HotFreeBooks.com
Life of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen V.1.
by Sarah Tytler
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

It was a German marriage, both bride and bridegroom being German, though the bride had been nine years—the difference between a child and a woman—in England, and though the event occurred in an English household. Whether the myrtle was worn for the orange-blossoms, or any of the other pretty German wedding customs imported, we cannot tell. Anyhow, the ordinary peaceful simplicity of the palace was replaced by much bustle and grandeur on that February morning, the modest forerunner of another February morning in another palace, when a young Queen plighted her troth.

The royal family in England, with two exceptions, were at Kensington Palace to do honour to the marriage. The absent members were the King and Princess Augusta—the latter of whom was at Brighton. The company arrived soon after two o'clock, and consisted of the Duke and Duchess of Clarence, the Duke of Sussex, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Princess Sophia, the Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, and Prince Leopold.

At three o'clock the party walked in procession to the great saloon adjoining the vestibule, in which a temporary altar had been fitted up. The bride was given away by the Duke of Clarence. The ceremony was performed in the simple Lutheran fashion by a simple Lutheran pastor, Dr. Kuper, "the chaplain of the Royal German Chapel."

Then came the parting, and the quiet palace-home was stiller and shadier than ever, when the gracious maidenly presence had gone, when the opening rose was plucked from the parent stem, and only the bud left.

In 1830 George IV. died, and William, Duke of Clarence, succeeded to the throne as King William IV. That summer was the last of the Princess's ignorance of her prospects; until then not even the shadow of a throne had been projected across the sunshiny path of the happy girl of eleven. She was with her mother in one of the fairest scenes in England—Malvern. The little town with its old Priory among the Worcester hills, looks down on the plain of Worcester, the field of a great English battle.

A dim recollection of the Duchess and the Princess is still preserved at Malvern—how pleasant and kind they were to all, how good to the poor; how the future Queen rode on a donkey like any other young girl at Malvern—like poor Marie Antoinette in the forest glades of Compiegne and Fontainebleau half a century earlier, when she was only four years older, although already Dauphiness of France. The shadowy records do not tell us much more; we are left to form our own conclusions whether the Queen anticipated her later ascents of Scotch and Swiss mountains by juvenile scrambles amongst the Worcester hills; whether she stood on the top of the Worcester or Hereford Beacon; or whether these were considered too dangerous and masculine exploits for a princess of tender years, growing up to inherit a throne? She could hardly fail to enter the Wytche, the strange natural gap between Worcestershire and Herefordshire, by which, at one step, the wayfarer leaves wooded England behind, and stands face to face with a pastoral corner of Wales; or to drive along the mile-long common of Barnard's Green, with the geese, and the hay-stacks, and the little cottages on either side, and always in front the steep ridge of hills with the grey Priory where Piers Plowman saw his vision, nestling at their feet; or to pull the heather and the wild strawberries in Cowleigh Park, from which every vestige of its great house has departed. She might have been a privileged visitor at Madresfield, where some say Charles II. slept the night before the battle of Worcester, and where there is a relic that would better become Kensington, in a quilt which Queen Anne and Duchess Sarah embroidered together in silks in the days of their fast friendship.

As it was part of the Princess's good education to be enlightened, as far as possible, with regard to the how and why of arts and manufactures, we make no question she was carried to Worcester, not only to see the cathedral, but to have the potteries exhibited to her. There was a great deal for the ingenuous mind of a royal pupil to see, learn, and enjoy in Worcester and Warwickshire—for she was also at Guy's Cliff and Kenilworth.

It had become clear to the world without that the succession rested with the Duke of Kent's daughter. Long before, the Duchess of Clarence had written to her sister-in-law in a tender, generous struggle with her sorrow: "My children are dead, but yours lives, and she is mine too." As the direct heir to the crown, the Princess Victoria became a person of great importance, a source of serious consideration alike to the Government and to her future subjects. The result, in 1830, was a well-deserved if somewhat long-delayed testimony to the merits of the Duchess of Kent, which must have given honest satisfaction not only at Kensington, but at Claremont—to whose master the Belgian Revolution was opening up the prospect of a kingdom more stable than that of Greece, for which Prince Leopold had been mentioned. Away in the Duchess's native Coburg, too, the congratulations were sincere and hearty.

The English Parliament had not only formally recognised the Princess as the next heir and increased the Duchess's income to ten thousand a year, so relieving her from some of her difficulties; it had, with express and flattering reference to the admirable manner in which she had until then discharged the trust that her husband had confided to her, appointed her Regent in the event of King William's death while the Princess was still a minor. In this appointment the Duchess was preferred to the Duke of Cumberland. He had become the next royal Duke in the order of descent, but had failed to inspire confidence in his countrymen. In fact he was in England the most uniformly and universally unpopular of all George III.'s sons. There was even a wild rumour that he was seeking, against right and reason, to form a party which should attempt to revive the Salic law and aim at setting aside the Princess and placing Prince George of Cumberland on the throne of England as well as on that of Hanover.

The Princess had reached the age of twelve, and it was judged advisable, after her position had been thus acknowledged, that she herself should be made acquainted with it. The story—the authenticity of which is established beyond question—is preserved in a letter from the Queen's former governess, Baroness Lehzen, which her Majesty has, given to the world.

"I ask your Majesty's leave to cite some remarkable words of your Majesty when only twelve years old, while the Regency Bill was in progress. I then said to the Duchess of Kent, that now, for the first time, your Majesty ought to know your place in the succession. Her Royal Highness agreed with me, and I put the genealogical table into the historical book. When Mr. Davys (the Queen's instructor, afterwards Bishop of Peterborough) was gone, the Princess Victoria opened the book again, as usual, and seeing the additional paper, said, 'I never saw that before.' 'It was not thought necessary you should, Princess,' I answered. 'I see I am nearer the throne than I thought.' 'So it is, madam,' I said. After some moments the Princess answered, 'Now, many a child would boast, but they don't know the difficulty. There is much splendour, but there is more responsibility.' The Princess having lifted up the forefinger of her right hand while she spoke, gave me that little hand, saying, 'I will be good. I understand now why you urged me so much to learn even Latin. My aunts Augusta and Mary never did; but you told me Latin is the foundation of English grammar and of all the elegant expressions, and I learned it as you wished it, but I understand all better now;' and the Princess gave me her hand, repeating, 'I will be good.' I then said, 'But your aunt Adelaide is still young, and may have children, and of course they would ascend the throne after their father, William IV., and not you, Princess.' The Princess answered, 'And if it was so, I should never feel disappointed, for I know by the love aunt Adelaide bears me how fond she is of children.'"

No words can illustrate better what is striking and touching in this episode than those with which Mrs. Oliphant refers to it in her sketch of the Queen. "It is seldom that an early scene like this stands out so distinctly in the early story even of a life destined to greatness. The hush of awe upon the child; the childish application of this great secret to the abstruse study of Latin, which was not required from the others; the immediate resolution, so simple, yet containing all the wisest sage could have counselled, or the greatest hero vowed,' I will be good,' makes a perfect little picture. It is the clearest appearance of the future Queen in her own person that we get through the soft obscurity of those childish years." The Duchess of Kent remained far from a rich woman for her station, and the young Princess had been sooner told of her mother's straitened income than of the great inheritance in store for herself. She continued to be brought up in unassuming, inexpensive habits.

