Five Interesting Facts About Queen Victoria That You Probably Didn't Know

She was a queen who shaped an era. Victoria Regina ruled the United Kingdom for 63 years, longer than any other British monarch and is -- so far at least -- the longest-reigning female over any civilization.

We know about her undying love for her consort, Prince Albert, and about tables of the era being discreetly covered so as not to show their legs. Here are some fun and interesting facts about Queen Victoria that you probably didn't know.

Queen Victoria in 1843
Queen Victoria in 1843 | Source

1. Victoria Wasn't Her First Name

Naming royalty is an art, as demonstrated perhaps no more vividly than in the song "The Prince Is Giving a Ball" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein television classic Cinderella, where a dutiful servant reads off a proclamation listing all the names of Their Royal Highnesses -- including Herman and Maisie -- much to the shock of the kingdom's subjects and the amusement of the audience.

From the beginning, the name of the girl who grew up to be Queen Victoria, though not particularly shocking, was mired in controversy. Originally she was to be named Georgiana Charlotte Augusta Alexandrina Victoria. At the last minute, however, her uncle, the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) -- who hated her father -- nixed the first three names for political reasons, leaving her to be baptized as Alexandrina Victoria. Early on she was called Drina, but later the family settled on Victoria, although her German-born mother also called her Vickelchen.

She was officially Princess Alexandrina Victoria, though, and upon her ascent to the throne on June 20, 1837, at age 18 -- escaping the necessity of a regency by mere weeks -- the papers drawn up to declare her sovereignty listed her as Alexandrina Victoria. One of her first official acts as queen was to do a little nixing herself. She had the papers changed and for the next six decades would reign simply as Victoria.

2. She Often Was Quite Amused

Some of our most enduring images of Queen Victoria are of a woman dressed in black who seems largely prim and cheerless. One must keep in mind, however, that most of these images are from later in her life, when she was grieving the loss of Albert to typhoid at age 42. For most of the 1860s she was depressed and refrained from most public appearances. One could even argue that she never truly recovered from the loss of her husband.

Such images belie the fact that Victoria knew how to have a good time as well as anyone. She enjoyed playing charades. She played the piano well into her seventies. She loved dancing. She drank whiskey. She loved opera and the theater, often having a company come to Windsor Castle to perform for her, or alternatively, having relatives and courtiers put on a show with the Queen herself serving as producer if not director. Even her fabled comment "We are not amused" most likely stems from a joke told by groom-in-waiting Alick Yorke -- her de facto court jester -- which the Queen felt to be beneath the dignity of most of the ladies who were present.

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, one of the Queen's many grandsons, liked to tell the story of how his grandmother set up a luncheon to ask a certain Admiral Foley about a salvage operation he was conducting on the HMS Eurydice, which had sunk off the coast of Portsmouth. As the admiral droned on, Victoria thought that for the sake of her other luncheon guests it might be good to try to steer him onto another topic, so she made an inquiry about his sister, who was a close friend. The admiral, who was quite hard of hearing, said "I'll just have to have her turned over, look at her bottom and have it scraped" -- which sent the servants, the other luncheon guests, and especially the Queen, into hysterics.

3. She Collected Nude Art

One of Victoria's great passions was for art. She was an accomplished artist herself, having taken drawing lessons from poet-illustrator Edward Lear, and some of her sketches recently went on display after having been sealed for 150 years. In terms of art created by others, she had a distinct affinity for nudes, many of which she gave to Albert as gifts to celebrate some special occasion or another. He sometimes reciprocated by giving her nude or semi-nude works as well.

For a wedding present she gave him a painting of Diana that left very little to the imagination. For his birthday in 1852 she gave him the painting Florinda by Franz Xaver Winterhalter depicting several bare-breasted women (a copy of which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Other works she and Albert owned included two nude paintings by William Edward Frost: The Disarming of Cupid and Una Among the Fauns and Wood Nymphs.

Sometimes the nudity took on gargantuan proportions. In 1847, for example, she and Albert commissioned William Dyce to paint a fresco in the staircase at Osborne House, their home on the Isle of Wight. Entitled Neptune Resigning to Britannia the Empire of the Sea, it depicts both male and female nudes. Another painting, the enormous and quite provocative Hercules and Omphale by Anton von Gegenbaur, hung opposite Albert's bathtub. And it wasn't just paintings that struck their fancy. One time Victoria gave Albert a gilded statue of Lady Godiva, and for Christmas 1851 he gave her William Geefs's Paul et Virginie, which he had bought at the Great Exhibition.

