THE illness which prevented King William IV. from taking part in the birthday festivities of the Princess Victoria developed rapidly towards the close of the month of May. His Majesty exhibited signs of great debility and exhaustion, with oppression of breathing; and he had lost the power of walking. Preparations had been made to convey him to Brighton for change of air early in June, but these had to be abandoned. On the 9th he experienced some relief from the most distressing symptoms, and transacted business with Sir Herbert Taylor. All who came in contact with the King observed how his illness had refined him and made him gentle and resigned. Indeed, his unwearied patience and cheerfulness excited the admiration and astonishment of all who had opportunity of witnessing them. All his sailor-like bluntness of speech had disappeared. On the morning of the 16th he observed to the Queen: "I have had some quiet sleep; come and pray with me, and thank the Almighty for it." When the King's devotions were over, the Queen said: "And shall I not pray to the Almighty that you may have a good day?" To which his majesty replied: "Oh, do! I wish I could live ten years for the sake of my country. I feel it my duty to keep well as long as I can."
By Sunday, the 18th, the King's illness had become so alarming that only a fatal result could be apprehended. Nevertheless, he transacted official business, and his last act of sovereignty was to sign a free pardon to a condemned criminal. Shortly afterwards the Archbishop of Canterbury attended, and administered the sacrament to the King and Queen, the former appearing calm and collected, and his attitude being one of humility and gratitude to God. Early on the morning of this day the King had remembered that it was the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, and he had said to Dr. Chambers: "Let me but live over this memorable day; I shall never live to see another sunset." Dr. Chambers answered: "I hope your Majesty may live to see many." To which the King replied in a phrase which he commonly employed: "Oh! that is quite another thing." When he awoke on the morning of the 19th the King remarked to the Queen, "I shall get up once more to do the business of the country;" and as he was wheeled in his chair from the bedroom to the dressing-room, he looked with a gracious smile on the Queen's attendants, who were standing in tears near the door, and said, "God bless you!" and waved his hand. When the Archbishop came and read the Service for the Sick, and the Articles of Faith, the King, though much exhausted, enunciated with distinct and solemn emphasis the words, "All this I steadfastly believe." For the first time the Queen was now overpowered by the weight of her affliction. The King perceived her emotion, and said in a tone of encouragement, "Bear up, bear up." Once or twice during the day he raised his eyes and exclaimed: "Thy will be done." When the Archbishop left him for the last time he said to the King: "My best prayers are offered up for your Majesty;" whereupon the dying monarch replied, with feeble yet distinct utterance: "Believe me, I am a religious man." At twelve minutes past two on the morning of the 20th, the King passed away, leaving behind him the memory of a sovereign who was just and upright, while as a man he was a sincere friend, a forgiving enemy, and a gracious and indulgent master. His defects were mainly surface defects, and these were forgotten in the wide and genuine tribute called forth by his sterling virtues.
The King is dead! God save the Queen! To the veteran of three score and ten has succeeded the maiden of eighteen. The manner in which the young Sovereign received the news of her accession is extremely interesting. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain left Windsor immediately after the King's death, posting to Kensington Palace, to inform the Princess Victoria of the melancholy event. They did not reach Kensington until five o'clock in the morning. They knocked, they rang, they thumped for a considerable time before they could rouse the porter at the gate. They were again kept waiting in the courtyard, then turned into one of the lower rooms, where they seemed forgotten by everybody. They rang the bell, and desired that the attendant of the Princess Victoria might be sent to inform her Royal Highness that they desired an audience on business of importance. After another delay and another ringing to inquire the cause, the attendant was summoned, who stated that the Princess was in such a sweet sleep that she could not venture to disturb her. Then they said: "We are come on business of State to the Queen, and even her sleep must give way to that." It did; and to prove that she did not keep them waiting, in a few minutes she came into the room in a loose white nightgown and shawl, her nightcap thrown off, and her hair falling upon her shoulders, her feet in slippers, tears in her eyes, but perfectly collected and dignified.
