There were other trophies certain to be cherished and preserved among family treasures, and perhaps shown to future generations, as we sometimes see, turning up in museums and art collections, relics of the marriages of Mary Tudor and Catharine of Aragon. These were the bridesmaids' brooches. They were the royal gift to the noble maidens, several of whom had, two years before, received rings from the same source to commemorate the services of the train-bearers at the Coronation. These brooches were in the shape of a bird, the body being formed entirely of turquoises, the eyes were rubies, and the beak a diamond, the claws were of pure gold, and rested on pearls of great size and value. The design and workmanship were according to the Queen's directions.
The twelve beautiful girls who received the gifts have since fulfilled their various destinies—each has "dreed her weird," according to the solemn, sad old Scotch phrase. Some, perhaps the happiest, have passed betimes into the silent land; the survivors are elderly women, with granddaughters as lovely as they themselves were in their opening day. One became a princess—Lady Sarah Villiers married Prince Nicholas Esterhazy. Two are duchesses—Lady Elizabeth Sackville-West, Duchess of Bedford; and Lady Catherine Stanhope, married first to Lord Dalmeny, eldest son of the Earl of Rosebery, and secondly to the Duke of Cleveland. Three are countesses—Lady Caroline Gordon Lennox, Countess of Bessborough; Lady Mary Grimston, Countess of Radnor; and Lady Ida Hay, Countess of Gainsborough. Lady Fanny Cowper, whose beauty was much admired by Leslie, the painter, married Lord Jocelyn, eldest son of the Earl of Roden. Lord Jocelyn was one of the victims to cholera in 1854. He was seized while on duty at Buckingham Palace, and died after two hours' illness in Lady Palmerston's drawing-room. Lady Mary Howard became the wife of Baron Foley. One bridesmaid, Lady Jane Bouverie, married a simple country gentleman, Mr. Ellis, of Glenaquoich.
CHAPTER IX. A ROYAL PAIR.
The Queen and the Prince were only one whole day holding state by themselves at Windsor. It is not given to a royal couple to flee away into the wilds or to shut themselves up from their friends and the world like meaner people; whether a prolonged interval of retirement be spent in smiling or in sulking, according to cynical bachelors and spinsters, it is not granted to kings and queens. On the single day of grace which her Majesty claimed she wrote to Baron Stockmar the emphatic estimate of the man of her choice. "There cannot exist a dearer, purer, nobler being in the world than the Prince." A young bride's fond judgment; but to her was given the deep joy of finding that time only confirmed the proud and glad conviction of that first day of wedlock.
On Wednesday, the 12th, the royal couple at Windsor were rejoined by the Duchess of Kent, the Duke of Coburg, the hereditary Prince, and the whole Court. Then two more days of holiday were spent with something of the heartiness of old times, when brides and bridegrooms did not seem either as if they were ashamed of their happiness or too selfish to share it with their friends. No doubt there were feasting and toasting, and there was merry dancing each night.
On Friday, the 14th, the Court returned to London, that the principal person might gratify the people by appearing in public and that she might take up once more the burden of a sovereign's duties. Addresses were received from the Houses of Parliament. The theatres were visited in state. On the 19th of the month the Queen held her first levee after her marriage, when the Prince took his place at her left hand. On Sunday, the 20th, the newly-married couple attended divine service together in the Chapel Royal, St. James's, and were loudly cheered on their way through the Park.
Buckingham Palace was to continue the Queen's town residence, but St. James's, by virtue of its seniority in age and priority in historical associations, remained for a considerable time the theatre of all the State ceremonials which were celebrated in town until gradually modifications of the rule were established. A chapel was fitted up in Buckingham Palace, which accommodated the household in comparative privacy, and prevented the inconvenience of driving in all states of the health and the weather for public worship at the neighbouring palace chapel. It was found that there was better accommodation for holding Drawing-rooms, and less crowding and inconvenience to the ladies attending them, when the Drawing-rooms were held at Buckingham Palace instead of St. James's. The levees are nearly all that is left to St. James's, in addition to the fact that it contains the offices of the Lord Chamberlain, &c. But the place where her Majesty was proclaimed Queen and wedded deserves a parting word.
The visitor to St. James's passes up the great staircase, which has been trodden by the feet of so many generations, bound on such different errands. Here and there, from a picture-frame high up on the wall, a painted face looks down immovably on the comings and goings below. The Guard-room has a few stands of glittering arms and one or two women's portraits; altogether a different Guard-room from what it must have been when it received its name. Beyond is the Armoury, where arms bristle in sheaves and piles, surmounted by hauberks and casques, smooth and polished as if they had never been dinted in battle or rusted with blood. Queen Anne's Drawing-room, spacious and stately, is resplendent in yellow satin. Old St. James's has sustained a recent renovation, its faded gorgeousness has been renewed, not without a difficult compromise between the unhesitating magnificence of the past and the subdued taste of the present day. The compromise is honourable to the taste of the decorator, for there is no stinting of rich effect, stinting which would have been out of place, in the great doors, picked out and embossed, the elaborately devised and wrought walls and ceilings, the huge chandeliers, &c. But warm, deep crimson is relieved by cool pale green, and sage wainscot meets the dull red of feathery leaves on other walls. The Queen's Closet, which misses its meaning when it is called a boudoir, with the steel-like embroidery on its walls, matching the grey blue of its cut velvet hangings, recalls the natural pauses in a busy life, when the Queen awaits the call of public duty, or withdraws for a breathing space from the pressure of fatiguing obligations.
In more than one of the principal rooms there are low brass screens or railings drawn across the room, to be used as barricades; and the uninitiated hears with due respect that behind those the ambassadors are supposed to congregate, while these fence the approach to the throne.
In spite of such precautions, large Drawing-rooms became latterly hard-pressed crowds struggling to make their way, and the State-rooms of Buckingham Palace were put in request as affording better facilities for these ceremonies.
There is a picture gallery where a long row of Kings and Queens, in their full-length portraits, stand like Banquo's descendants. The portraits begin with that of bluff King Hal, very bluff and strident. According to Mr. Hare's account, which he has taken from Holinshed, Henry VIII. got St. James's when it was an hospital for "fourteen maidens that were leprous," and having pensioned off the sisters, "reared a fine mansion and park" in the room of the hospital. The picture of his young son is a quaint, slim edition of his father. There is a sad and stiff Mary Tudor, who laid down her embittered and brokenhearted life in this palace, and by her side, as she seldom was in the flesh, a high-ruffed, yellow-haired, peaked-chinned Elizabeth—a noble shrew. The British Solomon has the sword-proof padding of his doublet and trunk hose very conspicuous. A wide contrast is a romantic, tragic King Charles, with a melancholy remembrance in his long face and drooping eyes of the day when he bade farewell to the world at St. James's and left it for the scaffold at Whitehall. His swarthy periwigged sons balance the sister queens, Mary and Anne. St. James's, like Kensington and Hampton Court, seems somehow peculiarly associated with them. Though other and more striking royal figures dwelt there both before and after the two last of the reigning Stuarts, they have left a distinct impression of themselves, together with a Sir Peter Lely and a Sir Godfrey Kneller flavour about all the more prominent quarters of the palace. The likenesses of Mary and Anne occur as they must have appeared before they lost the comeliness of youth, when St. James's was their home, the house of their father, the Duke of York and Anne his Duchess, where the two sisters wedded in turn a princely hero and a princely nobody.
In the Throne-room, amidst the portraits of later sovereigns to which royal robes and the painter's art have supplied an adventitious dignity, there are fine likenesses of the Queen and Prince Albert, which must have been taken soon after their marriage, when they were in the first bloom of their youth and happiness. Her Majesty wears a royal mantle and the riband of the Garter, like her compeers; behind her rise the towers of Windsor.
In the double corridor, along which two streams of company flow different ways to and from the Presence-chamber, as the blood flows in the veins and arteries, are more pictures—those of some charming children. A stout little Prince Rupert before he ever smelt the smoke of battle or put pencil to paper. Representations of almost equally old-world-looking children of the Georgian era by their royal mother's knee, one child bearing such a bow as figures often in the hands of children in the portraits of the period; a princely boy in miniature robes of State, with a queen's hand on his shoulder; a little solitary flaxen-haired child with a tambourine. The bow has long been unbent, the royal mother and child are together again, the music of the tambourine is mute.
In the Banqueting-room there are great battle-pieces by land and sea from Tournay to Trafalgar, like a memory of the Hall of Battles at Versailles.
