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 Princess of Wales

An Intimate Look at the Young Princess Alexandra


 

PRINCESS OF WALES PRINCESS OF WALES

A long time ago — in 1865 — a friend of the writer received a little word of invitation from a young lady whom she had known in childhood. She was asked to come informally to Marlborough House and renew her old acquaintance; but her little Danish friend had grown into the most famous princess in the world, and our friend may be pardoned for some trepidation as she obeyed the kindly summons. There was, however, no cause for such fluttering. Alexandra, Princess of Wales, the admired, petted, and caressed of the nation, whose beauty, then in its transcendent bloom, was being sung, painted, and adored, was as simple and kindly in her greeting as she had been in older, simpler days, when she lived frugally in her father's happy court at Copenhagen, made her own bonnets, and thought a long time before she purchased a new gown.

Our friend and her husband were received with the customary greetings of ordinary life, and while the Prince talked to Colonel A——, the Princess good-humoredly showed her old friend over her new home, pausing now and then to express a little half-homesick feeling, and now and then contrasting her present luxury with the old simplicity which she knew her friend remembered. "When I was married," she said, laughingly, "my trousseau cost more than my sister and I had ever spent in all our lives put together." The occasion of this little visit was soon after the birth of the young prince, and the royal baby was displayed with maternal pride. Colonel A—— was somewhat alarmed when the child was placed in his arms for a few moments; he trembled, feeling that if he let that baby fall a king might be missing. In this kindly, informal fashion the Princess continued to receive her old friends; and we mention it merely as an illustration of that simplicity and good-heartedness which has made her so beloved in her adopted home.
 

PRINCEOF WALES PRINCE OF WALES

English people arc fond of royal reminiscences. We have heard a dozen various accounts from old ladies of the Queen's accession to the throne; her girlish nervousness; her pretty shy ways and simplicity, which, later, grew into dignity and something like hauteur. A younger generation are fond of recalling the April morning when the young Princess of Wales reached England. The boat touched the shore, and the multitude crowding the quay saw a mere slip of a girl nervously clinging to the railing on the deck, and looking with a pale, pretty face at the new country, her dress plain almost to shabbiness, and her bonnet of so old-fashioned a make that a London milliner was hurriedly telegraphed to for a more lilting head-gear for the future queen's entry into London. A wave of applause and cheers went up as the Prince of Wales embraced his betrothed and conducted her to the shores of her new home. The same day she was driven through London in great state, and a lady near enough socially to be good authority has told us of her pretty, girlish timidity when the crowd stared at her, with cheers and wild demonstrations of delight, She meant to be civil and agreeable, but was frightened, and sat back stiffly at first, scarcely inclining her head. "You must bow to the people," said the eldest of the English princesses near her. "English people always expect to have recognition, and you'll not be a favorite if you chill them."

PRINCESS OF WALES PRINCESS OF WALES

This timely caution was heeded. After those first days of tumult and bewilderment the Princess's manner thawed, and then all the nation sang her praises; she was beautiful, graceful, gentle, and, to the English plebeian, better still, good-humored. Those were brave and fascinating days for the young Princess; those who knew her then speak of her wonderful bloom and youthful loveliness with enthusiasm. In company she appeared, among the heavier Englishwomen, like some fair pale flower; her eyes soft and lustrous, her hair profuse and wavy, but drawn back in a simple coiffure, and the carriage of her head and shoulders perfection.

Fourteen years have gone by since those days, and changes have come into the royal circle as well as elsewhere; but although comparisons are being perpetually made, heads constantly shaken mournfully over the decay of Alexandra's charms, she always gives an impression of something finer and more delicately attractive than any of the "reigning beauties" of the day. Not long ago we chanced to see her in a very fair company, and her beauty bore the comparison perfectly. Her face had grown thinner in outline, it is true; her pretty dark hair less plentiful; her eyes have perhaps lost some of their former brilliancy; but nothing can impair the grace and sweetness of her high-bred face, nothing can take away her gentle dignity of manner and carriage. At this moment, while London is full of blooming faces, fresher beauties, and "diviner forms," the Princess of Wales unostentatiously claims a distinctive right to admiration.

Princess Alexandra

Princess Alexandra

The Princess Alexandra was born on the 1st of December, 1844, at her father's palace at Copenhagen. The royal court in Denmark has always been notably simple, and she and her sister Dagmar, now the wife of the Russian Czarowitz, were educated not only in the higher accomplishments but the most useful employments of women and housewives: they were taught to "bake and brew," sew and knit, and from an old friend of their childhood we have heard that the young princesses manufactured all their own bonnets and many of their gowns. There were grand state occasions, of course, when their toilettes were stately, as became royalty, but in general the future Princess of Wales appeared in the simplicity of Jenny Wren's familiar "brown gown," her first fine ornaments being those for her bridal.

