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

The Queen in Sorrow

It had certainly become clear to all her Ministers that Victoria was no mere figurehead, for while she yielded if their judgment was against her, yet she never failed to have an opinion and a reason for her opinion. In 1861, the fact that both she and Prince Albert were able to think for themselves and had come to a wise conclusion proved to be a matter of the utmost importance to two countries, England and the United States. Everyone in England was thinking about the war in America. The English government had declared that England would be neutral, that is, it would do nothing to assist either the United States or the seceded States. The United States Government was indignant at this declaration, because it spoke of the seceded, or Confederate States, not as if they were rebelling against the government, but as if they were an independent power. The Confederate States, however, were much pleased, and thought it quite possible that England might be persuaded to help them. Their chief argument was—cotton. These States were the ones that raised cotton, and with the United States warships blockading their ports, there would be little chance for cotton to reach England. Would not England, then, help the seceders, put an end to the war, and have all the cotton that her mills wished to use?

The Confederates decided to send two men, named Mason and Slidell, across the ocean for aid, the first to England, the second to France. It was not easy to get away from a southern port, but they contrived to escape to Havana, and from there they went on board a British mail steamer named the Trent. They supposed that all difficulties were over when they were once on board a British vessel; but before the Trent  had been out twenty-four hours, a United States warship fired a shot across her bows. The Trent  was not armed so that she could make any resistance, therefore she stopped, and Lieutenant Fairfax was sent aboard with a strong guard of marines.

"My orders from Captain Wilkes are to ask to see the list of your passengers," he said.

"That list cannot be shown," was the reply of the English captain.

"I am here to arrest Messrs. Mason and Slidell," Lieutenant Fairfax stated, but the Captain only bowed.

"It is well known to the United States authorities that they are attempting to make their way to Europe as envoys from States in rebellion against the government," said the Lieutenant, "and, therefore, I demand their surrender."

Then Commodore Williams, who was in charge of the mail, said indignantly:

"The two gentlemen are passengers in a British vessel which is carrying the mail from one neutral port to another. On board this ship I represent her Majesty's government. This thing is an outrage, and I tell you that you and your North shall suffer for it. Does your Captain Wilkes do this on his own responsibility or on that of your government?"

"On his own," was the reply.

"It is an insult to England and a violation of international law," declared the Commodore; but nevertheless the men were seized and carried to Boston.

When the news of this action reached England, there was wild excitement. Troops were sent to Canada at once. The Canadian harbors were frozen, and England had to ask permission of the United States to land them at Portland, Maine. Permission was granted, and no one seemed to see how amusing such a request was. Thousands of Englishmen were ready to declare war upon the United States without a moment's delay. Fortunately governments move more slowly than individuals, and war could not be declared without first asking whether the United States had given authority for the seizure or approved of it. Mr. Slidell's wife and daughter had gone on to England in the Trent;  and they said Captain Wilkes did not claim to have any government authority, and that the United States would probably set the envoys free as soon as they reached Washington. The Prime Minister did not believe such would be the result, and he wrote a somewhat curt demand to the United States for an apology and the freedom of the two men.

Neither the Queen nor the Prince Consort, for that title had been granted to Prince Albert long before, was satisfied with this paper, and the following morning he wrote a statement to be sent to the Prime Minister to the effect that the paper ought to mention the friendship between the two countries and the hope and expectation of England that the United States would say the seizure was not done by government authority. Prince Albert and the Queen read the statement over together. She made two or three small changes in the wording, then copied it and sent it to the Prime Minister. He admitted at once that the Queen and the Prince were in the right, and wrote another dispatch to send to the United States, saying, of course, that an apology and the surrender of the men were expected, but wording the demand in a most courteous and friendly manner.

In the United States, as soon as President Lincoln heard of the capture, he said, "This won't do. Captain Wilkes is exercising the 'right of search,' and we fought England in 1812 on that very ground. Those men must be given up." There were thousands, however, who were so excited that they were ready to fight anybody for anything or for nothing, and if the Prime Minister's first dispatch had been sent, it would have been hard to prevent hostilities; but in so moderate a request for fairness, even the most hot-blooded could find little excuse for demanding a declaration of war.