In February, 1831, when Princess Victoria was twelve, she made her first appearance in state at "the most magnificent Drawing-room which, had been seen since that which had taken place on the presentation of Princess Charlotte of Wales upon the occasion of her marriage." The Drawing-room was held by Queen Adelaide, and it was to do honour to the new Queen no less than to commemorate the approaching completion of the Princess's twelfth year that the heiress to the throne was present in a prominent position, an object of the greatest interest to the splendid company. She came along with the Duchess her mother, attended by an appropriate suite, including the Duchess of Northumberland, Lady Charlotte St. Maur, Lady Catherine Parkinson, the Hon. Mrs. Cust, the Baroness Lehzen, and the Princess's father's old friends, General Wetherall and Captain (now Sir John) Conroy, with his wife, Lady Conroy. The Princess's dress was made, as the Queen's often was afterwards, entirely of articles manufactured in the United Kingdom. She wore a frock of English blonde, "simple, modest, and becoming." She stood on the left of her Majesty on the throne, and "contemplated all that passed with much dignity, but with evident interest." We are further told, what we can well believe, that she excited general admiration as well as interest. We can without difficulty call up before us the girlish figure in its pure, white dress, the soft, open face, the fair hair, the candid blue eyes, the frank lips slightly apart, showing the white pearly teeth. The intelligent observation, the remarkable absence of self-consciousness and consequent power of self-control and of thought for others, which struck all who approached her in the great crisis of her history six years afterwards, were already conspicuous in the young girl. No doubt it was for her advantage, in consideration of what lay before her, that while brought up in wholesome privacy, she was at the same time inured, so far, to appear in public, to bear the brunt of many eyes—some critical, though for the most part kind—touched by her youth and innocence, by the circumstance that she was fatherless, and by the crown she must one day wear. She had to learn to conduct herself with the mingled self-respect and ease which became her station. Impulsiveness, shyness, nervousness, are more serious defects in kings and queens than in ordinary mortals. To use a homely phrase, "to have all their wits about them" is very necessary in their case. If in addition they can have all their hearts—hearts warm and considerate, nobly mindful of their own obligations and of the claims of others—so much the better for the sovereigns and for all who come under their influence. A certain amount of familiarity with being the observed of all observers, with treading alone a conspicuous path demanding great circumspection, was wanted beforehand, in order that the young head might remain steady in the time of sudden, tremendous elevation.

Nevertheless, the Princess was not present at the coronation of King William and Queen Adelaide, and her absence, as the heir-presumptive to the throne, caused much remark and speculation, and gave rise to not a few newspaper paragraphs. Various causes were assigned for the singular omission. The Times openly accused the Duchess of Kent of proving the obstacle. Other newspapers followed suit, asserting that the grounds for the Duchess's refusal were to be found in the circumstance that in the coronation procession, marshalled by Lord A. Fitzclarence, the place appointed for the Princess Victoria, instead of being next to the King and Queen, according to her right, was after the remaining members of the royal family. Conflicting authorities declared that the Prime Minister, Earl Grey, for some occult reason, opposed the Princess's receiving an invitation to be present at a ceremony which had so much interest for her; or that the Duchess of Northumberland, the governess of the Princess, took the same extraordinary course from political motives. Finally, The Globe gave, on authority, an explanation that had been offered all along in the midst of more sensational rumours. The Princess's health was rather delicate, and the Duchess of Kent had, on that account, got the King's sanction to her daughter's not being exposed to unusual excitement and fatigue. The statement on authority was unanswerable, but while it stilled one cause of apprehension it awakened another. After the untimely death of Princess Charlotte, the nation was particularly sensitive with regard to the health of the heir to the crown. Whispers began to spread abroad, happily without much foundation, of pale cheeks, and a constitution unfit for the burden which was to be laid upon it.



CHAPTER III. YOUTH.

In the month of August, 1831, the Princess went with her mother to profit by the soft, sweet breezes of the Isle of Wight. The Duchess and her daughter occupied Norris Castle for three months, and the ladies of the family were often on the shore watching the white sails and chatting with the sailors. Carisbrooke and King Charles the Martyr were brought more vividly home to his descendant, with the pathetic little tale of the girl-Princess Elizabeth. We do not know whether the Queen then learnt to feel a special love for the fair little island with which she has long been familiar, but of this we are certain, that she could then have had little idea that her chief home would be within its bounds. Even in 1831 transport and communication by land and water continued a tedious and troublesome business. However, the visit to the Isle of Wight was repeated in 1833. Perhaps to dissipate the gossip and calm the little irritation which had been created by the Princess's absence from the coronation, she made her appearance twice in public, on the completion of her thirteenth year, in 1832. That was a year in which there was much call for oil to be cast on the troubled waters: never since 1819, the date of the Queen's birth had there been greater restlessness and turmoil throughout the country. For some time public feeling had been kept at the boiling-point by the question of the Reform Bill—groaned over by some as the first step to democracy and destruction; eagerly hailed by others as a new dawn of freedom, peace, and prosperity. The delay in passing the Bill had rendered the King unpopular, and brought unmerited blame on Queen Adelaide, for having gone beyond her prerogative in lending herself to overthrow the King's Whig principles. The ferment had converted the old enthusiastic homage to the Iron Duke as a soldier into fierce detestation of him as a statesman. The carrying of the measure on which the people had set their hearts did not immediately allay the tempest—a disappointing result, which was inevitable when the universal panacea failed to work at once like a charm in relieving all the woes in the kingdom. Men were not only rude, and spoke their minds, the ringleaders broke out again into riots, the most formidable and alarming of which were those in Bristol, that left a deep impression on more than one chance spectator who witnessed them. But the girl Princess—praised for her proficiency in Horace and Virgil, and her progress in mathematics—could only hear far off the mutterings of the storm that was passing; and King William and Queen Adelaide sought to put aside what was perplexing and harassing them; and tried to forget that when they had shown themselves to their people lately they had been met—here with indifference—and there with hootings. The times were waxing more and more evil, as it seemed, to uneasy, vexed wearers of crowns, unlike those in which old King George and Queen Charlotte had been received with fervent acclamation wherever they went, whatever wars were being waged or taxes imposed. The manners of the Commons were not improving with the extension of their rights. But the King and Queen would do their duty, which was far from disagreeable to them, in paying proper respect to their niece and successor. Accordingly their Majesties gave a ball on the Princess's thirteenth birthday, 24th May, 1832, at which the heroine of the day figured; and four days later, on the 28th of May, she was present for the second time at a Drawing-room.

All the same, it is an open secret that William, living, for the most part, in that noblest palace of Windsor, considered the Princess led too retired a life, so far as not appearing often enough at his Court was concerned, and that he complained of her absence and resented it as a slight to himself. It is an equally well-established fact that, in spite of the King's kindness of heart and Queen Adelaide's goodness, King William's Court was not in all respects a desirable place for a Princess to grow up in, in addition to the objection that any Court in itself formed an unsuitable schoolroom for a young girl.

It is doubtful, since even the most magnanimous men have jealous instincts, whether the King's displeasure on one point would be appeased by what was otherwise a very natural and judicious step taken by the Duchess of Kent this year. She made an autumn tour with her daughter through several counties of England and Wales, in the course of which the royal mother and daughter paid a succession of visits to seats of different noblemen, taking Oxford on the way. If there was a place in England which deserved the notice of its future Queen, it was one of the two great universities—the cradles of learning, and, in the case of "the most loyal city of Oxford," the bulwark of the throne. The party proceeded early in October through the beautiful scenery of North Wales—the Princess's first experience of mountains—to Eaton Hall, the home of the Grosvenor family. From Eaton the travellers drove to the ancient city of Chester, with its quaint arcades and double streets, its God's Providence House and its cathedral. At Chester the Princess named the new bridge which was opened on the occasion. By the wise moderation and self-repression of those around her, the name bestowed was not the "Victoria," but simply the "Grosvenor Bridge."

From Eaton the Princess was taken to Chatsworth, the magnificent seat of the Cavendishes. She stayed long enough to see and hear something of romantic Derbyshire. She visited Hardwick, associated with Building Bess, whose granddaughter, the unfortunate "Lady Arbell," had been a remote cousin of this happy young Princess, and she went, like everybody else, to Matlock. At Belper the party, in diligent search after all legitimate knowledge, examined the great cotton-mills of the Messrs. Strutt, and the senior partner had the honour of showing to her Royal Highness, by means of a model, how cotton was spun.

From Chatsworth the Duchess and her daughter repaired to Alton Abbey, where the "Talbot tykes" still kept watch and ward; thence to Shugborough, the seat of the Earl of Lichfield, which enabled the visitors to see another fine cathedral and to breathe the air which is full of "the great Dr. Johnson."

At each of the towns the strangers were met by addresses—of course made to the Duchess and replied to by her. How original these formal compliments must have sounded to Princess Victoria! On the 27th of October their Royal Highnesses were at Pitchford Hall, the residence of the Earl of Liverpool, from which they visited Shrewsbury—another Chester—with a word of its own for the old fateful battle in which "Percy was slain and Douglas taken prisoner," and the Welsh power broken in Owen Glendower. After getting a glimpse of the most picturesque portion of Shropshire, halting at more noble seats, and passing through a succession of Worcester towns, the royal party reached Woodstock on the 7th of November, and the same evening rested at Wytham House, belonging to the Earl of Abingdon. There was hardly time to realise that the memories of Alice Lee, the old knight Sir Henry, and the faithful dog Bevis, rivalled successfully the grisly story of Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond. Nay, the magician was still dogging the travellers' steps; for had he not made the little town of Abingdon his own by choosing it for the meeting-place of Mike Lambourne and Tressillian, and rebuilding in its neighbourhood the ruins of Cumnor Hall, on which the dews fell softly? Alas! the wizard would weave no more spells. A month before that princely "progress" Sir Walter Scott, after Herculean labours to pay his debts like an honest man had wrecked even his robust frame and healthful genius, lay dead at Abbotsford.

