Queen Victoria (Browne)

CHAPTER III: Early Years

God save thee, weeping Queen!
Thou shalt be well beloved!
The tyrant's sceptre cannot move,
As those pure tears have moved!
                 E.B. BROWNING

When she was five years old the Princess Victoria began to have lessons, chiefly with a governess, Miss von Lehzen—"my dearly beloved angelic Lehzen," as she called her. These two remained devotedly attached to one another until the latter's death in 1870. The young Princess was especially fond of music and drawing, and it was clear that if she had been able to devote more time to study she would in later years have excelled in both subjects.

Her education was such as to fit her for her future position of Queen of England. The Princess did not, however, know that she was likely at any future time to be Queen. She read much, chiefly books dealing with history, and these were often chosen for her by her uncle, the King of the Belgians.

The family life was regular and simple. Lessons, a walk or drive, very few and simple pleasures made up her day. Breakfast was at half-past eight, luncheon at half-past one, and dinner at seven. Tea was allowed only in later years as a great treat.

The Queen herself said: "I was brought up very simply—never had a room to myself till I was nearly grown up—always slept in my mother's room till I came to the throne."

Sir Walter Scott wrote of her at this period of her life: "This little lady is educated with much care, and watched so closely that no busy maid has a moment to whisper, 'You are heir of England.' I suspect if we could dissect the little heart, we should find some pigeon or other bird of the air had carried the matter."

In 1830 her uncle, George the Fourth, died, and his brother, William the Fourth, came to the throne. The young Princess was now the next in succession. Her governess thought that her pupil should be told of this fact, and as the Duchess of Kent agreed, the table of genealogy was placed inside Victoria's history book, where by and by she found it.

The story goes that she then said, "I see, I am nearer the throne than I thought," and giving her hand to her governess added: "I will be good. I understand now, why you urged me so much to learn, even Latin. My cousins Augusta and Mary never did, but you told me that Latin was the foundation of English grammar, and of all the elegant expressions, and I learned it as you wished. But I understand it all better now." In later years the Queen recollected crying very much when she heard of it, but could not recall exactly what had happened.

It is interesting to note what those who knew little Victoria at this time say about her. She was, we are told, exceedingly affectionate, very full of high spirits, fond of life in the open air, and already possessed a strong sense of duty and religion.

She had been taught by her devoted uncle Leopold, with whom she corresponded regularly, how necessary it was for her to understand thoroughly the duties which fall to the share of a ruler. During the years which followed she went more into society and paid visits to the most interesting places in the kingdom. Everywhere she went she was received with the greatest enthusiasm.

In 1830 the Duke of Coburg, with his two sons, Ernest and Albert, arrived at Kensington Palace on a visit, and thus the Princess met for the first time her future husband. Her uncle Leopold had long desired to carry out the cherished wish of his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Coburg, that the two cousins should be united in marriage. During William the Fourth's lifetime all mention of such a marriage had to be kept secret, as the King much disliked the Coburg family, and had more than once been very rude to the Duchess of Kent.

Victoria wrote to her uncle saying how much she liked Albert in every way, and that he possessed every quality that could be desired to render her perfectly happy. She was very anxious that her uncle should take her cousin under his special protection.

On May 24, 1837, Victoria attained her majority. She received numbers of magnificent presents, congratulations from public bodies, and in the evening a State Ball was given at St James's Palace.

On Tuesday, June 20 of that year, at twelve minutes past two, King William the Fourth died. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain set out at once for Kensington to convey the sad news. They arrived at five in the morning, and were told that the Princess was asleep. They replied that they were on important business of State to the Queen, and even her sleep must give way to that. Our illustration depicts the scene which then ensued.

The Announcement of the Queen's Accession by the
Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor
H.T. Wells, R.A.
Photo W.A. Mansell & Co.

Even during the first days of her reign, the Queen's dignity, calm, and knowledge of State affairs astonished her ministers, and were complete proof of the careful training she had received during her girlhood days. Greville, Clerk to the Council, wrote: "She presided with as much ease as if she had been doing nothing else all her life. . . . 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."

In July the Queen and her mother left their home to take up their residence in Buckingham Palace, formerly known as the Queen's House. The present palace occupies the site of Buckingham House, which was erected by John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, in 1703. It was bought by George the Third for his wife in 1761, remodelled by George the Fourth, and completed by William the Fourth, who, however, had never lived there.