So it was that Prince Albert and the Queen saved the two countries from bloodshed, and if the Prince had done nothing else in his twenty-one years of acting as chief adviser to the Queen, that one act would have been glory enough. But when one remembers the vast number of matters which he had to consider, it does not seem as if one man's mind could have held them all. Laying corner stones, unveiling statues, presiding over learned societies, guiding the education of his children, planning palaces, and managing large estates—all this was but a small part of his labors. He carried out reforms in the navy, he studied on commercial treaties between England and other countries, he reorganized the army, he wrote on improved methods of agriculture, he constructed better national defenses, he kept himself well informed concerning the condition of the United States, India, South Africa, and every country of Europe. After twenty-one years of such intense work as this, it is no wonder that he was exhausted. He rarely spoke of his weariness; but here and there in his letters and in his conversation with the Queen, a word was dropped that showed how weak and tired he felt. He slept little, yet he never thought of sparing himself, and he wrote the letter about the Trent  affair with a very feeble hand. "I could hardly hold my pen while writing," he told the Queen, and at last he admitted that he was thoroughly miserable.

Then came day after day of illness. Sometimes the Prince would listen to his wife or his daughter Alice while they read him one of Scott's novels; once he asked for music a long way off, and a piano was brought into another room so that the Princess Alice could play his favorite chorale. Sometimes he was confused and recognized no one. "We are much alarmed," said the physicians, "but we do not give up hope." Every day found him a little weaker, and soon the evening came when, as the Queen bent over him and whispered, "It is your own little wife," he could not speak, he could only bow his head and kiss her, and in a little while he was gone.

At midnight the mournful tolling of the great bell of St. Paul's spread the sorrowful news through the city of London, and the telegraph told the children of the royal family who were away from England of the loss that had befallen them.

The Princess Victoria was not alone, for her husband and her child were with her to give her comfort; but far away in the warm climate of Cannes was Prince Leopold, the delicate little boy of only eight years, with not one of his own family beside him. The child was already grieving sorely over the death of the gentleman in whose charge he had been when the telegraph brought the news of his crushing loss. "Oh, mamma, mamma," he cried. "Do take me to mamma. I want my mother. I want my mother."

The warmest sympathy was felt for the sorrowing Queen in her own land and in all lands. Even from some chiefs in New Zealand came an address, which began:

"Oh, Victoria, our mother, we greet you! All we can now do is to weep with you, oh, our good mother, who have nourished us, your ignorant children of this island, even to this day."

Every honor that could be shown was given to the dead Prince Consort. The Queen chose a sunny spot at Frogmore for the beautiful mausoleum that was to be built for the body of the one who had been dearest to her of all the world. Seven years earlier, she had said, "Trials we must have, but what are they, if we are together?" but now the time had come when she must bear alone whatever might befall her. Her greatest comforter was the Princess Alice, the girl of eighteen, who seemed no longer a merry young girl, but a sympathetic, self-controlled woman. She and the other children went with the Queen to Osborne, and there passed the first three months of the lonely woman's sorrow. King Leopold and the Princess of Hohenlohe came to her; but the weight of her grief was hers alone, and no one could lessen it.

Crushed as she was by suffering, she did not cease to feel for others. Within a month after the death of the Prince, a terrible colliery accident occurred by which many lives were lost, and the Queen sent at once a generous gift and the message, "Tell them that the Queen's own misery only makes her feel the more for them." In her own heartbreak she could not neglect the state business, whose delay would cause many difficulties, but she could not bear to meet others than her children and a few of her nearest friends. Again it was the Princes Alice upon whom she and the whole country relied, and this girl of eighteen went back and forth between the sovereign and the Ministers with such strength of mind, such thoughtfulness and tact, that the whole realm was amazed and grateful.

