Fascinating Things You Didn't Know About Queen Victoria
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One of history's most iconic Queens, Victoria was an era-defining figure whose fascinating life continues to inspire storytellers today. While you've surely heard of the long-reigning British monarch, there's plenty about Victoria that will still surprise you.
1. Her first name wasn't Victoria.
Born in Kensington Palace on May 24, 1819, Queen Victoria was originally named Alexandrina Victoria, after her godfather, Tsar Alexander I, but always preferred to go by her second name, or the nickname 'Drina. At birth, Victoria was fifth in the line of succession for the British crown, behind the four eldest sons of George III, including her three uncles and her father, Edward.
2. She was (quite literally) born to be Queen.
Despite her grandparents, King George III and Queen Charlotte having 15 children, before Victoria was born there was only one legitimate heir to the throne in her generation—King George IV's daughter Princess Charlotte. However Charlotte tragically died in childbirth before producing an heir, leading her uncles, including Victoria's father, Edward, on a feverish quest to marry and produce a legitimate heir. Edward swiftly married the widowed German princess Victoria (sometimes written as Victoire) of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and together they had Victoria a year later in 1819, though Edward died when Victoria was less than a year old.
3. She was the first member of the Royal family to live at Buckingham Palace.
Shortly after her accession to the throne, Queen Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace, which was previously owned by her late uncle King William IV. This made Queen Victoria the first reigning monarch to take up residence at Buckingham, though her move did not come without its struggles. As the royal family's website puts it, "Her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840 soon showed up the Palace's shortcomings."
The Palace was in need of extreme renovations if it was going to be a family home as Queen Victoria intended it to be. Victoria put in the work, adding an entirely new wing, and years later, Buckingham continues to serve as a place of royal business and the London residence of Queen Elizabeth.
4. She was barely five feet tall.
The monarch was four inches shorter than Queen Elizabeth II.
5. She became Queen when she was 18.
At 6 a.m. on June 20, 1837, Victoria was woken from her bed at and informed that her uncle, King William IV, had suffered a heart attack and died during the night. Less than a month after turning 18, Victoria was Queen.
6. Growing up, she was under constant supervision.
Less than a year after Queen Victoria's birth, her father, Edward, Duke of Kent (the fourth son of George III) died of pneumonia, leaving the young princess to be raised by her mother. Following his death, Victoria's mother, Duchess Victoria, was prepared to rule alongside her daughter if Victoria's uncle died and she ascended to the throne before she was officially of age. For this reason, Victoria's mother used a strict code of discipline to shape the Queen-to-be. Later known as the "Kensington System," it involved a strict timetable of lessons to improve Victoria's morality and intellect.
This meant she rarely got to interact with children her own age because of the demands on her time. Princess Victoria was under constant adult supervision and was also made to share a bedroom with her mother until she became Queen.
7. She was multilingual.
The young queen was an adept linguist, fluent in both English and German. Her mother and governess both had German roots, so Victoria grew up speaking the language and later used it frequently when speaking to her German husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The Queen also studied French, Italian, and Latin.
Toward the end of her reign, when servants from India arrived at Windsor Castle in 1877, her attendant, Abdul Karim, taught the Queen many Hindu and Urdu phrases to better communicate with her servants. "I am learning a few words of Hindustani to speak to my servants," she wrote in her diary, according to a book about the period, Victoria & Abdul. "It is a great interest to me for both the language and the people, I have naturally never come into real contact with before."
8. She survived at multiple assassination attempts.
During her reign, several attempts were made at Queen Victoria's life, all of them unsuccessful. The first notable attempt was made in 1840, when 18-year-old Edward Oxford fired at the Queen’s carriage in London. Oxford was accused of high treason for his crime and was ultimately found not guilty for reasons of insanity, according to the History channel's website. Two men tried to shoot her in 1842, and in 1849, her carriage was attacked by William Hamilton, an unemployed Irish immigrant who later pled guilty to the crime and was banished for seven years, History reports. One year later, Robert Pate, a former soldier, used an iron-tipped cane to hit the Queen in the head, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The final notable attempt took place in March of 1882, when a Scottish poet named Roderick Maclean shot at Queen Victoria's carriage with a pistol while leaving the Windsor train station. According to Time, this was Maclean's eighth attempt at assassinating the Queen. Maclean was tried for high treason and was found "not guilty, but insane," so Maclean was sentenced to live out his days in an asylum until his death in 1921, the Guardian reports. Despite the chaos and fear that followed the many assassination attempts, Queen Victoria became more and more popular with the public after each attempt.