Four days later the Queen went in State to dissolve Parliament, and soon afterward removed to Windsor Castle, where she was joined for a time by her uncle and his wife.

Prince Albert wrote her a warm letter of congratulation. "You are now," he said, "Queen of the mightiest land in Europe. In your hands lie the happiness of millions. May Heaven assist and strengthen you with its strength in that high but difficult task! I hope that your reign may be long, happy, and glorious, and that your efforts may be rewarded by the thankfulness and love of your subjects."

On Thursday, June 28, 1838, the coronation ceremony took place in Westminster Abbey. Afterward the Queen made a royal progress and was greeted by immense crowds of her people with the utmost loyalty and enthusiasm. In her journal she described it as the proudest day of her life. Mrs Jamieson, an onlooker, wrote of her as follows:

"When she returned, looking pale and tremulous, crowned and holding her sceptre in a manner and attitude which said, 'I have it, and none shall wrest it from me,' even Carlyle, who was standing near me, uttered with emotion, 'A blessing on her head!'"

As a small instance of the Queen's consideration for others, one of her first thoughts after the ceremony was for the school-children. She wrote to her minister, Lord Melbourne, asking if it was not usual to give a week's additional holiday to the schools on such an occasion as this.

Lord Melbourne was from the moment of her accession the Queen's chief adviser, and from the many letters which passed between them it is extremely interesting to see with what affection the young and inexperienced girl regarded him. "He is not only a clever statesman and an honest man," she wrote to her uncle, Leopold, "but a good and a kind-hearted man, whose aim is to do his duty for his country and not for a party."

Lord Melbourne was almost a second father to her, and there is no doubt that it was largely due to his excellent and homely advice that the Queen was able during the early years of her reign to develop in such an astonishing manner and yet at the same time to retain such a sweet and womanly character. Of her regularity of life and careful attention to detail we learn from Greville's diary. She rose soon after eight o'clock, and after breakfast was occupied with business the whole morning. During this time Lord Melbourne visited her regularly. At two o'clock she rode out, attended by her suite, and amused herself afterward for the rest of the afternoon with music, singing, or romps with children. Dinner was served at eight o'clock to the whole household, and the Queen usually retired soon after eleven. "She orders and regulates every detail herself; she knows where everybody is lodged in the Castle, settles about the riding or driving, and enters into every particular with minute attention." She never signed a single document of any importance until she had thoroughly mastered its contents.

In October, 1839, her cousins Ernest and Albert paid her a visit, bringing with them a letter from their uncle Leopold, in which he recommended them to her care. They were at once upon intimate terms, and the Queen confided to her uncle that "Albert was very fascinating." Four days after their arrival she informed Lord Melbourne that she had made up her mind as to the question of marriage. He received the news in a very kindly manner and said: "I think it will be very well received, for I hear that there is an anxiety now that it should be, and I am very glad of it. You will be much more comfortable, for a woman cannot stand alone for any time, in whatever position she may be."

The Queen described her betrothal as follows: "At half-past twelve I sent for Albert. He came to the closet, where I was alone, and after a few minutes I said to him that I thought he would be aware why I wished him to come, and that it would make me happy if he would consent to what I wished, namely, to marry me. There was no hesitation on his part, but the offer was received with the greatest demonstrations of kindness and affection. . . . I told him I was quite unworthy of him. . . . He said he would be very happy to spend his life with me."

She wrote to her uncle: "I love him more than I can say, and I shall do everything in my power to render the sacrifice he has made (for a sacrifice in my opinion it is) as small as I can."

In the following November the news was made public, but it was not received with any great enthusiasm, as a German alliance was unpopular. There were other suitors for the Queen's hand, and the majority would have preferred one of her English cousins to have been chosen.

On February 10, 1840, the marriage was solemnized at the Chapel Royal, St James's. The Queen was described by those who saw her as looking extremely happy, and to her uncle she wrote of her delight at seeing the huge crowds which lined the streets to see the procession pass. "God grant that I may be the happy person, the most happy person, to make this dearest, blessed being happy and contented! What is in my power to make him happy, I will do."

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