As an instance of the garbled impression received, and the unhesitating exultation manifested by some of the Whig leaders, we quote from Lord Campbell: "House of Commons, Friday, May 10, 1839. What do you think? Peel has quarrelled with the Queen, and for the present we are all in again. He insisted on her removing all her ladies, which she peremptorily refused. Peel sent his final answer yesterday evening, which she received at dinner, saying that on consulting his colleagues they could not yield, and that his commission was at an end. She then sent for Melbourne, who had not seen her since his resignation. At eleven a meeting of the old Cabinet was called. To-day Melbourne has been with her, and, Bear Ellis says, agreed to go on with the government. Reports differ as to the exact conditions. Our people say that she was willing to give up the wives of Peers; Sir George Clerk asserts she insisted on keeping all, inter alias the Marchioness of Normanby. There never was such excitement in London. I came with hundreds of others to the House of Lords, which met to-day, in the expectation that something would be said, but all passing off in silence." [Footnote: The explanation was made later.]
"Brooks's, Saturday, May 11, 1839. The Cabinet is still sitting, and we know nothing more to-day.... I was several hours at the Queen's ball last night, a scene never to be forgotten. The Queen was in great spirits, and danced with more than usual gaiety. She received Peel with great civility; but after dancing with the Russian Bear, took for her partner Lady Normanby's son. The Tories looked inconceivably foolish—such whimsical groups."
Calm onlookers, including Stockmar, condemned Lord Melbourne for the position, in which he had allowed the young Queen to be placed, and considered that he had brought discredit on his Government by the circumstances in which he and his colleagues had resumed office. The melancholy death of Lady Flora Hastings following on this overthrow of the ordinary arrangements, intensified the wrath of the Tories, and helped to arouse a sense of general dissatisfaction and doubt.
In the month of July, 1839, an Act of Parliament was passed which was of great consequence to the mass of the people. In 1837 Sir Rowland Hill published his post-office reform pamphlet, and in 1839 the penny-post scheme was embodied in an Act of Parliament.
What stories clustered round the early miniature "heads" of her Majesty in the little dull red stamp! These myths ranged from the panic that the adhesive gum caused cancer in the tongue, to the romance that a desperate young lady was collecting a huge supply of used stamps for the purpose of papering a room of untold dimensions. This feat was the single stipulation on the part of a tyrannical parent, on compliance with which the hapless maiden would be allowed to marry her faithful lover.
CHAPTER VII. THE BETROTHAL.
The Queen's remaining unmarried was becoming the source of innumerable disturbing rumours and private intrigues for the bestowal of her hand. To show the extent to which the public discussed the question in every light, a serious publication like the Annual Register found space in its pages for a ponderous joke on the subject which was employing all tongues. Its chronicle professes to report an interview between her Majesty the Queen and Lord Melbourne, in which the Premier gravely represents to his sovereign the advisability of her marriage, and ventures to press her to say whether there is any man for whom she might entertain a preference. Her Majesty condescends to acknowledge there is one man for whom she could conceive a regard. His name is "Arthur, Duke of Wellington."
Altogether, King Leopold was warranted in renewing his efforts to accomplish the union which would best secure the happiness of his niece and the welfare of a kingdom. He adopted a simple, and at the same time, a masterly line of policy. He sent the Prince, whose majority had been celebrated along with his brother's a few months before, over again to England in the autumn of 1839; Prince Ernest of Saxe-Coburg went once more with Prince Albert, in order to show that this was not a bridegroom come to plead his suit in person; this was a mere cousinly visit of which nothing need come. Indeed, the good king rather overdid his caution, for it seems he led the Prince to believe that the earlier tacit understanding between him and his cousin had come to an end, so that Prince Albert arrived more resolved to relinquish his claims than to urge his rights. In his honest pride there was hardly room for the thought of binding more closely and indissolubly the silken cord of love, which had got loosened and warped in the course of the three years since the pair had parted—a long interval at the age of twenty. All the same, one of the most notably and deservedly attractive young men of his generation was to be brought for the second time, without the compulsory strain of an ulterior motive—declared or unjustifiably implied—into new contact with a royal maiden, whom a qualified judge described as possessing "a keen and quick apprehension, being straightforward, singularly pure-hearted, and free from all vanity and pretension." In the estimation of this sagacious well-wisher, she was fitted beforehand "to do ample justice both to the head and heart of the Prince."
It was at half-past seven on the evening of Thursday, the 10th of October, that the princely brothers entered again on the scene, no longer young lads under the guidance of their father, come to make the acquaintance of a girl-princess, their cousin, who though she might be the heir to a mighty kingdom, was still entirely under the wing of the Duchess, their aunt and her mother, in the homely old Palace of Kensington. These were two young men in the flower of their early manhood, who alighted in due form under the gateway of one of the stateliest of castles that could ever have visited their dreams, and found a young Queen as well as a kinswoman standing first among her ladies, awaiting them at the top of the grand staircase. However cordial and affectionate, and like herself, she might be, it had become her part, and she played it well, to take the initiative, to give directions instead of receiving them, to command where she had obeyed. It was she, and not the mother she loved and honoured, who was the mistress of this castle; and it was for her to come forward, welcome her guests, and graciously conduct them to the Duchess.
King Leopold had furnished the brothers with credentials in the shape of a letter, recommending them, in studiously moderate terms, as "good, honest creatures," deserving her kindness, "not pedantic, but really sensible and trustworthy," whom he had told that her great wish was they should be at ease with her.
Both of these simply summed-up guests were fine young men, tall, manly, intelligent, and accomplished. Prince Albert was very handsome and winning, as all his contemporaries must remember him, with a mixture of thought and gentleness in his broad forehead, deep-blue eyes, and sweet smile.
The first incident of the visit was a trifle disconcerting, but not more so than happy, privileged people may be permitted to surmount with a laughing apology; even to draw additional light-hearted jests from the misadventure. The baggage of the Princes by some chance was not forthcoming; they could not appear at a Court dinner in their morning dress, but etiquette was relaxed for the strangers to the extent that later in the evening they joined the circle, which included Lord Melbourne, Lord Clanricarde, Lord and Lady Granville, Baron Brunnow and Lord Normanby, as visitors at Windsor at the time. The pleasant old courtier, Lord Melbourne, immediately told the Queen that he was struck with the resemblance between Prince Albert and herself.
"The way of life at Windsor during the stay of the Princes was much as follows:—the Queen breakfasting at this time in her own room, they afterwards paid her a visit there; and at two o'clock had luncheon with her and the Duchess of Kent. In the afternoon they all rode—the Queen and Duchess and the two Princes, with Lord Melbourne and most of the ladies and gentlemen in attendance, forming a large cavalcade. There was a great dinner every evening, with a dance after it, three times a week." [Footnote: "Early Years of the Prince Consort."] Surely an ideal palace life for the young—born to the Stately conditions, bright with all the freshness of body and sparkle of spirit, unexhausted, undimmed by years and care. Surely a fair field for true love to cast off its wilful shackles, and be rid of its half-cherished misunderstandings, to assert itself master of the situation. And so in five days, while King Leopold was still writing wary recommendations and temperate praise, the prize which had been deemed lost was won, and the Queen who had foredoomed herself to years of maidenly toying with happiness and fruitless waiting, was ready to announce her speedy marriage, with loyal satisfaction and innocent fearlessness, to her servants in council.
At the time, and for long afterwards, there were many wonderful little stories, doubtless fanciful enough, but all taking colour from the one charming fact of the royal lovers. How the Queen, whose place it was to choose, had with maidenly grace made known her worthy choice at one of these palace "dances," in which she had waltzed with her Prince, and subsided from the liege lady into the loving woman. She had presented him with her bouquet in a most marked and significant manner. He had accepted it with the fullest and most becoming sense of the distinction conferred upon him, and had sought to bestow her token in a manner which should prove his devotion and gratitude. But his tight-fitting foreign uniform had threatened to baffle his desire, till, in the exigency of the moment, he took out a pocket-knife (or was it his sword from its sheath?) and cut a slit in the breast of his coat on the left side, over the heart, where he put the flowers. Was this at the end of that second day after the brothers' arrival, on which, as the Prince mentions, in detailing to a friend the turn of the tide, "the most friendly demonstrations were directed towards me?"
