previous next

Victoria, Queen of England.

James Parton.
Great Britain wanted a monarch.

James the Second had abandoned his throne, and had been driven from his country. William and Mary, who succeeded him were childless, and without hope of offspring. Anne, seventeen times in her life, gave the kingdom hopes of an heir, and then disappointed those hopes. She was childless, and it was well known to her household that she was destined to die childless. As it was part of the fundamental law of the kingdom that the sovereign must be a Protestant, the son of the exiled king was excluded from the succession. The English are such slaves to habit and precedent, and the wars of the Commonwealth were so fresh in the recollection of the country, that it does not appear to have occurred to a single individual that the realm of England could be governed unless it could find a person to play sovereign on certain days of the year, in the show-rooms of St. James' Palace. America had not yet taught the world the art of nominating, electing, and deposing chief magistrates. There had once been kings in England, and the shadow of one was felt to be necessary still.

Wanted a monarch. No Roman Catholic need apply.

This was the problem for the “Heralds” of that day. In all the world there was but one person who could rightfully succeed Queen Anne, and that was an elderly lady known to [406] the people of England as the Princess Sophia, and to the people of Hanover as the wife of their sovereign, the elector, Ernest Augustus. King James the First left but two children of the seven who had been born to him. One of these was the unfortunate Charles the First, who lost his crown and his head; the other was the Princess Elizabeth, who in due time married Frederick the Fifth, Elector Palatine, one of the hundred petty sovereigns of Germany. The Princess Sophia was the daughter of this pair, and she was married to Ernest Augustus of Hanover. Being thus the granddaughter of James the First, and the wife of a Protestant prince, her right to the English throne, in case Queen Anne died without issue, was unquestionable; and hence, in the act of settlement of 1701, she was declared the heiress presumptive.

She had become a widow, and was living in retirement in Hanover as Electoress Dowager,--an elderly lady of excellent character, but as little fitted to govern an empire as a child. The English, however, did not want any one to govern an empire. They meant to do that themselves. They wanted some benevolent and good-looking person to wear the robes, inhabit the palace, and play the part of monarch, in a serene and dignified manner. For such purpose the good old dowager of Hanover might have answered as well as another. This destiny, however, was not in reserve for her; for, seventeen days before the death of Queen Anne, she died, leaving her son George, the Elector of Hanover, heir to the British crown. George Lewis was his name, but he is known in English history as George the First.

Thus it was that the present reigning family came to the English throne. Queen Victoria reigns to-day because of her direct descent, through James the First, from Mary, Queen of Scots, the mother of that pedantic king. On the Hanover [407] aide, she can claim an ancestry far more ancient, and far more illustrious than this.

The respect which many persons feel for an old family is perhaps not quite so unreasonable as some of us republicans suppose. Time tries all. As a rule, whatever endures long is excellent of its kind. In families which have long maintained a certain position in the world, we need not look for brilliant genius, nor splendid courage; but if we inquire closely into their history, we shall generally find a fill development of what may be termed the preservative virtues,prudence and family pride. A family which produces a genius appears to exhaust itself in the effort,--it passes away and disappears in the crowd; but where there is robustness of bodily health with a high degree of prudence and family feeling, a race may endure for centuries without producing a single individual of striking merit, or performing any valuable service for mankind. Nevertheless, there must be in such a family real worth and real wisdom. One of the most admirable provisions among the laws of nature is that one which dooms a family of incurable fools to certain and swift extinction.

The family now upon the English throne is one of the oldest in Europe. Among the mountains which divide Italy from Germany a powerful house named Welf held great possessions as long ago as the year 1100. Extending its conquests southward, it ruled some of the finest provinces of Italy, where the name was changed into Guelph, by which it has ever since been known. The Guelphs, with their impregnable castles among the mountains, drawing tribute from the fertile provinces of northern Italy and southern Germany, appear to have been for a time as wealthy and powerful a family as any in Europe of less than imperial or royal rank. It became too powerful. The Guelphs quarrelled among themselves. They divided into two factions, one of which [408] retained the name of Guelph, and the other acquired that of Ghibeline, and each of them was powerful enough to maintain an army in the field. The bloody contest was waged a while among the German mountains. The family quarrel, as was usually the case in those days, absorbed into itself public questions of great pith and moment, until the whole south of Europe were drawn into the interminable strife. It was this famous contest between the Guelphs and the Ghibelines which saddened the existence of the poet Dante, and made him for twenty years an exile from his native city.

When mortals fight, it rarely happens that one party is wholly in the right, and the other wholly in the wrong. Both the Guelphs and the Ghibelines committed enormous outrages. Neither of them was strong enough to hold the other in subjection, and neither was great enough to forgive a fallen foe. When the Guelphs conquered a province or captured a city, they banished the powerful Ghibelines, and confiscated their estates. The Ghibelines, when they were victors, pursued the same policy. Consequently there were always a great number of persons, both within and without the conquered place, whose only hope of regaining their rights and property was in overturning the government. Hence three centuries of fruitless, desolating war.

But although in this cardinal error of the contest there was not a pin to choose between the hostile factions, it is nevertheless evident that the Guelphs were, upon the whole, fighting the battle of mankind. Dante was upon their side, --a great fact in itself. Closely allied with the pope, then the chief civilizing power of Europe, the sole protector of the people against the tyranny of their lords, the Guelphs were greatly instrumental in limiting the power of the emperors, and preventing all the fairest countries of Europe from lapsing under the dominion of a single dynasty.

It was from these warlike Guelphs of the middle ages that [409] the present royal house of England descended. Gibbon, indeed, traces the family of Guelph up to Charlemagne; but we need not follow him so far in the labyrinth of heraldry. Let it suffice us to know that a powerful prince of the Guelphian race, six hundred years ago or more, acquired by marriage extensive possessions in the north of Germany. This prince is known in the history of Germany as Henry the Black. Other Henries succeeded,--Henry the Proud, Henry the Lion, and a long line of Henries, Williams, Othos, Georges, and Ernests, until at length we find a branch of the family established in Hanover, and ruling that province with the title of elector.

