IN the long and chequered annals of tlie British Empire two reigns have been especially illustrious, and in both those reigns a woman wielded the scepter of England. Probably there is no age more brilliant in history than that of the "Maiden Queen." The age of Elizabeth was an epoch of lofty genius and many-sided power. Invincible in arms, it was also transcendent in intellect.
The other noble epoch in British history is that associated with the reign of Queen Victoria. If in the Elizabethan age literature reached its culminating point of splendor, and the fame of England's prowess traveled beyond the seas, the Victorian age has, on the other hand, witnessed an expansion of England that would have seemed incredible to our ancestors, while the triumphs of science and the arts, and the progress of the people are without a parallel in the history of the world. In these various developments, as in all that concerned the welfare and happiness of her people, Victoria took a deep and continuous interest; and it was vouchsafed to her, as it has been vouchsafed to few sovereigns, to look back upon a long period of beneficent government, whose record is written large in the history of Britain. And now that she has passed away, the hearts of all her subjects, and of the civilized world, pay homage to her memory and give grateful voice to the beneficence of her pure life and noble reign.
An ideal sovereign, besides his or her private joys and sorrows, bears in remembrance those of the people; and such a sovereign has Queen Victoria been from the time when, still youthful in years, she assumed her high destiny as ruler of the English people to the present year of grace, which is not the least memorable in a memorable reign.
Her Majesty was born at Kensington Palace on the 24th of May, 1819. She was the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent, and her Serene Highness Victoria Mary Louisa, daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg Saalfeld, widow of Emich Charles, Prince of Leiningen, and sister of Prince Leopold.
The little Princess was baptized on the 24th of June in the grand saloon of Kensington Palace. The Archbishop of Canterbury performed the ceremony, and the child received the names of Alexandrina Victoria. There seemed little probability that the child thus ushered into the world would ever become Queen of England. The Duke of Kent was the fourth son of George III.; but a series of unexpected changes soon brought his daughter near the throne. Upon the death of the deeply lamented Princess Charlotte, the only child of George IV., the Duke of York had become heir presumptive to the crown. His Royal Highness had no children, however, and the Duke of Clarence, the third son of George III., came next in succession. The Duke of Clarence had married, and his wife, the Princess Adelaide, bore him a daughter, who, if she had lived, would, in the natural order of things, have become Queen. But this child died in infancy, leaving the Princess Victoria the only scion of the royal stock.
The Duke and Duchess of Kent, with their infant daughter, went to Sidmouth, on the east coast of Devon, at the close of 1819. The stay there was destined to have a sad and fatal termination. The Duke was seized with a severe indisposition, occasioned by delaying to change his wet boots after a walk through the snow. Affection for his child had drawn him to the nursery immediately on reaching home. To a severe chill succeeded inflammation of the chest, with high fever, which resulted fatally. The Duke was perhaps more highly esteemed than any other son of George III. His public conduct was judicious and self-sacrificing. In the army he initiated many healthful reforms. After he ceased from active service in it, he interested himself in humanitarian movements of all kinds, especially devoting himself to the cause of the widow and orphan. The result was that he became known as the "Popular Duke," and no royal personage ever better deserved the title. He was of regular and temperate habits, kind to all, and the firm friend of those who put their trust in him. His generosity was such that it frequently outran discretion, causing embarrassment to himself; but the poor had the benefit of it. I find that the Duke was officially connected with sixty-two societies, every one of which was devoted to some noble, religious, or charitable object. The personal virtues of the Duke, the love he bore his country, and the untiring exertions he displayed in the cause of philanthropy and religion, justly gave him a high place in the affections of his fellow-countrymen. It was auspicious that the Queen should have such a father, for many of his traits, with the gentleness and uprightness which distinguished the mother, descended in large measure upon the child.
Two days after the death of the Duke, the Duchess of Kent, accompanied by her babe and her brother, Prince Leopold, set out for London. Where all was sad and mournful there was one gleam of sunshine, for the infant, "being held up at the carriage window to bid the assembled population of Sidmouth farewell, sported and laughed joyously, and patted the glasses with her pretty dimpled hands, in happy unconsciousness of her melancholy bereavement." The Duchess arrived at Kensington Palace on the 29th of January, and on that very day the Prince Regent succeeded to the throne by the death of his father. The likeness of the Duke of York to her lost father deceived the little Princess Victoria, and when the former came on his visit of condolence, and also subsequently, she stretched out her hands to him in the belief that he was her father. The Duke was deeply touched by the appeal, and, clasping the child to his bosom, he promised to be indeed a father to her. Many addresses of condolence were received by the Duchess, and as she generally received them with her infant in her arms, there was frequently a painful contrast witnessed between the tear-stained face of the mother and the happy, smiling countenance of the daughter. Interesting stories are told of the times when Princess Victoria appeared, at fifteen months old, in a child's phaeton, tied safely to the vehicle with a broad ribbon around her waist.
