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

A Home of Our Own

It is very delightful to live in palaces and entertain kings and emperors; but Queen Victoria's palaces belonged to the English nation, and not to herself, and, as has been said, their royal tenants had to suffer many inconveniences because they were not at liberty to manage their own housekeeping as they chose. "If we only had a home of our own!" said the Queen and Prince Albert to each other, and at last they decided to buy one. They talked the matter over with Sir Robert Peel, whom they had come to look upon as a faithful friend, and he told them of a beautiful estate which was for sale.

This property was situated on the Isle of Wight. It was far enough from London to assure them of privacy, and it was so near that there need be no delay in matters of government. In this charming place there were trees and valleys and hills, a wide stretch of sea-beach, with the woods growing almost to the water's edge; and, best of all, the royal family could walk and drive and wander about without feeling that they were on continual exhibition. There was a palace at Brighton which the Queen had sometimes occupied for the sake of being near the sea; but Brighton had become so much of a city, and the houses had clustered so closely about the palace, that there was no longer any view of the ocean from the lower windows, and no member of the royal family could go outside of the grounds without being followed by inquisitive crowds. At Osborne, as the new purchase was named, there was perfect freedom. Perhaps the "grown ups" of the household appreciated the liberty indoors quite as much as that out of doors, for here there were no "departments" to consult, and if a pane of glass was broken, there was no need of sending over the kingdom for the signatures of five men before it could be mended.

The house was pretty, but it was too small, and a new one had to be built. Prince Albert made all the plans for it, and he was as eager as the Queen to get into a home of their own. Nevertheless, even in his eagerness he did not forget the good of others. The longer the work of building and beautifying the grounds lasted, the better it was for the workmen; and so when harvest time came, he discharged large numbers of his men, saying: "Work in the fields now; then, when the harvest is in, come to me, and you shall have work here again."

The cost of the house came from the Queen's own purse, from the regular grant made her by Parliament, though most sovereigns have called upon the nation to build whatever dwellings they thought desirable. The people of the kingdom were pleased to hear the English Court called the most magnificent in Europe, and many statesmen expected that when a new palace was to be built or a royal guest to be entertained, the sovereign would ask Parliament for a special grant of money to pay the expense. Frequently far more was expected of members of the royal family than their purses could provide, and then came debts. King Leopold had not been able to live within his grant, and the Duke of Kent had left indebtedness at his death. The little Princess, who had not been allowed to buy a box until she had the money to pay for it, meant, now that she was on the throne, to carry out the principle on which she had been brought up. The first thing that she did was to pay her father's debts, and while living in as much splendor as her people desired, she managed her income so well that she could afford to build a palace if she chose. Prince Albert heartily approved of this wise economy, and he carried out the same plan in managing the farm of the new estate; he spent lavishly in improving the land, but unlike most "fancy farmers," he made his costly improvements so skillfully that they were paid for in the generous increase in crops.

When the new house was done, there was a joyful homecoming. As the Queen passed through the door, one of the maids of honor threw an old shoe after her, "to bring good luck," she said. To the Prince, entering into the new home brought memories of his childhood in Coburg, and after the first dinner he said, "We have a hymn in Germany for such occasions. It begins:

"Bless, O God, our going forth,

Bless Thou, too, our coming in."

So it was that the new house was opened. Not only the grown folk, but the merry little company of princes and princesses, were very happy in it whenever a few days could be spared for its pleasures. As they grew older, a Swiss Cottage was built for them, and this was their  house. There was a charming little kitchen with a cooking stove, so that the girls could try all sorts of experiments in the cooking line; and happy they were when they could persuade their father and mother to partake of a "banquet" of their own preparing. The boys had a forge and a carpenter's bench, where they built small boats and chairs and tables and wheelbarrows. Every child had a garden, and there he raised not only flowers, but fruit and vegetables. In this little paradise the children did what they liked, but they were shown the best way of doing it. A gardener taught them how to manage their gardens, and whenever their vegetables were a success, they either gave them away or sold them at market price to the royal kitchen. Prince Albert himself taught the boys how to use tools, and helped them to begin a museum of insects, minerals, and all sorts of curiosities, like the one that he and his brother Ernest had had in Coburg when they were boys.