On being informed of her new dignity, the first words which the young Queen uttered were: "I ask your prayers on my behalf". They knelt down together, and Victoria inaugurated her reign, like the young King of Israel in the olden time, by asking from the Most High, who ruleth over the kingdoms of men, an understanding heart to judge so great a people.
Another incident which redounds to the honor of the youthful Sovereign is recorded. The first act of her life as Queen was to write a letter, breathing the purest and tenderest feelings of affection and condolence, to Queen Adelaide. Her manner of doing it evinced a spirit of generosity and consideration which obtained for her golden opinions everywhere. Her Majesty wrote the letter spontaneously, and having finished it, folded and addressed it to "Her Majesty the Queen." Someone in her presence, who had a right to make the remark, noticing this, mentioned that the superscription was not correct, and that the letter ought to be addressed to "Her Majesty the Queen Dowager." "I am quite aware," said Queen Victoria, "of her Majesty's altered character; but I will not be the first person to remind her of it."
The Queen's first Privy Council was held at Kensington Palace on the morning of the 21st. Her extreme 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 which was given. The first thing to be done was to teach her her lesson, which for this purpose Melbourne had himself to learn.
Melbourne asked the Queen if she would enter the room accompanied by the great officers of State, but she said she would go 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 of Cumberland and Sussex, the two Archbisops, the Lord 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 was quite plainly dressed, and in mourning. The Queen bowed to the lords, took her seat, and then, in a clear, distinct, and audible voice, and without any appearance of fear or embarrassment, she read the following declaration to the Council: "The severe and afflicting loss which the nation has sustained by the death of his Majesty, my beloved uncle, has devolved upon me the duty of administering the government of this empire. This awful responsibility is imposed upon me so suddenly, and at so early a period of my life, that I should feel myself utterly oppressed by the burden, were I not sustained by the hope that Divine Providence, which has called me to this work, will give me strength for the performance of it, and that I shall find in the purity of my intentions, and in my zeal for the public welfare, that support and those resources which usually belong to a more mature age and to long experience. I place my firm reliance upon the wisdom of Parliament, and upon the loyalty and affection of my people. I esteem it also a peculiar advantage, that I succeed to a Sovereign whose constant regard for the rights and liberties of his subjects, and whose desire to promote the amelioration of the laws and institutions of the country, have rendered his name the object of general attachment and veneration."
"Educated in England, under the tender and enlightened care of a most affectionate mother, I have learned from my infancy to respect and love the Constitution of my native country.
"It will be my unceasing study to maintain the Reformed religion as by law established, securing at the same time to all the full enjoyment of religious liberty; and I shall steadily protect the rights and promote to the utmost of my power the happiness and welfare of all classes of my subjects."
After she had read her speech and taken and signed the oath for the security of the Church of Scotand, 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, and rose from her chair, and moved towards 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 rank, station, or party. I particularly watched her when Melbourne and the Ministers and the Duke of Wellington and Peel approached her. She went through the whole ceremony— occasionally looking at Melbourne for instruction when she had any doubt what to do, which hardly ever occurred— with perfect calmness and self-possession.
The Princess Victoria was formally proclaimed Queen of Great Britain and Ireland on the 21st of June, from St. James's Palace. Long before the hour fixed for the ceremony all the avenues to the palace were crowded, every balcony, window, and elevated position being filled with spectators. The space in the quadrangle, in front of the window at which her Majesty was to appear, was crowded with ladies and gentlemen, and even the parapets above were filled with people. The great Irish agitator, O'Connell, in the front line opposite the windows, attracted considerable attention by waving his hat and cheering most vehemently.
The guns in the park fired a salute at ten o'clock, and immediately afterwards the Queen made her appearance at the window of the Presence Chamber.