Not much can be said in commendation of the more recent ancestors of Queen Victoria. George the First was fiftyfour years of age when he stepped ashore at Greenwich, and walked to the royal palace in its park, hailed and saluted as King of England. He was an honest, hearty man, brave and resolute; but he had an incurable narrowness of mind, and he was as ignorant of all that a king ought to know as the kings of that period generally were.

“My maxim is,” he used to say, “never to abandon my friends; to do justice to all the world, and to fear no man.”

The saying does him honor. He was a man of punctual and business-like habits, diligent in performing the duties appertaining to his place, so far as he understood them. But, unhappily, when he left his native country, he left his heart behind him. He loved Hanover, and a man can no more love two countries than two women. He understood Hanover; he never understood England; and the thing which he had at heart, during his whole reign, was the aggrandizement of Hanover. He had the satisfaction of dying in his native land, which he was accustomed frequently to visit, and his dust still reposes there in the electoral mausoleum.

His son, George the Second, with all his narrowness and [410] ignorance, was not without his good and strong points. Like most of his ancestors, he was honest, well-intentioned, and brave; and, like most of his ancestors, he was singularly unfitted to have anything to do with the government of a great nation. The ornament of his court was Queen Caroline, a patron of art and literature, whom the king loved truly, and scolded incessantly, whom he sincerely respected and continually dishonored. The scenes which took place at the death-bed of this queen show us something of the character of both of the ill-assorted pair.

“ The king,” says a recent writer,

was heart-broken, but he was himself. He could not leave her in peace at that last moment. By way of watching over her, “he lay on the queen's bed all night in his nightgown, where he could not sleep nor she turn about easily.” He went out and in continually, telling everybody, with tears, of her great qualities. But he could not restrain the old habit of scolding when he was by her side. “How the devil should you sleep when you will never lie still a moment I” he cried with an impatience which those who have watched by a death-bed will at least understand. “You want to rest, and the doctors tell you nothing can do you so much good, and yet you always move about. Nobody can sleep in that manner, and that is always your way; you never take the proper method to get what you want, and then you wonder you have it not.” When her weary eyes, weary of watching the troubled comings and goings about her, fixed upon one spot, the alarmed, excited, hasty spectator cried out, with a loud and quick voice, “Mon Dieu! qu'est ce que vous regardez? Comment peut — on fixer ces yeux comme ca?” he cried. He tortured her to eat, as many a healthful watcher does with cruel kindness. “How is it possible you should know whether you like a thing or not?” he said. He was half-crazed with sorrow and love, and a kind of panic. And he was garrulous, and talked without [411] intermission of her and of himself, with a vague historical sense, as if talking of a life that had come to an end.

One incident of this death-bed scene is probably without a parallel in the history of the human race: She counselled him to marry again, as he sat sobbing by her bedside. Poor man! he was hysterical, too, with grief and excitement. Wiping his eyes and sobbing between every word, with much ado, he got out this answer: “Non — j'aurai des maitresses.” To which the queen made no other reply than, “Ah, mon Dieu! Cela n'empeche pas!” Criticism stands confounded before such an incident.

Such was George the Second, the great-great-grandfather of the present virtuous sovereign of England. Such was the British Court a little more than a hundred years ago.

The eldest son of George the Second, Prince Frederick, or the Prince of Wales, was stupid even for a prince. He passed his brief existence in political intrigues with his father's enemies, and in debauchery with the worst of the young nobility. No good or even graceful action relieves the tedious record of his life. We need only say of him — for little else is known — that he embittered his father's days, and that England was well rid of him before it came his turn to play the part of king. George the Third, the grandfather of Queen Victoria, was the son of this Prince Frederick.

George the Third, who plays so important a part in the history of the United States., was one of the most virtuous and most mischievous of kings. I-e was honest, charitable, and temperate; he was as good a father as an ignorant man can ever hope to be; he was an attentive and affectionate husband; he was a considerate and liberal master and patron. If he had been born to the inheritance of a small farm,--if he had been a huntsman in Windsor Park, instead of lord of the castle,--he would have lived happily and wisely, and all his native parish would have followed him mourning to the [412] tomb. But alas for England, tax-paying England! it was his destiny to be styled king, and to indulge all his life the fond delusion that he really was a king.

With such a father as he had, it is not necessary to say that his early education was most grossly and shamefully neglected; and after his father's death, he fell under the influence of men and women who starved his intellect and fed his pride. Coming to the throne in his twenty-second year, ignorant of history, ignorant of the English people, totally unacquainted with the spirit of a constitutional government, equally obstinate and conscientious, the whole policy of his reign was erroneous. He displaced William Pitt, and promoted Bute. It was he, and only he, who exasperated into rebellion the most loyal of his subjects,--the people of the American colonies. Instead of hailing with joy the accession of Napoleon to supreme power in distracted France, instead of aiding him to bring order once more out of the chaos of that kingdom, instead of being his hearty friend and ally, as he ought to have been for England's sake, as well as for that of France and mankind, he squandered and mortgaged deep the resources of the wealthiest empire on earth, in waging and inciting war against the only man who had it in him to rescue France and prepare her for a nobler future. He drove Napoleon mad; he prepared for him the long series of victories which wasted his time, wasted his strength, and destroyed the balance between his reason and his passions.

When George the Third came to the throne in 1760, the national debt of England was one hundred and thirty millions of pounds. The American war raised it to two hundred and sixty millions. The insensate warfare against the French Revolution made it five hundred and seventy millions; and by the time Napoleon was safely landed in Saint Helena, the debt amounted to the inconceivable sum of eight hundred [413] and sixty-five millions of pounds. It may be safely asserted, that every guinea of this debt was unnecessary, and all except a few millions of it may be considered the price which Great Britain has paid, or is to pay, for allowing four such men as the four Georges of Hanover to occupy the first place in the government,--a place in which a wise and able man could do no very radical good, but one in which an incompetent man may work prodigious harm.

