10 facts about the life and rule of Queen Victoria
While her glorious legacy survives, these more homely truths have been largely forgotten about the 19th-century monarch.
By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India – the immensity of Queen Victoria’s title is one of least surprising things about her reign. With a rule spanning 63 years, a feat succeeded only by HRH Queen Elizabeth II this year, her life was long and dramatic – perfect subject matter for ITV’s Victoria series.
1. Queen Victoria was not the tall, physically intimidating figure portraiture would lead us to believe.
With a height of no more than five feet, the Empress’ short stature did nothing to dent the adoration in which she was held by the millions of people she ruled.
2. She proposed to Prince Albert, not the other way around.
Proposing to one of the world’s most powerful monarchs would require massive bravery, so Victoria proposed to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha herself, at the age of 20.
3. Victoria was in fact her second name: the queen’s birth name was Alexandrina.
A name change on taking the throne is nothing new, and Queen Victoria only becoming so after relinquishing the name she was baptised with: Alexandrina. As a child, her nickname was “Drina”.
4. She was able to read, write and speak Hindustani.
After the death of her beloved husband, Queen Victoria’s attention was drawn to an Indian attendant called Abdul Karim. Waiting on the Empress during the final 15 years of her life, Karim was later known simply as “The Munshi”, educating Victoria in both the Hindustani and Urdu languages.
5. Long before the era of the tabloid celebrity, Queen Victoria was followed by a prolific stalker.
At 14 years old, Edward Jones – later known simply as “The Boy” by the press – snuck into Buckingham Palace disguised as a chimney sweep. Following multiple arrests and an attempt to scale a wall, Jones’ obsession with the royals finally quelled, but only following a descent into alcoholism and a short-lived career as a town crier in Australia.
6. The central desk of The White House Oval Office was a gift from Victoria.
Used by almost every president since its donation to the American executive branch of Government in 1880, the Resolute Desk was given to President Rutherford B Hayes by the Queen as a goodwill gesture. Its name derives from its origin: it was built from the timbers of the British exploratory vessel Resolute.
7. She became a grandmother before she reached her fourth decade.
Wilhelm II – later the Emperor of Germany – was born in 1859, the son of Princess Victoria, who was the daughter of Queen Victoria. While Queen Victoria’s first child was born when she was 21, the Princess Victoria’s first came at the age of 19.
8. Queen Victoria’s bridal gown is the reason brides wear white today.
Although not the first royal to wear white on their wedding day, it was still an unusual choice of dress colour which led many brides of the era to don similar gowns. By trying to look as much like the nation’s beloved queen as possible, the tradition of the white wedding was ironically born from a ruler later notorious for wearing black.
9. Victoria was one of the first notable figures to use chloroform during labour.
While Christian doctrine of the era believed that the pain of giving birth was an experience to be endured willingly, when the Queen opted to use chloroform – a relatively new form of anesthetic – during the birth of her eighth child, it paved the way for other women to seek pain relief free from judgment.
10. The queen was afraid of bishops.
Although the rationale behind the Empress’ fear of bishops is unclear, she was indeed scared of the religious officials during her youth, a reaction often attributed to the style of their wigs.