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

The Coronation

When the young Queen awoke on the morning after her accession, she must have fancied for a moment that she had dreamed all the events of the previous day. She had gone to bed expecting a quiet morning of study; she had been aroused to hear that she was a queen. Thus far she had remained in her own hone, and had merely received those who had come to her, the Prime Minister, the Councilors, and others; but when she had been Queen for a little more than twenty-four hours, the time had come for her to go to London and be proclaimed sovereign of England in the presence of thousands of her subjects.

Victoria and her mother came out of the palace followed by Lord Melbourne. Both ladies were in mourning. The young Queen wore a black dress with white at the neck and wrists. Her bonnet was black and, in comparison with the great pink one that had so delighted her subjects, it was very small. In front of the royal carriage were the Life Guards, a magnificent body of men, everyone drawing himself up to his full height in his pride that it was his  company that was to escort the Queen on her first appearance. She bowed to them first, then to the crowds that thronged about the entrance. She and her mother entered the carriage. More of the Life Guards followed and a long line of carriages filled with lords and ladies.

The carriages did not go rapidly, for every road and lane and passage way was full of people, who cheered and waved banners and shouted "God save the Queen!"

When they arrived at St. James', the officers of state stood waiting to receive them, and they were escorted to a window overlooking the quadrangle below, which had long been filled with a great crowd of enthusiastic people.

"Make way for his Grace, the Garter King-at-Arms!" cried the heralds, and that officer advanced, escorted by the Earl-Marshal, gave one look over the assembled people, then waved his scepter for silence, and read the formal proclamation of Victoria as Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. He was glittering in all the insignia of his office, but the eyes of the people were not on him; they were turned toward an upper window, where against a background of crimson curtains stood the slender figure of the Queen, accompanied by her mother and the Prime Minister. The last words of the proclamation were "God save the Queen!" and "God save the Queen!" repeated the bands in a great outburst of martial music. The trumpets sounded, the cannon in the park roared, and the cannon in the Tower roared in response. The people in the court cheered, and the people outside the court cheered. They waved their handkerchiefs, hats, canes, umbrellas, anything that they could wave. They could not be induced to leave the place, and thousands hung about the entrance to the palace for hours, hoping for just one glimpse of their sovereign.

Not long after this proclamation, the Queen presided over another Council meeting, and did it, so said one who was present, "as if she had done nothing else all her life." This was not the end of the day by any means, for now the reception of archbishops, bishops, and judges followed. She met them with the most perfect dignity; but she was a merry young girl as well as a queen, and after she had received the bishops and had withdrawn from the room with a most stately demeanor, they were greatly amused to see her running down the corridor like a child just let out of school. Her Majesty had forgotten that the door was made of glass!

While all this rejoicing was going on, the dead King lay in state at Windsor Palace, shrouded in a crimson pall and under a purple canopy. The crowns of England and of Hanover lay above him. There were banners and imperial escutcheons. Around him were nobles, admirals, and guardsmen. Nearest stood the feeble old Duke of Sussex in his scarlet uniform. The Dead March sounded, and the long line moved slowly on and down to St. George's Chapel. The last honors were duly paid to the dead King, but the thoughts of all the land were with the young Queen.

Before the day had closed, Victoria and her mother were escorted back to Kensington by the Life Guards to spend a short time before the Queen should take up her abode in Buckingham Palace. "I do not want to go there," she said to the Duke of Sussex. "I love the old Kensington Gardens, where I can wander about as I please. Buckingham Palace is far too big and too grand for me."

Other people may choose their homes, but sovereigns are less free, and there was nothing to do but to leave the homelike Kensington, where her greatest troubles had been an occasional hard lesson, and go to Buckingham, or the New Palace, as it was called, which was to be her London residence.

The New Palace was not yet completed, but men had been working night and day to prepare it for the Queen. It stood on a desolate sand-flat. There were dirty alleys and mud-puddles and dingy little hovels around it, but the coming of the Queen was to make it gorgeous. A splendid new throne, all dazzling in its crimson and gold, was built for her.

"Is it as your Majesty would have it?" inquired the builder.

"It's the most comfortable throne I ever sat on," replied the merry young sovereign.