On the 8th of November the future Queen entered Oxford with something like State, in proper form escorted by a detachment of Yeomanry. There is no need to tell that she was received by the Vice-Chancellor of the University, and the dons and doctors of the various colleges, in full array. And she was told of former royal visitors: of Charles in his tribulation; of her grandfather and grandmother, King George and Queen Charlotte, when little Miss Barney was there to describe the festivities. The Princess went the usual round: to superb Christ Church, at which her sons were to graduate; to the Bodleian and Radclyffe libraries; to All Souls, New College, &c. She proceeded to view other buildings, which, unless in a local guide-book, are not usually included among the lions of Oxford. But this young lady of the land was bound to encourage town as well as gown; therefore she visited duly the Town Hall and Council Chamber. From Oxford the tourists returned to Kensington.

There are no greater contrasts than those which are to be found in royal lives. When the Princess Victoria was about to set out on her pleasant journey in peace and prosperity, the news came of the arrest of the Duchesse de Berri, at Nantes. It was the sequel to her gallant but unsuccessful attempt to raise La Vendee in the name of her young son, Henri de Bordeaux, and the end to the months in which she had lain in hiding. She was discovered in the chimney of a house in the Rue Haute-du-Chateau, where she was concealed with three other conspirators against the Government of her cousin, Louis Philippe. The search had lasted for several hours, during which these unfortunate persons were penned in a small space and exposed to almost intolerable heat. A mantelpiece had been contrived so as to turn on a swivel and form an opening into a suffocating recess. When the Duchesse and her companions were found their hands were scorched and part of their clothes burnt. She was taken to the fortress of Nantes, and thence transferred to the Castle of Blaze, where she suffered a term of imprisonment. She had acted entirely on her own responsibility, her wild enterprise having being disapproved alike by her father-in-law, Charles X., and her brother and sister-in-law, the Duc and Duchesse d'Angouleme.

In 1833, we are told, the Duchess of Kent and the fourteen years old Princess stopped on their way to Weymouth—the old favourite watering-place of King George and Queen Charlotte—and visited the young Queen of Portugal, at Portsmouth. Donna Maria da Gloria had been sent from Brazil to England by her father, Don Pedro, partly for her safety, partly under the impression, which proved false, that the English Government would take an active part in her cause against the usurpation of her uncle, Don Miguel. The Government did nothing. The royal family paid the stranger some courtly and kindly attentions. One of the least exceptional passages in the late Charles Greville's Memoirs is the description of the ball given by the King, at which the two young queens—to be—were present. The chronicle describes the girls, who were of an age—having been born in the same year: the sensible face of the fair-haired English Princess, and the extreme dignity—especially after she had sustained an accidental fall—of the Portuguese royal maiden, inured to the hot sun of the tropics. Don Miguel was routed in the course of the following year (1834), and his niece was established in her kingdom. Within the same twelve months she lost a father and gained and lost a husband; for among the first news that reached her English acquaintances was her marriage, before she was sixteen, and her widowhood within three months. She had married, in January, the Duc de Leuchtenberg, a brother of her stepmother and a son of Eugene Beauharnais. He died, after a short illness, in the following March. She married again in the next year, her re-marriage having been earnestly desired by her subjects. The second husband was Prince Ferdinand of Coburg, belonging to the Roman Catholic branch of the Coburgs, and cousin both to the Queen and the Prince Consort. He was a worthy and, ultimately, a popular prince. Donna Maria was grand-niece to Queen Amelie of France, and showed much attachment to the house of Orleans. There is said to have been a project formed by Louis Philippe, which was frustrated by the English Government, that she should marry one of his sons, the Duc de Nemours.

In addition to the English tours which the Princess Victoria made with her mother, the Duchess of Kent was careful that as soon as her daughter had grown old enough to profit by the association, she should meet the most distinguished men of the day—whether statesmen, travellers, men of science, letters, or art. Kensington had one well-known intellectual centre in Holland House, presided over by the famous Lady Holland, and was soon to have another in Gore House, occupied by Lady Blessington and Count D'Orsay; but even if the fourteen years old Princess had been of sufficient age and had gone into society, such salons were not for her. The Duchess must "entertain" for her daughter. In 1833 Lord Campbell mentions dining at Kensington Palace. The company found the Princess in the drawing-room on their arrival, and again on their return from the dining-room. He records her bright, pleasant intelligence, perfect manners, and happy liveliness.

In July, 1834, when the Princess was fifteen, she was confirmed in the Chapel Royal, St. James's, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the presence of the King and Queen and the Duchess of Kent. She was advancing with rapid steps to the point at which the girl leaves the child for ever behind her, and stretches forward to her crown of young womanhood. She had in her own name confirmed the baptismal vow which consecrated her as a responsible being to the service of the King of kings. Still she was a young creature, suffered to grow up according to a gracious natural growth, not forced into premature expansion, permitted to preserve to the last the sweet girlish trust and confidence, the mingled coyness and fearlessness, pensive dreams and merry laughter, which constitute the ineffable freshness and tender grace of youth.

If the earlier story of the purchase, or non-purchase, of the box at Tunbridge Wells reads "like an incident out of 'Sandford and Merton,'" there is another anecdote fitting into this time which has still more of the good-fairy ring in it, while it sounds like a general endorsement of youthful wisdom. Yet it may have had its origin in some eager, youthful fancy of astonishing another girl, and giving her "the very thing she wanted" as a reward for her exemplary behaviour. The Princess was visiting a jeweller's shop incognito (a little in the fashion of Haroun-al-Raschid) when she saw another young lady hang long over some gold chains, lay down reluctantly the one which she evidently preferred, and at last content herself with buying a cheaper chain. The interested on-looker waited till the purchaser was gone, made some inquiries, directed that both chains should be tied up and sent together, along with the Princess Victoria's card, on which a few words were pencilled to the effect that the Princess had been pleased to see prudence prevail, while she desired the young lady to accept her original choice, in the hope that she would always persevere in her laudable self-denial.

In the autumn of 1835 the Duchess of Kent and the Princess went as far north as York, visiting the Archbishop at Bishopsthorpe, studying the minster—second only to Westminster among English abbeys—and gracing with the presence of royalty the great York Musical Festival. On the travellers' homeward route they were the guests of the Earl of Harewood, at Harewood House, Earl Fitzwilliam at Wentworth, and the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir. At Burghley House the Duchess and the Princess visited the Marquis of Exeter. The late Charles Greville met them there, and gives a few particulars of their visit. "They arrived from Belvoir at three o'clock, in a heavy rain, the civic authorities having turned out at Stamford to escort them and a procession of different people, all very loyal. When they had lunched, and the Mayor and his brethren had got dry, the Duchess received the Address, which was read by Lord Exeter, as Recorder. It talked of the Princess as 'destined to mount the throne of these realms.' Conroy handed the answer just as the Prime Minister does to the King. They are splendidly lodged, and great preparations have been made for their reception. The dinner at Burghley was very handsome; hall well lit, and all went off well, except that a pail of ice was landed in the Duchess's lap, which made a great bustle. Three hundred people at the ball, which was opened by Lord Exeter and the Princess, who, after dancing one dance, went to bed. They appeared at breakfast next morning at nine o'clock, and at ten set off to Holkham."

Romance was not much in Mr. Greville's way, but Burghley, apart from the statesman Cecil and his weighty nod, had been the scene of such a romance as might well have captivated the imagination of a young princess, though its heroine was but a village maiden—she who married the landscape-painter, and was brought by him to Burghley, bidden look around at its splendour, and told

"All of this is thine and mine."

Tennyson has sung it—how she grew a noble lady, and yet died of the honour to which she was not born, and how the Lord of Burghley, deeply mourning, bid her attendants

"Bring the dress and put it on her Which she wore when we were wed."