The baby liked to be noticed, and answered all who spoke to her. She would say, "Lady," and "Good morning," and, when told, would hold out her soft, dimpled hand to be kissed. "Her large blue eyes, beautiful bloom, and fair complexion made her a model of infantine beauty." On one occasion she was nearly killed by the upsetting of the pony carriage. A private soldier, named Maloney, claimed the honor of having saved England's future sovereign. He was walking through Kensington Gardens one day when he saw a pony carriage in which was seated a child. The pony was led by a page, a lady walked on one side of the chaise and a young woman on the other. Suddenly the pony became frightened and plunged forward, throwing the child out, head-downward. In a moment it would have been crushed beneath the weight of the carriage had not Maloney grasped her dress before she touched the ground and swung her into his arms. He restored her to the lady, and was told to follow the carriage to the Palace, where he received a guinea and the thanks of the Duchess of Kent for saving the life of her dear child, the Princess Alexandrina.
The widowed Duchess resolved that her child should be brought up under her own eye, and to this work she religiously devoted herself. "A few months after the birth of my child," said the Duchess, describing her situation at this time, "my infant and myself were awfully deprived of father and husband. We stood alone, almost friendless and unknown, in this country. I could not even speak the language of it. I did not hestitate how to act. I gave up my home, my kindred, and other duties, to devote myself to a duty which was to be the sole object of my future life." And an admirable home training, after the best of English traditions, was the result of this devotion. Simplicity of diet, regularity of hours, and no excitement were the main principles upon which the Duchess proceeded in rearing her offspring.
The life at Kensington was as simple as that of any English household. "The family party met at breakfast at eight o'clock in summertime, the Princess Victoria having her bread and milk and fruit on a little table by her mother's side. After breakfast, the Princess Feodore studied with her governess, Baroness Lehzen, and the Princess Victoria went out for an hour's walk or drive. From ten to twelve her mother instructed her; after which she amused herself by running through the suite of rooms which extended round two sides of the palace, and in which were many of her toys. At two came a plain dinner, while the Duchess took her luncheon. After this, lessons again till four, then would come a visit or a drive; and after that the Princess would ride or walk in the gardens; or occasionally, on very fine evenings, the whole party would sit out on the lawn under the trees. At the time of her mother's dinner, the Princess had her supper, and after playing games with her nurse, she would join in the dessert, and at nine she would retire to her bed, which was placed by the side of her mother's."
King George IV. presented the Princess on her fourth birthday with a superb token of remembrance, being a miniature portrait of himself richly set in diamonds. He also gave a State dinner party to the Duchess and her daughter. In the following year, in response to a message from his Majesty, Parliament voted an annual grant of £6,000 to the Duchess of Kent for the education of the young Princess.
After six years spent under the care of her tutors, the Princess could lay claim to considerable accomplishments. Owing to the exercise of unusual natural abilities, she could speak French and German with fluency, and was acquainted with Italian; she had made some progress in Latin, being able to read Virgil and Horace with ease; she had commenced Greek, and studied mathematics, in which difficult science she evinced much proficiency; and she had likewise made considerable progress in music and drawing.
Occasionally the child longed for companions of her own age, and a delightful anecdote is related in illustration of this. As the youthful Princess took great delight in music, her mother sent for a noted child performer of the day, called Lyra, to amuse her with her remarkable performances on the harp. On one occasion, while the young musician was playing one of her favorite airs, the Duchess of Kent, perceiving how deeply her daughter's attention was engrossed with the music, left the room for a few minutes. When she returned she found the harp deserted. The heiress of England had beguiled the juvenile minstrel from her instrument by the display of some of her costly toys, and the children were discovered "seated side by side on the hearthrug in a state of high enjoyment, surrounded by the Princess's playthings, from which she was making the most liberal selections for the acceptance of poor little Lyra."