Buckingham was not lonely by any means. From over the whole country came delegations from universities, corporations, and all kinds of societies. One of these delegations was composed of Quakers, who believe that to uncover the head is to show to man a reverence that should be shown to God alone, and they marched up the stairway without removing their broad-brimmed gray hats. This could not be allowed, but the delegates could hardly be forbidden to see their Queen. Someone was quick-witted enough to discover a way out of the dilemma. "The Quakers won't take off their hats," he whispered, "but it is against their principles to resist violence, and they won't object if we do it for them." Two of the attendants then respectfully raised each man's hat as he passed between them, and returned it to his head when the audience had come to an end.

At the death of a sovereign, Parliament is always dissolved, and a new election is held. Victoria had stood by her "Aunt Adelaide's" side and seen the grand procession which marked the prorogation, but now the time had come for her to take the principal place in the procession.

"It would be better to remain away and allow your speech to be read for you," said both her mother and her physician. "Remember how much you have been through within the past month, and avoid this unnecessary excitement."

The little Queen was wiser than her watchful advisers. She knew well that her subjects had thronged every road leading to Buckingham because they wanted to see her, and she meant to gratify them and appear in all the splendor that a prorogation demanded. As to being exhausted by these ceremonials, she laughed at the idea of such a thing. "I like it all," she said. "I have lived so quietly that it is new to me. It isn't tiresome, it is amusing."

Therefore "Victoria Regina" was written in letters of gold about a beautiful new throne in the House of Lords. Mr. Davys, her "good, kind master," as she called him, heard her practice her speech; then she was made ready for the ceremony. There were no more simple white muslin dresses for her. She wore a kirtle of white satin and over it a crimson velvet robe with border of ermine. The kirtle flashed with gold embroidery, and the velvet robe was confined by a heavy golden cord and tassels. Diamonds glittered and sparkled in her bracelets and coronet and on her stomacher. A few years before, the young girl had walked to the milliner's and home again, carrying her new bonnet in her hand; but now she seated herself in the royal carriage and was drawn by eight cream-colored horses. The Yeomen of the Guard rode before her; and so she went to the House of Parliament.

The band played "God Save the Queen," as she entered the House of Lords and was conducted to the throne on which "Victoria Regina" was written. It was fortunate that she had no farther to walk, for before she seated herself, the lords-in-waiting laid upon her shoulders the heavy parliamentary mantle of purple velvet.

The brilliant company of peers and bishops remained standing. "My lords, be seated," said the Queen. The usual forms of business were followed, but all interest centered in the speech of the sovereign. Mr. Davys had tutored her well, and when she had finished, Fanny Kemble, the greatest actress of the day, declared, "I never heard any spoken words more musical in their gentle distinctness." Charles Sumner wrote, "I never heard anything better read in my life;" and the Queen's kind old uncle, the Duke of Sussex, could only wipe his eyes and murmur, "Beautiful!"

It was not long before the court moved to Windsor Palace. The ordinary routine of the Queen's day was breakfast with her mother between eight and nine, followed by an hour or two with Lord Melbourne attending to matters of state. Then came an audience with the Cabinet Ministers, whenever there was business to be transacted. About two o'clock the Queen and some twenty or thirty of the ladies and gentlemen of the court took a horseback ride of two hours or longer. After this came music or amusement of some kind until the dinner hour. If there were any children in the palace, the Queen was always ready to spend this time with them, and their company must have been a great relief after the formalities of the day. Dinner was at about half-past seven. After dinner came music, games, dancing, and conversation. This was the order of the day when it was not broken into, but it was almost always broken into, for there were balls, receptions, concerts, banquets, and the reception of delegations.

One visit which was soon paid to the court of England gave the Queen special delight. It was that of her uncle, King Leopold, and his Queen. Victoria had never played the hostess before, but there could have been no one else to whom she would have been so glad to show honor; and now there was a merry time, indeed, for the English Queen planned picnics, dinner parties, sailing parties, and all sorts of gayeties.