 

PRINCESS OF WALES PRINCESS OF WALES

It is said that the Prince of Wales's attention was first called to her by an odd chance. Calling one day on some friend, he caught sight of a small painted portrait lying on the table. "Whose face is that?" inquired the Prince. "The young Princess Alexandra of Denmark," was the answer. We all know how lovely were those girlish portraits of the Princess, and, as some negotiations were already half begun for the marriage of the Prince with a plainer and duller though royal young lady, we can fancy his anxiety to meet the King of Denmark's daughter. Like the prince in a fairy tale, he is said to have privately commissioned a friend to visit the Danish court and verify the reports of her beauty. Certainly the commission proved successful, for in a short time the German alliance was given up, and the Princess Alexandra's face appeared in every London shop window.

Since the first year of her marriage Alexandra has identified herself with English things and people, yet, singular as it may seem, she has never thoroughly mastered the language, and speaks with a curiously foreign accent. She entered at once into the new mode of life, giving the rather heavy English court a grace which it needed, but which, it is said, the Queen somewhat sullenly resented. Marlborough House, the quiet, rather heavy-looking yellow stone mansion near St. James's Palace, which was assigned to the Prince and Princess for their town residence, became speedily a sort of lesser court; and Mrs. Grundy is fond of saying that the Princess's good humor in friendships goes too far, and that when a very special recommendation of any one reaches the Queen from her son's household, it is questioned most critically.

British Royal Family British Royal Family

The Princess's children were born in such rapid succession that much of her time has been spent in their nurseries; and as a mother, she has excelled even the proverbial English standard. The three nurseries at Marlborough House are fitted up in no way luxuriously, but with every possible contrivance for the comfort and pleasure of the little inmates, and the Princess herself visits them night and morning. Every want is made known to her, every order given by her in person; and looking at the recent picture of her, with her five children grouped about her, one can see her at her best —the happy, loving mother. A few years ago, Chiswick — a pretty villa belonging to the Duke of Devonshire — was rented as a summer house for the children of the Prince of Wales; and the writer remembers seeing a most frolicsome young party setting out thence one summer's day for a drive — the four little "Waleses" in fresh spring attire, and the round-faced, merry-looking babies of the Princess of Teck; there were three carriage loads in all. In spite of their being royal little people, the girls seemed immensely pleased by their new gowns of fresh crisp muslin, and especially by their blue silk parasols, which were held at a most conventional angle, and guarded carefully from each other with an air that plainly showed how proud the owners were of their possession.

British Royal Family

British Royal Family

Chiswick was a lovely country house for the children, and occasionally the Princess gave garden parties there. At one of these the famous Shah of Persia was entertained, and an amusing incident is told in connection with his arrival. Although the host and hostess were not to appear at Chiswick until four o'clock, many of the guests had assembled shortly after three. A few ladies were strolling about talking to the little princesses, who with their governesses had been sent out early in the day, when suddenly one of the children exclaimed, "The Shah has come!" And there, sure enough, was his dark Majesty walking across the lawn, his dress, as usual, blazing with diamonds, and, as usual, an expression of weariness or contempt on his face.

"What shall we do with him until the Princess comes?" was the general exclamation among the ladies. Suddenly Mrs. H——, the wife of a well-known M.P., rushed into the house where the servants were preparing the banquet to be served later on the grounds, and asking for a huge plate of strawberries, she returned to the lawn, walked up to the Shah, without word or smile, and held them out to him. His Majesty gravely bowed his thanks, took the plate in his hands, and sitting down under one of the trees, ate them in silence. Thus the dreaded interval was passed; and when the "Goldstream's" band struck up the national anthem, and the Princess of Wales appeared, his Majesty of Persia was in radiant good humor, and prepared to be particularly complimentary to Mrs. H——.

