Was It Cleopatra or Queen Victoria?

HISTORY

Zoe Samuel

7 Min Quiz

Image: whitemay / pictore / DigitalVision Vectors / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Throughout history, most societies have been monarchies—most of the time, anyway! That means that history has often been defined by the reigns of particularly epoch-shaping monarchs. These are the rulers whose period in “office” was historically significant, either because it was an utter disaster, because it was a period of particular power or competence or, more often, because it was simply a pivot point in history during which the map of the world was forever rewritten.

While most sovereign rulers have been men, thanks to antiquated laws regarding primogeniture, a startlingly high percentage of these highly notable monarchs are women—and while a few are as significant as Cleopatra and Victoria, none are more so. Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemaic pharaohs, the one who tried to stand up to Rome and paid for it. Victoria was synonymous with the British Empire at the peak of its power. Both are fantastically important in world events. After all, it’s pretty rare that someone can be known only by a single name, hundreds or thousands of years after the fact, and have it still be instantly obvious who we mean! 

It’s time to compare the deeds of these two great queens, to see how well you know the differences and similarities between them. Let’s get started!


Staying alive is the trick when you're the queen! Which queen unwittingly prevented infections through the judicious use of makeup?

Cleopatra was the beneficiary of many cultural traditions including wearing makeup, particularly when dressed as pharaoh for state functions (complete with false beard). The makeup all included lead. The lead was slowly poisoning her, but having lead eye shadow, for example, prevented eye infections because lead kills bacteria. The specific lead-based components of Egyptian makeup were galena, cerussite, laurionite and phosgenite.

Advertisement

Monarchs have to reproduce! Which queen had the most children?

Queen Victoria was a prolific mother. Until the 20th century, having many children was necessary because a single flu epidemic could sweep through a country and cut off most of a generation. Queen Victoria also really enjoyed the process of making children! She was married to Prince Albert after all—and so she became the mother of nine children, all of them highborn, and some destined for great things.

Advertisement

Who developed a close relationship with a servant following the death of their spouse?

When Prince Albert died, it was a major blow to Queen Victoria. John Brown was a ghillie at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where Victoria and her late husband spent a good deal of time. He rose to become a servant of the Queen, and a close confidant. While the details of their relationship remain shrouded in mystery, it is clear that he became her closest confidant for a time, a place of influence referred to as being the Queen's Favourite.

Advertisement

Being powerful can make you a target. Which of these queens had to endure the murder of a great love?

Cleopatra married more than once in her life (including her own family, more than once) but she loved Caesar—and his power. Not only did they wait out a siege together in Alexandria, not only did she have his child (allegedly) but she was with him when, in 44 BC, Caesar was murdered.

Advertisement

The people we marry can change us for the better. Which of these queens' husbands pushed her into a neutral political position?

Queen Victoria's love of Prince Albert changed nearly everything about her. When she met him, she was fond of the now-defunct Whig party and shared her opinions openly. On Prince Albert's advice, she obscured her views, which may have even changed, thus setting the model for modern British nobility, who keep their views to themselves.

Advertisement

Just ask Lady Gaga: Sometimes to make a statement, you have to be over the top. Which of these queens styled herself as an otherworldly entity?

Being starstruck by a queen isn't strange, but Cleopatra wasn't going to stand by and let anyone dazzle more than she did. Victoria was surrounded with traditional pomp and circumstance, but Cleopatra styled herself as an incarnation of the Egyptian goddess Isis, dressing as her, and styling her royal entourage in a quasi-religious manner just to drive home the symbolism.

Advertisement

Unless one's line is cut off, one produces heirs who join other lineages. Which of these queens produced the most noble lineages?

Cleopatra had the potential to give birth to the most powerful ruler the world had ever seen, but it didn't work out. The son she claimed was the son of Caesar didn't live long enough to test his mettle. On the other hand, Victoria's nine children would go on to found many of the noble houses of Europe, holding titles such as Queen of Prussia, King of England, Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine, and Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Advertisement

Getting it wrong as a queen can be a PR nightmare! Which queen made it a point to portray herself publicly as a total prude?

