In the Days of Queen Victoria - E. M. Tappan
Common people may make a wedding tour, but kings and queens are too fully occupied to afford such luxuries. The sovereign of England could spend her honeymoon in Windsor Castle, but it must be a honeymoon of only four days. Those four days, however, were marked by a freedom which she had never enjoyed before. For the first time in her life she could talk with someone of her own age without having to be on her guard lest what she said should be repeated and do harm.
One of the subjects that needed to be discussed and to be reformed was the royal housekeeping. Many a woman living in a two-room cottage is quite as comfortable as the Queen of Great Britain was in 1840. Three men, the Lord Steward, the Lord Chamberlain, and the Master of the Horse, were supposed to have the management of the household. These persons were men of high rank, and their offices were given them in reward for their political services rather than for their ability to manage the domestic affairs of a palace. Of course they were entirely too stately to take any charge themselves of the housekeeping, and they did not delegate their power to anyone in the palace. Some of the servants were under one of these three, and some were under another. No one was at the head of the house, and everyone did about as he chose. If the Queen rang a bell for a servant, the servant might answer it, or he might be absent from the palace, just as it happened, and the Queen was helpless, for the only one at all responsible was some aristocratic nobleman who was, perhaps, far away on a yachting trip. When the Prime Minister of France was a guest at Windsor, he wandered over the palace for an hour trying to find his bedroom, for there was no one on duty to point it out to him. At last he was sure that he had it, and he opened the door. Behold! there stood a maid brushing the hair of a lady who sat at a toilet table, and could see in the glass the embarrassed gentleman as he hurriedly retreated. The next day he discovered that the lady before the glass was her Majesty. Baron Stockmar wrote that cleaning the inside of the windows belonged to one department and cleaning the outside to another. It is quite probable that when the little Princess Victoria asked Queen Adelaide to let her clean the windows, there was visible need of such work. The servants of one department brought the wood and laid the fire, but it was not their work to light it, and for that duty a servant from another department must be called. A pane of glass could not be mended without the signatures of five different officials. No one was responsible for the cleanness of the house or even for its safety; and if the man whose business it was to guard an entrance preferred to do something else, there was no one to interfere with his pleasure. The doors were indeed so carelessly guarded that one night a boy was found under a sofa in the room next to the Queen's bedroom. He could not be punished as a thief, for he had stolen nothing. He was not a housebreaker, for he had simply walked in through open doors, and no one had been on guard to prevent such intrusions. It was finally decided that he was a vagabond, and he was imprisoned for three months.
Prince Albert was very anxious to have better management of the household, and he laid the matter before the Prime Minister.
"But men of high rank are now eager to hold these offices in the royal household," was the reply, "and it will make trouble if anyone is put over them, or if there is any interference with their departments."
"True," replied the Prince, "but the household machinery is so clumsy and works so ill that, as long as its wheels are not mended, there can be neither order nor regularity, comfort, security, nor outward dignity in the Queen's palace." Reforms began, but the Prince had to work very slowly, and some years passed before either the Queen or her guests could live in comfort.
If the Queen had insisted upon these changes being made at once, many of them could probably have been carried out; but the Bedchamber Plot had taught her that the sovereign must not act contrary to the wishes of her people. There was especial need of care at the time. Within hardly more than half a century, the American colonies had freed themselves from England and become a republic; France had had a terrible revolution; throughout Europe people were thinking of change, of more power for the people and less for the government. In England there was little probability of a revolution, but it was more than two hundred years since there had been any general and lasting enthusiasm for the monarch of the realm; and both Prince Albert and the Queen felt that the only way to make the throne strong and enduring was to win the affection of the people. This was the teaching of Baron Stockmar, the faithful friend and adviser of the royal couple. They appreciated his devotion, and all the more because they could do nothing for him. He did not care for money or office, and he was absolutely independent. When dinner was over, he did not trouble himself to go to the drawing room unless he felt inclined. He would generally spend the winter with the Queen, but he disliked good-bys, and when he wanted to go home to his family, he left the palace without a word of farewell.
Baron Stockmar had good pupils. Prince Albert was not yet twenty-one at the time of his marriage, and the question had arisen whether, as he was not of age, he could legally take the oath that was required of every member of the Council. Soon after the marriage, King Leopold asked an English lady about him.
