Why Queen Victoria Makes for Good TV Drama

The new PBS series, 'Victoria,' explores the personal and political twists and turns of Queen Victoria, who ruled the United Kingdom and Ireland for over six decades.
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15th February 1892:  A smiling Queen Victoria in an open coach.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A smiling Queen Victoria in an open coach in 1892. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

At 4 feet 11 inches tall, Queen Victoria may have been physically diminutive, but her enduring presence as the Queen of the United Kingdom and Ireland was symbolically vast and pervasive for most of the 19th century. From 1827 and until her death in 1901, Victoria held her throne for 63 years, a record for the longest-running monarch in world history, until her great-great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II surpassed her tenure in 2015.

Taking over what used to be Downton Abbey's prime time slot on Sunday nights, PBS' Victoria, which premiered just last month, explores the reign of Queen Victoria and her ability to hold steadfast to the staunch traditions of the monarchy amid a politically volatile, changing world.

Here are five reasons why Queen Victoria's life is the stuff of dramatic television that audiences would love to watch.

A case of Mommy Dearest, anyone? Mother-daughter issues abounded in the life of Queen Victoria. After the death of her father Prince Edward in 1820, Victoria's mother, also named Victoria, supervised her every move and implemented what was known as the Kensington System. This system had strict rules and protocols that controlled every aspect of the young queen's life to keep her weak and co-dependent. From the time the young queen was officially crowned in 1838 and decades after, she would often refuse to see her mother and felt deep resentment for her and comptroller Sir John Conroy, who was rumored to be having an affair with the elder Victoria.

Drama with Lady Flora and The Tories. When Queen Victoria came to power, she was held in high regard by her citizens, but in 1839 an incident involving one of her ladies-in-waiting, Lady Flora Hastings, caused her popularity to come crashing down. Due to a growth in Lady Flora's abdomen, rumor had it that she was pregnant with Sir John Conroy's child. Queen Victoria, whose hatred for Conroy was no secret, made the mistake of believing the rumors. Conroy, along with The Tories (the opposition party), implicated it was the Queen herself who spread the rumors. When Lady Flora finally consented to a medical exam, the doctor discovered she was a virgin. Months later, Lady Flora died, and the growth was found to be a tumor in her liver. Queen Victoria was jeered at and mockingly called "Mrs. Melbourne," which was in reference to the powerful influence her Whig adviser Lord Melbourne had over her.

Queen Victoria and the Potato Famine. In 1845 the Queen found herself unpopular again when a potato blight struck Ireland. Known as the Great Famine, Victoria would soon be called the Famine Queen. Many saw her as a callous, uncharitable ruler during this time, but it was to the contrary. Against Protestant wishes, she actually donated more money than any individual to Ireland, but rumors spread that she cared little for the plight of its citizens. The famine saw over a million Irish die and a million more emigrate to other lands.

Assassination Nation. There were at least six assassination attempts on Queen Victoria's life during her 63-year reign, often times when she was riding in her carriage. Most of the men were disgruntled political "radicals," some were considered insane, but interestingly, she found that these would-be assassins helped her score popularity points every time she was at death's door. She once said it was "worth being shot at— to see how much one is loved."

The marriage between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was a happy one. Unlike many royal marriages throughout history, Queen Victoria and first cousin Prince Albert had a genuine, loving relationship. Albert became her close adviser, companion, and even helped ease the tension between mother and daughter.

Upon the evening after their wedding in 1840, she wrote in her journal: "MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert ... his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before!"  

Victoria and Albert went on to have nine children. The queen would be given the title "the grandmother of Europe," since her brood would eventually marry royalty all across the continent. When Albert died in 1861, Victoria mourned him for 40 years, secluding herself from the rest of the world, subjugating herself to intense mourning rituals, and wearing only black.