The Chapel Royal, where the Queen was made a wife, has ceased in a measure to be a royal place of worship. Still within its narrow bounds and plain walls a highly aristocratic congregation have, if they choose, a right to the services of the dean and sub-dean and the five-and-thirty chaplains—not to say of the bishops duly appointed to officiate on special occasions. Not only is the royal closet still in readiness furnished with its chairs of State, there are other closets or small galleries for the Household, peeresses and their daughters, &c. The simplest pew below belongs to the Lord Chamberlain, the Lord Steward, peers and their sons, or members of Parliament, &c. The Chapel Royal, like the State-rooms, is fresh and spruce from renewal. It has, however, wisely avoided all departure from the original character of the building, which has nothing but the carved roof and the great square window to distinguish it from any other chapel of the same size and style. It is difficult to realise that it was here Queen Mary listened attentively to Bishop Burnet, and Queen Caroline was guilty of talking, while Princess Emily brought her little dog under her arm. Nor is it easy to fancy the brilliance of the scene in the quiet place when it was lined from floor to ceiling with tier upon tier of seats for the noblest in the land, when every inch of standing-room had its fit occupant, and a princely gathering was grouped before the glittering altar to hear a Queen plight her troth.
St. James's has still a royal resident in the sole surviving member of the great family of George III., the venerable Duchess of Cambridge, who lives in the north wing of the palace. Marlborough House and Clarence House are in the immediate vicinity, indeed the last is so near that it is reached by a covered way. And as if to make the sense of the neighbourhood of a cluster of royal establishments more vivid, and the thought of the younger generation of the Royal Family more present in the old place, as the visitor passes through its corridors the cannon in the park peals forth the announcement of the birth of the last of her Majesty's grandchildren.
On the 28th of February, a little more than a fortnight after the marriage, came the Prince's first practical experience of its cost to him. His father left on his return to Coburg. "He said to me," the Queen wrote in her Journal, "that I had never known a father, and could not therefore feel what he did. His childhood had been very happy. Ernest, he said, was now the only one remaining here of all his earliest ties and recollections; but if I continued to love him as I did now, I could make up for all.... Oh! how I did feel for my dearest, precious husband at this moment! Father, brother, friends, country, all has he left, and all for me. God grant that I may be the happy person, the most happy person to make this dearest, blessed being happy and contented. What is in my power to make him happy I will do."
Prince Ernest remained in England nearly three months after his father had left.
Early in March a step was taken to render the Prince's position clearer and more secure. Letters patent were issued conferring on him precedence next to the Queen. How necessary the step was, even in this country, towards a conclusion which appears to us to-day so natural as to be beyond dispute, may be gathered from the circumstance that, even after the marriage, objections were made to the Prince's sitting by the Queen's side in the State carriage on State occasions, and to his occupying a chair of State next the throne when she opened and prorogued Parliament.
Prince Albert proposed for himself a wise and generous course, which he afterwards embodied in fitting words—"to sink his own individual existence in that of his wife, to aim at no power by himself or for himself, to shun all ostentation, to assume no separate responsibility before the public; continually and anxiously to watch every part of the public business in order to be able to advise and assist her at any moment, in any of the multifarious and difficult questions brought before her—sometimes political, or social, or personal—as the natural head of the family, superintendent of her household, manager of her private affairs, her sole confidential adviser in politics and only assistant in her communications with the affairs of the Government." In fact, the Prince was the Queen's private secretary in all save the name, uniting the two departments, political and social, of such an office which had hitherto been held separately by Lord Melbourne and Baroness Lehzen.
Prince Albert discharged the double duty with the authority of his rank and character, and especially of his relations to the Queen. He expressed his object very modestly in writing to his father: "I endeavour quietly to be of as much use to Victoria in her position as I can." The post was a most delicate and difficult one, and would have been absolutely untenable, had it not been for the perfect confidence and good understanding always existing between the Queen and the Prince, and for his remarkable command of temper, and manly forbearance and courtesy, under every provocation, to all who approached him. Perhaps a still more potent agent was a quality which was dimly felt from the beginning, and is fully recognised to-day—his sincerity of nature and honesty of purpose. In the painful revelations which, alas! time is apt to bring of double-dealing and self-seeking on the part of men in power, no public character of his day stands out more honourably in the strong light which posterity is already concentrating on the words and actions of the past, than does Prince Albert for undeniable truthfulness and disinterestedness. Men may still cavil at his conclusions, and maintain that he theorised and systematised and was tempted to interfere too much, but they have long ceased to question his perfect integrity and single-heartedness, his rooted aversion to all trickery and to deceit in every form. "He was an honest man and a noble prince who did good work," is now said universally of the Queen's husband; and honesty is not only the highest praise, it is a great power in dealing with one's fellows.
But it was not in a day or without many struggles that anything approaching to his aim was achieved. The inevitable irritation caused by the transfer of power and the disturbance of existing arrangements on the part of a new comer, the sensitive jealousy which even the Prince's foreign birth occasioned, had to be overcome before the first approach to success could be attained.
We can remember that some of the old Scotch Jacobite songs—very sarcastic where German royal houses were concerned—experienced a temporary revival, certainly more in jest than in earnest, and with a far higher appreciation of the fun than of the malice of the sentiment. The favourite was "The wee, wee German Lairdie," and began in this fashion:—
Wha the Diel hae we gotten for a King, But a wee, wee German Lairdie? And when they gaed to bring him hame He was delvin' in his little kail-yardie.
The last verse declared:—
He'a pu'ed the rose o'English blooms, He's broken the harp o'Irish, clowns, But Scotia's thistle will jag his thoomba, The wee, wee German Lairdie.
A prophecy honoured in its entire breach.
Even tried and trusty friends grown old in Court service could not make up their minds at once to the changed order of affairs, or resign, without an effort to retain it, their rule when it came into collision with the wishes of the new head of the household; Prince Albert, in writing frankly to his old comrade Prince Lowenstein, said he was very happy and contented, but the difficulty in filling his place with proper dignity was that he was only the husband and not the master of the house. The Queen had to assert, like a true woman, when appealed to on the subject, that she had solemnly engaged at the altar to obey as well as to love and honour her husband, and "this sacred obligation she could consent neither to limit nor define."
It may be stated that, in spite of the fidelity and devotion of those who surrounded the Queen, the old system under which the arrangements of the palaces were conducted stood in great need of reform. Anything more cumbrous, complicated, and inconvenient than the plan adopted cannot easily be conceived. The great establishments were not subject to one independent, responsible rule, they were divided into various departments under as many different controlling bodies. Rights and privileges, sinecures and perquisites, bristled on all sides, and he who would reform them must face the unpopularity which is almost always the first experience of every reformer. There is a graphic account of the situation in the "Life of the Prince Consort," and "Baron Stockmar's Memoirs." "The three great Officers of State, the Lord Steward, the Lord Chamberlain, and the Master of the Horse, all of them officials who varied with each change of the Ministry, and were appointed without regard to any special qualifications for their office, had each a governing voice in the regulation of the household.... Thus one section of the palace was supposed to be under the Lord Chamberlain's charge, another under that of the Lord Steward, while as to a third it was uncertain whose business it was to look after it. These officials were responsible for all that concerned the interior of the building, but the outside had to be taken care of by the office of Woods and Forests. The consequence was, that as the inside cleaning of the windows belonged to the Lord Chamberlain's department, the degree of light to be admitted into the palace depended proportionably on the well-timed and good understanding between the Lord Chamberlain's Office and that of Woods and Forests. One portion of the personnel of the establishment again was under the authority of the Lord Chamberlain, another under that of the Master of the Horse, and a third under the jurisdiction of the Lord Steward." "The Lord Steward," writes Baron Stockmar, "finds the fuel and lays the fire, and the Lord Chamberlain lights it.... In the same manner the Lord Chamberlain provides all the lamps, and the Lord Steward must clean, trim, and light them. Before a pane of glass or a cupboard door could be mended, the sanction of so many officials had to be obtained, that often months elapsed before the repairs were made."
One is irresistibly reminded of the dilemma of the unfortunate King of Spain, who died from a feverish attack brought on by a prolonged exposure to a great fire, because it was not etiquette for the monarch to rise, and the grandee whose prerogative it was to move the royal chair happened to be out of the way.
"As neither the Lord Chamberlain nor the Master of the Horse has a regular deputy residing in the palace, more than two-thirds of all the male and female servants are left without a master in the house. They can come on and go off duty as they choose, they can remain absent hours and hours on their days of waiting, or they may commit any excess or irregularity; there is nobody to observe, to correct, or to reprimand them. The various details of internal arrangement whereon depend the well-being and comfort of the whole establishment, no one is cognisant of, or responsible for. There is no officer responsible for the cleanliness, order, and security of the rooms and offices throughout the palace."
Doubtless, it was under this remarkable condition of the royal household that a considerable robbery of silver plate from an attic in which it was stored took place at Windsor Castle in 1841. Massive silver encasings of tables, borders of mirrors, fire-dogs and candelabra, together with the silver ornaments of Tippoo Saib's tent, disappeared in this way.