Sandringham HallSandringham Hall, now so well known as the favorite home of the Prince and Princess of Wales, was purchased in 1861. It is situated in a beautiful part of Norfolk, a few miles distant from the shores of the German Ocean, and about five hours from London by rail. The house was a very old one, and in 1870 was almost entirely rebuilt, the park and gardens elaborated, and the quaint little mediaeval church completely restored. At Sandringham the Princess of Wales spent the first weeks of her married life; there she has known her greatest sorrows — her child's death and her husband's terrible illness — and there she has formed her happiest home associations. The Hall is more manor-house than palace. It is a long, irregular building of red brick and stone, with many bay-windows, towers, and gables; the park stretches right and left, a terraced garden lies in front of the main entrance, and the short carriage drive ends with an exquisitely wrought iron gateway. SandringhamThe moment the foot crosses the threshold an impression of "home" is felt. The main hall is like a long wide family parlor, so full is it of comfortable easy-chairs and various personal belongings of the Prince and Princess and their children, souvenirs of travel and of family affection — the Princess's piano, the writing-desk of the Prince, at which he is usually found on his return from shooting — while the Princess, at the daintiest of tables, in the centre of the hall, presides over her " five-o'clock tea." Pictures hang on every side, and the Princess's passion for flowers is evidenced here, as throughout the house; for wherever a fern, or a rose, or a lily, or a bit of green can come to life and bloom, her Royal Highness has it, and the long hall is full of their life and color.

Nearby is General Knolly's business-room, where, as comptroller of the Prince's household, he sees every one who has business at Sandringham. Here Mr. Francis Knolly, the Prince's private secretary, dispatches letters, and here the Prince himself sees in person his tenants or others dependent upon the estate, discussing land improvements, questions of tenantry, etc., with all freely; for at Sandringham the heir-apparent to the throne becomes simply a country gentleman and lord of the manor. To this room the steward, head gardener, and keeper come for personal instructions, and the Prince, we may be sure, knows his duty to the fox as well as to the pheasant.

SandringhamOn the right of the great hall is the library, furnished in blue and light oak. All manner of books of travel are found here, together with many of the Prince's favorite novels, Mrs. Henry Wood and Wilkie Collins sharing the honors with Dickens and Mrs.Oliphant. A second library lies beyond the equerries' room; the latter is the special drawing-room of the gentlemen in quarterly or annual attendance on the Prince and Princess. The equerries, it is well known, are very special friends of their Royal Highnesses, and in spite of certain traditional formalities, they are treated very nearly like members of the family. The Prince's morning-room is on the ground-floor, near the grand reception-rooms, but, unlike them, perfectly simple and home-like in its air and decorations. Prince EdwardThe pale gray walls are adorned with rare old china and with crayon sketches of Highland scenes. A windowed recess is half hidden by a screen covered with family photographs. Flowers bloom here as elsewhere at Sandringham, and some of the blossoms frame a panel painted by Leighton, the president of the Royal Academy. In the same room is a rug made for the Princess by the school-children of Sandringham, on which is spread the skin of a huge tiger shot by the Prince in India. The main drawing-room has a charming outlook across the flower beds and park. It is furnished with stately simplicity, a small conservatory leading from it, while near by is the family dining-room, where in autumn and winter a great wood fire blazes on the open hearth, flashing upon the oaken furniture, warm-colored hangings, and splendid family portraits.

The remainder of the ground-floor is taken up with billiard, smoking, breakfast, and gun rooms. A long bowling-alley, with a ladies' gallery, extends at one side, while the "weapon corridor," in which the instruments of warfare of all periods decorate the walls, looks out through windows closely framed in ivy across the park and to the church.

PRINCESS OF WALES PRINCESS OF WALES

Ascending the staircase, one can not fail to pause before the portrait of the Princess in her riding costume — the dress in which she is so well known to all Norfolk people, for she is a famous horsewoman. Various doors open upon the main hall above, one of which leads into the Princess's exquisite boudoir — a room full of such dainty furnishings, bric-à-brac, flowers, lace, and pink silk draperies that it idealizes one's fancy of a princess's morning-room. Near by is the room in which the Prince fought with death in 1871; it is now the Princess's bedroom, and hung in blue and white, the furnishings more comfortable than stately, while the dressing-room beyond is full of pretty trifles, flowers, and birds, with windows opening widely, and light and comfort combined artistically. Down the hall, near the staircase, is the schoolroom, in which, before they were sent to the ship at Dartmouth, the young princes Albert and George spent some hours daily with their tutor, the Rev. Mr. Dalton. Here again are countless evidences of the Princess's taste in home decoration. The room is made bright and beautiful with pictures, flowers, photographs, shelves of story-books, and objects to amuse as well as instruct. Here the young princesses now spend much of their time, although the great hall below is their favorite play-room at tea-time, which they are fond of calling "mamma's hour."

Life at Sandringham is notably simple. The royal family desire there to be free from much of the tedium of etiquette which restrains their freedom at Marlborough House, in London; and while at all times royalty must be hemmed in by a certain barrier of reserve and formality, there is an effort on the part of hosts and guests to forget weighty distinctions while at Sandringham Hall.