On the 14th of October, the Queen told her fatherly adviser, Lord Melbourne, that she had made her choice; at which he expressed great satisfaction, and said to her (as her Majesty has stated in one of the published portions of her Journal), "I think it will be very well received, for I hear that there is an anxiety now that it should be, and I am very glad of it;" adding, in quite a paternal tone, "you will be much more comfortable, for a woman cannot stand alone for any time in whatever position she may be."
In the circumstances, the ordinary role was of necessity strangely reversed, and the ordeal of the declaration fell to the maiden and not to the young man. But the trial could not have come to a better pair. Innate good sense and dignity, and single-hearted affection on the one hand, and manly, delicate-minded tenderness on the other, made all things possible, nay, easy. An intimation was conveyed to the Prince through an old friend, who was in the suite of the brothers on this visit to England, Baron Alvensleben, Master of the Horse to the Duke of Coburg, that the Queen wished to speak to Prince Albert next day. Doubtless, the formality and comparative length of the invitation had its significant importance to the receiver of the message, and brought with it a tumult and thrill of anticipation. But he was called on to show that he had outgrown youthful impetuosity and impatience, and to prove himself worthy of trust and honour by perfect self-restraint and composure. So far as the world knows, he awaited his lady's will without a sign of restlessness or disturbance. If blissful dreams drove away sleep from the pillows on which two young heads rested in Royal Windsor that night, none save the couple needed to know of it. It was not by any means the first time that queenly and princely heads had courted oblivion in vain beneath the tower of St. George, and under the banner of England, but never in more natural, lawful, happy wakefulness.
On the morning of the 15th, behaving himself as if nothing had happened, or was going to happen, according to the code of Saxon Englishmen, Prince Albert went out early, hunting with his brother, but came back by noon, and "half an hour afterwards obeyed the Queen's summons to her room, where he found her alone. After a few minutes' conversation on other subjects, the Queen told him why she had sent for him."
The Prince wrote afterwards to the oldest of his relations: "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 that troubled her was, that she did not think she was worthy of me. The joyous openness of manner with which she told me this quite enchanted me, and I was quite carried away by it."
"The Prince answered by the warmest demonstration of kindness and affection."
The affair had been settled by love itself in less time than it has taken to tell it.
There is an entry in her Majesty's Journal of this date, which she has, with noble and tender confidence, in the best feelings of humanity, permitted her people to read.
"How I will strive to make him feel, as little as possible, the great sacrifices he has made! I told him it was a great sacrifice on his part, but he would not allow it."
This record has been enthusiastically dwelt upon for its thorough womanliness; and so it is truly womanly, royally womanly. But it seems to us that less weight has been put on the fine sympathetic intuition of the Queen which enabled her to look beyond herself, beyond mere outward appearance and worldly advantages, and see the fact of the sacrifice on the part of such a man as Prince Albert, which he made with all his heart, cheerfully, refusing so much as to acknowledge it, for her dear sake. For the Queen was wisely right, and the Prince lovingly wrong. He not only gave back in full measure what he got, but, looking at the contract in the light of the knowledge which the Queen has granted to us of a rare nature, we recognise that for such a man—so simple, noble, purely scholarly and artistic; so capable of undying attachment; so fond of peaceful household charities and the quiet of domestic life; so indifferent to pomp and show; so wearied and worried in his patience by formality, parade, and the vulgar strife and noise, glare and blare of the lower, commoner ambitions—it was a sacrifice to forsake his fatherland, his father's house, the brother whom he loved as his own soul, the plain living and high thinking, healthful early hours and refined leisure—busy enough in good thoughts and deeds—of Germany, for the great shackled responsibility which should rest on the Queen's husband, for the artificial, crowded, high-pressure life of an England which did not know him, did not understand him, for many a day. If Baron Stockmar was right, that the physical constitution of the Prince in his youth rendered strain and effort unwelcome, and that he was rather deficient in interest in the ordinary work of the world, and in the broad questions which concern the welfare of men and nations, than overendowed with a passion for mastering and controlling them, then the sacrifice was all the greater.
But he made it, led by what was, in him, an overruling sense of right, and by the sweetest compelling motive, for highest duty and for her his Queen. Having put his hand to the plough he never looked back. What his hand found to do, that he did with all his might, and he became one of the hardest workers of his age. In seeing what he resigned, we also see that the fullness of his life was rendered complete by the resignation. He was called to do a grand, costly service, and he did well, at whatever price, to obey the call. Without the sacrifice his life would have been less honourable as an example, less full, less perfect, and so, in the end, less satisfying.
When the troth was plighted, the Queen adds, "I then told him to fetch Ernest, who congratulated us both and seemed very happy. He told me how perfect his brother was."
There were other kind friends to rejoice in the best solution of the problem and settlement of the vexed question. The good mother and aunt, the Duchess of Kent, rendered as secure as mortal mother could be of the future contentment and prosperity of her child; the attached kinsman beyond the Channel; the father of the bridegroom; his female relations; trusty Baron Stockmar; an early comrade, were all to be told and made happy, and in some cases sorry also, for the promotion of Prince Albert to be the Queen's husband meant exile from Germany.
The passages given from the Queen's and Prince's letters to King Leopold and Baron Stockmar are not only very characteristic, the words express what those who loved the writers best would have most wished them to say. The respective utterances are radiant with delight softened by the modest, firm resolves, the humble hearty conscientiousness which made the proposed marriage so auspicious of all it was destined to prove.
The King of the Belgians was still in a state of doubt, writing his earnest but studiously measured praise of his nephews to the Queen. "I am sure you will like them the more, the longer you see them. They are young men of merit, and without that puppy-like affectation which is so often found with young gentlemen of rank; and though remarkably well informed, they are very free from pedantry.
"Albert is a very agreeable companion. His manners are so quiet and harmonious that one likes to have him near one's self. I always found him so when I had him with me, and I think his travels have still improved him. He is full of talent and fun, and draws cleverly."
At last there is a plainer insinuation. "I trust they will enliven your sejour in the old castle, and may Albert be able to strew roses without thorns on the pathway of life of our good Victoria. He is well qualified to do so...."
On the very day this letter was written, the Queen was addressing her uncle. "My dearest uncle, this letter will I am sure give you pleasure, for you have always shown and taken so warm an interest in all that concerns me. 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 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 is my opinion it is) as small as I can.... 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.... Lord Melbourne has acted in this business as he has always done towards me, with the greatest kindness and affection. We also think it better, and Albert quite approves of it, that we should be married very soon after Parliament meets, about the beginning of February."
The King's reply from Wiesbaden is like the man, and is pathetic in the depth of its gratification. "My dearest Victoria, nothing could have given me greater pleasure than your dear letter. I had, when I learnt your decision, almost the feeling of Old Simeon: 'Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.' Your choice has been for these last years my conviction of what might and would be best for your happiness; and just because I was convinced of it, and knew how strangely fate often changes what one tries to bring about as being the best plan one could fix upon—the maximum of a good arrangement—I feared that it would not happen."
In Prince Albert's letter to Baron Stockmar, written without delay, as he says, "on one of the happiest days of my life to give you the most welcome news possible," he goes on to declare that he is often at a loss to believe that such affection should be shown to him. He quotes as applicable to himself from Schiller's "Song of the Bell," of which the Prince was very fond—
Das Auge sieht den Himmel offen, Es schwimmt das Herz in seligkeit.
The passage from which these lines are taken is the very beautiful one thus rendered in English by the late Lord Lytton:—
And, lo! as some sweet vision breaks Out from its native morning skies, With rosy shame on downcast cheeks, The virgin stands before his eyes: A nameless longing seizes him! From all his wild companions flown; Tears, strange till then, his eyes bedim, He wanders all alone. Blushing he glides where'er she moves, Her greeting can transport him; To every mead to deck his love, The happy wild-flowers court him. Sweet hope—and tender longing—ye The growth of life's first age of gold, When the heart, swelling, seems to see The gates of heaven unfold. Oh, were it ever green! oh, stay! Linger, young Love, Life's blooming may.