It took years to remedy such a state of matters, and it was only by the exercise of the greatest tact, which, to be sure, was comparatively easy to the Prince, that the improvement was effected. The necessary reforms were made to proceed from the officers of State themselves, and the enforcement of the new regulations was carried out by a Master of the Household, who resided permanently in the palace which the Queen occupied. Eventually each royal establishment was brought to a high average of order and efficiency. If possible, still greater caution had to be practised in the Prince's dealing with political affairs, for here the jealousy of foreign influence was national, and among the most deeply rooted of insular prejudices. In the beginning of their married life the Prince was rarely with the Queen at her Cabinet Councils, though no objection had been made to his presence, and he did not take much share in business, though Lord Melbourne, especially, urged his being made acquainted with it in all its details. Both in its public and private relations, the path at starting was not an easy one, while the Prince and the Queen shared its anxieties and worries. Happily for all, the two, who were alike in sense, good feeling, and trusting affection, stood firm, and gradually surmounted the contradictions in their brilliant lot. But it was probably under these influences that Baron Stockmar, always exacting in the best interests of those he loved, fancied—even while he had no hesitation in recording the Prince behaved in his difficult position very well—that a friend had reason to dread in the young man not yet twenty-one, the old defects of dislike to intellectual exertion and indifference to politics. No efforts were wanting on the part of the good old mentor, who in his absence kept up a constant correspondence with the Prince, to preserve the latter's "ideal aspirations." Sometimes, the keen observer feared that the object of his dreams and cares was losing courage for his self-imposed Herculean labours, but the brave will and loyal heart proved triumphant.
That spring and the next two springs and summers were gay seasons in London—and London life meant then to the Queen and the Prince an overwhelming amount of engagements, besides the actual part in the government of the country. "Levees, Drawing-rooms, presentations of addresses, great dinners, State visits to the theatre" swelled the long list. The Prince, like most Germans, was fond of the play, and had a great admiration of Shakespeare, whose plays were revived at Covent Garden in 1840, Charles Kemble giving a last glimpse of the glory of the early Kemble performances. The couple presided over many little balls and dances which became a Court where the sovereigns were in the heyday of their youth and happiness. Lady Bloomfield, who as the Hon. Miss Liddell was one of the Queen's Maids of Honour a little later, gives a pleasant account of an episode at one of these dances. "One lovely summer's morning we had danced till dawn, and the quadrangle being then open to the east, her Majesty went out on the roof of the portico to see the sun rise, which was one of the most beautiful sights I ever remember. It rose behind St. Paul's, which we saw quite distinctly; Westminster Abbey and the trees in the Green Park stood out against a golden sky."
All this innocent gaiety was consecrated by the faithful discharge of duty and the reverent observance of sacred obligations. At Easter, which was spent at Windsor, the Queen and the Prince took the Sacrament together for the first time. "The Prince," the Queen has said, "had a very strong feeling about the solemnity of the act, and did not like to appear in company either the evening before or on the day on which, he took it, and he and the Queen almost always dined alone on these occasions." Her Majesty has supplied a brief record, in the "Early Years of the Prince Consort," of one such peaceful evening. "We two dined together. Albert likes being quite alone before he takes the Sacrament; we played part of Mozart's Requiem, and then he read to me out of Stunden den Andacht (Hours of Devotion) the article on Selbster Kentniss (Self-knowledge.)" The whole sounds like a sweet, solemn, blessed pause in the crowded busy life.
A sudden shock, which was only that of a great danger happily averted, broke in on the flush of all that was best worth having and doing in existence, and seemed to utter a warning against the instability of life at its brightest and fairest. There was stag-hunting on Ascot Heath, at which the Queen and the Prince were to be present. He was to join in the hunt and she was to follow with Prince Ernest in a pony phaeton. As she stood by a window in Windsor Castle, she saw Prince Albert canter past on a restless and excited horse. In vain the rider turned the animal round several times, he got the bit between his teeth and started at the top of his speed among the trees of the Park; very soon he brushed against a branch and unseated the Prince, who fell, without, however, sustaining any serious injury. The Queen saw the beginning but not the end of the misadventure, and her alarm was only relieved by the return of one of the grooms in waiting, who told the extent of the accident. Noblesse oblige. The Prince mounted a fresh horse and proceeded to the hunt, and the Queen joined him. "Albert received me on the terrace of the large stand and led me up," the Queen wrote in her Journal. "He looked very pale, and said he had been much alarmed lest I should have been frightened by his accident.... He told me he had scraped the skin off his poor arm, had bruised his hip and knee, and his coat was torn and dirty. It was a frightful fall."
On the 20th of April, an event took place in France which at this time naturally was particularly interesting both to the Queen and the Prince. The Duc de Nemours, second son of Louis Philippe and brother to the Queen of the Belgians, married Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg, only daughter of the head of the Catholic branch of the family, sister of the King Consort of Portugal, and first cousin both to the Queen and Prince Albert. This marriage drew many intertwined family ties still more closely together. Princess Victoire was a pretty golden-haired girl, and is described afterwards as a singularly sweet, affectionate, reasonable woman. She had spent much of her youth at Coburg, and been a favourite playmate of Prince Albert, whose junior she was by three years. She was the friend of the Queen from girlhood. "We were like sisters," wrote her Majesty, "bore the same name, married the same year.... There was in short a similarity between us, which, since 1839, united us closely and tenderly." The Duc de Nemours, without the intellectual gifts of some of his brothers, resembled his good mother, Queen Amelie, in many respects. He had quiet, domestic tastes, and was affectionately attached to his wife.
CHAPTER X. ROYAL OCCUPATIONS.—AN ATTEMPT ON THE QUEEN'S LIFE.
The family arrangements in the marriage of the Queen and Prince Albert appear to have been made with the kindest, most judicious consideration for what was due to former ties, that all the relations of life might be settled gradually and naturally, on the footing which it was desirable they should assume. The connection between the Queen and the Duchess of Kent was very close. It was that of a mother and child who had been nearly all in all to each other, who, till Queen Victoria's marriage, had not been separated for a day. Since the Duchess of Kent's arrival in England, she had never dwelt alone. It was now deemed advisable that she should have a separate house, which was, however, to be in constant communication with the Queen's, the intercourse between the two continuing to be of the most intimate character, mother and daughter meeting daily and sharing the most of their pleasures. In April, two months after the marriage, the Duchess removed to Ingestrie House, Belgrave Square.
In another month, on the 7th of May, Prince Ernest left England. The parting between the brothers was a severe trial to both. They bade farewell, German student fashion, singing together beforehand the parting song Abschied.
The young couple were now left in a greater measure to themselves to form their life, and lead it to noble conclusions. They spent the Queen's birthday in private at Claremont—a place endeared to her by the happiest associations of her childhood, and very pleasant to him because of its country attractions. There the pair could wander about the beautiful grounds and neighbourhood, as another royal pair had wandered before them, and do much as they pleased, like simple citizens or great folks living in villeggiatura. The custom was then established of thus keeping the real birthday together in retirement, while another day was set apart for public rejoicing.
There is a story told of the Queen and Prince Albert's early visits to Claremont—a story certainly not without its parallel in the lives of other popular young sovereigns in their honeymoons, but probable enough in this case. The couple were caught in a shower, during one of their longer rambles, and took refuge in a cottage—the old mistress of which was totally unacquainted with the high rank of her guests. She entertained them with many extraordinary anecdotes of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold, the original heroine and hero of Claremont. At last the dame volunteered to give her visitors the loan of her umbrella, with many charges to Prince Albert that it should be taken care of and returned to its owner. The Queen and the Prince started on their homeward way under the borrowed shelter, and it was not for some time that the donor knew with whom she had gossipped, and to whom she had dealt her favours.
The Prince's first appearance as an art patron took place in connection with the Ancient Music Concerts. He had already been named one of the directors who arrange in turn each concert. He made the selections for his concert on the 29th of April, and both he and the Queen appeared at the rehearsal on the 27th. Perhaps the gentle science was what he loved above every other, being a true German in that as in all else. At this time he played and sang much with the Queen; the two played together often on the organ in one of his rooms. Lady Lyttelton has described the effect of his music. "Yesterday evening, as I was sitting here comfortably after the drive by candlelight, reading M. Guizot, suddenly there arose from the room beneath, oh, such sounds! It was Prince Albert, dear Prince Albert, playing on the organ; and with such master skill, as it appeared to me, modulating so learnedly, winding through every kind of bass and chord, till he wound up with the most perfect cadence, and then off again, louder and then softer. No tune, as I was too distant to perceive the execution or small touches so I only heard the harmony, but I never listened with much more pleasure to any music. I ventured at dinner to ask him what I had heard. 'Oh! my organ, a new possession of mine. I am so fond of the organ! It is the first of instruments; the only instrument for expressing one's feelings' (I thought, are they not good feelings that the organ expresses?), 'and it teaches to play; for on the organ a mistake, oh! such misery;' and he quite shuddered at the thought of the sostenuto discord."
