‘The couple were so captivated with each other and so fond of endless hours in bed, and they had a button in the bedroom which, when pressed, would bolt the doors to stop anyone from interrupting them.’
The famous quote, ‘We are not amused,’ is commonly attributed to Queen Victoria as her response to a vulgar joke at a dinner party. However, there is no first-hand account of this and no concrete evidence that she ever even said it. It is often used to paint the monarch as dour and stern, but she was actually very fun-loving and often laughed at jokes that others found shocking and scandalous.
Queen Victoria was the model of a modern woman, frank, bolshie and tenacious. What we forget is not only was she a long-term sovereign and love-struck wife, she was also the 19th century’s most formidable and hard-working mother. For forty years she was a single mother of nine children. Her privilege immunised her from most of the battles of single mothers, of course, but she is still given little credit for the fact she parented for four decades alone.
So, when a female monarch rules for over sixty-three years, there is bound to be some scandal in association with her reign. Although Queen Victoria was known for her strict and stern opinions on moral behaviour, her reign is tinged with mystery and social indiscretions.
From 1832 Victoria kept comprehensive personal journals for sixty-nine years recording her reign, but they edited some of her secrets out after her death.
From the age of 13, Victoria maintained diaries. However, after her death, following the Queen’s instructions, Princess Beatrice removed anything that might upset the royal family. One example is on Feb 13, 1840, Victoria wrote about Albert putting on her stockings for her and then watching him shave. This incident does not appear in Beatrice’s copy.
It’s a contentious issue among historians, but there are long-standing accounts of Victoria having a bit of a liking for strong medication. Most striking of all is an often-told story of Victoria’s taste of chewing gum containing cocaine, which was quite the tonic for the nervous system. It’s even said she shared some of this gum with a young Winston Churchill at Balmoral. On top of that, Victoria is thought to have been prescribed marijuana to ease menstrual cramps’ pain – although this tale has been disputed. One thing we do know for sure is she enjoyed the benefits of early anaesthesia during medical interventions and described the effects of chloroform as ‘delightful beyond measure.’
It’s ironic that the very word ‘Victorian’ is tantamount to stiff social convention and repressed sexuality because Victoria herself had an immense enthusiasm for all thing’s bedroom-related. She didn’t have nine children because royal tradition demanded such a vast entourage of off-spring – it was merely because she adored sex with her beloved Prince Albert. The couple were so captivated with each other and so fond of endless hours in bed; they even had a special button in one of their bedrooms which, when pressed, would automatically bolt the doors to stop anyone from interrupting them.
She was also the first monarch to ride a train. The Victorian era was a time of rapid technological advancement and industrialisation. Electricity became more common, and photography became a popular medium, and rail systems spread across Britain. In 1842, Victoria became the first monarch to ride a train, according to PBS. The ride from Slough, near Windsor Castle, to Paddington in West London took about 30 minutes to complete.
She survived multiple assassination attempts. The first notable attempt was in 1840, when Edward Oxford fired at the Queen’s carriage in London. They accused Oxford of high treason, but found not guilty for reasons of insanity. In 1849, her carriage was attacked by William Hamilton, an unemployed Irish immigrant who later pleaded guilty to the crime. A year later, Robert Pate, a former soldier, used an iron-tipped cane to hit the Queen about the head. The final notable attempt took place in 1882 when a Scottish poet named Roderick Maclean shot at Queen Victoria’s carriage while leaving Windsor train station. Maclean was tried for high treason and found not guilty, but insane. They sentenced Maclean to live out his days in an asylum until he died in 1921.
Albert died in December 1861, when the Queen was only 42 years old. The Queen never recovered from his death and dressed in black as a sign of mourning for the rest of her life and withdrew from the public eye. Sympathy waned as the years passed, and by 1865, Victoria was seen to have abandoned her royal duties. Someone affixed a sign to the gates of Buckingham Palace reading: ‘These commanding premises to be let or sold, in consequence of the late occupant’s declining business.’
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