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

The Royal Young People

Many people had thought that the Russians hoped to get control of India. If they had succeeded in doing so, the Queen would have been saved the sorrow that came to her from a revolt of her Indian troops which was known as the Sepoy Mutiny. The commanders of the troops were English, but most of the rank and file were either Mohammedans or Hindus. The Mohammedans looked upon the cow as sacred, and the Hindus regarded the hog as unclean, therefore, when cartridges were given them greased with a mixture of tallow and lard, the soldiers of both peoples were very angry. Another trouble was that the English government had declared that no one should lose his property on account of any change in his religious belief, and this decree aroused the wrath of the native priests. The revolt was one of the most fearful events known in history, for even women and children were murdered as brutally as if the Sepoys had been wild beasts.

January, 1858, was the time that had been set for the marriage of the Princess Royal, and although India was not entirely subdued, the Sepoys were so nearly under control that England could join heartily in the wedding rejoicings. Buckingham Palace was crowded with guests, so many princes and princesses that when they went to the theater, they made, as the Queen said, "a wonderful row of royalties." "Macbeth" and three other plays were performed in honor of the occasion. For a week, eighty or ninety persons sat at the Queen's dinner table every day. There were operas, dinner parties, dances, concerts, and a great ball at which one thousand guests were present.

When the wedding gifts began to arrive, the large drawing room of the palace became a veritable fairyland, as table after table was piled with presents. "Fritz," as the family called Prince Frederick William, had brought to his bride a necklace of pearls, which the Queen said were the largest she had ever seen. This was only the beginning. The Princess and her mother went for a little walk in the palace garden, and when they came in, there were more tables and an entirely new display of gifts; they went to their own rooms, and when they returned, still more gifts had arrived. There were pictures, candelabra, diamond and emerald bracelets, brooches, necklaces, everything in the shape of jewelry that can be imagined, and, what especially pleased the housewifely tastes of the Queen, there were quantities of needlework from many ladies of the kingdom, for the Princess was a special favorite, and rich and poor were eager to send her some token of their love. The young girl was in ecstasies; then she remembered that going with "Fritz" meant leaving her father and mother, and she burst into tears.

At the end of the festal week came the wedding day. The Queen said, "I felt as if I were being married over again myself, only much more nervous," and when just before the ceremony, she was daguerreotyped with "Fritz and Vicky," she trembled so that her likeness was badly blurred.

Early in the morning the bells began to ring, but long before their first peal, thousands were out in the streets, too excited to sleep or even to remain in their homes. The procession was formed just as it had been eighteen years before at the marriage of the Queen, and the long line of carriages drove from Buckingham Palace to the Chapel Royal of St. James. Trumpets were blown, banners were waved, and the whole city reëchoed with the shouts of the merrymakers. The Queen bowed to her people as graciously as ever, but she could not forget for a moment that her oldest daughter was about to leave her, and she wrote afterwards, "The cheering made my heart sick within me."

The procession was even more beautiful than that on the wedding day of the Queen, because in this one there were so many children. First came the members of the royal family, the Duchess of Kent nearest to the Queen and her children, looking very handsome in her gown of violet velvet trimmed with ermine. Then came the Prime Minister bearing the sword of state. He was followed by "Bertie," who was now a tall young man of sixteen, and "Affie," the sailor boy of fourteen, both in Highland costume. Everyone was looking for the Queen, and she came directly after her older sons. She was resplendent in a moiré skirt of lilac and silver with a long train of lilac velvet, and was all ablaze with diamonds. The two little boys, the namesake of the Duke of Wellington, and Leopold, who was not yet five, walked one on either side of their mother. They as well as the older boys were brilliant in Stuart plaid, which made a glowing contrast with the lilac velvet. Behind the Queen walked hand in hand the three royal girls, Alice who was fifteen, and the two younger ones, Helena and Louise. They were in pink satin with cornflowers and marguerites in their hair. The nine royal children were present, with the exception of baby Beatrice, who was not yet one year old. The Queen and the royal family took their places in the "Royal Closet," a room opening into the chapel.

All the guests had assembled long before the entrance of the procession, and now they were all watching eagerly for the Prince of Prussia and the Princess Royal of England. The Prince in his dark blue uniform, looked thoroughly a soldier. He made a profound bow to the Queen, knelt in prayer for a few minutes, then stood waiting to receive his bride. After the gorgeous colors worn by those who had preceded her, the white moiré dress and the wreath of orange blossoms and myrtle made the Princess look very childlike. She walked between her father and King Leopold, her train borne by the eight young girls who were her bridesmaids. They were in white tulle with pink roses. Among the roses were sprigs of white heather, for even in the excitement of this wedding season, the Queen did not forget her Scottish home.