In a later letter to Stockmar the Prince writes: "An individuality, a character which shall win the respect, the love, and the confidence of the Queen and of the nation, must be the groundwork of my position.... If therefore I prove a 'noble' Prince in the true sense of the word, as you call upon me to be, wise and prudent conduct will become easier to me, and its results more rich in blessings;" and to his stepmother he makes the thoughtful comment, "With the exception of my relation to her (the Queen), my future position will have its dark sides, and the sky will not always be blue and unclouded. But life has its thorns in every position, and the consciousness of having used one's powers and endeavours for an object so great as that of promoting the good of so many will surely be sufficient to support me."
The brothers remained at Windsor for a happy month, [Footnote: Lady Bloomfield describes a beautiful emerald serpent ring which the Prince gave the Queen when they were engaged.] when the royal lovers saw much of each other, and as a matter of course often discussed the future, particularly with reference to the Prince's position in his new country, and what his title was to be. One can easily fancy how interesting and engrossing such talks would become, especially when they were enlivened by the bright humour, and controlled by the singular unselfishness, of the object of so many hopes and plans. It was already blustering wintry weather, but there was little room to feel the depressing influence of the grey cloudy sky or the chill of the shrilly whistling wind and driving rain. Prince Ernest had the misfortune to suffer from an attack of jaundice, but it was a passing evil, sure to be lightened by ample sympathy, and it did not prevent the friend of the bridegroom from rejoicing greatly at the sound of the bridegroom's voice.
Perhaps the fact that a form of secrecy had to be kept up till her Majesty should announce her marriage to the Council only added an additional piquant flavour to the general satisfaction. But this did not cause the Queen to fail in confidence towards the members of her family, for she wrote herself to the Queen-dowager and to the rest of her kindred announcing her intended marriage, and receiving their congratulations.
On the 2nd of November there was a review of the battalion of the Rifle Brigade quartered at Windsor under Colonel, afterwards Sir George Brown, of Crimean fame, in the Home Park. The Queen was present, accompanied by Prince Albert, in the green uniform of the Coburg troops. What a picture, full of joyful content, independent of all accidents of weather, survives of the scene! "At ten minutes to twelve I set off in my Windsor uniform and cap (already described) on my old charger 'Leopold,' with my beloved Albert looking so handsome in his uniform on my right, and Sir John Macdonald, the Adjutant-General, on my left, Colonel Grey and Colonel Wemyss preceding me, a guard of honour, my other gentlemen, my cousin's gentlemen, Lady Caroline Barrington, &c., for the ground.
"A horrid day. Cold, dreadfully blowing, and, in addition, raining hard when we had been out a few minutes. It, however, ceased when we: came to the ground. I rode alone down the ranks, and then took my place as usual, with dearest Albert on my right and Sir John Macdonald on my left, and saw the troops march past. They afterwards manoeuvred. The Rifles looked beautiful. It was piercingly cold, and I had my cape on, which dearest Albert settled comfortably for me. He was so cold, being 'EN GRANDE TENUE,' with high boots. We cantered home again, and went in to show ourselves to. poor Ernest, who had seen all from a window."
The Princes left Windsor on the 14th of November, visiting the King of the Belgians on their way home, so that King Leopold could write to his niece, "I find them looking well, particularly Albert. It proves that happiness is an excellent remedy to keep people in better health than any other. He is much attached to you, and modest when speaking of you. He is besides in great spirits, full of gaiety and fun."
The bridegroom also sent kind words to his aunt and future mother-in-law, as well as tender words to his cousin and bride. "Dearest aunt, a thousand thanks for your two kind letters just received. I see from them that you are in close sympathy with your nephew—your son-in-law soon to be—which gratifies me very, very much.... What you say about my poor little bride sitting all alone in her room, silent and sad, has touched me to the heart. Oh, that I might fly to her side to cheer her!"
"For 'the poor little bride' there was no lack of those sweet words, touched with the grateful humility of a manly love, to receive which was a precious foretaste to her of the happiness of the years to come." "That I am the object of so much love and devotion often comes over me as something I can hardly realise," wrote the Prince. "My prevailing feeling is, What am I that such happiness should be mine? For excess of happiness it is to me to know that I am so dear to you." Again, in referring to his grandmother's regret at his departure he added, "Still she hopes, what I am convinced will be the case, that I may find in you, my dear Victoria, all the happiness I could possibly desire. And so I SHALL, I can truly tell her for her comfort." And once more he wrote from "dear old Coburg," brimming over with loyal joy, "How often are my thoughts with you! The hours I was privileged to pass with you in your dear little room are the radiant points of my life, and I cannot even yet clearly picture to myself that I am to be indeed so happy as to be always near you, always your protector." Last and most touching assurance of all, touching as it was solemn, when he mentioned to the Queen that in an hour he was to take the sacrament in church at Coburg, and went on, "God will not take it amiss, if in that serious act, even at the altar, I think of you, for I will pray to Him for you and for your soul's health, and He will not refuse us His blessing."
In the meantime there was much to do in England. On the 20th of November the Queen, with the Duchess of Kent, left Windsor for Buckingham Palace. On the 23rd, the Council assembled there in the Bow-room on the ground floor. The ceremony of declaring her proposed marriage was a mere form, but a very trying form to a young and modest woman called to face alone a gathering of eighty-three elderly gentlemen, and to make to them the announcement which concerned herself so nearly. Of the Privy Councillors some, like the Duke of Wellington, had known the Queen all her life, some had only served her since she came to the throne, but all were accustomed to discuss very different matters with her. How difficult the task was to the Queen we may judge from the significant note. The Queen always wore a bracelet with the Prince's picture, "and it seemed," she wrote in her Journal, "to give me courage at the Council." Her own further account of the scene is as follows: "Precisely at two 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's declaration was to this effect: "I have caused you to be summoned at the present time in order that I may acquaint you with my resolution in a matter which deeply concerns the welfare of my people and the happiness of my future life.
"It is my intention to ally myself in marriage with the Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Deeply impressed with the solemnity of the engagement which I am about to contract, I have not come to this decision without mature consideration, nor without feeling a strong assurance that, with the blessing of Almighty God, it will at once secure my domestic felicity and serve the interests of my country.
"I have thought fit to make this resolution known to you at the earliest period, in order that you may be apprised of a matter so highly important to me and to my kingdom, and which, I persuade myself, will be most acceptable to all my loving subjects."
The Queen returned to Windsor with the Duchess of Kent the same evening.
On the 16th of January, 1840, the Queen opened Parliament in person, and made a similar statement. "Since you were last assembled I have declared my intention of allying myself in marriage with the Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. I humbly implore that the Divine blessing may prosper this union, and render it conducive to the interests of my people as well as to my own domestic happiness, and it will be to me a source of the most lively satisfaction to find the resolution I have taken approved by my Parliament. The constant proofs which I have received of your attachment to my person and family persuade me that you will enable me to provide for such an establishment as may appear suitable to the rank of the Prince and the dignity of the Crown."
To see and hear the young Queen, still only in her twenty-first year, when she went to tell her people of her purpose, multitudes lined the streets and cheered her on her way that wintry day, and every seat in the House "was filled with the noblest and fairest of the land" ready to give her quieter but not less heartfelt support. It is no mere courtly compliment to say that Queen Victoria's marriage afforded the greatest satisfaction to the nation at large. Not only was it a very desirable measure on political grounds, but it appealed to the far deeper and wider feelings of humanity. It had that touch of nature which makes the whole world kin. Sir Robert Peel's words, when he claimed the right of the Opposition to join with the Government in its felicitations to both sovereign and country, were not required to convince the people that their Queen was not only making a suitable alliance, but was marrying "for love," according to the oldest, wisest, best plan. They knew the glad truth as if by instinct, and how heartily high and low entered into her happiness and wished her joy! It is said there is one spectacle which, whether the spectators own it or not, hardly ever palls entirely even on the most hardened and worldly, the most weary and wayworn, the poorest and most wretched—perhaps, least of all on the last. It is a bridegroom rejoicing to leave his chamber, and a bride blushing in her sweet bliss. There are after all only three great events in human history which, projected forward or reflected backward, colour all the rest—birth, marriage, and death. The most sordid or sullen population will collect in knots, brighten a little, forget hard fate or mortal wrongs for a moment, in the interest of seeing a wedding company go by. The surliest, the most whining of the onlookers will spare a little relenting, a happier thought, for "two lunatics," "a couple of young fools whose eyes will soon be opened," "a pore delooded lad," "a soft silly of a gal;" who are still so enviable in their brief bright day.