She stood between Lords Melbourne and Lansdowne, and was received with deafening cheers. Her mother also, who was close behind her, received most cordial plaudits. The Queen looked very fatigued and pale, but returned the repeated cheers with which she was greeted with remarkable ease and dignity. She was dressed in deep mourning, with a white tippet, white cuffs, and a border of white lace under a small black bonnet, which was placed far back on her head, exhibiting her light hair in front simply parted over her forehead. The Queen and the Duchess of Kent regarded the proceedings with much interest. As her Majesty appeared at the window the band of the Royal Guards struck up the National Anthem. On its conclusion. Sir William Woods, acting for the Garter King-at-Arms, and accompanied by the Duke of Norfolk as Earl Marshal of England, read aloud the proclamation containing the official announcement of the death of King William IV., and of the consequent accession of Queen Victoria to the throne of these realms. The proclamation was as follows:
"Whereas it has pleased Almighty God to call to His mercy our late sovereign lord, King William the Fourth, of blessed and glorious memory, by whose decease the imperial crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is solely and rightfully come to the high and mighty Princess Alexandrina Victoria (saving the rights of any issue of his late Majesty King William the Fourth which may be born of his late Majesty's consort): We, therefore, the lords spiritual and temporal of this realm, being here assisted with those of his late Majesty's Privy Council, with numbers of others, principally gentlemen of quality, with the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and citizens of London, do now hereby, with one voice and consent of tongue and heart, publish and proclaim that the high and mighty Princess Alexandrina Victoria is now, by the death of our late Sovereign of happy memory, become our only lawful and rightful liege lady, Victoria, by the grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, saving as aforesaid: To whom, saving as aforesaid, we do acknowledge all faith and constant obedience, with all hearty and humble affection, beseeching God, by whom kings and queens do reign, to bless the royal Princess Victoria with long and happy years to reign over us. God save the Queen!" While the proclamation was being read there was considerable movement among the crowd, who continued to cheer and cry, "God save the Queen!" Her Majesty stood during the whole rehearsal of the proclamation. She was deeply affected at the acclamations which rent the air, and was observed to shed tears.
One result of the Queen's accession escaped without comment in almost all the journals. The descent of the English crown to a female necessitated the separation from it of the kingdom of Hanover, which, according to Salic law, passed to the Queen's uncle, Ernest, Duke of Cumberland.
Her Majesty's first assumption of royalty in the Council Chamber at Kensington Palace formed the subject of a historical picture by Sir David Wilkie. In that picture the "Maiden Queen" is seen at the head of the table, while at the foot, facing her, is the Duke of Sussex in his black velvet skull-cap. Other noticeable figures in the group are those of the great Chancellor Lyndhurst; Brougham, the clever and indiscreet, with his restless features ceaselessly in action; and the Duke of Wellington.
The Queen took up her residence at Buckingham Palace on the 13th of July, and four days later she went in State to dissolve Parliament. An immense concourse of persons witnessed the procession, and the cheering all along the route was most deafening. As she entered the house all the peers and peeresses present rose at the flourish of trumpets, and remained standing. Her Majesty was attired in a splendid white satin robe, with the ribbon of the Garter crossing her shoulder, and a magnificent tiara of diamonds on her head, and a necklace and stomacher of large and costly brilliants. When she had ascended the throne and taken her seat. Lord Melbourne, who stood close to her right hand, whispered to her that it was customary to desire the peers and the peeresses to be seated; whereupon her Majesty, in rather a low voice, and bowing condescendingly, said, "My lords, be seated."
The usual formalities having been gone through, the Queen read her first speech from the throne. The closing passages of this document, which breathed of the constitutional spirit that has marked the whole course of her Majesty's reign, ran as follows: "I ascend the throne with a deep sense of the responsibility which is imposed upon me; but I am supported by the consciousness of my own right intentions, and by my dependence upon the protection of Almighty God. It will be my care to strengthen our institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, by discreet improvement wherever improvement is required, and to do all in my power to compose and allay animosity and discord. Acting upon these principles, I shall upon all occasions look with confidence to the wisdom of Parliament and the affections of my people, which form the true support of the dignity of the Crown, and ensure the stability of the Constitution."