Not only at Osborne, but wherever the royal children were, they were brought up as simply as the Queen herself had been. Whatever material was bought for their clothes had to be shown to the Queen, and if it was rich or expensive, she would refuse to allow it to be used. As soon as the princes and princesses were old enough, they were taught to take as much care of their clothes as if they had been a poor man's children. One of their nurses wrote that they had "quite poor living—only a bit of roast beef and perhaps a plain pudding;" and she added, "The Queen is as fit to have been a poor man's wife as a queen." Baron Stockmar was consulted on all nursery questions, and he said that it was more difficult to manage a nursery than a kingdom.

The Queen tried to make her children understand that they were no better than other children just because they were princes or princesses, and they were obliged to behave with perfect courtesy to the servants of the palace as well as to kings and emperors. It is said that once upon a time two of the children thought it very amusing to take possession of the brushes and blacken the face of a woman who was cleaning a stove; but when the Queen mother discovered their prank, she took the small culprits by the hand and led them to the woman's room and made them apologize most humbly. The little Princess Royal "Vicky" was so independent a young lady that she would sometimes break through her mother's teachings. The story is told that one day a sailor lifted her on board the royal yacht, saying as he sat her down, "There you are, my little lady." "I'm a princess, I'm not a little lady," the child retorted; but the watchful mother was listening, and she said, "That is true. Tell the kind sailor that you are not a little lady yet, but that you hope to be some day." Occasionally this willful little Princess preferred to bear a punishment rather than give up her own way. The Queen and the Prince addressed Dr. Brown as "Brown," and the small child followed their example. "You will be sent to bed if you do that again," said the Queen, but the next morning when Dr. Brown appeared, the little girl said with special distinctness: "Good morning, Brown, and good night, Brown, for I'm going to bed, Brown," and, with her saucy little head high in the air, she marched off to bed.

Happy as the Queen and the Prince were in their home life, one subject in connection with her husband always troubled the loving wife, and that was the annoying question of precedence. She wrote of him in her journal: "He is above me in everything really, and therefore I wish that he should be equal in rank to me." In England she could "put the Prince where she wished him to be," but Parliament had given him no rank, and therefore out of England some sovereigns, like King Ernest, positively refused to grant him any honors that were not due to the younger son of the Duke of Coburg; and when precedence was accorded him, the Queen had to express gratitude as for a personal favor to herself. Unknown to the Prince, she had a long talk on the subject with Baron Stockmar.

"I wish him to have the title of King Consort," she said earnestly.

"A king consort without the authority of a king would be a novelty," replied the Baron, "and the English people do not like anything for which there is no precedent. Queen Anne's husband was never called king."

"But Queen Anne's husband was stupid and insignificant," declared the Queen. "There has never been a case like ours before. Albert and I reign together. He is sovereign as much as I. We discuss all matters and decide together."

"True," admitted the Baron, "but the constitution does not provide for such a condition of affairs. I will talk with Peel about it."

Peel felt as Stockmar did, that it was not wise to propose such a title. The subject arose again some years later, and the shrewd Baron wrote to the Prince in his usual straightforward fashion: "Never abandon your firm, powerful position to run after butterflies. You have the substance; stick by it." The title was never given him, but it was true that he had "the substance." The Queen no longer met her Ministers alone; the Prince was always with her to help and suggest. Whenever either she or the Prince spoke to the Council, the word "I" was not used; it was always "We think so-and-so should be done."