What was it then to know of a pair of royal lovers—a great Queen and her chosen Prince—well mated! It softened all hearts, it made the old young again, with a renewing breath of late romance and tenderness. And, oh! how the young, who are old now, gloried in that ideal marriage! What tales they told of it, what wonderful fancies they had about it! How it knit the hearts of the Queen and her subjects together more strongly than anything else save common sorrow could do! for when it comes to that, sorrow is more universal than joy, sinks deeper, and in this world lasts longer.
Indeed, at this stage, as at every other, it was soon necessary to descend from heaven to earth; and for the royal couple, as for the meanest of the people, there were difficulties in connection with the arrangements, troubles that proved both perplexing and vexatious. It may be said here that the times were not very propitious for asking even the most just and reasonable Parliamentary grants. The usual recurring sufferings from insufficient harvests and from stagnation of trade were depressing the mind of the country. Parliament was called on to act on the occasion of the Queen's marriage, and the House was not only divided into two hostile parties, the hostility had been envenomed by recent contretemps, notably that which prevented Sir Robert Peel and the Tories from taking office and kept in the Whig Government. The unpalatable fruits of the embroilment had to be eaten and digested at the present crisis. Accordingly there were carping faultfinding, and resistance—even defeat—on every measure concerning the Prince brought before the Lords and Commons.
The accusation of disloyal retaliation was made against the Tories. On the other hand the Whigs in power showed such a defiant attitude, in the absence of any attempt to conciliate their antagonists, even when the welfare of the Government's motions, and the interests and feelings of the Queen and the Prince demanded the first consideration, that Lord Melbourne's party were suspected of a crafty determination to let matters take their course for the express purpose of prejudicing Prince Albert against the Tories, and alienating him from them in the very beginning.
Lord Melbourne at least did not deserve this accusation. Whatever share he had in the injudicious attitude of the Government, or in the blunders it committed, must be attributed to the sort of high-handed carelessness which distinguished the man. His singular fairness in the business is thus recorded by Baron Stockmar. "As I was leaving the Palace, I met Melbourne on the staircase. He took me aside and used the following remarkable and true words, strongly characteristic of his great impartiality: 'The Prince will doubtless be very much irritated against the Tories. But it is not the Tories alone whom the Prince has to thank for the curtailment of his appanage. It is the Tories, the Radicals, and a good many of our own people.' I pressed his hand in approbation of his remarkable frankness. I said, 'There's an honest man! I hope you will yourself say that to the Prince.'" [Footnote: Lord Melbourne and Baron Stockmar were always on excellent terms. At the same time the English Prime Minister was not without a little jealousy of any suspicion of his Government being dictated to by King Leopold.]
Umbrage was taken by the Duke of Wellington at no mention being made of Prince Albert's Protestantism on the notification of the marriage. With regard to the income and position to be secured to the Prince, the nearest precedent which could be found to guide the discussion was that of Prince George of Denmark, husband to Queen Anne. It was halting in many respects, such as the fact that he had married the Princess long before she was Queen, nay, while her succession to the throne was problematical. Besides, his character and position in the country were only respectable for their harmlessness, and did not recommend him by way of example of any kind, either to Queen or people. Statesmen turned rather to the settlement and dignity accorded to Prince Leopold, when he married Princess Charlotte; but neither was that quite a case in point. The fittest reference, so far as income was concerned, seemed to be to the private purses allowed to the Queen Consorts of the reigning sovereigns of England. To the three last Queens—Caroline, Charlotte, and Adelaide, the sum of fifty thousand pounds a year had been granted. This also was the annuity settled on Prince Leopold. Therefore fifty thousand was the amount confidently asked by the Government.
After a good deal of wrangling and angry debate, in which, however, the Queen's name was studiously respected, she and the Prince had the mortification to learn that the country, by its representatives, had refused the usual allowance, and voted only thirty thousand a year to the Queen's husband.
The same ill-fortune attended an attempt to introduce into the bill for the naturalisation of the Prince, before the House of Lords, a clause which should secure his taking precedence of all save the Queen. The Duke of Sussex opposed the clause, in the interest of the King of Hanover, and so many jealous objections were urged that it was judged better to let the provision drop than risk a defeat in the House of Lords similar to that in the House of Commons. The awkward alternative remained that Prince Albert's position, so far as it had to do with the Lord Chamberlain and the Heralds' Office, was left undecided and ambiguous. It was only by the issue of letters patent on the Queen's part, at a later date, that any certainty on this point could be attained even in England.
The formation of the Prince's household, which one would think might have been left to his own good feeling and discretion, or at least to the Queen's judgment in acting for him, proved another bone of contention calling forth many applications and implied claims.
Baron Stockmar came to England in January, to see to this important element in the Prince's independence and comfort, as well as to the signing of the marriage contract. But in spite of the able representative, the Prince's written wishes, judicious and liberal-minded as might have been expected, and the Queen's desire to carry them out, at least one of the offices was filled up in a manner which caused Prince Albert anxiety and pain. The gentleman who had been private secretary to Lord Melbourne was appointed private secretary to the Prince, without regard to the circumstance that the step would appear compromising in Tory eyes—the very result which Prince Albert had striven to avoid, and that the official would be forced, as it were, on the Prince's intimacy without such previous acquaintance as might have justified confidence. It was only the sterling qualities of both Prince and secretary which obviated the natural consequences of such an ill-judged proceeding, and ended by producing the genuine liking and honest friendship which ought to have preceded the connection. The grudging, suspicions, selfish spirit thus manifested on all hands, was liable to wound the Queen in the tenderest point, and the disappointment came upon her with a shock, since she had been rashly assured by Lord Melbourne that there would be no difficulty either as regarded income or precedence. The indications were not encouraging to the stranger thus met on the threshold. But his mission was to disarm adverse criticism, to shame want of confidence and pettiness of jealousy, to confer benefits totally irrespective of the spirit in which they might be taken. And even by the irritated party-men as well as by the body of the people, the Prince was to be well received for the Queen's sake, with his merits taken for granted, so far as that went, since the heart of the country was all right, though its Whig and Tory temper might be at fault.
On the 10th of January, 1840, a death instead of a marriage took place in the royal family, but it was that of an aged member long expatriated. Princess Elizabeth, Landgravine of Hesse Homburg, died at Frankfort. It was twenty-two years since she had married and quitted England, shortly before the old Queen's death, a year before the birth of Queen Victoria. The Landgravine had returned once, a widow of sixty-four, and then had gone back to her adopted country. She had survived her husband eleven years, and her sister, resident like herself in Germany, the Princess Royal, Queen of Wurtemberg, twelve years. The Landgravine as Princess Elizabeth showed artistic talent. She was famous in her middle age for her great embonpoint; as she was also tall she waxed enormous. Baroness Bunsen, when Miss Waddington, saw Princess Elizabeth, while she was still unmarried, dressed for a Drawing-room, with five or six yellow feathers towering above her head, and refers to her huge dimensions then. It was alleged afterwards that it required a chain of her husband's faithful subjects in Homburg to encompass his consort. She accommodated herself wonderfully, though she was an elderly woman before she had ever been out of England, to the curious quaint mixture of State and homeliness in the little German town in which she was held in much respect and regard. The Landgravine was seventy years of age at the time of her death. After her widowhood she resided in Hanover, where her brother, King William, gave her a palace, and then at Frankfort, where she died. Out of her English income of ten thousand a year, it was said she spared six thousand for the needs of Hesse Homburg. Its castle and English garden still retain memories of the English princess who made her quiet home there and loved the place.
The marriage of the Queen was fixed for the 10th of February, and many eager, aspiring young couples throughout the country elected that it should be their wedding-day, also. They wished that the gala of their lives should fit in with hers, and that all future "happy returns of the day" might have a well-known date to go by, and a State celebration to do them honour.
Lord Torrington and Colonel—afterwards General—Grey set out for Gotha to escort the bridegroom to England. They carried with them the Order of the Garter, with which Prince Albert was invested by his father, himself a Knight of the Order, amidst much ceremony.