Queen Victoria clearly liked to have a good time, as evidenced by her over-the-top devotion to her husband, and the nine children they raised, but her public image was not that of a libertine. Perhaps owing to her less-than-congenial reception as a new queen, Victoria made her moral rectitude a major plank of her public brand. As a result, the whole Victorian Age is defined by stiff morality and stuffy social conventions.

Advertisement

Family can be a real pain when you're a queen. Which of these queens had to fight a war against a sibling?

The Ptolemy family was happy to let siblings rule as equals, and even marry. This isn't the most ideal arrangement when, as was the case with Cleopatra, the one clearly meant to rule is subordinate to and younger than their sibling. The result? Cleopatra was exiled to Syria and raised an army with which she planned to invade Egypt. Only when a political alliance with Rome became possible did Cleopatra lower her sword.

Advertisement

Royals all seem to want to keep it in the family. Which queen descended from the smallest gene pool?

People have made jokes about how small aristocrats' gene pools are, coining terms like "Chinless Wonder" to describe the more inbred. Another name one might consider would be Cleopatra, because one of the reasons her family had such incredibly consistent naming conventions is that they liked marrying their siblings. In fact, it's hard to find a generation of Ptolemys who didn't.

Advertisement

Which queen assigned her husband to decorate the new palace that would be the architectural signature of her reign?

Queen Victoria wasn't wrong to think that Prince Albert was an impressive man. Albert was very educated. In fact, his manner was so informed by his thoughtfulness that some of his peers disliked him for it. When the time came to decorate the Palace of Westminster, Victoria assigned Prince Albert the task of choosing all the art for the royal apartments there, where he commissioned frescoes of the life of King Arthur to surround the queen as she dressed for appearances in The House of Lords.

Advertisement

Which queen tried to ally herself with the only other major superpower of her day by having a child?

Cleopatra is known for many things when it comes to her romantic entanglements, but her biggest gambit was her child. Caesarion ("Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar," but Caesarion for short) was definitely the son of Cleopatra, and possibly also the son of Julius Caesar, who let the child grow up in his villa. Cleopatra had high hopes for her son, who theoretically inherited the right to rule both Rome and Egypt. Sadly, it all ended very badly.

Advertisement

To rule, you have to speak! Which of these two queens spoke their nation's tongue as a second language?

While Queen Victoria is said to have learned German concurrent with English, making her "mother tongue" hard to parse out, Cleopatra would have learned Greek and Latin before anything else. In fact, according to the closest contemporary historians, she was the first Macedonian pharaoh to bother learning the local language of the Egyptians, something she exploited to full effect.

Advertisement

Parents can be overbearing, but just imagine what they're like when you're going to rule! Which of these queens grew to hate her mother?

While it's not clear that Cleopatra liked her mother, there is no evidence that she hated her mother. On the other hand, Queen Victoria really hated her mother. Princess Victoria of Kent, because of the incredibly strict manner in which she raised Queen Victoria. Known as The Kensington System, Queen Victoria's childhood was one of strict discipline, learning and routine. She rebelled the moment she was crowned, at 18.

Advertisement

They don't call it "gentrification" for nothing. Which of these queens set a new trend for where royals would live?

Cleopatra was certainly a trendsetter, but she was also fond of breaking them, and besides, she spent some of her time in exile, or in pursuit of powerful foreign husbands. Victoria, having little reason to travel as Cleopatra did, and having found the love of her life, took up residence at Buckingham Palace, setting the stage for more than a century of royals who followed the fashion.

Advertisement

Both of these queens had stories to tell about childbirth, but which one pioneered the use of painkillers in childbirth?

Even by the 1800s, childbirth remained a painful experience. As society saw such pain as somehow required by God, there were few physicians looking to put an end to it. When Queen Victoria gave birth the first seven times, she did it the old-fashioned way. By children eight and nine, Prince Albert, her husband, convinced her to ask her doctor about chloroform. She did, and thus it became acceptable to society.

