Her Majesty was almost killed six times over the course of her life.
One of history’s inspire storytellers today. And while you may have no trouble conjuring up a picture of who Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Ireland was, there’s plenty about this long-reigning British monarch that will still surprise you., Queen Victoria is a (literally) era-defining figure whose tragic and fascinating life continues to
Born in Kensington Palace on May 24, 1819, Queen Victoria was originally named Alexandrina Victoria, according to Britannica. She was christened after her godfather, Tsar Alexander I, but always preferred to go by her second name. 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.
Three weeks after her accession to the throne, Queen Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace, 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. The palace was in need of extreme renovations if it was going to be a family home as Queen Victoria intended it to be. The palace had poor ventilation, many of the windows would not open, and the chimneys smoked profusely, all of which led to years of work during Queen Victoria’s reign.
Years later, Buckingham continues to serve as a place of royal business and a personal home for the royal family.
The monarch was four inches shorter than Queen Elizabeth II.
At 6 a.m. on June 20, 1837, young Princess 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. This meant that less than a month after her coming of age, Victoria, only 18 at the time, was now queen of England.
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, young 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,” the system involved a strict timetable of lessons to improve Victoria’s morality and intellect.
This meant she rarely got to spend time with children her age because of the demands on her time, and she was essentially isolated from the royal court as a result of her mother’s hostile relationship with King William IV. Princess Victoria was under constant adult supervision and was also made to share a bedroom with her mother until she became queen.
Her mother’s comptroller, Sir John Conroy, also anticipated Princess Victoria ascension to the crown before she was fully of age, and he planned to take on a powerful role in the royal family, even taking steps to seat Victoria as “heir presumptive” in the public’s mind when she was only a child. This caused a disagreement between King William IV, who wanted to adopt Victoria as his own to watch over the future queen, and the Duchess and Conroy.
Later in her life, Queen Victoria would refer to Conroy as a “demon incarnate” who prevented her from having a happy childhood. As soon as she came to power, Queen Victoria dismissed Conroy from her household, cutting off personal contact with both him and her mother. Because Victoria was an unmarried woman, however, she was required to continue living with her mother, and the Duchess and Conroy lived in separate apartments at Buckingham Palace.
After the disagreements King William IV had with Duchess Victoria over the Regency, the king seemed to survive past Princess Victoria’s 18th birthday out of sheer stubbornness. The princess’s mother still hoped to wield power on her daughter’s behalf, and once, when Victoria was very sick with typhoid, her mother and Conroy refused to call in a doctor, instead using her illness to pressure Victoria into signing papers that would make Conroy her official adviser and give him significant powers when she become queen.
Victoria’s governess, Louise Lehzen, got the princess a doctor in secret, saving her life. Though sick for weeks, Victoria held out and didn’t sign the papers. “I resisted in spite of my illness and their harshness,” she wrote in her diary, according to Queen Victoria: A Personal History.
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 spoke French, Italian, and Latin.
Toward the end of her reign, when servants from India arrived at Windsor Castle in 1877, her favorite Indian 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.”
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 two shots at the young 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 History. The Queen faced additional assassination attempts when John Francis tried to shoot the queen in her carriage twice in 1842. That same year, a man named John William Bean attempted to fire a gun loaded with paper and tobacco at Her Majesty.
The queen’s carriage was attacked again in 1849 by William Hamilton, an unemployed Irish immigrant who later pled guilty to the crime and was banished for seven years, History reports. Another attempt was made in 1850, when Robert Pate, an ex-soldier, used an iron-tipped cane to hit the Queen in the head while she was at home, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The final notable attempt was in March 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.
A few days before her 17th birthday party, Victoria met her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Four years later, Queen Victoria, as she was now known proposed to Prince Albert on October 15, 1839 and they were married on February 10, 1840, in the of 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!” according to The Woman Question.
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 patter 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.
Over the course of her life, Queen Victoria became a mother to nine children with Prince Albert. Her sons and daughters would later go on to marry into several other European monarchies, eventually producing the queen’s 42 grandchildren spread out in the royal families of Germany, Russia, Romania, Sweden, Norway, Greece, and Spain.
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.
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.
Not long ago, Queen Victoria held the title of longest reigning British monarch, with a total reign of 63 years and seven months. The queen wore the crown until her dying day, according to PBS. In 2015, Queen Elizabeth II broke Queen Victoria’s record and continues to hold it today, going on 66 years.
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. And songs like “Victoria” by the Kinks and “Queen Victoria” by Leonard Cohen were inspired by the monarch.