"Do the English like him? Will he be popular?" inquired the King.
"They call him very handsome," was her reply, "but the English are always ready to find fault with foreigners, and they say he is stiff and German."
As the months passed, however, the English learned that this young Prince was a remarkable man in his grasp of politics, his talent for art and music, and his honest and unselfish devotion to the good of the realm. What was more, they showed their appreciation by an act of Parliament. The country was not yet at rest about the succession to the crown. If the Queen should have a child and die before the child was of age, a regent would be necessary. Parliament discussed the question, and named the Prince, "the foreigner," as regent. "They would not have done it for him six months ago," declared Lord Melbourne with delight.
The Queen had always been loved by the Whigs, and just about this time, a great wave of devotion to her swept through not only their ranks but also those of the Tories. A boy of seventeen tried to shoot her, not because he hated her, but because he wished to be notorious. The Queen was in her carriage with the Prince when the attempt was made. She drove on rapidly to tell the Duchess of Kent that she was safe, then she returned to the park, where hundreds of people had gathered, hoping to see her and make sure that she was not injured. She was received with cheers and shouts of delight, and all the horseback riders formed in line on both sides of her carriage as if they were her bodyguard. When she appeared at the opera a few days later, she was greeted with a whirlwind of cheers and shouts. The whole house sang "God Save the Queen!" Then they pleased her still more by crying, "The Prince! The Prince!" and when Prince Albert stepped to the front, he was cheered so heartily that she knew he was fast winning the hearts of her people.
Operas and popularity were not the only things to be thought of in those days. The royal couple, barely twenty-one years of age, were working hard on constitutional history. They were very anxious, too, about the possibility of war with France on account of trouble in regard to Turkey and Egypt, and when their little daughter was born, in November, 1840, the Queen said: "I really think she ought to be named Turko-Egypto."
The little girl was not named Turko-Egypto, but Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise, and she had to wait three months for her name, as the christening did not take place until February. She was baptized with water brought from the River Jordan. The font was not taken from the Tower, as it had been for her mother's baptism, but a new one was made of silver, marked with her coat-of-arms and also those of her father and her mother. She was a very decorous little Princess, and the proud father wrote home to Coburg that she "behaved with great propriety and did not cry at all."
There was much rejoicing at the birth of this Princess Royal; but when, a year later, a Prince was born, then the delight of the nation knew no bounds. He was the heir to the throne, and it was impossible to do too much to celebrate his birth. Punch said:
"Huzza! we've a little Prince at last,
A roaring Royal boy;
And all day long the booming bells
Have rung their peals of joy.
"And the little Park guns have blazed away
And made a tremendous noise,
Whilst the air has been filled since eleven o'clock
With the shouts of little boys."
One or two questions in regard to the celebration had to be settled by the courts of justice. It was an old privilege that when an heir to the throne was born, the officer on guard at St. James' Palace should be promoted to the rank of major. In this case the child was born at Buckingham, but the guard at St. James' demanded his promotion nevertheless. The matter was complicated by the fact that the change of sentry had chanced to occur just at the time of the birth of the Prince, and whether the old or the new guard actually held the keys was a difficult question to determine. Another difficulty of the same kind arose at Chester. The Prince had the title of Earl of Chester, and the mayor of that city declared that by ancient right he had claim to a baronetcy. Exactly the same question arose as with the sentinels, for at about the moment when the keys were transferred the new mayor was taking the oath of office.
All England rejoiced; but across the water, in Germany, was a man who was not at all pleased to hear that a son and heir was born to Victoria, for he had always had a lingering hope that he might yet become King of Great Britain. His aide-de-camp said that King Ernest was generally ill-natured when he heard from England; and he was indignant enough when he was not asked to become his grandnephew's godfather. Who should be the chief sponsor was a weighty matter; but Baron Stockmar's advice was followed, and the King of Prussia was invited to take the place of honor. The Queen wished the little Prince named Albert for the husband who was so dear to her, and Edward for the father whom she could not remember, and these names were given him. This small Prince was an expensive baby, for it is said that the festivities at his christening cost at least $1,000,000. The Queen gave him the title of Prince of Wales when he was only a month old by signing an interesting bit of parchment which declared that she girded him with a sword and put a golden rod into his hands that he might direct and defend the land of the Welsh.