George the Third had fifteen children, of whom all but two survived him. Five of these children were sons, and all of them were robust and vigorous men. Down to a late period in the life of George the Third, no throne in Europe seemed so well provided as his with lineal heirs; and nothing was more improbable than that it should descend to a daughter of the fourth son,--the Duke of Kent. The Prince of Wales, however, had but one legitimate child, the Princess Charlotte, and when she died, in 1817, there was no probability of her father having other legitimate issue. The Duke of York, the second son, a shameless debauchee, also died without legitimate children. The Duke of Clarence, the third son, who afterwards reigned as William the Fourth, had a large family; but, unfortunately, his wife, Queen Adelaide, was not the mother of them.

Edward, Duke of Kent, the fourth of the king's sons, had the reputation, in his lifetime, of being the only one of them who observed the ordinary rules of morality. He is even spoken of as “austerely virtuous;” an accusation which I am inclined to believe was groundless; for, if he was so austerely virtuous, he would hardly have left so many debts behind him for his widow and daughter to pay. Some allowance must be made, however, for those unfortunate princes who held the highest rank in the kingdom, without having the income of a country gentleman. This poor Duke of Kent, although he enjoyed a revenue about is large at [414] that of the President of the United States, was the feudal superior of men who had ten and twenty times that income. What is wealth in one country is poverty in another. An English prince with four thousand pounds a year is a very poor man, unless he is a very great man.

To economize his slender resources, the Duke of Kent resided, for many years, in Germany. He was living there in 1817, when the sudden death of the Princess Charlotte, and her newly born child, made it apparent that, if he lived to the ordinary age of man, he would one day succeed to the throne. This unexpected change in his prospects, it is supposed, led to his marriage, in the following year, with a German princess, Victoria, the widow of the Prince of Leiningen, and a daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg. We now know enough of this lady to have a right to believe that she was a very sensible as well as exemplary woman.

Ere many months, it became evident that the Duchess of Kent was about to become a mother, and the duke was desirous that the child should be born upon the soil of the country of which it might be the the sovereign. One of the elements in the popularity of George the Third, which none of his errors ever sensibly diminished, was the fact that he had been born in England,--a circumstance to which he so aptly alluded, in a speech at the beginning of his reign, that it made an indelible impression upon the country. It was natural that the Duke of Kent should desire to secure this advantage for his unborn child.

Strange to say, this prince of the blood royal actually had not money enough for the journey home, and he wrote to his family for a remittance. They refused it, and he was obliged to borrow the requisite sum from friends in humbler life. At Kensington Palace, in London, on the 24th of May, 1819, the Princess Victoria was born. As she saw the light in the pleasant month of May, they named her the May-flower, [415] and so she was called in the family during her infancy. We have the note, recently published, which the mother of the Duchess of Kent despatched to her daughter, when she heard the joyful intelligence.

“I cannot express,” wrote the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg, “how happy I am to know you are, dearest, dearest Vickel, safe in your bed with a little one, and that all went off so happily. May God's best blessings rest on the little stranger and the beloved mother! Again a Charlotte,--destined, perhaps, to play a great part one day, if a brother is not born to take it out of her hands. The English like queens, and the niece of the ever-lamented, beloved Charlotte will be most dear to them. I need not tell you how delighted everybody is here in hearing of your safe confinement. You know that you are much beloved in this your little home.”

Three months after, the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg sent to her daughter in England the intelligence of the birth of her grandson,--the Prince Albert of happy memory, whose untimely death the Queen of England still laments.

When the Princess Victoria was but eight months old, her father died, leaving his widow and her infant child nothing but an inheritance of debt, and a rank in the realm of Britain which is an inconvenience and a manifest absurdity unless accompanied with great wealth. Queen Victoria can doubtless well remember the time when her mother was pestered with duns, and when her own allowance of playthings was limited by her mother's poverty. Nor, indeed, considering her rank, was she ever in very affluent circumstances until she ascended the throne,--her mother's allowance being only eight thousand pounds a year, and part of this was expended in discharging the debts of the Duke of Kent.

The little princess was as well educated and trained as a child so unnaturally circumstanced could well be.

“ Do not tease your little puss with learning,” wrote her / [416] grandmother to the Duchess of Kent, when the child was four years of age. “She is so young still.”

And again, when she was seven:--

“I see by the English newspapers that his Majesty and her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent went on Virginia water. The little monkey must have pleased and amused him. She is such a pretty, clever child.”

We also have a very pleasing glimpse of the princess and her mother in the following passage by an anonymous writer :

When first I saw the pretty and pale daughter of the Duke of Kent, she was fatherless. Her fair, light form was sporting, in all the redolence of youth and health, on the noble sands of old Ramsgate. It was a fine summer day, not so warm as to induce languor, but yet warm enough to render the fanning breezes from the laughing tides, as they broke gently on the sands, agreeable and refreshing. Her dress was simple,--a plain straw bonnet, with a white ribbon round the crown; a colored muslin frock, looking gay and cheerful, and as pretty a pair of shoes on as pretty a pair of feet as I ever remember to have seen from China to Kamschatka. Her mother was her companion, and a venerable man — whose name is graven on every human heart that loves its species, and whose undying fame is recorded in that eternal book where the actions of men are written with the pen of truth — walked by her parent's side, and doubtless gave that counsel and offered that advice which none were more able to offer than himself,--for it was William Wilberforce. His kindly eyes followed, with parental interest, every footstep of the young creature, as she advanced to, and retreated from, the coming tide; and it was evident that his mind and his heart were full of the future, whilst they were interested in the present.


The death of George the Fourth, in 1830, and the accession of William the Fourth, sixty-five years of age, and without an heir, though twelve years married, rendered it all but certain that the Princess Victoria, a graceful girl of eleven, would one day be called to the throne. Until then, we are told, she was not herself aware of the destiny before her; but had been reared in every respect like any other child of an intelligent family of respectable but limited fortune. She became a highly interesting object both to her family and the people of England. The queen has lately published the cordial letter which her grandmother wrote to congratulate her mother upon the eleventh birthday of the princess:--

My blessings and good wishes for the day which gave you the sweet blossom of May! May God preserve and protect the valuable life of that lovely flower from all the dangers that will beset her mind and heart! The rays of the sun are scorching at the height to which she may one day attain. It is only by the blessing of God that all the fine qualities he has put into that young soul can be kept pure and untarnished. How well I can sympathize with the feelings of anxiety that must possess you when that time comes! God, who has helped you through so many bitter hours of grief, will be your help still. Put your trust in him.

