“Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.”
You know you’ve made an impact on society when the time you were alive is named after you in tribute. Queen Victoria did indeed give her name to the Victorian era, which oversaw immense changes worldwide. Stories and legends have emerged around this monarch, and she’s been portrayed in all sorts of novels, movies, or TV shows.
She wasn’t without her enemies either; her relationship with the British government was often strained, her popularity frequently went up and down for different reasons, and she was subject to multiple assassination attempts. But whether you dislike Victoria or not, she was undeniably a very important historical figure—and she lived an extremely fascinating life to boot. Read on to discover 45 facts about the Widow of Windsor.
45. Last of Her Line
Victoria was the last monarch of Great Britain who claimed the House of Hanover. The Hanover kings, named for the German region from which they originated, had been rulers of Great Britain and Ireland since 1714 with King George I. Victoria’s son, Edward VII, used his father’s house, which was called Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which technically continues to rule to this day—George V changed the name of his branch of the house to Windsor in 1917.
44. Long May She Reign
Victoria reigned for more than 63 years, a new record for English rulers. The only one to outlast her has been Queen Elizabeth II, whose reign surpassed Victoria’s in 2015.
43. Not So Amusing Now
Sadly, there is no evidence that Queen Victoria was fond of saying “We are not amused” except the writings of a third-party source with questionable reliability. It’s a shame because that phrase has become so ingrained into the almost legendary persona of Queen Victoria.
42. Early Times
Victoria was originally fifth in line to the throne of Britain. Her father, Prince Edward, was the fourth son of King George III. She had been conceived in the middle of a succession crisis, when her uncles were either unmarried, childless, or both.
41. All Shapes and Sizes
Victoria was a short woman, standing just 4’11” tall. By the end of her life, this means that, as Stephen Fry argues, she was actually wider than she was tall. Her bust circumference was 66 inches and her waist circumference was allegedly 52 inches. 4’11” tall means 59 inches tall, which yes, is less than 66 inches. But that’s circumference, not width. Did I just Mythbusters Stephen Fry?
40. Missing You, Dad
Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, sadly passed away when Victoria was less than one year old. Her mother, as well as her mother’s rumored lover, Sir John Conroy, would act as her guardians from then on.
39. A Queen by Any Other Name
“Victoria” was actually her second name. Her first name was Alexandrina, inspired by her godfather, Emperor Alexander I of Russia.
38. You’re Up Next!
By 1830, Victoria’s father, grandfather and eldest uncles had died. The next uncle in line became King William IV, who made her the heir presumptive due to a lack of male heirs. She really moved up in the world!
37. Nice Place!
Victoria was actually the first monarch to take up residence in Buckingham Palace. As anyone knows, she wasn’t the last either.
36. Such a Nice Son-In-Law
Until her marriage, Victoria’s mother lived in Buckingham Palace with her, much to Victoria’s frustration (as you can imagine, their relationship was very strained after her childhood). Not only that, protocol insisted that Victoria’s mother accompany her to formal occasions in the place of the husband she didn’t have.
Despite her frustrations, Victoria made it clear that she wasn’t just marrying to put some space between her and her mother, and ironically, her marriage led to her husband, Albert, Prince Consort, helping to bring about a slight thawing between the two women.
35. Place and Date
Victoria was born in Kensington Palace on the 24th of May 1819.
34. All Aboard!
One of the lesser-known firsts of Victoria’s reign is that she was the first British monarch who ever traveled by train. Not only that, when she got her own royal train car, it was the first in the world to have a bathroom installed. Sadly, we found no word on whether or not she was permitted to conduct the train herself, though it makes for a wonderful image in our heads.
33. Nine is Divine
During her lifetime, Victoria gave birth to no fewer than nine children! From oldest to youngest, their names were Victoria (Vicky), Edward, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold, and Beatrice.
32. Not a Kid Person
Despite having nine children, Victoria was reportedly no fan of pregnancy. Moreover, she disliked newborn infants and thought they were “ugly” while also hating on the act of breastfeeding. To be fair, it’s virtually impossible to find anyone who’s gone through pregnancy (let alone nine of them) that thinks it’s a walk in the park.
