There are without doubt some genuine similarities between Queen Elizabeth II and the monarch she is about to overtake as Britain’s longest ruler, Queen Victoria.
Both grew up knowing they were destined for the throne. Both were trained to be monarchs, with lessons in constitutionalism. Both married young to men they loved dearly, and balanced being mothers of growing families with the demands and difficulties of being queen. And both have been through periods of unpopularity, as well as seeing a number of small wars fought by their governments in their name.
Both queens have also been on the throne during periods of tremendous and profound technological change, dramatically affecting the lives of their subjects and how they understand their world. For Victoria, it was railways and steam shipping, the mechanisation of production processes, photography, the telegraph etc. For Elizabeth, commercial flying, the collapse of traditional industries, popular computing and the internet has transformed daily living. Equally, the popular media changed dramatically in both reigns – with the mass circulation daily press taking off in the 1850s and television as a mass phenomenon from the 1950s – expanding the amount, and the kinds, of information available to the man and woman on the street.
In terms of their characters, public and private, there are – again – some similarities. As well as their strong sense of discipline, both grew up to love dancing, music and parties, and both had a strong sense of humour, in private at least. Victoria very frequently was amused, and we know the Queen enjoys a good joke. And both loved dogs and Scotland – especially Balmoral.
There the similarities end, to a very great extent. The Queen’s sense of duty is very much stronger than that displayed by Victoria. While both married relatively young, Victoria’s personal happiness was devastated by Albert’s death. She wallowed in her great grief, but it is hard to believe that, similarly bereft, the present Queen would have done so. Even when her beloved husband has been in hospital, she has continued to perform her public role. Elizabeth II subordinates her private feelings to her strong sense of duty – being queen requires her to do so, she clearly believes.