It would have been a comfort to the loving mother if she could have kept her oldest son with her during those months; but, even to lessen her loneliness, she would not break in upon the plans that his father had made for him. It had been decided that he should travel in the Holy Land, and not many weeks after the death of the Prince, he set out with Dean Stanley and others for the East.

It had long been the custom in the royal family to spend at Balmoral the Queen's birthday, in May, and the birthday of the Prince, in August, and even during this sad year of 1862, the usual May visit was made. Hard as it was for the Queen to go without the Prince to a place that had been so dear to him, there was comfort for her in going among the cottagers. She loved the Scotch because, while they had a profound respect for her, they had also, respect for themselves, and would talk with her without the subservience that she disliked. She taught her Scotch tenants to look upon her as a friend to whom they might come for help in time of trouble. In sickness they were encouraged to send to the castle for whatever they needed. When the Queen went to London, she did not forget them, and whenever a marriage or a death or the arrival of a new baby occurred among her Balmoral people, it was reported to her at once.

During the last visit of the Prince Consort to Balmoral, the husband of one of the cottagers was very ill, and the Queen was continually sending him delicacies from her own table, and not always by the hands of servants, for the Princess Louise was often her messenger. The story is told of the young girl's taking some dainty from one of the pockets of her jacket and asking, "Can't he eat this?" and then, when the wife shook her head sadly, of her taking something else from another pocket and saying, "Surely, he can eat this." The husband died, and when the Queen arrived at Balmoral on this first visit without the Prince, she went at once to see the widow. Both women burst into tears.

"I ask your pardon," said the cottager humbly. "I ought not to cry in your presence."

"Oh, it does me good," replied the Queen in the midst of her own tears. "I am so thankful to cry with someone who knows just how I feel. It was all so sudden, so sudden."

This visit to Balmoral was in May, and in July the brave-hearted Queen gave away her chief comforter, for she did not think it right to allow the marriage of the Princess Alice to be postponed longer. Many preparations for it had already been made before the illness of the Prince. The Highlanders were all interested in the marriage, for the Princess Alice was a great favorite among them; and in the autumn of 1861, many wedding gifts had been made by the Princess to the cottagers, for in the Queen's family it was the custom to make presents as well as receive them at the wedding seasons.

The marriage took place at Osborne. The day which all had expected to be so bright and happy was sad and lonely for the want of the dead Prince. There was no rejoicing, for everything was so associated with him that no one could be merry. Even the wedding dress of the bride was of lace, whose pattern he himself had chosen.

In a few days Prince Louis and the Princess Alice left England for their German home. According to what had become a custom among the Queen's children, the Princess wrote to her mother almost every day. Her life in Darmstadt was far more simple than the Queen's had been immediately after her marriage. The usual time of rising was half-past seven or a little earlier. Coffee was drunk at eight, and generally the next two hours were spent out of doors in riding or walking. From ten to twelve, the Princess wrote or worked with her private secretary, and some time in the morning she read the newspapers, an occupation which she called "a great bore." Breakfast took the time between twelve and one. At two, people began to come to call upon her. Dinner was at four. After dinner came a little leisure, then a drive "some where for tea." By half-past ten the day was over. The Princess lamented that she had so little time for her music and drawing, and when she was away from the city, she made many sketches, but she was in a wooded country, "And the trees are my misfortune," she said, "as I draw them so badly." After a few months, the twelve-year-old brother Arthur went to visit her. He was a bit of home, and she was delighted to have him. "He has won all hearts," she wrote to the Queen, "and I am so proud when they admire my little brother." When September came, the Princess and her husband went to Thuringia to meet the Queen; and there, much to the Queen's pleasure, it was decided that her daughter and Prince Louis should spend the winter in England, though the Princess with her ready sympathy wrote that she should regret not remaining in Germany for the one reason that the people would feel her absence so much. "They are most kind," she added, for she shared the feeling of her mother that the devotion of the people was not a thing that they could demand, but was a personal kindness shown to them.

