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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 3
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    First Meeting with Prince Albert--Death of William IV.--Accession of Queen Victoria--First Speech from the Throne--Coronation--Life at Windsor--Personal Appearance--Betrothal to Prince Albert--Income from the Country--Her Majesty a genuine Ruler.

    The first great event in the young princess's life, and that which was destined to colour it all for her good and happiness, was her first meeting in 1836 with her cousins, her mother's nephews, the young princes Ernest and Albert of Saxe-Coburg. That visit was of about a month's duration, and from the beginning the attraction was mutual. We can see how matters went in a letter from Princess Victoria to King Leopold, 7th June 1836. 'I have only now to beg you, my dearest uncle, to take care of the health of one now so dear to me, and to take him under your special protection. I hope and trust that all will go on prosperously and well on this subject, now of so much importance to me.' Although in her heart preferring Albert, she had been equally kind to both, and her preference was as yet unknown. And as a mere preference it had for a while to remain, as the princess was only seventeen, and the education of the prince was yet incomplete. He was still on his student travels, collecting flowers and views and autographs for the sweet maiden in England, when in 1837, news reached him that by the death of William IV. she had attained her great dignity, and was proclaimed queen.

    The death of William IV. took place at 2.30 A.M. on June 20, 1837. According to a contemporary account, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham reached Kensington Palace about five as bearers of the news. They desired to see the Queen. They were ushered into an apartment, and in a few minutes the door opened, and she came in, wrapped in a dressing-gown, with slippers on her naked feet, and with tearful eyes and trembling lips. Conyngham told his errand in few words, and as soon as he uttered the words 'Your Majesty,' she put out her hand to him to be kissed. He dropped on one knee, and kissed her hand. The archbishop likewise kissed her hand, and when he had spoken of the king's death, she asked him for his prayers on her behalf.

    The first result of the accession of Victoria was the separation of Hanover from the British crown. By the Salic law of that realm, a woman was not permitted to reign; and thus the German principality, which had come to us with the first George, and which had led us into so many wars on the Continent, ceased to have any concern with the fortunes of this country. The crown of Hanover now went to the Duke of Cumberland, the Queen's uncle.

    On 26th June 1837, her cousin Albert wrote: 'Now you are queen of the mightiest land of Europe, in your hand lies the happiness of millions. May Heaven assist you, and strengthen you with its strength in that high but difficult task! I hope that your reign may be long, happy, and glorious; and that your efforts may be rewarded by the thankfulness and love of your subjects.'

    The Queen closed her first speech from the throne as follows: 'I ascend the throne with a deep sense of the responsibility which is imposed upon me; but I am supported by the consciousness of my own right intentions, and by my dependence upon the protection of almighty God. It will be my care to strengthen our institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, by discreet improvement wherever improvement is required, and to do all in my power to compose and allay animosity and discord. Acting upon these principles, I shall upon all occasions look with confidence to the wisdom of parliament and the affections of my people, which form the true support of the dignity of the crown, and ensure the stability of the constitution.'

    'When called upon by the Duke of Wellington to sign her first death-warrant, the Queen asked, with tears in her eyes, 'Have you nothing to say in behalf of this man?'

    'Nothing; he has deserted three times,' was the reply.

    'Oh, your Grace, think again.'

    'Well, your Majesty,' said the duke, 'though he is certainly a very bad soldier, some witnesses spoke for his character, and, for aught I know to the contrary, he may be a good man.'

    'Oh, thank you for that a thousand times!' the Queen exclaimed; and she Wrote 'pardoned' across the paper.

    The great Duke of Wellington declared that he could not have desired a daughter of his own to play her part better than did the young queen. She seemed 'awed, but not daunted.' Nor was the gentler womanly side of life neglected. She wrote at once to the widowed Queen Adelaide, begging her, in all her arrangements, to consult nothing but her own health and convenience, and to remain at Windsor just as long as she pleased. And on the superscription of that letter she refused to give her widowed aunt her new style of 'Queen Dowager.' 'I am quite aware of Her Majesty's altered position,' she said, 'but I will not be the first person to remind her of it.' And on the evening of the king's funeral, a sick girl, daughter of an old servant of the Duke of Kent, to whom the duchess and the princess had been accustomed to show kindness, received from 'Queen Victoria,' a gift of the Psalms of David, with a marker worked by the royal hands, and placed in the forty-first psalm.