31. A Thorough Scamp
In total, six different attempts were made on Victoria’s life during her reign as monarch. In some cases, though, her survival was less due to luck and more to the incompetence of the assassins. One particular case involved a man named John Bean, who fired a gun filled with tobacco at the queen! As you can imagine, it didn’t fire, but what else can you expect when Mr. Bean tries to assassinate someone?
30. Politics Always Divide Us
One of Victoria’s worst enemies in her life was William Gladstone, who served as the leader of Britain’s Liberal Party and also Prime Minister of Britain for many years on and off. Victoria despised Gladstone, calling him “half-crazy” and a “ridiculous old man,” while she disparaged his government as being “the worst I have ever had.” Victoria made her displeasure known several times during her reign, and when Gladstone’s bill to give Ireland home rule failed in 1886, it made Victoria’s day. Depending on who you were and what you agreed with, this either boosted or hindered her popularity.
29. Meet Cute
In 1836, when Victoria was 17 years old, her mother’s brother, King Leopold of Belgium, sent his nephew to England in the hope that Victoria might marry him. While Victoria—and King William IV—resisted the suggestion of marriage at such an early age, Victoria had nothing but good things to say about her suitor. In case you haven’t figured it out already, her cousin was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
28. No Other Option
By contrast, King William IV encouraged his niece to consider marrying Prince Alexander of the Netherlands. However, Victoria thought Alexander was “very plain.” Safe to say that engagement never happened.
27. A Royal Reunion
On the 20th of June 1887, Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee (the fiftieth anniversary of her reign as Queen). Amongst the many celebrations, there were also no fewer than fifty European kings and princes in attendance to celebrate with Victoria. Given how many of them had become her relations through marriage, though, we’re not too surprised at how many turned up.
26. Women Don’t Do That!
Contrary to the old belief, British law criminalizing homosexuality did not omit lesbian activity because Queen Victoria insisted that women never did such things. Victoria wouldn’t have been able to block any such law or insist on them making any amendments to a law, even if she wanted to. There is also no real evidence for this rather bizarre rumor.
25. Touch and Go
Believe it or not, no reigning British monarch had ever entered the country of Spain before 1889. This changed when Victoria, while visiting the south of France, temporarily crossed the border into Spain. Leave it to her to break a record so casually!
24. Absentee Monarch
One of the many titles which Victoria held during her lifetime was Empress of India. She acquired the title after the British East India Company dissolved after the 1857 Indian Rebellion. As a result, India was officially incorporated into the British Empire. However, despite this position, she never even once visited that nation!
23. Sickness in Your Blood
Hemophilia is a disorder which prevents the body from producing blood clots, meaning that any cut or any kind of internal bleeding could potentially be fatal—especially back in her day. Though there is no indication that Victoria herself was a hemophiliac, she definitely carried the gene and passed it along to several of her children, which led to it being spread to several members of European royalty through marriage, including the Tsar’s heir, Alexei Romanov. Victoria’s own son, Leopold, died of a cerebral hemorrhage as a result of the disease, and it was known for a time as the Royal Disease for its prevalence in the monarchies of Europe.
Bizarrely, there was no recorded case of hemophilia in Victoria’s family, on either side, before her. It is largely believed that the gene for hemophilia spontaneously mutated in either Victoria or her mother, but it has also led to speculation that she was secretly the illegitimate daughter of a man with hemophilia! The first theory sounds a little more likely, but the second is definitely juicier!
21. Good Friends
It was during her Golden Jubilee that Queen Victoria first became acquainted with an Indian servant Abdul Karim. Originally working as a waiter during the celebrations, Victoria soon promoted him to her personal clerk. Karim taught her Urdu and became one of her closest confidants.
