Queen Victoria’s reign extended from 1837 all the way until 1901. It was one of the longest in British royal history, and it was characterized by a lot of change and upheaval for the country. She was so influential they named the entire time period after her and to this day the word Victorian brings to mind high society, the industrial revolution, iconic artworks, and some impressive architecture. As for the woman herself, she lived a fascinating and sometimes bizarre life.
10. She Made Pomeranians Small
These days we associated the British Royal Family with corgis, thanks to Queen Elizabeth’s stable of the little dogs. But Victoria had a penchant for dogs as well. Her breed of choice was the feisty little Pomeranian, mostly known today as puffballs with faces. And the reason we know them as such rests almost solely with Queen Victoria.
Victoria had adopted an unusually small Pomeranian in 1888. Enamored with the dog’s tiny size, she had them brought in from all over Europe to be part of a breeding program. Only small dogs would do, and as a result of her efforts the modern Pomeranian typically doesn’t weigh more than seven pounds.
Out of context none of that seems dramatic, but you have to know what a Pomeranian looked like prior to 1888. The dogs were much larger on average than the one Victoria had acquired. In fact, some Pomeranians were known to weigh as much as 50 pounds. She had effectively cut the dogs down to well under half of their original size, and it’s the breed standard today.
9. She Started the White Weddings Dress Trend
Wedding dresses are big business. The global bridal wear industry is expected to be worth nearly $80 billion by 2027. That number is staggering. But it goes to show how seriously some women take their dresses. And no one has had more of an influence on the modern wedding dress than Queen Victoria.
There are a lot of traditions associated with wearing wedding dresses. Most people have heard the whole thing about wearing something old and new and borrowed and blue. When it comes to the dress itself, white is the preferred color because it’s symbolic of purity. Some people believe it’s inappropriate to wear a white wedding dress if you’re having your second marriage or if you have children already, because obviously you’re not “pure.” Which is to say… not a virgin.
This whole idea dates back to Victoria. Not the purity part, but the white part. Prior to Victoria, wedding dresses for royals were often red. White was actually not used at all because it was what people in mourning wore. But Victoria designed her own lace and satin dress for her 1840 wedding and it sent shockwaves through British aristocracy. Word is many feathers were ruffled, but the effect was profound. It started a new age of wedding attire as women wanted to be bold and stand out like the Queen. White became the new standard with people deciding that of course white was the best choice, because it was pure and innocent.
8. She was Empress of India
You’d think being the Queen of England was a big enough deal all on its own, especially back during Victoria’s reign. England was the world’s biggest superpower and she was probably the most famous woman on Earth. Still, there’s always room for expansion when you’re a British monarch.
In 1858, India was taken under British rule. The country was one of many nations around the world that England claimed as its own over the years. But being so far away and so different in nearly every way, it was no easy task to simply say all Indian people were suddenly members of the British Empire.
In an effort to try to smooth over relations between Britain and India, which had several centuries of not-so-smooth relations between them, an elaborate ceremony was planned in 1877. India would officially welcome their new leader, the Empress Victoria, ruler of the land.
Victoria never actually set foot in India, and there has been some speculation that she wanted the title of Empress because she was jealous of the titles her daughter held. Whatever the case, from 1877 onward Victoria would be officially known as Queen-Empress Victoria.
7. Edward Jones Stole Her Underwear
We live in an age in which celebrity worship is an everyday thing. Some people obsess over their favorite actors or singers in a way that makes the rest of us a little nervous. Other people take it too far, and that’s where celebrity stalkers come in. But this is not a new phenomenon. Maybe it’s more common now, but it existed back in Victoria’s day as well. We know this because the queen had her own very weird and obsessed fan.
Edward Jones, often referred to as Boy Jones, was 14-years-old. Historians have claimed he was not mentally ill, at least as far as anyone knows. But he was singularly obsessed with the Queen. So much so that he managed to break into Buckingham Palace and steal her underwear.
Jones broke into the Palace not just once, but several times. He was caught three times and admitted to others. Security was not so tight back in the day and, in fact, there were no palace guards at all. So Jones would simply sneak in through windows or doors people forgot to lock.
Aside from stealing food and being caught on the throne more than once, he was also caught with the Queen’s underwear stuffed down his pants. Under the law, none of this was a felony so they were never able to imprison him for long.
Eventually they forced him on a boat to Brazil but when he came back, he was imprisoned on a ship for six years before being sent to Australia.
6. Her First Language Wasn’t English
It’s probably an assumption most of us make that the Queen of England would naturally speak English as her native tongue. And of course Queen Victoria did speak English, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, for the first three years, Victoria knew only German.
British royalty had roots all across Europe, and there were a number of Germans in Victoria’s family. Her mother was German born, so Victoria herself was exposed to that language and no other at first. Her earliest caretakers spoke German and her school was in German as well.