The Prince was much more calm than the Archbishop of Canterbury, for the clergyman was so nervous that he left out some passages from the marriage service. At the moment that the ring was put on the finger of the bride, the cannon were fired as at the marriage of the Queen; but now the people of Germany must not be forgotten, and as the first gun sounded, a telegram was sent to Berlin. The last words of the service were read, "The Lord mercifully with his favor look upon you," and the "Hallelujah Chorus" burst forth, followed by Mendelssohn's "Wedding March," as the bride and bridegroom went forth from the chapel hand in hand.

All London was keeping holiday, and throngs had gathered about Buckingham Palace, ready to greet the returning party with most tumultuous applause. The honeymoon was to be spent at Windsor, and the Eton boys, who always claimed a share in royal rejoicings, dragged the royal carriage from the railroad station to the castle.

A few days later came the final good-bys, and these were much harder than if the bride had not been of the royal family, for kings and queens can make few visits. It was a very tearful time, "a dreadful day," wrote the Queen. "I think it will kill me to take leave of dear papa," the bride had said to her mother, but the moment of parting had to come. The snow was falling fast, but all the way to the wharf at Gravesend were beautiful decorations and crowds of people, and on the pier were companies of young girls wearing wreaths and carrying flowers to strew before the feet of the bride. "Come back to us if he doesn't treat you well," called a voice from the crowd, and the steamer moved slowly away from the wharf. Prince Albert watched it for a few minutes, then returned to the Queen, who was lonely in her great palace, so lonely that even the sight of baby Beatrice made her sad, reminding her that only a few hours before the little one had been in the arms of the beloved eldest daughter.

"The little lady does her best to please him," Prince Albert had written on the day of the Princess's engagement; but now she had thousands of people to please, and the father and mother at home waited anxiously for letters and telegrams and reports of friends to know what welcome the Germans had given to their daughter, for so much of her future comfort among them depended upon the first impression that she made. "Dear child," wrote Prince Albert to, her, "I should have so liked to be in the crowd and hear what the multitude said of you." He had already received a proud and jubilant telegram from "Fritz,"—"The whole royal family is enchanted with my wife." The Princess Hohenlohe, the Queen's beloved half-sister, wrote from Berlin, "The enthusiasm and interest shown are beyond everything. Never was a princess in this country received as she is."

Later in the year, the royal father and mother contrived to make a fortnight's visit to Germany, and found the "Princess Frederick William" "quite the old Vicky still." Prince Albert's birthday was celebrated during their stay. The children at home were also celebrating it with the Duchess of Kent. They recited poems and played their pieces of music and exhibited the pictures that they had drawn. Several days earlier, they had all sent birthday letters to Germany, and these letters were given a prominent place on the "presents table." The Queen's gift to her husband was a portrait of baby Beatrice, done in oil. The Princess did not forget the Scotch home that she loved, and among her gifts to her father was an iron chair for the Balmoral garden.

The farewells had to be said much too soon. Then came the return to England and the other children. They were growing up fast. The Prince of Wales was at Oxford, not idling his time away, but working so hard that the irrepressible Punch  called him "A Prince at High Pressure." Alfred, who was now fourteen, had just passed his examination and received his midshipman's appointment. The examiners would have been satisfied with fifty correct answers, but the Prince had presented eighty; and when his father and mother landed at Osborne, there he stood on the wharf in his naval cadet's uniform, half-blushing, and looking as happy as a boy who was not a prince would have looked after coming out of a three-days' examination with flying colors. Several months earlier, Prince Albert had watched him reef a topsail in a strong breeze, and said it almost took his breath away to see him "do all sorts of things at that dizzy height."

The circle of children soon began to widen, for early in 1859 Princess "Vicky" became the mother of a boy, and the Queen, not yet forty years of age, was a grandmother. The child was named Frederick William Victor Albert. Ever since her marriage, the Princess had kept up a constant correspondence with home. She wrote her mother every day, sometimes twice a day, telling all the little events of her life. To her father she sent every Monday long letters on general topics, and he always sent a reply two days later. No one knew better than he the difficulties that lay before her in making her home in a foreign country, and often his letters gave her bits of advice that had come from his own experience. Sometimes they were little pictures of home life. Once he told her of a "splendid snowman" that the children had made, with a yellow carrot for a nose and an old hat of "Affie's" on his head. After the birth of Frederick William Victor Albert, the letters from Germany never forgot to tell the latest news about the little German baby; and the English letters quoted the sayings of baby Beatrice, whom Prince Albert called "the most amusing baby we ever had." One day he wrote of this little one, "When she tumbles, she calls out in bewilderment, 'She don't like it, she don't like it.' She came into breakfast a short time ago with her eyes full of tears, moaning, 'Baby has been so naughty, poor baby so naughty,' as one might complain of being ill or of having slept badly."