A few months later, when Parliament had named the Duchess of Kent to the regency of the kingdom, in case the king should die before the princess came of age, the same kind grandmother wrote :--

I should have been very sorry if the regency had been given into other hands than yours. It would not have been a just return for your constant devotion and care to your child if this had not been done. May God give you wisdom [418] and strength to do your duty, if called upon to undertake it. May God bless and protect our little darling! If I could but once see her again! The print you sent me of her is not like the dear picture I have. The quantity of curls hide the well-shaped head, and make it look too large for the lovely little figure.

And so her childhood passed away. She had, of course, the usual retinue of instructors, and went the usual round of lessons and recreation. The mighty Lablache gave her instruction in singing; and the queen says of him that he was not only one of the best actors and singers ever seen in England, “but a remarkably clever, gentleman-like man, full of anecdotes and knowledge, and most kind and warm-hearted. The prince and queen had a sincere regard for him.” That she should acquire a familiarity with the three languages, English, German, and French, was scarcely to be avoided, since German was the native language of her mother, English the language of her country, and French the language of courts. In the volumes which she has recently given us, there are several specimens of the queen's drawing, from which we may infer that she acquired enough of this art for the occasional illustration of a private diary.

The most interesting event, perhaps, of her minority,at least, the most interesting to herself,--was her first interview with her cousin of Coburg, Prince Albert. From the very birth of these children, their marriage by and by was distinctly contemplated; and, as time went on, it became the favorite project of the grandmother of the cousins, the Duchess of Saxe-Gotha, whose affectionate letters have been quoted above. William the Fourth, it appears, had other views for his niece, and did his best to prevent the meeting of the cousins. But a grandmother and a mother, in affairs of this kind, are more than a match for an uncle, even though [419] that uncle wears a crown. So when Prince Albert and the Princess Victoria were seventeen years of age, the prince came to England, accompanied by his father and brother. Both the young people were aware of the benevolent intentions of all the German members of their family, and each had been in the habit of dreaming of the future in accordance with those intentions. They were well pleased with one another on this occasion. Prince Albert, accustomed to the quiet routine of a German duke's younger son, was equally amazed and fatigued by the gorgeous life of the English court. The late hours were particularly disagreeable to him,--as well they might be.

“My first appearance,” he wrote,

was at a levee of the king's, which was long and fatiguing, but very interesting. The same evening we dined at court, and at night there was a beautiful concert, at which we had to stand till two o'clock. The next day the king's birthday was kept. We went, in the middle of the day, to a drawing-room at St. James' Palace, at which about three thousand, eight hundred people passed before the king and queen, and the other high dignitaries, to offer their congratulations. There was again a great dinner in the evening, and then a concert which lasted till one o'clock. You can well imagine I had many hard battles to fight against sleepiness during these late entertainments.

The day before yesterday, Monday, our aunt gave a brilliant ball here at Kensington Palace, at which the gentlemen appeared in uniform, and the ladies in so-called fancy dresses. We remained till four o'clock. Duke William of Brunswick, the Prince of Orange and his two sons, and the Duke of Wellington were the only guests that you will care to hear about.

Yesterday we spent with the Duke of Northumberland, [420] at Sion, and now we are going to Claremont. From this account you will see how constantly engaged we are, and that we must make the most of our time to see at least some of the sights in London. Dear aunt is very kind to us, and does everything she can to please us; and our cousin also is very amiable. We have not a great deal of room in our apartments, but are nevertheless very comfortably lodged.

The queen has since recorded her recollections of the prince at the time of this visit:

The prince was at that time much shorter than his brother, already very handsome, but very stout, which he entirely grew out of afterward. He was most amiable, natural, unaffected, and merry; full of interest in everything; playing on the piano with the princess, his cousin; drawing; in short, constantly occupied. He always paid the greatest attention to all he saw, and the queen remembers well how intently he listened to the sermon preached in St. Paul's, when he-and his father and brother accompanied the Duchess of Kent and the princess there, on the occasion of the service attended by the children of the different charity schools. It is indeed rare to see a prince, not yet seventeen years of age, bestowing such earnest attention on a sermon.

After a stay in England of some weeks, Prince Albert returned home, and resumed his studies. Each of the cousins was highly prepossessed in favor of the other. Indeed, the princess seems to have made up her mind, on this occasion, that, if public policy forbade her marrying her cousin Albert, she would never marry at all.

The eighteenth birthday of Princess Victoria, which was May the 24th, 1837, when she attained her legal majority, was celebrated throughout the British Empire as a national [421] festival, and her health was toasted by a million merry circles of loyal Englishmen. Almost on that very day, King William the Fourth, then in the seventy-second year of his age, was stricken with mortal sickness. He lingered four weeks, and then expired. It was on a fine morning in June, as early as five o'clock, that the Archbishop of Canterbury communicated the intelligence to Victoria, and saluted her as Queen of England. Later in the day, the Ministry, the Privy Councillors, and a hundred of the principal nobility, assembled in Kensington Palace to witness the formal proclamation of the youthful queen.

“We publish and proclaim,” shouted the herald, “that the high and mighty Princess Alexandrina Victoria is the only lawful and liege Lady, and, by the grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith.”

Until this moment, it is said, the young queen had maintained her self-possession; but on hearing these tremendous words, the realization of so many hopes and fond imaginings, she threw her arms about her mother's neck and sobbed. She recovered herself in a few moments, and then the Duke of Sussex, the youngest son of George the Third, and the head of the English nobility, advanced to pay his homage by bending the knee. Her good sense and good feeling revolted against an absurdity so extreme.

“Do not kneel, uncle,” she said, “for I am still Victoria, your niece.”