In one of those autumns which the Duchess of Kent and her daughter spent at Ramsgate—not so rural as it had been a dozen years before, but still a quiet enough retreat—they received a visit from the King and Queen of the Belgians. Prince Leopold was securely established on the throne which he filled so well and so long, keeping it when many other European sovereigns were unseated. He was accompanied by his second wife, Princess Louise of France, daughter of Louis Philippe. She was a good woman, like all the daughters of Queen Amelie, while Princess Marie, in addition to goodness, had the perilous gift of genius. The following is Baron Stockmar's opinion of the Queen of the Belgians. "From the moment that the (Queen Louise) entered that circle in which I for so many years have had a place, I have revered her as a pattern of her sex. We say and believe that men can be noble and good; of her we know with certainty that she was so. We saw in her daily a truthfulness, a faithful fulfilment of duty, which makes us believe in the possible though but seldom evident nobleness of the human heart. In characters such as the Queen's, I see a guarantee of the perfection of the Being who has created human nature." We ought to add that Stockmar had not only the highest opinion of the character of Queen Louise, but also of her insight and judgment, and he often expressed his opinion that if anything were to happen to King Leopold the Regency might be entrusted to the Queen with perfect confidence.

How much the Queen valued Queen Louise, how she became Queen Victoria's dearest friend, is fully shown at a later date by the extracts from the Queen's journal, and letters in the "Life of the Prince Consort"

About this time the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria paid a visit to the Duke of Wellington at Walmer Castle—the old tower with fruit-trees growing in the dry moat, and a slip from the weeping-willow which hung over the grave in St. Helena flourishing in its garden, where the Warden of the Cinque Ports could look across the roadstead of the Downs and count the ships' masts like trees in a forest, and watch the waves breaking twenty feet high on the Goodwin Sands. "The cut-throat town of Deal" which poor Lucy Hutchinson so abhorred, pranked its quaint red houses for so illustrious and dainty a visitor. The Duke had stood by her font, and if he had "no small talk," he was a courteous gentleman and gentle warrior when he fought his battles over again for the benefit of the young Princess.

A winter was spent by the Duchess and the Princess at St. Leonard's, not far from Battle Abbey, where the last Saxon king of England bit the dust, and William of Normandy fought and won the great battle which rendered his invasion a conquest.

1836 was an eventful year in the Queen's life. We read that the Duchess of Kent and her daughter remained at Kensington till the month of September. There was a good reason for staying at home in the early summer. The family entertained friends: not merely valued, kinsfolk, but visitors who might change the whole current of a life's history and deeply influence a destiny on which the hopes of many hearts were fixed, that concerned the well-being of millions of the human race. Princess Victoria had not grown up solitary in her high estate. It has been already pointed out that she was one in a group of cousins with whom she had cordial relations. But the time was drawing near when nature and policy alike pointed to the advisability of forming a closer tie, which would provide the Princess with companionship and support stretching beyond those of her mother, and, if it were well and wisely chosen, afford the people further assurance that the first household in the kingdom should be such as they could revere. The royal maiden who had been educated so wisely and grown up so simply and healthfully, was approaching her seventeenth birthday. Already there were suitors in store for her hand; as many as six had been seriously thought of—among them, Prince Alexander of the Netherlands, whose suit was greatly favoured by King William; Duke Ernest of Wurtemberg; Prince Adalbert of Prussia; and Prince George of Cambridge. Prince George of Cumberland was hors de combat, apart from the Duke of Cumberland's pretensions and the alienation caused by them. Prince George, when a baby, had lost the sight of one eye, a misfortune which his father shared. A few years later in the son's boyhood, as he was at play in the gardens of Windsor Castle, he began to amuse himself with flinging into the air and catching a long silk purse with heavy gold tassels, when the purse fell on the seeing eye, inflicting such an injury as to threaten him with total blindness. The last catastrophe was brought about by the blunder of a famous German oculist after Prince George had become Crown Prince of Hanover.

How much the Princess knew or guessed of those matrimonial prospects, how far they fluttered her innocent heart, we cannot tell; but as of all the candidates mentioned there was only one with whom she had any acquaintance to speak of, it may be supposed that the generality of the proposed wooers passed like vague shadows before her imagination.

In the meantime the devoted friends of her whole life had naturally not left this question—the most important of all—entirely unapproached. Her English cousins stood to her somewhat in the room of contemporary brothers and sisters; for her own brother and sister, however united to her in affection, were removed from her by age, by other ties, and by residence in a foreign country, to which in 1833 there was still no highway well trodden by the feet of kings and queens and their heirs-presumptive, as well as by meaner people, such as we find to-day. But there were other cousins of whom much had been said and heard, though they had remained unseen and personally unknown. For that very reason they were more capable of being idealised and surrounded by a halo of romance.

At the little ducal Court of Coburg there was the perfect young prince of all knightly legends and lays, whom fate seemed to have mated with his English cousin from their births within a few months of each other. When he was a charming baby of three years the common nurse of the pair would talk to him of his little far-away royal bride. The common grandmother of the two, a wise and witty old lady, dwelt fondly on the future union of her youngest charge with the "Mayflower" across the seas.

In all human probability these grandmotherly predictions would have come to nothing had it not been for a more potent arbiter of the fortunes of his family. King Leopold had once filled the very post which was now vacant, for which there were so many eager aspirants. None could know as he knew the manifold and difficult requirements for the office; none could care as he cared that it should be worthily filled. His interest in England had never wavered, though he had renounced his English annuity of fifty thousand a year on his accession to the throne of Belgium. He was deeply attached to the niece who stood nearly in the same position which Princess Charlotte had occupied twenty years before. Away in Coburg there was a princely lad whom he loved as a son, and who held the precise relation to the ducal house which he himself had once filled. What was there to hinder King Leopold from following out the comparison? Who could blame him for seeking to rebuild, in the interest of all, the fair edifice of love and happiness and loyal service which had been shattered before the dawn of those lives—that were like the lives of his children—had arisen? Besides, look where he might, and study character and chances with whatever forethought, he could not find such another promising bridegroom for the future Queen of England. Young, handsome, clever, good, endowed with all winning attributes; with wise, well-balanced judgment in advance of his years; with earnest, steadfast purpose, gentle, sympathetic temper, and merry humour.

King Leopold's instinct was not at fault, as the result proved; but it was not without the most careful consideration and many anxious consultations, especially with his trusty old friend, Baron Stockmar, that the King allowed himself to take the initiatory step in the matter. If the young couple were to love and wed it was certainly necessary that they should meet, that "the favourable impression" might be made, as the two honourable conspirators put it delicately. For this there was no more time to be lost, when so many suitors had already entered the lists, and the maiden only wanted a year of the time fixed for her majority. But with conscientious heedfulness for the feelings of the youthful pair, and for their power of forming separately an unbiassed opinion, it was settled that when an opportunity of becoming acquainted should be given them, the underlying motive must be kept secret from the Princess as well as the Prince, that they might be "perfectly at their ease with each other." This secrecy could not, however, extinguish the previous knowledge which the Prince at least possessed, that a marriage between the cousins had been mooted by some of those most interested in their welfare.

In spite of the obstacles which King William raised, an invitation was sent by the Duchess of Kent to her brother, the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg, to pay her a visit, accompanied by his two sons, in the spring of 1836. Accordingly, in the month which is the sweetest of the year, in spite of inconstant skies and chill east winds, when Kensington Gardens were bowery and fair with the tender green foliage—the chestnut and hawthorn blossoms—the lilac and laburnum plumes of early summer, the goodly company arrived, and made the old brick palace gay with the fresh and fitting gaiety of youth.

We may never know how the royal cousins met—whether the frank, kind, unconscious Princess came down under the wing of the Duchess as far as their entrance into the Clock Court; whether there was a little dimness of agitation and laughing confusion, in spite of the partial secrecy, in two pairs of blue eyes which then encountered each other for the first time; whether the courtly company ascended in well-arranged file, or in a little friendly disorder. It was fortunate that there were more doors and halls and staircases than one, for it goes without saying that nobody could have had time and attention to spare for the wonderfully elaborate staircase, the representation in chiaroscuro of horses and warlike weapons, the frieze with heads of unicorns and masks of lions. It must have been on another day that young heads looked up in jest or earnest at Hercules, Diana, Apollo, and Minerva, and stopped to pick out the heterogeneous figures in the colonnade—"ladies, yeomen of the guard, pages, a quaker, two Turks, a Highlander, and Peter the Wild Boy," which testified to the liberal imagination of Kent, who executed not only the architecture, but the painting, in the reign of George I.