Advertisement

When you're an innovator, you have to publish or perish. Which queen wrote a book of signature beauty secrets?

While the original text is lost, some of the content of Queen Cleopatra's book of beauty secrets was preserved by revered Roman physician Galen. These secrets included exfoliating with mud from the Dead Sea, moisturizing with aloe, almond oil and beeswax, bathing in milk and honey, and even conditioners for treating dry or damaged hair.

Advertisement

Royal weddings have been a big deal since the beginning! Which queen started a new trend in wedding traditions?

Queens are often the standard-bearers of both tradition and fashion. Queen Victoria was no different in this regard. When she and Prince Albert married, Queen Victoria chose a lace material for her wedding dress. She was so enamored with the beauty of the white lace that she asked that her entire wedding dress be made in white, and thus started the trend of white wedding dresses.

Advertisement

It's good to cut a strong profile, but which of these queens stood the tallest?

All royalty find ways to look imposing, whether it be standing on a platform or wearing platform heels. Cleopatra wasn't exceptionally tall, but she wasn't small either, standing about 5 feet, 6 inches, which would put her on the tall side for her generation. Queen Victoria, on the other hand, was just about 5 feet tall.

Advertisement

Both queens loved a good time, but which one wrote fondly of her wedding night in her diary?

Queen Victoria didn't just love Prince Albert, she loved him body and soul. After many years of true love between the pair, they were married. Their wedding night's activities, which one can imagine without much prodding, prompted the following day's diary entry, "A most gratifying and bewildering night... we did not sleep very much."

Advertisement

Both of these women were noted for their will to do as they would, but which one proposed to her future husband?

Cleopatra may fit the modern mold of female empowerment better than Victoria, at first glance, but Victoria has some surprises when you look closely. It isn't clear if Cleopatra proposed to any of her husbands, though she certainly made her will known, but Queen Victoria actually proposed to the man who would become her future husband, Prince Albert.

Advertisement

Both of these queens had ancestors from other lands, but whose ancestors had spent the least time in the lands these queens ruled?

Cleopatra's ancestors were Macedonians who ruled Egypt for more than two centuries but married hardly anyone outside of their own family. Queen Victoria, on the other hand, was the daughter of a Hanover and a German princess, giving her the critical cultural ties that drew her to her future spouse, Prince Albert.

Advertisement

Names are a big deal when you're in charge. Was it Queen Victoria or Queen Cleopatra whose name has a Greek root?

Cleopatra was a descendant of Ptolemy, one of the generals of Alexander the Great, who conquered Egypt centuries before her reign. Though her family embraced the Egyptian tradition of pharaonic rule, they traced their lineage and much of their culture to ancient Greece. As a result, Queen Cleopatra had a Greek name which translates as "Famous In Her Father."

Advertisement

Both of these queens spoke many languages, but which spoke the languages of northern India?

Cleopatra was certainly an educated queen who would have spoken many languages, but Queen Victoria spoke even more languages. In addition to the several European languages she learned growing up, Queen Victoria took up Hindustani, which is really a collection of languages spoken in northern India, including Hindi and Urdu. Victoria did this when, upon bringing on several Indian servants, she decided that she should know the language since she ruled its people.

Advertisement

Monarchs often use a special name to rule, rather than their given name. Which of these queens had the first name "Alexandrina"?

Given that the Ptolemaic Dynasty took over from the son of Alexander the Great, himself named Alexander, it wouldn't be odd for Cleopatra to have a variation on the name. Such was not the case. Queen Victoria's full name was Alexandrina Victoria, named for her godfather who was (you guessed it) Czar Alexander I of Russia.

Advertisement

Sometimes when you "marry in," you get some genetic backfire. Which of these queens is said to have left a legacy of illness?

