On 20 June 1837 the 18-year-old Victoria became Queen of the United Kingdom following the death of William IV. A week later, hundreds of thousands of onlookers flocked to Westminster Abbey to witness Victoria’s coronation. She would rule until 1901, presiding over an era of industrial revolution and empire building on an unprecedented scale. By the end of her reign, Victoria would sit at the head of a realm that stretched across every continent and encompassed almost a quarter of the world’s population. She was the matriarch-monarch who held sway with a stoic self-assurance that epitomizes the age that bears her name.
Here are five lesser-known facts about Victoria…
1) She was the victim of a rather nifty stalker, a young lad called Edward “the Boy” Jones who breached security at Buckingham Palace on several occasions between 1838 and 1841. Perhaps the earliest known celebrity prowler, Jones, who was 14 when his campaign began, is reputed to have sat on Victoria’s throne, hidden under her sofa and even stolen underwear from her bedroom. (Victoria’s secrets, anyone?) He was eventually caught and shipped off to the colonies.
2) As well as arranging strategic marriages that placed many of her children and grandchildren at the head of various European nations, Queen Victoria also bequeathed to her offspring a rather less-welcome inheritance: the mutated gene that causes haemophilia. In 1884 Victoria’s son, Leopold, died from blood loss after a fall, while three of her grandsons suffered a similar fate.
3) Victoria survived at least six assassination attempts. On 10 June 1840, an 18-year-old called Edward Oxford fired two pistol shots at Victoria as she trundled up Constitution Hill, near Buckingham Palace, in an open carriage. Two years later another man, John Francis, fired shots at his queen on the same road on two consecutive days. Several more attempts were made over the years before finally, in 1882, during a period of escalating unrest in Ireland, a Fenian named Roderick Maclean took a shot near Windsor train station but was quickly seized by onlookers.
4) In 1897, a decade after she had become Empress of India, Queen Victoria took it upon herself to learn Hindustani, the language of her Indian subjects. Her teacher was an Indian servant by the name of Abdul Kareem, who was eventually promoted to the role of Private Secretary.
5) President Barack Obama has Queen Victoria to thank for the rather splendid desk, sometimes called the Resolute Desk, in the Oval Office at the White House. Built from timbers salvaged from HMS Resolute, a British ship that was abandoned in the Arctic ice fields and later recovered by a US whaler, the desk was presented by Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B Hayes in 1879. Every American President since has used the desk.