This infuriated Victoria’s family, as they were convinced that Karim was worming his way into the Queen’s good graces with ulterior motives. Victoria dismissed any criticism of Karim as being motivated by racism. Sadly, after Victoria’s death, Karim was deported back to India by her family, albeit with a pension.
20. Sadness & Horrors
The dawn of the 20th century, 1900, was an altogether terrible year for Victoria. Britain was embroiled in the Boer War in South Africa, which became deeply unpopular worldwide due to the atrocities committed by the British army. In fact, public opinion in Europe was so incensed by the Boer War that Victoria was actually urged not to visit France as it was too risky against her life. To make that year worse, her beloved son Alfred passed away, much to her despair. No wonder she considered 1900 to be a “horrible year.”
19. Hairy Breeches
Speaking of British law, however, one thing she did influence was a tradition concerning the wardrobe of British barristers. The traditional garb includes silk stockings, but they wear two pairs rather than just one. This was because Victoria took issue (not surprisingly) with the image of men’s hairs sticking through the tights. As a result, the barristers wore two pairs to keep their hairs hidden (as opposed to just shaving their legs). The tradition continues to this day.
18. Paths Untaken
During the reign of Queen Victoria, the law continued to state that the eldest son would inherit her title. Years later, the law was changed to make a ruling monarch’s eldest child become heir regardless of its sex. Interestingly, if Victoria’s firstborn, Vicky, was entitled to succeed her mother as ruling queen, her early death would have resulted in her own son, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, becoming king of Britain as well, just in time for the World War I era! Feel free to debate amongst yourself how much history would have changed with that kind of setup.
17. You Can’t Marry Someone You Just Met!!
As mentioned before, Victoria and Albert had mutual chemistry from the first time they met. However, Victoria thought that seventeen was too young to get hitched (she’s hardly alone in that philosophy). Three years later, when Victoria was Queen, she met Albert again for the second time. After five days, Victoria ended up proposing to him!
When Victoria was giving birth to her son, Leopold, in 1853, she made use of a new scientific breakthrough. In order to give herself an easier birth, Victoria was given a dose of chloroform. This action flew in the face of church teachings, who decreed that a woman must suffer the pains of childbirth. Frankly, given that all the people saying that were men, it’s not surprising that Victoria didn’t listen to them when it came time to give birth. She was actually so pleased with the effects of chloroform that she used it again when she gave birth to her daughter Beatrice in 1857.
15. Rumor Has It…
Victoria’s early reign began well until there was a rumor that one of her mother’s ladies-in-waiting, Lady Flora Hastings, was impregnated by Sir John Conroy. This was supported by a noticeable growth in Hastings’ abdomen. Since Conroy had helped make her childhood a living hell, and since Hastings had been one of the women who had helped Conroy out in that endeavor, Victoria made it clear that she believed the rumors (and thus legitimizing them further). However, after Hastings died, it was revealed that she had had a tumor on her liver. Victoria, meanwhile, was publicly shamed for spreading gossip to ruin a sick woman’s reputation.
14. Lights, Camera, Action!
Many actresses have portrayed Victoria on film and television. One of the more famous examples is when Judi Dench was Oscar-nominated for playing Victoria in the film Mrs. Brown. She recently reprised the role in the film Victoria & Abdul. Other notable film appearances were done by Emily Blunt, Anna Neagle, and Sybil Thorndyke. On the TV front, Victoria was portrayed by Pauline Collins in an episode of Doctor Who, and got her own series in 2016 when she was portrayed by Jenna Coleman.
13. Death by Poet
On the 2nd of March 1882, Victoria was shot at by Roderick Maclean, a poet who was avenging her refusal to accept one of his poems (because of course he was). His attempt to assassinate the Queen was thwarted by two schoolboys who attacked him with their umbrellas until the police arrived to arrest him, presumably while laughing at him.
12. All’s Well That Ends Well
Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly?) Roderick Maclean was found not guilty of trying to assassinate Queen Victoria due to insanity. Victoria was rather miffed that he avoided a prison sentence, but she did appreciate the public displays of loyalty towards her in the aftermath of her near-death experience. She even remarked that it was “worth being shot at” if it meant she got to know just how much people liked her!
