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

Examination Day

When Queen Victoria was a tiny child, she is said to have asked her mother one day, "Mamma, why is it that when Féodore and I are walking all the gentlemen raise their hats to me and not to her?" In 1830, when she was nearly eleven years old, her mother and her teachers thought that it was time for her question to be answered. The King was so ill that everyone knew he could not live many months. The Duke of York had died three years earlier; therefore at the King's death William, Duke of Clarence, would ascend the throne, and Victoria would succeed him.

It seems quite probable that the bright little girl had before this time answered the question for herself. There are stories that if she failed in a lesson a certain teasing boy cousin of hers used to say, "Yes, a pretty queen you will make!" and then he would suggest that when a queen did not rule well her head was likely to be cut off. Another story is that when the child was reading aloud to her mother about the Princess Charlotte, she suddenly looked up from her book and asked, "Mamma, shall I ever be a queen?" Tradition says that the Duchess replied: "It is very possible. I want you to be a good woman, and then you will be a good queen." Whether there is any truth in these stories or not, the child was too observing not to have noticed when very young that she was treated differently from other children, even her sister Féodore. She lived very simply, and Miss Lehzen was always at hand to correct the least approach to a fault; but she could not have failed to see that she was watched wherever she went and that far more attention was paid to her than to her mother. Indeed, she herself said long afterwards that the knowledge of her position came to her gradually and that she "cried much" at the thought of ever having to be a queen.

The little girl kept these thoughts to herself, and even her mother did not know that she was dreading a future on a throne. There are several accounts of just how she was finally told that she would some day wear the crown, but a version which may be trusted comes from Mr. Davys.

"Princess," he said, "to-morrow I wish you to give me a chart of the kings and queens of England."

When morning came, she gave him the chart, and he read it carefully. Then he said:

"It is well done, but it does not go far enough. You have put down 'Uncle King' as reigning, and you have written 'Uncle William' as the heir to the throne, but who should follow him?"

The little girl hesitated, then she said, "I hardly liked to put down myself."

One story of the way the announcement was made to the Princess was written—nearly forty years after the event—by her strict and adoring governess, but it makes her out such a priggish, Pharisaical little moralizer that one cannot help fancying that the devoted woman unconsciously put into the mouth of her idol the speeches that seemed to her appropriate, not to the child, but to the occasion. She says that when the Princess was told of her position, she declared: "Many a child would boast, but they don't know the difficulty. There is much splendor, but there is more responsibility." Then the governess reminded her that if her Aunt Adelaide should have children they would be the ones to ascend the throne. According to this account, the child answered: "If it were so, I should be very glad, for I know by the love Aunt Adelaide bears me how fond she is of children." It seems probable that after the Princess had been told what lay before her, Miss Lehzen made speeches somewhat like these, and that the conscientious, tender-hearted little girl assented to them.

Mr. Davys told the Duchess about the chart, and she wrote at once to the Bishop of London that the Princess now understood her position. The letter ended, "We have everything to hope from this child."

It must have given the little girl of eleven years a strange feeling to read a chart of sovereigns of her country and know that her own name would be written in the next vacant place. She had seen the deference paid to "Uncle King," she knew that his will was law, and it must have made the child's brain whirl to think "Some day I shall be in his place." She had always been trained to the most strict obedience, but she knew that some day whatever order she chose to give would be obeyed. She seems to have thought more of the responsibility of the throne than of its glories; but if she had felt ever so much inclined to boast, she would soon have realized that after all she was only a little girl who must obey rather than command, for the first consequence of her queenly prospects was an examination in her lessons before two learned bishops.

The Duchess believed that the training of the future queen was the most important matter in the country. She could hardly have helped feeling that she had been most successful in her efforts to make the child what she ought to be, but after all, she herself was a German, her child was to rule an English realm, and the careful mother wished to make sure that the little girl was having the kind of instruction that would best prepare her for the difficult position she would have to fill. She selected two bishops as her advisers, men of much learning and fine character, and wrote them a long letter about the Princess. She told them what masters had been chosen for her and in what branch each one had instructed her. She enclosed a list of the books the Princess had read, a record of every lesson she had taken, and the schedule of her study hours. She said that she herself had been present at almost every lesson, and that Miss Lehzen, whose special task it was to assist the little girl in preparing her work for the different masters, was always in attendance.