Her Royal Highness was a beautiful child, with a cherubic form of features, clustered round by glossy, fair ringlets. Her complexion was remarkably transparent, with a soft but often heightening tinge of the sweet blush-rose upon her cheeks, that imparted a peculiar brilliancy to her clear blue eyes. Whenever she met any strangers in her usual paths she always seemed, by the quickness of her glance, to inquire who and what they were. The intelligence of her countenance was extraordinary at her very early age; but might easily be accounted for on perceiving the extraordinary intelligence of her mind."
She bore a very striking resemblance to her late royal father, and indeed to every member of the reigning family. Charles Knight, in his Passages of a Working Life, furnishes a glimpse of the Princess as he saw her in 1827. "I delighted to walk in Kensington Gardens," he observes. "As I passed along the broad central walk I saw a group on the lawn before the palace, which to my mind was a vision of exquisite loveliness. The Duchess of Kent and her daughter, whose years then numbered nine, are breakfasting in the open air — a single page attending upon them at a respectful distance; the matron looking on with eyes of love, whilst the fair, soft English face is bright with smiles. What a beautiful characteristic it seemed to me of the training of this royal girl, that she should not have been taught to shrink from the public eye; that she should not have been burdened with a premature conception of her probable high destiny; that she should enjoy the freedom and simplicity of a child's nature; that she should not be restrained when she starts up from the breakfast table and runs to gather a flower in the adjoining parterre; that her merry laugh should be as fearless as the notes of the thrush in the groves around her. I passed on, and blessed her; and I thank God that I have lived to see the golden fruits of such training."
A tender consideration for others was inculcated systematically upon the young Princess, and the effects of it were manifest throuofh her whole life.
Considering the principles in which she was reared, there was no wonder that the Princess developed from a dutiful daughter into a loving wife, a vigilant mother, a kind mistress, a generous benefactor, and an exemplary Christian. She had been schooled in habits of sobriety and religion, and the sentiments of obedience and self-control, which were from the first impressed upon her, bore their legitimate fruit in afterlife.
The Princess was an excellent singer, and had for her master the famous Lablache. She was also a good dancer, and excelled in archery. But of all outdoor exercises she was most passionately fond of that of riding. She was much devoted to the animals that bore her, from a favorite donkey presented to her by her uncle, the Duke of York, to the pony which carried her in her latest Highland excursions.
"The sweet spring of the Princess's life was dedicated to the sowing of all precious seeds of knowledge, and the cultivation of all elegant acquirements; in the midst of indigenous flowers which everywhere sought her eager eye, imparting the sportive gladness of the ever gay butterfly to her youthful spirit, just awakened into this beautiful world — a reflection of Paradise! The heavenward lark was also in that infant bosom, for, young as she was, she sang with sweetness and taste."The Princess had a ready wit. On one occasion her teacher had been reading her the story of Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi — how she proudly presented her sons to the first of Roman ladies, with the words, "These are my jewels." "She should have said, 'my Cornelians,'" immediately remarked the Princess." Of course the "divinity that doth hedge a king" extends in popular eyes in some degree to a princess, and the people are apt only to look on the roseate side. But none knows better than the Queen herself that human nature is a complex thing, and that however much we may desire perfection, there is a good deal of the old leaven of imperfection in every one. So the Princess Victoria, noble in character as she was, exhibited some of those imperfections which no child is without.
The Princess was impulsive, sometimes not a little willful and imperious; but the affections being strong and the head well trained, these matters always righted themselves, and the young offender was herself quick to acknowledge the wrong. She had an ingrained sense of justice which could always redress the balance.
The first grief which the Princess was able to appreciate to the full arose from the death of the Duke of York. The Princess was at this time in her eighth year, and as she had ever experienced great kindness and affection at the hands of her uncle, his loss affected her keenly. The Duke of York and the Duchess of Clarence were the two members of the royal family toward whom her youthful heart was most strongly drawn out. At the time of the Duke's death she was unconscious that his demise brought her one step nearer the throne.
The gayeties of Court life were first brought within the actual apprehension of the future Queen in 1828, when she was in her tenth year. At a Drawing Room held during the season the Princess had an opportunity of observing how a queen but little older than herself was received with royal honors at the Court of George IV. This young sovereign was Donna Maria da Gloria, Queen of Portugal. The two children had previously exchanged some formal State visits, but official etiquette did not admit of a close intimacy. The first occasion on which the Princess Victoria danced in public was at a juvenile ball given by the King to Donna Maria. The young Queen presented an appearance of great splendor, for her dress blazed with all the jewels of the Portuguese crown; she was surrounded by her Court, and was led to the ballroom by the hand of the King himself.