Her bearing on this most trying occasion was eminently becoming; and, a few weeks later, when she prorogued Parliament in person, and spoke the royal speech from the throne of the House of Lords, she conciliated every heart by her modesty and self-possession.

There was a circle of relations in Germany for whom these events possessed the deepest interest. The letter which [422] Prince Albert wrote to congratulate his cousin upon her accession was creditable to his taste and feeling. He was then a student at the University of Bonn, from which he wrote, June 26th, 1837:--

My Dearest Cousin,
I must write you a few lines to present you my sincerest felicitations on that great change which has taken place in your life.

Now you are queen of the mightiest land of Europe, in your hand lies the happiness of millions. May Heaven assist you, and strengthen you with its strength, in that high but difficult task!

I hope that your reign may be long, happy, and glorious, and that your efforts may be rewarded by the thankfulness and love of your subjects.

May I pray you to think likewise sometimes of your cousins in Bonn, and to continue to them that kindness you favored them with till now. Be assured that our minds are always with you.

I will not be indiscreet and abuse your time. Believe me always your Majesty's most obedient and faithful servant,


Queen Victoria was crowned at Westminster Abbey about a year after her accession,--June the 28th, 1838. It would be easy to fill many of these pages with accounts of a ceremonial which has increased in splendor as it has diminished in significance. The whole ceremony was founded upon the belief that the Sovereign represented the Majesty, and wielded the power, of the great God of heaven and earth. So long as this belief was real and universal, the ceremony of the coronation, and all the complicated state and etiquette of royal life, was not altogether wanting in propriety. It was the attempt of rude and barbarous men to express their rude [423] and barbarous conceptions of the divine government, and the sacredness and awfulness of even its poor human representative. But people no longer believe that any special divinity resides in, or is represented by, the convenient ducal houses of Germany, from which England borrows a monarch upon occasion. We need not dwell therefore upon the extremely laborious and expensive way in which the English of modern times get the crown placed for a few seconds upon a sovereign's head.

She was queen, then, at length. She was the central figure of a fiction as splendid as the Kenilworth of Sir Walter Scott, and all the world looked with interest upon its gorgeous illusions. In those years of her blooming youth she seemed to the imaginations of men the most brilliant and most enviable of human beings. Nevertheless, she has recently told us, that she was far from happy at that time. She could not, at first, quite reconcile her mind to be a fiction. Inheriting something of the obstinacy of her race, she desired to have her own way in some matters in which a constitutional monarch must be submissive. She had a particular prejudice against the tories,--not merely against their principles, but against their persons,--and this prejudice an unhackneyed girl of nineteen was not likely to conceal. On the other hand, she was excessively fond of the whigs, and particularly of the good-natured premier, Lord Melbourne, who had advised and guided her during the first anxious moments of her reign. She carried these prejudices so far, that Lord Melbourne himself, although at the head of the favored party, remonstrated with her upon the subject, and advised her to forgive and conciliate the tories. Then again, being warm in her friendships, she could not endure the idea of parting with some of the ladies about her person, when the tories came into power. She was very restive in this affair, and it was [424] long before she could bend her will to the hard necessity of losing the society of her friends for reasons purely political, over which she had no control.

The strangest part of her conduct was, that, as soon as she became her own mistress, she ceased to correspond with her handsome cousin in Germany. With reference to this subject the queen has written:--

The only excuse the queen can make for herself is in the fact that the change from the secluded life at Kensington to he independence of her position as Queen Regnant, at the age of eighteen, put all ideas of marriage out of her mind, which she now most bitterly repents. A worse school for a young girl, or one more detrimental to all natural feelings and affections, cannot well be imagined than the position of a queen at eighteen, without experience and without a husband to guide and support her. This the queen can state from painful experience, and she thanks God that none of her dear daughters are exposed to such danger.

Prince Albert was naturally uneasy at her silence. A young man of twenty-one must not long delay to choose a career. So far, his life had been shaped by a secret but confident expectation that he would one day be the. consort of his cousin Victoria, and if this was not to be his destiny, it was necessary to seek another. Impatient to know his fate, he came to England in October, 1839, resolved to bring the matter to a conclusion. Three years had passed since the cousins had seen one another.

When last they had met, she was a girl of seventeen, living a retired life at Kensington Palace, with her mother and her tutors, with little retinue and less ostentation. He was but a lively lad, not grown to his full stature, and unbecomingly fat. But now how different were they both!

It was half-past 7 in the evening of October the 10th, [425] 1839, when Prince Albert and his brother alighted at the principal entrance of Windsor Castle, one of the grandest-looking royal residences in Europe. At the top of the staircase, the queen herself met them in evening attire, and invested with the dignity which the very title of queen seems to carry with it. Nor was the change in him less striking in a maiden's eyes. The prince had grown tall, symmetrical, and handsome. That down upon his upper lip of three years before was now an elegant mustache: He had become a man. There was also in his countenance, we are told, a gentleness of expression, and a smile of peculiar sweetness, with a look of thought and intelligence in his clear blue eye, and fair, broad forehead, which conciliated every one who looked upon him. He was the very prince of romance,--just the hero wanted for the dazzling fiction of which Victoria was the gentle heroine.

His fate was decided promptly enough. The queen was delighted with his appearance and bearing. She conducted him herself to her mother. It was about dinner-time when they arrived, and yet they could not dine with the queen that night, for a reason which the queen herself explains: “Their clothes not having arrived, they could not appear at dinner, but came in after it in spite of their morning dresses.” There was a large company of lords and ministers staying at the castle then, and the etiquette of the dinner could not be dispensed with, even in favor of these young princes.

Four days sufficed! On the fourth day after the arrival of the prince, the queen told Lord Melbourne that she had made up her mind to marry him. The minister said he was very glad to hear it, and that he thought the news would be well received.