The guests remained at Kensington for a month, the only drawback to their pleasure being a little attack of bilious fever, from which Prince Albert suffered for a few days. There is a published letter to his stepmother in which the Prince tells his doings in the most unaffected, kindly fashion. There were the King's levee, "long and fatiguing, but very interesting;" the dinner at Court, and the "beautiful concert" which followed, at which the guests had to stand till two o'clock; the King's birthday, with the Drawing-room at St. James's Palace, where three thousand eight hundred people passed before the King and Queen, and another great dinner and concert in the evening. There was also the "brilliant ball" at Kensington Palace, at which the gentlemen were in uniform and the ladies in fancy dresses. Duke William of Brunswick, the Prince of Orange and his sons, and the Duke of Wellington, were among the guests, and the Princes of Coburg helped to keep up the ball till four o'clock. They spent a day with the Duke of Northumberland at Sion House, they went to Claremont, and they were so constantly engaged that they had to make the most of their time in order to see at least some of the sights of London. To one of the sights the Queen referred afterwards. The Duke of Coburg and the two Princes accompanied the Duchess of Kent and the Princess to the wonderful gathering of the children of the different charity schools in St. Paul's Cathedral, where Prince Albert listened intently to the sermon. We hardly need to be told that he was full of interest in everything, paid the greatest attention to all he saw, and was constantly occupied. Among his pleasant occupations were the two favourite pursuits—which the cousins shared—music and drawing. He accompanied the Princess on the piano, and he drew with and for her. It was a happy, busy time, though some of the late dinners, at which, the Prince drank only water, were doubtless dull enough of the young people, and Prince Albert, accustomed to the early hours and simple habits of Germany, felt the change trying. He confessed that it was sometimes with the greatest difficulty he could keep awake. The Princess's birthday came round during her kinsman's visit. The Prince alluded to the event and to his stay at Kensington in writing to the Duchess of Kent three years later, when he was the proud and happy bridegroom of his cousin. He made no note of the date as having had an effect on their relations to each other, neither did he dwell on any good wish or gift [Footnote: Lady Bloomfield mentions among the Queen's rings "a small enamel with a tiny diamond in the centre, the Prince's gift when he first came to England, a lad of seventeen."] on his part; but in compliance with a motherly request from his aunt, the Duchess, that he would send her something he had worn, he returned to her a ring that she had given him on that May morning. The ring had never left his finger since then. The very shape proclaimed that it had been squeezed in the grasp of many a manly hand. The ring had her name upon it, but the name was "Victoria" too, and he begged her to wear it in remembrance of his bride and himself.

The favourable impression had been made in spite of the perversity of fortune and the vagaries of human hearts, which, amidst other casualties, might have led the Princess to accord her preference to the elder brother, Prince Ernest, who was also "a fine young fellow," though not so well suited to become prince-consort to the Queen of England. But for once destiny was propitious, and neither that nor any other mischance befell the bright prospects of the principal actors in the scene. When the King of the Belgians could no longer refrain from expressing his hopes, he had the most satisfactory answer from his royal niece.

"I have only now to beg you, my dearest uncle," she wrote, "to take care of the health of one now so dear to me, and to take him under your special protection. I hope and trust that all will now go on prosperously and well on this subject, now of so much importance to me."

At the same time, though an affectionate correspondence was started and maintained for a year, no further communication passed which could tend to enlighten the Prince as to the feelings he had excited. He went away to complete his education, to study diligently, along with his brother, at Brussels and Bonn; to feel in full the gladness of opening life and opening powers of no ordinary description; to rejoice, as few young men have the same warrant to rejoice, in the days of his unstained, noble youth.

On the King's birthday, the 21st August, the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria were at Windsor Castle on a visit. In spite of some soreness over the old grievance, the King proposed the Princess Victoria's health very kindly at the dinner. After he had drunk the Princess Augusta's health he said, "And now, having given the health of the oldest I will give that of the youngest member of the royal family. I know the interest which the public feel about her, and although I have not seen so much of her as I could have wished, I take no less interest in her, and the more I do see of her, both in public and private, the greater pleasure it will give me." The whole thing was so civil and gracious that it could hardly be taken ill, but, says Greville, "the young Princess sat opposite and hung her head with not unnatural modesty at being thus talked of in so large a company."

In the September of that year the Duchess and the Princess went again to Ramsgate, and stayed there till December. It was their last visit to the quiet little resort within a short pilgrimage of Canterbury—the great English shrine, not so much of Thomas a Becket, slain before the altar, as of Edward the Black Prince, with his sword and gauntlets hung up for ever, and the inscription round the effigy which does not speak of Cressy and Poictiers, but of the vanity of human pride and ambition. It was the last seaside holiday which the mother and daughter spent together untrammelled by State obligations and momentous duties, with none to come between the two who had been all in all with each other. In their absence a storm of wind passed over London, and wrought great damage in Kensington Gardens. About a hundred and thirty of the larger trees were destroyed. In the forenoon of the 29th of November "a tremendous crash was heard in one of the plantations near the Black Pond, between Kensington Palace and the Mount Gate, and on several persons running to the spot twenty-five limes were found tumbled to the earth by a single blast, their roots reaching high into the air, with a great quantity of earth and turf adhering, while deep chasms of several yards in diameter showed the force with which they had been torn up.... On the Palace Green, Kensington, near the forcing-garden, two large elms and a very fine sycamore were also laid prostrate."

In the following summer (1837) the Princess came of age, as princesses do, at eighteen, and it was meet that the day should be celebrated with, all honour and gladness. But the rejoicings were damped by the manifestly failing health of the aged King, then seventy-one years of age. He had been attacked by hay fever—to which he had been liable every spring at an earlier period of his life, but the complaint was more formidable in the case of an old and infirm man, while he still struggled manfully to transact business and discharge the duties of his position. At the Levee and Drawing-room of the 21st May he sat while receiving the company. By the 24th he was confined to his rooms, and the Queen did not leave him.

At six o'clock in the morning the Union Jack was hoisted on the summit of the old church, Kensington, and on the flagstaff at Palace Green. In the last instance the national ensign was surmounted by a white silk flag on which was inscribed in sky-blue letters "Victoria." The little town adorned itself to the best of its ability. "From the houses of the principal inhabitants of the High Street were also displayed the Royal Standard, Union Jack, and other flags and colours, some of them of extraordinary dimensions." Soon after six o'clock the gates of Kensington Gardens were thrown open for the admission of the public to be present at the serenade which was to be performed at seven o'clock under the Palace windows, with the double purpose of awaking the Princess in the most agreeable manner, and of reminding her that at the same place and hour, eighteen years ago, she had opened her eyes on the May world. The sleep of youth is light as well as sound, and it may well be that the Princess, knowing all that was in store for her on the happy day that could not be too long, the many goodly tokens of her friends' love and gladness—not the least precious those from Germany awaiting her acceptance—the innumerable congratulations to be offered to her, was wide awake before the first violin or voice led the choir.

The bells rang out merry peals, carriages dashed by full of fine company. Kensington Square must have thought it was the old days of William and Mary, and Anne, or of George II and Queen Caroline at the latest, come back again. The last French dwellers in Edwardes Square must have talked volubly of what their predecessors had told them of Paris before the flood, Paris before the Orleanists, and the Bonapartists, and the Republic—Paris when the high-walled, green-gardened hotels of the Faubourg St. Germain were full of their ancient occupants; when Marie Antoinette was the daughter of the Caesars at the Tuileries, and the bergere Queen at le Petit Trianon. Before the sun went down many a bumper was drunk in honour of Kensington's own Princess, who should that day leave her girlhood all too soon behind her.

But London as well as Kensington rejoiced, and the festivities were wound up with a ball given at St. James's Palace by order of the poor King and Queen, over whose heads the cloud of sorrow and parting was hanging heavily. We are told that the ball opened with a quadrille, the Princess being "led off" by Lord Fitzalan, eldest son of the Earl of Surrey and grandson of the Duke of Norfolk, Premier Duke and Earl, Hereditary Earl Marshal and Chief Butler of England. Her Royal Highness danced afterwards with Prince Nicholas Esterhazy, son of the Austrian Ambassador. Prince Nicholas made a brilliant figure in contemporary annals—not because of his own merits, not because he married one of the fairest of England's noble daughters, whose gracious English hospitalities were long remembered in Vienna, but because of the lustre of the diamonds in his Court suit. He was said to sparkle from head to heel. There was a legend that he could not wear this splendid costume without a hundred pounds' worth of diamonds dropping from him, whether he would or not, in minor gems, just as jewels fell at every word from the mouth of the enchanted Princess. We have heard of men and women behind whose steps flowers sprang into birth, but Prince Nicholas left a more glittering, if a colder, harder track.



