Queen Victoria: prudish frump or feminist supreme? Because she was on the throne for so long (Victoria reigned for over 63 years) and was one of the first monarchs to be photographed, always very formally, we tend to think of her as a miserable old sourpuss. But actually, we're wrong.
Let's start with one of her memorable quotes: "The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them." Starting to get the picture? Despite her small stature – she stood at just five foot – Victoria more than made up for it with her renegade thinking.
Smart as a whip, Victoria was forced to stamp her authority on the court at an early age. In 1838, the young princess' life was changed forever when the death of her father's three older brothers (Victoria lost her own dad at a young age) meant that she became Queen of England at just 18 years old. Her story was memorably told last year in ITV's Victoria and continues in the upcoming second series, with Blackpool lass Jenna Coleman (definitely no frump) putting her soft Northern vowels aside to adopt the Queen's clipped tones and forthright ways.
From the very first episode, we were introduced to Victoria's fiery, feisty nature. Her mother's pompous, dictatorial advisor (and rumoured lover) Sir John Conroy – who instructed her to change her name to Elizabeth as he thought Victoria wasn't regal enough – was promptly shot down and soon "given permission to withdraw." In modern day terms? He was politely told where to shove it.
Meanwhile, she chose to house her over-protective, perhaps slightly disloyal, mother as remotely as possible in the newly named Buckingham Palace (it was formerly Buckingham House), choosing instead to let her loyal childhood governess live in the room next door. It was also the governess who Victoria chose to keep hold of and run her royal household, "the way I would like it." The traditional domiciliary was up in arms. And Victoria didn't give a fig.
But perhaps what was most extraordinary about the young Queen, given the strait-laced age, and society she lived in, was her appetite for sex. Victoria sees Jenna Coleman's Queen tipsily making a pass at her private secretary, the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (played by a smouldering Rufus Sewell. Frankly, who could blame her?) who courteously declines her advances. She doesn't let that put her off and later proposes – he still says no.
Here's a young girl who's in charge, and that rarely happens on TV.
Meanwhile, with Albert, the man who does eventually become her husband and who she also proposed to (played by actor and ex-Burberry model Tom Hughes) she had nine children. A lover of kids then? Not quite. Queen just liked to score. Too bad the best contraception at Victoria's disposal was an old wives' tale of jumping up and down on a couch. She later publicly declared: "Being pregnant is an occupational hazard of being a wife." Kind of out there, even in today's terms, but she took it further, stating, "I don't dislike babies, though I think very young ones rather disgusting." Not one to mince her words.
Let's revisit the question, then. Victoria: frump or feminist? The writer of Victoria, Daisy Goodwin, says of her Queen, "Here's a young girl who's in charge, and that rarely happens on TV. She's a teenager. She's Taylor Swift, but she's a queen." This Victoria is indeed badass. She was a strong female ruler, wasn't one to suffer fools, was unashamed about loving sex and she stuck up for other women. Queen Victoria is one we must forever salute, and we're excited to see how this plays out in series two. Feminists together wouldn't do badly to borrow from another of her famous quotes: "We will not have failure – only success and new learning."
Watch Victoria on the ITV Hub