“You will be much more comfortable,” added Lord Melbourne, in his simple, fatherly manner; “for a woman cannot stand alone for any time in whatever position she may be.” [426]

Accordingly, on the following day Prince Albert cane in from hunting at the unusually early hour of twelve, for he had received an intimation the evening before that the queen had something particular to say to him. On being summoned to the queen's presence he found her alone. Precisely what occurred on the occasion will never be known. It seems, however, that it devolved upon the queen to propose the momentous question. The following is the prince's version of what passed, as given in a letter to his grandmother--

The subject which has occupied us so much of late is at last settled. The queen sent for me alone to her room a few days ago, and declared to me in a genuine outburst of love and affection that I had gained her whole heart, and would make her intensely happy if I would make her the sacrifice of sharing her life with her, for she said she looked on it as a sacrifice. The only thing which troubled her was that she did not think that she was worthy of me. The joyous openness of manner in which she told me this quite enchanted me, and I was quite carried away by it. She is really most good and amiable, and I am quite sure Heaven has not given me into evil hands, and that we shall be happy together. Since that moment Victoria does whatever she fancies I should wish or like, and we talk together a great deal about our future life, which she promises me to make as happy as possible. Oh, the future I does it not bring with it the moment when I shall have to take leave of my dear, dear home, and of you? I cannot think of that without deep melancholy taking possession of me.

As soon as the interview was over, the queen, according to her custom, recorded her feelings in her diary.

“How I will strive,” she wrote, in the first gush of tender emotion, “to make him feel as little as possible the great sacrifice he has made! I told him it was a great sacrifice on his [427] part, but he would not allow it. I then told him to fetch Ernest (his brother), who congratulated us both and seemed very happy. Ernest told me how perfect his brother was.”

The same afternoon, she wrote to her Uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, who had from the first favored the match most warmly. This letter is highly creditable to the good, simple heart of the maiden queen:--

My mind is quite made up, and I told Albert this morning of it. The warm affection he showed me on learning this gave me great pleasure. He seems perfection, and I think that I have the prospect of very great happiness before me. I love him more than I can say and shall do everything in my power to render this sacrifice (for such in my opinion it is) as small as I can. He seems to have great tact,--a very necessary thing in his position. These last few days have passed like a dream to me, and I am so much bewildered by it all that I know hardly how to write; but I do feel very happy. It is absolutely necessary that this determination of mine should be known to no one but yourself and to Uncle Ernest until after the meeting of Parliament, as it would be considered, otherwise, neglectful on my part not to have assembled.Parliament at once to inform them of it.

To which the good old king replied, very sensibly and happily:--

In your position . . you could not exist without having a happy and agreeable “interieur.” And I am much deceived (which I think I am not), or you will find in Albert just the qualities and disposition which are indispensable for your happiness, and which will suit your own character, temper, and mode of life. You say most amiably that you consider it a sacrifice on the part of Albert. This is true in many [428] points, because his position will be a difficult one; but much, I may say all, will depend on your affection for him. If You love him, and are kind to him, he will easily bear the bothers of his position, and there is a steadiness, and, at the same time, a cheerfulness in his character which will facilitate this.

Nothing remained but to announce the intended marriage to the Privy Council, and through the council to the country. The council met, November 23d, to the number of eighty, in one of the large rooms of Buckingham Palace, the queen's London residence. It devolved upon the queen herself to make the announcement to this formidable company.

“Precisely at two,” the queen wrote in her diary, “I went in. The room was full, but I hardly knew who was there. Lord Melbourne I saw looking kindly at me with tears in his eyes, but he was not near me. I then read my short declaration. I felt my hands shook, but I did not make one mistake. I felt most happy and thankful when it was over. Lord Lansdowne then rose, and, in the name of the Privy Council, asked that this most gracious and most welcome communication might be printed. I then left the room, the whole thing not lasting above two or three minutes. The Duke of Cambridge came into the small library where I was standing and wished me joy.”

The queen wore a bracelet in which there was a portrait of Prince Albert, and she says in her journal, “It seemed to give me courage at the council.”

On the 11th of February, 1840, at the royal chapel of St. James, in London, in the presence of all that was most distinguished and splendid in the life of Great Britain, the marriage was solemnized. The queen, as brides generally do, looked pale and anxious. Her dress was a rich white satin, trimmed with orange blossoms, and upon her head she wore a wreath of the same beautiful flowers. Over her head, but [429] n6t so as to conceal her face, a veil of Honiton lace was thrown. She was sparingly decorated with diamonds. She wore, however, a pair of very large diamond ear-rings, and a diamond necklace. Her twelve bridesmaids were attired in similar taste, and — they were all young ladies of remarkable beauty. Prince Albert was dressed in the uniform of a British field-marshal, and was decorated with the collar and star of the Order of the Garter. At the moment when the queen and prince advanced to the communion-table, and stood before the Archbishop of Canterbury, the scene was in the highest degree splendid and interesting. But its splendors seemed to fade away before the majestic simplicity of the marriage service. There was really a kind of sublimity in the plainness and directness of the language employed:--

“Albert, wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife?” and “Victoria, wilt thou have Albert to be thy wedded husband?” and “Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?”

To this last question the Duke of Sussex replied by taking the queen's hand and saying, “I do.” Perhaps some in the assembly may have smiled when the Queen of England promised to obey this younger son of a German Duke, and when he said, “With all my worldly goods I thee endow.” The queen tells us, however, that she pronounced the word obey with a deliberate intent to keep her vow, and that she kept it.

There was, of course, the wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace, which was attended by the royal family, the ministry, the maids of honor, and other personal attendants of the queen and prince. Soon after seven o'clock in the evening, the royal chariot dashed into Windsor with its escort of life-guards, amid the cheers of the whole population of the town. The honeymoon was spent at Windsor Castle.

Prince Albert gave himself entirely up to the duties of his position and gradually relieved the queen from the burdens [430] of royalty. At first, he was not present at the interviews between the queen and her ministers, unless specially invited, but after a year or two he was present as a matter of course, and the queen invariably acted in accordance with his advice. He was, in fact, as much King of England as though he had been born to the title. He said himself, in a letter. to the Duke of Wellington, declining the command of the army, that his principle of action was “to sink his own individual existence in that of his wife,--to aim at no power by himself or for himself,--to shun all ostentation,--to assume no separate responsibility before the public.” Desiring, he added, to make his position a part of the queen's, he considered it his duty “continually and anxiously to watch every part of the public business, in order to be able to advise and assist her at any moment in any of the multifarious and difficult questions brought before her,--sometimes political, or social, or personal,--as the natural head of her family, superintendent of her household, manager of her private affairs; her sole confidential adviser in politics, and only assistant in her communications with the officers of the government.”