On this visit to the Continent, Queen Victoria spent a few days in Belgium with King Leopold; and while she was with him, a young girl was invited to be his guest whom she was especially desirous of meeting. Her name was Alexandra, and she was the eldest daughter of the heir to the throne of Denmark. She had grown up in the quaint old palace in Copenhagen within hearing of the murmur of the sea. When summer came, she was taken to a delightful house in the woods, where she had dogs and ponies and flowers and long walks through the forest; and when friends came from the town, there were picnics and boating and all sorts of good times. Indeed, every day was a kind of picnic, for in the country home the family almost lived out of doors, and there were always her two brothers and three sisters for company.

The life of the children was merry and happy, but it was even more simple than that of the little girl who went from Kensington to the throne of England, both because the father and mother believed that it was best for children to live simply, and also because, especially during the children's earlier years, there was not much money to throw away in luxuries. The little girls put on their nicer dresses, which perhaps their mother had made, when they were going out; but as soon as they came back and were ready to play, the street dresses were exchanged for something more substantial. The children had learned when they were very young that they could not have everything they wanted and that they must be obedient and helpful and punctual. If they were not ready for a meal or for their lessons, they were often sent to their rooms as a punishment. Those rooms had to be in perfect order, for each daughter was required to take care of her own. As they grew older, they were taught to do many things for themselves. If one of them wanted a new dress and her rather slender allowance would not pay the dressmaker, she knew how to make it for herself; and if a new hat was wanted, she could trim it.

This was the way in which the young girl had grown up who was going to visit the Queen of Great Britain when her first year of sorrow was drawing to its close. This was no ordinary visit, for several persons were very anxious that the Queen should like the Princess. They need not have feared. Everyone who met Alexandra loved her, for this bright, cheerful young girl carried sunshine wherever she went, and it shone upon even the lonely heart of the sorrowful Queen.

There had been a great deal of discussion about who would be the bride of the Prince of Wales, and not a little scheming among no lesser people than some of the great dignitaries of Europe; for there were several young princesses whose parents would have been glad to form an alliance with the heir of England's crown. But while the schemers were scheming, the Prince was forming a very definite opinion of his own. At the home of his grandaunt, the Duchess of Cambridge, he saw one day a portrait of a very beautiful young girl.

"And who is that?" he asked his cousin, the Princess Mary.

"That's Alix," was the reply, "and she is the dearest girl in all the world. You know that grandfather left his palace of Rumpenheim to his six children and asked them to meet there every two years. We all go, and now there are twenty or more of us cousins, but Alix is the prettiest and sweetest and dearest of us all. You must have seen her, for she came to visit me when she was ten years old, and she went to a children's party at Buckingham Palace."

Boys of twelve do not always remember little girls of ten. The Prince of Wales did not say whether he had forgotten "Alix" or not, but while, in 1861, the officials were talking about several other European princesses as well as the Princess Alexandra, he was making it clear to his father and mother that she  was the one whom he wished to see. Princess "Vicky" always had her own opinions, and she too had been charmed by the lovely Danish Princess. "Come and visit me, and you shall see her," she wrote. The Prince went to Germany, the Princess was on her way to Rumpenheim, and nothing was easier than to arrange a meeting. Prince Albert wrote, "The young people seem to have a warm liking for each other." Some months after the death of Prince Albert, the two met again; next followed the little visit to Queen Victoria, and the loving welcome to the young girl who then became the betrothed of the Prince of Wales.

Denmark was delighted, and England was no less happy. Prince Christian soon carried his daughter to London to visit Queen Victoria; and then came a busy time, for all the wedding trousseau except the lingerie was to come from England. Princess Mary was delighted to help in selecting, and probably the Prince of Wales had now and then a word to say. While this was going on in England, scores of women in Denmark were cutting and stitching the finest of linen and embroidering on every article a crown and the initials of their beloved Princess. The whole land subscribed to give her a generous dowry, and then the wedding presents began to come. There were many of great value, of course, for all the courts of Europe were interested in the marriage; but the Princess cared most for the gifts that came from her own people, who knew her and loved her. Among those tokens there was a painting of her brothers and sisters in a group, a pair of shoes embroidered in gold from the shoemakers of Copenhagen, and some vases from the villagers who lived near the summer home in the forest. The Danish king gave her a necklace of diamonds and pearls, and King Leopold sent her a most beautiful dress of Brussels lace. At the end of the last sermon that she heard in her own church, the pastor, who had known her from babyhood, gave her a loving benediction and farewell.