Those who looked on from the outside thought of the Queen as a light-hearted young girl enjoying to the full what was almost her first taste of gayety and pleasure, but there was quite another side to her life. More was required of the sovereign of England than to sit on a throne and wear handsome dresses and jewels. There was much hard work for her to do, and this merry little Queen had no thought of attempting to escape it. Those morning hours with Lord Melbourne were hours when she must give her keenest thought and closest attention. At an age when many girls have little more responsibility than to learn a lesson or to choose a dress, this girl had to read complicated papers, to listen to arguments on difficult subjects, and sometimes to decide whether a man proven guilty of crime should live or die. Of course she might have made all this much easier for herself by simply writing her name wherever her Ministers advised, but she would not sign any paper without reading and understanding it.

"Your Majesty," said Lord Melbourne one day, "there is no need of your examining this paper, as it is of no special importance."

"But it is of special importance to me," replied the Queen, "whether I sign a paper with which I am not thoroughly satisfied."

Papers of all sorts were showered upon her. Sometimes after listening to Lord Melbourne's advice she would come to a decision on the first reading, but often she would say, "I must think about this before I sign it." Never was a sovereign so overwhelmed with papers, and her friends began to suspect that some of the officials who wished to have matters go their own way were trying to disgust her with public business, hoping that after a little while she would become so tired of it that she would sign whatever was sent her. They did not know that they were dealing with a Queen who had had to finish her haycocks when she was a little girl. Even Lord Melbourne used to say laughingly, "I'd rather manage ten kings than one queen."

There could hardly have been a better man than Lord Melbourne for the difficult position of adviser to a young woman who was also a queen. He was three times her age, and while his manner to her was always one of most profound respect, he showed an almost fatherly feeling for the fatherless young girl. He was her Prime Minister and was also her trusted friend. Before she became Queen, he had won her confidence in a remarkable way, by opposing her desires and those of her mother. In one of those constantly recurring differences between King and Duchess, he had stood firmly for the King's wishes, because he was the King's servant, although he knew that in a few months at most the Princess would be on the throne. Victoria was wise enough to see that the man who would be faithful even at the probability of his own loss was the man whom she might safely trust, and she did trust him implicitly.

Another member of the Queen's household was the honest Baron Stockmar. He had been sent by King Leopold, as soon as his royal niece had attained her eighteenth birthday, to guard her interests and advise her if it should be necessary. With people in general he was quiet and reserved. At table he "ate nothing and talked less," according to the description of one who was at the court; but all felt that the Queen was especially frank with him, and that he and Lord Melbourne were in perfect agreement. One other duty he had at the English court which was known only to himself and King Leopold, and that was to prepare the way for the marriage that the King hoped would come about between his niece and his nephew. The two young people were really in training for sovereignty. King Leopold kept Prince Albert with him for nearly a year after Victoria's accession. He saw to it that the young man should acquire a good knowledge of English and of the English constitution. Baron Stockmar was in the meantime teaching the Queen the rightful position of the sovereign of England. "The sovereign must belong to no party," he said. "Whatever party is in power has been put in power by the nation, and has a right to claim the loyalty of the Queen."

Of course the devoted Baroness Lehzen had followed her beloved pupil, for one of the first acts of the Queen was to appoint her private secretary. The Baroness said: "I copy all her private correspondence just as I used to do when she was my Princess, and she is as frank with me as when she was a child; but she has never shown me a state document or said a word to me about any state business. She knows that such matters should go to her advisers, and not to me or any other woman."

Surely the little Queen was not without good friends. There were King Leopold, the wisest sovereign in Europe; Baron Stockmar, the "only honest man"; Lord Melbourne, who seemed to have no thought but for her, and Baroness Lehzen, who had loved her from her babyhood. The position of her mother was very peculiar and not agreeable in all respects. For eighteen years her only aim in life had been to prepare her daughter for the throne of England. The daughter was now on the throne, and the Duchess felt that her occupation was gone. She realized that matters of state must be discussed with the councilors only, and for this she was prepared; but it was not a pleasant surprise to find that the young girl who less than a year before her accession had meekly left the ballroom for bed at her mother's bidding was now manifesting very decided opinions of her own. The Duchess had the fullest confidence in one of the executors of her husband's will, and she would have been glad that he should hold some office in the new government. The Queen treated her mother with the most tender affection, and she willingly granted the gentleman a generous pension, but she refused to have anything to do with him.

