Possibly the person to whom the Queen owed most—next to her husband—was Lord Melbourne. His position at the time when the young Queen came to the throne was a unique one. Victoria was just eighteen years of age—that is to say, if she had been a little younger it would have been necessary to appoint a Regent until such time as she came of age. For many years it had not been a matter of certainty that she would succeed to the throne, and the late King's unreliable temper had been the means of preventing the matter from being properly arranged as regards certain advantages which might have been given to the Princess during his life-time. In many ways, however, it was fortunate that the Queen came to the throne at such an early age: if her knowledge of State politics was small, she possessed, at any rate, a well-trained mind, a sense of duty, and a clear idea as to the responsibilities of her position as ruler of a great nation.
There had been four reigning queens in this country before Victoria, but all of them had had some previous training for their duties. The two Tudor queens came of a ruling stock, and were older in years and experience. The times, too, were very different. Queen Elizabeth, for example, before coming to the throne possessed an intimate knowledge of political affairs, and experience—she had been confined in the Tower of London and narrowly escaped losing her head—had endowed her with the wisdom of the serpent. The two Stuart queens were no longer young, and both were married.
The circumstances in the case of the young Victoria were thus totally different. She stood alone, and it was clear that some one must help her to grapple with the thousand and one difficulties which surrounded her. It was for some time uncertain who would undertake the duty, until, almost before he had realized it himself, Lord Melbourne found himself in the position of 'guide, philosopher, and friend.'
How he devoted himself to this work can be judged from the fact that no one—not even any of his opponents—regarded him with the slightest mistrust or jealousy.
Melbourne was at this time fifty-eight years of age, an honourable, honest-hearted Englishman. He was sympathetic by nature, fond of female society, and, in addition, was devoted to the Queen. His manner toward her was always charming, and he was in constant attendance upon her.
Nor was the training which the Queen received from him limited to politics, but matters of private interest were often discussed. Every morning he brought dispatches with him to be read and answered; after the midday meal he went out riding with her, and, whenever his parliamentary duties allowed, he was to be found at her side at the dinner-table. When he retired from office he was able to state with pride that he had seen his Sovereign every day during the past four years.
The news of her engagement to Prince Albert was received by him with the keenest pleasure, and the Queen in writing to her uncle says: "Lord Melbourne, whom I of course have consulted about the whole affair, quite approves my choice, and expresses great satisfaction at the event, which he thinks in every way highly desirable. Lord Melbourne has acted in this business, as he has always done toward me, with the greatest kindness and affection."
It was a real wrench to the Queen when the time for parting came. Melbourne, with his easy-going nature and somewhat free and easy language, had schooled himself as well as his young pupil, and had become a friend as well as an adviser. Some words of Greville's might aptly serve for this great statesman's epitaph:
"It has become his providence to educate, instruct, and form the most interesting mind and character in the world. No occupation was ever more engrossing or involved greater responsibility . . . it is fortunate that she has fallen into his hands, and that he discharges this great duty wisely, honourably, and conscientiously."
The Queen was equally fortunate in his successor, Sir Robert Peel, a statesman for whom she had every confidence and respect, "a man who thinks but little of party and never of himself."
Peel was never afraid of making up his mind and then sticking to his plan of action, although, as often happened, it brought him into opposition with members of his own party. In his hands both the Queen and her husband felt that the interests of the Crown were secure.
Peel naturally felt considerable embarrassment on first taking up office, as he had given support in the previous year to a motion which proposed cutting down the Prince's income. But the Prince felt no resentment, and so frank and cordial was his manner that Peel, following Lord Melbourne's lead, continued to keep him, from day to day, thoroughly in touch with the course of public affairs.
The relations between the Queen and her Minister were cordial in the extreme. Peel appreciated very fully her simple domestic tastes, and he was able at a later date to bring before her notice Osborne, which might serve as a "loophole of retreat" from the "noise and strife and questions wearisome."
The Queen was delighted with the estate. "It is impossible to see a prettier place, with woods and valleys and points de vue, which would be beautiful anywhere; but when these are combined with the sea (to which the woods grow down), and a beach which is quite private, it is really everything one could wish."