But while the Prince was an enthusiastic musician, he was likewise fond of painting; his taste and talent in this respect also having been carefully cultivated. In these sunshiny early days, sunshiny in spite of their occasional clouds, he still possessed a moderate amount of leisure, notwithstanding the late hours night and morning, of which the Queen took the blame, declaring it was her fault that they breakfasted at ten, getting out very little—a practice quite different from their later habits. He seized the opportunity of starting various pursuits which formed afterwards the chief recreation of his and the Queen's laborious days. He tried etching, which afforded the two much entertainment, and he began his essays in landscape gardening, developing a delightful faculty with which she had the utmost sympathy.
On the 1st of June the Prince took the initiatory step in identifying himself with moral and social progress, and in placing himself, as the Queen's representative, at the head of those humane and civilising movements which recommended themselves to his good judgment and philanthropic spirit. He complied with the request that he should be chairman at a meeting to promote the abolition of the slave trade, and made his first public speech in advocacy of justice between man and man. This speech was no small effort to a young foreigner, who, however accomplished, was certainly not accustomed to public speaking in a foreign tongue. It was like delivering a maiden speech under great difficulties, and as it was of importance that he should produce a good impression, he spared no preparation for the task. He composed the speech himself, learnt it by heart, and repeated it to the Queen in the first instance.
Among the crowd present was the young Quaker lady, Caroline Fox, whose "Memories" have been given to the world. She wrote at the time: "The acclamations attending his (the Prince's) entrance were perfectly deafening, and he bore them all with calm, modest dignity, repeatedly bowing with considerable grace. He certainly is a very beautiful young man, a thorough German, and a fine poetic specimen of the race. He uttered his speech in a rather low tone and with the prettiest foreign accent."
On the 18th of the same month great horror and indignation were excited by the report of an attempt to assassinate the Queen. About six o'clock on the June evening, her Majesty was driving, according to her usual custom, with Prince Albert. The low open phaeton, attended by two equeries, was proceeding up Constitution Hill, on its way first to the house of the Duchess of Kent in Belgrave Square and afterwards to Hyde Park. Suddenly a little man leaning against the park railing drew a pistol from under his coat and fired at her Majesty, who was sitting at the farther side from him. He was within six yards of the phaeton—so near, in fact, that the Queen, who was looking another way, neither saw him nor comprehended for a moment the cause of the loud noise ringing in her ears. But Prince Albert had seen the man hold something towards them, and was aware of what had occurred. The horses started and the carriage stopped. The Prince called to the postillions to drive on, while he caught the Queen's hands and asked if the fright had not shaken her, but the brave royal heart only made light of his alarm. He looked again, and saw the same man still standing in a theatrical attitude, a pistol in each hand. The next instant the fellow pointed the second pistol and fired once more. Both the Queen and the Prince saw the aim, as well as heard the shot, on this occasion, and she stooped, he pulling her down that the ball might pass over her head. In another moment the man, who still leant against the railing, pistols in hand, with much bravado and without any attempt to escape, was seized by a bystander. In the middle of the consternation and wrath of the gathering crowd, the Queen and the Prince went on to the Duchess of Kent that they might be the first to tell her what had happened and assure her of the safety of her daughter. A little later, in order to show the people that the Queen had not lost her confidence in them, the couple carried out their original intention of taking a drive in Hyde Park. There they were received with a perfect ovation, a crowd of nobility and gentry in carriages and on horseback forming a volunteer escort on the way back to Buckingham Palace, where another multitude awaited them, vehemently cheering, as the Queen, pale but smiling and bowing, re-entered her palace. The wretched lad who was the author of the attack did not deny it, but seemed rather sorry that it had failed to inflict any injury, though he had no motive to allege for such a crime. In spite of the strictest search no ball could be found, which left the question doubtful whether or not the pistols had been loaded. On further examination it proved that the lad, Edward Oxford—not above eighteen years of age, was a discharged barman from a public-house in Oxford Street. His father, who was dead, had been a working jeweller in Birmingham.
"It would be difficult to describe the state of loyal excitement into which the Metropolis has been thrown by this event," says the Annual Register. "It seems as if only the dastardly deed had been wanted to bring out the full love and devotion of the people to their young Queen," the happy wife and expectant mother, whose precious life might have been cut short by the unlooked-for shot of an assassin. At the different theatres and concerts that evening "God save the Queen" was sung with passionate fervour. When the Queen and Prince Albert drove out the next afternoon in the same phaeton, at the same hour, in Hyde Park, the demonstration of the previous day was repeated with effusion. The crowd was immense, the cheering was again vociferous. An improvised body-guard of hundreds of gentlemen on horseback surrounded the couple. "The line of carriages (calling at Buckingham Palace to make inquiries) extended a considerable way down the Mall." The calls were incessant till the procession from the Houses of Parliament arrived. Thousands of people assembled to witness it. The Sheriffs of London came first in four carriages. Then the Grenadier Guards with their band marched through the gateway, on which the royal standard was hoisted, and took up their position in the entrance court. The Cabinet Ministers and chief Officers of the Household followed. The State carriage of the Speaker led the hundred and nine carriages filled with Members of the House of Commons. The Peers' carriages were upwards of eighty in number. The occupants, beginning with the Barons, rose in rank till they reached the Royal Dukes, and wound up with the Lord Chancellor. "Many of the Lords wore splendid uniforms and decorations and various orders; the Duke of Wellington especially was attired with much magnificence.... The terrace in front of the house was crowded with distinguished persons in grand costume," as on a gala-day. The Queen received the address of congratulation on her escape seated on the throne. What a strange contrast between the scene and its origin—the emphatically stately and dignified display, and the miserable act which gave rise to it! What blended feelings cause and effect must have produced in the principal performers—the inevitable pain and shame for the base reason, the well-warranted pride and pleasure in the honourable result!
The first time the Queen went to the opera afterwards she wrote in her Journal that the moment she and the Prince entered the box "the whole house rose and cheered and waved hats and handkerchiefs, and went on so for some time. 'God save the Queen' was sung.... Albert was called for separately and much cheered."
The trial of Oxford came on during the following month. The question of bullets or no bullets in the pistols was transferred to the jury. Evidence of symptoms of insanity and of confirmed insanity in the prisoner, his father, and grandfather, was shown, and after some difficulty in dealing with the first question the jury found the prisoner guilty, while he was at the same time declared insane. Therefore Oxford, like every other prisoner shielded by the irresponsibility of madness, was delivered up to be dealt with according to her Majesty's pleasure, which signified his imprisonment so long as the Crown should see fit.
The sole reason for the outrage on the Queen proved to be the morbid egotism of an ill-conditioned, ignorant, half-crazy lad; showing that one more danger exists for sovereigns—a peril born entirely of their high and solitary rank with its fascination for envious, irritable, distempered minds.
The following routine of the Queen's life at this time is given in the "Early Years of the Prince Consort": "They breakfasted at nine, and took a walk every morning soon afterwards."
In London, their walks were in Buckingham Palace gardens, fifty acres in extent, part of which was once the pleasant "Mulberry Gardens" of James I. The lake, not far from the palace, covers five acres. Looking across the velvet sward away to the masses of shady trees, it is hard to realise that one is still in London. The Prince had already enlivened these gardens with different kinds of animals and aquatic birds, a modified version of the Thier-Garten so often found in connection with royal residences in Germany.
The Queen mentions that, "in their morning walks in the gardens, it was a great amusement to the Prince to watch and feed these birds. He taught them to come when he whistled to them from a bridge connecting a small island with the rest of the gardens.
"Then came the usual amount of business (far less heavy, however, then than now), besides which they drew and etched a great deal together, which was a source of great amusement, having the plates bit in the house. Luncheon followed at the usual hour of two o'clock. Lord Melbourne, who was generally staying in the house, came to the Queen in the afternoon, and between five and six the Prince usually drove her out in a pony phaeton. If the Prince did not drive the Queen he rode, in which case she drove with the Duchess of Kent or the ladies. The Prince also read aloud most days to the Queen. The dinner was at eight o'clock, and always with the company. In the evening the Prince frequently played at double chess, a game of which he was very fond, and which he played extremely well."
The Prince would return "at a great pace" from his morning rides, which took him into all the districts of London where improvements were going on, and "would always come through the Queen's dressing-room, where she generally was at that time, with that bright loving smile with which he ever greeted her, telling her where he had been, what new buildings he had seen, what studios he had visited."
Her Majesty objected to the English custom of gentlemen remaining in the dining-room after the ladies had left the table. But, by the advice of Lord Melbourne, in which the Prince concurred, no direct change was made in what was almost a national institution. The hour when the whole party broke up, however, was seldom later than eleven.
The story got into circulation that the Queen's habit was to stand conversing with the ladies till the gentlemen joined them, and that knowing her practice, the dining-room was soon left empty. Lord Campbell gives his experience of this portion of a royal dinner some years after the Queen's marriage. "The Queen and the ladies withdrawing, Prince Albert came over to her side of the table, and we remained behind about a quarter of an hour, but we rose within the hour from the time of our sitting down. A snuff-box was twice carried round and offered to all the gentlemen. Prince Albert, to my surprise, took a pinch."