While Buckingham Palace had still its merry group of children, the two older sons, "Bertie" and "Affie," were on their way across the ocean. Prince Alfred was making a voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, and the Prince of Wales was going to Canada. During the Crimean War, the colony had raised and equipped a regiment to aid the mother country, and had most urgently invited the monarch to visit her lands in the west; but because of the exposure and fatigue it was not thought wise for her to accept the invitation. Canada had then asked that one of the Princes should be appointed governor. They were far too young for any such position, but the promise was made that the Prince of Wales should visit the colony. In the spring of 1860 it was decided that he should go early in the autumn.

The Prince was delighted with the expedition, and was ready to be pleased with whatever came to hand. In Newfoundland a ball was given for him, and he danced not only with the ladies of the official circle, but with the wives and daughters of the fish-merchants, and had the tact to make himself liked by all. "He had a most dignified manner and bearing," said the wife of the Archdeacon. "God bless his pretty face and send him a good wife," cried the fishermen. His visit to Canada was not all amusement, for he had the usual royal duties to perform. He opened an exhibition, laid the last stone of the Victoria Bridge over the St. Lawrence, and laid the corner stone of the new parliamentary buildings at Ottawa. No fault could be found with his manner of attending to such duties, but he won the hearts of the people less by laying corner stones than by such bits of boyishness as singing with the band one day when they chanced to play some of his favorite airs. He saw Blondin walk across Niagara Falls on a tight-rope. "I beg of you, don't do that again," he said earnestly to the performer. "There is really not the least danger; I would willingly carry you over on my back," replied Blondin, but the Prince did not accept the offer.

When Mr. Buchanan, President of the United States, heard that the Prince of Wales was coming to Canada, he wrote to the Queen, inviting the Prince to visit him at the White House, and assuring her that her son would receive a very cordial greeting from the Americans. The city of New York meant to have a royal visit all to herself, and therefore sent a special invitation for him to come to that city. The United States showed no lack of interest in the young man. Reporters from the leading American papers followed him about in Canada; and when he crossed to Detroit, he found the whole city illuminated, and the streets so crowded that he had to slip into his hotel by the side entrance. He visited the grave of Washington, and planted a tree by the tomb of the man who had prevented him from becoming the ruler of all North America. His visit to the White House lasted for five days, and at its close, President Buchanan wrote to the Queen: "In our domestic circle he has won all hearts."

In New York a ball was given for him which he enjoyed; but he was far more enthusiastic over a parade of the New York Fire Department. Six thousand firemen in uniform turned out one evening, all with lighted torches except those who manned the ropes. A delightful trait in both his parents was their feeling that honors shown them were not merely actions due to their position, but were marks of courtesy and kindness; and the Prince showed this same characteristic, for at the review he cried with grateful delight, "It is splendid, and it's all for me, every bit for me!"

On the Prince's return voyage he was so delayed by contrary winds that two warships were sent out to search for him. He reached home late in November, and on his return a letter was written to President Buchanan by the Queen, expressing her gratitude for the kindness shown her son and speaking very warmly of the friendship between England and the United States.

While the Prince of Wales was receiving the honors of the western continent, the midshipman brother was on his way to South Africa. When he landed at Cape Town, the English governor accompanied him on a short tour through the English possessions, during which he laid the first stone of the famous breakwater in Table Bay. He was cheered and feasted and received with all the honors that could be devised so long as he was on land; but when he returned to his vessel, he was no longer treated as a prince; for on shipboard he was simply a midshipman and in no wise different from the other naval cadets. When the chief of an African tribe came to visit the ship, he saw the young Prince barefooted and helping the other midshipmen to wash the decks. The chief went away wondering, and a little later, he and his councilors sent to the English a most interesting letter. It read:

"When the son of England's great Queen becomes subject to a subject, that he may learn wisdom, when the sons of England's chiefs and nobles leave the homes and wealth of their fathers, and with their young Prince endure hardships and sufferings in order that they may be wise and become a defense to their country, when we behold these things, we see why the English are a great and mighty nation."

When the two brothers returned to England, they found that their sister Alice had followed the example of the Princess Royal and had become engaged. The fortunate man was Prince Louis of Hesse. Prince Albert wrote to his daughter in Germany of "the great Alician event," saying, "Alice and Louis are as happy as mortals can be."

Not long after these cheerful times, a deep sorrow came to the loving heart of the Queen. In the midst of the days that were so full of care for her children, her home, and the duties of state not only in England, but also in Africa and Asia, the constant thought of the Queen had been her mother's comfort. When the daughter could not be with her mother, letters were sent every day, and frequently several times a day, and nothing was neglected that could add to the Duchess's ease and happiness. For some time she had not been well, and in the spring of 1861 came the dreaded summons to her bedside. In a few hours she was gone. "Oh, if only I could have been near her these last weeks!" wrote the Queen to King Leopold.