British Royal Family British Royal Family

Invitations are given among a large circle of the Prince's and Princess's friends, and guests are made most comfortable and hospitably welcome. The Princess breakfasts with her children usually; and a friend, well known at Sandringham, has given the writer a pretty word-picture of the graceful, youthful-looking mother at the head of the table pouring coffee, and now and then obliged to let one or other of her "babies" stand beside her plate, and get bits of her roil or toast, which they think better than their own. Any one knowing the extreme informality of an English country-house breakfast can understand the charm of that morning hour at Sandringham, where, surrounded by all that is beautiful in art and fancy, the Princess of Wales appears simple mother and housewife — the Prince opening his letter-bag, the children going from one to another, chatting and laughing, and beginning the day with cheerfulness and home sunshine.

Various out and in door employments occupy the morning hours. The Princes regularly assists the little school attached to the church. She walks, drives, and rides, her slim girlish figure and bright sweet face being familiar to every body in the lanes and cottages about the Hall for miles. Tea-time at Sandringham, as we have intimated, is a very home-like, domestic hour. Of late the ladies of England have adopted a pretty fashion of wearing special dresses for tea-time, and the Princess AlexandraPrincess of Wales appears at five o'clock in one of those exquisite gowns which have given her the reputation of being the best-dressed lady in England. Her tea-table is covered with the finest silver and china, the servants are frequently dispensed with, and one likes to think of the air with which good Queen Charlotte would view the informality of this genial hour. Dinner, of course, ushers in much solemnity; there are also stately occasions of ball and dinner giving; but Sandringham is in no wise like Marlborough House, and at the annual feast and ball to the tenantry the revels are presided over by the royal host and hostess simply in their characters of lord and lady of the manor, while those festive occasions are looked forward to eagerly by the young people, who appear "in society" for the time being, and dance to their hearts' content.

Christmas TreeThe holidays of the two young princes are great days at Sandringham. Amusements of all kinds are devised, and the woods about Sandringham resound with gay young voices, the report of their guns, and merry laughter, while the two boys are immense favorites among the country people — not more brilliant and intelligent lads than the average studious boy of fourteen and fifteen years of age, but said to be gifted with the bonhomie and frankness which distinguish their parents. The writer well remembers seeing them last year on their return for the summer holidays:  two eager, pleasure-expecting school-boys, who chafed at the detention of the express train, and occupied the evil hour with an impromptu luncheon of cakes and oranges and a copy of Punch, while their "gentlemen-in-waiting" were content to beguile the time sauntering up and down the Exeter platform.

Prince Albert VictorThe Princess of Wales is a woman fairly well cultured, but. except in music, is in no degree brilliant. She is the soul of good humor and kindness, but people fond of mournful prophecies are wont to say her reign will not exact the scrupulous observances of Victoria's.  Strictly conscientious in her own conduct, an exacting mother where duty and principle are concerned, she is said to be too indolently easy in regard to the people who form her court — a trait which in itself springs from generosity, but yet is pernicious in one who sets an example to the nation. Her domestic virtues are so many that her home can not fail to be a happy one;  the very gift of which we spoke — her musical ability — is constantly used to create cheerful home influences. She is an excellent theorist in music, reads well, and is quick and intelligent in practice.

  Queen AlexandraQueen Alexandra

London honors its future queen in a very friendly though public way; for on every occasion when she is seen the Princess shows her thorough sympathy with the people. Many like to recall the day when the Princess, driving out with her little eldest boy, was gratified by the immense crowd gathered to see the child who is destined to be their children's sovereign, if he is spared, the people in the distance vainly struggling for a glimpse of "baby royalty." The Princess, then the fairest young mother in the kingdom, stood up in the carriage, and lifted her child high up in her arms, while shouts and cheers filled the air. This sense of personal loyalty has its poetic side, and as a relic of the grace of medieval days is picturesque even to the American mind, which naturally fails to see its political justice or importance. Such concisions to public demonstration become the duty of royalty, and the Princess of Wales has steadily considered the nation's rights. Not a very clever woman, not a brilliant woman, no longer in the first flush of her loveliness, and with her life tinged by some vague sadness, still Alexandra, Princess of Wales, has justly maintained the position in the hearts and admiration of the English people which was given her that spring morning which saw her their Prince's bride.

*For all  personal details of the life at Sandringham, as well as anecdotes of the Princess and her family, the writer is indebted to a constant guest at the royal country house."  . . .  from Harper's Bazar, 1879

 


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