All the world knows that the Order of the Garter is the highest knightly order of England, dating back to the time of Edward III., and associated by a gay and gallant tradition with the beautiful Countess of Salisbury. The first Chapter of the Order was held in 1340, when twenty-five knights, headed by the King, walked in solemn procession to St. George's Chapel, founded for their use, and for the maintenance of poor knightly brethren to pray for the souls of the Knights-Companions—hence "the Poor Knights of Windsor." The first Knights-Companions dedicated their arms to God and St. George, and held a high festival and tournament in commemoration of the act in presence of Queen Philippa and her ladies. The habit of the knights was always distinguished by its colour, blue. Various details were added at different times by different kings. Henry VIII. gave the collar and the greater and lesser medallions of St. George slaying the dragon. Charles II. introduced the blue riband. It is scarcely necessary to say that the full dress of the knights is very magnificent. "There are the blue velvet mantle, with its dignified sweep, the hood of crimson velvet, the heron and ostrich-plumed cap, the gold medallion, the blazing star, the gold-lettered garter, to all which may be added the accessories that rank and wealth have it in their power to display; as, for example, the diamonds worn by the Marquis of Westminster, at a recent installation, on his sword and badge alone were Worth the price of a small kingdom; or richer still her present Majesty's jewels, that seem to have been showered by some Eastern fairy over her habit of the Order, among, which the most beautiful and striking feature is, perhaps, the ruby cross in the centre of the dazzling star of St. George." [Footnote: Knight's "Old England."]
The whole court of Gotha was assembled to see Prince Albert get the Garter; a hundred and one guns were fired to commemorate the auspicious occasion. The younger Perthes, under whom the Prince had studied at Bonn, wrote of the event, "The Grand-ducal papa bound the Garter round his boy's knee amidst the roar of a hundred and one cannon" (the attaching of the Garter, however, was done, not by Prince Albert's father, but by the Queen's brother, the Prince of Leiningen, another Knight of the Order). "The earnestness and gravity with which the Prince has obeyed this early call to take a European position, give him dignity and standing in spite of his youth, and increase the charm of his whole aspect."
The investiture was followed by a grand dinner, when the Duke proposed the Queen's health, which was drunk by all the company standing, accompanied by several distinct flourishes of trumpets, the band playing "God save the Queen," and the artillery outside firing a royal salute. Already the Prince had written to the Queen, when the marriage was officially declared at Coburg, that the day had affected him very much, so many emotions had filled his heart. Her health had been drunk at dinner "with a tempest of huzzas." The joy of the people had been so great that they had gone on firing in the streets, with guns and pistols, during the whole night, so that one might have imagined a battle was going on. This was a repetition of that earlier festival, only rendered more emphatic and with a touch of pathos added to it by the impending departure of Prince Albert, to lay hold of his high destiny. The leave-takings were earnest and prolonged, with many pretty slightly fantastic German ceremonies, and must have been hard upon a man whose affections were so tender and tenacious. Especially painful was the farewell to his mother's mother, the Dowager Duchess of Gotha, who had partly reared the princely lad. She was much attached to him, and naturally saw him go with little hope of their meeting again in this world.
The Prince was accompanied by his father and brother, with various friends in their train, who, after the celebration of the marriage, were to return to Germany. But Prince Albert carried with him—to remain in his near neighbourhood—two old allies, whose familiar faces would be doubly welcome in a foreign country. The one was his Swiss valet, Cart, a faithful, devoted servant, "the best of nurses," who, had waited on his master since the latter was a boy of seven years of age. The other was the beautiful greyhound, Eos, jet black with the exception of a narrow white streak on the nose and a white foot. Her master had got her as a puppy of six weeks old, when he was a boy in his fourteenth year, and had trained the loving, graceful creature in all imaginable canine, sagacity and cleverness. She had been the constant companion of his youth. She had already come to England with him, on the decisive visit of the previous autumn, and was known and dear to his royal mistress.
It was severe wintry weather when the great cavalcade, in eight travelling carriages, set out for England, and took its way across Germany, Belgium, and the north of France, to the coast The whole journey assumed much of the character of a festive procession. At each halting-place crowds turned out to do the princes honour. Every court and governing body welcomed them with demonstrations of respect and rejoicing. But at Aix-la-Chapelle, in a newspaper which he came across, Prince Albert read the debates and votes in the Houses of Parliament that cut down the ordinary annuity of the English sovereign's consort, and left unsettled the question of his position in the country. The first disappointment told in two ways. Young and sensitive—though he was also resolute and cheerful-minded—he had been a little nervous beforehand about the reception which might be accorded to him in England; he now received a painful impression that the marriage was not popular with the people. He had indulged in generous dreams of the assistance and encouragement which he would be able to bestow on men of letters and artists, when he suddenly found his resources curtailed to nearly half the amount he had been warranted in counting upon. However, at Brussels, the next halting-place, in writing to the Queen, and frankly admitting his mortification at the words and acts of the majority of the members of both English Houses of Parliament, he could add with perfect sincerity, "All I have time to say is, that while I possess your love they cannot make me unhappy."
And King Leopold was there with his sensible, calming counsel, while Baron Stockmar had been careful to have a letter awaiting the Prince, which explained the undercurrent of political, not personal, motives that had influenced the debates.
In fact, so far from being unpopular, the Prince, who was the Queen's choice, was really the most acceptable of all her suitors in the eyes of her people. The sole serious objection urged against him in those days was that of his youth, a fault which was not only daily lessening, but was speedily forgotten in the conviction of the manly and serious attention to duty on his part which he quickly inspired.
On the 5th of February the party arrived at Calais. Lord Clarence Paget had been sent over with the Firebrand to await their arrival, but the usual difficulties of an adverse tide and an insufficient French harbour presented themselves, and the company had to sail on the morning of the 6th in one of the ordinary Dover packet-boats, under a strong gale from the south-east, with a heavy sea, which rendered the horrors of the Channel crossing, at the worst, what only those who have experienced them can realise.
The Prince, like most natives of inland Germany, had been little inured to sailing, and his constitution rendered him specially liable to sea-sickness. As a lad of seventeen, facing the insidious and repulsive foe for the first time, he had expressed his own and his brother's dread of the unequal encounter. Now he was doomed to feel its ignoble clutch to the last moment. "The Duke had gone below, and on either side of the cabin staircase lay the two princes in an almost helpless state."
It was in such unpropitious circumstances that Prince Albert had to rise, pull himself together, and bow his acknowledgements to the crowds on the pier ready to greet him. Who that has rebelled against the calm superiority of the comfortable; amused onlookers at the haggard, giddy sufferers reeling on shore from the disastrous crossing of a stormy ferry, cannot comprehend the ordeal!
The Prince surmounted it gallantly, anticipating the time when, at the call of work or duty, he was known to rise to any effort, to shake off fatigue and indisposition as if he had been the most muscular of giants, and to make a brave fight to the last against deadly illness. He had his reward. The raw inclement day, the disabling, discomfiting malady—which had appeared in themselves a bad beginning, an inhospitable introduction to his future life—the recent misgivings he had entertained, were all forgotten in the enthusiastic reception he received before he put foot on land. A kind heart responds readily to kindness, and the Prince felt, in spite of parliamentary votes, the people were glad to see him, with an overflowing gladness.
It had been fixed that the Prince should not arrive at Buckingham Palace till the 8th. Accordingly there was time for the much-needed rest and refreshment, and for a leisurely conclusion of the long journey. The travellers stayed that night at Dover, the next at Canterbury, the Prince beginning the long list of fatiguing ceremonials which he was to undergo in the days to come, by receiving addresses, holding a reception, and showing himself on the balcony, as well as by the quieter, more congenial interlude of attending afternoon service in Canterbury Cathedral with his brother. The weather was still bad; pouring rain had set in, but it could not damp the spirit of the holiday-makers. As for the hero of the holiday, he was chafing, lover-like, at the formal delay which was all that interposed between him and a blissful reunion. He wrote to the Queen before starting for Canterbury, "Now I am once more in the same country with you. What a delightful thought for me. It will be hard for me to have to wait till to-morrow evening. Still, our long parting has flown by so quickly, and to-morrow's dawn will soon be here.... Our reception has been most satisfactory. There were thousands of people on the quays, and they saluted pus with loud and uninterrupted cheers.".
