1. She was barely five feet tall.
Queen Victoria’s outspoken nature and imposing reputation belied her tiny stature–the monarch was no more than five feet tall. In her later years, she also grew to an impressive girth. Some accounts claim she had a 50-inch waist by the end of her life, a conclusion supported by the impressive size of a nightgown and pair of bloomers (underwear) belonging to Victoria that were auctioned off in 2009.
2. She proposed to her husband, Prince Albert, and not vice versa.
Victoria first met her future husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, when she was 16. He was her first cousin, the son of her mother’s brother; their mutual uncle, the ambitious Leopold, engineered the meeting with the idea that the two should marry.
Victoria enjoyed Albert’s company from the beginning, and with Leopold’s encouragement she proposed to Albert (as she was the queen, he could not propose to her) on October 15, 1839, five days after he arrived at Windsor on a trip to the English court. They were married the following year. Their marriage was passionate — she wrote in her diary that “Without him everything loses its interest” — and produced nine children. On the other hand, Victoria was notoriously disenchanted by pregnancy and childbirth, calling it the “shadow-side of marriage.”
3. She was raised by a single mother, and later became a single mother herself.
Victoria was the only child of Edward, duke of Kent, the fourth son of King George III. Her father died of pneumonia in 1820, when Victoria was less than a year old, and she was raised primarily at Kensington Palace, where she lived with her mother, the German-born Victoria Saxe-Saalfield-Coburg, duchess of Kent.
Third in line for the throne (after the duke of York, who died in 1827, and the duke of Clarence, third son of George III, who would become William IV), the future queen became estranged from her mother, who was driven by the influence of her advisor Sir John Conroy to isolate the young Victoria from her contemporaries as well as her father’s family. Instead, Victoria relied on the counsel of her beloved uncle Leopold, as well as her governess Louise (afterward the Baroness) Lehzen, a native of Coburg. When she became queen and moved to Buckingham Palace, Victoria exiled her mother to a distant set of apartments and fired Conroy. After Albert’s untimely death from typhoid fever in 1861, Victoria descended into depression, and even after her recovery she would remain in mourning for the rest of her life.
4. Queen Victoria was the first known carrier of hemophilia, an affliction that would become known as the “Royal disease.”
Hemophilia, a blood clotting disorder caused by a mutation on the X chromosome, can be passed along the maternal line within families; men are more likely to develop it, while women are usually carriers. Sufferers can bleed excessively, since their blood does not properly coagulate, leading to extreme pain and even death. Victoria’s son Leopold, Duke of Albany, died from blood loss after he slipped and fell; her grandson Friedrich bled to death at age 2, while two other grandsons, Leopold and Maurice, died of the affliction in their early 30s.
As Victoria’s descendants married into royal families throughout the Europe, the disease spread from Britain to the nobility of Germany, Russia and Spain. Recent research involving DNA analysis on the bones of the last Russian royal family, the Romanovs (who were executed in 1918 after the Bolshevik Revolution) revealed that Victoria’s descendants suffered from a subtype of the disorder, hemophilia B, which is far less common than hemophilia A and now appears to be extinct in the European royal lines.
5. At least six serious assassination attempts were made against Victoria during her reign—most of which while she was riding in a carriage.
In 1840, an 18-year-old named Edward Oxford fired two shots at the young queen’s carriage while she was riding in London. Accused of high treason, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Another would-be assassin, John Francis, made not one but two attempts to shoot the queen in her carriage in 1842. That same year, young John William Bean tried to fire a gun loaded with paper and tobacco at the queen, but the charge was insufficient.
Two more carriage attacks came in 1849 and 1850–the first by “angry Irishman” William Hamilton and the second by ex-Army officer Robert Pate, who hit the queen with his cane. Finally, in March 1882, a disgruntled Scottish poet named Roderick Maclean shot at Victoria with a pistol while her carriage was leaving the Windsor train station. It was supposedly Maclean’s eighth attempt to assassinate the queen; he was also found to be insane, and sentenced to life in an asylum. In the wake of an assassination attempt, Victoria’s popularity usually soared among the British public.