The wedding was to be in England, and in February of 1863 the young bride with her father and mother and brothers and sisters went aboard the royal train. The Queen had sent to Antwerp her own Victoria and Albert, the yacht that had so often carried happy people, and after a few days' rest at King Leopold's court, the party crossed the Channel with a little squadron of British men-of-war as escort. As they neared the English coast, the water swarmed with every kind of vessel that would float, from a steamship to a rowboat, for everyone was eager to see the young girl whose beauty had been heralded throughout the kingdom. There was one boat which had the right of way, and soon the Prince of Wales was meeting his bride and giving her a hearty, old-fashioned kiss that satisfied even the hundreds of spectators. Her dress would seem to-day exceedingly quaint, but it must have been wonderfully becoming. It was of mauve poplin, made very full, for those were the days of hoop-skirts. Over it she wore a long purple velvet cloak with a border of sable, and her lovely face was framed in a white "poke" bonnet trimmed with rosebuds.

As soon as she had landed the difficulties began; for the people who had been waiting for hours to see the face that they had heard was the prettiest in the world meant to see it, and they thronged about her carriage in such determined crowds that the police were helpless. There is a story that one inquisitive youth actually twisted his head between the spokes of her carriage wheels to get a glimpse of her in some way; and the legend says that the Princess herself helped him out of his dangerous position. Addresses were presented before she had fairly set her feet upon English soil, one of them signed by the eight hundred Eton boys. Whenever there was a moment's delay, some delegation was always waiting, ready to make a speech of welcome. There were rockets and bonfires and salutes from vessels and forts, and, fascinated as she was, the young girl was thoroughly tired before she was safe at Windsor Castle.

A week later the royal wedding was celebrated in St. George's Chapel. The Prince was in the long flowing purple velvet mantle of the Order of the Garter, which made a rich contrast with the white lace and satin and orange blossoms of his bride. She was loaded with jewels, for the gifts of the Queen, the Prince, and the city of London must all be treated with respect. In her bouquet were sprigs of myrtle that had a history, for they had come from a bush grown from the myrtle in the bridal bouquet of the Princess "Vicky." There was more jewelry that was of special interest, for while the Prince was satisfied with a plain hoop of gold for the wedding ring, the guard was set with stones the initials of whose names formed the word, "Bertie,"—beryl, emerald, ruby, turquoise, jacinth, emerald. The lockets that he gave to the bridesmaids were made after a new fashion, for they were wrought of crystal, and in each were the initials "A. E.—A." intertwined in a design drawn by the Princess Alice. These letters were made of diamonds and coral to display the red and white of the Danish flag.

There was all the brilliancy and gorgeousness that can be imagined, for it was the wedding of the heir to the British crown. There were heralds, drummers, and trumpeters, all in quaint and handsome costumes. The gleam of gold, the flash of diamonds, and the burning glow of rubies made the Chapel a wilderness of color and brightness. Very slowly the beautiful Princess and her bridesmaids moved up the long aisle to the altar, too slowly for the comfort of Prince Arthur and his brother Leopold in their Highland dress, for the small German nephew had been put under their care, and the naughty little Frederick William Victor Albert bit their bare legs whenever they told him to be quiet.

The whole floor of the Chapel was radiant with beauty and aglow with happiness, but in the "Closet," up above the heads of the joyous throng, stood the Queen of England in the deepest mourning, glad in the gladness of her eldest son and in her love for the maiden who was his choice, but with the sorrow at her heart that forbade her to share in the rejoicings of her people.