CHAPTER IV. THE ACCESSION.

On the day after that on which Princess Victoria celebrated her majority. Baron Stockmar arrived at Kensington. He came from the King of the Belgians to assist King Leopold's niece in what was likely to be the great crisis of her life. During Baron Stockmar's former stay in England he had been in the character first of Physician in Ordinary to Prince Leopold, and afterwards of Private Secretary and Comptroller of his household. In those offices he had spent the greater part of his time in this country from 1816 to 1834. He had accompanied his master on his ascending the Belgian throne, but had returned to England in a few years in order to serve him better there. Baron Stockmar was thus an old and early friend of the Princess's. In addition he had a large acquaintance with the English political world, and was therefore well qualified to advise her with the force of a disinterested adviser in her difficult position. In the view of her becoming Queen, although her three predecessors, including George III after he became blind, had appointed and retained private secretaries, the office was not popular in the eyes of the Government and country, and it was not considered advisable that the future Queen should possess such a servant, notwithstanding the weight of business—enormous in the matter of signatures alone—which would fall on the Sovereign. Without any recognised position, Stockmar was destined to share with the Prime Minister one portion of the duties which ought to have devolved on a private secretary. He was also to act as confidential adviser.

Baron Stockmar, [Footnote: "An active, decided, slender, rather little man, with a compact head, brown hair streaked with grey, a bold, short nose, firm yet full mouth, and what gave a peculiar air of animation to his face, with two youthful, flashing brown eyes, full of roguish intelligence and fiery provocation. With this exterior, the style of his demeanour and conversation corresponded; bold, bright, pungent, eager, full of thought, so that amid all the bubbling copiousness and easy vivacity of his talk, a certain purpose was never lost sight of in his remarks and illustrations."—Friedrich Carl Meyer.] who was at this time a man of fifty, was no ordinary character. He was sagacious, warm-hearted, honest, straightforward to bluntness, painstaking, just, benevolent to a remarkable degree; the friend of princes, without forfeiting his independence, he won and kept their perfect confidence to the end. He loved them heartily in return, without seeking anything from them; on the contrary, he showed himself reluctant to accept tokens of their favour. While lavishing his services on others, and readily lending his help to those who needed it, he would seem to have wanted comfort himself. An affectionate family man, he consented to constantly recurring separation from his wife and children in order to discharge the peculiar functions which were entrusted to him. For he played in the background—contented, nay, resolute to remain there—by the lawful exercise of influence alone, no small part in the destinies of several of the reigning houses in Europe, and through them, of their kingdoms. Like Carlyle, he suffered during his whole life from dyspepsia; like Carlyle, too, he was a victim to hypochondria, the result of his physical state. To these two last causes may be attributed some whimsicalities and eccentricities which were readily forgiven in the excellent Baron.

Baron Stockmar did not come too soon; in less than a month, on the 20th of June, 1837, after an illness which he had borne, patiently and reverently, King William died peacefully, his hand resting where it had lain for hours, on the shoulder of his faithful Queen.

The death took place at Windsor, at a little after two o'clock in the morning. Immediately afterwards the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Howley, and the Lord Chamberlain, the Marquis of Conyngham, together with the Earl of Albemarle, the Master of the Horse, and Sir Henry Halford, the late King's physician, started from Windsor for Kensington. All through the rest of the summer night these solemn and stately gentlemen drove, nodding with fatigue, hailing the early dawn, speaking at intervals to pronounce sentence on the past reign and utter prognostications, of the reign which was to come. Shortly before five, when the birds were already in full chorus in Kensington Gardens, the party stood at the main door, demanding admission. This was another and ruder summons than the musical serenade which had been planned to wile the gentle sleeper sweetly from her slumbers and to hail her natal day not a month before. That had been a graceful, sentimental recognition of a glad event; this was an unvarnished, well-nigh stern arousal to the world of grave business and anxious care, following the mournful announcement of a death—not a birth. From this day the Queen's heavy responsibilities and stringent obligations were to begin. That untimely, peremptory challenge sounded the first knell to the light heart and careless freedom of youth.

Though it had been well known that the King lay on his death-bed, and Kensington without, as well as Kensington within, must have been in a high state of expectation, it does not appear that there were any watchers on the alert to rush together at the roll of the three royal carriages. Instead of the eager, respectful crowd, hurrying into the early-opened gates of the park to secure good places for all that was to be seen and heard on the day of the Princess's coming of age, Palace Green seems to have been a solitude on this momentous June morning, and the individual the most interested in the event, after the new-made Queen, instead of being there to pay his homage first, as he had offered his congratulations on the birthday a year before, was far away, quietly studying at the little university town on the Rhine.

"They knocked, they rang, they thumped for a considerable time before they could rouse the porter at the gate," says Miss Wynn, in the "Diary of a Lady of Quality," of these importunate new-comers. "They were again kept waiting in the courtyard, then turned into one of the lower rooms, where they seemed forgotten by everybody. They rang the bell and desired that the attendant of the Princess Victoria might be sent to inform Her Royal Highness that they requested an audience on business of importance. After another delay and another ringing to inquire the cause, the attendant was summoned, who stated that the Princess was in such a sweet sleep that she could not venture to disturb her. Then they said, 'We are come on business of State to the QUEEN, and even her sleep must give way to that.' It did; and, to prove that she did not keep them waiting, in a few minutes she came into the room in a loose white nightgown and shawl, her nightcap thrown off, and her hair falling upon her shoulders, her feet in slippers, tears in her eyes, but perfectly collected and dignified."

In those days, when news did not travel very fast, and was not always delivered with strict accuracy, a rumour got abroad that the Queen was walking in the Palace Garden when the messengers came to tell her she had succeeded to the Crown. A great deal was made of the poetic simplicity of the surroundings of the interesting central figure—the girl in her tender bloom among the lilies and roses, which she resembled. We can remember a brilliant novel of the time which had a famous chapter beginning with an impassioned apostrophe to the maiden who met her high destiny "in a palace, in a garden." Another account asserted that the Queen saw the Archbishop of Canterbury alone in her ante-room, and that her first request was for his prayers.

The Marquis of Conyngham was the bearer to the Queen of a request from the Queen-dowager that she might be permitted to remain at Windsor till after the funeral. In reply, her Majesty wrote an affectionate letter of condolence to her aunt, begging her to consult nothing but her own health and convenience, and to stay at Windsor just as long as she pleased. The writer was observed to address this as usual "To the Queen of England." A bystander interposed, "Your Majesty, you are Queen of England." "Yes," answered the unelated, considerate girl-Queen, "but the widowed Queen is not to be reminded of the fact first by me."

Their message delivered, the messengers returned to London, and the next arrival was that of the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, who appeared at nine o'clock, had an interview with the Queen, which lasted for half an hour, when he also took his leave to issue summonses for a Privy Council, to he held in the course of the next two hours at Kensington Palace, and not at St. James's, as had been anticipated.

The little town of Kensington must now have been up and about, for, perhaps, never had there been such a day in its annals, as far transcending the birthday celebration as a great reality surpasses the brightest promise; and Kensington might hug the day with all its might, for it was to be nearly the last of its kingly, queenly experience. The temporary Court was to pass away presently, never to come back. No more kings and queens were likely to be born or to die at the quiet spot, soon to become a great noisy suburb of great London. No later Sovereign would quit the red-brick palace of Mary and Anne, and the First George, to reign at Buckingham or Windsor; no other Council be held in the low-browed, white-pillared room to dispute the interests of the unique Council which was to be held there this day.

