In the Days of Queen Victoria - E. M. Tappan
"Elizabeth would be a good name for her," said the Duke of Kent. "Elizabeth was the greatest woman who ever sat on the throne of England. The English people are used to the name, and they like it."
"But would the Emperor Alexander be pleased?" asked the Duchess. "If he is to be godfather, ought she not to be named for him?"
"Alexandra—no; Alexandrina," said the Duke thoughtfully. "Perhaps you are right. 'Queen Alexandrina' has a good sound, and the day may come when the sovereign of England will be as glad of the friendship of the Emperor of Russia as the Regent is to-day."
"Are you so sure, Edward, that she will be a sovereign?" asked his wife with a smile.
"Doesn't she look like a queen?" demanded the Duke. "Look at her golden hair and her blue eyes! There, see how she put her hand out, just as if she was giving a command! I don't believe any baby a week old ever did that before. The next time I review the troops she shall go with me. You're a soldier's daughter, little one. Come and see the world that you are to conquer." He lifted the tiny baby, much to the displeasure of the nurse, and carried her across the room to the window that looked out upon Kensington Garden. "Now, little one," he whispered into the baby's ear, "they don't believe us and we won't talk about it, but you'll be queen some day."
"Is that the way every father behaves with his first baby?" asked the Duchess.
"They're much alike, your Grace," replied the nurse rather grimly, as she followed the Duke to the window with a blanket on her arm. The Duke was accustomed to commanding thousands of men, and every one of them trembled if his weapons and uniform were not spotless, or if he had been guilty of the least neglect of duty. In more than one battle the Duke had stood so firmly that he had received the thanks of Parliament for his bravery and fearlessness. He would never have surrendered a city to a besieging army, but now he had met his match, and he laid the baby in the nurse's arms with the utmost meekness.
The question of a name for the child was not yet decided, for the wishes of someone else had to be considered, and that was the Prince Regent, the Duke's older brother, George. He thought it proper that his niece should be named Georgiana in honor of himself.
"Georgiana let it be," said the Duke of Kent, "her first name shall be Alexandrina."
"Then Georgiana it shall not be," declared the Prince Regent. "No niece of mine shall put my name second to any king or emperor here in my own country. Call her Alexandrina Alexandra Alexander, if you choose, but she'll not be called Alexandrina Georgiana."
When the time for the christening had arrived the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London came to Kensington in company with the crimson velvet curtains from the chapel at St. James' and a beautiful golden font which had been taken from the Tower for the baptism of the royal baby. The Archbishop and the Bishop, the Prince Regent, and another brother of the Duke of Kent, who was to represent the Emperor of Russia as godfather, all stood around the golden font in the magnificent cupola room, the grand saloon of Kensington Palace. The godmothers were the child's grandmother and aunt, and they were represented by English princesses. All the royal family were present.
After the prayers had been said and the promises of the sponsors made, the Archbishop took the little Princess in his arms and, turning to the godfathers and the godmothers, he said: "Name this child."
"Alexandrina," responded the Duke of York.
"Give her another name," bade the Duke of Kent in a low tone.
"Name her for her mother, then," said the Prince Regent to the Archbishop, and the baby was christened Alexandrina Victoria.
It made little difference to either the Duke or the baby how the Prince Regent might feel about her name, for the Duke was the happiest of fathers, and the little Drina, as the Princess was called, was a merry, sweet-tempered baby. Everyone at Kensington loved her, and over the sea was grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Coburg, who could hardly wait for the day to come when she would be able to see the child. "How pretty the little Mayflower will be," she wrote, "when I see it in a year's time." Another letter said: "The English like queens, and the niece of the beloved Princess Charlotte will be most dear to them." Princess Charlotte was the only child of Prince George, and the nation had loved her and longed to have her for their queen. She had married Leopold, the brother of the Duchess of Kent, and had died only two years before "Princess Drina" was born.
