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[Return to PART I: THE LITTLE PRINCESS]

The Young Victoria

Her time in power was the longest of any ruler in British history and became known as the Victorian Era.

 
 

PART II: YOUNG VICTORIA: THE YOUNG QUEEN

 

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria, 1838. Detail from engraving
after Sir George Hayter.

When young Victoria was seventeen and developing into womanhood, the moment evidently approached at which she must assume the crown. Furthermore, it became time to bring the two who had been trained for each other together. In the month of May 1836, Prince Albert, a handsome and nobly gifted boy of seventeen, arrived with his father and brother to pay a visit to the aunt and cousin whom he had never seen. What Prince Albert was is described by Baron Stockmar in a letter written on the eve of this eventful meeting, to the anxious uncle Leopold, now King of the Belgians, whose long-cherished plans were now to be put to the test: “Albert is a fine young fellow, well grown for his age, with agreeable and valuable qualities, and who, if things go well, may in a few years turn out a strong, handsome man, of a kindly, simple, yet dignified demeanor. Externally, therefore, he possesses all that pleases the sex, and at all times, and in all countries, must please.”
 
 
 
The boy was merry and light-hearted, as became his age, full of youthful laughter as well as youthful wisdom, and as capable of keeping his fellow-students in a roar of genial fun as of winning the approbation of the elders. In 1836, the Princess Hohenlohe wrote to the Princess Victoria, “You will like our two Coburg cousins also, I think; they are more manly than I think the two others are, after the description. I am very fond of them both. Ernest is my favourite, although Albert is much handsomer and cleverer too, but Ernest is so honest and good-natured. I shall be very curious to hear your opinion upon them....”

 

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria in 1838.
From the painting by E. Corbould.

 

The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and his sons arrived at Kensington Palace in the end of May. The young Victoria wrote to her uncle, King Leopold, of their arrival, “Uncle Ernest and my cousins arrived here on Wednesday, sains et saufs. Uncle is looking remarkably well, and my cousins are most delightful young people. I will give you no detailed description of them, as you will so soon see them yourself. But I must say, that they are both very amiable, very kind and good, and extremely merry, just as young people should be; with all that, they are extremely sensible, and very fond of occupation. Albert is extremely handsome, which Ernest certainly is not, but he has a most good-natured, honest, and intelligent countenance. We took them to the Opera on Friday, to see the Puritani, and as they are excessively fond of music, like me, they were in perfect ecstasies, having never heard any of the singers before....”

Prince Albert
Prince Albert at age 20.

The young Princess wrote to her uncle again after the departure of her cousins, “I must thank you, my beloved Uncle, for the prospect of great happiness you have contributed to give me, in the person of dear Albert. Allow me, then, my dearest Uncle, to tell you how delighted I am with him, and how much I like him in every way. He possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy. He is so sensible, so kind, and so good, and so amiable too. He has, besides, the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance you can possibly see. I have only now to beg you, my dearest Uncle, to take care of the health of one, now so dear to me, and to take him under your special protection. I hope and trust that all will go on prosperously and well on this subject of so much importance to me.” This romantic mood, however, was soon interrupted by an event announced by the broad black borders of the London newspapers — King William’s death. Princess Victoria was then eighteen, the age at which royal personages attain their majority, and there was happily no question of a Regency.

The young Victoria wrote of the King’s eminent death to King Leopold, “The King's state, I may fairly say, is hopeless; he may perhaps linger a few days, but he cannot recover ultimately. . . . I feel sorry for him; he was always been personally kind to me, and I should be ungrateful and devoid of feeling if I did not remember this. I look forward to the event which it seems is likely to occur soon, with calmness and quietness; I am not alarmed at it, and yet I do not suppose myself quite equal to all; I trust, however, that with good-will, honesty, and courage I shall not, at all events, fail.” The King died during the night, and it is said that the official intimation was made to the Duchess of Kent and her daughter the next morning before five o’clock, the news having been expected for some days. On Tuesday, June 20, 1837, Queen Victoria wrote in her journal of the event:  “I was awoke at 6 o'clock by Mamma, who told me that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here, and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing-gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham (the Lord Chamberlain) then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen. Lord Conyngham knelt down and kissed my hand, at the same time delivering to me the official announcement of the poor King's demise. The Archbishop then told me that the Queen was desirous that he should come and tell me the details of the last moments of my poor good Uncle; he said that he had directed his mind to religion, and had died in a perfectly happy, quiet state of mind, and was quite prepared for his death. He added that the King's sufferings at the last were not very great but that there was a good deal of uneasiness. Lord Conyngham, whom I charged to express my feelings of condolence and sorrow to the poor Queen, returned directly to Windsor. I then went to my room and dressed.”
Young Victoria

