The child who, in these not very impressive circumstances, appeared in the world, received but scant attention. There was small reason to foresee her destiny. The Duchess of Clarence, two months before, had given birth to a daughter, this infant, indeed, had died almost immediately; but it seemed highly probable that the Duchess would again become a mother; and so it actually fell out. More than this, the Duchess of Kent was young, and the Duke was strong; there was every likelihood that before long a brother would follow, to snatch her faint chance of the succession from the little princess.
Nevertheless, the Duke had other views: there were prophecies . . . At any rate, he would christen the child Elizabeth, a name of happy augury. In this, however, he reckoned without the Regent, who, seeing a chance of annoying his brother, suddenly announced that he himself would be present at the baptism, and signified at the same time that one of the godfathers was to be the Emperor Alexander of Russia. And so when the ceremony took place, and the Archbishop of Canterbury asked by what name he was to baptise the child, the Regent replied “Alexandria.” At this the Duke ventured to suggest that another name might be added. “Certainly,” said the Regent; “Georgina?” “Or Elizabeth?” said the Duke. There was a pause, during which the Archbishop, with the baby in his lawn sleeves, looked with some uneasiness from one Prince to the other. “Very well, then,” said the Regent at last, “call her after her mother. But Alexandrina must come first.” Thus, to the disgust of her father, the child was christened Alexandrina Victoria.
The Duke had other subjects of disgust. The meagre grant of the Commons had by no means put an end to his financial distresses. It was to be feared that his services were not appreciated by the nation. His debts continued to grow. For many years he had lived upon L7000 a year; but now his expenses were exactly doubled; he could make no further reductions; as it was, there was not a single servant in his meagre grant establishment who was idle for a moment from morning to night. He poured out his griefs in a long letter to Robert Owen, whose sympathy had the great merit of being practical. “I now candidly state,” he wrote, “that, after viewing the subject in every possible way, I am satisfied that, to continue to live in England, even in the quiet way in which we are going on, WITHOUT SPLENDOUR, and WITHOUT SHOW, NOTHING SHORT OF DOUBLING THE SEVEN THOUSAND POUNDS WILL DO, REDUCTION BEING IMPOSSIBLE.” It was clear that he would be obliged to sell his house for L51,300, if that failed, he would go and live on the Continent. “If my services are useful to my country, it surely becomes THOSE WHO HAVE THE POWER to support me in substantiating those just claims I have for the very extensive losses and privations I have experienced, during the very long period of my professional servitude in the Colonies; and if this is not attainable, IT IS A CLEAR PROOF TO ME THAT THEY ARE THEY ARE NOT APPRECIATED; and under that impression I shall not scruple, in DUE time, to resume my retirement abroad, when the Duchess and myself shall have fulfilled our duties in establishing the ENGLISH birth of my child, and giving it material nutriment on the soil of Old England; and which we shall certainly repeat, if Providence destines, to give us any further increase of family.”
In the meantime, he decided to spend the winter at Sidmouth, “in order,” he told Owen, “that the Duchess may have the benefit of tepid sea bathing, and our infant that of sea air, on the fine coast of Devonshire, during the months of the year that are so odious in London.” In December the move was made. With the new year, the Duke remembered another prophecy. In 1820, a fortune-teller had told him, two members of the Royal Family would die. Who would they be? He speculated on the various possibilities: The King, it was plain, could not live much longer; and the Duchess of York had been attacked by a mortal disease. Probably it would be the King and the Duchess of York; or perhaps the King and the Duke of York; or the King and the Regent. He himself was one of the healthiest men in England. “My brothers,” he declared, “are not so strong as I am; I have lived a regular life. I shall outlive them all. The crown will come to me and my children.” He went out for a walk, and got his feet wet. On coming home, he neglected to change his stockings. He caught cold, inflammation of the lungs set in, and on January 22 he was a dying man. By a curious chance, young Dr. Stockmar was staying in the house at the time; two years before, he had stood by the death-bed of the Princess Charlotte; and now he was watching the Duke of Kent in his agony. On Stockmar’s advice, a will was hastily prepared. The Duke’s earthly possessions were of a negative character; but it was important that the guardianship of the unwitting child, whose fortunes were now so strangely changing, should be assured to the Duchess. The Duke was just able to understand the document, and to append his signature. Having inquired whether his writing was perfectly clear, he became unconscious, and breathed his last on the following morning! Six days later came the fulfilment of the second half of the gipsy’s prophecy. The long, unhappy, and inglorious life of George the Third of England was ended.
Such was the confusion of affairs at Sidmouth, that the Duchess found herself without the means of returning to London. Prince Leopold hurried down, and himself conducted his sister and her family, by slow and bitter stages, to Kensington. The widowed lady, in her voluminous blacks, needed all her equanimity to support her. Her prospects were more dubious than ever. She had L6000 a year of her own; but her husband’s debts loomed before her like a mountain. Soon she learnt that the Duchess of Clarence was once more expecting a child. What had she to look forward to in England? Why should she remain in a foreign country, among strangers, whose language she could not speak, whose customs she could not understand? Surely it would be best to return to Amorbach, and there, among her own people, bring up her daughters in economical obscurity. But she was an inveterate optimist; she had spent her life in struggles, and would not be daunted now; and besides, she adored her baby. “C’est mon bonheur, mes delices, mon existence,” she declared; the darling should be brought up as an English princess, whatever lot awaited her. Prince Leopold came forward nobly with an offer of an additional L3000 a year; and the Duchess remained at Kensington.
The child herself was extremely fat, and bore a remarkable resemblance to her grandfather. “C’est l’image du feu Roi!” exclaimed the Duchess. “C’est le Roi Georges en jupons,” echoed the surrounding ladies, as the little creature waddled with difficulty from one to the other.
