Since ancient times, when a monarch ascends to the throne, it is customary to take on a new, regnal name to replace their birth name. This isn’t just limited to European monarchs, but also applies to the nobility and royal families of other countries, such as Japan. Furthermore, the regnal name is often followed by a regnal number, to differentiate the monarch from predecessors who have shared her name. However, this does not apply to Queen Victoria as she was the first to take up that name!
Despite her regal and imposing aura, the monarch was actually only five feet tall. This makes her four inches shorter than Elizabeth II, who is roughly 5’4. To put this into perspective, people were roughly two inches shorter on average in the 18th-19th centuries than they are now, so the average height for a man in Victorian times would have been somewhere around 5’6~ and the average height for a woman would have been 5’1~, putting the old Queen at just about 1 inch below average height for a woman of her times!
After the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, she entered a state of mourning and wore black clothing for the rest of her life. Unlike many royal couples of the era, Victoria and Albert were fiercely in love. Albert’s death in 1861 - about forty years before the end of Victoria’s own reign - saw the monarch enter into isolation, as she struggled to manage her mourning and feelings of loss for her husband. She recovered toward the latter half of her reign, but undoubtedly, after losing the light of her life, she was never the same.
Uncustomary for royals and nobility of the time - and even for many couples today - Queen Victoria actually proposed to her own husband! An amazing testament to what was truly a genuine marriage out of love, in a time when the vast majority married out of political and financial necessity. As mentioned previously, Victoria was deeply in love with Albert and, upon their marriage, wrote in her diary that she was truly happy for the first time in her life.
Many, I’m sure, know that the Christmas tree has its origins in Germany - but did you know that it was Albert who introduced it to the UK in 1848, and that he and Victoria would decorate their tree themselves every year? Furthermore, an image was published in the newspapers of Victoria and her husband standing by their decorated Christmas tree, and the tradition caught on like a wildfire across the country.
Her children married into numerous noble families across Europe, earning her the sobriquet of “the Grandmother of Europe”. She had 42 grandchildren in total, 34 of which survived to adulthood. Further evidence of this shared ancestry can be seen in pictures of royal figures from the early 20th century - for example, King George V of England and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (pictured above) bore staggering physical resemblance to each other as cousins. She was also the grandmother of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who England would later go to war with just thirteen years after her death, marking the beginning of World War I.
This not only marked her as the longest-reigning British ruler of all time, but also the longest-reigning Queen in world history, until her great-great granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II, still currently reigning in 2022, surpassed her in 2015!
Despite the fact that her reign marked the solidification of the “symbolic ruler” and the constitutional monarchy in Britain, Victoria was not afraid to make her political opinions known and, indeed, did so on many occasions throughout her reign, drawing the ire of some. This draws a stark contrast to the picture of the impartial monarch which is so central to our idea of the royals today, and speaks volumes as to the strength of the old Queen’s character.
Her period of mourning for her husband was so extreme that she secluded herself from the public eye for several years. During this time, the belief of republicanism - that the royal family should be abolished and that Britain’s only leaders should be its elected officials - grew in strength, and public sympathy - which had been strong upon the initial news of Albert’s passing - waned significantly.
She was fun-loving and known for having a good laugh at jokes that many of her contemporaries might have found vulgar and inappropriate. Despite her reserved, almost chillingly regal disposition in many of her depictions, in-person the monarch was warm and friendly. This was noted not only by family members, who you might expect to have received special treatment, but also by her staff and by many official and foreign dignitaries who visited the Queen. Clearly, the many burdens and responsibilities of queenship could do nothing to dull her sense of humour!
By the end of her reign, Victoria’s full name and list of titles was, “Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.” Quite the mouthful!
Despite being a monarch who was known for her preference to adorn dark clothes of mourning in the later decades of her reign, Victoria’s wedding dress was a pure, almost blinding white. At the time, women would traditionally wear their best and most expensive dresses to their weddings. These did not (and usually were not) have to be white! In her highly documented and photographed wedding, Queen Victoria inspired the now traditional fashion of a pure white wedding dress.
Victoria was raised very strictly eveen for young royal women of the time, and from her birth unto the moment she became Queen, there was rarely a moment where she was not followed either by family members or attendants. This was known as the Kensington System, a strict and elaborate set of rules formulated to control every aspect of Victoria’s life and ensure she had what was deemed a “perfect upbringing”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the very first thing she demanded upon her coronation was that she be left alone with her thoughts for just an hour.
While Buckingham Palace is today known as the world-wide home of the British royals, it isn’t actually as old as one might think! Built c. 1703-1705, Victoria was the first monarch to rule from Buckingham palace upon her coronation in 1838.
Queen Victoria died in 22nd January, 1901 at the age of 81 after suffering poor physical and mental health for several years. She was survived by 6 children, 40 grandchildren, and 37 great-grandchildren, including her successor, Edward VII, and three who would later succeed him: George V, the controversial Edward VIII, and the father of Elizabeth II, George VII.
Her last resting place is the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, which is governed by the Crown Estate - a collection of lands and holdings in the United Kingdom belonging to the British monarch. Here, Victoria and her husband Albert are buried side-by-side, together in death as they were in life.
Her son and heir, Edward VII, while much lesser known than the monarch and with a considerably shorter reign (he died just nine years after his mother, at the age of 68) was immensely popular, and also known for being a bit of a party animal! He was sheltered by his mother, not even being initiated into any government or cabinet proceedings until he was well past the age of 50, living a rather decadent and obsequious life until the day of his coronation.
Queen Victoria had many hobbies. Among these, she was most known for her great love of opera and singing, which she was known to partake in on numerous occasions as a way to spend her valuable free time and relieve herself of the pressures of her station, if only briefly. She also enjoyed the arts, particularly painting and drawing.
Her education saw her learn several European languages which would prove invaluable to her own diplomacy during her reign. The languages that she spoke included fluent English and German, and she was known to have extensively studied other languages too, possessing a strong ability to speak French, Italian and even Latin!
During her reign, Queen Victoria saw the huge expansion of the British Empire - covering a fifth of the Earth’s surface - having had the title ‘Empress of India’ added onto her already rather large list of titles towards the end of her reign. At home, critical reforms to the monarchy, and the solidification of the government headed by a symbolic constitutional monarchy defined the modern Britain we know today. Leaving behind such a profound legacy, it is only fitting that the time of her extensive reign is known far and wide as the Victorian Era.