From Canterbury Prince Albert sent on his valet, Cart, with the greyhound Eos. "Little Dash," if Dash still lived, was to have a formidable rival, and the Queen speaks in her Journal of the pleasure which the sight of "dear Eos," the evening before the arrival of the Prince, gave her." [Footnote: Early Years of the Prince Consort.] Words are not wanted to picture the bright little scene, the light interruption to "affairs of the State," always weighty, often harassing, the gay reaction, the hearty unceremonious recognition on both sides, the warm welcome to the gentle avant courier. This was not a great queen, but a gleeful girl at the height of her happiness, who stroked with white taper hand the sleek black head, looked eagerly into the fond eyes, perhaps went so far as to hug the humble friend, stretching up fleet shapely paws, wildly wagging a slender tail, uttering sharp little yelps of delight to greet her. What wealth of cherished associations, of thrice happy realisation, the mere presence there, once more of "only a dog," brought to the mistress of the palace, the lady of the land!
On Saturday, the 8th of the month, Prince Albert proceeded to London, being cordially greeted along the whole road by multitudes flocking from every town and village to see him and shout their approval. At half-past four, in the pale light of a February afternoon, the travellers arrived at Buckingham Palace, "and were received at the hall door by the Queen and the Duchess of Kent, attended by the whole household," to whom a worthy master had come. The fullness of satisfaction and perfect joy of the meeting to two in the company are sacred.
An hour after his arrival the oath of naturalisation was administered to the Prince, "and the day ended with a great State dinner. Sunday was a rest day. Divine service was performed by the Bishop of London in the Bow-room on the ground floor—the same room in which the Queen had met her assembled Council in the course of the previous November, and announced to them her intended marriage. Afterwards the Prince drove out and paid the visits required of him to the different members of the royal family. In spite of the season and weather, throngs of Londoners surrounded the Palace, and watched and cheered him as he went and came. That day the Queen and Prince exchanged their wedding gifts. She gave him the star and badge of the Garter and the Garter set in diamonds, and he gave her a sapphire and diamond brooch.
CHAPTER VIII. THE MARRIAGE.
The 10th of February rose dark and foggy, with a lowering sky discharging at frequent intervals heavy showers. But to many a loyal heart far beyond the sound of Bow bells the date brought a thrill of glad consciousness which was quite independent of the weather. What mattered dreary skies or stinging sleet! This was the day on which the young Queen was to wed the lover of her youth, the man of her choice.
The marriage was to take place at noon, not in the evening, like former royal weddings, and the change was a great boon to the London public. During the busy morning, Prince Albert found time for a small act, which was nevertheless full of manly reverence for age and weakness, of mindful, affectionate gratitude for old and tender cares which had often made his childhood and youth happy. He wrote a few lines to the loving, venerable kinswoman who had performed the part of second mother to him, who had grieved so sorely over their parting.
"In less than three hours I shall stand before the altar with my dear bride. In these solemn moments I must once more ask your blessing, which I am well assured I shall receive, and which will be my safeguard and my future joy. I must end. God help me (or, rather, God be my stay!), your faithful Grandson." The Prince wrote a similar letter, showing how faithfully he recollected her on the crowning day of his life, to his good stepmother, the Duchess of Coburg.
Among the innumerable discussions on the merits or demerits of the Prince when he was first proposed as the husband for the Queen of England, there had not been wanting in a country where religion is generally granted to be a vital question, and where religious feuds, like other feuds, rage high, sundry probings as to the Prince's Christianity—what form he held, whether he might not be a Roman Catholic, whether he were a Christian at all, and might not rather be an infidel? Seeing that the Prince belonged to a Christian and to one of the most Protestant royal families in Europe, that he had been regularly trained in Christian and Lutheran doctrines, and had made a public profession of his belief in the same—a profession which his practice had in no way contradicted—these suppositions were, to say the least, uncalled for, and not remarkable for liberality or charity. It is easy to answer them substantially. The Prince, reserving his Protestant right of private judgment on all points of his belief, was a deeply religious man, as indicated throughout his career, at every stage, in every event of his life. It is hardly possible even for an irreligious man to conceive that Prince Albert could have been what he was without faith and discipline. His biographer has with reason quoted the "God be my stay!" in the light of the sincerity of the man, in a letter written in the flush of his joy and the very fruition of his desires, as one of the innumerable proofs that the Prince lived consciously and constantly under the all-seeing eye of an Almighty Father.
There were two main points from which out-of-door London could gaze its fill on the gala. The one was St. James's Park, from which the people could see the bride and bridegroom drive from Buckingham Palace to St. James's, where the marriage was to take place, according to old usage, and back again to Buckingham Palace for the wedding breakfast; the other was the Green Park, Constitution Hill, Hyde Park, and Piccadilly, by which most of the guests were to arrive to the wedding. The last point also commanded the route which the young couple would take to Windsor.
It was said that, never since the allied sovereigns visited London in 1814 had such a concourse of human beings made the parks alive, as on this wet February morning, when a dismal solitude was changed to an animated scene, full of life and motion. The Times described the mass of spectators wedged in at the back of Carlton Terrace and the foot of Constitution Hill, and the multitude of chairs, tables, benches, even casks, pressed info. The service, and affording vantage-ground to those who could pay for the accommodation. The dripping trees were also rendered available, and had their branches so laden with human fruit, that brittle boughs gave way, while single specimens and small clusters of men and boys came rattling down on the heads and shoulders of confiding fellow-creatures; but such misadventures were without serious accident, and simply afforded additional entertainment to the self-invited, light-hearted wedding guests.
Parties of cavalry and infantry taking their places, with "orderlies dashing to and fro," lent colour and livelier action to the panorama. At the same time the military were not a very prominent feature in the picture, and the State element was also to some extent wanting. Some state was inevitable, but after all the marriage of the sovereign was not so much a public ceremonial as a private event in her life. As early as eight o'clock in the morning the comparatively limited number of invited guests began to contribute to the satisfaction of the great uninvited by driving up beneath the triumphal arch, and presenting their pink or white cards for inspection. A body of Foot Guards marched forwards, followed by a detachment of the Horse Guards Blue, with their band discoursing wedding music appropriate to the occasion, cheering the hearts of the cold, soaked crowd, and awaking an enthusiastic response from it. Then appeared various members of the nobility, including the Duke of Norfolk, coming always to the front as Grand Marshal, wearing his robe and carrying his staff of office, when the rest of the world were in comparative undress, as more or less private individuals. But this gentleman summed up in his own person "all the blood of all the Howards," and recalled his ancestors great and small—the poet Earl of Surrey, those Norfolks to whom Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart were alike fatal, and that Dicky or Dickon of Norfolk who lent a humorous strain to the tragic tendency of the race.
The Ministers and Foreign Ambassadors came singly or in groups. The Ministers, with one or two exceptions, wore the Windsor uniform, blue turned up with an oak-leaf edging in gold. Viscount Morpeth, Lord John Russell, the Marquis of Normanby, Lord Palmerston, Lord Holland, Lord Melbourne, were well-known figures. The good-natured Duke of Cambridge arrived with his family and suite in three royal carriages. He wore the Orders of the Garter, and the Bath, and carried his baton as Field-Marshal. The Duke of Sussex was in the uniform of Captain-General of the Artillery Company, and wore the Orders of the Garter, the Bath, and St. Andrew. He had on his black skull-cap as usual, and drove up in a single carriage. He had opposed the clause relating to Prince Albert's taking precedence of all, save the Queen, in the Naturalisation Bill. He was to make further objection to the husband's occupying his natural place by the side of his wife when the Queen opened and prorogued Parliament, and to the Prince's rights in the Regency Bill. All the same, by right of birth and years, the Duke of Sussex was to give away his royal niece.