The Prince, who was an exceedingly temperate man at table, rather grudged the time spent in eating and drinking, just as he disliked riding for mere exercise, without any other object. Yet he was a bold and skilled rider, and could, without any privilege of rank, come in first in the hunting-field. It amused the Queen and her husband to find that this accomplishment, more than any other, was likely to make him popular among English gentlemen. But though he liked hunting as a recreation, he did not understand how it or any other sport could be made the business of a man's life.
By the month of July, the prospect of an heir to the throne rendered it advisable that provision should be made for the Queen's possible death, or lengthened disqualification for reigning. The Regency Bill was brought forward with more caution and better success than had attended on the Prince's Annuity Bill. In accordance with the prudent counsels of Baron Stockmar, the Opposition as well as the Ministry were taken into account and consulted. The consequence was that the Duke of Wellington, the mouthpiece of the Tories on the former occasion, was altogether propitious in the name of himself and his party, and it was agreed that the Prince was the proper person to appoint as Regent in case of any unhappy contingency. The Bill was passed unanimously and without objection in both Houses, except for a speech made by the Duke of Sussex in the House of Lords.
This conclusion was gratifying in all respects, not the least so in its testimony to the respect which the Prince's conduct had already called forth. "Three months ago they would not have done it for him," Lord Melbourne told the Queen. "It is entirely his own character." It was also a pleasant proof of the goodwill of the Tories, whom the Prince had done everything in his power to conciliate, employing his influence to impress upon the young Queen the constitutional attitude of impartiality and neutrality towards all political parties.
There was a corresponding withdrawal of the absurd opposition to Prince Albert's taking his place by the Queen's side on all State occasions. "Let the Queen put the Prince where she likes and settle it herself, that is the best way," said the Duke of Wellington cordially. A lively example of the great Duke's want of toleration for the traditions of Court etiquette is given in a note to the "Life of the Prince Consort." The late Lord Albemarle, when Master of the Horse, was very sensitive about his right in that capacity to sit in the sovereign's coach on State occasions. "The Queen," said the Duke, when appealed to for his opinion, "can make Lord Albemarle sit at the top of the coach, under the coach, behind the coach, or wherever else her Majesty pleases."
On the 11th of August the Queen prorogued Parliament, accompanied by her husband for the first time. The following day the Court left for Windsor. The Prince was very fond of the country, and gladly went to it. The Queen, in her early womanhood, had been, as she said, "too happy to go to London, and wretched to leave it." But from the time of her marriage she shared her husband's tastes, and could have been "content and happy never to go to town." How her Majesty has retained the love of nature, which is a refuge of sorrow as well as a crown of happiness, we all know.
In the mornings at Windsor there were shooting in the season, and a wider field for landscape gardening for the Prince before he took to farming. In the evening there were occasional great dinners and little dances as in London. The young couple dispensed royal hospitality to a succession of friendly visitors, who came to see with their own eyes the bright palace home. The King and the Queen of the Belgians rejoiced in the fruits of his work. The Princess of Hohenlohe, herself a happy wife and mother, arrived with her children to witness her sister's felicity. Queen Adelaide did not shrink from revisiting Windsor, and seeing a beloved niece fill well King William and his consort's place.
Prince Albert's birthday was celebrated in England for the first time; there were illuminations in London; down at Windsor the day was kept, for the most part, in the simple family fashion, which is the best. The Prince was awakened by a musical reveille; a German chorale, chosen with loving, ungrudging care, as the first thing which was to greet him, was most certain, on that day of all others, to carry him back in spirit to his native country.
The family circle breakfasted by themselves in a favourite cottage in the park. Princess Feodora's children were in masquerade as Coburg peasants, doubtless hailing the Coburg Prince with an appropriate greeting. In the afternoon, in the fine weather, the Prince drove out the Queen; in the evening, "there was rather a larger dinner than usual."
On the 11th of September the Prince was formally sworn a member of her Majesty's Privy Council. And so conscientiously anxious was he to discharge worthily every duty which could be required of him, that, in the greater leisure of Windsor, he not only read "Hallam's Constitutional History" with the Queen, he began to read English law with a barrister.
In the meantime, an old historical figure, Princess Augusta of England, who had appeared at the Queen's marriage, lay terribly ill at Clarence House. She died on the 22nd of September, having survived her sister, Princess Elizabeth, the Landgravine of Hesse Homburg, only eight months. Princess Augusta carried away with her many memories of the Court of George III. By a coincidence, the lady who may almost be called the Princess's biographer, at least whose animated sketches and affectionate praises of her "dear Princess Augusta" were destined to give the world of England its principal knowledge of an amiable princess, died at a great age the same year. Madame D'Arblay, as Miss Burney, the distinguished novelist, had been appointed in 1786, in a somewhat whimsical acknowledgement of her talents and services to the reading world, one of the keepers of Queen Charlotte's wardrobe. In this office she resided at Court for five years, and she has left in her diary the most graphic account which we have of the English royal life of the day. "Evelina" and "Cecilia" were old stories even in 1840; it was more than fifty years since Madame D'Arblay had taken royal service, and now her best-beloved young patroness had passed away an aged woman, only a few months later than the gifted and vivacious little keeper of the robes, whose duties, to be sure, had included reading habitually to the Queen when she was dressing, and sometimes to the Court circle. Princess Augusta's funeral went from her house of Frogmore at seven o'clock in the evening of the 2nd of October, one of the last of the night funerals of a past generation, and she was buried with the customary honours in St. George's Chapel, Windsor. Frogmore became from that time the country residence of the Duchess of Kent.
In November the Court returned to Buckingham Palace for the Queen's accouchement. Baron Stockmar, at the Prince's earnest entreaty, came to England for the event, though he remained then as always in the background. On the 21st of November the Princess Royal was born, the good news being announced to London by the firing of the Tower guns. The Cabinet Ministers and Officers of State were in attendance in an adjoining room, and the new-born child, wrapped in flannel, was carried by the nurse, escorted by Sir James Clark, into the presence of those who were to attest her birth, and laid for a moment on a table before them. Both mother and child were well, and although a momentary disappointment was felt at the sex of the infant, it did not detract from the general rejoicing at the Queen's safety with a living successor to the throne. It was said at the time, kindly gossips dwelling on the utterance with the utmost pleasure, that on the Prince expressing a fear that the people might be disappointed, the Queen reassured him in the most cheerful spirit, "Never mind, the next shall be a boy," and that she hoped she might have as many children as her grandmother, Queen Charlotte.
A fresh instance of a diseased appetite for notoriety, grafted on vagrant youthful curiosity and restless love of mischief, astonished and scandalised the English world. On the day after the birth of the Princess Royal a rascally boy named Jones was discovered concealed under a sofa in a room next to the Queen's. The offender was leniently dealt with in consideration of his immature years, but again and again, at intervals of a few months, the flibbertigibbet turned up in the most unlooked-for quarters, impudently asserting, on being questioned, that he had entered "the same way as before," and that he could, any time he pleased, find his way into the palace. It was supposed that he climbed over the wall on Constitution Hill and crept through one of the windows. But he could hardly have done so if it had not been for the confused palace management, for which nobody was responsible, with its inevitable disorder, that had not yet been overcome. The boy had to be committed to the House of Correction as a rogue and vagabond for three months. Afterwards he served on board one of her Majesty's ships, where his taste for creating a sensation seems to have died a natural death.
In the Queen's weakness the young husband and father was continually developing new traits of manly tenderness. "His care and devotion were quite beyond expression." He declined to go anywhere, that he might be always at hand to do anything in his power for her comfort "He was content to sit by her in a darkened room, to read to her and write for her." "No one but himself ever lifted her from her bed to her sofa, and he always helped to wheel her on her bed or sofa into the next room. For this purpose he would come instantly when sent for from any part of the house." "His care for her was like that of a mother, nor could there be a kinder, wiser, more judicious nurse." Happy Queen!
The Queen made an excellent recovery, and the Court was back at Windsor holding Christmas and New Year relieved from all care and full of thankfulness. The peace and goodwill of the season, with the interchange of kindly gifts, were celebrated with pleasant picturesque German, in addition to old English customs. We have all heard wonderful tales of the baron of beef, the boar's head, the peacock with spread tail, the plum soup for which there is only one recipe, and that a royal one. There were fir-trees in the Queen's and the Prince's rooms and in humbler chambers. There was a great gathering of the household in a special corridor, where the Queen's presents were bestowed.
A new year dawned with bright promise on an expectant world. This last year had been so good in one sense that it could hardly be surpassed. What had it not done for the family life! It had given a good and loving wife to a good and loving husband, and a little child, with undreamt-of possibilities in its slumbering eyes and helpless hands. The public horizon was tolerably clear. The Welsh riots had been quelled and other acts of insubordination in the manufacturing districts put down—not without the use of force—but there was room for trust that such mad tumults would not be repeated. Father Matthews was reforming Ireland. There were far-away wars both with China and Afghanistan, certainly, but the wars were far away in more respects than one, distant enough to have their origin in the English protection of the opium trade, and interference—now with a peaceful, timidly conservative race—and again with fiercely jealous and warlike tribes, slurred over and forgotten, and only the successes of the national arms dwelt upon with pride and exultation.
