Victoria’s Wars by Saul David - review by Simon Heffer

Simon Heffer

Expanding Empire

Victoria’s Wars


Viking 503pp £25

Since we have come to view the nineteenth century as a time of unstoppable expansion for the British Empire, it is a shock to read, at the beginning of Saul David’s entertaining and thorough account of two vital decades of that expansion, that at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign the Empire was in decline. It appeared to have reached a high-water mark in the 1770s, before the loss of the American colonies: since when the nation’s activities had been concentrated on domestic security, notably in fighting the Napoleonic Wars, and the acquisition of a few unpromising penal colonies in the antipodes.

David’s book begins with the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 and ends with the death of her consort and chief adviser, Prince Albert, in 1861. As the author explains in a note at the end of the work, these two figures are almost the only consistent threads running through

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