4. She Survived Multiple Assassination Attempts

Security for heads of state in the Nineteenth Century was nothing like it is today. In America, for example, there were no fences at the White House when Abraham Lincoln was president, and he instructed the doormen to allow the public to come in and wander the first floor at will. Even the U.S. Secret Service, which was created in 1865, didn't get its current mission of protecting the president until after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901.

Things weren't much different across the pond. In 1812 British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was fatally assaulted in the lobby of the House of Commons. People also tried to assassinate Queen Victoria no fewer than seven times, mostly when she was riding in open carriages.

Some of these attempts seem almost comical in retrospect, such as the time a midget named John William Bean came at her with a gun that was discovered to be stuffed more with tobacco than with gunpowder. Another time would-be attacker William Hamilton apparently forgot to load his pistol before trying to dispose of the Queen.

There were other attempts, however, which were much more serious. Shortly after she and Albert were married, when she was three months pregnant with her daughter Vicki, a man by the name of Edward Oxford fired two shots at her carriage. Fortunately Albert was with her at the time and was able to get her out of harm's way. Two years later a man named John Francis also came at her on one of her carriage rides. In 1872 a man named Arthur O'Connor tried to attack her carriage at the very gates of Buckingham Palace before he was subdued, and ten years after that a man by the name of Roderick Maclean managed to fire off a shot before before some bystanders brought him down.

The only time an attacker ever managed to inflict bodily harm on the Queen was in 1850, when Robert Pate came at her with a brass-tipped walking stick and struck her on the head with it. The Queen, naturally, was quite startled and the assault was severe enough to bruise her face and give her a black eye. Nevertheless, she went about her duties and even appeared at the theater shortly afterward, to thunderous cheers.

5. She Learned Hindustani

As a member of the House of Saxe-Coburg, Victoria's native tongue was German. She often wrote letters to her German relatives that contained at least a little German phrasing. She also picked up English and French while she was still young.

In 1877 Victoria became Empress of India. Ten years later, at the time of her Golden Jubilee, she acquired some Indian servants and started to learn Hindustani. Her teacher was a servant named Abdul Kareem, who started off as a waiter. The Queen, however, having obviously become quite impressed with the young man and erroneously believing him to be the son of an Army surgeon (his father was in fact just an apothecary), promoted him to become her secretary, or munshi in his native tongue. From that point on Kareem became known to everyone simply as The Munshi and fulfilled much the same role that Albert had, handling the Queen's state papers and gaining her confidence. Many in the court who were still reeling from the Queen's relationship with Scotsman John Brown, were shocked at Kareem's rapid rise.

The Queen, however, could not have been more satisfied with him. Almost as soon as he arrived, Kareem started giving the Queen lessons in both the spoken and the written forms of his language (Hindustani and Urdu, respectively). She eventually became quite proficient and kept a journal that runs to thirteen volumes. One of her journaling methods, it is believed, was to write out what she wanted to say in English and have Kareem write out the correct word order for her in Hindustani using English characters. The Queen would then translate the Hindustani text into the more fanciful and flowing Urdu script.

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Comments 22 comments

shea duane profile image

shea duane 4 years ago from new jersey

Very interesting... someone just mentioned Queen Victoria to me when she was talking about William and Kate... Do you know, if William becomes king, will Kate be queen?

point2make profile image

point2make 4 years ago

I thoroughly enjoyed your hub well done! The information was excellent and I learned some new things about Queen Victoria...thank-you for the lesson..It is appreciated. I voted this hub up!

teutophile profile image

teutophile 4 years ago Author

Being an American, I don't profess to know much about how royalty works, shea duane, but my understanding is that since Kate is a commoner -- her parents are former flight attendants who made their fortune running an amusement company -- the best she can hope for is Queen Consort (aka the wife of the King). If anything should happen to King William (if he gets that far) she would not inherit the throne. For now she is simply Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

Victoria, on the other hand, was queen in her own right, although interestingly at the time she was born she was way down the line of royal succession. The circumstances that got her to the throne are fascinating and the subject of another Hub.

shea duane profile image

shea duane 4 years ago from new jersey

I'd like to read that hub!

teutophile profile image

teutophile 4 years ago Author

I've got it on my to-do list.