Across "the silver streak" of the Channel there were more remarkable events, marked by a curious inconsistency, than the suitable marriage of the Duc de Nemours. Prince Louis Napoleon Buonaparte landed on the French coast with a handful of men prepared to invade the country, and was immediately overpowered and arrested. He was tried and condemned to imprisonment in the fortress of Ham, from which he escaped in due time, having earned for himself during long years the sobriquet of "the madman of Boulogne." The very same year Prince de Joinville, Louis Philippe's sailor son, was commissioned to bring the ashes of Napoleon from St. Helena to France. The coffin was conveyed in the Prince's frigate, La Belle Poule, to Cherbourg, whence a steamboat sailed with the solemn freight up the Seine to Paris. The funeral formed a splendid pageant, attended by the royal family, the ministers, and a great concourse of spectators. The dust of le petit caporal was deposited in a magnificent tomb in the Hotel des Invalides, before the eyes of a few survivors of his Old Guard.
Spain and Portugal were still the theatres of civil wars—now smouldering, now leaping up with brief fury. In Spain the Queen Regent, Christina, was driven from the kingdom, and had to take refuge in France for a time. In Portugal, in the middle of a political crisis, Maria da Gloria gave birth to a daughter, which died soon after its birth, while for days her own life was despaired of.
CHAPTER XI THE FIRST CHRISTENING.—THE SEASON OF 1841.
The Queen was able to open Parliament in person at the end of January.
The first christening in the royal household had been fixed to take place on the 10th of February, the first anniversary of the Queen's wedding-day, which was thus a double gala in 1841. The day before the Prince again had a dangerous accident. He was skating in the presence of the Queen and one of her ladies on the lake in the gardens of Buckingham Palace when the ice gave way a few yards from the bank, where the water was so deep that the skater had to swim for two or three minutes before he could extricate himself. The Queen had the presence of mind to lend him instant assistance, while her lady was "more occupied in screaming for help," so that the worst consequences of the plunge were a bad cold.
The christening took place at six in the evening in Buckingham Palace. The ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Norwich, and the Dean of Carlisle. The sponsors were the Duke of Saxe-Coburg Gotha, represented by the Duke of Wellington, King Leopold, the Queen-dowager, the Duchess of Gloucester, the Duchess of Kent, and the Duke of Sussex, the most of whom had been present at the baptism of her Majesty, and were able to compare royal child and royal mother in similar circumstances. The Duke of Cambridge and his son, Prince George, with Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, were among the company. The infant was named "Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa."
The Annual Register for the year has an elaborate description of the new silver-gilt font used on the occasion. It was in the shape of a water-lily supporting a shell, the rim of which was decorated with smaller water-lilies. The base bore, between the arms of the Queen and Prince Albert, the arms of the Princess Royal, surmounted by her Royal Highness's coronet. The water had been brought from the river Jordan.
A simple description of the event was given by Prince Albert in a letter to his grandmother, the Dowager-Duchess of Gotha. "The christening went off very well; your little great-granddaughter behaved with great propriety and like a Christian. She was awake, but did not cry at all, and seemed to crow with immense satisfaction at the lights and brilliant uniforms, for she is very intelligent and observing. The ceremony took place at half-past six P.M. After it there was a dinner, and then we had some instrumental music. The health of the little one was drunk with great enthusiasm."
The lively noticing powers of the Princess Royal when she was between two and three months of age is in amusing contradiction to a report which we remember as current at the time. It was mentioned in order to be denied by Leslie, who was commissioned to paint the royal christening, and worked at the picture so diligently in the long days of the following summer that he was often occupied with the work from nine in the morning till seven or eight in the evening. He wrote in his "Recollections": "In 1841 I painted a second picture for the Queen, the christening of the Princess Royal. I was admitted to see the ceremony, and made a slight sketch of the royal personages as they stood round the font in the room. I made a study from the little Princess a few days afterwards. She was then three months old, and a finer child of that age I never saw. It is a curious proof of the readiness with which people believe whatever they hear to the disadvantage of those placed high in rank above them, that at the time at which I made the sketch it was said everywhere but in the palace and by those who belonged to the royal household, that the Princess was born blind, and by many it was even believed that she was born without feet. The sketch was shown at a party at Mr. Moon's, the evening after I made it, and the ladies all said, 'What a pity so fine a child should be entirely blind!' It was in vain I told them that her eyes were beautifully clear and bright, and that she took notice of everything about her. I was told that, though her eyes looked bright, and though she might appear to turn them to every object, it was certain she was blind."
What Leslie attributes to a species of envy, we think may be more justly regarded as having its foundation in the love of sensationalism to which human nature is prone—sensationalism which appears to become all the racier when it finds its food in high quarters. The particular direction the tendency took was influenced by the blindness of George III. and of his grandson, the Crown Prince of Hanover, which seemed to lend a plausibility to the absurd rumour.
Baron Stockmar states that the Princess Royal was a delicate child, causing considerable apprehension for her successful rearing during the first year of her life. It was only by judicious care that she developed a splendid constitution. Charles Leslie goes on to say: "The most agreeable part of my task in painting the christening of the Princess Royal was in studying the fine head of the wisest and best of living Kings, Leopold, a man whom the people he reigns over scarcely seem to deserve. Nothing could be more agreeable than his manner, and that of his amiable Queen, who was in the room all the time he sat. He speaks English very well, and she also spoke it. After I had painted for some time, she said, "May I look?" and suggesting some alterations, she said, "You must excuse me, I speak honest; but if I am wrong, don't mind me."
In those years the King and Queen of the Belgians were such frequent visitors of her Majesty, who may be said to have been his adopted child, that a whole floor of Buckingham Palace which was set apart for their use is still known as "the Belgian Floor." The portraits of both are in the Palace, and so is his likeness when he was many years younger, and one of the handsomest men in Europe. The last is hanging beside a full-length portrait of his first wife, Princess Charlotte, with her fair face and striking figure. In the summer of 1841 the Queen was farther and longer separated from her mother than she had ever been previously. The Duchess of Kent, secure in her daughter's prosperity and happiness, went to her native Germany, for the first time since she had come to England twenty-two years before. She was warmly received wherever she went. She visited, among other places, Amorbach, the seat of her son, the Prince of Leiningen, in Bavaria, where the Duchess had resided with the Duke of Kent in the first years of their married life. "It is like a dream that I am writing to you from this place," she addressed her daughter. "He (the Prince of Leiningen) has made many alterations in the house. Your father began them just before we left in March, 1819."
A threatened change of Ministry and a general election were pending; but amidst the political anxieties which already occupied much of the Queen and Prince Albert's thoughts, it was a bright summer, full of many interests and special sources of pleasure.
Mademoiselle Rachel, the great French actress, arrived in England. She had already established her empire in Paris by her marvellous revival of Racine's and Corneille's masterpieces. She was now to exercise the same fascination over an alien people, to whom her speech was a foreign tongue. She made her first appearance in the part of Hermione in Racine's Andromaque at the Italian Opera-house. Few who witnessed the spectacle ever forgot the slight figure, the pale, dark, Jewish face, the deep melody of the voice, the restrained passion, the concentrated rage, especially the pitiless irony, with which she gave the poet's meaning.
The Queen and the Prince shared the general enthusiasm. For that matter there was a little jealousy awakened lest there might be too much generous abandon in the royal approval of the great player. Perhaps this feeling arose in the minds of those who, dating from Puritan days, had a conscientious objection to all plays and players, and waxed hotter as time, alas! proved how, in contrast to the honourable reputation of the English Queen of Tragedy, Sarah Siddons, the character and life of the gifted French actress were miserably beneath her genius. There was a little vexed talk, which probably had small enough foundation, of the admission of Rachel into the highest society; of the Duchess of Kent's condescending to give her shawl to the shivering foreigner; of a bracelet with the simple inscription, "From Victoria to Rachel," as if there could be a common meeting-ground between the two, though the one was a queen in art and the other a queen in history. But if there was any imprudence, it might well have been excused as a fault of noble sympathy with art and cordial acknowledgement of it, which leant to virtue's side, a fault which had hitherto been not too common in England. The same year a Kemble, the last of the family who redeemed for a time the fallen fortunes of Covent Garden Theatre, Adelaide, the beautiful and accomplished younger daughter of Charles Kemble, brother to John Kemble and Sarah Siddons, came out as an operatic-singer in the part of "Norma." She was welcomed as her sweet voice, fine acting, and the traditions of her family deserved. She was invited to sing at the palace. From girlhood the Queen had been familiar with the Kembles in their connection with the English stage. The last time she visited the Academy as Princess Victoria, just before the death of King William, Leslie mentions, she asked that Charles Kemble might be presented to her, when the gentleman had the opportunity of making his "best genteel-comedy bow." Now it was on the younger generation of the Kembles that the Queen bestowed her gracious countenance. These were halcyon days for society as well as for the stage, when, in Mrs. Oliphant's words, "the Queen was in the foreground of the national life, affecting it always for good, and setting an example of purity and virtue. The theatres to which she went, and which both she and her husband enjoyed, were purified by her presence, evils which had been the growth of years disappearing before the face of the young Queen...."
