Few lives have been as heavily documented as Queen Victoria’s, who kept a careful record of her own life in journals from a young age. In her day, she was also one of the most heavily depicted people in existence across a variety of mediums including paintings, sculptures, sketches, and the newly emerging photographs. It is no wonder, then, that Victoria frequently adorns our screens even 200 years after her birth, such as through the recent popular TV series Victoria (2016–present), or the film Victoria & Abdul (2017).
In celebration of Victoria’s 200th birthday today, discover six facts you may not have known about one of the longest-reigning British monarchs.
- There were concerns over Victoria’s sanity during her reign
Following her husband Albert’s death, there were concerns that Victoria would suffer from madness as King George III – who was considered insane – was her grandfather. These concerns were likely based not just on medical history but also sexism. Suggestions of insanity were used to contain the perceived dangers of a young woman on the throne who was without a husband, and these claims tailed off once the queen passed menopause.
- Victoria helped to extend the right to vote – but not to women
While we may not think that the Royal Family nowadays has much say in domestic policy, there continues to be much debate about Queen Victoria’s influence, particularly during the Third Reform Act of 1884. Scholars now suggest that the royal services in securing the passage of the bill were more important than previously thought – so important, in fact, that the royal mediation may well have been decisive in the passing of the Bill. Though it did not allow all residents to vote (most notably women), it helped to increase the size of the electorate considerably.
- Victoria was not amused by the rising tide of feminism
- The queen was a mother of 9 and grandmother of 34, but she wasn’t impressed by babies
Victoria was a grandmother at the age of 39, and a great-grandmother at 60, but she really didn’t like babies: the queen stated “when they come at the rate of three a year it becomes a cause of mere anxiety for my own children and of no great interest” following the birth of one granddaughter. Sons were even worse; in Victoria’s eyes, a son was a “misfortune” that got in everyone’s way. Victoria was dismayed to find herself pregnant within just weeks of her marriage; she was treated as an invalid throughout each of her pregnancies and suffered from postnatal depression. Despite this disdain for babies, Victoria did love her descendants, but became more interested in them as they grew into adulthood.
- The “Greatest Showman” visited Victoria on three occasions
The queen appreciated shows for entertainment. She often attended the theatre and the opera, which she had loved from a young age, and she enjoyed visiting Astley’s circus. In 1844, Victoria invited the American showman P. T. Barnum to Buckingham Palace on three occasions along with General Tom Thumb, a boy with dwarfism who was just six years old at the time. Apparently, the queen was quite charmed by the young performer, taking him by the hand on a tour of her picture gallery.
- Both Victoria and Albert loved Scotland
Despite having access to three royal residences – Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Brighton Pavilion – this wasn’t enough for the infatuated couple, who wanted somewhere they could escape the public. Even after building Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight, they decided this didn’t provide them sufficient privacy as it was too close to London, and so turned to escape in Scotland through Balmoral. Victoria enjoyed the company of the local highlanders, who she saw as “noble peasants.” The queen also enjoyed sketching and painting while exploring Balmoral with her husband, a skill she learned from her favourite artist, Edward Landseer.
Queen Victoria influenced the monarchy and also wider society, and her legacy extends far beyond her lifetime. Throughout Britain – and to a lesser extent across the former British Empire – few towns are without a statue of Victoria, or a park, building, or street named after her. Between this and the tradition of wearing a white wedding dress that she established, Victoria’s legacy looks set to last another 200 years at least.
Featured image: “Queen Victoria monument” by rolf_aderhold. Public domain via Pixabay.