In 1845 the Queen asked Lord Aberdeen if she could not show in some way her appreciation of the courage with which Sir Robert Peel had brought forward and supported two great measures, in the face of tremendous opposition. She suggested that he should be offered the Order of the Garter, the highest distinction possible.
Sir Robert Peel's reply was that he would much prefer not to accept any reward at all; he sprang, he said, from the people, and such a great honour in his case was out of the question. The only reward he asked for was Her Majesty's confidence, and so long as he possessed that he was content.
When his ministry came to an end the Prince wrote to him, begging that their relations should not on that account cease. Sir Robert replied, thanking him for "the considerate kindness and indulgence" he had received at their hands, and regretting that he should no longer be able to correspond so frequently as before. The Prince and he were in the fullest sympathy in matters of politics, art, and literature, and Peel had supported the Prince loyally through all the anxieties connected with the arrangements for the Great Exhibition.
His death in 1850 was a calamity. Prince Albert, in a letter, speaks of Peel as "the best of men, our truest friend, the strongest bulwark of the throne, the greatest statesman of his time."
The Duke of Wellington said in the Upper House: "In all the course of my acquaintance with Sir Robert Peel I never knew a man in whose truth and justice I had a more lively confidence, or in whom I saw a more invariable desire to promote the public service. In the whole course of my communications with him I never knew an instance in which he did not show the strongest attachment to truth; and I never saw in the whole course of my life the slightest reason for suspecting that he stated anything which he did not believe to be the fact." The Queen writing to her uncle said that "Albert . . . felt and feels Sir Robert's loss dreadfully. He feels he has lost a second father."
As a statesman it was said of him that "for concocting, producing, explaining and defending measures, he had no equal, or anything like an equal."
By far the most interesting person who acted as both friend and adviser to the Queen and her husband was the Baron Christian Friedrich von Stockmar, who had been private physician to Prince Leopold, and afterward private secretary and controller of his household. He took an active part in the negotiations which led to his master becoming King of the Belgians. Long residence in this country had given him a thorough knowledge of England and the English, and he claimed friendship with the leading diplomatists both at home and on the European continent.
In 1834 he retired to Coburg, but later was chosen, as we have seen, to lend his valuable advice toward bringing about a union between Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, both of whom he knew and admired.
Immediately before Victoria's accession King Leopold had sent him to England, where his counsel, judgment, and thorough knowledge of the English Constitution were placed at the service of the young Princess. He accompanied Prince Albert on a tour in Italy, and again returned to England to make arrangements for the Prince's future household.
All that he did during this period was done quietly and behind the scenes, and though he was a foreigner by birth, he worked to bring about the marriage for the sake of the country he loved so well. He looked upon England as the home of political freedom. "Out of its bosom," he stated, "singly and solely has sprung America's free Constitution, in all its present power and importance, in its incalculable influence upon the social condition of the whole human race; and in my eyes the English Constitution is the foundation-, corner-, and cope-stone of the entire political civilization of the human race, present and to come."
He soon became the Prince's confidential adviser, and his unrivalled knowledge and strict sense of truth and duty proved of the utmost value.
He endeared himself to both the Queen and the Prince, and successive statesmen trusted him absolutely for his freedom from prejudice and for his sincerity.
In 1842 he drew up for the Queen some rules for the education of her children. "A man's education begins the first day of his life," was one of his maxims. He insisted that "the education of the royal infants ought to be from its earliest beginning a truly moral and a truly English one." The persons to whom the children are entrusted should receive the full support and confidence of the parents, otherwise "education lacks its very soul and vitality." He suggested that a lady of rank should be placed at the head of the nursery, as being better able to understand the responsibilities and duties attached to the education and upbringing of the Queen's children.
His advice was again taken when it was necessary to settle upon what plan the young Prince of Wales should be educated.
Stockmar's judgment of men was singularly correct and just. He formed the highest opinion of Sir Robert Peel, and on the Duke of Wellington's death in 1852 he wrote in a letter to the Prince a masterly analysis of the great commander's character, concluding with these words: "As the times we live in cannot fail to present your Royal Highness with great and worthy occasions to distinguish yourself, you should not shrink from turning them to account . . . as Wellington did, for the good of all, yet without detriment to yourself."