The succession to the English crown was in a peculiar condition. The king, George III., had become insane, and his eldest son, George, was ruling as Prince Regent. If the Regent lived longer than his father, he would become George IV. His next younger brother was Frederick, Duke of York; then came William, Duke of Clarence; and then the Duke of Kent. George and Frederick had no children, and William's baby girl died on the very day that the Princess Alexandrina was born. If these three brothers died without children, the Duke of Kent would become king; but even then, if the Duke should have a son, the law was that he, rather than the daughter, should inherit the crown. The baby Princess, then, stood fifth in the succession to the throne, and a child born to any one of these three uncles, or a son born to her father, would remove her still further from sovereignty.
The English people had talked of all these possibilities. The Duke of Kent had also several younger brothers, but they were all middle-aged men, the youngest forty-five, and not one of them had a child. If all the children of George III. died without heirs, the English crown would descend to a line of Germans who had never walked on English soil. "We have had one king who could not speak English," said the people, "and we do not want another." The Duke of Kent was a general favorite among them, and they hoped that he, and after him his daughter, would become their ruler. Indeed, they hoped for this so strongly that they began to feel sure that it would come to pass. Everyone wanted to see the little Princess. Many a person lingered under the palace windows for hours, and went away feeling well repaid for the delay if he had caught a glimpse of the royal baby in her nurse's arms.
When the Princess was four months old, the Duke gave orders one afternoon that she should be made ready for a drive with him.
"But is it not the day of the military review on Hounslow Heath?" asked the Duchess.
"Yes," replied the Duke, "and where else should a soldier's daughter be but at a review? I want to see how she likes the army. You know she will be at the head of the army some day," he added half in jest and half in earnest. "Won't you let me have her?" The Duchess shook her head playfully. Just then the nurse entered the room with the little Princess in her outdoor wraps. The tall Duke caught up the child and ran to the carriage like a naughty boy with a forbidden plaything, and the nurse followed.
At the review the Duke was not so stern a disciplinarian as usual, for more than one man who was expected to stand "eyes front" took a sly look at the pretty baby in her nurse's arms, and the proud father forgot to blame him for the misdemeanor. After the review the people gathered about the carriage.
"God bless the child," cried an old man. "She'll be a Princess Charlotte to us."
"Look at her sweet face," said another. "Did you ever see such bright blue eyes? She'll be a queen who can see what her people want."
There were hurrahs for the Princess and hurrahs for the Duke. Then a voice in the crowd cried: "Give us a rousing cheer for the Duchess who cares for her own baby and doesn't leave her to the hired folk."
In all this hubbub and confusion the blue-eyed baby did not cry or show the least fear. "She's a soldier's child," said the Duke with delight, and he took her from the nurse and helped her to wave her tiny hand to the admiring crowd.
Prince George had never been on good terms with his brother, the Duke of Kent, and after the affair of the name he was less friendly than ever. He was always jealous of the child, and when he heard of her reception at the review he was thoroughly angry. "That infant is too young to be brought into public," he declared.
She was not brought into so public a place again, but she won friends wherever she went. The Duke could not bear to have her away from him for an hour, and the greatest honor he could show to a guest was to allow him to take the little one in his arms. An old friend was at the Palace, one evening, and when he rose to go, the Duke said: "No, come with me first and see the child in her crib." As they entered the room of the little Princess, the Duke said: "We are going to Sidmouth in two or three days to cheat the winter, and so we may not meet again for some time. I want you to give my child your blessing. Pray for her, not merely that her life may be brilliant and free from trouble, but that God will bless her, and that in all the years to come He will guide her and guard her." The prayer was made, and the Duke responded with an earnest "Amen."
In a few days the family set out for Sidmouth. Kensington was becoming cold and damp, and the precious baby must not be risked in the London chills of the late autumn. The Duchess, moreover, had devoted herself so closely to her child that she needed a change and rest.
At Sidmouth the old happy life of the past six months went on for a little while. The house was so small that it was called "hardly more than a cottage," but it had pretty verandas and bay windows, shaded by climbing roses and honeysuckles. It stood on a sunny knoll, with tall trees circling around it. Just below the knoll was a little brook running merrily to the sea, a quarter of a mile away, and, following the lead of the brook, was the road. Sidmouth was a nest of sunbeams, and the baby Princess was well and strong. "She is too healthy, I fear," wrote the Duke, "in the opinion of some members of my family by whom she is regarded as an intruder."
