When you think of the Victorian era you probably picture sexually repressed spinsters and sad little orphans. But the reality was much different. Victorians on both sides of the Atlantic were just as capable as anyone else at being complete badasses. That's on full display in Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Syndicate, available Friday, Oct. 23. The game follows Jacob and Evie Frye as they secret-stab a bunch of people to death in the streets of Industrial Revolution London. And on that note, here are some people whose kickass exploits should have made your high school history books.
6Mary Kingsley Hung Out With Cannibals
If you were a middle-class woman in Victorian England, your life was almost painfully boring. You could expect very few chances to travel, even less education, and staying at home to take care of your parents in their old age. Mary Kingsley was that typical Victorian woman ... right up until her parents finally died in 1892, when she was 29. Armed with a small inheritance, she decided she was going to travel. And not to the pretty capitals of Europe, no; she was going to Africa. At that time, she might as well have announced she was going to Mars.
To be fair, the hat would have made more sense there.
Once in Sierra Leone, she lived with local tribes to learn how to survive all the crazy things that would try to kill her in the jungle. After a few months she went back to England for a year, but when she returned to Africa she was prepared for a long trip straight into the history books.
She traveled alone into parts of the continent that few, if any, Europeans had ever gone before. She stayed with the Fan (sometimes called the Fang) tribe, who were well-known cannibals. Despite actually being stalked as food at one point, she still preferred them to having tea with the Christian missionaries she sometimes met.
A feeling shared by so many Sunday school children.
Another time, while canoeing down a river, a huge crocodile tried to get into her boat, and she only escaped after hitting it with her paddle. During a storm, she found herself a yard away from a leopard, but she stayed still until it went away, since she didn't "think it ladylike to go shooting things with a gun." When everything wasn't trying to kill her, she was making up feats for herself to accomplish, like discovering many new types of fish and climbing Mount Cameroon, an active volcano and the fourth-highest point in Africa, by a route no European had ever taken before.
You don't have three fish named after you because you don't want it hard enough, dammit.
Despite having almost no formal education, she wrote two best-selling books about her travels. And she managed to do all of it on her own, without ever marrying, which was the part that really blew people's minds.
5Thomas Boulton And Frederick Park Embraced Their Sexuality
When you think of gay icons and Victorian England, the one name that probably comes to mind is Oscar Wilde. But he was far from the only man or woman pushing the boundaries of what the law and mainstream society considered acceptable when it came to sexuality.
Enter Thomas Boulton and Frederick Park. Or, rather, Fanny and Stella.
You'd never guess they weren't straight.
These guys were cross-dressers and almost certainly gay at a time when it was very much illegal. And unlike Wilde, they didn't try to hide either of these things. They were shockingly open with the fact that they liked to dress like women. The "girls" would attend theater performances and spend the whole time calling attention to themselves in their box. Or they would arrive somewhere dressed as men, excuse themselves to go to the bathroom, and come back decked out as ladies. They started their own double act and toured England, getting good reviews and a solid fan base that gave them flowers and bought postcards of them.
Who wouldn't want those beautiful faces on their fridge?
They would also engage in prostitution with male customers (some who knew their sex, some who didn't) when so attired. At that time, London had twice as many brothels as it did schools, churches, and charities. Fanny and Stella would wander around well-known pick-up sites and ply their trade.
Cops finally arrested them in 1870 for conspiring to get men to go all gay with them and for dressing like chicks. The trial (which was presided over by Judge Cockburn, because life is wonderful) was a media sensation and drew huge crowds. In the end, the jury found them innocent, which under English law meant that men could cross-dress in public all they wanted to after that, a freedom that they have taken full advantage of.
If not totally pulled off.