Just as the Victorian era is incorrectly portrayed as a period of demureness, misconceptions about the British monarchy – specifically, Queen Victoria – are equally persistent. In reality, crazy stories about the royal family abound from Victoria's court, the most well-known of which typically have to do with the standards Victoria set for Victorian mourning customs. However, despite accounts of her puritanical tendencies, Victoria was actually quite fond of sex and had a deep appreciation for the naked human form. Even the contents of her grave – the things she wanted to be interred with for eternity – had some highly sexual overtones that spoke to the question of what sex was like during the Victorian era.
While she took pleasure in the joys of the flesh, her life was also marked by a great deal of loneliness, from her isolated days as a child to her many years of mourning for her late husband Albert. However, despite her darker days, she managed to lead the British monarchy during a time of great peace and prosperity (at least for the British) as the second longest-reigning English monarch – she reigned for over 60 years, spanning the decades between 1837 and 1901.
Although she was often depicted as prudish, Queen Victoria was reportedly quite comfortable with the human figure. An exhibit of the paintings the royal couple gifted to one another revealed that Victoria’s tastes were actually a little more risque than her husband’s. While his tastes ran closer to the demure, Victoria gave her husband Albert several paintings that featured bare flesh, including William Edward Frost's Una Among the Fauns and Wood Nymphs and The Disarming of Cupid, as well as Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s Florinda.
She also commissioned an intimate portrait of herself now known as “the secret picture,” which was made to be seen only by the Prince. While it might not look particularly tantalizing to us, Victoria’s languid pose, her far-off, unfocused gaze, and her free-flowing hair would have been considered tantalizing at the time.
To be fair, you probably wouldn’t be raving about the joys of pregnancy and motherhood after you’d delivered nine children in under 17 years. When she had her first child, Vicky, Victoria was awestruck by the miracle of birth, telling her ladies-in-waiting: "It seems like a dream having a child. She was awake and very sweet and I must say, I was very proud of her." However, her opinion on babies and children changed as the years passed. When a newly married Vicky expressed her joy at the thought of being a mother, the Queen told her daughter:
“[what] you say of the pride of giving life to an immortal soul is very fine, dear, but I own I cannot enter into that; I think much more of our being like a cow or a dog at such moments; when our poor nature becomes so very animal and unecstatic.”
She also expressed her disgust about the "lottery" of marriage and childbearing, saying:
“All marriage is such a lottery – the happiness is always an exchange – though it may be a very happy one – still the poor woman is bodily and morally the husband's slave. That always sticks in my throat. When I think of a merry, happy, and free young girl – and look at the ailing aching state a young wife is generally doomed to – which you can't deny is the penalty of marriage."
Hemophilia has been referred to as the “Royal Disease” because it was passed down to a number of European ruling families through Queen Victoria. It is a rare inherited disease that affects blood's ability to clot. Victoria’s son Leopold had hemophilia, and two of her daughters were carriers. Her daughter Beatrice, who married into the Spanish ruling family, passed the gene to Spain’s male heir. One of Victoria’s other daughters, Alice, had a daughter who was a carrier of the disease and passed it on to Russia’s male heir to the throne.
During the course of her reign, Queen Victoria was attacked on at least seven separate occasions by madmen, some of who may have been harbored unhealthy fascinations with the Queen. Many of these attempts happened while the Queen was traveling in her carriage, and at least four of the attempts involved a gun. Although several shots were fired at Victoria, she made it through each attempt physically unscathed with one exception. On the evening of June 27, 1850, as Victoria and three of her children were on their way back to Buckingham Palace, a well-dressed man approached the royal carriage and struck Victoria in the head with his cane. Apparently, the blow was so strong that it crushed the Queen’s bonnet and drew some blood.
None of the men who made attempts on the Queen's life were sentenced to death. Most of them were found to be of unsound mind and were either banished to a penal colony or held in custody for the duration of Victoria’s reign.