Victoria had ascended the throne, but she had never yet worn the English crown, for though a young girl may become a queen in a moment, a coronation is a different matter. "The King is dead, and therefore Victoria is Queen," declared the Council, and she was Queen; but the preparations for a coronation require more time than does the writing of an address of loyalty, and it was a whole year before these preparations were completed. It was not an easy task to decide just what ceremonies should be observed. One matter to be seriously deliberated upon was whether the left cheek of the young girl should be forced to endure six hundred kisses of state from the six hundred nobles and bishops. There was not even a crown suited to the occasion, for the old one weighed seven pounds, and the most devoted admirers of the ancient usages could not ask that the "little Queen" should carry that load on her head. After many lengthy consultations, these momentous questions were decided. The tradesmen were assured that there would be enough ceremony to bring about large sales, the peers and bishops were told that they would not be allowed to kiss the pink cheek of the Queen, and the crown jewelers were bidden to set to work on a new crown that should weigh only half as much as the old one.

The day came at last, June 28, 1838. London evidently meant to make the most of it, and as soon as the eager watchers saw the first glimpse of dawn, a salute of twenty-one cannon was fired. It was only a little after three o'clock, but the earliness of the hour made little difference to the thousands that had been up all night. Some had stayed up to be sure of securing a good place to see the procession, some because the services of the hairdressers were in such demand that, when a head was once in order, no risk of disarrangement could be ventured upon, and some had been kept awake by pure excitement and nervousness. There was no sleeping after daylight for anyone, for those who were far enough from the Tower to drowse through the firing of cannon were aroused by the ringing of bells which followed, as every church tower rang out its merriest chimes. At five o'clock Westminster Abbey was opened, and this was none too early, for the people who were fortunate enough and rich enough to obtain tickets had long been thronging the entrance. These people in the Abbey had a long time to wait, for it was fully ten o'clock before the salute of twenty-one guns from the park gave the signal that the procession had started from Buckingham Palace.

Such a procession as it was! First came the trumpeters, then the Life Guards, bands, foreign ambassadors in most gorgeous carriages, more Life Guards, the carriage of the Duchess of Kent, the Duke of Sussex, and others of the royal family, the officers of the royal household, and the Yeomen of the Guard. Then all the thousands along the way were agape, for the eight cream-colored horses were seen drawing the chariot of state, wherein sat the pretty little maiden who was the center and cause of all this magnificence. A circlet of diamonds was on her head. She wore a dress of gold tissue, and a mantle of crimson velvet trimmed with gold lace and lined with ermine. Pearls and diamonds gleamed and flashed at every motion. With her rode the Mistress of the Robes and the Master of the Horse. A body of cavalry followed her.

The procession was nearly an hour and a half in reaching the Abbey, for the Queen would not go by the shortest way. All that time people were shouting, and banners were waving, for every house along the line of march was brilliant with as much decoration as its owner could afford. Half a million strangers were in London, and many houses were rented at enormous rates. Five or six thousand dollars was not looked upon as a rental at all exorbitant, and some were let at a much higher price.

At the door of the Abbey, the Queen was met by the chief officers of state. She walked slowly up the aisle, but not alone by any means. Heralds, clergy, and officers of state came first; then a noble bearing the coronet of the Duchess of Cambridge, followed by the Duchess herself, with her long train of purple velvet. Another coronet was borne on a silken cushion, and after it came the Duchess of Kent. Then came six nobles, each carrying some piece of the regalia. There were dukes and earls and marquises and generals and field marshals and bishops, all in their most brilliant array. A little whisper, "The Queen, the Queen!" ran through the long lines of peers and peeresses and ambassadors and judges. It was followed by the waving of handkerchiefs and scarfs and such shouts of applause as shook the Abbey to its foundations, and Victoria advanced, escorted by three bishops. Eight young girls in white silk and silver, with blush roses, carried her train. Then came members of the royal household, gentlemen-at-arms, lords-in-waiting, and other officials without number.