Some suspect that Cleopatra's son with Caesar inherited neurological illnesses from his father, but there isn't really any evidence of that. Victoria, on the other hand, bequeathed hemophilia to her descendants, but even then it wasn't all her. Mothers, as it turns out, are just carriers of the gene, and it takes a father who is a hemophiliac to pass the gene on to descendants, as happened with some of Victoria's children, including her youngest son, who died at the age of 30.

Advertisement

When you're in charge, sometimes you're just one in the line. Which of these queens was actually number seven of her name?

The Ptolemaic pharaohs weren't big on creativity with names. In fact, they were pretty much all just named Ptolemy or Cleopatra. For history, seven seems to be the lucky number, since Cleopatra VII is the one we all remember.

Advertisement

Which of these queens had children with someone to whom she was least related?

Cleopatra married her brother, but she also had children with Marc Anthony, and if she is to be believed, Julius Caesar, to whom she was certainly not related. Queen Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert may seem normal since she was British and he was German, but they were actually first cousins. This wasn't unheard of at the time, and certainly wasn't unheard of for nobility at the time, so it's not considered a major feature of her biography, but it's a little icky for people today.

Advertisement

Both of these queens had a sense of humor, but which was known for playing pranks on her subjects?

Cleopatra's relationship with Marc Anthony may have been her best, at least in terms of spending time away from ruling. The two lovers could be themselves, and they were hard-drinking pranksters. The two formed a drinking club in Alexandria they called The Inimitable Livers (as in living, not the organ), and as members of such, they would drink heavily, disguise themselves and play pranks on the people of Alexandria.

Advertisement

Which of these queens would die before seeing lands controlled by her own family turning against her homeland?

Cleopatra didn't have to wait to see her family turn on itself in a power struggle for the ages. Queen Victoria, on the other hand, didn't. Victoria died in January of 1901, just a little over a decade before the web of allegiances in continental Europe, of which her family was a part, would result in World War I, with many lands controlled by her children, at least in name, at war with each other.

Advertisement

Sometimes you just have to get away. Which queen would retreat to an island home for her birthday?

While it isn't clear even when Cleopatra would celebrate her birthday if she chose to, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, whose birthdays bookended the summer, would go to a summer home. Located on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House is a palatial summer home, where Victoria and her family would spend the hot months relaxing and enjoying the beach.

Advertisement

Who has an obelisk dedicated to them on the Thames embankment in London?

While the obelisk in question was actually erected by the Pharaoh Thutmose III more than a millennium before the life of Cleopatra, this Egyptian obelisk, covered in hieroglyphics, is referred to as Cleopatra's Needle, immortalizing her in the center of London. It rests on the north side of the Thames, between Waterloo Bridge and the Embankment stop on The Tube.

Advertisement

When you're a queen, you've got a lot of cash on hand, in theory. Which of these queens could hold the most wealth in her hand?

Hand size aside, Queen Victoria was able to hold more wealth in the palm of her hand than anyone. The most valuable thing Queen Victoria owned was the Koh-I-Noor diamond, which is now cut into smaller stones and set in the crown. Now totaling 109 carats, it was originally a 186-carat stone found in India, and passed through several hands until it was given to Victoria by the East India Company. Its value cannot be estimated.

Advertisement

Power struggles are common at the top. Whose reign was the result of a tangled knot of succession?

Queen Victoria may be a symbol of stability and constancy for the British crown, but her ascent was something of an accident. With the deaths of Princess Charlotte and King George IV, there were no legitimate heirs to the crown. This resulted in backtracking to the previous king, George III, and then down through his next oldest male heir, to Victoria, who was only 18 when she ascended the throne. God save the Queen, indeed.

Advertisement

Technology can make all the difference! Which queen lived closest to the date the steam engine was invented?

The steam engine may be synonymous with the industrial revolution under Victoria, but the earliest known steam engine was built by Heron of Alexandria (an Egyptian) just a few decades after Cleopatra died. Sure, it was designed as little more than installation art, but it had all the parts that made it a steam engine, and it existed in the first century AD.

Advertisement

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!

Explore More Quizzes