    The first three weeks of her reign were spent at Kensington, and the Queen took possession of Buckingham Palace on 13th July 1837. Mr Jeaffreson, in describing her personal appearance, says: 'Studied at full face, she was seen to have an ample brow, something higher, and receding less abruptly, than the average brow of her princely kindred; a pair of noble blue eyes, and a delicately curved upper lip, that was more attractive for being at times slightly disdainful, and even petulant in its expression. No woman was ever more fortunate than our young Queen in the purity and delicate pinkiness of her glowing complexion.... Her Majesty's countenance was strangely eloquent of tenderness, refinement, and unobtrusive force.... Among the high-born beauties of her day, the young Queen Victoria was remarkable for the number of her ways of smiling.' Other observers say that the smallness of her stature was quite forgotten in the gracefulness of her demeanour. Fanny Kemble thought the Queen's voice exquisite, when dissolving parliament in July 1837: her enunciation was as perfect as the intonation was melodious. Charles Sumner was also delighted, and thought he never heard anything better delivered.

    She was proclaimed queen, June 21, 1837: the coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on June 28, 1838, and has been vividly described by many pens. At least 300,000 visitors came to London on this occasion. We are told of the glow of purple, of the acclamations of the crowd, and the chorus of Westminster scholars, of the flash of diamonds as the assembled peeresses assumed their coronets when the crown was placed on the head of the young queen. But we best like the touch of womanly solicitude and helpfulness with which Her Majesty made a hasty movement forward as an aged peer, Lord Rolle, tripped over his robes, and stumbled on the steps of the throne. As she left the Abbey, 'the tender paleness that had overspread her fair face on her entrance had yielded to a glow of rosy celestial red.'

    Miss Harriet Martineau thus describes the scene before the entrance of the Queen: 'The stone architecture contrasted finely with the gay colours of the multitude. From my high seat I commanded the whole north transept, the area with the throne, and many portions of galleries, and the balconies, which were called the vaultings. Except the mere sprinkling of oddities, everybody was in full dress. The scarlet of the military officers mixed in well, and the groups of clergy were dignified; but to an unaccustomed eye the prevalence of court dress had a curious effect. I was perpetually taking whole groups of gentlemen for Quakers till I recollected myself. The Earl Marshal's assistants, called Gold Sticks, looked well from above, lightly flitting about in white breeches, silk stockings, blue laced frocks, and white sashes.

    'The throne, covered as was its footstool with cloth of gold, stood on an elevation of four steps in front of the area. The first peeress took her seat in the north transept opposite at a quarter to seven, and three of the bishops came next. From that time the peers and their ladies arrived faster and faster. Each peeress was conducted by two Gold Sticks, one of whom handed her to her seat, and the other bore and arranged her train on her lap, and saw that her coronet, footstool, and book were comfortably placed.... About nine o'clock the first gleams of the sun started into the Abbey, and presently travelled down to the peeresses. I had never before seen the full effect of diamonds. As the light travelled, each lady shone out like a rainbow. The brightness, vastness, and dreamy magnificence of the scene produced a strange effect of exhaustion and sleepiness.... The guns told when the Queen set forth, and there was unusual animation. The Gold Sticks flitted about; there was tuning in the orchestra; and the foreign ambassadors and their suites arrived in quick succession. Prince Esterhazy, crossing a bar of sunshine, was the most prodigious rainbow of all. He was covered with diamonds and pearls, and as he dangled his hat, it cast a dazzling radiance all around.... At half-past eleven the guns told that the Queen had arrived.'

    An eye-witness says: 'The Queen came in as gay as a lark, and looking like a girl on her birthday. However, this only lasted till she reached the middle of the cross of the Abbey, at the foot of the throne. On her rising from her knees before the "footstool," after her private devotions, the Archbishop of Canterbury turned her round to each of the four corners of the Abbey, saying, in a voice so clear that it was heard in the inmost recesses, "Sirs, I here present unto you the undoubted Queen of this realm. Will ye all swear to do her homage?" Each time he said it there were shouts of "Long live Queen Victoria!" and the sounding of trumpets and the waving of banners, which made the poor little Queen turn first very red and then very pale. Most of the ladies cried, and I felt I should not forget it as long as I lived. The Queen recovered herself after this, and went through all the rest as if she had been crowned before, but seemed much impressed by the service, and a most beautiful one it is.' The service was that which was drawn up by St Dunstan, and with a very few alterations has been used ever since. Then the anointing followed--a canopy of cloth of gold was held over the Queen's head, a cross was traced with oil upon her head and hands, and the Dean of Westminster and the archbishop pronounced the words, 'Be thou anointed with holy oil, as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed.' Meanwhile, the choir chanted the 'Anointing of Solomon,' after which the archbishop gave her his benediction, all the bishops joining in the amen. She was next seated in St Edward's chair, underneath which is the rough stone on which the Scottish kings had been crowned, brought away from Scotland by Edward I. While seated here she received the ring which was a token that she was betrothed to her people, a globe surmounted by a cross, and a sceptre. The crown was then placed upon her head; the trumpets sounded, the drums beat, the cannons were fired, and cheers rose from the multitude both without and within the building. The archbishop presented a Bible to Her Majesty, led her to the throne, and bowed before her; the bishops and lords present in their order of rank did the same, saying, 'I do become your liegeman of life and limb and of earthly worship, and faith and love I will bear unto you, to live and die against all manner of folks; so help me God.'

