Queen Victoria certainly knew how to leave her mark on the world.
In Canada, we celebrate Victoria Day every year (which most of us know colloquially as May 2-4), we also have two capital cities named after her (Victoria, B.C. and Regina, Sask.) along with countless other cities, bridges, mountains, hospitals, parks, streets, islands and so forth — all dedicated to a monarch you likely know very little about. Heck, even the time period — the Victorian Era — is named after her.
So what’s the big deal? Why all the fanfare for one person, when there’s been plenty of royal family members to dedicate things to?
Well, for one, Queen Victoria is the longest-reigning British monarch in history, ascending to the throne at the young age of 18. She was in charge of the United Kingdom and Ireland at a time of immense progress and change, when the British empire was so vast the sun literally never set on it.
She oversaw Great Britain as it ushered in the Industrial Revolution, the telegraph, popular press and even welcomed the light bulb. Railway networks expanded under her reign; London’s underground sewers were built. People started becoming smarter while she was in power, thanks to increased literacy rates, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the development of the press. This was arguably the U.K.’s heyday, and the monarch would go down in history as a strong, powerful leader who propelled the country forward.
It’s just too bad it wasn’t all progress and never-ending sunshine for Queen Victoria.
There were at least seven attempts made on her life (one guy tried to kill her twice). In one instance, Victoria was hit in the face with a cane. In the others, she was shot at (one time on her way to church, another when she was pregnant) — someone even tried to shoot her using a gun stuffed with pipe fragments!
Each and every time these assassination attempts occurred, Victoria’s popularity surged, partially because of her easygoing attitude about the ordeals.
Even in times of war, she proved to have strong leadership abilities. When the British became involved in the Crimean War (1854-56), Victoria, who wasn’t exactly a military strategist, felt compelled to help. She visited soldiers in hospitals, knitted socks and mittens, organized relief efforts and even wrote letters of condolence to war widows. She was also proclaimed Empress of India in 1877, after British troops took control of the country.
As for her personal life, Victoria actually proposed to her husband (who was her first cousin — ew), Prince Albert, as royal protocol wouldn’t allow it to happen the other way around.
Their marriage was passionate, and they had nine kids together, the oldest of whom would succeed her as King Edward VII. When Albert died in 1861, Victoria didn’t handle it well. You could say her husband’s death marked, by and large, the end of Victoria’s best years. She went into deep mourning and rarely appeared in public, frustrating the population and parliament.
Over the years and leading up to her death, Victoria did regain some of her popularity by attending public functions and charity events. She celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and died of a stroke on January 22, 1901, at the age of 81.
So, this weekend, when you’re celebrating your extra time off (hopefully), raise a glass to the former queen. We wouldn’t be where we are now without her.