The people of Sidmouth did not look upon the pretty, blue-eyed baby as an intruder, and there was great excitement in the village when it was known that the Duke had taken Woolbrook Glen. Every boy in the country around was eager to see the soldier Duke who had been in real battles, and every girl longed for a sight of the little Princess. There was no difficulty in seeing them when they had once come, for whenever it was pleasant they were out of doors, walking or driving. A lady who met the party one morning wrote that the Duke and the Duchess were strolling along arm in arm, and close to them was the nurse carrying the Princess with her white swansdown bonnet and cloak. She was holding out her hand to the Duke, and just as the village people drew near, he took her from the nurse and lifted her to his shoulder.
When the Duke had been away from the house, his first thought on returning was the little daughter. One morning, only a few days after this meeting with the lady and her children, he took a long walk in the rain. He was hardly over the threshold on his return before he called, "Where's my daughter? Bring little Drina."
"But, Edward," the Duchess objected, "your boots must be wet through. Won't you change them first? You will surely be ill."
"Soldiers aren't ill, my lady," replied the Duke, laughing. "I never was ill in all my life. Where's my queen?"
An hour's romp with the merry baby followed. But then came a chill, and the strong man was overcome with inflammation of the lungs. In those days physicians had little knowledge how to treat such a disease. They had an idea that whenever one was feverish he had too much blood, and that some of it must be taken away; so the Duke was bled until, if he had not been in the least ill, the loss of blood would have made him faint and weak. A messenger was sent to London to bring a famous doctor, but when he came the Duke was dead. "I could have done nothing else," said the great man, "except to bleed him much more than you have done."
Prince Leopold had come to Sidmouth a day or two earlier, and he went with the Duchess and the Princess to London. The villagers gathered about the carriage to bid a silent farewell to the sorrowful company. Many of them were weeping, and their tears flowed still faster when the nurse held the baby up to the carriage window and whispered, "Say good-by to the people;" for the little one waved her hand and patted the glass and sprang up and down in her nurse's arms without the least realization of her loss.
The carriage rolled away, but the people stood watching it until it was out of sight.
"That's the sweetest child in all England," said one woman, wiping her eyes with the corner of her apron, "and now the poor little thing will have no father."
"Did ever you see a man so fond of his child as the Duke?" said another with a sob.
"King George had nine sons," said a man who stood near, "and the Duke was every whit the best of them. The King never treated him fairly. When the others wanted money, they had it; but when the Duke needed it, his father just said, 'Get along as you can.' There wasn't one of the sons that the King wasn't kinder to than to the Duke."
"He'll have little more chance to be kind or unkind," declared another. "Have you not heard the news from London? The King is very ill, and the Prince Regent will soon be George IV."
"It's bad luck speaking ill of him that's to be king," said one, "but the man that's gone to London in his coffin was the man that I'd have liked to see on the throne."
"Will the Duchess go back to her own land, think you?" questioned the first woman.
"Yes, that she will," replied the second positively. "There never was a woman that loved her own people better than she. Folks say she writes her mother every day of her life."
"I say she'll not go back," declared one of the men with equal positiveness. "She'll do her duty, and her duty is to care for the Princess. God bless her, and make her our queen some day.
So the people in the village talked, and so people were talking throughout the kingdom. After the first sad days were past the question had to be decided by the Duchess and her devoted brother Leopold. The Duchess loved her family and her old home at Amorbach, near Heidelberg. There she and the Duke had spent the first months of their married life, and nothing would have helped her more to bear her loneliness than a return to the Bavarian Palace, in which every room was associated with memories of him. She was a stranger in England and she could not even speak the language of the country. The Duke's sisters loved her, and Adelaide, who had been a German princess before she became the wife of the Duke of Clarence, gave her the warmest sympathy in this time of sorrow; but the Regent disliked her and had always seemed indignant at the possibility that his brother's child would inherit the throne. The Regent had now become king, for his father had died on the very day of the Duchess's return to London. Unless a child was born to either the Duke of York or the Duke of Clarence, the baby Princess would become queen at their death. The child who would rule England ought to be brought up in England.