JKenny profile image

JKenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

Great hub teutophile. As a Brit, I knew a little about old Queen Vic already, but some of the facts here really surprised me. Interesting to hear, that Kate won't be a Queen when William becomes King. To be honest, most of us would actually like to see her as Queen, more so than Camilla.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Didn't know being named Queen when you are the King's wife meant if he died you would rule. Interesting. Always been facinated by Victoria. With all the pressure and drama to produce male heirs, I think it is amazing (providential?) the two longest reigning monarchs have been women.

teutophile profile image

teutophile 4 years ago Author

Actually, Kathleen, I said the opposite -- Kate would not rule if William dies (although she could be a Queen Mother). Your point about the women reigning is a good one, though. Often the ladies are just as capable as -- if not more capable than -- some of the men. I'm thinking not only of Elizabeth II and Victoria, but also of Elizabeth I, Maria Theresa and Catherine the Great.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

You're right. I misunderstood. It's hard to keep it all straight.

It amazes me we are still having the discussion of a woman president in this country. Look at England. Look at India. And we lead the world? We need to catch up.

JKenny profile image

JKenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

You're right about the female monarchs, I would say that Queen Elizabeth I and Victoria were the best monarchs we ever had, and our current Queen isn't too bad either. You're right about Kate too, if anything did happen to William (God forbid) then Harry would become King- seems unfair, but those are the rules. Apparently they are considering amending the rules to give women more of a chance of inheriting the throne.

ellis 2 years ago

Very interesting!

Queen Victoria was a great lady....

wish I could be so great! Lol

limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

Queen Victoria is also the last English monarch to own slaves: on her crown estates in Jamica. With the abolition of slavery then cheap labour was imported from India.

limpet profile image

limpet 18 months ago from London England

I recently learned that there were eight assassination attempts on Queen Victoria during her long reign. She must have been some what charmed to have survived these.

jjheathcoat profile image

jjheathcoat 17 months ago from Oklahoma

I think Victoria and Albert had one of the most romantic relationships ever. I've read they were both quite, er, "passionate". Make sense that they would have nude paintings and such. Poor Victoria was absolutely devestated when he died.

limpet profile image

limpet 10 months ago from London England

Thought i knew 'Olde London towne' well enough until i went on foot from behind Buck House (the palace) to Victoria coach station and decided on a 'short cut' off Lower Grosvenor street. To my surprise i had discovered Victoria Square, a manicured garden with a couple of quite mature trees. The focal point was of course a life size statue of the Queen Empress herself.

limpet profile image

limpet 8 months ago from London England

Pleasing to revisit this fascinating site once more.

Once i heard that the Kaiser of Germany presented Victoria with Mount Killamanjaro as a gift. That is if it was actually his to give away in the first instance!

ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 8 months ago from New Delhi, India

Congratulations for the HOTD!

Interesting and informative hub about Queen Victoria. I have read about her in history books but you are right--these are interesting facts that I did not know.

Thank you for sharing!

Farawaytree profile image

Farawaytree 8 months ago from California

I like this one. I especially like the detail about her collecting nude art! That's interesting to me. Fantastic idea, look forward to more :)

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 8 months ago from Northeast Ohio

This was real amusing and intersting to know all about her. Great facts about her life during her time. Thanks for sharing and congrats on HOTD!

erorantes profile image

erorantes 8 months ago from Miami Florida

Congratulations on the hub of the day mister teutophile. I like your hub. Queen Victoria was an amazing women. I am glad; she did not get kill. She was beautiful too. I like to read about Royalty. Their life is impressionable. It always has something good to remember. It sad; when something bad happened to them. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Bronwyn Joy Ellio 8 months ago

Congratulations on HOTD, more so as it is several years old. FYI, Queen Elizabeth II has, of course, now surpassed Victoria as our longest reigning Monarch.

Anne Harrison profile image

Anne Harrison 8 months ago from Australia

A great read and well written. Plus congratulations on HOTD!

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