the sovereign in 1820 and 1830, as in the case of former prime ministers such as Sir Robert Peel. A few had even been at Carlton House when the Regent assumed the royal powers. One peer who participated in all four transfers of the royal authority between 1811 and 1837 was Lord Camden, who joined Pitt’s administration in the 1790s and later served as lord lieutenant of Ireland and secretary of state for war and the colonies.

Crown of Hanover

The Hanoverian link with the British court and the political establishment in London was clear from the names of those who attended the Accession Council, as 19 of the counsellors who featured in The Gazette were members of the Guelphic Order.

Hanover continued to be a political consideration for many years, and one of the earliest matters to engage the new parliament was how to manage the succession as Queen Victoria had no children, and in these circumstances the throne would pass to the Duke of Cumberland, who was now the King of Hanover. The prospect of dealing with an absent sovereign had one obvious precedent, as it was expected that the Crown would be inherited by Princess Sophia on Queen Anne’s death, and the crown eventually devolved on the Elector of Hanover in the summer of 1714.

The Victorian situation was addressed on 15 July 1837 (Gazette issue 19524), when assent was given to an act that recognised that the “next successor entitled to the crown of these realms may at such time be out of the realm [...] in parts beyond the seas”, and provided for the continuity of the administration of the government by lords justices until the sovereign arrived. The act assigned the role of justices to the persons holding the offices of:

  • archbishop of Canterbury
  • lord chancellor
  • lord high treasurer
  • lord privy seal
  • lord high admiral
  • lord chief justice of the Queen’s Bench 

Additional justices could be nominated, and measures relating to the peerage could only be performed with the express direction of the next successor, while no limit was placed on the distribution of any other honours.

As happened with the earlier regency acts, the 1837 legislation was not required and no justices were ever appointed, as Queen Victoria had several children who gained precedence in the order of succession over the more distant king in Hanover.

UK Royal Arms from 1837-present

Royal arms

The Hanoverian element was removed from the coat of arms by a royal proclamation of 26 July 1837, which noted that King William’s German interests had passed to the Duke of Cumberland, and declared that “henceforth the shield or escocheon of pretence representing His late Majesty’s dominions in Germany, and ensigned with the Hanoverian royal crown, shall be omitted” (Gazette issue 19529).

The revised arms appeared in The London Gazette for the first time on 8 August 1837, and showed the new (and still current) version of the shield with quarters for England, Scotland and Ireland, but without the Hanoverian shield or crown (Gazette issue 19530).

The simplified royal arms, together with the Queen’s effigy and/or cypher, replaced her uncle’s marks in many public settings, as in the design of the army’s long service and good conduct medal of 1830, and in the coins of the realm that were sanctioned by proclamation on 5 July 1838 (Gazette issue 19633).

At this stage the British honours system contained few elements, and the honours that did exist did not exhibit royal emblems in their insignia. This meant that there was a limited need – apart from the case of the army’s long service medal – for any measures to be taken to alter the insignia of any orders, decorations or medals on the accession of the new sovereign, in sharp contrast to what needed to be done after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, by which time the royal emblems were far more widely used.

A great seal that combined images of the Queen on a throne and on horseback was approved by the Privy Council on 18 July 1838. A similar version of the design by Benjamin Wyon was employed on the later seals, which were used to authenticate state documents such as the grant of peerages, baronetcies and knighthood, until the end of the 19th century when a revised style was introduced and showed a more mature sovereign.

Photo of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their wedding day by Fenton

Prince Albert

The prospect of the King of Hanover succeeding to the Crown of the United Kingdom receded in February 1840 when the Queen married Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg (Gazette issue 19824). The Queen’s husband was already a knight of the Garter, and later joined the other orders, as well as being given the title of Prince Consort in June 1857, but he had no formal role in the honours system, beyond his involvement in the affairs of the Order of the Bath which began in 1843 when he became the acting great master.