Her Majesty read the speech deliberately, and with a sweet voice which was heard all over the House, while a natural grace and modest self-possession characterized her demeanor. Fanny Kemble, who was present on this historic occasion, thus wrote concerning its central figure: "The Queen was not handsome, but very pretty, and the singularity of her great position lent a sentimental and poetic charm to her youthful face and figure. The serene, serious sweetness of her candid brow and clear soft eyes gave dignity to the girlish countenance; while the want of height only added to the effect of extreme youth of the round but slender person, and gracefully moulded hands and arms. The Queen's voice was exquisite, nor have I ever heard any spoken words more musical in their gentle distinctness than "My Lords and Gendemen," which broke the breathless silence of the illustrious assembly, whose gaze was riveted on that fair flower of royalty. The enunciation was as perfect as the intonation was melodious, and I think it is impossible to hear a more excellent utterance than that of the Queen's English by the English Queen."
Soon after her Majesty's accession she was called upon to sign her first death-warrant. It was presented to her by the Duke of Wellington, and concerned a deserter who had been condemned to death by court-martial. The Queen, with tears in her eyes, asked, "Have you nothing to say in behalf of this man?"
"Nothing; he has deserted three times," replied the Duke.
*'Oh, your Grace, think again!"
"Well, your Majesty," said the brave veteran, "though he is certainly a very bad soldier, some witnesses spoke for his character, and, for aught I know to the contrary he may be a good man!"
"Oh, thank you for that a thousand times!" exclaimed the Queen; and writing "pardoned" on the paper, she pushed it across the table to the Duke, her hand trembling with emotion.
Another anecdote also deserves to be recorded. It was told by Lord Melbourne. Immediately she was in a position to do so, she said to the Prime Minister: "I want to pay all that remain of my father's debts. I'll just do it. I consider it a sacred duty." Lord Melbourne said that the earnestness and directness of that good daughter's manner, when speaking of her father, brought the tears into his eyes. The Duke of Kent had not had a very large allowance, considering his position and his natural generosity, which caused him to contribute beyond his means to excellent institutions of all kinds. However, the Queen never rested until all his liabilities had been conscientiously discharged.
The Queen was exceedingly popular with all classes. At one time, when some foolish person talked of deposing "the all but infant Queen" and putting the Duke of Cumberland in her place, O'Connell said: "If necessary, I can get 500,000 brave Irishmen to defend the life, the honor, and the person of the beloved young lady by whom England's throne is now filled." Occasionally the devotion of her admirers was somewhat embarrassing. This was especially so in the case of a gentleman who, for some time before the Queen left Kensington Palace, labored under the delusion that he was one day destined to marry her Majesty. His attentions became very annoying, and on one occasion he actually succeeded in writing his name in the visiting-book, only to be erased, however, as soon as the autograph was discovered. Although a gentleman of means, he would actively assist the workmen in weeding the piece of water in Kensington Gardens, in the hope of obtaining a sight of her Majesty; and every evening he would wait in his phaeton in the Uxbridge Road until the Queen's carriage appeared in sight, when he would follow it in whatever direction it might proceed.
On the 22nd of August the Queen removed with her Court to Windsor Castle, where a week later she received her uncle the King of the Belgians and his consort, Queen Louise. Later in the autumn her Majesty visited Brighton, returning to London on the 4th of November.
There was a magnificent pageant on the occasion of her first visit to the City as Queen, on Lord Mayor's Day, the 9th of November. A general holiday was observed that day in London, and crowds of persons assembled along the whole route from Buckingham Palace to the Guildhall. The Queen sat in the royal state carriage, attended by the Duchess of Sutherland as Mistress of the Robes, and the Earl of Albemarle as Master of the Horse. Her Majesty wore a splendid pink satin robe shot with silver, her hair encompassed with a splendid tiara; and she looked the picture of health. As the procession filed along the Strand the church bells rang forth merrily, and mingling with their peals enthusiastic cheers came from thousands of human voices. Rows of national flags and heraldic banners were stretched across the thoroughfare at several points, and busts and portraits of the Queen were placed in conspicuous positions. Her Majesty, who was in high spirits, acknowledged the continuous greetings of her subjects in the most gracious manner.
Temple Bar was a point of great interest, for here the City bounds began. The Lord Mayor and sheriffs, with the aldermen, who had been accommodated in Messrs. Childs' bankinghouse, proceeded to mount their chargers a little before two o'clock.
When the arrival of the Queen was announced, the Lord Mayor dismounted, and taking the City sword in his hand, stood on the south side of Temple Bar. Her Majesty's carriage then drew up within the gateway, and the Lord Mayor presented the keys of the City to the Queen, which her Majesty, after keeping for a few moments, restored in a gracious manner. At this moment the multitude of spectators rent the air with their acclamations. The Lord Mayor remounted, and, holding the City sword aloft, took his place immediately before the royal carriage; after which the aldermen, the members of the Common Council, and other civic authorities formed in procession.
One of the most interesting episodes of the day occurred in front of St. Paul's Cathedral, where a booth had been erected for the accommodation of the boys of Christ's Hospital. The royal carriage stopped in the middle of the road opposite the cathedral gate, and a platform was wheeled out on which were Mr. F. G. Nash, senior scholar of Christ's Hospital, and the head-master and treasurer. The scholar, in conformity with an old usage, delivered an address of congratulation to her Majesty, concluding with an earnest prayer for her welfare. "God save the Queen" was then sung by the scholars and a great part of the other spectators. The Queen was much pleased with the proceedings, and in "subsequently returning his oration to Master Nash with her signature added, she wrote a note expressive of her approbation."
On arriving at the Guildhall, whose rooms had been sumptuously fitted up and decorated, the Queen received the chief guests in the drawing-room. Another address was presented, and the dinner was announced. The Queen descended the hall preceded by the Lord Mayor, and was conducted by the Lord Chamberlain to the throne, the band playing, "O! the roast beef of Old England." The dinner was much like other dinners for the viands, but one dish deserves special mention. This was a salmon, and the only one at the banquet. It had been caught in the River Tivy, near Kenarth, in the county of Carmarthen, by William Griffiths, a poor lame fisherman, who with unbounded loyalty sent it by the mail to the Lord Mayor, requesting that it might form part of the civic entertainment to the Queen. "The health of our Most Gracious Sovereign Queen Victoria" was drank amid loud applause, and in response the Queen rose and bowed several times very affably to the company. Her dress attracted much attention. It was richly embroidered with silver; and over her left shoulder the Queen wore the riband of the Order of the Garter, with the George appended; on her head she had a splendid diadem and circlet; she also wore diamond earings, and had a stomacher of brilliants.
At half-past eight o'clock a flourish of trumpets announced the arrival of the Queen's carriage. Her Majesty then left, and when she arrived at the carriage door she turned round to the Lord Mayor, who stood at the step, and said with a smile, "I assue you, my Lord Mayor, that I have been most highly gratified." She then warmly shook hands with the chief magistrate, and drove off amid ringing cheers. On the homeward route the royal carriage pulled up for a few minutes at the end of Cheapside, where, under the direction of the Sacred Harmonic Society, several hundred voices sang "God save the Queen."
Her Majesty opened her first Parliament on the 20th of November, her progress to the House being marked by the most loyal demonstrations. When she had ascended the throne in the House of Lords, she directed the Lord Chancellor to read the following declaration: "I, Victoria, etc., do solemnly and sincerely, in the presence of God, testify and declare that I do believe that in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper there is not any transubstantiation of the elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, at or after the consecration thereof, by any person whatsoever; and that the invocation or adoration of the Virgin Mary, or any other saint, and the sacrifice of the Mass, as they are now used in the Church of Rome, are superstitious and idolatrous. And I do solemnly, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare, that I do make this declaration, and every part thereof, in the plain and ordinary sense of the words read unto me, as they are commonly understood by English Protestants, without any evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation whatsoever, and without any dispensation already granted me for this purpose by the Pope, or any other authority or person whatsoever, and without thinking that I am or can be acquitted before God and man, or absolved of this declaration, or any part thereof, although the Pope, or any other person or persons or power whatsoever, shall dispense with or annul the same, or declare that it was null and void from the beginning."
The question of the Civil List was settled by Parliament this session. The Queen placed unreservedly in the hands of Parliament the hereditary revenues transferred to the public by her immediate predecessor. In the House of Commons the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that, whilst former Sovereigns had inherited considerable personal property, Queen Victoria had not done so, and would further be deprived of the revenues of Hanover, which had now become a separate kingdom. The sum of £385,000 was therefore voted as the annual income of the Sovereign. At the suggestion of the Queen, Parliament also voted an additional grant of £8,000 a year to the income of the Duchess of Kent, thus raising it to £30,000 per annum.
The Queen entered fully into all business matters brought before her by the Prime Minister. She would know the why and the wherefore of everything. Indeed, one authority says that Melbourne was heard to declare that he would rather have ten kings to manage than one queen. He could not place a single document in her Majesty's hand for signature but she first asked an infinite variety of questions respecting it, and she not unfrequendy ended her interrogatories by declining to put her name to the paper in question until she had taken further time to consider its merits. The Premier on a certain occasion had submitted an Act of Government for her Majesty's approval, and was proceeding to urge its expediency, when he was thus stopped short by the Queen: "I have been taught, my lord, to judge between what is right, and what is wrong; but expediency is a word which 1 neither wish to hear nor to understand."
Again, when Melbourne was anxious to obtain the Queen's signature to an important State document, he argued for it with all the force and eloquence at his command. But the Sovereign had resolved upon having further information be fore affixing her signature. It was in vain that he explained and argued, and in the end, when he pleaded the paramount importance of the matter he was met by the reply: "It is with me a matter of paramount importance whether or not I attach my signature to a document with which I am not thoroughly satisfied."
But the other side of the picture reveals the admirable relations existing between the Queen and her Minister. George Villiers told Greville that he had been exceedingly struck with Melbourne's manner to the Queen, and hers to him — his, so parental and anxious, but always so respectful and deferential; hers, indicative of such entire confidence, such pleasure in his society. "She is continually talking to him," continues Greville, "let who will be there; he always sits next her at dinner, and evidendy by arrangement, because he always takes in the lady-in-waiting, which necessarily places him next her, the etiquette being that the lady-in-waiting sits next but one to the Queen . It is not unnatural, and to him it is peculiarly interesting. I have no doubt he is passionately fond of her, as he might be of his daughter, if he had one, and the more because he is a man with a capacity for loving, without having anything in the world to love. It has become his province to educate, instruct, and form the most interesting mind and character in the world. No occupation was ever more engrossing or involved greater responsibility. I have no doubt that Melbourne is both equal to and worthy of the task, and that it is fortunate she has fallen into his hands, and that he discharges this great duty wisely, honorably, and conscientiously. It is a great proof of the discretion and purity of his conduct and behaviour that he is admired, respected, liked by all the Court."
As soon as her Majesty's State duties were despatched, she occupied the time with music, reading, or drawing. She took great delight in Italian music, and also in the compositions of Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart. To these was subsequently added Mendelssohn, who was also a favorite with the Prince Consort. Her voice was a mezzo-soprano of good tone, and her singing was excellent. Her talents for drawing were such that one of her masters said: "The Princess Victoria would have made the best female artist of the age if she had not been born to wear a crown." After she became Queen, she would frequendy entertain her distinguished guests by singing in the drawing-room, after dinner, choice popular airs, in which she was accompanied by the Duchess of Kent on the piano. Some other personal details may be mentioned. As her Majesty has herself declared that "she is rather small for a Queen," we are emboldened to give her stature, which is just five feet two inches. But her carriage and imposing appearance always seem to indicate a considerably greater height.Life and reign of Queen Victoria: being a complete narrative ... including the lives of King Edward VII. and Queen Alexandra (c1901) Authors: Morris, Charles, 1833-1922; Halstead, Murat, 1829-1908