Had she been spared, Queen Victoria would have been two hundred and one years old last Wednesday. Which, despite her actual longevity, is probably a bit of a stretch to contemplate. But as England gets its fondest wish on 31 January and seems set for a wholehearted return to the era named after her, it’s probably worth taking a closer look and asking did Old Queen Vic really lead a cloistered and sheltered life in which piano legs were covered for fear that they would become a gateway drug to unbridled admiration of the female appendage of the same name.
Let’s start with her title. Because, you see, her official name wasn’t Victoria at all. She was named Alexandrina after her godfather, Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Had she not preferred her second name, Victoria, we might be talking today about wildfires in the Australian state of Alexandrina, or the retail outlet Alexandrina’s Secret. She would probably have disapproved heartily of the latter as there is no evidence that she had a penchant for sexy lingerie.
When she was born, the odds against her becoming monarch at the time she did were prohibitive. She was fifth in line to the throne behind her father and three uncles. She had about as much chance of becoming Queen as Barbara Windsor, after whom the Royal family is now named. But, one by one the prior claimants succumbed. If you were a conspiracy theorist you might even start to think … but let’s not go there.
She was the first reigning monarch to occupy Buckingham Palace. Royal histories record her as ‘adding a new wing’ to the establishment, which suggests that she might also have been the first reigning monarch to engage in manual labour. Probably best not to take the accounts literally though.
As regards the cloistered existence bit, she was certainly kept away from the hoi polloi when she was a young princess, she was even made to share a bedroom with her mother until she became Queen, so no chance of interaction on social media, the dominant form of the day being something called ‘the letter’ which appears to have involved actual writing, with no abbreviations. Ha, LOL!
However, she was exposed to one of the most common pursuits of many of the crowned heads of Europe at the time, surviving attempted assassination. At least six people, all men, tried to kill her in a variety of ways, mostly by taking pot shots at her. She was only wounded once, in 1850, when an enterprising assassin struck her with an iron-tipped cane.
A mad Scottish poet, Roderick MacLean, plotted to kill her eight times before he finally made his own failed attempt. Apparently his resentment was because she had been a tad caustic about some poetry he sent her. The episode prompted the infamous Scottish versifier, William McGonagall—the world’s worst poet —to pen one of his own deplorable rhymes.
Maclean must be a madman,
Which is obvious to be seen,
Or else he wouldn’t have tried to shoot
Our most beloved Queen.
And that’s more than enough about Scottish poets.
Victoria’s latter years were spent as a virtual recluse in Balmoral in the Scottish highlands after the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, for whom a well-known piercing was named, but only long after his death when he could no longer seek an injunction. Her diary suggests that she thoroughly enjoyed their wedding night. In it she wrote …
‘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!’
Many years after the death of Albert, Victoria may or may not have had an affair with her personal attendant, John Brown. There are even allegations that she secretly married him. Victorian gossips took to calling her ‘Mrs. Brown’, so Brendan O’Carroll didn’t get there first. When she died she was buried with a lock of John Brown’s hair, his photograph, his mother’s wedding ring, and a number of his letters. As he had predeceased her he didn’t join her in the coffin himself.
Half a dozen assassination attempts, a passionate marriage and an alleged affair later in life suggest that, despite her restrictive childhood and her self-imposed reclusiveness in widowhood, the notion of a cloistered Victorian existence for Britain’s second longest reigning monarch, is fake history.