    When the ceremony of allegiance was over, the Queen received the holy communion, and, after the last blessing was pronounced, in splendid array left the Abbey. Mr Greville, one of the brilliant gossip-mongers of the court, related that Lord John Thynne, who officiated for the Dean of Westminster, told him that no one knew but the archbishop and himself what ceremony was to be gone through, and that the Queen never knew what she was to do next. She said to Thynne, 'Pray tell me what I am to do, for they don't know.' At the end, when the orb was put into her hand, she said, 'What am I to do with it?' 'Your Majesty is to carry it, if you please, in your hand.' 'Am I?' she said; 'it is very heavy.' The ruby ring was made for her little finger instead of her fourth; when the archbishop was to put it on she extended the former, but he said it was to be put on the latter. She said it was too small, and she could not get it on. He said it was right to put it there, and, as he insisted, she yielded, but had first to take off her other rings, and then it was forced on; but it hurt her very much, and as soon as the ceremony was over, she was obliged to bathe her finger in iced water in order to get it off. It is said that she was very considerate to the royal dukes, her uncles, when they presented themselves to do homage. When the Duke of Sussex, who was old and infirm, came forward to take the oath of allegiance, she anticipated him, kissed his cheek, and said tenderly, 'Do not kneel, my uncle, for I am still Victoria, your niece.'

    Lord Shaftesbury wrote of the service, as 'so solemn, so deeply religious, so humbling, and yet so sublime. Every word of it is invaluable; throughout, the church is everything, secular greatness nothing. She declares, in the name and by the authority of God, and almost enforces, as a condition preliminary to her benediction, all that can make princes rise to temporal and eternal glory. Many, very many, were deeply impressed.'

    The old crown weighed more than seven pounds; the new one, made for this coronation, but three pounds. The value of the jewels in the crown was estimated at L112,760. These precious stones included 1 large ruby and sapphire; 16 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 4 rubies, 1363 brilliant diamonds; 1273 rose diamonds, 147 table diamonds; 4 drop-shaped pearls; 273 other pearls. The entire coronation expenses amounted to less than L70,000: those of George IV. amounted to L238,000 (banquet, L138,000). As the ceremony lasted four and a half hours, it was well Queen Victoria was spared the fatigue of a banquet.

    Reasons of state and court etiquette required the Duchess of Kent to retire from the constant companionship of her daughter, lest she should be suspected of undue influence over her. The young queen of England had entered upon a time of moral trial. Many of those who had been ready to applaud her were found equally ready to criticise her. Her mother's natural pangs at settling down into their new relationship were maliciously interpreted as consequences of the Queen's coldness and self-will. It was said that she 'began to exhibit slight signs of a peremptory disposition.'

    It is good to know from such a well-informed authority as Mrs Oliphant that the immediate circle of friends around her fed her with no flatteries. The life of the Queen at Windsor has been thus described: 'She rose at a little after eight; breakfasted in her private rooms; then her ministers were admitted; despatches were read, and there would be a consultation with Lord Melbourne. After luncheon she rode out, and on her return amused herself with music and singing and such like recreations till dinner, which was about 8 P.M. On the appearance of the ladies in the drawing-room she stood, moving about from one to the other, talking for a short time to each, and also speaking to the gentlemen as they came from the dining-room. A whist table would be made up for the Duchess of Kent. The Queen and the others seated themselves about a large round table and engaged in conversation.'