Little Victoria was dazzled by so much magnificence, but, as a chronicler of the scene remarks, "the elegant simplicity of the attire and manners of the British heiress formed a strong contrast to the glare and glitter around the precocious queen. These royal young ladies danced in the same quadrille, and though the performance of Donna Maria was greatly admired, all persons of refined taste gave the preference to the modest graces of the English-bred Princess."
The portraits of the Princess Victoria, executed during her infancy and childhood, are somewhat numerous. Sir William Beechey painted a picture in oil, representing the Duchess seated on a sofa upon which her young daughter stood beside her, and this painting is in the possession of the King of the Belgians. Turnerelli, the sculptor, executed an excellent bust of the Princess when she was in her third year, and in 1827 Mr. Behnes produced a marble bust, which is now in one of the corridors of Windsor Castle. It was justly regarded as one of the most beautiful specimens of sculpture ever exhibited in the British schools of art, the likeness being perfect, the features delicately portrayed, and the expression admirable. Mr. Fowler, an artist of Ramsgate, executed two portraits of the Princess, one in her ninth year. Mr. Westall, R. A., painted a trustworthy full-length portrait of the Princess as she appeared when in her twelfth year.
It was not until the spring of 1830 that the Princess Victoria became aware of her nearness to the British throne. One account states that she was reading English history with her governess, the Baroness Lehzen, and in the presence of her mother when some question arose in connection with the succession to the crown. The point had probably been purposely suggested. Her Royal Highness studied her genealogical table for some time; and the account thus proceeds, the discussion being opened by a question from the Princess:
The Baroness parried the question by the reply: "The Duke of Clarence will succeed on the death of the present King."
"Yes," said the Princess, "that I know; but who will succeed him?"
The governess, who saw the bearing of the inquiry, hesitated a moment, and then, answered, "Princess, you have several uncles!"
Her Royal Highness now became agitated; the color rose rapidly to her cheek, and she observed with much seriousness, "True, I have; but I perceive here," pointing to her table, "that my papa was next in age to my uncle Clarence; and it does appear to me, from what I have just been reading, that when he and the present King are both dead, I shall become Queen of England!"
The Baroness looked silently toward the mother of the Princess, who, after a short pause, replied to the following effect:
"We are continually looking forward, my beloved child, in the hope that your dear aunt, the Duchess of Clarence, may yet give birth to living children. Should it please God, however, that this be not the case, and that you are spared to the period, very distant I trust, which terminates the valuable lives of our revered Sovereign and the Duke of Clarence you will indeed, by the established laws of our country, become their undoubted successor. Should this event — at present too remote and uncertain to engage our attention, further than to stimulate our endeavors so to form your mind as to render you not unworthy so high a destiny — should this event indeed occur, may you prove a blessing to your country and an ornament to the throne you are called to fill!"
When William IV. ascended the throne in 1830, [When his brother, George IV, died in 1830, the Duke of Clarence became king.] it became necessary to provide for the contingency of the Princess Victoria's accession before attaining the age of eighteen, that being the period of her majority. A Regency Bill was introduced by Lord Lyndhurst, but a change of Government occurring before it was carried, it devolved upon Lord Brougham, the Lord Chancellor in Lord Grey's Administration, to take up and adopt the measure. The position was a singular one, because Parliament had to contemplate the possibility that William IV might die leaving a posthumous child. Lord Brougham could not find a parallel case in English history since the death of Geoffrey, son of Henry II, who left a son, Prince Arthur, whose claims were thrust aside by the usurpation of King John. The possibility of posthumous issue in William's case having been provided for, the Bill passed both houses and became law. The Duchess of Kent was named guardian of the infant Princess and Regent of the kingdom, but she was to be assisted by a Council of Regency drawn from the royal family and the Ministers of State. Some months afterward further provision was made for the education and maintenance of the Princess, and for the support of her honor and dignity as heiress presumptive — £10,000 a year was voted, in addition to the annual grant of £6,000.
Edward Augustus HANOVER, Duke of Kent
Birth : 2 NOV 1767, Buckingham House, London, England
Death : 23 JAN 1820, Sidmouth, Devon, England
Father : George III HANOVER, King of England
Mother : (Sophia) Charlotte
Marriage : 11 JUL 1818, Kew Palace
Victoria HANOVER, Queen of England
NOTES: Duke of Kent and Strathern, 4th son of George III. Because William IV had no legitimate children, his niece Victoria became heir apparent to the British crown upon his accession in 1830.