To his father, he wrote, a few months after his marriage: “Victoria allows me to take much part in foreign affairs, and I think I have already done some good. I always commit my views to paper, and then communicate them to Lord Melbourne. He seldom answers me, but I have often had the satisfaction of seeing him act entirely in accordance with what I have said.”

And again, in the following year: “I study the politics of the day with great industry, and resolutely hold myself aloof from all parties. I take active interest in all national institutions and associations. I speak quite openly with the ministers on all subjects, so as to obtain information, and meet on all sides with much kindness. . . . I endeavor [431] quietly to be of as much use to Victoria in her position as I can.”

Provided thus with a mate so suitable and so efficient, the life of Queen Victoria did not essentially differ from that of any other wife and mother of rank in England, except that it was a thousand times happier than married life usually is in any rank. Happiness in married life depends upon several things; but its fundamental condition is, the hearty. acceptance and patient, cheerful discharge of the duties of the position. This condition was nobly complied with by this fortunate pair. When the queen was urged to assert her authority as head of the house and nation, since her husband was but one of her subjects, she was not for an instant deceived by such sophistry. She would reply, that she had solemnly promised at the altar to obey her husband, and that she would never consent to limit or refine away the obligation. Both of them thus accepting the duties which nature and circumstances had assigned them, and each having for the other a genuine respect and affection, they were as happy as people can rationally expect to be in this world.,

November 21st, 1840, the princess royal was born. Two days after, the prince wrote to his father: “Victoria is as well as if nothing had happened. She sleeps well, has a good appetite, and is extremely quiet and cheerful.” The queen was soon able to record in her diary, which she did with a full heart, that during the time of her confinement “his care and devotion were quite beyond expression.” And again: “No one but himself ever lifted her from her bed to her sofa, and he always helped to wheel her on her bed or sofa into the next room. For this purpose he would come instantly when sent for from any part of the house. As years went on, and he became overwhelmed with work (for his attentions were the same in all the queen's subsequent confinements), this was often done at much inconvenience to [432] himself; but he ever came with a sweet smile on his face. In short,” the queen adds, “his care of her was like that of a mother, nor could there be a kinder, wiser, or more judicious nurse.”

Both the parents were for a moment disappointed that their first-born was not an heir to the throne. They had not long to wait for consolation. The following is a list of their children--

1. Victoria, the Princess Royal,--now the wife of the heir-apparent to the throne of Prussia,--born November 21st, 1840.

2. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, heir-apparent, born November 9th, 1841.

3. Princess Alice Maude Mary, born April 25th, 1843. 4. Prince Albert Ernest Albert, born August 6th, 1844.

5. Princess Helena Augusta Victoria, born May 25th, 1846.

6. Princess Louisa Caroline Alberta, born May 18th, 1848.

7. Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert, born May 1st, 1850.

8. Prince Leopold George Duncan Albert, born April 7th, 1853.

9. Princess Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore, born April 15th, 1857.

All of these children are still living,--the eldest twenty-eight, the youngest eleven. They appear to have been brought up in the most simple and sensible manner. The queen records several times, in her Highland Diary, that when the family chanced to be separated from their attendants, she heard her children say their lessons herself. Thus on board the yacht, she writes, “I contrived to give Vicky (Victoria, the princess royal) a little lesson by making her read in her English history.” On this subject our own gifted and excellent [433] Grace Greenwood has recently related some extremely pleasing anecdotes.

“ When I was in England,” writes Grace Greenwood, in the “Advance”

I heard several pleasant anecdotes of the queen and her family, from a lady who received them of her friend, the governess of the royal children. This governess, a very interesting young lady, was the orphan daughter of a Scottish clergyman. During the first year of her residence at Windsor, her mother died. When she first received news of her serious illness, she applied to the queen for permission to resign her situation, feeling that to her mother she owed a more sacred duty than even to her sovereign. The queen, who had been much pleased with her, would not hear of her making this sacrifice, but said, in a tone of the most gentle sympathy,--

“Go at once to your mother, child; stay with her as long as she needs you, and then come back to us. I will keep your place for you. Prince Albert and I will hear the children's lessons; so in any event let your mind be at rest in regard to your pupils.”

The governess went, and had several weeks of sweet, mournful communion with her dying mother; then, when she had seen that dear form laid to sleep under the daisies in the kirk-yard, she returned to the palace, where the loneliness of royal grandeur would have oppressed her sorrowing heart beyond endurance, had it not been for the gracious, womanly sympathy of the queen, who came, every day, to her school-room,--and the considerate kindness of her young pupils.

A year went by; the first anniversary of her great loss. dawned upon her, and she was overwhelmed as never before by the utter loneliness of her grief. She felt that no one in all that great household knew how much goodness and sweetness passed out of mortal life, that day, a year ago, or [434] could give with her, one tear, one thought, to that grave under the Scottish daisies. Every morning, before breakfast,--which the elder children took with their father and mother, in the pleasant crimson parlor looking out on the terrace at Windsor,--her pupils came to the school-room, for a brief religious exercise. This morning the voice of the governess trembled in reading the Scripture for the day; some words of divine tenderness were too much for her poor, lonely, grieving heart; her strength gave way, and, laying her head on the desk before her, she burst into tears, murmuring,--

“ mother! mother!”

One after another the children stole out of the room, and went to their mother, to tell her how sadly their governess was feeling; and that soft-hearted monarch exclaiming,-- “O poor girl! it is the anniversary of her mother's death,” hurried to the school-room, where she found Miss struggling to regain her composure.

“My poor child!” she said. “I am sorry the children disturbed you this morning. I meant to have given orders that you should have this day entirely to yourself; take it as a sad and sacred holiday. I will hear the lessons of the children.” And then she added, “To show you that I have not forgotten this mournful anniversary, I bring you this gift,” clasping on her arm a beautiful mourning bracelet, attached to which was a locket for her mother's hair, marked with the date of that mother's death.