The next step to protect the royal authority related to the Queen’s children. In August 1840 an act provided that if they were under 18 years of age then Prince Albert would become the regent, but subject to the usual restrictions in terms of the powers he could exercise (Gazette issue 19881). As in the past, the act proved to be a precautionary measure, as all of the royal children reached their 18th birthday.

European travels

Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to leave the United Kingdom on a regular basis since the 18th century when the first two Georges spent a number of months in Hanover over several years. The Gazette did not describe the Queen’s first foreign trip, which was to visit King Louis Philippe of France at Chateau d’Eu in September 1843, and there was no reference to the nomination of any justices. The only hint of the first of the Queen’s many European journeys was a notice about the knighthood that was conferred on the consul at Brest (Gazette issue 20287).

The French visit lasted for just one week and the government decided that, despite the precedent of 1821 when George IV went to Hanover, there was no need to delegate the royal authority during the Queen’s absence, whose short duration contrasted with the many months that the early Georges spent in Hanover. There was the added consideration that there were more efficient means of passing messages to and from Europe in the 1840s by comparison with the 1740s.

A similar policy of non-delegation was adopted when the Queen went to places such as the Rhine and Coburg in 1845, Antwerp in 1852 and Switzerland in 1868. The Victorian approach may, however, be compared with the strategy that was favoured during the 20th century when, despite the greatly increased ability to communicate between London and foreign capitals, letters patent were used to delegate the royal authority during absences of less than one week (Gazette issue 41072).


The royal authority was exercised at locations that were within the United Kingdom but distant from the centre of government in London, most often when the Queen stayed at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight or at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, where she often remained for several months each year. The Gazette contains no statute or patent that regulated the administration of government or the control of royal power while the Queen was away and, in the case of Balmoral, more remote than had she been staying in France or Germany.

In practice, meetings of the Privy Council were sometimes held at Osborne and in Aberdeenshire, and only very rarely at other locations outside London, such as at Claremont House in 1840-41, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh in 1881.

Osborne was used for state business from as early as 1845, and it was there that the Marquess of Salisbury and William Gladstone were received on becoming prime minister in July 1886 and August 1892. The Isle of Wight also provided the venue for several routine meetings of the Privy Council, including those at which members were sworn in, starting in 1848 with Archbishop Sumner of Canterbury, and later counsellors such as John Macdonald, the prime minister of Canada, through to Herbert Asquith, the home secretary and future prime minister in the 1890s.

Several Garter ceremonies were organised on the Isle of Wight, where Benjamin Disraeli and the Duke of York (later King George V) were invested. The Queen also presented the insignia of the Order of the Bath at this venue, as when she delivered a companion’s badge to Charles Hardinge, the future viceroy of India.

Osborne was the location of the court from which a warrant was issued in April 1883 to create the Royal Red Cross, a decoration the Queen regularly wore, which showed her effigy on one side and the royal and imperial cypher on the other. The honour could be awarded to ladies “for special exertions in providing for the nursing, or for attending to, sick and wounded soldiers and sailors” (Gazette issue 25225), which was an interesting objective in the context of the history of the Isle of Wight property, as King Edward VII presented most of the Osborne estate to the nation after his mother’s death, and part of it was later used as a convalescent home.

Photo of Queen Victoria and Nicholas II at Balmoral by Milne in 1986


The Gazette reported the occasional gathering of counsellors at Balmoral Castle from the late 1840s, and the proclamations and orders in council that were issued from Aberdeenshire. A number of counsellors were sworn in there, starting in 1869 with James Moncreiff, the lord justice clerk, while Sir George Jessel, the master of the Rolls, was sworn in at the same council in 1873 at which William Gladstone took the oath on being re-appointed first lord of the Treasury (Gazette issue 24013).

Balmoral provided the setting for other royal business. One of The Gazette’s earliest notices from the castle came in 1848 when the Queen knighted the geologist Charles Lyell (Gazette issue 20905). She also used Balmoral to invest her son Prince Arthur (later Duke of Connaught) with the insignia of a knight of the Thistle, and the King of Portugal received his Garter ensigns there in 1895 (Gazette issue 26679).