There is a long-running tradition of the Royal Family sending gifts to the Presidents of the United States as part of their respective nations’ working together. In 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes received a particularly special gift from Victoria: She had ordered a desk to be built out of the wood from the HMS Resolute, a retired ship that had been abandoned during an Arctic expedition, then recovered and returned to Europe. The desk is used by US presidents to this day.
10. That’s Not Fair!
While Victoria inherited the British throne from her uncle, as well as the dominions belonging to the British Empire, she did not inherit her family’s original estates in Hanover. Hanoverian tradition followed the centuries-old Salic Law. This law forbade women from inheriting titles, so it was Victoria’s youngest uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who became the King of Hanover.
9. Would You Call That Oedipal?
Victoria blamed Albert’s premature death on the antics of her eldest son, Edward. Around 1860, Edward spent time with the army while he was studying at Cambridge, and his parents heard it through the grapevine that he was sleeping with an actress in a not-so-subtle fling. Albert was so put off by the scandalous behavior of his son that he ignored his own sickness to travel to Cambridge just to admonish him. Safe to say that Victoria and Edward’s relationship was never the best, but it was irreparable after she blamed him for Albert’s premature passing.
8. Evil Overlord?
In 1845, during Victoria’s reign, the Potato Famine ravaged Ireland. More than a million people starved to death, while millions more emigrated, traveling in a diaspora across the world. In an era where the English were already loathed for being overlords, the Irish nicknamed Victoria the “Famine Queen” out of spite.
7. Not Quite That Evil
One especially nasty story about Victoria’s conduct during the Irish Potato Famine is that she only donated five pounds to the care of her starving Irish subjects, while also donating the same amount to an animal shelter the same day. However, this story has been proven to be false; in fact, Victoria donated £2,000 to the British Relief Association in 1847. Obviously, the subject of British domination over Ireland is still fiercely debated, but Victoria did at least technically contribute more to the famine relief than a measly five pounds.
6. White is Black, and Black is White
After Prince Albert’s death, Victoria wore black clothes for the rest of her life as a sign of her continued mourning. By contrast, she insisted that for her funeral, she be dressed entirely in white. This wish was honored, and Victoria was laid into her coffin while wearing her wedding veil and a white dress. Depending on how you view the afterlife, it was a symbolic return to the man she had loved more than any other in her life.
5. This Needs a Musical
Victoria’s childhood was an isolated one. Her mother (also named Victoria) and Sir John Conroy came up with a parenting system which prevented young Victoria from seeing people that weren’t pre-approved by them first. This system, known as the Kensington System, was done to make Victoria dependent on them, which they hoped would continue into her reign as monarch. No wonder Victoria described her youth as “rather melancholy.”
4. Mommy Dearest
In the spring of 1861, after a lifetime of strained relations with her daughter, Victoria’s mother died. Victoria was at her mother’s side—by then, they were back on speaking terms—and when she went through her mother’s personal letters, she found out that her mother had “loved her deeply.” This made her blame Sir John Conroy for turning her mother against her during her youth.
3. Two Steps Backward
After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Victoria withdrew from public life, rarely coming into London at all. For this reason, she was nicknamed “the widow of Windsor” and her lack of involvement in society led to harsh criticisms after her husband had worked so hard to improve relationships between the Royal Family and the rest of society through philanthropy and financial support.
2. Stay Out of My Life!
In order to keep Sir John Conroy in a close and influential position in Victoria’s life, he and Victoria’s mother tried to persuade her to make him her private secretary. Victoria refused every time, however. In fact, when she became queen, she had Conroy “banned from her presence.” Honestly, kudos to her!
1. Just in Case
In the long years after the death of Prince Albert, Victoria continued to insist that his personal rooms in Buckingham Palace be kept prepared for him in case he somehow returned! A bowl of hot water for shaving purposes was always placed in the room, and a new change of clothes was always laid out on the bed.