What wonder that the orphan kissed, with tears, this gift, and the more than royal hand that bestowed it! This was Victoria, fifteen years ago; and I don't believe she has morally “ advanced backward” since then.

Another anecdote illustrating Victoria's admirable good sense and strict domestic discipline, came to me directly from one who witnessed the occurrence. [435]

One day, when the queen was present in her carriage, at a military review, the princess royal, then rather a wilful girl of about thirteen, sitting on the front seat, seemed disposed to be rather familiar and coquettish with some young officers of the escort. Her Majesty gave several reproving looks, without avail; “winked at her, but she wouldn't stay winked.” At length, in flirting her handkerchief over the side of the carriage, she dropped it,--too evidently not accidentally. Instantly two or three young heroes sprang from their saddles to return it to her fair hand; but the awful voice of royalty stayed them.

“ Stop, gentlemen!” exclaimed the queen; “leave it just where it lies. Now, my daughter, get down from the carriage and pick up your handkerchief.”

There was no help for it. The royal footmen let down the steps for the little, royal lady, who proceeded to lift from the dust the pretty piece of cambric and lace. She blushed a good deal, though she tossed her head saucily, and she was doubtless angry enough. But the mortifying lesson may have nipped in the bud her first impulse towards coquetry. It was hard, but it was wholesome. How many American mothers would be equal to such a piece of Spartan discipline?

I will venture to borrow another pretty story from Grace Greenwood's budget. The following anecdote was related to her by the hero of it.

My friend, Mr. W--, is a person of very artistic tastes,--a passionate picture lover. He had seen all the great paintings in the public galleries of London, and had a strong desire to see those of Buckingham Palace, which, that not being a “show-house,” were inaccessible to an ordinary connoisseur. Fortune favored him at last. He was the brother of a London carpet merchant, who had orders to [436] put down new carpets in the state apartments of the palace. And so it chanced that the temptation came to my friend. to put on a workman's blouse, and thus enter the royal precincts, while the flag indicating the presence of the august family floated defiantly over the roof.

So he effected an entrance; and, when once within the royal halls, dropped his assumed character, and devoted himself to the pictures. It happened that he remained in one of the apartments after the workmen had left, and while quite alone, the queen came tripping in, wearing a plain white morning dress, and followed by two or three of her younger children, dressed with like simplicity. She approached the supposed workman, and said,--

“Pray, can you tell me when the new carpet will be put down in the Privy Council Chamber?”

And he, thinking he had no right to recognize the queen under the circumstances, replied,--

“Really, madam, I cannot tell, but I will inquire.”

“Stay,” she said, abruptly, but not unkindly; “who are you? I perceive that you are not one of the workmen.”

Mr. W-- , blushing and stammering somewhat, yet made a clean breast of it and told the simple truth. The queen seemed much amused with his ruse, and for the sake of his love for the art forgave it; then added, smiling,--

“I knew for all your dress that you were a gentleman, because you did not Your Majesty me. Pray look at the pictures as long as you will. Good-morning! Come chicks, we must go.”

These are but trifles; but they serve to show the queen's simple and kindly character. Her Highland Diary, recently published, abounds in similar trifles, and exhibits to us the picture of a happy family, always delighted to escape from the trammelling etiquette and absurd splendors of their rank, [437] and capable of being pleased with those natural pleasures which are accessible to most of mankind.

“I told Albert,” wrote the queen once,

that formerly I was too happy to go to London and wretched to leave it, and how, since the blessed hour of my marriage, and still more since the summer, I dislike and am unhappy to leave the country, and could be content and happy never to go to town. This pleased him. The solid pleasures of a peaceful, quiet, yet merry life in the country, with my inestimable husband and friend, my all in all, are far more durable than the amusements of London, though we don't despise or dislike these sometimes.

Alas! that a union productive of so much happiness and so much good should have been prematurely sundered by death. In the spring of 1862 the Prince was attacked at Windsor Castle by a disease which the physicians pronounced to be gastric fever. After a short illness the patient sank into a kind of stupor, from which he roused himself with ever-increasing difficulty. Americans will never forget that the last act of this truly wise and noble prince was to review the draft of the letter which the ministry proposed to send to the American government, demanding the return of the confederate commissioners taken from a British Mail Steamer by Captain Wilkes, of the United States Navy. Every tory mind in the universe desired that letter to be couched in such language as would preclude the possibility of a peaceful issue. But Prince Albert had not a tory mind.

Collecting, with a great effort, his benumbing faculties, he read the letter carefully over, and suggested changes which softened its tone, and made far easier a compliance with its just demands. Soon after the performance of this duty, so honorable to his memory, he relapsed into a lethargy from [438] which death alone released him. The queen was heart. broken. Ever since that lamentable day, she has been a mourner. Her own pathetic words touchingly express the sense she had of his value to her, and of the irreparable nature of her loss.

“It will now be, in fact,” she said, “the beginning of a new reign.”

I have spoken of the sovereignty of this lady as a “fiction,” and compared it with one of the romantic creations of Sir Walter Scott. It is not, however, wholly fictitious. In one respect, it has been a solid and precious reality.

The time has not yet come when nations can safely dispense with imposing and venerable fictions; and until they can, it is highly desirable that those fictions should not be too closely inspected, nor too frankly criticised. If the sailor-king, William the Fourth, had been succeeded by another male creature so devoid of all human worth and dignity as George the Fourth, so licentious, so extravagant, so ignorant, and so vain, could 1e have reigned over England for thirty peaceful years? Probably not. Long ere this, the sensible people of Great Britain would have begun to ask themselves, “Why maintain this costly pageant, since it is but a pageant?” The reign of this virtuous and amiable queen has postponed this question for thirty years, during which the people of England have been gaining political knowledge and experience, and drawing nearer the time when it will be safe and expedient to let that man have the name of governing England who does actually bear the chief part in governing. History will, perhaps, decide that this was the chief service which Queen Victoria rendered her country.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: