Queen Victoria, the British Empire’s most celebrated and longest-serving monarch, reigned for almost sixty-four years, from 1837 until her death in 1901. Many historians credit her with revitalizing the monarchy while bringing democracy to her people. Great Britain and Canada still celebrate Victoria’s reign in May every year, observing the holidays called Commonwealth Day and Victoria Day.
Baha’is around the world also recognize Queen Victoria’s legacy, because Baha’u’llah praised her for Britain’s efforts to end the slave trade and implement direct democratic rule. During the period between 1867 and 1870, while a prisoner of the Ottoman government, Baha’u’llah wrote letters to all the kings and rulers of the earth, including Queen Victoria. Those letters, known as the Tablets to the Kings, announced Baha’u’llah’s mission as the founder of the Baha’i Faith and called on the world’s ecclesiastical and political rulers to abolish injustice, end slavery and oppression, lay down their weapons and come together to establish a lasting peace. Baha’u’llah criticized and rebuked all of the monarchs and religious leaders for their wars, their unjust practices and their greed – except Queen Victoria. Instead, Baha’u’llah’s tablet to Victoria praised the British Empire for abolishing the slave trade:
We have been informed that thou hast forbidden trading in slaves, both men and women. This, verily, is what God hath enjoined in this wondrous Revelation. – Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, pp. 33-34.
Baha’u’llah also praised Queen Victoria’s government for making significant strides in democratizing the British voting system:
We have also heard that thou hast entrusted the reins of counsel into the hands of the representatives of the people. Thou, indeed, hast done well, for thereby the foundations of the edifice of thine affairs will be strengthened, and the hearts of all that are beneath thy shadow, whether high or low, will be tranquillized. – Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 34.
The tablet Baha’u’llah wrote to Queen Victoria concluded with a prayerful invitation – that she open her heart to the Baha’i revelation. She reportedly responded “If this is of God it will endure; if not, it can do no harm.” Victoria’s neutral response to the Baha’i teachings gradually became more emphatically positive over time, from both her country and her progeny. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, received a British knighthood for his humanitarian efforts to feed the hungry in Palestine during World War I. Then, in 1926, one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, Queen Marie of Romania, accepted Baha’u’llah’s teachings and became the first Baha’i monarch. Queen Marie’s declarations of faith reached millions of people when she decided to send letters about the beauty and power of the Baha’i teachings to hundreds of newspapers:
Some of those of my caste wonder at and disapprove my courage to step forward pronouncing words not habitual for crowned heads to pronounce, but I advance by an inner urge I cannot resist. With bowed head I recognize that I too am but an instrument in greater Hands, and I rejoice in the knowledge.
The Baha’i teaching brings peace and understanding. It is like a wide embrace gathering together all those who have long searched for words of hope. It accepts great prophets gone before, it destroys no other creeds and leaves all doors open. Saddened by the continual strife among believers of many confessions and wearied by their intolerance towards one another, I discovered in the Baha’i teaching the real spirit of Christ so often denied and misunderstood. Unity instead of strife, hope instead of condemnation, love instead of hate, and a great reassurance for all men.
It is a wondrous Message that Baha’u’llah and his son Abdu’l-Baha have given us. They have not set it up aggressively knowing that the germ of eternal truth that lies at its core cannot but take root and spread… One’s busy day may seem too full for religion. Or one may have a religion that satisfies. But the teachings of these gentle, wise and kindly men are compatible with all religion, and with no religion. Seek them, and be the happier.
To those searching for light, the Bahá’í teachings offer a star which will lead them to deeper understanding, to assurance, peace and goodwill with all men. If ever the name of Baha’u’llah or Abdu’l-Bahá comes to your attention, do not put their writings from you. Search out their books, and let their glorious, peace-bringing, love-creating words and lessons sink into your hearts as they have into mine… Seek them and be the happier. – quoted from Queen Marie’s letters by Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp. 389-393 (portions first published in The Toronto Star).
The Baha’i Faith began during Queen Victoria’s reign, and then quickly grew into a worldwide movement whose powerful message reaches and speaks directly to every human being, from the humblest to the highest.