In all these regal honors and rejoicings the little baby sister was not forgotten, and the Queen wrote in her journal: "Albert brought in dearest little Pussy in such a smart merino dress, trimmed with blue, which mamma had given her, and a pretty cap. She was very dear and good."
The children's father and mother would have been very glad to forget all outside cares and splendors and live quietly by themselves, but that could not be. There was much to think of and many subjects concerning which they felt anxiety. One of these was the change of government, for a little before the birth of the Prince the event took place which the Queen had dreaded so long, the victory of the Tories and the resignation of Lord Melbourne. Never was a retiring Minister more generous to his opponents and more thoughtful of the comfort of his sovereign. Soon after his resignation he had a little conversation with Mr. Greville about the Tories.
"Have you any means of speaking to these chaps?" he asked.
"Certainly," answered Greville.
"I think there are one or two things Peel ought to be told," said Lord Melbourne, "and I wish you would tell him. When he wishes to propose anything, he must tell the Queen his reasons. She is not conceited; she knows there are many things which she does not understand, and she likes to have them explained."
Sir Robert was grateful for the advice; and followed it. It was not pleasant for him to become Prime Minister, for, although the Queen treated him with the utmost courtesy, he knew that she looked upon him as responsible for cutting down the grant to Prince Albert and for opposing her wish to give the Prince precedence next to herself. Peel had done exactly what he thought was right, but he could not help feeling sensitive when he was brought into so close relationship with the Queen and knew that this relationship was not welcome to her. "Any man with the feelings of a gentleman would be annoyed at having unavoidably given her so much pain," he said. Moreover, he was exceedingly shy, "so shy that he makes me shy," said the Queen. Fortunately, Sir Robert and Prince Albert found that they had much in common in their love for literature and art, and the Queen could not help liking the man who showed such warm appreciation of the husband whom she adored. Very soon Peel paid him a compliment that completely won her heart. The new houses of Parliament were to be decorated, and there was a strong desire felt by all who were interested in art that they should be so artistic as to be an honor to the country. Peel invited the Prince to become the chairman of the commission which was to control the matter. This position gave him the best of opportunities to become connected with the prominent men of the country, and both Prince and Queen were grateful to Peel for his thoughtfulness. The Queen came to appreciate the Tory Premier; then she saw that the Tories were not so black as they were painted; and before the end of 1841, Victoria was no longer "Queen of the Whigs," but Queen of all her people.
The Queen had no easy life. "She has most of the toil and least of the enjoyments of the world," wrote her husband. She had also much of the danger. Without an enemy in the world, she was shot at twice during the summer of 1842 by men who seemed to have no motive for such a deed. When Peel heard of the attempt on her life, he hurried to the palace to consult with the Prince. The Queen entered the room, and the shy, cold, self-contained Minister actually wept tears of joy at her safety. After that, there was no question about the friendliness between the Queen and her Premier.
Just how these would-be assassins should be punished was an important matter, and here the common sense of the sovereign found a way out of the dilemma. "It is a mistake," she said, "to treat such attempts as high treason, for it dignifies the crime, and makes the criminals feel that they are bold and daring men." Parliament learned from her wisdom and passed a bill punishing any attempt upon the sovereign's life by imprisonment and flogging. This had so good an effect that the Queen saw seven years of peace before another attempt was made to injure her.
In spite of all these dangers and political responsibilities, Victoria was radiantly happy. The home life was all that she could have asked. She and the Prince were not only husband and wife, they were the best of comrades. Whenever they could win a little leisure from the cares of state, they read and sketched and sang together. Music gave them both the most intense pleasure, and both had rare musical ability, which had been carefully cultivated. Mendelssohn describes a visit to them which he seems to have enjoyed as much as they.
The great composer says that he found Prince Albert alone, but as they were looking at the new organ and trying the different stops, the Queen came in, wearing a very simple morning gown.
"I am glad that you have come," she said. "We love your music, and it is a great pleasure to have you with us."
"I thank your Majesty," replied the guest, and he went on to speak of the beauty of the organ.