9. She proposed to her husband.
In the lead up to her 17th birthday party, then-Princess Victoria met her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Four years later, Victoria, now the monarch, proposed to Prince Albert on October 15, 1839 and they were married on February 10, 1840, in the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace in London.
Victoria was deeply in love with Albert and, once they were married, she claimed to be truly happy for the first time in her life. After their wedding night, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary, "I never, never spent such an evening!! My dearest dearest dear Albert ... his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before!"
10. She began more than one popular wedding trend.
At the time of her wedding, it was common for wedding dresses to come in a variety of colors. Queen Victoria, however, wished to show off the lace embroidery of her dress and requested it in white. She also asked that none of her guests wear white so as not to draw attention away from her, and she even had the pattern for her dress destroyed so that it could not be copied, according to Vogue. Queen Victoria accessorized the dress—complete with an 18-foot train—with white satin shoes, Turkish diamond earrings, and a sapphire brooch that belonged to Prince Albert. Over her veil, the queen wore a wreath of myrtle and orange blossoms.
11. And a popular Christmas one as well.
You can thank Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert for your Christmas tree. They popularized the custom in 1848 when Albert sent decorated trees to schools and army barracks around Windsor. An image of the royal family decorating a tree was also published that year, inspiring other British families to do the same.
Victoria and Albert were very hands-on in the process. "Queen Victoria and Prince Albert brought the tree into Windsor Castle on Christmas Eve and they would decorate it themselves," Royal Collection curator Kathryn Jones explained to the BBC. "They would light the candles and put gingerbread on the tree and the children would be brought in."
12. She and her husband had nine children.
Over the course of her life, Queen Victoria was mother to nine children with Prince Albert (though she, famously, wasn't the biggest fan of babies.) Her sons and daughters would later go on to marry into several other European monarchies, and would go on to produce the Queen's 42 grandchildren. Her descendants still rule over several countries in Europe.
13. She became the first known carrier of hemophilia, known as the "Royal disease."
Queen Victoria was the first in her family to carry hemophilia B, a blood clotting disorder, but the Queen herself was not a hemophiliac. Because of Victoria's vast lineage, the disorder was passed on to the members of royal and noble families across Europe. A 2009 study in Science Magazine even linked the hemophilia mutation to members of the Russian royal family, the Romanovs.
The disease claimed several of her descendants: Queen Victoria's son Leopold, the Duke of Albany, died at age 30 after he slipped and fell, and two of Queen Victoria's grandsons— Friedrich and Leopold—also bled to death due to the affliction. It is believed that the last royal carrier of the disease was Prince Waldemar of Prussia, who died in 1945, Science Magazine reports.
14. She was the first monarch to ride a train.
The Victorian era was a time of rapid technological advancement and industrialization. Electricity started to become more common and photography became a popular medium, and rail systems spread across Britain. In 1842, Victoria became the first monarch to ride a train, according to PBS. The ride from Slough, near Windsor Castle, to Paddington in West London took about 30 minutes to complete. The 23-year-old Queen found the ride delightful and said the “motion was very slight, and much easier than a carriage—also no dust or great heat,” according to People.
15. She is the second-longest reigning British monarch.
Not long ago, Queen Victoria held the title of longest reigning British monarch, with a total reign of 63 years and seven months. In 2015, Queen Elizabeth II broke Queen Victoria's record and continues to hold it today.
16. Her name lives on all over the world.
As the Queen of England during Britain's imperial height, Queen Victoria inspired the title of everything from lakes and mountains to cities across what was then the empire. From the 33 Victoria Roads in the United Kingdom to Victoria Park in Bhavnagar, India and two Mount Victorias in New Zealand, her name lives on all over the world.
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