    'Poor little Queen!' said Carlyle, with a shake of his head at the time, 'she is at an age when a girl can hardly be trusted to choose a bonnet for herself, yet a task is laid upon her from which an archangel might shrink.' Her Majesty was not overawed, however, and expressly declared to her mother that she ascended the throne without alarm. 'She is as merry and playful as a kitten,' wrote Sir John Campbell.... 'She was in great spirits, and danced with more than usual gaiety a romping, country-dance called the Tempest.' An observant writer of this date says: 'She had a fine vein of humour, a keen sense of the ludicrous; enjoyed equestrian exercise, and rode remarkably well.'

    N. P. Willis, the American poet, who saw her on horseback in Hyde Park, said: 'Her Majesty rides quite fearlessly and securely; I met her party full gallop near the centre of the Rotten Row. On came the Queen on a dun-coloured, highly groomed horse, with her prime-minister on one side of her, and Lord Byron on the other; her cortege of maids of honour, and lords and ladies of the court checking their spirited horses, and preserving always a slight distance between themselves and Her Majesty. ... Victoria's round, plump figure looks exceedingly well in her dark-green riding dress.... She rode with her mouth open, and seemed exhilarated with pleasure.' James Gordon Bennett, who saw her at the opera, describes her as 'a fair-haired little girl, dressed with great simplicity in white muslin, with hair plain, a blue ribbon at the back.... Her bust is extremely well proportioned, and her complexion very fair. There is a slight parting of her rosy lips, between which you can see little nicks of something like very white teeth. The expression of her face is amiable and good-tempered. I could see nothing like that awful majesty, that mysterious something which doth hedge a queen.'

    Mr Greville, who dined at the Queen's table in Buckingham Palace in 1837, pronounced the whole thing dull, so dull that he marvelled how any one could like such a life: but both here and at a ball he declared the bearing of the Queen to be perfect, noting also that her complexion was clear, and that the expression of her eyes was agreeable.

    Despite her strong attraction to her cousin Albert, she expressed a determination not to think of marriage for a time. The sudden change from her quiet, girlish life in Kensington to the prominence and the powers of a great queen, standing 'in that fierce light which beats upon a throne,' might well have excused a good deal of wilfulness had the excuse been needed.

    Her Majesty decides that 'a worse school for a young girl, or one more detrimental to all natural feelings and affections, cannot well be imagined.' Perhaps it was an experience which she needed to convince her fully of the value and blessedness of the true domesticity which was soon to be hers. After she had in 1837 placed her life-interest in the hereditary revenues of the crown at the disposal of the House of Commons, her yearly income was fixed at L385,000. This income is allocated as follows: For Her Majesty's privy purse, L60,000; salaries of Her Majesty's household and retired allowances, L131,260; expenses of household, L172,500; royal bounty, alms, &c., L13,200; unappropriated moneys, L8040.

    The first change from a Whig to a Conservative government ruffled the waters a little. Her Majesty was advised by the Duke of Wellington to invite Sir Robert Peel to form a new ministry. She did so, but frankly told Peel that she was very sorry to lose Lord Melbourne. When arranging his cabinet, Sir Robert found that objections were raised to the retention of certain Whig ladies in personal attendance upon the Queen, as being very likely to influence her. The Duchess of Sutherland and Lady Normanby, it is believed, were particularly meant. The Queen at first flatly refused to dismiss her Ladies of the Bedchamber, to whom she had got so accustomed. As Sir Robert Peel would not yield the point, she recalled Lord Melbourne, who now retained office till 1841. The affair caused a great deal of talk in political and non-political circles. The Queen wrote: 'They wanted to deprive me of my ladies, and I suppose they would deprive me next of my dresses and my housemaids; but I will show them that I am Queen of England.' This little episode has since gone by the name of the 'Bedchamber Plot.'

    Of Her Majesty it may safely be said that she has always been a genuine ruler, in the sense that from the first she trained herself to comprehend the mysteries of statecraft. She had Lord Melbourne as her first prime-minister, and from the beginning every despatch of the Foreign Office was offered to her attention. In 1848, a year of exceptional activity, these numbered 28,000.

    If for a while the Queen thus drew back from actually deciding to marry the cousin whom, nevertheless, she owned to be 'fascinating,' that cousin on his side was not one of those of whom it may be said:

    He either fears his fate too much, Or his deserts are small, That dares not put it to the touch, To gain or lose it all.

    'I am ready,' he said, 'to submit to delay, if I have only some certain assurance to go upon. But if, after waiting perhaps for three years, I should find that the Queen no longer desired the marriage, it would place me in a ridiculous position, and would, to a certain extent, ruin all my prospects for the future.'