All this time the choir were singing "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord." Then they sang "God save the Queen!" and the trumpets sounded the accompaniment. A most impressive moment followed. The trumpets ceased, every voice was hushed, not a sound was heard among all the thousands in the vast Abbey. The Queen had passed through the door looking "like a young girl on her birthday," but now her face was grave, and she knelt before the altar for a moment of silent prayer. By an ancient privilege, the Westminster schoolboys had the right to give the first greeting to the sovereign, and as she rose, the Abbey rang with their shouts, "Victoria! Victoria! Vivat Victoria Regina!"

The next part of the ceremony is known as the "Recognition"—that is, the recognition of the new sovereign as the lawful sovereign. The Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury turned to the north, and the Archbishop said: "Sirs, I here present unto you Queen Victoria, the undoubted Queen of this realm; wherefore, all you who are come this day to do your homage, are you willing to do the same?" "God save Queen Victoria!" the people cried. The Archbishop and the Queen then turned to the south, to the east, and to the west, and the same words were repeated with the same response. This signified that the people of the land had formally accepted her as their sovereign.

After this, the Queen, followed by the eight train-bearers, walked to the altar, and she made an offering of a golden altar cloth and a pound's weight of gold. This was only the beginning of the four-hours' ceremony, and next came a long sermon preached by the Bishop of London, followed by the solemn oath of the Queen to be just and govern according to the law.

Then came the act of coronation, but for this Victoria was not to appear in jewels and ermine. She was escorted to one of the chapels and robed in a flowing gown of fine white muslin. Over this was thrown a robe of gold brocade worked with the rose, the shamrock, and the thistle, emblematic of England, Ireland, and Scotland. In this quaint and ancient costume she knelt before the altar. The Archbishop led her to the famous old chair of St. Edward, wherein was the stone of Scone, and touched her head and hands with the holy oil. The scepter, orb, sword, and other things signifying power and authority in either Church or state, were handed to her, each with a few words from the Archbishop, exhorting her to use it properly. The ruby ring was placed upon her finger, and the cloth-of-gold mantle upon her shoulders. Then the Archbishop slowly lifted the crown, which was blazing with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds, and placed it upon her head. The next moment all the peers and peeresses lifted their coronets and put them on. The whole building flashed and glittered until one might have fancied that it was raining diamonds. "God save the Queen!" echoed and re-echoed. The thousands who stood outside the Abbey caught up the cry, the bells of all the churches in London began to ring, and the guns of all the garrison towns were fired.

Coronation of Victoria

The Coronation of Queen Victoria, in Westminster Abbey, June 28th, 1838.

The ceremony of homage followed. The Archbishop, the two royal dukes, and many other dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, and barons knelt and, kissing her hand, said: "I do become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship, and faith and truth I will bear unto you, to live and die against all manner of folk, so help me God!" One of the peers was so aged and infirm that he tried twice in vain to ascend the steps. The Queen rose and moved toward him and extended her hand to him as simply and naturally as any other young girl might have done who was not sitting on a throne. After the homage, she received the Holy Sacrament; the "Hallelujah Chorus" was sung; and then the procession re-formed and went slowly over the way to Buckingham Palace.

When George III. was crowned, he complained of some blunders that were made, but he could hardly have been much comforted by the reply that matters would "go better next time." Even though Victoria was the third sovereign crowned since the time of George III., there were still some mistakes. England was accustomed to crowning strong men, but not slender young girls, and the orb was made so heavy that holding it was very wearisome, while the ruby ring was made for the little finger and had to be forced upon the ring finger as best it could be. When the peers did homage, they were required to touch the crown; and the Queen said it was fortunate that she had had it made as tight as possible, for many of them knocked it, and one actually clutched it.

After such a day as this, Victoria must have felt that she was "really and truly" a queen; but with all her dignity and her royalty, she was still a frank, natural young girl, and the story is told that when she entered Buckingham Palace and heard the bark of her favorite dog, she exclaimed, "Oh, there's Dash! I must go and give him his bath."

The English were proud of their Queen, of her dignity and her royal bearing, but it was these touches of frankness and simplicity that won their hearts, and made them feel that with all her jewels, her velvets, and her ermine, she was, after all, one of themselves. It was at this time that the Duke of Sussex wrote to a friend: "The girl Queen is becoming more and more popular. You would simply idolize her if you saw that bright little face, with clear blue eyes, winning all hearts and making us all say, 'God save the Queen!' "