The account of the proceedings that followed and the demeanor of the young Queen were published in the Journal of Mr. C. E. Greville:

“The King died at twenty minutes after two yesterday morning, and the young Queen met the Council at Kensington Palace at eleven. Never was anything like the first impression she produced, or the chorus of praise and admiration which is raised about her manner and behavior, and certainly not without justice. It was very extraordinary, and certainly something far beyond what was looked for. Her youth and inexperience, and the ignorance of the world concerning her, naturally excited intense curiosity to see how she would act on this trying occasion, and there was a considerable assemblage at the palace, notwithstanding the short notice that was given. The first thing to be done was to teach her her lesson, which for this purpose Melbourne had himself to learn. I gave him the Council papers, and explained all that was to be done, and he went and explained all this to her. He asked, too, if she would enter the room accompanied by the great officers of state, but she said she would come in alone. When the Lords were assembled, the Lord President informed them of the King’s death, and suggested, as they were so numerous, that a few of them should repair to the presence of the Queen, and inform her of the event, and that their lordships were assembled in consequence; and accordingly the two royal Dukes, the two Archbishops, the Chancellor, and Melbourne went with him. The Queen received them in the adjoining room alone. As soon as they had returned, the proclamation was read, and the usual order passed, when the doors were thrown open, and the Queen entered, accompanied by her two uncles, who advanced to meet her. She bowed to the Lords, took her seat, and then read her speech in a clear, distinct, and audible voice, and without any appearance of fear or embarrassment. She was quite plainly dressed, and in mourning. After she had read her speech, and taken and signed the oath for the security of the Church of Scotland, the Privy Councillors were sworn, the two royal Dukes first by themselves; and as these two old men, her uncles, knelt before her, swearing allegiance and kissing her hand, I saw her blush up to the eyes, as if she felt the contrast between their civil and their natural relations; and this was the only sign of emotion which she evinced. Her manner to them was very graceful and engaging. She kissed them both, rose from her chair, and moved toward the Duke of Sussex, who was farthest from her, and too infirm to reach her. She seemed rather bewildered at the multitude of men who were sworn and who came one after another to kiss her hand; but she did not speak to anybody, nor did she make the slightest difference in her manner, or show any in her countenance, to any individual of any rank, station, or party . . . .  She went through the whole ceremony, occasionally looking at Melbourne for instruction when she had any doubt what to do, which hardly ever occurred, and with perfect calmness and self-possession, but at the same time with a graceful modesty and propriety particularly interesting and ingratiating.”

After this remarkable scene was over, the statesmen, touched and charmed, stood together in a murmur of conversation, talking over this strange young Victoria in the midst of them — a creature so different from the old King who had formerly claimed their often reluctant homage. A new sense of loyalty, mingled with chivalry and paternal tenderness and admiration, rose in their minds. “Peel told me . . . .  how amazed he was at the manner and behavior, at her apparent deep sense of her situation, her modesty, and at the same time her firmness. She appeared, in fact, to be awed, but not daunted, and afterward the Duke of Wellington told me the same thing, and added that if she had been his own daughter he could not have desired to see her perform her part better. It was settled that she was to hold a Council at St. James’s this day, and be proclaimed there at ten o’clock, and she expressed a wish to see Lord Albemarle, who went to her, and told her he was come to take her orders. She said, ‘I have no orders to give; you know all this so much better than I do that I leave it all to you. I am to be at St. James’s at ten tomorrow, and must beg you to find me a conveyance proper for the occasion.’  

royalty

Accordingly he went and fetched her in state with a great escort . . . .  I rode down the Park, and saw her appear at the window when she was proclaimed. The Duchess of Kent was there, but not prominent; the Queen was surrounded by her Ministers, and curtsied repeatedly to the people . . . .  At twelve she held a Council, at which she presided with as much ease as if she had been doing nothing else all her life; and though Lord Lansdowne and my colleague had contrived between them to make some confusion with the Council papers, she was not put out by it. She looked very well; and though so small in stature, and without much pretension to beauty, the gracefulness of her manner and the good expression of her countenance give her, on the whole, a very agreeable appearance, and with her youth inspire an excessive interest in all who approach her, and which I can’t help feeling myself.”

 

Young Victoria
Queen Victoria, 1838. From engraving after Sir George Hayter.
 

