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A Reign With Reach

Exhibit examines the influential rulership of Queen Victoria 100 years after her death.

February 22, 2001|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Victoria was queen of England for more than 63 years, and she'll be ruling the roost until the end of April at the presidential library in Simi Valley, where a world-class exhibit explains her amazing story.

"Queen Victoria: Powerful Ruler of a Mighty Empire," on exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, marks the centennial of the monarch's death.

It is inspired by the Forbes magazine collection of royal memorabilia and bolstered by artifacts from private collections from around the world.

Every facet of the queen's lengthy tenure is represented by the items on display--paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints and personal items, including clothing that once belonged to the royal family.

The technically inclined will appreciate the contraptions such as the antique music boxes, and there's a hands-on area for kids to find out more about the Victorian era.

Born in 1819 and fifth in line for the throne, Victoria became queen in 1837, thanks to a number of deaths and childless heirs. Her uncle, King William IV, died just a few weeks after her 18th birthday, and she took the throne on June 20, 1837. She ruled until her death at 81. As a child, Victoria led a sheltered existence, sleeping in the same bedroom with her mother until she was 18.

She was not even allowed to walk down stairs alone. Shortly after becoming queen, she asserted her new authority and got her own room.

In May 1838, Victoria married her cousin, the German Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg Gotha.

Visitors to the museum can view a telegram from President Martin Van Buren congratulating the couple on the occasion of their elaborate wedding ceremony.

Albert was the love of the queen's life and inspired the following entry in her diary: "It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert, who is beautiful . . . such beautiful blue eyes, an exquisite nose and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios around very slight whiskers, a beautiful figure, broad shoulders and fine waist."

The happy couple had nine children and 38 grandchildren.

The exhibit boasts a number of portraits of the queen at various ages, several depicting a very pretty young lady as opposed to the more familiar visage of the frumpy dowager or the famous profile that appeared on countless postage stamps.

There's a masterful oil painting by Edmund T. Parris of the queen's coronation and several samples of artwork by her children, who were given a traditional classical education with heavy emphasis on the arts.

One of the reasons for the success of the queen's long reign was the strength of the British military. For centuries, the redcoats on land and the Royal Navy at sea were nobody's sweethearts, the muscle that ruled a mighty and vast empire.

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To that end, a full room of the exhibit has to do with the British military. There are paintings and drawings, weapons of all sorts and a number of uniforms. There's also a re-creation of a British officer's room, a spartan setting indeed.

On display are a number of medals awarded to Lt. Col. Thomas Tulloch of the 42nd Highlanders, the famous Black Watch regiment with which he served during the Crimean War. One can also see the elaborate tail coat, petite by today's standards, once worn by Lt. Gen. Sir William Chalmers. There are a number of examples of military headgear, including shakos, kepis and forage caps, and a number of rifles and pistols, and more medals.

Andrew Jackson was just leaving office in Washington when Queen Victoria took over; 18 more American presidents served during her rule.

In those six-plus decades, England became the greatest industrial and imperial power in the world. Victoria's family was related to nearly every royal house in Europe, where her influence outlived her. Three of her many grandchildren were Czar Nicholas II of Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and King George V of England, all prominent players in the elaborate royal squabble that became World War I.

DETAILS

"Queen Victoria: Powerful Ruler of a Mighty Empire" at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through April 29. $5 general, $3 seniors, free children 15 and under. Information: (800) 410-8354.

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Bill Locey can be reached by e-mail at blocey@pacbell.net.

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