On the western side of Kensington Gardens stands the old Palace, built originally in the solid Dutch style for King William and Mary. The great architect, Sir Christopher Wren, made notable additions to it, and it was still further extended in 1721 for George the First.
Within its walls passed away both William and his Queen, Queen Anne and her husband, and George the Second. After this time it ceased to be a royal residence.
The charm of Kensington Gardens, with its beautiful walks and secluded sylvan nooks—the happy hunting-ground of London children and the home of 'Peter Pan'—has inspired many writers to sing its praises:
In this lone, open glade I lie,
Screen'd by deep boughs on either hand;
And at its end, to stay the eye,
Those black-crown'd, red-boled pine trees stand!
Birds here make song, each bird has his,
Across the girding city's hum.
How green under the boughs it is!
How thick the tremulous sheep cries come!
Here at my feet what wonders pass,
What endless, active life is here!
What blowing daisies, fragrant grass!
An air-stirred forest, fresh and clear.
Beaconsfield spoke of its "sublime sylvan solitude superior to the cedars of Lebanon, and inferior only in extent to the chestnut forests of Anatolia."
Kensington Palace was the birthplace of Queen Victoria, and in the garden walks she used to play, little knowing that she would one day be Queen of England. Her doll's house and toys are still preserved in the rooms which she inhabited as a little girl.
Four years had passed since the battle of Waterloo when the Princess Victoria was born, and England was settling down to a time of peace after long years of warfare.
In 1830 George the Fourth died, and was succeeded by his brother, the Duke of Clarence, as William the Fourth, the 'sailor king.' Though not in any respect a great monarch, he proved himself to be a good king and one who was always wishful to do the best that lay in his power for the country's good.
He was exceedingly hospitable, and gave dinners to thousands of his friends and acquaintances during the year, particularly inviting all his old messmates of the Navy. He had two daughters by his marriage, and as these both died young it was evident that the Princess Victoria might some day succeed to the throne.
Her father, the Duke of Kent, married the Dowager Princess of Leiningen, who was the sister of Prince Leopold, afterward King of the Belgians. As a young man the Duke had seen much service, for when he was only seventeen years of age he entered the Hanoverian army, where the discipline was severe and rigid. He afterward served in the West Indies and Canada, and on his return to England he was made a peer with the title of Duke of Kent. He was afterward General and Commander-in-Chief in Canada and Governor of Gibraltar.
At the latter place his love of order and discipline naturally made him unpopular, and, owing to strong feeling on the part of the troops, it was considered wise to recall the Duke in 1803.
In 1816 he settled in Brussels, and soon afterward met his future wife in Germany. Princess Victoire Marie Louise was the youngest daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and widow of Prince Charles of Leiningen, who on his death had left her as the regent of his principality.
They were married at Coburg in May 1818. Some months afterward they came over to England, and on May 24, 1819, their daughter Alexandrina Victoria was born.
|The Duke of Kent
Sir Wm. Beechey
Photo W.A. Mansell & Co.
|The Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria
Sir Wm. Beechey
Photo W.A. Mansell & Co.
The Duke still kept up his simple, soldierly habits, for throughout his life he had always believed in regularly ordering one's day. He rose betimes and took a cup of coffee at six o'clock. Each servant of the household was allotted his or her regular duties, and was obliged at least once a day to appear before the Duke. There was a separate bell for each servant, and punctuality in attendance was insisted upon.
The christening was attended by members of the Royal Family, and a dinner was held to celebrate the happy event. The Duke and Duchess removed soon afterward to Devonshire, and they were both much pleased with the beautiful surroundings of their new home. The Duke wrote at this time of his daughter: "My little girl thrives under the influence of a Devonshire climate, and is, I am delighted to say, strong and healthy; too healthy, I fear, in the opinion of some members of my family, by whom she is regarded as an intruder. How largely she contributes to my happiness at this moment it is needless for me to say to you."
The Duke had been determined from the first that his child should be born in England, for he wished her to be English both in upbringing and in feeling. His wife, who is described by those who knew her as being a singularly attractive woman, full of deep feeling and sympathy, fully shared his views on this point.
In January 1820, when only fifty-three years of age, the Duke died quite suddenly from inflammation of the lungs, following upon a neglected cold. He was a man of deep religious feeling, and once in talking to a friend about his little daughter's future career he said earnestly: "Don't pray simply that hers may be a brilliant career, and exempt from those trials and struggles which have pursued her father, but pray that God's blessing may rest on her, that it may overshadow her, and that in all her coming years she may be guided and guarded by God."
The widowed mother now returned to London, where the Duchess of Clarence, afterward Queen Adelaide, interested herself greatly in little Victoria. The Duchess now devoted herself entirely to the care of her child, and never did any little girl have a more loving and devoted mother.
As much time as possible was spent in the open air, and Victoria went for rides about Kensington on a donkey, which was led by an old soldier, a great friend and favourite. She always had her breakfast and supper with her mother, and at nine o'clock retired to her bed, which was placed close to her mother's. Until the time of her accession she led as simple and regular a life as thousands of other little girls.
Many stories are told of her early years to illustrate the thoroughness of her home training. Even as a small child she was absolutely truthful, and her chief fault—that of wilfulness—was due to some extent to her high spirits and abundant energy. She was especially fond of dolls, and possessed a very large number, most of which were dressed as historical personages. She had practically no playmates of her own age, and in later life she often spoke of these early years as being rather dull.
A description of her at this period runs: "She was a beautiful child, with the cherubic form of features, clustered round by glossy, fair ringlets. Her complexion was remarkably transparent, with a soft and 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."
There was, as was natural, much correspondence between England and Saxe-Coburg, the home of the Duchess, for the second son of the Duke of Coburg, Charles Albert Augustus Emmanuel, was already spoken of as being destined to be Victoria's husband in the future.
Prince Albert had been born at Rosenau on August 19, 1819, and was thus slightly younger than his cousin. He is spoken of as being a very handsome boy, "like a little angel with his fair curls," and was for a time much spoilt until his father interfered and superintended the children's education himself.
Ernest, the elder son, gives us a charming picture of his father:
"We children beheld in him, and justly, our ideal of courtesy, and although he never said a harsh word to us, we bore towards him, through all our love and confidence, a reverence bordering on fear. He never lectured, seldom blamed; praised unwillingly; and yet the effect of his individuality was so powerful that we accomplished more than if we had been praised or blamed. When he was once asked by a relative whether we were industrious and well behaved, he answered: 'My children cannot be naughty, and as they know well that they must learn in order to be worthy men, so I do not trouble myself about it.'"
The Duke liked both his sons to listen to the conversation of their elders and to take an interest in art and literature. Outdoor exercise, riding, fishing, hunting, and driving formed part of their education; they were taught from the first to endure cold and discomfort without complaint or murmur. The religious teaching they received had a deep and lasting influence upon the two boys, both at that time and in later years. But they had a thoroughly happy boyhood and did not suffer from a lack of companions. After their confirmation their father took them on a visit to several Courts in Germany, and also to Vienna—a journey which was intended to open their minds to the great world of which they had learnt so much and seen so little; and it was about this time that King Leopold, the brother of the Duke of Coburg, thought it wise to make a careful inquiry into the life and character of the young Prince.