There was something else to be considered, however. When the Duchess was only a girl of seventeen she had become the wife of the Prince of Leiningen, and at his death he had made her sole guardian of their two children, Charles and Féodore. As soon as Charles was old enough he would succeed his father as ruler of Leiningen, but until then his mother was Regent.
"Is it right for me to neglect my duties in Bavaria?" questioned the Duchess; "to give up the regency of Leiningen? Shall I neglect Charles to care for Drina's interest?"
"Charles will be well cared for," said Prince Leopold. "His people love him already and will be true to him. England is a great kingdom. It is not an easy land to rule. A queen who has grown up in another country will never hold the hearts of the people."
"True," said the Duchess. "I must live in England. That is my duty to my child and to her country."
How the Duchess and her child were to live was a question of much importance. The King could not refuse to allow them to occupy their old apartments in Kensington Palace, but the Duchess was almost penniless. Nearly all the money which her first husband had left her she had been obliged to give up on her second marriage, and she had surrendered all the Duke's property to his creditors to go as far as it would in paying his debts. Some money had been settled upon her when she married the Duke, but that was so tied up that it would be many months before she could touch it. The only plea that she could make to the King would be on the ground that her child might become his heir, and nothing would have enraged him so much as to suggest such a thing. Whatever Parliament might appropriate to the Princess would be given against the wishes of the King, and there would, at any rate, be a long delay. It was a strange condition of affairs. The child would probably have millions at her command before many years had passed, but for the present there was no money even to pay the wages of the servants for their care of her.
If this story had been a fairy tale, the fairy godmother with the magic wand would have been called upon to shower golden guineas into the empty purse, but in this case it was the good uncle who came to the aid of his Princess niece. When Prince Leopold married the Princess Charlotte he went to England to live, for he expected that some day his wife would become Queen of Great Britain. After her death he made his home in England, but spent much of his time in travelling. He was not rich, but he was glad to help his sister as much as possible, and after the death of the Duke of Kent he made her and her children his first care.
It was decided, then, that the Duchess would remain in England, and that Kensington Palace should become the home of the Princess Alexandrina Victoria. This was a large, comfortable-looking abode. It had been a favorite home of several of the English sovereigns. About it were gardens cut into beds shaped like scrolls, palm leaves, ovals, circles, and all sorts of conventional figures so prim and stiff that one might well have wondered how flowers ever dared to grow in any shape but rectangular. The yew trees were trimmed into peacocks and lions and other kinds of birds and beasts. All this was interesting only as a curiosity, but there was a pretty pond and there were long, beautiful avenues of trees. There were flowers and shrubs and soft green turf. It was out of the fog and smoke of the city; indeed it was so far out that there was danger of robbers to the man who ventured to walk or drive at night through the unlighted roads. For many years after the birth of the Princess a bell was rung Sunday evenings so that all Londoners might meet and guard against danger by going over the lonely way to their homes in one large company.
The life at Kensington was very quiet. No one would have guessed from seeing the royal baby that the fate which lay before her was different from that to be expected for any other child who was not the daughter of a Prince. She spent much of the time out of doors, at first in the arms of her nurse, then in a tiny carriage, in which her half-sister, the Princess Féodore, liked to draw her about. "She must learn never to be afraid of people," declared the wise mother, and before the child could speak plainly she was taught to make a little bow when strangers came near her carriage and say, "Morning, lady," or "Morning, sir."
The little girl was happy, but life was hard for the mother. She had given up her home and her friends, and now she had to give up even her own language, for English and not German must be her child's mother tongue, and she set to work bravely to conquer the mysteries of English. Her greatest comfort in her loneliness was the company of the Duchess Adelaide, wife of the Duke of Clarence. For many weeks after the death of the Duke of Kent, the Duchess drove to Kensington every day to spend some time with her sister-in-law. When the Princess was about a year and a half old, a little daughter was born to the Duchess Adelaide, but in three months she was again childless. She had none of the royal brothers' jealousy of the baby at Kensington, and she wrote to the Duchess of Kent, "My little girls are dead, but your child lives, and she shall be mine, too."