Not only the Council but the whole country were gaining in knowledge of the Prince's wisdom and devotion to the good of the kingdom, and in 1847 a valued mark of appreciation was given him in his election as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, one of the greatest honors that could have been bestowed upon him. The Queen was delighted, because she knew that the position was not given out of compliment to her, but was something that he himself had earned. Soon after the election, came the installation. The magistrates and Yeomanry went to the station to meet the Queen, and then marched before her into the town. She was escorted into the Great Hall of Trinity College and led to an armchair which stood on a platform under a canopy. Soon after she had seated herself, the new Chancellor entered at the farther end of the hall, followed by the long line of university dignitaries. He wore a robe of black and gold, so long that it had to be held up by two gentlemen. When he stood in front of the armchair that represented the throne, he made a low bow and delivered his address. "The situation was almost absurd for us," said the Queen afterwards, but the Prince read his with perfect command of his countenance, and the Queen was quite serious until she caught his eye for a moment at the end of the speech. She half smiled, but in an instant she was again the dignified sovereign, and she declared with a little emphasis that brought forth shouts of applause, "The choice which the university has made of a Chancellor has my most entire approbation."

Not long afterwards the new Chancellor and his royal wife paid another visit to Cambridge. It was a little muddy, and the Queen hesitated a moment before getting out of the carriage. Instantly one of the students threw his gown upon the ground for her to step on, and others followed his example.

When Victoria thought of her husband and her children, she was supremely happy, but when she thought of the different kingdoms of Europe, and even of her own realm, there was much in 1847 and 1848 to make her unhappy. All Europe was restless and uneasy. Revolt had broken out in Italy, France, Germany, and other countries. The reigning sovereigns in most of these kingdoms were related to her either by blood or by marriage, and she could but feel grief for their trials, and, in some instances, fear for their safety. Indeed, the King and Queen of France had to flee to England, and they spent the remainder of their lives at Claremont. In Victoria's own realm there was trouble. Ireland was suffering from a terrible famine. Thousands of Irish were dying of either starvation or fever. In England there was no starvation, but everyone felt the hard times more or less. Those who had money did not dare to invest it, because business was so unsettled that they were afraid of loss. As capital was not invested, there was little work to be had, and the poor suffered severely. The rich as well as the poor felt the general stagnation. Greville said that his income was only half the usual amount, and even in royal palaces strict economy was practiced.

There was a special reason for great uneasiness in London. According to the laws at that time, no one could become a member of the House of Commons who did not own land enough to receive from it an annual income of $1500. This law had been made in the belief that a man who owned land would be more interested in the welfare of his country than a man who had none. Thousands of workingmen were not allowed even to vote. When work was plenty, and they were comfortable and busy, they did not think so much about their rights; but when work failed, they began to say to one another: "This is all the fault of the laws. If everyone could vote, and if poor men as well as rich men could become members of Parliament, laws would be made for the good of the whole nation and not merely for the landowners."

These men held meetings to discuss such matters, and they concluded to send in a petition to Parliament, setting forth their wrongs and demanding that changes should be made. The plan was explained in what was called the People's Charter, and therefore its supporters were spoken of as Chartists.

No one would have objected to having as many petitions sent to Parliament as the house would hold, but among the people were many hot-headed persons who had much to say about "oppression" and "revolution." The crowds sometimes became noisy and turbulent, and one evening some of them rushed wildly toward Buckingham Palace. The only harm that they did was to break some street lamps; and when their leader was arrested by the police, he made no resistance, but began to cry. Nevertheless, people felt very uneasy, and when it was reported that on the 10th of April the petition would be presented by 1,000,000 men, there was much alarm in the city. Shops were barricaded, weapons were put where they could be caught up in a moment, and old muskets that had not been used for half a century were brought down from the garrets and put in order for the riots that were feared. The Duke of Wellington, as commander-in-chief of the army, made very wise preparations. There was no display of soldiers or cannon, but Buckingham Palace and the public buildings were quietly filled with armed men, and gun-boats were brought up the river. The Queen had shown again and again that she was no coward, and she would have stayed in London, but her Ministers persuaded her to take her three-weeks'-old baby to Osborne House. All London trembled when the 10th of April arrived; but when night came, those who had feared most laughed heartiest. The whole affair had ended in a few thousand men starting for Parliament with the petition. "You cannot cross the bridge in mass," said the police, and the Chartists went home meekly, sending their petition in cabs.