"Yes, it is indeed fine," said the Queen, "but then I think any instrument fine when the Prince is playing on it. But what confusion!" she exclaimed, glancing around the room. The wind had scattered leaves of music over the floor, even on the pedals of the organ, and she knelt down and began to pick them up. Prince Albert and Mendelssohn started to help, but she said, "No, go on with the stops, and I will put things straight."
"Will you not play something for me?" begged Mendelssohn of the Prince, and added, "so I can boast about it in Germany?" The Prince played, while the Queen sat by him listening and looking perfectly happy. Then Mendelssohn played his chorus, "How Lovely Are the Messengers," but before he was at the end of the first verse, his royal hosts were singing with him.
"It is beautiful," said the Queen. "Have you written any new songs? I am very fond of your old ones."
"You ought to sing one for him?" suggested the Prince.
"If you only will," pleaded Mendelssohn.
"I will try the 'Frühling's Lied,' " she said, "if it is here, but I am afraid that all my music is packed to go to Claremont." Prince Albert went to look for it, but when he returned, he reported that it was already packed.
"But could it perhaps be unpacked?" suggested Mendelssohn daringly.
"It shall be," said the Queen. "We must send to Lady Frances." The bell was rung, and the servants were sent to find the music, but they were unsuccessful.
"I will go," the Queen declared, and she left the room. While she was gone, the Prince said: "She begs that you will accept this present as a remembrance," and he gave the composer a beautiful ring marked "V. R. 1842."
When the Queen returned, she said, "It is really most annoying; all my things are gone to Claremont."
"Please do not make me suffer for the accident," begged Mendelssohn, and at last another song was chosen. "She really sang it charmingly," he wrote in a letter, but when he told her so, she exclaimed, "Oh! if I only had not been so frightened."
The Prince sang, and Mendelssohn gave them one of his wonderful improvisations; then the musician took his leave. "But do come to England again soon and pay us a visit," said the Queen earnestly, as he made his farewells.
Running about to see the world was not so common an amusement in the first half of the nineteenth century as it is to-day, neither were railroads as common, and the Queen of England was twenty-three years of age before she ever made a journey by rail. This new way of traveling produced quite a disturbance among some of her attendants. The Master of Horse said that as it was his business to arrange for her journeys, he must assure himself that the engine was in proper condition; and, much to the amusement of the engineer, he appeared at the railway station several hours before the train was to start, that he might inspect the engine, as if it were a horse. There was even more difficulty in satisfying the claims of the coachman. "When the Queen travels, it is my business to drive for her," he declared; "therefore, I must at least be on the engine." He was permitted to ride on the pilot engine, but the dust and cinders made such havoc with his scarlet livery and his white gloves that he concluded not to press his claims quite so urgently in future.
This famous journey was only twenty-five minutes long, and in spite of the gorgeousness of crimson carpets laid from the royal carriage to the train, it could not have been especially comfortable, for airbrakes and good roadbeds were inventions yet to come. Nevertheless, the royal lady was not discouraged in her desire to travel, and in the autumn of 1842 she and the Prince made a journey to Scotland.
Much that she saw was almost as new to her as it would have been to any village maiden who had never left her home, and she was interested in whatever came before her. She was especially delighted with Edinburgh. "It is beautiful," she wrote; "totally unlike anything else I have ever seen." As she entered the city, she was met by the Royal Archers Bodyguard. This was an association formed by one of her royal ancestors more than two hundred years before. Its special business was to protect the sovereign, and in the old days its members were covered from head to foot with armor. Long before Victoria's time the armor had vanished, but in memory of the olden customs each man carried a bow in one hand and had arrows stuck through his belt. As soon as the Queen appeared, they began to perform their ancient office, walking close beside the carriage all the way through the town.
