Queen Victoria has become a byword for sexual and emotional repression. The history books portray her as a symbol of moral rectitude, a stern, unsmiling matriarch with her mind closed to all pleasure.
But the real Victoria, as a fascinating new Channel 4 film reveals next week, was a romantic, hot-blooded woman with a high libido.
Behind closed doors, she privately exercised an overwhelming sensuality and was obsessively passionate about men and sex.
She had flirtatious relationships with two of her prime ministers, Lord Melbourne and Benjamin Disraeli, and even more scandalous affairs with two of her servants, one of whom she may have secretly married.
But the love of her life was her cousin Prince Albert - to whom she proposed following just four days of courtship. After their wedding night, she wrote a breathless account to Melbourne.
'It was a gratifying and bewildering experience,' she told him. That, in the buttonedup 19th century, where table legs were considered to be dangerously erotic if left uncovered, was enough to send shock waves through polite society. But Victoria had much more to say about it.
'I never, never spent such an evening,' she recounted. 'His excessive love and affection gave me feelings of heavenly love and happiness. He clasped me in his arms and we kissed each other again and again.'
Nine months later, their first child was born. As historian Tristram Hunt observes, 'She enjoyed the physical side of their relationship - but rarely the consequences.
'At one point, she had nine children under 15 and deeply resented the physical and emotional repercussions of child-bearing.'
The real queen Victoria
Why? Because pregnancy and babies got in the way of sex. Ever practical, she had Albert invent and install a bedside switch to activate mechanical locks on the bedroom door so that their impromptu bouts of prolonged love-making could carry on without interruption by the growing band of children.
Hunt believes that Victoria's real awakening came on a summer's morning in 1837 when she was informed by the Archbishop of Canterbury that her uncle, King William IV, had died and she was now Queen of England.
'It was a daunting prospect for anyone, but for this plump, pushy, singular 18-year-old, it promised a glorious liberation from her unhappy, cramped childhood,' he says.
'Her father, the Duke of Kent, who was the fourth son of George III and younger brother of William IV, had died when she was just eight months old. She arguably spent her lifetime trying to find the father she never knew in other men.
'She grew up an only child in Kensington Palace, made by her mother the Duchess of Kent to share her bedroom until she was 18, and her life was under the control of the courtier Sir John Conroy.
Consequently, says Tristram, when Victoria became Queen, her life opened up. She moved into Buckingham Palace, exiled her mother to nearby Belgravia, and allowed all her enthusiasms to run riot - from theatre to opera, ballet to dance and above all, long hours spent horse riding.
As prime minister, Lord Melbourne had the task of guiding the young Queen through the intricacies of statecraft. This led to the first scandal. ‘He was a rakish hangover from the 18th century,' says Hunt. 'A cynical old roue who combined reactionary politics with an active libido. But she adored his wit and caddish worldliness and developed a crush on him.'
However, marriage was out of the question and once she set her sights on Albert, she dropped Melbourne. But Albert died of typhoid when she was just over 40, and Victoria went into deep mourning and seclusion. She slept with a plaster cast of Albert's hand in her bed and ordered his shaving mug filled with hot water every morning.
She began to emerge only when Albert's ghillie, John Brown, became her personal servant. 'He was rough, foul-mouthed and frequently drunk,' says Tristram Hunt, 'but she seemed enchanted by him.
The princesses joked of him as 'mama's lover,' while lewder souls called him 'the Queen's stallion'. The republican press called the Queen "Mrs John Brown".
'There is some sense that Victoria saw in Brown her beloved Albert reborn. It is strange, given his earthy manner compared to Albert's intellect and sophistication.'
Soon, there was another scandal.
Although still close to Brown, Victoria became enchanted by Disraeli. 'He is full of poetry, romance and chivalry,' the Queen wrote of her new prime minister in 1868.
They flirted with each other outrageously. She showered him with gifts; he wrote her seductive poetry. The Queen giggled and fluttered her eyes at him, as if she was a teenager again.
At the age of 68, she became Empress of India - and a new relationship developed. A young Indian servant called Abdul Karim arrived at Court.
He was young, handsome and exotic - and Victoria fell for him. She asked him to teach her Hindustani and to educate her in his culture. 'He is a very strict master and a perfect gentleman,' she wrote.
She insisted that he was treated as an equal among her advisers and courtiers and anyone who did not do so she accused of racism. Once again, she had ridden roughshod over the boundaries between monarch and servant.
But all the other scandals apart, it is the exact nature of her relationship with John Brown that is the most tantalising mystery.
When Victoria died, in accordance with her strict instructions, she was laid out in her wedding dress with a cast of Albert's hand beside her, along with a photograph of John Brown.
It has only recently been discovered that she was also buried wearing Brown's mother's wedding ring.
Had they secretly married? It is said that halfway through the 20th century, an archivist found their wedding certificate among Victoria's private papers.
He showed it to the Queen Mother, who without a word, took the document and burned it.
Actor Julian Fellowes, author of The Young Victoria, who describes Victoria as 'a doer and goer with a lust for life,' tells the programme that he believes Victoria did not have illicit relations with him, but they probably did marry.
Tristram Hunt disagrees. 'There was a deep, powerful connection between them, but for all her sensuality and passion, and need of a man, she could never have loved another after Albert.'