With this letter went a report from each instructor, stating not only what books she had used but what his opinion was of her progress and ability. Although there was so much temptation to use flattery, these reports seem to have been written with remarkable sincerity and truthfulness. The writing master said that his pupil had "a peculiar talent" for arithmetic, but he was apparently not quite satisfied with her handwriting, for he closed with the sentence, "If the Princess endeavors to imitate her writing examples, her success is certain." The teacher of German wrote, "Her orthography is now tolerably correct," but he did not show the least enthusiasm over his statement, "There is no doubt of her knowing the leading rules of the German language quite well," though surely this was no small acquisition for a child of eleven. The French teacher declared that her pronunciation was perfect, that she was well advanced in knowledge of French grammar and could carry on a conversation in French, but that she spoke better than she wrote. He added: "The Princess is much further advanced than is usually the case with children of her age." Mr. Davys, with his great love for his little pupil, seems to have had a struggle with himself to keep from speaking of her as warmly as he longed to speak, but he did allow himself to say at the close of his report:

"It is my expectation that the disposition and attainments of the Princess will be such as to gratify the anxious wishes, as well as to reward the earnest exertions, with which your Royal Highness has watched over the education of the Princess."

These honest, straightforward reports were sent to the two bishops. The Duchess asked them to read the papers carefully and then examine the "singularly situated child," as she called the Princess, to see whether she had made as much progress as she should have done, and in what respects they would suggest any change of method and teaching.

Three weeks after the letter was written the two bishops went to Kensington and examined the little maiden in "Scripture, catechism, English history, Latin, and arithmetic." Both were gentle, kindly men, and both had little children of their own. Evidently they knew how to question the royal child in such a fashion that she was not startled or made too nervous to do her best, for one of them wrote in his journal about the examination, "The result was very satisfactory." The bishops went home from Kensington, and three days later they sent the anxious mother a report of the interview. They wrote that they had asked the Princess "a great variety of questions," and that her answers showed she had learned "with the understanding as well as with the memory." They were so well pleased with the results of their visit, they said, that they had no change to recommend in the course which had been pursued. So it was that the little girl began her public life, not by congratulations and entertainments and rejoicings, but by a thorough examination in her studies before two learned men.

Two months after the bishops' visit to Kensington the Princess passed her eleventh birthday. One month later "Uncle King" died, and "Uncle William" became sovereign, with the title of William IV. At William's death Victoria would become queen, and as that event might occur before she was eighteen and capable of ruling for herself, it was necessary to have a guardian appointed at once, so that, if it should come to pass, there would be no delay in matters of state.

A law was proposed in Parliament called the Regency Bill. As it was possible that William would have a child, Victoria was spoken of as the "heir presumptive"—that is, the one who is presumed or expected to be the heir, although with a possibility of changes that would put someone else before her. The bill provided that if she should come to the crown before she was eighteen, her mother should be her guardian and should rule the country in her name until she was of age. This bill became a law, and few laws have been so pleasing to both houses of Parliament and to the whole country. Speeches were made by prominent statesmen praising the Duchess of Kent and her manner of training her little daughter. The grandmother in Coburg wrote, "May God bless and protect our little darling," and the whole country echoed the prayer.

When Parliament was prorogued, or closed until the next session, the Princess was with her Aunt Adelaide, who was now the Queen. They stood together at one of the palace windows watching the procession, while the people shouted, "Hurrah for Queen Adelaide! Long live the Queen!" Then the loving aunt took the little girl by the hand and led her out on the balcony so that all might see her. The people cheered louder than before, not only for the Princess, but for the generous woman who had not a thought of jealousy because it was the child of her friend and not one of her own little girls that stood by her side.