The warrant creating the Distinguished Service Order to reward “individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in war”, was issued from the Scottish court in September 1886 (Gazette issue 25641), and introduced a badge that carried familiar royal emblems, as it displayed the Queen’s crown on one side and cypher on the other.

Balmoral has its place in royal history, as the Russian emperor Nicholas II was being entertained at the castle on the day Queen Victoria reigned for longer than any of her predecessors. The Gazette did not report the significance of the date, but the Court Circular of 24 September 1896 explained that: “Though the Queen had expressed a wish that no public recognition of the length of her reign should take place till June next, she is deeply touched and gratified by the immense number of congratulatory telegrams which she received yesterday from all ranks of her subjects throughout her Empire.”

Victoria Cross 1856

New honours

The Victorian editions of The Gazette reported the introduction and award of several new honours, as the scope of the royal authority was greatly extended between the Accession Council in 1837 and the Queen’s death in 1901, as in the case of the Royal Red Cross and the Distinguished Service Order, whose links with Osborne and Balmoral have already been mentioned.

The growth in the honours system had a personal impact on the Queen, as she assumed responsibility for approving the increased number of awards that were made in her name; for signing the warrants of appointment and other documents connected with membership of the orders; and for presenting insignia and decorations to recipients. The increase in the royal duties can be illustrated by comparing the 20 or so appointments to the orders that were made in the first year of Victoria’s reign with an equivalent figure of almost 300 in the last year.

Some of the new honours were intended to reward acts of bravery and distinguished service in times of war. The Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, Distinguished Conduct Medal and Victoria Cross were all introduced in the 1850s to commemorate gallantry and service in the war against Russia, while brave acts that were performed outside the battlefield also began to be noticed, as the Board of Trade created a medal that evolved into the Sea Gallantry Medal, while the Albert Medal was introduced in 1866 for acts in saving life at sea, and was soon extended to cover actions on land.

Indian Empire

The evolution of the United Kingdom’s possessions in India led to an addition being made to the Queen’s titles, and to a number of honours being created to promote services to the Crown in that part of the world.

Two changes in the relationship between the Crown and what was termed ‘British India’ are important in this context. The first came in 1858 when the Queen assumed a direct role in the government of India, while the second arose in 1876 when she took the title of Empress of India.

The Gazette reported assent being given to “An act for the better government of India” in August 1858, which transferred all of the territories in the possession or under the government of the East India Company to the Crown, and provided that India was to be governed by and in the name of the Queen (Gazette issue 22170). No change was made to the Queen’s titles at this stage, but an order was soon introduced to reward loyalty in India. The royal authority, rather than any act of the Westminster Parliament or order of the governor-general in council, continued to be the favoured means of creating orders of knighthood, and the Indian dimension began with the issue of letters patent under the great seal of the United Kingdom in February 1861.

The great distance between London and Calcutta required arrangements to be put in place to delegate the authority to manage the new order. The Order of St Patrick’s model of placing regal power in the hands of the lord lieutenant in Dublin was followed, and the Order of the Star of India’s patent declared that the viceroy and governor-general of India should be the sovereign’s representative in that organisation, and that he should “confer the title degree and honour of knight bachelor of these realms” and “invest with the insignia” any persons who was nominated.

The next step in the Indian story followed the 1801 precedent of establishing the sovereign’s right to make changes to matters affecting the Crown by passing legislation that allowed for the particular issue – in this case the royal titles – to be determined by way of a royal proclamation, rather than by the statute itself.

On 27 April 1876 assent was given to “An act to enable Her Most Gracious Majesty to make an addition to the royal style and titles appertaining to the imperial crown of the United Kingdom and its dependences” (Gazette issue 24319), and on the next day a proclamation was made by and with the advice of the Privy Council under which the Queen added “Indiae Imperatrix” or “Empress of India” to the titles that were proclaimed at the Accession Council.