The Queen had long wished to go to Ireland, and in 1849 she and the Prince and the four older children went to that country in the yacht Victoria and Albert. Now, however indignant the Irish might be at England's rule of their country, they would not give the Queen any but the most cordial greeting; and when the yacht sailed into the mouth of the River Lee, the people of the place called Cove of Cork asked that she would step ashore, if only for a moment. "We wish to change the name of our town," they said, "so that it may mark the place where the Queen first set her foot on Irish soil." The flag was run up on which was written the word "Cove," but as soon as the Queen had gone back to the yacht, the flag was dropped, and another was run up marked "Queenstown."

The Victoria and Albert  went on to Cork, and the party also visited several other places in Ireland. Wherever they went, the crowds pressed to the water's edge with cheering and shouts of welcome. Cannon were fired and bells were set to ringing. Every little cottage had its flag, or at least a wreath of flowers and evergreens. All were interested in the royal children, and at Kingstown an old lady cried out: "Oh! Queen dear, make one of them Prince Patrick, and all Ireland will die for you."

When the Irish visit had come to its end, and the Queen was about to leave for England, the crowds on the shore cheered her more wildly than ever, and both the Queen and the Prince climbed the paddlebox and waved their handkerchiefs again and again. "Go slowly," ordered the Queen, and the boat moved very slowly along, keeping close to the pier. The crowds cheered with more enthusiasm than before, and three times a return was given to their salute by lowering the royal standard. One of the Queen's party said: "There is not an individual in the town who does not take the Queen's going on the paddlebox and lowering the royal standard as a personal compliment to himself."

The year following the visit to Ireland the Queen's seventh child was born, a boy.

"Now we are just as many as the days of the week," cried the brothers and sisters joyfully.

"But which of us shall be Sunday?" asked one.

"The new baby," answered Princess "Vicky" decidedly, "because he's just come, and we must be polite to him and give him the best."

The little boy was named Patrick, as the old woman in Ireland had suggested, but his first name was Arthur, for the Duke of Wellington, on whose eighty-first birthday he was born.

The days of the Queen were full of joys and sorrows that came almost hand in hand. Her home life was perfectly happy, but her duties as a sovereign took much time that she would have gladly given to her family. "It is hard," she said, "that I cannot always hear my children say their prayers." She had the warmest, most devoted friends, but in the six years preceding 1850, she had lost several who could never be replaced. Sir Robert Peel and Lord Melbourne had died, the opposing Ministers who had both won her confidence and gratitude; and the "good Queen Adelaide," who had loved the little Princess Victoria as if she had been her own child, was also gone. The sorrow which Prince Albert felt at the loss of his father had been to his wife a grief almost as deep; and both she and the Prince were saddened by the loss of the Coburg grandmother, who loved him so that she was almost heartbroken on his leaving her to make his home in England, and called piteously after his carriage, "Oh, Albert, Albert!" The three who had been nearest to the Queen in her childhood were living, her mother, Dr. Davys, and Baroness Lehzen. The kind, scholarly clergyman she had made Bishop of Peterborough, and she saw him from time to time. After the marriage of the Queen the Baroness Lehzen returned to her friends in Germany, but the busy sovereign found time to send her long and frequent letters.