Before eleven o'clock, the Gentlemen and Ladies of the Household were in readiness at Buckingham Palace. The Ladies started first for St. James's. The Gentlemen of the foreign suites—Prince Albert's, and his father's, and brother's—in their dark-blue and dark-green uniforms, mustered in the hall, and dispatched a detachment to receive the Prince on his arrival at the other palace. At a quarter to twelve notice was sent to Prince Albert in his private apartments, and he came forth "like a bridegroom," between his royal supporters, traversed the State-rooms, and descended the grand staircase, preceded by the Chamberlain and Vice-Chamberlain, Comptroller of the Household, equerries and ushers. He was received with eager clappings of hands and wavings of handkerchiefs. The Prince was dressed in the uniform of a British Field-Marshal, and wore only one decoration, that of the Garter, with the collar surmounted by two white rosettes, and his bride's gifts of the previous day, the George and Star set in diamonds, on his breast, and the diamond-embroidered Garter round his knee. His pale, handsome face, with its slight brown moustache, his slender yet manly figure would have become any dress. Indeed, his general appearance, full of "thoughtful grace and quiet dignity," impressed every honest observer most favourably. We can imagine Baron Stockmar watching keenly in the background to catch every furtive glance and remark, permitting himself to rub his hands and exclaim, with sober exultation, "He is liked!"
Prince Albert's father and brother, his dearest friends hitherto, walked beside him. The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, with his fatherly heart swelling high, must have looked like one of the quaint stately figures out of old German prints in his long, military boots, the same as those of the Life Guards, and his dark-green uniform turned up with red. He, too, wore the collar and star of the Garter, and the star of his own Order of Coburg Gotha. On the other side of the bridegroom walked Prince Ernest. The wedding was next in importance to him to what it was to his brother, while to the elder playing the secondary part of the couple so long united in every act of their young lives, the marriage ceremony of his other self, which was to deal the decisive blow in the cleaving asunder of the old double existence, must have been full of very mingled feelings of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. Prince Ernest was a fine young man, in whose face, possibly a little stern in its repressed emotion, The Times reporter imagined he saw more determination than could be found in the milder aspect of Prince Albert, not guessing how much strength of will and patient steadfastness might be bound up with gentle courtesy. Prince Ernest was in a gay light-blue and silver uniform, and carried his helmet in his hand.
When the group came down the stairs, some privileged company, including a few ladies, stationed behind the Yeoman Guard and about the entrance, clapped their hands and waved their congratulations, and as Prince Albert entered the carriage which was to take him and his father and brother to St. James's, he received for the first time all the honours paid to the Queen. Trumpets sounded, colours were lowered, and arms presented. A squadron of Life Guards attended the party, but as the carriage was closed its occupants were not generally recognised.
As soon as the Lord Chamberlain had returned from escorting the Prince, six royal carriages, each with two horses, were drawn up before the entrance to Buckingham Palace, and his Lordship informed the Queen that all was ready for her. Accordingly, her Majesty left her room leaning on the arm of Lord Uxbridge, the Lord Chamberlain. She was supported by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and followed by a page of honour. The various officers of the Household—the Earl of Belfast, Vice-Chamberlain; the Earl of Albemarle, Master of the Horse; Lord Torrington, Comptroller and Treasurer, &c., walked in advance.
The Queen wore a bride's white satin and orange blossoms, a simple wreath of orange blossoms on her fair hair. Her magnificent veil of Honiton lace did not cover the pale face, but fell on each side of the bent head. Her ornaments were the diamond brooch which had been the gift of the bridegroom, diamond earrings and necklace, and the collar and insignia of the Garter. She looked well in her natural agitation, for, indeed, she was a true woman at such a moment. She was shy and a little shrinking as became a bride, and her eyes were swollen with recent tears—an illustration of the wise old Scotch proverb, "A greetin' (weeping) bride's a happy bride." Here were no haughty indifference, no bold assurance, no thoughtless, heartless gaiety,
A creature breathing thoughtful breath, A traveller 'twixt life and death.
A maiden leaving one stage of her life, with all its past treasures of affection and happiness, for ever behind her, and going forward, in loving hope and trust, no doubt, yet still in uncertainty of what the hidden future held in store for her of weal and woe, to meet her wifely destiny. As she came down into her great hall she was welcomed with fervent acclamations, but for once she was absorbed in herself, and the usual frank, gracious response was not accorded to the tribute. Her eyes were fixed on the ground; "a hurried glance round, and a slight inclination of the head," were all the signs she gave.
The Duchess of Kent, the good mother who had opened her heart to her nephew as to a son, from the May-day when he came to Kensington, who had every reason to rejoice in the marriage, still shared faithfully in her daughter's perturbation. However glad the Duchess might be, it was still a troubled gladness, for she had long experience. She knew that this day closed the morning glory of a life, brought change, a greater fullness of being, but with the fullness increased duties and obligations, more to dread, as well as more to hope, a heavier burden, though there was a true friend to share it. Illusions would vanish, and though reality is better than illusion to all honest hearts, who would not spare a sigh to the bright dreams of youth—too bright with a rainbow-hued radiance and a golden mist of grand expectations, dim in their grandeur, ever to be fulfilled in this work-a-day world? And the Duchess was conscious that the mother who gives a daughter away, even to the best of sons, resigns the first place in that daughter's heart, the first right to her time, thoughts, and confidence. Queen Victoria belonged to her people, but after that great solemn claim she had till now belonged chiefly to her mother. Little wonder that the kind Duchess looked "disconsolate" in the middle of her content!
The Duchess of Kent and the Duchess of Sutherland drove in the carriage with her Majesty "at a slow pace," for the royal bride, even on her bridal-day, owed herself to her subjects, while a strong escort of Household cavalry prevented the pressure of the shouting throng from becoming overpowering.
On the arrival of the Queen at St. James's Palace she proceeded to her closet behind the Throne-room, where she remained, attended by her maids of honour and train-bearers, until the Lord Chamberlain announced that all was ready for the procession to the chapel.
Old St. James's had been the scene of many a royal wedding. Besides that of Queen Mary, daughter of James II. and Anne Hyde, who was married to William of Orange at eleven o'clock at night in her bedchamber, Anne and George of Denmark were married, in more ordinary fashion, in the chapel. Following their example, the daughters of George II. and Queen Caroline—another Anne, the third English princess who was given to a Prince of Orange, and who was so ready to consent to the contract that she declared she would have him though he were a baboon, and her sister Mary, who was united to the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, were both married here; so was their brother, Frederick, Prince of Wales, to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Coburg. Prince Albert was the third of the Coburg line who wedded with the royal house of England. Already there were two strains of Saxe-Coburg blood in the veins of the sovereign of these realms. The last, and probably the most disastrous, marriage which had been celebrated in St. James's was that of George Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Caroline of Brunswick.
The portions of the palace in use for the marriage included the Presence Chamber, Queen Anne's Drawing-room, the Guard-room, the Grand Staircase, with the Colonnade, the Chapel Royal, and the Throne-room. On the Queen's marriage-day, rooms, staircase, and colonnade were lined with larger and smaller galleries for the accommodation of privileged spectators. The seats had crimson cushions with gold-coloured fringe, warming up the cold light and shade of a February day, while the white and gay-coloured dresses of the ladies and the number of wedding favours contributed to the gaiety of the scene. A Queen's wedding favours were not greatly different from those of humbler persons, and consisted of the stereotyped white riband, silver lace, and orange blossoms, except where loyalty indulged in immense bouquets of riband, and "massive silver bullion, having in the centre what might almost be termed branches of orange blossoms." The most eccentrically disposed favours seem to have been those of the mace-bearers, whose white "knots" were employed to tie up on the wearers' shoulders the large gold chains worn with the black dress of the officials. The uniformity of the gathering was broken by "burly Yeomen of the Guard, with their massive halberts, slim Gentlemen-at-Arms with their lighter 'partisans,'.... elderly pages of State, almost infantile pages of honour, officers of the Lord Chamberlain's Office, officers of the Woods and Forests, embroidered heralds and shielded cuirassiers, robed prelates, stoled priests, and surpliced singing-boys."
Among the guests, though not in the procession, loudly cheered as on other occasions, was the Duke of Wellington, who had seen the bride christened. People thought they noticed him bending under his load of years, tottering to the last step of all, but the old soldier was still to grace many a peaceful ceremony. In his company, far removed this day from the smoke of cannon and the din of battle, walked more than one gallant brother-in-arms, the Marquis of Anglesey, Lord Hill, &c.
The chapel was also made sumptuous for the occasion. Its carved and painted roof was picked out anew. The space within the chancel was lined and hung with crimson velvet, the communion-table covered with magnificent gold plate.
