Queen Victoria Trivia

Queen Victoria on her jubilee, decked out in a crown and golden robes and bearing a scepter

DEA PICTURE LIBRARY / Getty Images

Queen Victoria was Britain's monarch for 63 years, from 1837 until her death in 1901. Because her reign spanned so much of the 19th century and her nation dominated world affairs during that time, her name came to be associated with the period.

The woman for whom the Victorian Era was named was not necessarily the stern and remote figure we assume we know. Indeed, Victoria was far more complex than the foreboding image found in vintage photographs. Here are six major pieces of trivia about the woman who ruled Britain, and an empire that spanned much of the world, for six decades.

01
of 06

Victoria's Unlikely Reign

Victoria's grandfather, King George III, had 15 children, but his three eldest sons produced no heir to the throne. His fourth son, the Duke of Kent, Edward Augustus, married a German noblewoman expressly to produce an heir to the British throne.

A baby girl, Alexandrina Victoria, was born May 24, 1819. When she was only eight months old, her father died, and she was raised by her mother. The household staff included a German governess and a variety of tutors, and Victoria's first language as a child was German.

When George III died in 1820, his son became King George IV. He was known for a scandalous lifestyle, and his heavy drinking contributed to him becoming obese. When he died in 1830, his younger brother became King William IV. He had served as an officer in the Royal Navy, and his seven-year reign was more respectable than his brother's had been.

Victoria had just turned 18 when her uncle died in 1837, and she became queen. Though she was treated with respect and had formidable advisers, including the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo, there were many who did not expect much of the young queen.

Most observers of the British monarchy expected her to be a weak ruler or even an interim figure soon to be forgotten by history. It was even conceivable that she would put the monarch on a trajectory toward irrelevance, or perhaps that she could be the last British monarch.

Surprising all skeptics, Victoria (she chose not to use her first name, Alexandrina, as queen) was surprisingly strong-willed. She was put in a very difficult position and rose to it, using her intelligence to master the intricacies of statecraft.

02
of 06

Fascinated by Technology

Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, was a German prince with a great interest in science and technology. Thanks in part to Albert's fascination with everything new, the Queen became very interested in technological advances.

In the early 1840s, when train travel was in its infancy, Victoria expressed interest in taking a trip by rail. The palace contacted the Great Western Railway, and on June 13, 1842, she became the first British monarch to travel by train. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were accompanied by the great British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and enjoyed a train ride of 25 minutes.

Prince Albert helped organized the Great Exhibition of 1851, a massive show of new inventions and other technology, held in London. Queen Victoria opened the exhibition on May 1, 1851, and returned a number of times with her children to view the exhibits.

She also became a fan of photography. In the early 1850s, Victoria and Albert had the photographer Roger Fenton take photographs of the royal family and their residences. Fenton would later become known for photographing the Crimean War, which were considered the very first war photographs.

In 1858, Victoria sent a message to President James Buchanan during the brief time when the first transatlantic cable was working. Even after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, she retained her interest in technology. She firmly believed that Britain's role as a great nation depended on scientific advances and the intelligent use of emerging technology.

03
of 06

The Longest Reigning British Monarch (Until Elizabeth II)

 When Victoria ascended to the throne as a teenager in the late 1830s, no one could have anticipated that she would rule Britain throughout the rest of the 19th century. During her decades on the throne, the British Empire abolished slavery, fought in wars in Crimea, Afghanistan, and Africa, and acquired the Suez Canal.

To put her 63-year reign in perspective, when she became queen, the American president was Martin Van Buren. When she died on Jan. 22, 1901, William McKinley, born five years after Victoria assumed the throne, was the 17th President of the United States to serve during her reign.

Victoria's longevity on the throne was generally considered a record that would never be broken. However, her time was on the throne, 63 years and 216 days, was surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 9, 2015.

04
of 06

Artist and Writer

Queen Victoria also enjoyed writing, and wrote daily entries in a diary. Her daily journals eventually spanned more than 120 volumes. Victoria also wrote two books about travels in the Scottish Highlands. Benjamin Disraeli, who had been a novelist before becoming prime minister, would at times flatter the queen by making references to them both being authors.

She began drawing as a child, and continued to sketch and paint throughout her life. In addition to keeping a diary, she produced drawings and watercolors to record things she had seen. Victoria's sketchbooks contain illustrations of family members, servants, and places she had visited.

05
of 06

Not Always Stern and Sullen

The image we often have of Queen Victoria is of a humorless woman dressed in black. That is because she was widowed at a fairly young age: Prince Albert, died in 1861 when he and Victoria were both 42 years old. For the rest of her life, nearly 50 years, Victoria dressed in black in public. She was determined to never show any emotion in public appearances.

Yet in her earlier life Victoria was known as a vivacious girl, and as a young queen, she was extremely sociable. She also loved being entertained. For instance, when General Tom Thumb and Phineas T. Barnum visited London, they paid a visit to the palace to entertain Queen Victoria, who was reported to have laughed enthusiastically.

In her later life, despite a stern public demeanor, Victoria was said to enjoy rustic entertainments such as Scottish music and dancing during her periodic visits to the Highlands. And there were rumors that she was very affectionate to her Scottish servant, John Brown.

06
of 06

Gave the United States the President's Desk

The famous oak desk in the Oval Office is known as the Resolute desk. President Obama was often photographed at the massive desk, which, many Americans would be surprised to learn, was a gift from Queen Victoria. It was made from oak timbers of HMS Resolute, a ship of the Royal Navy which had been abandoned when it became locked in ice during an Arctic expedition.

The Resolute broke free from the ice, was spotted by an American ship, and was towed to the U.S. before being returned to Britain. The ship was lovingly restored to pristine condition at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a gesture of goodwill from the United States Navy.

Queen Victoria visited the Resolute when it was sailed back to England by an American crew. She was apparently deeply touched by the gesture of the Americans having returned the ship, and seemed to have cherished the memory.

Decades later, when the Resolute was broken up, she directed that timbers from it be saved and crafted into an ornate desk. As a surprise gift, the desk was delivered to the White House in 1880, during the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes.

The Resolute Desk has been used by a number of presidents since, becoming particularly famous when used by President John F. Kennedy.