Before long, the world began to be slightly interested in the nursery at Kensington. When, early in 1821, the Duchess of Clarence’s second child, the Princess Elizabeth, died within three months of its birth, the interest increased. Great forces and fierce antagonisms seemed to be moving, obscurely, about the royal cradle. It was a time of faction and anger, of violent repression and profound discontent. A powerful movement, which had for long been checked by adverse circumstances, was now spreading throughout the country. New passions, new desires, were abroad; or rather old passions and old desires, reincarnated with a new potency: love of freedom, hatred of injustice, hope for the future of man. The mighty still sat proudly in their seats, dispensing their ancient tyranny; but a storm was gathering out of the darkness, and already there was lightning in the sky. But the vastest forces must needs operate through frail human instruments; and it seemed for many years as if the great cause of English liberalism hung upon the life of the little girl at Kensington. She alone stood between the country and her terrible uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, the hideous embodiment of reaction. Inevitably, the Duchess of Kent threw in her lot with her husband’s party; Whig leaders, Radical agitators, rallied round her; she was intimate with the bold Lord Durham, she was on friendly terms with the redoubtable O’Connell himself. She received Wilberforce-though, to be sure, she did not ask him to sit down. She declared in public that she put her faith in “the liberties of the People.” It was certain that the young Princess would be brought up in the way that she should go; yet there, close behind the throne, waiting, sinister, was the Duke of Cumberland. Brougham, looking forward into the future in his scurrilous fashion, hinted at dreadful possibilities. “I never prayed so heartily for a Prince before,” he wrote, on hearing that George IV had been attacked by illness. “If he had gone, all the troubles of these villains (the Tory Ministers) went with him, and they had Fred. I (the Duke of York) their own man for his life. He (Fred. I) won’t live long either; that Prince of Blackguards, ‘Brother William,’ is as bad a life, so we come in the course of nature to be ASSASSINATED by King Ernest I or Regent Ernest (the Duke of Cumberland).” Such thoughts were not peculiar to Brougham; in the seething state of public feeling, they constantly leapt to the surface; and, even so late as the year previous to her accession, the Radical newspapers were full of suggestions that the Princess Victoria was in danger from the machinations of her wicked uncle.
But no echo of these conflicts and forebodings reached the little Drina — for so she was called in the family circle — as she played with her dolls, or scampered down the passages, or rode on the donkey her uncle York had given her along the avenues of Kensington Gardens The fair-haired, blue-eyed child was idolised by her nurses, and her mother’s ladies, and her sister Feodora; and for a few years there was danger, in spite of her mother’s strictness, of her being spoilt. From time to time, she would fly into a violent passion, stamp her little foot, and set everyone at defiance; whatever they might say, she would not learn her letters — no, she WOULD NOT; afterwards, she was very sorry, and burst into tears; but her letters remained unlearnt. When she was five years old, however, a change came, with the appearance of Fraulein Lehzen. This lady, who was the daughter of a Hanoverian clergyman, and had previously been the Princess Feodora’s governess, soon succeeded in instilling a new spirit into her charge. At first, indeed, she was appalled by the little Princess’s outbursts of temper; never in her life, she declared, had she seen such a passionate and naughty child. Then she observed something else; the child was extraordinarily truthful; whatever punishment might follow, she never told a lie. Firm, very firm, the new governess yet had the sense to see that all the firmness in the world would be useless, unless she could win her way into little Drina’s heart. She did so, and there were no more difficulties. Drina learnt her letters like an angel; and she learnt other things as well. The Baroness de Spath taught her how to make little board boxes and decorate them with tinsel and painted flowers; her mother taught her religion. Sitting in the pew every Sunday morning, the child of six was seen listening in rapt attention to the clergyman’s endless sermon, for she was to be examined upon it in the afternoon. The Duchess was determined that her daughter, from the earliest possible moment, should be prepared for her high station in a way that would commend itself to the most respectable; her good, plain, thrifty German mind recoiled with horror and amazement from the shameless junketings at Carlton House; Drina should never be allowed to forget for a moment the virtues of simplicity, regularity, propriety, and devotion. The little girl, however, was really in small need of such lessons, for she was naturally simple and orderly, she was pious without difficulty, and her sense of propriety was keen. She understood very well the niceties of her own position. When, a child of six, Lady Jane Ellice was taken by her grandmother to Kensington Palace, she was put to play with the Princess Victoria, who was the same age as herself. The young visitor, ignorant of etiquette, began to make free with the toys on the floor, in a way which was a little too familiar; but “You must not touch those,” she was quickly told, “they are mine; and I may call you Jane, but you must not call me Victoria.” The Princess’s most constant playmate was Victoire, the daughter of Sir John Conroy, the Duchess’s major-domo. The two girls were very fond of one another; they would walk hand in hand together in Kensington Gardens. But little Drina was perfectly aware for which of them it was that they were followed, at a respectful distance, by a gigantic scarlet flunkey.
Warm-hearted, responsive, she loved her dear Lehzen, and she loved her dear Feodora, and her dear Victoire, and her dear Madame de Spath. And her dear Mamma, of course, she loved her too; it was her duty; and yet — she could not tell why it was — she was always happier when she was staying with her Uncle Leopold at Claremont. There old Mrs. Louis, who, years ago, had waited on her Cousin Charlotte, petted her to her heart’s content; and her uncle himself was wonderfully kind to her, talking to her seriously and gently, almost as if she were a grown-up person. She and Feodora invariably wept when the too-short visit was over, and they were obliged to return to the dutiful monotony, and the affectionate supervision of Kensington. But sometimes when her mother had to stay at home, she was allowed to go out driving all alone with her dear Feodora and her dear Lehzen, and she could talk and look as she liked, and it was very delightful.
The visits to Claremont were frequent enough; but one day, on a special occasion, she paid one of a rarer and more exciting kind. When she was seven years old, she and her mother and sister were asked by the King to go down to Windsor. George IV, who had transferred his fraternal ill-temper to his sister-in-law and her family, had at last grown tired of sulking, and decided to be agreeable. The old rip, bewigged and gouty, ornate and enormous, with his jewelled mistress by his side and his flaunting court about him, received the tiny creature who was one day to hold in those same halls a very different state. “Give me your little paw,” he said; and two ages touched. Next morning, driving in his phaeton with the Duchess of Gloucester, he met the Duchess of Kent and her child in the Park. “Pop her in,” were his orders, which, to the terror of the mother and the delight of the daughter, were immediately obeyed. Off they dashed to Virginia Water, where there was a great barge, full of lords and ladies fishing, and another barge with a band; and the King ogled Feodora, and praised her manners, and then turned to his own small niece. “What is your favourite tune? The band shall play it.” “God save the King, sir,” was the instant answer. The Princess’s reply has been praised as an early example of a tact which was afterwards famous. But she was a very truthful child, and perhaps it was her genuine opinion.
In 1827 the Duke of York, who had found some consolation for the loss of his wife in the sympathy of the Duchess of Rutland, died, leaving behind him the unfinished immensity of Stafford House and L200,000 worth of debts. Three years later George IV also disappeared, and the Duke of Clarence reigned in his stead. The new Queen, it was now clear, would in all probability never again be a mother; the Princess Victoria, therefore, was recognised by Parliament as heir-presumptive; and the Duchess of Kent, whose annuity had been doubled five years previously, was now given an additional L10,000 for the maintenance of the Princess, and was appointed regent, in case of the death of the King before the majority of her daughter. At the same time a great convulsion took place in the constitution of the State. The power of the Tories, who had dominated England for more than forty years, suddenly began to crumble. In the tremendous struggle that followed, it seemed for a moment as if the tradition of generations might be snapped, as if the blind tenacity of the reactionaries and the determined fury of their enemies could have no other issue than revolution. But the forces of compromise triumphed: the Reform Bill was passed. The centre of gravity in the constitution was shifted towards the middle classes; the Whigs came into power; and the complexion of the Government assumed a Liberal tinge. One of the results of this new state of affairs was a change in the position of the Duchess of Kent and her daughter. From being the protegees of an opposition clique, they became assets of the official majority of the nation. The Princess Victoria was henceforward the living symbol of the victory of the middle classes.
The Duke of Cumberland, on the other hand, suffered a corresponding eclipse: his claws had been pared by the Reform Act. He grew insignificant and almost harmless, though his ugliness remained; he was the wicked uncle still — but only of a story.
The Duchess’s own liberalism was not very profound. She followed naturally in the footsteps of her husband, repeating with conviction the catchwords of her husband’s clever friends and the generalisations of her clever brother Leopold. She herself had no pretensions to cleverness; she did not understand very much about the Poor Law and the Slave Trade and Political Economy; but she hoped that she did her duty; and she hoped — she ardently hoped — that the same might be said of Victoria. Her educational conceptions were those of Dr. Arnold, whose views were just then beginning to permeate society. Dr. Arnold’s object was, first and foremost, to make his pupils “in the highest and truest sense of the words, Christian gentlemen,” intellectual refinements might follow. The Duchess felt convinced that it was her supreme duty in life to make quite sure that her daughter should grow up into a Christian queen. To this task she bent all her energies; and, as the child developed, she flattered herself that her efforts were not unsuccessful. When the Princess was eleven, she desired the Bishops of London and Lincoln to submit her daughter to an examination, and report upon the progress that had been made. “I feel the time to be now come,” the Duchess explained, in a letter obviously drawn up by her own hand, “that what has been done should be put to some test, that if anything has been done in error of judgment it may be corrected, and that the plan for the future should be open to consideration and revision . . . I attend almost always myself every lesson, or a part; and as the lady about the Princess is a competent person, she assists Her in preparing Her lessons, for the various masters, as I resolved to act in that manner so as to be Her Governess myself. When she was at a proper age she commenced attending Divine Service regularly with me, and I have every feeling that she has religion at Her heart, that she is morally impressed with it to that degree, that she is less liable to error by its application to her feelings as a Child capable of reflection.” “The general bent of Her character,” added the Duchess, “is strength of intellect, capable of receiving with ease, information, and with a peculiar readiness in coming to a very just and benignant decision on any point Her opinion is asked on. Her adherence to truth is of so marked a character that I feel no apprehension of that Bulwark being broken down by any circumstances.” The Bishops attended at the Palace, and the result of their examination was all that could be wished. “In answering a great variety of questions proposed to her,” they reported, “the Princess displayed an accurate knowledge of the most important features of Scripture History, and of the leading truths and precepts of the Christian Religion as taught by the Church of England, as well as an acquaintance with the Chronology and principal facts of English History remarkable in so young a person. To questions in Geography, the use of the Globes, Arithmetic, and Latin Grammar, the answers which the Princess returned were equally satisfactory.” They did not believe that the Duchess’s plan of education was susceptible of any improvement; and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was also consulted, came to the same gratifying conclusion.
One important step, however, remained to be taken. So far, as the Duchess explained to the Bishops, the Princess had been kept in ignorance of the station that she was likely to fill. “She is aware of its duties, and that a Sovereign should live for others; so that when Her innocent mind receives the impression of Her future fate, she receives it with a mind formed to be sensible of what is to be expected from Her, and it is to be hoped, she will be too well grounded in Her principles to be dazzled with the station she is to look to.” In the following year it was decided that she should be enlightened on this point. The well — known scene followed: the history lesson, the genealogical table of the Kings of England slipped beforehand by the governess into the book, the Princess’s surprise, her inquiries, her final realisation of the facts. When the child at last understood, she was silent for a moment, and then she spoke: “I will be good,” she said. The words were something more than a conventional protestation, something more than the expression of a superimposed desire; they were, in their limitation and their intensity, their egotism and their humility, an instinctive summary of the dominating qualities of a life. “I cried much on learning it,” her Majesty noted long afterwards. No doubt, while the others were present, even her dear Lehzen, the little girl kept up her self-command; and then crept away somewhere to ease her heart of an inward, unfamiliar agitation, with a handkerchief, out of her mother’s sight.
But her mother’s sight was by no means an easy thing to escape. Morning and evening, day and night, there was no relaxation of the maternal vigilance. The child grew into the girl, the girl into the young woman; but still she slept in her mother’s bedroom; still she had no place allowed her where she might sit or work by herself. An extraordinary watchfulness surrounded her every step: up to the day of her accession, she never went downstairs without someone beside her holding her hand. Plainness and regularity ruled the household. The hours, the days, the years passed slowly and methodically by. The dolls — the innumerable dolls, each one so neatly dressed, each one with its name so punctiliously entered in the catalogue — were laid aside, and a little music and a little dancing took their place. Taglioni came, to give grace and dignity to the figure, and Lablache, to train the piping treble upon his own rich bass. The Dean of Chester, the official preceptor, continued his endless instruction in Scripture history, while the Duchess of Northumberland, the official governess, presided over every lesson with becoming solemnity. Without doubt, the Princess’s main achievement during her school-days was linguistic. German was naturally the first language with which she was familiar; but English and French quickly followed; and she became virtually trilingual, though her mastery of English grammar remained incomplete. At the same time, she acquired a working knowledge of Italian and some smattering of Latin. Nevertheless, she did not read very much. It was not an occupation that she cared for; partly, perhaps, because the books that were given her were all either sermons, which were very dull, or poetry, which was incomprehensible. Novels were strictly forbidden. Lord Durham persuaded her mother to get her some of Miss Martineau’s tales, illustrating the truths of Political Economy, and they delighted her; but it is to be feared that it was the unaccustomed pleasure of the story that filled her mind, and that she never really mastered the theory of exchanges or the nature of rent.
It was her misfortune that the mental atmosphere which surrounded her during these years of adolescence was almost entirely feminine. No father, no brother, was there to break in upon the gentle monotony of the daily round with impetuosity, with rudeness, with careless laughter and wafts of freedom from the outside world. The Princess was never called by a voice that was loud and growling; never felt, as a matter of course, a hard rough cheek on her own soft one; never climbed a wall with a boy. The visits to Claremont — delicious little escapes into male society — came to an end when she was eleven years old and Prince Leopold left England to be King of the Belgians. She loved him still; he was still “il mio secondo padre or, rather, solo padre, for he is indeed like my real father, as I have none;” but his fatherliness now came to her dimly and indirectly, through the cold channel of correspondence. Henceforward female duty, female elegance, female enthusiasm, hemmed her completely in; and her spirit, amid the enclosing folds, was hardly reached by those two great influences, without which no growing life can truly prosper — humour and imagination. The Baroness Lehzen — for she had been raised to that rank in the Hanoverian nobility by George IV before he died — was the real centre of the Princess’s world. When Feodora married, when Uncle Leopold went to Belgium, the Baroness was left without a competitor. The Princess gave her mother her dutiful regards; but Lehzen had her heart. The voluble, shrewd daughter of the pastor in Hanover, lavishing her devotion on her royal charge, had reaped her reward in an unbounded confidence and a passionate adoration. The girl would have gone through fire for her “PRECIOUS Lehzen,” the “best and truest friend,” she declared, that she had had since her birth. Her journal, begun when she was thirteen, where she registered day by day the small succession of her doings and her sentiments, bears on every page of it the traces of the Baroness and her circumambient influence. The young creature that one sees there, self-depicted in ingenuous clarity, with her sincerity, her simplicity, her quick affections and pious resolutions, might almost have been the daughter of a German pastor herself. Her enjoyments, her admirations, her engouements were of the kind that clothed themselves naturally in underlinings and exclamation marks. “It was a DELIGHTFUL ride. We cantered a good deal. SWEET LITTLE ROSY WENT BEAUTIFULLY!! We came home at a 1/4 past 1 . . . At 20 minutes to 7 we went out to the Opera . . . Rubini came on and sang a song out of ‘Anna Boulena’ QUITE BEAUTIFULLY. We came home at 1/2 past 11.” In her comments on her readings, the mind of the Baroness is clearly revealed. One day, by some mistake, she was allowed to take up a volume of memoirs by Fanny Kemble. “It is certainly very pertly and oddly written. One would imagine by the style that the authoress must be very pert, and not well bred; for there are so many vulgar expressions in it. It is a great pity that a person endowed with so much talent, as Mrs. Butler really is, should turn it to so little account and publish a book which is so full of trash and nonsense which can only do her harm. I stayed up till 20 minutes past 9.” Madame de Sevigne’s letters, which the Baroness read aloud, met with more approval. “How truly elegant and natural her style is! It is so full of naivete, cleverness, and grace.” But her highest admiration was reserved for the Bishop of Chester’s ‘Exposition of the Gospel of St. Matthew.’ “It is a very fine book indeed. Just the sort of one I like; which is just plain and comprehensible and full of truth and good feeling. It is not one of those learned books in which you have to cavil at almost every paragraph. Lehzen gave it me on the Sunday that I took the Sacrament.” A few weeks previously she had been confirmed, and she described the event as follows: “I felt that my confirmation was one of the most solemn and important events and acts in my life; and that I trusted that it might have a salutary effect on my mind. I felt deeply repentant for all what I had done which was wrong and trusted in God Almighty to strengthen my heart and mind; and to forsake all that is bad and follow all that is virtuous and right. I went with the firm determination to become a true Christian, to try and comfort my dear Mamma in all her griefs, trials, and anxieties, and to become a dutiful and affectionate daughter to her. Also to be obedient to DEAR Lehzen, who has done so much for me. I was dressed in a white lace dress, with a white crepe bonnet with a wreath of white roses round it. I went in the chariot with my dear Mamma and the others followed in another carriage.” One seems to hold in one’s hand a small smooth crystal pebble, without a flaw and without a scintillation, and so transparent that one can see through it at a glance.
Yet perhaps, after all, to the discerning eye, the purity would not be absolute. The careful searcher might detect, in the virgin soil, the first faint traces of an unexpected vein. In that conventual existence visits were exciting events; and, as the Duchess had many relatives, they were not infrequent; aunts and uncles would often appear from Germany, and cousins too. When the Princess was fourteen she was delighted by the arrival of a couple of boys from Wurtemberg, the Princes Alexander and Ernst, sons of her mother’s sister and the reigning duke. “They are both EXTREMELY TALL,” she noted, “Alexander is VERY HANDSOME, and Ernst has a VERY KIND EXPRESSION. They are both extremely AMIABLE.” And their departure filled her with corresponding regrets. “We saw them get into the barge, and watched them sailing away for some time on the beach. They were so amiable and so pleasant to have in the house; they were ALWAYS SATISFIED, ALWAYS GOOD-HUMOURED; Alexander took such care of me in getting out of the boat, and rode next to me; so did Ernst.” Two years later, two other cousins arrived, the Princes Ferdinand and Augustus. “Dear Ferdinand,” the Princess wrote, “has elicited universal admiration from all parties . . . He is so very unaffected, and has such a very distinguished appearance and carriage. They are both very dear and charming young men. Augustus is very amiable, too, and, when known, shows much good sense.” On another occasion, “Dear Ferdinand came and sat near me and talked so dearly and sensibly. I do SO love him. Dear Augustus sat near me and talked with me, and he is also a dear good young man, and is very handsome.” She could not quite decide which was the handsomer of the two. “On the whole,” she concluded, “I think Ferdinand handsomer than Augustus, his eyes are so beautiful, and he has such a lively clever expression; BOTH have such a sweet expression; Ferdinand has something QUITE BEAUTIFUL in his expression when he speaks and smiles, and he is SO good.” However, it was perhaps best to say that they were “both very handsome and VERY DEAR.” But shortly afterwards two more cousins arrived, who threw all the rest into the shade. These were the Princes Ernest and Albert, sons of her mother’s eldest brother, the Duke of Saxe–Coburg. This time the Princess was more particular in her observations. “Ernest,” she remarked, “is as tall as Ferdinand and Augustus; he has dark hair, and fine dark eyes and eyebrows, but the nose and mouth are not good; he has a most kind, honest, and intelligent expression in his countenance, and has a very good figure. Albert, who is just as tall as Ernest but stouter, is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth; but the charm of his countenance is his expression, which is most delightful; c’est a la fois full of goodness and sweetness, and very clever and intelligent.” “Both my cousins,” she added, “are so kind and good; they are much more formes and men of the world than Augustus; they speak English very well, and I speak it with them. Ernest will be 18 years old on the 21st of June, and Albert 17 on the 26th of August. Dear Uncle Ernest made me the present of a most delightful Lory, which is so tame that it remains on your hand and you may put your finger into its beak, or do anything with it, without its ever attempting to bite. It is larger than Mamma’s grey parrot.” A little later, “I sat between my dear cousins on the sofa and we looked at drawings. They both draw very well, particularly Albert, and are both exceedingly fond of music; they play very nicely on the piano. The more I see them the more I am delighted with them, and the more I love them . . . It is delightful to be with them; they are so fond of being occupied too; they are quite an example for any young person.” When, after a stay of three weeks, the time came for the young men and their father to return to Germany, the moment of parting was a melancholy one. “It was our last HAPPY HAPPY breakfast, with this dear Uncle and those DEAREST beloved cousins, whom I DO love so VERY VERY dearly; MUCH MORE DEARLY than any other cousins in the WORLD. Dearly as I love Ferdinand, and also good Augustus, I love Ernest and Albert MORE than them, oh yes, MUCH MORE . . . They have both learnt a good deal, and are very clever, naturally clever, particularly Albert, who is the most reflecting of the two, and they like very much talking about serious and instructive things and yet are so VERY VERY merry and gay and happy, like young people ought to be; Albert always used to have some fun and some clever witty answer at breakfast and everywhere; he used to play and fondle Dash so funnily too . . . Dearest Albert was playing on the piano when I came down. At 11 dear Uncle, my DEAREST BELOVED cousins, and Charles, left us, accompanied by Count Kolowrat. I embraced both my dearest cousins most warmly, as also my dear Uncle. I cried bitterly, very bitterly.” The Princes shared her ecstasies and her italics between them; but it is clear enough where her secret preference lay. “Particularly Albert!” She was just seventeen; and deep was the impression left upon that budding organism by the young man’s charm and goodness and accomplishments, and his large blue eyes and beautiful nose, and his sweet mouth and fine teeth.
King William could not away with his sister-in-law, and the Duchess fully returned his antipathy. Without considerable tact and considerable forbearance their relative positions were well calculated to cause ill-feeling; and there was very little tact in the composition of the Duchess, and no forbearance at all in that of his Majesty. A bursting, bubbling old gentleman, with quarterdeck gestures, round rolling eyes, and a head like a pineapple, his sudden elevation to the throne after fifty-six years of utter insignificance had almost sent him crazy. His natural exuberance completely got the best of him; he rushed about doing preposterous things in an extraordinary manner, spreading amusement and terror in every direction, and talking all the time. His tongue was decidedly Hanoverian, with its repetitions, its catchwords —“That’s quite another thing! That’s quite another thing!”— its rattling indomitability, its loud indiscreetness. His speeches, made repeatedly at the most inopportune junctures, and filled pell-mell with all the fancies and furies that happened at the moment to be whisking about in his head, were the consternation of Ministers. He was one part blackguard, people said, and three parts buffoon; but those who knew him better could not help liking him — he meant well; and he was really good-humoured and kind-hearted, if you took him the right way. If you took him the wrong way, however, you must look out for squalls, as the Duchess of Kent discovered.
She had no notion of how to deal with him — could not understand him in the least. Occupied with her own position, her own responsibilities, her duty, and her daughter, she had no attention to spare for the peppery susceptibilities of a foolish, disreputable old man. She was the mother of the heiress of England; and it was for him to recognise the fact — to put her at once upon a proper footing — to give her the precedence of a dowager Princess of Wales, with a large annuity from the privy purse. It did not occur to her that such pretensions might be galling to a king who had no legitimate child of his own, and who yet had not altogether abandoned the hope of having one. She pressed on, with bulky vigour, along the course she had laid out. Sir John Conroy, an Irishman with no judgment and a great deal of self-importance, was her intimate counsellor, and egged her on. It was advisable that Victoria should become acquainted with the various districts of England, and through several summers a succession of tours — in the West, in the Midlands, in Wales — were arranged for her. The intention of the plan was excellent, but its execution was unfortunate. The journeys, advertised in the Press, attracting enthusiastic crowds, and involving official receptions, took on the air of royal progresses. Addresses were presented by loyal citizens, the delighted Duchess, swelling in sweeping feathers and almost obliterating the diminutive Princess, read aloud, in her German accent, gracious replies prepared beforehand by Sir John, who, bustling and ridiculous, seemed to be mingling the roles of major-domo and Prime Minister. Naturally the King fumed over his newspaper at Windsor. “That woman is a nuisance!” he exclaimed. Poor Queen Adelaide, amiable though disappointed, did her best to smooth things down, changed the subject, and wrote affectionate letters to Victoria; but it was useless. News arrived that the Duchess of Kent, sailing in the Solent, had insisted that whenever her yacht appeared it should be received by royal salutes from all the men-of-war and all the forts. The King declared that these continual poppings must cease; the Premier and the First Lord of the Admiralty were consulted; and they wrote privately to the Duchess, begging her to waive her rights. But she would not hear of it; Sir John Conroy was adamant. “As her Royal Highness’s CONFIDENTIAL ADVISER,” he said, “I cannot recommend her to give way on this point.” Eventually the King, in a great state of excitement, issued a special Order in Council, prohibiting the firing of royal salutes to any ships except those which carried the reigning sovereign or his consort on board.
When King William quarrelled with his Whig Ministers the situation grew still more embittered, for now the Duchess, in addition to her other shortcomings, was the political partisan of his enemies. In 1836 he made an attempt to prepare the ground for a match between the Princess Victoria and one of the sons of the Prince of Orange, and at the same time did his best to prevent the visit of the young Coburg princes to Kensington. He failed in both these objects; and the only result of his efforts was to raise the anger of the King of the Belgians, who, forgetting for a moment his royal reserve, addressed an indignant letter on the subject to his niece. “I am really ASTONISHED,” he wrote, “at the conduct of your old Uncle the King; this invitation of the Prince of Orange and his sons, this forcing him on others, is very extraordinary . . . Not later than yesterday I got a half-official communication from England, insinuating that it would be HIGHLY desirable that the visit of YOUR relatives SHOULD NOT TAKE PLACE THIS YEAR— qu’en dites-vous? The relations of the Queen and the King, therefore, to the God-knows-what degree, are to come in shoals and rule the land, when YOUR RELATIONS are to be FORBIDDEN the country, and that when, as you know, the whole of your relations have ever been very dutiful and kind to the King. Really and truly I never heard or saw anything like it, and I hope it will a LITTLE ROUSE YOUR SPIRIT; now that slavery is even abolished in the British Colonies, I do not comprehend WHY YOUR LOT ALONE SHOULD BE TO BE KEPT A WHITE LITTLE SLAVEY IN ENGLAND, for the pleasure of the Court, who never bought you, as I am not aware of their ever having gone to any expense on that head, or the King’s ever having SPENT A SIXPENCE FOR YOUR EXISTENCE . . . Oh, consistency and political or OTHER HONESTY, where must one look for you!”
Shortly afterwards King Leopold came to England himself, and his reception was as cold at Windsor as it was warm at Kensington. “To hear dear Uncle speak on any subject,” the Princess wrote in her diary, “is like reading a highly instructive book; his conversation is so enlightened, so clear. He is universally admitted to be one of the first politicians now extant. He speaks so mildly, yet firmly and impartially, about politics. Uncle tells me that Belgium is quite a pattern for its organisation, its industry, and prosperity; the finances are in the greatest perfection. Uncle is so beloved and revered by his Belgian subjects, that it must be a great compensation for all his extreme trouble.” But her other uncle by no means shared her sentiments. He could not, he said, put up with a water-drinker; and King Leopold would touch no wine. “What’s that you’re drinking, sir?” he asked him one day at dinner. “Water, sir.” “God damn it, sir!” was the rejoinder. “Why don’t you drink wine? I never allow anybody to drink water at my table.”
It was clear that before very long there would be a great explosion; and in the hot days of August it came. The Duchess and the Princess had gone down to stay at Windsor for the King’s birthday party, and the King himself, who was in London for the day to prorogue Parliament, paid a visit at Kensington Palace in their absence. There he found that the Duchess had just appropriated, against his express orders, a suite of seventeen apartments for her own use. He was extremely angry, and, when he returned to Windsor, after greeting the Princess with affection, he publicly rebuked the Duchess for what she had done. But this was little to what followed. On the next day was the birthday banquet; there were a hundred guests; the Duchess of Kent sat on the King’s right hand, and the Princess Victoria opposite. At the end of the dinner, in reply to the toast of the King’s health, he rose, and, in a long, loud, passionate speech, poured out the vials of his wrath upon the Duchess. She had, he declared, insulted him — grossly and continually; she had kept the Princess away from him in the most improper manner; she was surrounded by evil advisers, and was incompetent to act with propriety in the high station which she filled; but he would bear it no longer; he would have her to know he was King; he was determined that his authority should be respected; henceforward the Princess should attend at every Court function with the utmost regularity; and he hoped to God that his life might be spared for six months longer, so that the calamity of a regency might be avoided, and the functions of the Crown pass directly to the heiress-presumptive instead of into the hands of the “person now near him,” upon whose conduct and capacity no reliance whatever could be placed. The flood of vituperation rushed on for what seemed an interminable period, while the Queen blushed scarlet, the Princess burst into tears, and the hundred guests sat aghast. The Duchess said not a word until the tirade was over and the company had retired; then in a tornado of rage and mortification, she called for her carriage and announced her immediate return to Kensington. It was only with the utmost difficulty that some show of a reconciliation was patched up, and the outraged lady was prevailed upon to put off her departure till the morrow.
Her troubles, however, were not over when she had shaken the dust of Windsor from her feet. In her own household she was pursued by bitterness and vexation of spirit. The apartments at Kensington were seething with subdued disaffection, with jealousies and animosities virulently intensified by long years of propinquity and spite.
There was a deadly feud between Sir John Conroy and Baroness Lehzen. But that was not all. The Duchess had grown too fond of her Major–Domo. There were familiarities, and one day the Princess Victoria discovered the fact. She confided what she had seen to the Baroness, and to the Baroness’s beloved ally, Madame de Spath. Unfortunately, Madame de Spath could not hold her tongue, and was actually foolish enough to reprove the Duchess; whereupon she was instantly dismissed. It was not so easy to get rid of the Baroness. That lady, prudent and reserved, maintained an irreproachable demeanour. Her position was strongly entrenched; she had managed to secure the support of the King; and Sir John found that he could do nothing against her. But henceforward the household was divided into two camps.1 The Duchess supported Sir John with all the abundance of her authority; but the Baroness, too, had an adherent who could not be neglected. The Princess Victoria said nothing, but she had been much attached to Madame de Spath, and she adored her Lehzen. The Duchess knew only too well that in this horrid embroilment her daughter was against her. Chagrin, annoyance, moral reprobation, tossed her to and fro. She did her best to console herself with Sir John’s affectionate loquacity, or with the sharp remarks of Lady Flora Hastings, one of her maids of honour, who had no love for the Baroness. The subject lent itself to satire; for the pastor’s daughter, with all her airs of stiff superiority, had habits which betrayed her origin. Her passion for caraway seeds, for instance, was uncontrollable. Little bags of them came over to her from Hanover, and she sprinkled them on her bread and butter, her cabbage, and even her roast beef. Lady Flora could not resist a caustic observation; it was repeated to the Baroness, who pursed her lips in fury, and so the mischief grew.
1 Greville, IV, 21; and August 15, 1839 (unpublished). “The cause of the Queen’s alienation from the Duchess and hatred of Conroy, the Duke (of Wellington) said, was unquestionably owing to her having witnessed some familiarities between them. What she had seen she repeated to Baroness Spaeth, and Spaeth not only did not hold her tongue, but (he thinks) remonstrated with the Duchess herself on the subject. The consequence was that they got rid of Spaeth, and they would have got rid of Lehzen, too, if they had been able, but Lehzen, who knew very well what was going on, was prudent enough not to commit herself, and who was, besides, powerfully protected by George IV and William IV, so that they did not dare to attempt to expel her.”
The King had prayed that he might live till his niece was of age; and a few days before her eighteenth birthday — the date of her legal majority — a sudden attack of illness very nearly carried him off. He recovered, however, and the Princess was able to go through her birthday festivities — a state ball and a drawing-room — with unperturbed enjoyment. “Count Zichy,” she noted in her diary, “is very good-looking in uniform, but not in plain clothes. Count Waldstein looks remarkably well in his pretty Hungarian uniform.” With the latter young gentleman she wished to dance, but there was an insurmountable difficulty. “He could not dance quadrilles, and, as in my station I unfortunately cannot valse and gallop, I could not dance with him.” Her birthday present from the King was of a pleasing nature, but it led to a painful domestic scene. In spite of the anger of her Belgian uncle, she had remained upon good terms with her English one. He had always been very kind to her, and the fact that he had quarrelled with her mother did not appear to be a reason for disliking him. He was, she said, “odd, very odd and singular,” but “his intentions were often ill interpreted.” He now wrote her a letter, offering her an allowance of L10,000 a year, which he proposed should be at her own disposal, and independent of her mother. Lord Conyngham, the Lord Chamberlain, was instructed to deliver the letter into the Princess’s own hands. When he arrived at Kensington, he was ushered into the presence of the Duchess and the Princess, and, when he produced the letter, the Duchess put out her hand to take it. Lord Conyngham begged her Royal Highness’s pardon, and repeated the King’s commands. Thereupon the Duchess drew back, and the Princess took the letter. She immediately wrote to her uncle, accepting his kind proposal. The Duchess was much displeased; L4000 a year, she said, would be quite enough for Victoria; as for the remaining L6000, it would be only proper that she should have that herself.
King William had thrown off his illness, and returned to his normal life. Once more the royal circle at Windsor — their Majesties, the elder Princesses, and some unfortunate Ambassadress or Minister’s wife — might be seen ranged for hours round a mahogany table, while the Queen netted a purse, and the King slept, occasionally waking from his slumbers to observe “Exactly so, ma’am, exactly so!” But this recovery was of short duration. The old man suddenly collapsed; with no specific symptoms besides an extreme weakness, he yet showed no power of rallying; and it was clear to everyone that his death was now close at hand.
All eyes, all thoughts, turned towards the Princess Victoria; but she still remained, shut away in the seclusion of Kensington, a small, unknown figure, lost in the large shadow of her mother’s domination. The preceding year had in fact been an important one in her development. The soft tendrils of her mind had for the first time begun to stretch out towards unchildish things. In this King Leopold encouraged her. After his return to Brussels, he had resumed his correspondance in a more serious strain; he discussed the details of foreign politics; he laid down the duties of kingship; he pointed out the iniquitous foolishness of the newspaper press. On the latter subject, indeed, he wrote with some asperity. “If all the editors,” he said, “of the papers in the countries where the liberty of the press exists were to be assembled, we should have a crew to which you would NOT confide a dog that you would value, still less your honour and reputation.” On the functions of a monarch, his views were unexceptionable. “The business of the highest in a State,” he wrote, “is certainly, in my opinion, to act with great impartiality and a spirit of justice for the good of all.” At the same time the Princess’s tastes were opening out. Though she was still passionately devoted to riding and dancing, she now began to have a genuine love of music as well, and to drink in the roulades and arias of the Italian opera with high enthusiasm. She even enjoyed reading poetry — at any rate, the poetry of Sir Walter Scott.
When King Leopold learnt that King William’s death was approaching, he wrote several long letters of excellent advice to his niece. “In every letter I shall write to you,” he said, “I mean to repeat to you, as a FUNDAMENTAL RULE, TO BE FIRM, AND COURAGEOUS, AND HONEST, AS YOU HAVE BEEN TILL NOW.” For the rest, in the crisis that was approaching, she was not to be alarmed, but to trust in her “good natural sense and the TRUTH” of her character; she was to do nothing in a hurry; to hurt no one’s amour-propre, and to continue her confidence in the Whig administration! Not content with letters, however, King Leopold determined that the Princess should not lack personal guidance, and sent over to her aid the trusted friend whom, twenty years before, he had taken to his heart by the death-bed at Claremont. Thus, once again, as if in accordance with some preordained destiny, the figure of Stockmar is discernible — inevitably present at a momentous hour.
On June 18, the King was visibly sinking. The Archbishop of Canterbury was by his side, with all the comforts of the church. Nor did the holy words fall upon a rebellious spirit; for many years his Majesty had been a devout believer. “When I was a young man,” he once explained at a public banquet, “as well as I can remember, I believed in nothing but pleasure and folly — nothing at all. But when I went to sea, got into a gale, and saw the wonders of the mighty deep, then I believed; and I have been a sincere Christian ever since.” It was the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and the dying man remembered it. He should be glad to live, he said, over that day; he would never see another sunset. “I hope your Majesty may live to see many,” said Dr. Chambers. “Oh! that’s quite another thing, that’s quite another thing,” was the answer. One other sunset he did live to see; and he died in the early hours of the following morning. It was on June 20, 1837.
When all was over, the Archbishop and the Lord Chamberlain ordered a carriage, and drove post-haste from Windsor to Kensington. They arrived at the Palace at five o’clock, and it was only with considerable difficulty that they gained admittance. At six the Duchess woke up her daughter, and told her that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were there, and wished to see her. She got out of bed, put on her dressing-gown, and went, alone, into the room where the messengers were standing. Lord Conyngham fell on his knees, and officially announced the death of the King; the Archbishop added some personal details. Looking at the bending, murmuring dignitaries before her, she knew that she was Queen of England. “Since it has pleased Providence,” she wrote that day in her journal, “to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfil my duty towards my country; I am very young, and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure, that very few have more real good will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.” But there was scant time for resolutions and reflections. At once, affairs were thick upon her. Stockmar came to breakfast, and gave some good advice. She wrote a letter to her uncle Leopold, and a hurried note to her sister Feodora. A letter came from the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, announcing his approaching arrival. He came at nine, in full court dress, and kissed her hand. She saw him alone, and repeated to him the lesson which, no doubt, the faithful Stockmar had taught her at breakfast. “It has long been my intention to retain your Lordship and the rest of the present Ministry at the head of affairs;” whereupon Lord Melbourne again kissed her hand and shortly after left her. She then wrote a letter of condolence to Queen Adelaide. At eleven, Lord Melbourne came again; and at half-past eleven she went downstairs into the red saloon to hold her first Council. The great assembly of lords and notables, bishops, generals, and Ministers of State, saw the doors thrown open and a very short, very slim girl in deep plain mourning come into the room alone and move forward to her seat with extraordinary dignity and grace; they saw a countenance, not beautiful, but prepossessing — fair hair, blue prominent eyes, a small curved nose, an open mouth revealing the upper teeth, a tiny chin, a clear complexion, and, over all, the strangely mingled signs of innocence, of gravity, of youth, and of composure; they heard a high unwavering voice reading aloud with perfect clarity; and then, the ceremony was over, they saw the small figure rise and, with the same consummate grace, the same amazing dignity, pass out from among them, as she had come in, alone.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54