The first Council of any Sovereign must awaken many speculations, while the bearing of the principal figure in the assumption of new powers and duties is sure to be watched with critical curiosity; but in the case of Queen Victoria the natural interest reached its utmost bounds. The public imagination was impressed in the most lively manner by the strong contrast between the tender youth and utter inexperience of the maiden Queen and the weighty and serious functions she was about to assume—an anomaly best indicated by the characteristic speech of Carlyle, that a girl at an age when, in ordinary circumstances, she would hardly be trusted to choose a bonnet for herself, was called upon to undertake responsibilities from which an archangel might have shrunk. More than this, the retirement in which the young Queen had grown up left her nature a hidden secret to those well-trained, grey-bearded men in authority, who now came to bid her rule over them. Thus, in addition to every other doubt to be solved, there was the pressing question as to how a girl would behave under such a tremendous test; for, although there had been queens-regnant, popular and unpopular before, Mary and Elizabeth had been full-grown women, and Anne had attained still more mature years, before the crown and sceptre were committed to the safe keeping of each in turn. Above all, how would this royal girl, on whose conduct so much depended, demean herself on this crucial occasion? Surely if she were overcome by timidity and apprehension, if she were goaded into some foolish demonstration of pride or levity, allowance must be made, and a good deal forgiven, because of the cruel strain to which she was subjected.

Shortly after eleven o'clock, the royal Dukes and a great number of Privy Councillors, amongst whom were all the Cabinet Ministers and the great officers of State and the Household, arrived at Kensington Palace, and were ushered into the State apartments. A later arrival consisted of the Lord Mayor, attended by the City Marshals in full uniform, on horseback, with crape on their left arms; the Chamberlain, Sword-bearer, Comptroller, Town Clerk, and Deputy Town Clerk, &c., accompanied by six aldermen. These City magnates appeared at the Palace to pay their homage to her Majesty. The Lord Mayor attended the Council.

We have various accounts—one from an eye-witness wont to be cool and critical enough—of what passed. "The first thing to be done," writes Greville, "was to teach her her lesson, which, for this purpose, Melbourne had himself to learn. I gave him the Council papers and explained all that was to be done, and he went and explained all this to her. He asked her if she would enter the room accompanied by the great officers of State, but she said she would come in alone. When the Lords were assembled, the Lord President (Lord Lansdowne) informed them of the King's death, and suggested, as they were so numerous, that a few of them should repair to the presence of the Queen, and inform her of the event, and that their lordships were assembled in consequence; and accordingly the two royal Dukes (the Duke of Cumberland, by the death of William, King of Hanover, and the Duke of Sussex—the Duke of Cambridge was absent in Hanover), the two Archbishops, the Chancellor, and Melbourne went with him. The Queen received them in the adjoining room alone."

It was the first time she had to act for herself. Until then she had been well supported by her mother, and by the precedence which the Duchess of Kent took as her Majesty's guardian. But the guardianship was over and the reign begun. There could be no more sheltering from responsibility, or becoming deference to, and reliance on, the wisdom of another and a much older person. In one sense the stay was of necessity removed. The Duchess of Kent, from this day "treated her daughter with respectful observance as well as affection." The time was past for advice, instruction, or suggestion, unless in private, and even then it would be charily and warily given by the sensible, modest mother of a Queen. Well for her Majesty that there was no more than truth in what one of the historians of the reign has said, in just and temperate language, of her character: "She was well brought up. Both as regards her intellect and her character her training was excellent. She was taught to be self-reliant, brave, and systematical."

As soon as the deputation had returned, the proclamation was read; "Whereas it has pleased Almighty God to call to His mercy our late Sovereign Lord, King William the Fourth, of blessed and glorious memory, by whose decease the imperial Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is solely and rightfully come to the high and mighty Princess Alexandrina Victoria, saving the rights of any issue of his late majesty, King William the Fourth, which may be born of his late Majesty's consort; we, therefore, the lords spiritual and temporal of this realm, being here assisted with these of his late Majesty's Privy Council, with numbers of others, principal gentlemen of quality, with the Lord Mayor, aldermen and citizens of London, do now hereby, with one voice and consent of tongue and heart, publish and proclaim that the high and mighty Princess Alexandrina Victoria is now, by the death of our late Sovereign, of happy memory, become our only lawful and rightful liege Lady, Victoria, by the grace of God Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, saving, as aforesaid: To whom, saving as aforesaid, we do acknowledge all faith and constant obedience, with all hearty and humble affection, beseeching God, by whom kings and queens do reign, to bless the royal Princess Victoria with long and happy years to reign over us.

"Given at the Court of Kensington this 20th day of June, 1837. (Signed by all the Lords of the Privy Council present). God Save the Queen."

"Then," resuming Mr. Greville's narrative, "the doors were thrown open, and the Queen entered, accompanied by her two uncles, who advanced to meet her. She bowed to the Lords, took her seat (an arm-chair improvised into a throne, with a footstool), and then read her speech in a clear, distinct, and audible voice, and without any appearance of fear or embarrassment:—

"'The severe and afflicting loss which the nation has sustained by the death of his Majesty, my beloved uncle, has devolved upon me the duty of administering the Government of this empire. This awful responsibility is imposed upon me so suddenly, and at so early a period of my life, that I should feel myself utterly oppressed by the burden were I not sustained by the hope that Divine Providence, which has called me to this work, will give me strength for the performance of it, and that I shall find in the purity of my intentions, and in my zeal for the public welfare, that support and those resources which usually belong to a more mature age and to longer experience.

"'I place my firm reliance upon the wisdom of Parliament and upon the loyalty and affection of my people. I esteem it also a peculiar advantage that I succeed to a Sovereign whose constant regard for the rights and liberties of his subjects, and whose desire to promote the amelioration of the laws and institutions of the country, have rendered his name the object of general attachment and veneration.

"'Educated in England, under the tender and enlightened care of a most affectionate mother, I have learned from my infancy to respect and love the Constitution of my native country.

"'It will be my unceasing study to maintain the reformed religion as by law established, securing at the same time to all the full enjoyment of religious liberty; and I shall steadily protect the rights and promote, to the utmost of my power, the happiness and welfare of all classes of my subjects.'"

Her Majesty's speech was after the model of English royal speeches; but one can feel at this day it was spoken in all ingenuousness and sincerity, and that the utterance—remarkable already for clearness and distinctness—for the first time, of the set words, ending in the solemn promise to do a Sovereign's duty, must have thrilled the hearts both of speaker and hearers.

A critical listener was not wanting, according to the testimony of the witness who, on his own account, certainly did not object to chronicle detraction of every kind. "The speech was admired, except by Brougham, who appeared in a considerable state of excitement. He said to Peel (whom he was standing near, and with whom he was not in the habit of communicating), '"amelioration;" that is not English. You might perhaps say "melioration," but "improvement" is the proper word.'

"'Oh!' said Peel, 'I see no harm in the word; it is generally used.'

"'You object,' said Brougham, 'to the sentiment; I object to the grammar.'

"'No,' said Peel, 'I don't object to the sentiment.'

"'Well, then, she pledges herself to the policy of our Government,' said Brougham.

"She was quite plainly dressed, and in mourning. After she had read her speech, and taken and signed the oath (administered by the Archbishop of Canterbury) for the security of the Church of Scotland, the Privy Councillors were sworn, the two royal Dukes first by themselves."

The days of violence were ended, and whatever private, hopes he might once have entertained, Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, was the first to hail his niece as the high and mighty Princess Alexandrina Victoria, to whom the imperial Crown of Great Britain and Ireland had solely and rightfully come—the first to proclaim her, with one voice and consent of tongue and heart, on the part of himself and his peers, his only lawful and rightful liege Lady Victoria, to whom he acknowledged all faith and rightful obedience, with all hearty and humble affection. It may be, the fact that he had succeeded to the throne of Hanover rendered the step less difficult. His name was also the first in the signatures of princes, Privy Councillors, peers, and gentlemen affixed in the next room to the proclamation. His brother, the Duke of Sussex, followed. They were both elderly men, with the younger older in infirmities than in years. The King of Hanover was sixty-six, the Duke of Sussex sixty-four years of age.

"And as these two old men, her uncles, knelt before her, swearing allegiance and kissing her hand," Greville went on, with a sense of pathos, curious for him, in the scene, "I saw her blush up to the eyes, as if she felt the contrast between their civil and their natural relations, and this was the only sign of emotion which she evinced. Her manner to them was very graceful and engaging; she kissed them both, and rose from her chair and moved towards the Duke of Sussex, who was farthest from her, and too infirm to reach her. She seemed rather bewildered at the multitude of men who were sworn, and who came one after another to kiss her hand, but she did not speak to anybody, nor did she make the slightest difference in her manner, or show any in her countenance, to any individual of any rank, station, or party. I particularly watched her when Melbourne and the Ministers, and the Duke of Wellington and Peel approached her. She went through the whole ceremony, occasionally looking at Melbourne for instruction when she had any doubt what to do, which hardly ever occurred, and with perfect coolness and self-possession, but at the same time with a graceful modesty and propriety particularly interesting and ingratiating. When the business was done she retired as she had entered, and I could see that nobody was in the adjoining room."