In time she was taught not just English, but French and Italian. She also learned some Hindustani as well. Her German became rusty as she got older, and most of her day to day communication was done in English until she met her husband. A German himself, she re-familiarized herself with the language and spoke it almost exclusively with him.
5. She’s the Source of the Resolute Desk
The US and England have long been allies, despite that rocky start they got off to. In 1880, Queen Victoria had a gift made for then-President Rutherford B. Hayes. Constructed from the timber salvaged from the HMS Resolute, a desk was made that she could gift to the American leader. There was even a contest held for people to submit ideas. The winners came up with the design for what is known as the Resolute Desk.
The HMS Resolute had been an Arctic exploration vessel. In 1854 it became trapped and was abandoned until an American whaling ship pulled it free and returned it to England.
As a gesture of thanks, Victoria commissioned the desk to be made along with two others. Nearly every President since Hayes has used the desk in the Oval Office, although a couple have used it in their private study and three didn’t use it at all.
4. She Chewed on Cocaine Gum with Churchill
If you know much about medicine in the Victoria era, you know that the line between what we now consider medication and narcotics was non-existent. Things like heroin and cocaine were not uncommon as pain relievers, and cocaine especially was included in everything from wine to chewing gum.
Back before Coca-Cola was all the rage you could get Coca-Bola, a chewing gum in which each piece was infused with up to 10 lines of cocaine. Victoria was said to have chewed something like this, with a young Winston Churchill no less, which must have had her tripping the light fantastic because who’s going around down 10 lines of blow on the regular?
The ads for the gum claim it gave the user additional power to perform labor as well as relieving fatigue. It could also help you kick your tobacco habit. No word on how long the Queen used it, but it certainly must have perked her up a bit.
3. She Was Raised Under Strict Control
It’s no surprise if you’ve never heard of the Kensington System of child rearing. This method, how Victoria was raised until she ascended to the throne, was one of total dependency and control. Devised by Victoria’s mother and her attendant John Conroy, it controlled every aspect of young Victoria’s life.
The future Queen had almost no contact with the outside world except for two trips to visit an uncle. She had almost no contact with strangers inside the palace, and never without a chaperone. Her two friends were a half-sister and Conroy’s daughter. Her tutor and her governess were the only other people she had any regular contact with. Essentially, she was raised in a bubble with less than 10 other humans in existence. She even had to sleep in her mother’s room.
The reason for the Kensington Method was not to protect or nurture Victoria. Instead, it was a plan for control. The idea was she would be wholly dependent on her mother and Conroy for everything, even into adulthood. That way other family members and those who could benefit from the influence of the Queen would be shut out, and Conroy and Victoria’s mother would maintain some semblance of control as regent. The people would see how inseparable Victoria and her mother were, and they would love them for their wholesome bond.
The plan backfired miserably, as it seemed only to alienate Victoria. Once she rose to power she immediately gave herself an hour a day of alone time, a luxury she had never enjoyed in her whole life, and then she kicked Conroy out of the palace, banning him forever.
2. She Popularized Christmas Trees
A Christmas tree is as much a symbol of the holidays as a turkey dinner or presents for most people these days. We can thank Victoria for making it a holiday staple however as, before her influence, it was much more of an obscure tradition.
Christmas trees are historically German. Victoria’s mother was known to use them as part of the holiday celebrations, but it wasn’t until Victoria met her husband Albert that the tradition took off in England. A German himself, Prince Albert wanted to share his tradition with the people he was now a part of. He had trees sent to schools and barracks. An engraving was made showing Victoria and Albert alongside their children around a lavish tree as they decorated it.
A picture being worth a thousand words, that engraving captured the minds of the British population. Everyone wanted to be a part of the quaint Royal tradition and the Christmas tree craze took off.
1. She Survived Eight Assassination Attempts
It takes a certain kind of person to stand up and lead a nation in the face of resistance. Not in the form of disagreement, which any leader will face, but outright rage and violence. No one should have to face that, and not everyone survives it. Queen Victoria had more than her fair share of this in her life. Assassination attempts were made against the Queen an astonishing eight times.
In 1840 a man named Edward Oxford aimed a gun at the queen and took his shot. He missed. Two years later another man did the same thing. This time it was John Francis, and he was no better a shot than Oxford had been. Nor was he when he tried to do it the very next day.
The next attempt was shortly after Francis, a man named John Bean. It wasn’t until 1850 when someone actually managed to even touch her in their attempts. Obviously the Queen survived, but this particular attempt left her with some scars.
A man named Robert Pate attacked Victoria with an iron-tipped cane. He hit her in the head with it, causing a black eye and a scar. Undeterred by the attack, Victoria appeared shortly afterward to prove to everyone she was fine.
In 1882, after another man tried to shoot her in the train station, Victoria made strides for legal definitions of insanity to be established, as pretty much everyone who had tried to kill her in the past used that as a defense.
Victoria once said, “It is worth being shot at to see how much one is loved.” Not many people would know that better than her.