On the 13th of June the Queen revisited Oxford in company with her husband, in time for Commemoration. Her Majesty and the Prince stayed at Nuneham, the seat of the Archbishop of York, and drove in to the University city. The Prince was present at a banquet in St. John's and attended divine service at New Inn Hall.
On the 21st of June the Queen and Prince Albert were at Woolwich, for the launch of the good ship Trafalgar. Nothing so gay had been seen at the mouth of the river since King William and Queen Adelaide came down to Greenwich to keep the anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar. The water was covered with vessels, including every sort of craft that had been seen "since the building of Noah's Ark." The shore was equally crowded with an immense multitude of human beings finding standing-ground in the most unlikely places. The Queen drove down to the Dockyard in a travelling-carriage and four. She was received with a royal salute and glad bursts of cheering.
It is hardly necessary to say that the young Queen was exceedingly popular with the blue-jackets. In the course of a visit to Portsmouth she had gone over one of her ships. She was shown through the men's quarters, the sailors being under orders to remain perfectly quiet and abstain from cheering. Her Majesty tasted the men's coffee and pronounced it good. She asked if they got nothing stronger. A glass of grog was brought to her. She put it to her lips, and Jack could contain himself no longer; a burst of enthusiastic huzzas made the ribs of the ship ring.
At Woolwich a discharge of artillery announced the moment when the great vessel slipped from her stays, and "floated gallantly down the river" till she was brought up and swung round with her stern to London.
The King and Queen of the Belgians paid their second visit this year, the Queen remaining six weeks, detained latterly by the illness of her son in England. The long visit confirmed the tender friendship between the two queens. "During this stay, which had been such a happiness for me, we became most intimate," Queen Victoria wrote in her Journal, and she grudged the necessity of having to set out with Prince Albert on a royal progress before the departure of her cherished guest. "To lose four days of her stay, of which, I repeat, every hour is precious, is dreadful," her Majesty told King Leopold.
The short summer progress was otherwise very enjoyable. The Queen and Prince Albert visited the Duke of Bedford at the Russells' stately seat of Woburn Abbey, with its park twelve miles in extent. From Woburn the royal couple went to Panshanger, Earl Cowper's, and Brocket Hall, Lord Melbourne's, returning by Hatfield, the Marquis of Salisbury's. At Brocket the Queen was entertained by her Prime Minister. At Hatfield there were many memories of another Queen and her minister, since the ancient country-house had been a palace of Queen Elizabeth's, passing, in her successor's reign, by an exchange of mansions, from the hands of James I into those of the son and representative of Lord Burleigh, little crooked, long-headed Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury. In Hatfield Park there is an oak still standing which bears the name of "Queen Elizabeth's Oak." It is said Princess Elizabeth was sitting in its shade when the news was brought to her of the death of her sister, Queen Mary, and her own accession to the throne of England.
The only difficulty—a pleasant one after all—which was experienced in these progresses, proceeded from the exuberant loyalty of the people. At straw-plaiting Dunstable a volunteer company of farmers joined the regular escort and nearly choked the travellers with the dust the worthy yeomen raised. On leaving Woburn Abbey the same dubious compliment was paid. In the Queen's merry words, "a crowd of good, loyal people rode with us part of the way. They so pressed and pushed that it was as if we were hunting."
The recent election had returned a majority of Conservative members, and soon after the reassembling of Parliament in August a vote of non-confidence in Lord Melbourne's Ministry was carried. The same evening the Prime Minister went to Windsor to announce his resignation. He acted with his natural fairness and generosity, giving due honour to his adversaries, and congratulating the Queen on the great advantage she possessed in the presence and counsel of the Prince, thus softening to her the trial of the first change of Ministers in her reign. He only regretted the pain to himself of leaving her. "For four years I have seen you every day; but it is so different from what it would have been in 1839. The Prince understands everything so well, and has a clever, able head." The Queen was much affected in taking leave of a "faithful and attached friend," as well as Minister, while her words were, that his praise of the Prince gave her "great pleasure" and made her "very proud."
In anticipation of the change of Ministry it had been arranged, with Sir Robert Peel's concurrence, that the principal Whig ladies in the Queen's household—the Duchess of Sutherland, the Duchess of Bedford, and Lady Normanby—should voluntarily retire from office, and that this should be the practice in any future change of Ministry, so that the question of Ministerial interference in the withdrawal or the appointment of the ladies of the Queen's household might be set at rest. [Footnote: The retirement from office is now limited to the Mistress of the Robes.]
On the 3rd of September the new Ministers kissed hands on their appointment at a Cabinet Council held at Claremont. Lord Campbell gives some particulars. "I have just seen here several of our friends returned from Claremont. Both parties met there at once. They were shown into separate rooms. The Queen sat in her closet, no one being present but Prince Albert. The exaunters were called in one by one and gave up the seals or wands of their offices and retired. The new men by mistake went to Claremont all in their Court costume, whereas the Queen at Windsor and Claremont receives her Ministers in their usual morning dress. Nonnanby says taking leave of the Queen was very affecting."
Whatever momentary awkwardness may have attended the substitution of Sir Robert Peel as Prime Minister, it did not at all interfere—thanks to the candid, liberal nature of all concerned—with the friendly goodwill which it is so desirable should exist between sovereign and minister. We read in the "Life of the Prince Consort," "Lord Melbourne told Baron Stockmar, who had just returned from Coburg, that Sir Robert Peel had behaved most handsomely, and that the conduct of the Prince had throughout been most moderate and judicious."
Sir Robert had experienced considerable embarrassment at the recollection of his share in the debates on the Royal Annuity Bill, but the Prince did not show an equally retentive memory. His seeming forgetfulness of the past and cordiality in the present did more than reassure, it deeply touched and completely won a man who was himself capable of magnanimous self-renunciation.
Sir Robert Peel had the pleasure, in his early days in office, of suggesting to the Prince the Royal Commission to promote and encourage the fine arts in the United Kingdom, with reference to the rebuilding of the two Houses of Parliament. Sir Robert proposed that Prince Albert should be placed at the head of the Commission. This was not only a movement after the Prince's own heart, on which he spared no thought and labour for years to come, it was an act in which Prince and Minister—both of them lovers of art—could co-operate with the greatest satisfaction.
CHAPTER XII. BIRTH OF THE PRINCE OF WALES.—THE AFGHAN DISASTERS.—VISIT OF THE KING OF PRUSSIA.—"THE QUEEN'S PLANTAGENET BALL."
On the 9th of November, 1841, the happiness of the Queen and Prince was increased by the birth of the Prince of Wales. The event took place on the morning of the Lord Mayor's Day, as the citizens of London rejoiced to learn by the booming of the Tower guns. In addition to the usual calls of the nobility and gentry, the Lord Mayor and his train went in great state to offer their congratulations and make their inquiries for the Queen-mother and child.
The sole shadow on the rejoicing was the dangerous illness of the Queen-dowager. She had an affection of the chest which rendered her a confirmed invalid for years. At this time the complaint took an aggravated form, and her weakness became so great that it was feared death was approaching. But she rallied—a recovery due in a great measure, it was believed, to her serene nature and patient resignation. She regained her strength in a degree and survived for years.
The public took a keen interest in all that concerned the heir to the crown, though times were less free and easy than they had been—all the world no longer trooped to the Queen's House as they had done to taste the caudle compounded when royal Charlotte's babies were born. There was at least the cradle with the nodding Prince of Wales feathers to gossip about. The patent creating the Duke of Cornwall Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester was issued on the 8th of December, when the child was a month old. It was a quaint enough document, inasmuch as the Queen declared in it that she ennobled and invested her son with the Principality and earldom by girting him with a sword, by putting a coronet on his head and a gold ring on his finger, and also by delivering a gold rod into his hand, that he might preside there, and direct and defend these parts. The Royal Nursery had now two small occupants, and their wise management, still more than that of the household, engaged the serious consideration of the Queen and the Prince's old friend, Baron Stockmar, and engrossed much of the attention of the youthful parents. They took great delight in the bright little girl, whom her mother named "Pussy," and the charming baby who was so near her in age.
"To think," wrote the Queen in her Journal this Christmas, "that we have two children now, and one who enjoys the sight already" (referring to the Christmas-tree); "it is like a dream."
"This is the dear Christmas Eve on which I have so often listened with impatience to your step which was to usher us into the gift-room," the Prince reminded his father. "To-day I have two children of my own to make gifts to, who, they know not why, are full of happy wonder at the German Christmas-tree and its radiant candles."