King William was fond of the child, but he did not like the mother. The Duchess always spoke of him with respect and kindness, but she contrived to have her own way in bringing up her daughter, and she was so quick-witted that she could usually prove, though in a most courteous and deferential manner, that he was in the wrong. He was very indignant that Victoria was not allowed to spend time at court, but there was nothing for him to say when the mother quietly took the ground that the little girl was not strong enough for the excitements of court life. Soon after his accession he sent the Prime Minister to the Duchess to express his opinion that the education of the heir presumptive ought to be in charge of some clergyman of high rank in the church, and not in that of the minister of a little country parish. The Duchess replied with the utmost courtesy. "Convey to his Majesty my gratitude," she said to the Prime Minister, "for the interest that he has manifested. Say to him that I agree with him perfectly that the education of the Princess ought to be intrusted to a dignitary of the church." Then she added: "I have every ground for being satisfied with Mr. Davys, and I think there can be no reason why he should not be placed in as high a position as his Majesty could wish." King William must have raged when he received the message, but he was helpless, and there was really nothing to do but to follow the suggestion of the Duchess. This was done, and Mr. Davys became Dean of Chester.

One other official was, however, added to the household of the Princess, a "state governess," the Duchess of Northumberland. Her business was to attend the royal child on all state occasions and to teach her the details of court etiquette that were to be observed. This lady had nothing to do with the education of the Princess in any other respect, and Miss Lehzen remained her governess as before.

Miss Lehzen, or Baroness Lehzen, for King George had made her a German baroness, was a finely educated woman, the daughter of a German clergyman. She had come to England with the Duchess of Kent as governess to the Princess Féodore, and she had performed her duties so satisfactorily that the Duchess was glad to be able to place the Princess Victoria in her charge. She was a woman of keen, sagacious judgment, with the ability to see everything that was going on about her, and not at all afraid to express her opinions. One day when an aide-de-camp of one of the royal dukes was presented to her, she greeted him with the frank speech: "I can see that you are not a fop or a dandy, as most of your Guardsmen are." She was severe in her manner, but her bluntest speeches were made with such a friendly glance of her shrewd and kindly eyes that most people who met her became, like the aide-de-camp, her loyal friends. Many years later her former pupil said of her: "I adored her, though I was greatly in awe of her. She really seemed to have no thought but for me."

The education of the schoolgirl Princess went on in much the same way as during the previous years. Her study hours were observed with such strictness that even when a favored guest at Kensington was about to take his departure, she was not allowed to leave her work for a moment to say good-by. Occasionally, however, an interruption came, and three months before she was twelve years of age the books had to be closed for one day that she might make her first appearance at Queen Adelaide's drawing room. She wore a white dress, hardly more elaborate than her ordinary gowns, but a diamond ornament was in her hair, and around her neck was a string of pearls. She stood beside the Queen, and although the ceremonies were almost as unwonted to her as they would have been to any other child of her age, she did not appear embarrassed, but seemed to enjoy her new experience. Baroness Lehzen wrote a letter to a friend about this time describing the little girl. She said:

"My Princess will be twelve years old to-morrow. She is not tall, but very pretty; has dark blue eyes, and a mouth which, though not tiny, is very good-tempered and pleasant; very fine teeth, a small but graceful figure, and a very small foot. Her whole bearing is so childish and engaging that one could not desire a more amiable child." The Baroness seems to have just returned from some absence when she wrote the letter, for she adds, "She was dressed to receive me in white muslin, with a coral necklace."

Princess Victoria

The Princess Victoria and her Mother, the Duchess of Kent, 1834.

During this year, 1831, while the glories of Victoria's brilliant future were beginning to shine faintly about her, the first sorrows of her life came to her in the death of her grandmother of Coburg and the departure of her Uncle Leopold for Belgium. The year before, he had been asked to become king of Greece, but had refused. Now the throne of Belgium was offered him, and he accepted it. The happiest days of the little niece had been spent with him, and the child, who, in spite of her royal birth, had so few pleasures, was sadly grieved at his departure. All her life he had been her devoted friend, always near, and always ready to do anything to please her. Child as she was, she knew enough of thrones and sovereigns to understand that the visits of kings and queens must be few and far between, and that she could never again have the delightful times of her earlier years.