Order of the Indian Empire badge

The range of state honours was supplemented to commemorate the imperial addition to the Queen’s titles, with royal warrants being issued in December 1877 to create the Order of the Crown of India and the Order of the Indian Empire. The link between the Crown and the Indian orders was made clear from the warrants, which mirrored the approach that had been taken since the early 18th century, as it was ordained that “we, our heirs and successors, kings and queens regnant of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, emperors and empresses of India, are, and for ever shall be, sovereigns of this order.”

The warrants also confirmed the direct role of the Queen rather than the viceroy in the Indian orders as it was ordained “that when we, our heirs and successors, shall be pleased to appoint any person to be a member of this order, such appointment shall be made by warrant under our sign manual, sealed with the seal of the order and countersigned by one of our principal secretaries of state”. That same basic process of issuing a warrant that is signed by the sovereign and authorised with the order’s seal underpins most of the notices about appointments to the orders that appear in the modern Gazette.

The Indian insignia reflected Victoria’s status as both queen and empress, as the badges of the Star of India and the Indian Empire showed her crowned effigy, while the Crown of India’s badge incorporated the royal and imperial cypher V.R.I. (Victoria Regina et Imperatrix).

The same cypher also featured in the last Indian honour to emerge during the Victorian period, the two-class Kaisar-i-Hind Medal, which was governed by a royal warrant of April 1900 (Gazette issue 27191), and was to be awarded for “important and useful services in the advancement of the public interest in India”. Procedures for delegating the royal authority were included in this founding document, which allowed awards of the first class medal to be made by warrant under the royal sign manual, countersigned by a secretary of state, and on the recommendation of the secretary of state for India, while awards of the second class medal could be made by the governor-general of India.

Absent on service

Measures were put in place during the reign to delegate the royal authority beyond the limits of British India, which reflected the growth in the range of honours that could be granted for work that was performed outside the United Kingdom.

One early change involved the Order of the Bath, where an 1847 statutes provided for the sovereign to invest members of the first and second classes, unless the person was absent on service, in which case the Queen could nominate “some distinguished officer in our service, or other person” to present the insignia under the authority of a warrant under the royal sign manual and the order’s seal, and countersigned by the great master (Gazette issue 20737).

Similar powers were given to the Queen’s nominees to act in the Order of St Michael and St George, which moved from its Mediterranean base in the 1860s to have a much wider role in international affairs. The Queen also delegated matters connected with the affairs of the most senior order, and The Gazette reported several commissions being prepared when the Garter’s insignia was sent overseas. By chance, The Gazette’s accounts of the Victorian Garter missions started and ended with investitures in the same German city, with the Earl of Winton delivering the Blue Riband to Frederick Augustus II of Saxony in Dresden in 1842, and the Earl Fife investing King Albert at the same location in 1882. The Garter missions continued to be organised for several years after the last mission to Dresden, but they were no longer gazetted.

The royal authority was also delegated during the war against Russia, and The Gazette reported the ceremony in the Crimea in August 1855 when Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, the Queen’s ambassador to Turkey, presented the Bath’s insignia to several general officers (Gazette issue 21779). The Crimean, Indian and German investitures were always exceptions to the general rule, and the Queen played an active part in conferring the honour of knighthood, and presenting the insignia to recipients of many of the higher ranking awards, except during the few years when she withdrew from public business after her husband’s death.

Queen Victoria Golden Jubilee medal 1887

Jubilee Medal

The Queen’s accession was marked in a variety of ways during her reign, although no events were organised to commemorate the silver jubilee as it fell in June 1862 while the royal family were in deep mourning for the loss of Prince Albert. The situation was quite different by 1887, and the Queen marked her 50th anniversary by sanctioning the issue of an official medal. The Gazette of January 1888 (Gazette issue 25773) reported several events connected with the golden jubilee, and explained that:

“The Queen was pleased, in commemoration of the jubilee, to entrust to Mr Emptmeyer, the design and execution of a medal, which was struck in gold, silver, and bronze, and was conferred by Her Majesty on the members of the royal family and on the royal and princely guests, their suites, the ladies and gentlemen of the Queen’s and the royal households, besides other persons. This medal is, by the Queen’s commands, to be worn with full dress or uniform, and on other occasions when decorations and medals are worn, after the decorations of orders, and before war medals.”