In this journey the Queen and Prince Albert were received by various noblemen, but the most picturesque greeting was at the home of Lord Breadalbane at Taymouth. As they drove up to the castle, the gates were thrown open, and there stood their host in a Highland dress, at the head of a company of Highlanders, who were gorgeous in the bright-colored tartan of the Campbells. Pipers were playing on the bagpipes, salutes were fired, the soldiers and the crowd of country folk cheered over and over again. When the royal guests went into the house and were escorted up the wide stone staircase, long lines of Highlanders in kilts stood on both sides of the hall and the stairway. It is no wonder that the Queen wrote in her journal that it seemed like the old feudal times. In the evening the gardens were illuminated. There were no electric lights then, but she says there was "a whole chain of lamps along the railing, and on the ground was written in lamps, 'Welcome, Victoria—Albert.' " Bonfires were kindled on the tops of the hills, and fireworks were set off. Then the bagpipes began to play, torches were brought on the lawn in front of the house, and by their wild and flaring light the Highlanders danced the gayest, merriest reels that can be imagined. The visitors spent several days in this charming place. A ball was given for them, but the Queen seems to have enjoyed much more heartily the quiet drives that she took about the country, the row up the lake, with two pipers sitting in the bow of the boat, piping and singing weird Gaelic boat songs; and perhaps most of all, the little picnics they had and the walks that they took, for there was no one to stare at them, and they roamed about in perfect freedom, guarded only by two Highlanders, who, according to the ancient custom, followed them with drawn swords wherever they went.
During the next two or three years, the Queen and Prince Albert seized every opportunity for travel, short though their journeys had to be. They visited not only several of the lordly mansions of England, but they also spent a few days in Belgium and made a short stay at the court of the French King. In 1844, they went again to Scotland, and this time "Vicky," as they called the Princess Royal, was old enough to go with them. There were two more children in the royal nursery by this time, and the Queen wrote in her journal that "Alice and the baby and good Bertie" came to bid the travelers farewell. She was quite delighted that "Vicky" stood at the window of a little inn and bowed to the people outside. One of her hosts on this visit to Scotland was the Duke of Argyll. She describes in her journal his son, the two-year old Marquis of Lorne, and calls him "such a merry, independent little child."
One of the disadvantages of being a sovereign is that the simplest acts are looked upon as being of political significance. Victoria wished to meet the French King, to whom Prince Albert was distantly related, and she did not wish to talk politics. On her visit to France she was interested in seeing the King's barge and its many oarsmen in white, with red sashes; in the royal chapel, the first Roman Catholic church that she had ever entered; in the little picnic that the King ordered in the forest; in the picturesque white caps of the peasant women, their bright-colored aprons and kerchiefs; and she noted even the tone of the church bells, and said that it was much prettier than that of the bells in England. She enjoyed her visit heartily; but far away in Russia the keen-eyed Emperor Nicholas was watching her movements, and he was not quite pleased. "The government of Turkey will soon fall to pieces," he said to himself, "and if it does, France would like to secure a piece of that country. If England should help her, she might be able to do so, and this visit looks as if England and France were becoming too friendly." The result of the Czar's meditations was that word was sent to the Queen that he was on his way to visit her and might be looked for at once. Queen Victoria had expected him to come the following year, but he liked to make visits in this sudden fashion, and there was nothing to do but to prepare for him as best she could in forty-eight hours, for she had no longer time in which to make ready.
The Queen had not been especially anxious for the visit, she feared there would be "constraint and bustle;" but she soon found that quiet, simple ways of living were most pleasing to her guest, and she wrote to King Leopold, "He is very easy to get on with." His greatest interest was in military matters, and he was so much of a soldier that he said he felt without his uniform almost as if he had been skinned. He was taken to a review, of course, and this he thoroughly enjoyed. "Won't you allow me to ride down the line," he asked the Queen, "so I can see my old comrades?" Down the line he went, and was greeted everywhere with enthusiastic cheers. When the Duke of Wellington appeared, the crowd began to hurrah for him, for the man who had won the battle of Waterloo was the nation's idol. "Please don't, please don't," he said, riding along close to the crowd. "Don't cheer for me; cheer for the Emperor."
This military Emperor had his own ideas about what the bed of a soldier should be, even if the soldier was at the head of an empire, and before he took possession of his bedroom at Windsor Castle, he had his camp-bed set up, and sent to the stables for straw to stuff the leathern case that formed his mattress.
The Emperor was delighted with his visit, and when the Queen invited him to come again, he said rather sadly: "You do not know how difficult it is for us to do such things." Then he kissed the royal children and the hand of the Queen, and made his farewells. The Queen kissed him, as sovereigns are expected to do at the beginning and end of a state visit, and the reception of the mighty Czar was over. "By living in the same house together quietly and unrestrainedly, I not only see these great people, but know them," said the Queen as simply as if she herself were not one of the "great people."