The coronation of King William took place in September, but neither the Duchess nor the Princess was present. No one knew the reason of their absence, and, therefore, all sorts of stories were spread abroad. "The Princess is not strong enough to attend so long and wearisome a ceremonial," said one. "Her mother keeps her away to spite the King," declared another; and yet another reason assigned—and this was probably the true one—was that the Princess was not allowed to go because the King had refused to give her the place in the procession which her rank and position demanded.

Whatever reason may have been the correct one, the Princess remained at home, but she did some little traveling during the summer. It was only around the western part of the Isle of Wight, but to the child whose journeys until the previous season had been hardly more than from Kensington to London or to Claremont these little trips were full of interest.

The following summer brought much more of travel. Not only the King but the people of the kingdom in general were beginning to feel somewhat aggrieved that so little was seen of the Princess. The Duchess believed that the best way for the future Queen to know her realm was to see it, and that the best way to win the loyalty of her future subjects was for them to see her. She thought that her daughter was now old enough to enjoy and appreciate journeys through the country. These journeys were not lengthy, for the travelers did not leave England except for a short stay at Anglesey, but they could hardly fail to be of interest to a wide-awake girl of thirteen who wanted to "see things and know things."

The general course of their travel was from Kensington to the northwest, and its limit was the little island of Anglesey. Of course the child who had not been allowed to leave a haycock unfinished lest she should develop a tendency to leave things incomplete was not permitted to make an expedition like this without a vast amount of instruction. She was required to keep a journal, and she was seldom allowed to look upon the manufacture of any article without listening to an explanation of the process. It speaks well for her intelligence and her wish to learn that she seems to have been genuinely interested in these explanations. She found a tiny model of a cotton loom as fascinating as most children would find a new toy, and she was never weary of watching the manufacture of nails. As a memento of the visit to the nail-makers she carried away with the greatest delight a little gold box that they had presented to her. Within the box was a quill, and in the quill was a vast number of nails of all varieties, but so tiny that they could hardly be seen without a magnifying glass. Other gifts were made her. At the University Press she was presented with a richly bound Bible and a piece of white satin, on which was printed a glowing account of her visit. Here in Oxford she was enthusiastic in her enjoyment of the Bodleian Library. One thing in this library interested her especially, a book of Latin exercises in which Queen Elizabeth wrote when she was thirteen, just the age of the Princess. Of course the little visitor compared her own handwriting with that of Elizabeth, and the thought must have passed through her mind that some day her exercises and copybooks would perhaps be put into libraries to be looked at as she was looking at Queen Elizabeth's.

Other events than receiving gifts and studying manufactures came into those weeks of travel. The Princess laid the corner stone of a boys' school; she planted a little oak tree on the estate of one of her entertainers; in Anglesey she presented the prizes at the National Eisteddfod, a musical and literary festival which had been celebrated annually from ancient times; she listened to addresses without number from mayors and vice chancellors, and she was present at the formal opening of the new bridge over the Dee, which for this reason was named the Victoria Bridge. One thing which seems to have made a special impression upon the child's mind, and which she noted particularly in her journal, was that she was allowed to dine with her mother and the guests at seven o'clock.

Traveling in those days was quite a different matter from making a journey to-day. One or two short railroads had been built in England, but it was many years too early for the comfortable, rapid express trains of the present time, and the journeys of the Princess were made entirely by carriage. She had set off for Kensington with a little company of attendants, very few, indeed, considering her position as heir presumptive, but it was hardly possible, without offending the loyal people of the places through which they passed, to refuse the honors which were shown to her and her mother and the requests of the yeomanry of various counties that begged the privilege of escorting them. In the days of Queen Elizabeth, that lover of gorgeousness used to make journeys about her kingdom that were regarded as an excuse for all magnificence and lavishness. These were called progresses, and now King William often jested about "little Victoria's royal progresses." He was not exactly pleased, however, and he kept a somewhat jealous watch of the honors that were paid to her.