The losses of the Queen were many, but with Prince Albert by her side, she felt that she could bear whatever came; and it was a great happiness to her that the better he was known in the country, the more highly the nation thought of him. They could hardly help esteeming him, for he seemed never to have a thought of himself; all was for the Queen and for her people. For several years he had had a plan in his mind for a great industrial exhibition. When he first laid the scheme before the public, the people were wildly enthusiastic. Then, as the difficulties arose, there was much criticism. The building would cost $1,000,000, and subscriptions were slow. Punch  brought out a cartoon inscribed, "Please to remember the Exposition." It represented a boy holding out his cap for pennies. Under the picture was written:

"Pity the sorrows of a poor young Prince—

Whose costly scheme has borne him to your door;

Who's in a fix—the matter not to mince—

Oh, help him out, and commerce swell your store."

Prince Albert laughed heartily at the cartoon, added it to his collection, and worked all the harder for the exposition.

There was much opposition to admitting foreign exhibits, for many English manufacturers had a wild fancy that the sight of them would prevent the English from patronizing home products. "All the villains of the Continent will be here," declared the grumblers. "They will murder the Queen and begin a revolution." In Parliament, one of the members invoked the lightning to fall from heaven and destroy the half-finished building. Nevertheless, enormous masses of goods were constantly arriving, and the mighty structure continued to rise. It was made of iron and glass, and was like an enormous greenhouse. Thackeray wrote of it:

"And see, 'tis done!

As though 'twere by a wizard's rod,

A blazing arch of lucid glass

Leaps like a fountain from the grass

To meet the sun."

The Crystal Palace, the people called it, and no better name could have been given. It stretched out one thousand feet in length, and part of it was one hundred feet high, so high that two elm trees which had been growing on its site grew on in freedom under its glass roof. The iron-work was painted a clear, bright blue. There were scarlet hangings, fountains, statues, banners, tapestries, flowers, palms, everything that could make it bright and beautiful.

May 1, 1851, had been named as the day of opening. In the royal family the day began with birthday gifts for the little Arthur—toys from the parents, a clock from the Duchess of Kent, and, strange presents for a baby, a bronze statuette and a beautiful paper-knife, from the Prince and Princess of Prussia. Long before noon, the Queen, the Prince, and the two older children drove to Crystal Palace. As they entered, there was a flourish of trumpets, followed by tremendous cheering. The Queen was radiant with happiness as she walked down the broad aisle with her husband. She wore a pink silk dress of Irish poplin, and on her head was a diamond tiara. She led by the hand the Prince of Wales, a bright, handsome little fellow. The Princess Royal wore a white dress, and on her head was a wreath of roses. She held her father's hand. The cheers grew louder and louder, then the deep tones of the organ broke in upon them. The music of two hundred instruments and six hundred voices followed, leading the thousands present in the National Hymn. After this the Prince left the side of the Queen, and, returning at the head of the commissioners, he read her the formal report. She made a short reply. The Archbishop of Canterbury offered up prayer, and the wonderful "Hallelujah Chorus" resounded through the lofty arches. While this was being sung, a Chinese mandarin, who had been walking about most perfectly at his ease and quite indifferent to the gazing crowds, now took his stand before the Queen and made a very profound obeisance. He proved to be of considerable use a little later, for when the long procession of distinguished Englishmen and foreigners was formed, it occurred to someone that China was not represented, and the dignified mandarin was taken possession of as an addition to the train. He made no objections, but marched along with his former tranquility, thinking apparently that all foreigners were treated in such manner by those remarkable people, the Englishmen.

The Duke of Wellington was in the procession, and the walk around the building was to him a triumphal progress, for the women waved their handkerchiefs and kissed their hands, while the men cheered and shouted, "The Duke! The Duke!" In the midst of all his glory, he did not forget his little year-old namesake and godson; and later in the day, his eighty-second birthday, he called at Buckingham Palace with a golden cup and some toys of his own selection for the little boy.

So ended what Victoria called "the proudest and happiest day of my life, a thousand times superior to the coronation." In her journal she wrote: "Albert's name is immortalized. God bless my dearest Albert, God bless my dearest country!"