Queen Victoria (Browne)

CHAPTER IV: Husband and Wife

After four short days the Queen and her husband returned to London, and from this time onward the Prince acted as his wife's secretary, attending to every little detail of the mass of correspondence and State documents which grew larger with every succeeding year.

All the letters received by the Queen during the course of a long and busy life-time were carefully preserved, and at her death they amounted to no fewer than five or six hundred large bound volumes. They include letters from crowned heads of Europe, from her ministers of State, from her children, and from her friends and relations.

All these the Queen read and answered. She was thus at all times fully aware of everything that was happening both at home and abroad, and in her great Empire, an Empire which was destined to grow greater and greater in power and extent during her reign. Day by day, year in, year out, without a single break, this immense correspondence arrived. Ministers resigned and ministers were appointed, but there was neither halt nor rest. Truly 'the burden of Empire' is heavy for those who bear it.

The young Prince determined from the first to master both national and European politics, for it must always be remembered that as he was a foreigner everything in this country was for some time strange to him. In addition to being his wife's right hand he took a leading part in all movements which might help to improve the education and conditions of life of the people. His fine training and sympathetic nature enabled him, little by little, to be the means of helping on important reforms. In addition to this, both he and his wife found time to work at drawing and music, which they studied together under the best masters. Throughout the Queen's correspondence one reads of his devotion to her both as husband and helpmate.

The times were hard; discontent with poverty and bad trade kept the nation ill at ease, and, as is always the case, there were many who did their best to stir up riot. As a consequence, possibly, of this unrest, attempts were made on the Queen's life, once in 1840 and twice in 1841.

The relief and joy felt by the whole nation at their young Queen's lucky escapes from death by an assassin's hand are expressed in the following lines by an anonymous author:—

God saved the Queen—all thoughts apart
This crowning joy fills every mind!
She sits within the nation's heart,
        An angel shrined.

The assassin's hand the steel enclosed,
He poised his ruthless hand on high—
But God in mercy interposed
        His shadow for her panoply.

Then let ten thousand lyres be swept,
    Let pæans ring o'er sea and land—
The Almighty hath our Sovereign kept
    Within the hollow of His hand!

In July 1840, it was considered necessary to appoint a Regent in case of the Queen's death. A Bill for this purpose was brought in and passed, naming the Prince as Regent. This pleased the Queen, for it was a clear proof of the golden opinions the Prince had won everywhere since his marriage, and it was passed, as she herself said, entirely on account of his noble character. At an earlier period it is certain, as Lord Melbourne assured her, that Parliament would not have passed such a Bill.

The Queen was soon to lose her chief adviser and friend, for in June 1841 Parliament dissolved and the Whigs were not returned to power. Lord Melbourne could, however, resign with an easy mind, for he himself recognized how valuable a counsellor the Queen now possessed in her husband. After handing his resignation to the Queen, he wrote to her: "Lord Melbourne has formed the highest opinion of His Royal Highness's judgment, temper, and discretion, and he cannot but feel a great consolation and security in the reflection that he leaves Your Majesty in a situation in which Your Majesty has the inestimable advantage of such advice and assistance." The Queen was exceedingly proud of these words of praise, coming as they did unasked from a minister of such long experience.

It was in the same year that the Prince was appointed Head of the Royal Commission which had been formed to encourage the study of the Fine Arts throughout the kingdom. This was work of a kind which he especially loved, and he was now in a position to influence the movement which led to the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Prince Albert
F.X. Winterhalter
Photo Emery Walker Ltd.

But all was not plain sailing for the Prince, who was still regarded, if not with dislike, at any rate with some mistrust, as being a foreigner. For a long time yet he felt himself a stranger, the Queen's husband and nothing more. Still, "all cometh to him who knoweth how to wait," and he set himself bravely to his uphill task. To use his own words, "I endeavour to be as much use to Victoria as I can,"—this was the keynote of his whole life.

The Prince took sides with neither of the political parties, and first of all by careful economy he lessened the enormous household expenses and proved that it was possible for royalty to live without always being in debt. He established model farms at Osborne and Windsor, introduced different and better breeds of cattle, and even made a profit on the undertaking. He persuaded his wife to give up the late hours which were still usual, and gradually, by kindness and sympathy, won the household staff over to his way of thinking.

The Prince's life was an extremely full one. Soon after six o'clock was his time for rising. Until nine he read and answered letters. He then looked through all the principal newspapers and gave the Queen a summary of the most important news. He found time also to work and play with his children during his short intervals of leisure. Consultations with ministers, reading and writing dispatches followed, and then a short time was devoted to open-air exercise. After lunch he often accompanied the Queen on a drive. More reading and writing took up his time until dinner, after which there was either a social evening or a visit to a theatre. He was "complete master in his house, and the active centre of an Empire whose power extends to every quarter of the globe. . . . No British Cabinet minister has ever worked so hard during the session of Parliament, and that is saying a good deal, as the Prince Consort did for 21 years. . . . The Prince had no holidays at all, he was always in harness."[1]

[Footnote 1: Miss C.M. Yonge, Life of H.R.H. the Prince Consort.]

Louis Philippe, the first French king who had ever visited this country, except King John, wrote of him: "Oh, he will do wonders; he is so wise; he is not in a hurry; he gains so much by being known. He will always give you good advice. Do not think I say so in flattery. No! No! It is from my heart. He will be like his uncle, equally wise and good. . . . He will be of the greatest use to you, and will keep well at your side if a time of vicissitude should come, such as I hope may never be—but, after all, no one can tell."

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