The next year the Princess and her mother spent considerable time in their yacht, and the King had a fresh cause of annoyance in the fact that now they were greeted not only with addresses but with the firing of guns. He could not endure that anyone but himself should receive the royal salutes. "The thing is not legal," he said to the naval authorities. "Stop those poppings." The naval authorities respectfully insisted that the thing was  legal. The King had not learned wisdom from his previous encounters with the Duchess of Kent, and in his dilemma he actually tried to compel her to refuse to accept the salutes. The dignified lady replied with all courtesy: "If the King wishes to offer me a slight in the face of the people, he can offer it so easily that he should not ask me to make the task easier." King William was fairly worsted, but he would not yield. He called the Privy Council and ordered them to pass an order that even the royal flag should not be saluted unless the vessel flying it bore either the King or the Queen.

To turn from royal salutes and mayors' addresses and the laying of corner-stones to playing with dolls is a little startling, but such was the course of the Princess' life. She was heir to the throne, and she could bestow prizes and receive delegations and meet the eager gaze of thousands without being at all troubled or embarrassed, but she was a child for all that; she was not allowed to sit at the table when her mother gave an elaborate dinner party for the King, and she still retained her liking for the dolls that her lack of playmates had made so dear to her. There is now in existence a little copybook on which is written "List of my dolls." By their number and their interest, they certainly deserve the honor of being catalogued, even at the present time, for there were 132 of them, and they were often dressed to imitate noted persons of the day. Most of them were little wooden creatures from three to nine inches high, with sharply pointed noses, cheeks red as a cherry in some one spot—wherever the brush of the maker had chanced to hit—jet black hair, and the most convenient joints, that enabled the small bodies to be arranged in many attitudes. The men dolls had small black mustaches, and the women dolls were distinguished by little yellow "back-combs" painted on the black dab which represented their hair. The baby dolls were made of rags, upon which comical little faces were painted.

The fascination of these dolls does not lie in their beauty, but in their wardrobes. Most of them were dressed between 1831 and 1833, or when the Princess was from twelve to fourteen years old. One group represents the play of Kenilworth, which she had evidently seen. The Earl of Leicester is gorgeous in knee-breeches of pink satin, with slashes of white silk. His tunic reverses the order and is of white satin slashed with pink. He wears the blue ribbon of the Order of the Garter and a wide black velvet hat swept with yellow and white plumes. Queen Elizabeth appears in cloth of gold with enormous puffed sleeves. From her shoulders hangs a long train lined with bright crimson plush and trimmed with ermine. She wears crimson plush shoes and a heavy girdle of gold beads.

There are all sorts of characters among these little wooden people. There are court ladies, actors, and dandified young gallants. Perched on a table is a merry little ballet-dancer in blue satin trimmed with pink and yellow roses. There are mothers with their babies, and there is "Mrs. Martha," a buxom housekeeper, with a white lawn frock, full sleeves, and purple apron pinked all around. She wears a white lace cap adorned with many frills and tied under her small wooden chin with pink ribbons. She stands beside a home-made dressing table of cardboard covered with white brocade.

The conscientious little owner of these dolls marked carefully which ones she herself dressed and in which she was helped by the Baroness Lehzen. The wardrobes of thirty-two were made entirely by the fingers of the little girl, and, remembering the schedule of studies, it is a wonder how she found the time; one hopes that at least the hour marked "Needlework and learning poetry by heart" was sometimes devoted to this purpose, though how any dressmaker, old or young, could learn poetry with a court costume on her hands is a mystery.

It is equally a mystery how even the most skillful of childish fingers could manufacture such tiny ruffles and finish two-inch aprons with microscopic pockets whereon were almost invisible bows. Handkerchiefs half an inch square have drawn borders and are embroidered with colored silk initials. Little knitted stockings beautify the pointed wooden feet; bead bracelets adorn the funny little wooden arms that hang from the short sleeves; coronets and crowns and wreaths glorify the small wooden heads.

The Princess had a long board full of pegs into which the feet of these little favorites of hers fitted, and here she rehearsed dramas and operas and pantomimes. Even in her play with dolls, however she could not be entirely free from the burden of her destiny, for sometimes they were used by the state governess to explain court ceremonials and teach the etiquette of various occasions. When the Princess was fully fourteen, the dolls were packed away, though no one guessed how soon the little owner would be called upon to decide, not the color of a doll's gown, but the fate of men and women and the weighty questions of a nation.