Save the sovereign herself, there was no woman in England whose death would have affected the whole country so deeply. Statesmen recalled the days when the Duchess of Kent was left alone in a strange land, without means, disliked by the reigning king, and weighed down by the responsibility of educating a child to stand at the head of the nation. In the character of their sovereign, they saw proof of the able, devoted, conscientious manner in which this sacred duty had been performed; and the address of sympathy sent by Parliament to the sorrowing Queen was as sincere as if it had been written by a personal friend, and not by a body of lawmakers. "It is a great sorrow to me not to have Féodore with me now," wrote the Queen to King Leopold; but neither he nor the Princess Hohenlohe was able to be present at the last services.

"I cannot imagine life without her," said the Queen sadly; but nevertheless, life had to go on. Others may sometimes stop to mourn, but the duties of a sovereign may not be neglected even for sorrow. A new cause of anxiety had arisen that came nearer home than even the sufferings of the Crimean soldiers. War had broken out in the United States, and the supply of cotton to England was rapidly diminishing. If the cotton supply failed entirely, the mills of England would have to stop; many thousands of spinners and weavers would have no work; and the sufferings of the manufacturing districts would be intense. The government made an earnest effort to increase the amount of cotton imported to England from India; but the emergency was so sudden that even during the first few months of the war, there were many honest, hard-working people in England who were sorely in need.

When autumn came, the Queen was free to go for a little while to the beloved Balmoral for the rest and quiet which she so greatly needed. The simple life of the Highlands did more for her than anything else could have done. On this visit, Prince Albert, the Queen, the Princess Alice, Prince Louis of Hesse, with Lady Churchill and General Grey in attendance, went on two of what the Queen called "Great Expeditions," that is, trips of two or three days by carriage and by pony. To the Queen these trips were as fascinating as they were novel. The party tried to keep their identity a secret, and sometimes they succeeded: Prince Albert and the Queen called themselves Lord  and Lady Churchill; the real Lady Churchill was now Miss Spencer, and General Grey became Dr. Grey. They were as excited as children in a new game over playing their parts properly, and the struggles of the two men-servants to remember not to say "Your Majesty" and "Your Royal Highness" amused them immensely. "The lady must be terrible rich," whispered an awestruck woman to one of the servants, "for she has so many gold rings on her fingers." "And you have many more than I," said the aggrieved monarch to Lady Churchill. Two or three times they stayed all night at little village inns. The Queen wrote in her journal that at one of them the bedroom given to her and the Prince was hardly more than large enough for the bed, but she found no fault with it, and called it "very clean and neat." The dinner was "nice, clean, and good" according to her description, for this sovereign of Great Britain, with several magnificent palaces of her own, was so ready to be pleased with what was done for her that she could be contented in the tiny inn of a Highland village. At a second inn, which seems to have been particularly poor, she admits that there was "hardly anything to eat," but closes her account less like the ruler of millions than like a half amused and half disappointed little schoolgirl, "No pudding and no fun. We soon retired."

The efforts to avoid being "found out" were like a continual frolic. The royal party trembled when they heard the distant sound of a drum and fife, but felt safe again on being told by a little maid at the inn that it was "just a band that walked about twice a week." Sometimes they came to tiny villages where they were "suspected;" and at last, on getting up one morning, they heard the tread of somewhat irregular marching, led by a drum and fife and bagpipe. There was no escape then, for they were found out at last. A company of volunteers was drawn up in front of the door to do them honor; the women of the village stood by with bunches of flowers in their hands; and the landlady was glorified by a black satin dress with white ribbons and orange blossoms. There was nothing to do but to bow with all gratitude and drive away as fast as possible.

Such a woman was Victoria of England, ready to be pleased with the smallest things, praising what was good, saying little of what was not good, and enjoying every little pleasure with a childlike zest and simplicity. And yet, this gentle little lady understood so perfectly her rights and duties as monarch of Great Britain that when her Secretary of Foreign Affairs persisted in being quite too independent in his methods of transacting business, she did not hesitate to write to him the following very definite sentences:

"The Queen thinks it right, in order to prevent any mistake for the future, to explain what it is she expects from the Foreign Secretary. She requires:

"1. That he will distinctly state what he proposes in a given case, in order that the Queen may know as distinctly to what she has given her royal sanction.

"2. Having once given her sanction to a measure, that it be not arbitrarily altered or modified by the Minister. She expects to be kept informed of what passes between him and the Foreign Ministers, before important decisions are taken, based upon that intercourse; to receive the foreign dispatches in good time, and to have the drafts for her approval sent to her in sufficient time to make herself acquainted with their contents before they must be sent off."

It is worth noting that the royal lady who wrote this epistle had sufficient self-control to delay for five months forwarding it to the offending Secretary, hoping that his methods would be amended and that so severe a rebuke would become unnecessary.