On this occasion the New Year was danced into "in good old English fashion. In the middle of the dance, as the clock finished striking twelve, a flourish of trumpets was blown, in accordance with a German custom." The past year had been good also, and fertile in blessings on that roof-tree, though in the world without there were the chafings and mutterings of more than one impending crisis. The corn-laws, with the embargo they laid on free trade, weighed heavily on the minds both of statesmen and people. In Scotland Church and State were struggling keenly once more, though, bloodlessly this time, as they had struggled to the death in past centuries, for mastery where what each considered its rights were in question.
Among the blows dealt by death in 1841, there had been heavy losses to art in the passing away of Chantrey and Wilkie.
In January, 1842, events happened in Afghanistan which brought bitter grief to many an English home, and threw their shadow over the palace itself in the next few months. The fatal policy of English interference with the fiery tribes of Northern India in support of an unpopular ruler had ended in the murder of Sir Alexander Burns and Sir William Macnaghten, and the evacuation of Cabul by the English. This was not all. The march through the terrible mountain defiles in the depth of winter, under the continual assaults of an unscrupulous and cruel enemy, meant simply destruction. The ladies of the party, with Lady Sale, a heroic woman, at their head, the husbands of the ladies who were with the camp, and finally General Elphinstone, who had been the first in command at Cabul, but who was an old and infirm man, had to be surrendered as hostages. They were committed to the tender mercies of Akbar Khan, the son of the exiled Dost Mahomed, the moving spirit of the insurrection against the native puppet maintained by English authority, and the murderer, with his own hand, of Sir William Macnaghten, whose widow was among the prisoners. The surrender of hostages was partly a matter of necessity, in order to secure for the most helpless of the party the dubious protection of Akbar Khan, partly a desperate measure to prevent what would otherwise have been inevitable—the perishing of the women and children in the dreadful hardships of the retreat. The captives were carried first to Peshawur and afterwards to a succession of hill-forts in the direction of the Caucasus, while their countrymen at home, long before they had become familiar with the tragedy of the Indian Rebellion, burned with indignation and thrilled with horror at the possible fate of those victims of a treacherous, vindictive Afghan chief. In the meantime the awful march went on, amidst the rigours of winter, in wild snowy passes, by savage precipices, while the most unsparing guerilla warfare was kept up by the furious natives at every point of vantage. Alas! for the miserable end which we all know, some of us recalling it, through the mists of years, still fresh with the wonder, wrath, and sorrow which the news aroused here. Out of a company of sixteen thousand that left Cabul, hundreds were slain or died of exhaustion every day, three thousand fell in an ambush, and after a night's exposure to such frost as was never experienced in England. At last, on the 13th of January, 1842, one haggard man, Dr. Brydon, rode up, reeling in his saddle, to the gates of Jellalabad. The fortress was still in the keeping of Sir Robert Sale, who had steadfastly refused to retire. It is said his wife wrote to him from her prison, urging him to hold out, because she preferred her own and her daughter's death to his dishonour.
But the Afghan disasters were not fully known in England for months to come. In the interval, the christening of the Prince of Wales was celebrated with much splendour in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, on the 25th of January. The King of Prussia came over to England to officiate in person as one of the Prince's godfathers. The others were the child's two grand-uncles, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg, uncle of the Queen and of Prince Albert, and father of the King Consort of Portugal and the Duchesse de Nemours. The godmothers were the Duchess of Kent, proxy for the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg, Prince Albert's stepmother; the Duchess of Cambridge, proxy for the child's great-grandmother, the Duchess of Saxe-Gotha; and the Princess Augusta of Cambridge, proxy for the Princess Sophia of England.
The ambassadors and foreign ministers, the Cabinet ministers with their wives in full dress, the Knights of the Garter in their mantles and collars, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishops of London, Winchester, Oxford, and Norwich assembled in the Waterloo Gallery; the officers and the ladies of the Household awaited the Queen in the corridor. At noon, certain officers of the Household attended the King of Prussia, who was joined by the other sponsors at the head of the grand staircase, to the chapel.
The Queen's procession included the Duke of Wellington, bearing the Sword of State between the Lord Chamberlain, the Earl De la Warr, and the Lord Steward, the Earl of Liverpool, the three walking before her Majesty and Prince Albert, who were supported by their lords-in-waiting, and followed by the Duke of Sussex, Prince George of Cambridge, Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, Prince Augustus and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, sons of Prince Ferdinand and cousins of the Queen and Prince Albert.
When the sponsors had taken their places, and the other company were seated near the altar, the Lord Chamberlain, accompanied by the Groom of the Stall to Prince Albert, proceeded to the Chapter-house, and conducted in the infant Prince of Wales, attended by the lord and groom in waiting. The Duchess of Buccleugh, the Mistress of the Robes, took the infant from the nurse, and put him in the Archbishop's arms. The child was named "Albert" for his father, and "Edward" for his maternal grandfather, the Duke of Kent. The baby, on the authority of The Times, "behaved with princely decorum." After the ceremony, he was reconducted to the Chapter-house by the Lord Chamberlain. By Prince Albert's desire "The Hallelujah Chorus," which has never been given in England without the audience rising simultaneously, was played at the close of the service.
The Queen afterwards held a Chapter of the Order of the Garter, at which the King of Prussia, "as a lineal descendant of George I.," was elected a Knight Companion, the Queen buckling the garter round his knee. There was luncheon in the White Breakfast-room, and in the evening there was a banquet in St. George's Hall. The table reached from one end of the hall to the other, and was covered with gold plate. Lady Bloomfield, who was present, describes an immense gold vessel—more like a bath than anything else, capable of containing thirty dozens of wine. It was filled with mulled claret, to the amazement of the Prussians. Four toasts were drunk—that to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales taking precedence; toasts to his Majesty the King of Prussia, the Queen and Prince Albert followed. A grand musical performance in the Waterloo Gallery wound up the festivities of the day.
The presence of the King of Prussia added additional dignity to the proceedings. He was a great ally whose visit on the occasion was a becoming compliment. Besides, his personal character was then regarded as full of promise, and excited much interest. His attainments and accomplishments, which were really remarkable, won lively admiration. His warm regard for a man like Baron Bunsen seemed to afford the best augury for the liberality of his sentiments. As yet the danger of impracticability, discouragement, confusion, and paralysis of all that had been hoped for, was but faintly indicated in the dreaminess and fancifulness of his nature.
Lady Bloomfield describes the King as of middle size, rather fat, with an excellent countenance and little hair. The Queen met him on the grand staircase, kissed him twice, and made him two low curtseys. Her Majesty says in her Journal: "He was in common morning costume, and complained much of appearing so before me.... He is entertaining, agreeable, and witty, tells a thing so pleasantly, and is full of amusing anecdotes."
Madame Bunsen, who was privileged to see a good deal of the gay doings during the King of Prussia's visit, has handed down her experience. "28th January, 1842, came by railway to Windsor, and found that in the York Tower a comfortable set of rooms were awaiting us. The upper housemaid gave us tea, and bread and butter—very refreshing; when dressed we went together to the corridor, soon met Lord De la Warr, the Duchess of Buccleugh, and Lord and Lady Westmoreland—the former showed us where to go—that is, to walk through the corridor (a fairy scene—lights, pictures, moving figures of courtiers unknown), the apartments which we passed through one after another till we reached the magnificent ball-room where the guests were assembled to await the Queen's appearance. Among these guests stood our King himself, punctual to quarter-past seven o'clock; soon came Prince Albert, to whom Lord De la Warr named me, when he spoke to me of Rome. We had not been there long before two gentlemen walking in by the same door by which we had entered, and then turning and making profound bows towards the open door, showed that the Queen was coming. She approached me directly and said, with a gracious smile, 'I am very much pleased to see you,' then passed on, and after speaking a few moments to the King took his arm and moved on, 'God save the Queen' having begun to sound from the Waterloo Gallery, where the Queen has always dined since the King has been with her. Lord Haddington led me to dinner, and one of the King's suite sat on the other side. The scene was one of fairy tales, of undescribed magnificence, the proportions of the hall, the mass of light in suspension, the gold plate, and the table glittering with a thousand lights in branches of a proper height not to meet the eye. The King's health was drunk, then the Queen's, and then the Queen went out, followed by all her ladies. During the half-hour or less that elapsed before Prince Albert and the King followed the Queen, she did not sit, but went round to speak to the different ladies. She asked after my children, and gave me an opportunity of thanking her for the gracious permission to behold her Majesty so soon after my arrival. The Duchess of Kent also spoke to me, and I was very glad of the notice of Lady Lyttelton, who is very charming. As soon as the King came the Queen went into the ball-room and made the King dance a quadrille with her, which he did with all suitable grace and dignity, though he has long ceased to dance. At half-past eleven, after the Queen had retired, I set out on my travels to my bed-chamber. I might have looked and wandered about some miles before I had found my door of exit, but was helped by an old gentleman, I believe Lord Albemarle."