    Love proved stronger than girlish pride and independence--the woman was greater than the queen. The young pair met again on the 10th October 1839, and on the 14th of the same month the Queen communicated the welcome news of her approaching marriage to her prime-minister. Her best friends were all delighted with the news.

    'You will be very nervous on declaring your engagement to the Council,' said the Duchess of Gloucester.

    'Yes,' replied the Queen, 'but I did something far more trying to my nerves a short time since.'

    'What was that?' the duchess asked.

    'I proposed to Albert,' was the reply.

    Etiquette of course forbade the gentleman in this case to speak first; and we can well believe that the Queen was more nervous over this matter than over many a state occasion. How the thing took place we may gather in part from a letter of Prince Albert to his grandmother: 'The Queen sent for me to her room, and disclosed to me, in a genuine outburst of love and affection, that I had gained her whole heart.' After the glad announcement was made, warm congratulations were showered on the young people. Lord Melbourne expressed great satisfaction on behalf of himself and his country. 'You will be much more comfortable,' he said, 'for a woman cannot stand alone for any time in whatever position she may be.' To King Leopold, who had much to do with the matter, the news was particularly welcome. In his joyous response to the Queen occur these words: 'I had, when I learned 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 the best for your happiness.... In your position, which may, and will perhaps, become in future even more difficult in a political point of view, you could not exist without having a happy and agreeable interieur. And I am much deceived (which I think I am not) or you will find in Albert just the very qualities and disposition which are indispensable for your happiness, and will suit your own character, temper, and mode of life.'

    To Baron Stockmar, the prince wrote: 'Victoria is so good and kind to me, that I am often puzzled to believe that I should be the object of so much affection.' Prince Albert knew he was choosing a position of no ordinary difficulty and responsibility. 'With the exception of my relation to 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 welfare of so many, will surely be sufficient to support me.'

    True love is always humble. Among the entries in the Queen's Journals are many like this: 'How I will strive to make Albert feel as little as possible the great sacrifice he has made! I told him it was a great sacrifice on his part, but he would not allow it.' After they had spent a month together, the prince returned to Germany. The following extract occurs in a letter from Prince Albert to the Duchess of Kent: '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!'

    On the 23d November, she made the important declaration regarding her approaching marriage to the privy-councillors, eighty-three of whom assembled in Buckingham Palace to hear it. She wore upon her slender wrist a bracelet with the prince's portrait, 'which seemed,' she says, 'to give her courage.' The Queen afterwards described the scene: 'Precisely at two I went in. Lord Melbourne I saw kindly looking at me, with tears in his eyes, but he was not near me. I then read my short declaration. I felt that 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, most welcome communication might be printed. I then left the room, the whole thing not taking above three minutes.' The Queen had to make the same statement before parliament, when Sir Robert Peel replied. 'Her Majesty,' he said, 'has the singular good fortune to be able to gratify her private feelings while she performs her public duty, and to obtain the best guarantee for happiness by contracting an alliance founded on affection.' Hereupon arose a discussion both in and out of parliament as to the amount of the grant to Prince Albert, which was settled at L30,000 a year. But Prince Albert assured the Queen that this squabbling did not trouble him: 'All I have to say is, while I possess your love, they cannot make me unhappy.' Another source of trouble arose from the fact that several members of the royal family thought it an indignity that they should give precedence to a German prince.

    Prince Albert was born at Schloss Rosenau, near Coburg, August 26, 1819, the younger son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, by his first marriage with Louisa, daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. After a careful domestic education, the prince, along with his elder brother, studied at Brussels and Bonn (1836-38), where, in addition to the sciences connected with state-craft, he devoted himself with ardour to natural history and chemistry, and displayed great taste for the fine arts, especially painting and music. Gifted with a handsome figure, he attained expertness in all knightly exercises; whilst by Baron Stockmar, his Mentor, he was imbued with a real interest in European politics.

    King Leopold wrote truly of him: 'If I am not very much mistaken, he possesses all the qualities required to fit him for the position which he will occupy in England. His understanding is sound, his apprehension is clear and rapid, and his heart in the right place. He has great powers of observation, and possesses singular prudence, without anything about him that can be called cold or morose.' The two met first in 1836, and fell in love, as we have seen, like ordinary mortals, though the marriage had long been projected by King Leopold and Baron Stockmar.
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