We find another description of the presentation at St. James’s — from a very different kind of witness. It is given by Miss Martineau in her published autobiography, and presents another aspect of the scene. The reader will be amused to note the difference between the respectful enthusiasm of the first narrator, who saw and heard at first hand, and was in communication with all those who had the best opportunity of judging, and the patronizing approval of the lady, who had no more than a bystander’s knowledge of the affairs. The coronation took place at Westminster on June 28, 1838. Miss Martineau gives a rather graphic account of the scene:  “The stone architecture contrasted finely with the gay colors of the multitude. From my high seat I commanded the whole north transept, the area with the throne, and many portions of galleries, and the balconies, which were called the vaultings. Except a mere sprinkling of oddities, everybody was in full dress. The scarlet of the military officers mixed in well, and the groups of the clergy were dignified; but to an unaccustomed eye the prevalence of court dresses had a curious effect. I was perpetually taking whole groups of gentlemen for Quakers, till I recollected myself. The Earl Marshals assistants, called Goldsticks, looked well from above, lightly flitting about in white breeches, silk stockings, blue laced frocks, and white sashes. The throne-covered, as was its footstool, with cloth of gold stood on an elevation of four steps in the centre of the area. The first peeress took her seat in the north transept opposite at a quarter to seven; and three of the bishops came next. From that time the peers and their ladies arrived faster and faster. Each peeress was conducted by two Gold-sticks, one of whom handed her to her seat, and the other bore and arranged her train on her lap, and saw that her coronet, footstool, and book were comfortably placed. . . .  About nine the first gleams of the sun started into the Abbey, and presently travelled down to the peeresses. I had never before seen the full effect of diamonds. As the light travelled, each lady shone out as a rainbow. The brightness, vastness, and dreamy magnificence of the scene produced a strange effect of exhaustion and sleepiness . . . . The guns told when the Queen set forth and there was unusual animation. The Goldsticks flitted about; there was tuning in the orchestra; and the foreign ambassadors and their suites arrived in quick succession. Prince Esterhazy, crossing a bar of sun-shine, was the most prodigious rainbow of all. He was covered with diamonds and pearls, and as he dangled his hat, it cast a dazzling radiance all round . . . . At half past eleven the guns told that the Queen had arrived; but as there was much to be done in the robing-room, there was a long pause before she appeared. A burst from the orchestra marked her appearance at the doors, and the anthem I was glad rang through the Abbey. Everybody rose . . . . The ‘God Save the Queen’ of the organ swelled gloriously forth after the recognition. The acclamation when the crown was put on her head was very animated; and in the midst of it, in an instant of time, the peeresses were all coroneted . . . . The homage was as pretty a sight as any — trains of peers touching her crown and then kissing her hand.” The Queen herself looked “small,” though regal in the cloth-of-gold mantle, the center of that entire glittering crowd.

Young Victoria
Queen Victoria in 1838.
From a painting by Thomas Sully.
 

While all these pageants were going on, however, and everything flashing into splendor, turning into gold at the touch of her small hand, the immediate circle of advisers and friends around the young sovereign fed her with no flatteries or foolish exultation. Her mother, who had watched over her so closely, now withdrew, as etiquette and necessity required, from at least the constant companionship in which they had previously lived. But Baron Stockmar remained at the Queen’s elbow, the private representative of his royal master and friend, King Leopold; and that anxious guardian himself never abated his vigilance, watching over every step his young niece took, and always ready to counsel her. And from this wise uncle to the young cousin, Albert, setting out upon his travels, who had heard of her elevation with a beating heart, the entire friendly princely circle breathed exhortation to duty and conscientious endeavor in the young Queens ear. “Now you are Queen of the mightiest land in Europe; in your hand lies the happiness of millions,” said young Prince Albert in his letter of congratulation. He was going to Italy, with the freedom of a life less burdened, less full of splendor than hers, yet not without a thought that his very travels would sometime to be of service to her. “May Heaven assist you,” he adds, “and strengthen you with its strength in that high and difficult task!”

 

And finally, the letter written by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria on June 26 1837, six days after she became the Queen of England:

My Dearest Cousin,

I must write to you a few lines to present you my sincerest felicitations to that great change, which took place with your life. Now you are Queen of the mightiest land of Europe, in your hand lies the happiness of millions. Heaven may assist you and strengthen you with its strength to that high, but difficult task. I wish that your reign might be long, happy and glorious and that your efforts might be rewarded by the thankfulness and love of your subjects.

May I pray you to think likewise now some times of your cousins in Bonn and to keep them that kindness you infavoured them till now? Be assured that our minds are always with you.

                I will not be immodest and abuse of your time. Believe me always,

Your Majesty, most obedient servant and faithful cousin,

Albert.

 

Edited and compiled from:

Queen Victoria, Harper's Magazine, July 1880.
Queen Victoria, by Lytton Strachey. 1921.
The Letters of Queen Victoria: A Selection from Her Majesty's Correspondence between the Years 1837 and 1861 - Vol.1, by Queen Victoria, Arthur Christopher Benson, Viscount Esher.
The Womanly Side of Victoria, by Arthur Warren. Ladies Home Journal, May 1894.

 

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