The Queen's procession began with drums and trumpets, and continued with pursuivants, heralds, pages, equeries, and the different officers of the Household till it reached the members of the Royal Family. These ranged from the farthest removed in relationship, Princess Sophia of Gloucester, through the Queen's young cousins in the Cambridge family, with much admiration bestowed on the beautiful child, Princess Mary, and the exceedingly attractive young girl, Princess Augusta, to another and a venerable Princess Augusta—one of the elder daughters of George III., an aged lady upwards of seventy, who then made her final appearance in public. Doubtless she had been among the company who were present at the last royal marriage in St. James's, on the night of the 8th of April, 1795, forty-five years before, a marriage so widely removed in every particular from this happy wedding. The two royal Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex walked next, the Lord Chamberlain and Vice-Chamberlain, with Lord Melbourne between, bearing the Sword of State before the Queen.
Her Majesty's train was carried by twelve unmarried ladies, her bridesmaids. Five of these, Lady Fanny Cowper, Lady Mary Grimston, Lady Adelaide Paget, Lady Caroline Gordon Lennox, and Lady Catherine Stanhope, had been among her Majesty's train-bearers at the coronation. Of the three other fair train-bearers on that occasion, one at least, Lady Anne Wentworth Fitzwilliam, was already a wedded wife. The remaining seven bridesmaids were Lady Elizabeth West, Lady Eleanor Paget, Lady Elizabeth Howard, Lady Ida Hay, Lady Jane Bouverie, Lady Mary Howard, and Lady Sarah Villiers. These noble maidens were in white satin like their royal mistress, but for her orange blossoms they wore white roses. Still more than on their former appearance together, the high-bred English loveliness of the party attracted universal admiration.
The Master of the Horse and the Mistress of the Robes, the Ladies of the Bedchamber, Maids of Honour, and Women of the Bedchamber followed, closed in by Yeomen of the Guard and Gentlemen-at-Arms.
In the chapel there had been a crowd of English nobility and foreign ambassadors awaiting the arrival of Prince Albert, when at twenty minutes past twelve he walked up the aisle, carrying a prayer-book covered with green velvet. He advanced, bowing to each side, followed by his supporters to the altar-rail, before which stood four chairs of State, provided for the Queen, the Prince, and, to right and left of them, Queen Adelaide and the Duchess of Kent. The Queen-dowager was in her place, wearing a dress of purple velvet and ermine; the bridegroom kissed her hand and entered into conversation with her, while his father and brother took their seats near him.
The Queen entered the chapel at twenty-five minutes to one, and immediately proceeded to her chair in front of the altar-rails. She knelt down and prayed, and then seated herself. Her mother was on her left side. Behind her stood her bridesmaids and train-bearers. On stools to right and left sat the members of the Royal Family. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London were already at the altar. In a few minutes the Queen and the Prince advanced to the communion-table. The service was the beautiful, simple service of the Church of England, unchanged in any respect. In reply to the question, "Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?" the Duke of Sussex presented himself. The Christian-names "Albert" and "Victoria" were all the names used. Both Queen and Prince answered distinctly and audibly. The Prince undertook to love, comfort, and honour his wife, to have and to hold her for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer; the Queen promised to obey as well as to love and cherish her husband till death them did part, like any other pair plighting their troth. When the ring was put on the finger, at a concerted signal the Park and Tower guns fired a royal salute and all London knew that her Majesty was a married woman.
The usual congratulations were exchanged amongst the family party before they re-formed themselves into the order of procession. The Duke of Sussex in his character of father kissed his niece heartily on the cheek besides shaking her by the hand. The Queen stepped quickly across and kissed her aunt, Queen Adelaide, whose hand Prince Albert saluted again. The procession returned in the same order, except that the bride and bridegroom walked side by side and hand in hand, the wedding-ring being seen on the ungloved hand. Her Majesty spoke once or twice to Lord Uxbridge, the Lord Chamberlain, as if expressing her wishes with regard to the procession. Her paleness had been succeeded by a little flush, and she was smiling brightly. On the appearance of the couple they were received with clapping of hands and waving of handkerchiefs. In the Throne-room the marriage was attested and the register signed "on a splendid table prepared for the purpose."
The whole company then repaired to Buckingham Palace, Prince Albert driving in the carriage with the Queen. The sight of the pair was hailed everywhere along the short route with loud cheering, to the joyous sound of which "the Queen walked up the grand staircase, in the presence of her court, leaning on her husband's arm."
An eye-witness—the Dowager Lady Lyttelton, who, both as a Lady of the Bedchamber and Governess to the royal children, knew the Queen and Prince well—has recorded her impression of the chief actor in the scene. "The Queen's look and manner were very pleasing, her eyes much swollen with tears, but great happiness in her countenance, and her look of confidence and comfort at the Prince when they walked away as man and wife was very pleasing to see. I understand she is in extremely high spirits since; such a new thing to her to dare to be unguarded in conversation with anybody, and, with her frank and fearless nature, the restraints she has hitherto been under from one reason or another with everybody must have been most painful." The wedding-breakfast with the toast of the day followed, then the departure for Windsor, on which the skies smiled, for the clouds suddenly cleared away and the sun shone out on the journey and the many thousand spectators on the way.
The Queen and Prince drove in one of the five carriages—four of which contained the suite inseparable from a couple of such rank. The first carriage conveyed the Ladies in Waiting, succeeded by a party of cavalry. The travelling chariot came next in order, and was enthusiastically hailed, bride and bridegroom responding graciously to the acclamations. Her Majesty's travelling dress was bridal-like: a pelisse of white satin trimmed with swans' down, a white satin bonnet and feather. The Prince was in dark clothes. The party left before four, but did not arrive at Windsor till nearly seven—long after darkness had descended on the landscape. Eton and Windsor were in the height of excitement, in a very frenzy of rejoicing. The travellers wended their way through a living mass in brilliantly illuminated streets, amidst the sending up of showers of rockets, the ringing of bells, the huzzaing of the people, the glad shouting of the Eton boys. Her Majesty was handed from the carriage by the Prince, she took his arm and the two entered the castle after a right royal welcome home.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning celebrated this event also in her eloquent fashion.
"She vows to love who vowed to rule, the chosen at her side, Let none say 'God preserve the Queen,' but rather 'Bless the Bride.' None blow the trump, none bend the knee, none violate the dream Wherein no monarch but a wife, she to herself may seem; Or if you say, 'Preserve the Queen,' oh, breathe it inward, low— She is a woman and beloved, and 'tis enough but so. Count it enough, thou noble Prince, who tak'st her by the hand, And claimest for thy lady-love our Lady of the land. And since, Prince Albert, men have called thy spirit high and rare, And true to truth and brave for truth as some at Augsburg were, We charge thee by thy lofty thoughts and by thy poet-mind, Which not by glory and degree takes measure of mankind, Esteem that wedded hand less dear for sceptre than for ring, And hold her uncrowned womanhood to be the royal thing."
Up in London and all over the country there were feasts and galas for rich and poor. There was a State banquet, attended by very high and mighty company, in the Banqueting-room at St. James's. Grand dinners were given by the members of the Cabinet; the theatres were free for the night to great and small; at each the National Anthem was sung amidst deafening applause; at Drury Lane there was a curious emblematical ballet—like a revival of the old masques, ending with a representation of the Queen and Prince surrounded by fireworks, which no doubt afforded immense satisfaction to the audience.
The Queen's wedding-cake was three hundred pounds in weight, three yards in circumference, and fourteen inches in depth. In recognition of the national interest of the wedding, the figure of Hymen, on the top, was replaced by Britannia in the act of blessing the royal pair, who, as a critic observed, were represented somewhat incongruously in the costume of ancient Rome. At the feet of the image of Prince Albert, several inches high, lay a dog, the emblem of fidelity. At the feet of the image of her Majesty nestled a pair of turtle-doves, the token of love and felicity. A Cupid wrote in a volume, spread open on his knees, for the edification of the capering Cupids around, the auspicious "10th of February, 1840," the date of the marriage; and there were the usual bouquets of white flowers, tied with true lovers' knots of white riband, to be distributed to the guests at the wedding breakfast and kept as mementoes of the event.