In a break with the normal Victorian practice, The Gazette also reported the presentation of insignia and medals as part of the jubilee celebrations, including the Garter being delivered to the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, the grand cross of the Bath to Prince Louis of Battenberg, and the first class of the Order of the Indian Empire to the Rao of Kutch.

A similar approach to the distribution of commemorative medals was adopted ten years later (Gazette issue 26947), and The Gazette of 1897 explained that the Queen had made “a fresh issue of the Jubilee Medal of 1887” in gold, silver and bronze. A new style of diamond-shaped medal was devised to be given in gold to lords mayors and lords provosts, and in silver to mayors and provosts, with the Queen’s current effigy on one side, and her 1837 image on the other.

The diamond jubilee medals were the last to be struck in connection with the accession of a sovereign until 1935 when a medal was issued on the occasion of King George V’s silver jubilee, while four medals were produced between 1977 and 2022 to mark some of the anniversaries of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne.

Victorian Order badge

Victorian Order

The Gazette demonstrated the way in which the royal authority was mainly exercised to manage matters of state in respect of which the Crown had a formal role to play, as with the appointment of ambassadors, bishops and judges, rather than dealing with issues relating to the royal family or the Queen’s own affairs.

A more personal use of the royal authority emerged one year before the diamond jubilee, when a patent was issued to create the Royal Victorian Order, which was intended to reward “extraordinary or important or personal” services to the sovereign, or services that otherwise merited royal favour. A key feature of the order was that appointments could be made on the initiative of the Queen rather than her ministers.

The patent also showed that acts involving the exercise of the royal authority could be performed even if the sovereign was outside the realm, as the order’s founding document was dated at Westminster on 21 April 1896, a day on which the Queen was on holiday in the south of France. The first investiture took place on the coast of the Mediterranean on 28 April, when the Queen presented her insignia to the prefect of the Alpes Maritime and the mayor of Nice. The badge contained the V.R.I. cypher, which was already used by the Order of the Crown of India, the Royal Red Cross and the Distinguished Service Order.

Sir Matthew Joyce

Sword and spurs

The nature of the Queen’s realms had changed significantly since she received the symbols of her royal authority in 1838, when the golden spurs were carried by Lord Byron, a cousin of the poet, and the sword of state by the prime minister, Lord Melbourne (Gazette issue 19632). Even so, the last knight of Victoria’s reign showed that, despite the evolution of the social and political life of the nation since the coronation, the concepts of honour and justice were still relevant at the start of the new century.

This sense of continuity was demonstrated by The Gazette of 1900, which announced that the Queen had appointed Matthew Joyce to be a justice of the High Court (Gazette issue 27243). Joyce was advised that he would be knighted, and asked if he would prefer to be dubbed by the Queen, or created by letters patent. He was told that there were financial implications, as the accolade cost about £27 for the fees due to the earl marshal and heralds, while the fees for the patent amounted to £97.

The judge elected for the cheaper and more personal option, and so travelled to Windsor Castle on 13 December 1900 where the Queen conferred the honour of knighthood for the last time in her long reign. The Gazette duly noticed that historic event (but reported it as taking place one day earlier) (Gazette issue 27257).

Sir Matthew Joyce lived long enough to learn about a badge being introduced by King George V in 1926 that could be worn by knights, and used a design based on a sword and spurs, two of the symbols that recalled the powers the Queen had exercised for more than 63 years when she passed away at Osborne House at 6.30pm on 22 January 1901 (Gazette issue 27269).

About the author

Russell Malloch is a member of the Orders and Medals Research Society and an authority on British honours.

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See also

Gazette Firsts: The history of The Gazette and royal coronations

The Demise of Queen Elizabeth II and Accession of King Charles III

Queen Elizabeth II - In Memoriam

Images (in order of appearance)

The Gazette

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023


Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

Russell Malloch


Russell Malloch

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Publication date: 3 January 2023

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.