Mr. Greville's comment on the scene was singularly enthusiastic from such a man. "Never was anything like the first impression she produced, or the chorus of praise and admiration which is raised about her manner and behaviour, and certainly not without justice. It was something very extraordinary, and something far beyond what was looked for." He quoted Sir Robert Peel's and the Duke of Wellington's opinions in accordance with his own. "He (Sir Robert) likewise said how amazed he was at the manner and behaviour, at her apparent deep sense of her situation, her modesty, and at the same time her firmness. She appeared, in fact, to be awed, but not daunted; and afterwards, the Duke of Wellington told me the same thing, and added, that if she had been his own daughter he could not have desired to see her perform her part better."

We can understand the fatherly reference of the Duke, and the sort of personal pride he took in his young Queen. He had been present at her birth in this very Palace of Kensington; he had known her at every stage of her life hitherto. She was doing credit not only to herself and her mother, but to every friend she had, by her perfect fulfilment of what was required of her. Lord Campbell was equally eulogistic. "As soon as I heard that King William had expired I hurried to Kensington, to be present at the first Council of the new Sovereign. This, I think, was the most interesting scene I have ever witnessed.... I am quite in raptures with the deportment of the young Queen. Nothing could be more exquisitely proper. She looked modest, sorrowful, dejected, diffident, but at the same time she was quite cool and collected, and composed and firm. Her childish appearance was gone. She was an intelligent and graceful young woman, capable of acting and thinking for herself. Considering that she was the only female in the room, and that she had no one about her with whom she was familiar, no human being was ever placed in a more trying situation."

What was most conspicuous in the Queen had been already remarked upon and admired in the young girl at Queen Adelaide's Drawing-room. Here were the same entire simplicity, with its innate dignity only further developed; the power of being herself and no other, which left her thoughtful of what she ought to do—not of how she should look and strike others—and rendered her free to consider her neighbours; the docility to fit guidance, and yet the ability to judge for herself; the quick sense all the time of her high calling.

That first Council at Kensington has become an episode in history—a very significant one. It has been painted, engraved, written about many a time, without losing its fascination. Sir David Wilkie made a famous picture of it, which hangs in a corridor at Windsor In this picture the artist used certain artistic liberties, such as representing the Queen in a white muslin robe instead of a black gown, and the Privy Councillors in the various costumes of their different callings—uniforms with stars and ribands, lawyers' gowns and full-bottomed wigs, bishops' lawn, instead of the ordinary morning dress of the gentlemen of their generation. It must have tickled Wilkie as he worked to come to an old acquaintance of his boyhood and youth in John, Lord Campbell, and to recognise how bewilderingly far removed from the bleak little parish of Cults and the quiet little town of Cupar was the coincidence which summoned him, the distinguished painter, in the execution of a royal commission, to draw the familiar features of his early playmate in those of the Attorney-General, who appeared as a privileged member of the illustrious throng.

We still turn back wistfully to that bright dawn of a beneficent reign. We see the slight girlish figure in her simple mourning filling her place sedately at the head of the Council table. At the foot, facing her Majesty, sits the Duke of Sussex, almost venerable in his stiffness and lameness, wearing the black velvet skull-cap by which he was distinguished in those days. We look at the well-known faces, and think of the famous names among the crowd of mature men, each of whom was hanging on the words and looks of his mistress. There is Copley the painter's son, sagacious Lyndhurst, who lived to be the Nestor of the bench and the peerage; there is his great opponent, Robertson the historian's grand-nephew, Brougham, a tyrant of freedom, an illustrious Jack-of-all-trades, the most impassioned, most public-spirited, most egotistical of men. He was a contradiction to himself as well as to his neighbours. His strongly-marked face, with its shaggy brows, high cheek-bones, aggressive nose, mouth drooping at the corners, had not lost its mobility. He was restless and fault-finding in this presence as in any other. The Duke of Wellington's Roman nose lent something of the eagle to his aspect. It was a more patrician attribute than Sir Robert Peel's long upper lip, with its shy, nervous compression, which men mistook for impassive coldness, just as the wits blundered in calling his strong, serviceable capacity, noble uprightness, and patient labour "sublime mediocrity." William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne, was the type of an aristocrat, with brains and heart. He was still a very handsome man at fifty-eight, as he was also "perhaps the most graceful and agreeable gentleman of the generation." His colleague—destined to marry Lord Melbourne's sister, the most charming woman who ever presided in turn over two Ministerial salons, Lord Palmerston, in spite of his early achievements in waltzing at Almack's, was less personally and mentally gifted. He had rather an indiarubber-like elasticity and jauntiness than stateliness, or dignity, or grace. His irregular-featured face was comical, but he bore the bell in exhaustless spirits, which won him, late in life, the reputation of perennial juvenility, and the enviable if not altogether respectful sobriquet of "the evergreen Palm." Lord John Russell, with his large head and little body, of which Punch made stock, with his friendship for Moore and his literary turn, as well as his ambition to serve his country like a true Russell, was at this date wooing and wedding the fair young widow, Lady Ribblesdale, his devotion to whom had drawn from the wags a profane pun. They called the gifted little lord "the widow's mite." When the marriage ceremony was being performed between him and Lady Ribblesdale the wedding-ring fell from the bride's finger—an evil omen soon fulfilled for the marriage tie was speedily broken by her early death. "Plain John Campbell" was a very different man. The son of a minister of the Church of Scotland, in a presbytery which included among its members the father of Sir David Wilkie, his Scotch tongue, Scotch shrewdness, healthy appetite for work, and invulnerable satisfaction with himself and his surroundings, caused themselves to be felt in another sphere than that to which he was born.

"The Cabinet Ministers tendered to the Queen the seals of their respective offices, which her Majesty was most graciously pleased to return, and they severally kissed hands on their reappointment." The last business done was to arrange for the public proclamation of the Queen, and to take her pleasure with regard to the time, which she fixed for the day following, Wednesday, the 21st of June, at ten o'clock. When Lord Albemarle, for whom she had sent, went to her and told her he was come to take her orders, she said, "I have no orders to give. You must know this so much better than I do, that I leave it all to you. I am to be at St. James's at ten to-morrow, and must beg you to find me a conveyance proper for the occasion." We are further informed that the Queen, in the course of the morning, received a great many noble and distinguished personages. So finished a busy and exciting day; the herald of many other days crowded with engagements and excitement.

The Palace of St. James's, where the proclamation was to take place, had been for a long time the theatre of all the principal events in the lives of the kings and queens of England. Even the young Queen already viewed it in this light, for though she had been baptized at Kensington, she had been confirmed at St. James's. She had attended her first Drawing-rooms, and celebrated her coming-of-age ball there. St. James's is a brick building, like Kensington Palace, but is far older, and full of more stirring and tragic associations. It has an air of antiquity about it, if it has few architectural claims on the world's interest; but at least one front, that which includes the turreted gateway into St. James's Street, is not without picturesque beauty. The situation of the palace, considering that it is in the middle of a great city, is agreeable. It has its park, with a stretch of pleasant water on one side, and commands the leafy avenue of the Mall and the sweep of Constitution Hill. As a royal residence it dates as far back as Henry VIII., whose daughter Mary ended her sad life here. Both of the sons of James I. received it as a dwelling, and were connected with it in troubled days. Prince Henry fell into his pining sickness and died here. Charles, after bringing Henrietta Maria under its roof, and owning its shelter till three of his children were born, was carried to St. James's as a prisoner. He was taken from it in a sedan-chair to undergo his trial at his new palace of Whitehall. He was conveyed back under sentence of death. Here Bishop Juxon preached the last sermon to which the King listened, and administered to him the Sacrament; and here Charles took leave of his children—the little Duke of Gloucester and the girl-Princess Elizabeth. From St. James's the King went to the scaffold on the bitter January morning, followed by the snowy night in which "the white King" was borne to his dishonoured burial. Other and less tragic scenes were enacted within its bounds. A familiar figure in connection with Kensington Palace—Caroline of Anspach, wife of George II.—died like herself here. Her King had fallen into a stupor of sorrow across the bed where she lay in her last agony, and she forbade his being disturbed. She told those who were praying to pray aloud, that she might hear them; then raising herself up and uttering the single German word of acquiescence, "So," her brave spirit passed away.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse