In the Days of Queen Victoria - E. M. Tappan

The Closing Years

One autumn day in 1896 vast numbers of telegrams were sent to Queen Victoria, not only from the English colonies, but from almost all the countries of the world. They were full of congratulations on the length of her reign; for now she had been on the throne longer than any other English ruler, and longer than any one who had ever ruled on the Continent except Louis XIV. No European monarch who had been on the throne at her accession or even ten years after her accession was still reigning. She had seen change of government, assassination, revolution, in other kingdoms, but the monarchy in England had stood firm and was much stronger than when she became Queen.

England would not permit such an event as this to pass without a celebration. Preparations for the "Diamond Jubilee" to mark Victoria's sixty years of sovereignty were commenced many months before the time appointed. More than a million strangers were expected to be in London during the two weeks of the festivities, and the hotel-keepers began to plan how to feed them. Non-perishable foods were brought thousands of miles, and fields of vegetables were bought before they were planted. Next to something to eat, the visitors would wish for a place to see, and owners of houses standing on the route to be taken by the procession expected to get more for a single window than the usual rent of a house for a year. The tenants of these houses were given notice to quit, and as the time drew near, those who refused to leave were put out by force. These removals were called "Jubilee Evictions."

Not everybody was busy with plans for money-making. There was an enormous amount of decorating going on. "V. R." was everywhere and in all sorts of materials, from cut glass and gold to red calico. There were roses, lions, crowns, unicorns, wreaths, banners, and pictures of the Queen at every turn. The route which the procession was to follow wound past the homes of the poor as well as those of the rich, and even the poorest found means to brighten the dingiest abode with a bit of color.

As June 22, 1897, drew near, troops from every British colony began to be seen in the streets of London. Uniforms of red, white, yellow, brown, green, blue, and all kinds of minglings and mixtures decorated the city. There were so many Chinese, Africans, and Hindus, brown people, yellow people, and white people, from every part of the world, that one might almost wonder whether there would be room in the streets for the Londoners, if they should attempt to leave their homes. It looked as if it might be a little difficult to leave some of the houses, for scaffoldings had been built in front of them, and sometimes even far above the roofs, so that as many seats as possible might be rented. The procession was to follow a route six miles long, and so many high scaffolds had been raised that the march would be like a journey through a canyon whose sides were all aglow with every kind of decoration that could be imagined; for the people seemed to feel that the brighter their hangings were, the more loyal they were showing themselves to be, and the result was gorgeous if not always beautiful.

In the colonies the day was being celebrated, and telegrams of loyalty and congratulation were coming to the Queen by the score. As she passed through the doors of Buckingham Palace at eleven o'clock, she sent to every colony the message: "From my heart I thank you, my beloved people. May God bless you." Then she entered her carriage and passed on, escorted by kings, princes, long lines of seamen, masses of British troops and masses of colonial troops. The long cavalcade went on slowly to Temple Bar, the old entrance to the city. There the Queen paused, and the thousands in line paused. The Mayor, most imposing in his long velvet cloak, presented her with the sword of London in token of the city's homage. She touched the sword in acceptance, and the procession moved on.

The second stop was at St. Paul's. The eight cream-colored horses were reined up before a superb mass of color and glitter, for on the steps of the church were ambassadors, bishops, archbishops, judges, and musicians, flashing with diamonds, gleaming in cloth of gold, gorgeous in the red, blue, and pink hoods of the universities, and all framing in a great square of white-robed little choir-boys. Prayer was offered, the Te Deum was chanted, "God Save the Queen" was sung, and thousands of people wiped their eyes as they joined in "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." The benediction was pronounced, and the procession turned slowly away. And as the tread of the horses sounded again on the pavement, the Archbishop forgot his magnificent canonicals, he forgot everything except that he was an Englishman and that Victoria was his Queen, and he led the whole ten thousand people in three tremendous cheers for their sovereign.

That night everything was illuminated that could be illuminated; and, as in 1887, beacon fires flashed from hill to hill and from headland to headland. The Prince of Wales suggested that the best memorial of the day would be a general subscription to pay the debts of the principal hospitals, and in a great sweep of generosity $3,750,000 was promptly subscribed. The Princess of Wales wrote to the Lord Mayor of London, expressing her interest in the poor of the city, and gifts amounting to $1,500,000 were made at once for their benefit. The rejoicing went on for a fortnight. There were reviews of soldiers and of battleships, there were concerts, exhibitions, and dinners for the poor. One part of the celebration was the manufacture of a mammoth cake by the same firm that made the coronation cake. This Jubilee cake weighed five hundred pounds, and five hundred more were added to it in frosting and sugar ornaments. Around it was a great wreath of sugar roses. A lofty tower of sugar rose from within the wreath with many monograms, medallions, crowns, lions, unicorns, angels of fame and of glory blowing great sugar trumpets; and at the very top was the angel of Peace with white and shining wings.

It would have been a source of deep happiness to the Queen if peace could have prevailed throughout the empire during those last years of her life, but in 1899 war arose between the English and the Boers of South Africa. As usual, she hoped to the last that there would be no war, but when she saw that it must come, she had no patience with the least delay in sending troops, and she urged re-enforcing the army so that the war might be ended as soon as possible. She was not satisfied with acting through others; she wanted to do something for the men herself with her own hands, and she set to work to knit caps and comforters to be sent them. When Christmas came, she distributed toys and candy among the soldiers' children; and, remembering that "Men are only boys grown tall," she sent 100,000 boxes of chocolate to her soldiers at the front. When the wounded and the ill were brought home, she often went to the hospitals, and she had many convalescents come to visit her at Windsor.

In this African war the Irish troops had shown such bravery that the heart of the Queen was completely won. She said to her Ministers:

"I have decided to pay a visit to Ireland to thank those brave Irishmen."

The Ministers were delighted to have her make the visit, but they remembered that she had not been in Ireland for forty years and that the Irish felt they had little reason to love the English government. "It will be only wise to have an escort of cavalry around your carriage," they suggested.

"No," she answered. "I am their Queen, and they are my people. If I showed any distrust of them, they would think I deserved to be afraid of them."

Punch  published a picture of Hibernia kissing the hand of the sovereign and saying: "Sure, your Majesty, there's no place like home, and it's at home you'll be with us."

The Queen was right in trusting herself without fear to the people of Ireland; for however they might feel toward the English government, they would show nothing but respect to the English Queen who had made herself the guest of their country.

She landed at Kingstown and was received with all due form by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; but the more ceremonious reception was awaiting her at Dublin, where elaborate preparations had been made. The Lord Mayor and the other officials of the city were all in their long red robes heavily trimmed with fur. Attendants in black velvet and silver lace followed them, one holding a great basket of flowers high up, so that all the people could see it. A table, richly draped with silk, was placed before the Mayor. On the table was a blue satin cushion, and on the cushion was a golden casket. The casket was lined with pearl-colored silk strewn with shamrocks embroidered in blue, and in the casket were the keys of the city, and an address to the sovereign.

Of course these were not real keys of a real gate, for Dublin has no gates, but in order to carry out the interesting old ceremony, tall gates and towers of painted canvas had been erected, and as the Queen and her escort drew near, a trumpeter from the highest watchtower blew three resounding blasts and cried:

"The Athlone pursuivant is at the gates."

"With what message does he come?" asked the Lord Mayor.

"He is the bearer of a request from the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland," replied the trumpeter.

"He may enter."

The pursuivant entered, and the Lord Mayor demanded:

"With what message do you come to the gates of the city of Dublin?"

"I bear the request of the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland that she may enter her city of Dublin," he replied.

"Open the gates and admit the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland," commanded the Lord Mayor.

The pursuivant galloped back; the gates were flung wide open; the Household Cavalry dashed through; and then came the Queen. The Lord Mayor presented the beautiful casket and made his address; the Queen handed him a written reply; the Lady Mayoress presented the basket of flowers; and the Queen had been formally received as the guest of the nation.

This three-weeks' visit to Ireland was one of the Queen's "vacations," but it was hardly a restful time, for she visited hospitals, orphan asylums, schools, and convents; she received delegations of nurses and doctors, and entertained the prominent people of the country. She went to the Zoölogical Gardens and made the acquaintance of a baby bear, and two baby lions, who were just as cross as if she had not been their lawful sovereign. She took drives about the city and the country; she reviewed troops; and finally she accepted an invitation to review thirty thousand school children. In this review, she was much amused when one small child called out, "Sure, you're a nice old lady!" One school was delayed, but in order not to disappoint the children, the Queen arranged a little reception for them later in the day.

The visit to Ireland had given the Queen pleasure, but the continued fighting with the Boers was a grief to her, and in the summer of 1900 she had to meet trouble that touched her even more nearly in the death of her son Alfred, Duke of Connaught. The Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had asked him to become its ruler, and the Duke of Albany had been appointed his successor. This Duke of Albany, who had reviewed his regiment of Highlanders when he was six years of age, was now sixteen, and in two years more he would sit on a throne.

So the years of the Queen passed on with their joys and sorrows. Her visit to Ireland took place in 1900. For four or five years previous to this date she had suffered so much from rheumatism that it was hard for her to walk, and in the house she was generally moved about in a wheeled chair. The door of her special car was widened so that the chair could be taken in easily. Two years before going to Ireland, her eyes began to trouble her. "Use black ink and a broad pen" were the instructions she gave to her Ministers; but even though her sight grew faint, she would not lay down the task that she felt was her own.

Toward the end of 1900 she seemed less strong than usual. "You must save yourself in every possible way," ordered the physicians, "and you must not write more than is absolutely necessary." Christmas was near, but this year her greetings to each member of her family were written for her. Letters and telegrams were read to her, but her interest in all matters was as strong as ever, and her judgments were as rapid and sagacious. She met Lord Roberts on his return from South Africa and questioned him closely about all the details of the war. Two or three days later, when she awoke in the morning, she seemed very weak, and her speech was less clear than usual. Telegrams were sent to the members of her family. Germany was in the midst of an enthusiastic celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Prussian monarchy; but Emperor William said: "It is my sorrow and my nation's sorrow. Let the festivities cease." He left his kingdom and hastened to England. On the day after his arrival, January 22, 1901, Queen Victoria, with her children and grandchildren about her, passed quietly away.

Osborne House

Osborne House, Isle of Wight

The Queen had never liked the gloomy trappings of funerals, and long before this she had bidden that about her own there should be no touch of the somber and sorrowful. The room in which she lay was hung with deep red. There were palms and flowers around it, and about the bier were many tall white candles. The ermine-lined robe of the Garter was laid upon her coffin together with the flag of the country that she had loved. Grenadiers stood motionless, two at the head and two at the foot, keeping guard about her with bowed heads and arms reversed.

So she lay in her own home at Osborne until the day of the funeral was come. No hearse was driven to her door, for the soldier's gun-carriage was to bear the soldier's daughter to her resting place. The bier was covered with ruby velvet. Over it was thrown a pall of white satin with heavy edge of gold and the royal arms in each corner. On this was laid the royal standard, the crown, the insignia of the Garter, and the golden orb of empire which she had carried in her hand at her coronation. In white and gold, the emblems of purity and royalty, she went forth from her home for the last time. Her children and grandchildren, princes and princesses, walked slowly behind her down the long avenue of trees, whose branches shown out clear and distinct against the bright blue of the sky. At the water's edge, the gun-carriage, was drawn on board the yacht Alberta. Followed by the Victoria and Albert, the Osborne, and the massive Hohenzollern  of the Emperor William, the little yacht moved through the mighty lines of war-ships, English, German, and French, whose cannon thundered out their last salute.

This was the farewell of the navy. That night the yacht with its precious burden lay quietly in harbor; and in the morning the body of the Queen was placed on the train to be carried to London. There houses that so lately had been all aglow with the colors of gladness were now draped with purple and white. Throngs were in the streets, but they stood in perfect silence, the men bareheaded, and every woman with some badge of mourning. Slowly the gun-carriage was drawn through the city, followed first by the two sons of the Queen with the German Emperor, then by her other relatives, by members of the royal family in Europe, and troops representing every branch of the army. The navy was also present in a guard of honor of sailors, and it was they who were called upon to perform a last service for their Queen. At Windsor the horses of the gun-carriage had become uneasy, and in a moment, with hardly a word of command, they were unharnessed, and the sailors themselves drew the gun-carriage to the castle. That afternoon the funeral rites were observed in St. George's Chapel with words of prayer and the strains of music that the Queen herself had chosen. The herald made solemn proclamation that Queen Victoria was dead and that her oldest son, Edward VII., was King of Great Britain and Ireland and Emperor of India.

On the following morning the body of the Queen was borne to the beautiful mausoleum at Frogmore which she had erected for Prince Albert nearly forty years before. Muffled drums were beaten; sad, sweet funeral marches were played by the martial bands; and so, through the long avenues lined with soldiers, the procession moved onward. At Frogmore, the bands were hushed, and the Highland pipers, walking before the coffin, played the weird, mournful strains of the "Lament of the Black Watch." Prayer was said, earth from the Mount of Olives was dropped softly upon the coffin, and the Queen was laid to rest beside her beloved Prince.

Next morning the flowers were faded, the flags were no longer at half-mast, the stores and offices were opened, and life went on as before; but in the homes of England those who had known and loved the Queen were talking of her tenderly and thoughtfully. "She always did what she believed was right," said some. "She was always sorry for those who suffered," said others; and some repeated reverently the words of the Scottish pastor who had known her so well:

"I admire her as a woman, love her as a friend, and reverence her as a Queen."