The Prince corresponded regularly with 'the good Stockmar,' and always in time of doubt and trial came sage counsel from his trusted friend. In fact, the Prince took both the Queen and his friend equally into his confidence; they were the two to whom he could unbosom himself with entire freedom.
Disraeli, afterward Lord Beaconsfield, obtained the Queen's fullest confidence and won her friendship to an extent which no Minister since Melbourne had ever been able to do. 'Dizzy,' the leader of the 'Young England' party, the writer of political novels, was a very different person from the statesman of later years. It is difficult to remember or to realize in these days that it was looked upon as something quite extraordinary for a member of a once despised and persecuted race, the Jews, to hold high office. The annual celebrations of 'Primrose Day,' April 19, the anniversary of his death, are sufficient proof that this great statesman's services to the British Empire are not yet forgotten.
Lord Beaconsfield, whom she regarded with sincere affection, possessed a remarkable influence over the Queen, for the simple reason that he never forgot to treat her as a woman. He was noted throughout his life for his chivalry to the opposite sex, and his devotion to his wife was very touching.
He was a firm believer in the power of the Crown for good. "The proper leader of the people," he declared, "is the individual who sits upon the throne." He wished the Sovereign to be in a position to rule as well as to reign, to be at one with the nation, above the quarrels and differences of the political parties, and to be their representative.
When quite a young man, he declared that he would one day be Prime Minister, and with this end in view he entered Parliament against the wishes of his family. He was an untiring worker all his life, and a firm believer in action. "Act, act, act without ceasing, and you will no longer talk of the vanity of life," was his creed.
His ideas on education were original, and he did everything in his power to improve the training of the young. In 1870 he supported the great measure for a scheme of national education. Some years earlier he declared that "it is an absolute necessity that we should study to make every man the most effective being that education can possibly constitute him. In the old wars there used to be a story that one Englishman could beat three members of some other nation. But I think if we want to maintain our power, we ought to make one Englishman equal really in the business of life to three other men that any other nation can furnish. I do not see otherwise how . . . we can fulfil the great destiny that I believe awaits us, and the great position we occupy."
He did more than any other Minister to raise the Crown to the position it now occupies, and no monarch ever had a more devoted and faithful servant. His high standard of morals and his force of character especially appealed to the English people, and his loyalty to his friends and colleagues remained unshaken throughout his whole life. He impressed not only his own countrymen, but also foreigners, with his splendid gifts of imagination and foresight.
Bismarck, the man of 'blood and iron,' who welded the disunited states of Germany into a united and powerful empire, considered that Queen Victoria was the greatest statesman in Europe, and of the great Beaconsfield he said: "Disraeli is England."
Disraeli was a master of wit and phrase, and many of his best sayings and definitions have become proverbial, e.g. "the hansom, the 'gondola' of London," "our young Queen and our old institutions," "critics, men who have failed," "books, the curse of the human race."
Sir Robert Peel, Lord Melbourne, Benjamin Disraeli
Photo W.A. Mansell & Co.
The central figure of his time was the statesman-warrior, the great Duke of Wellington, 'the Duke.' After the famous Marlborough, England had not been able to boast of such a great commander. He was the best known figure in London, and though he never courted popularity or distinction, yet he served his Queen as Prime Minister when desired. "The path of duty" was for him "the way to glory." In 1845 the greatest wish of his life was realized when the Queen and her husband paid him a two days' visit at his residence, Strathfieldsaye.
Alfred Tennyson's "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington," in 1852, praises him as 'truth-teller' and 'truth-lover,' and mourns for him:
Let the long, long procession go,
And let the sorrowing crowd about it grow,
And let the mournful, martial music blow;
The last great Englishman is low.
In striking contrast to the 'Iron Duke' was the man whom Disraeli could never learn to like, Lord John Russell. Generally depicted in the pages of Punch as a pert, cocksure little fellow, 'little Johnny,' the leader of the Whig party was a power as a leader. He knew how to interpret the Queen's wishes in a manner agreeable to herself, yet he did not hesitate, when he thought it advisable, to speak quite freely in criticism of her actions.
His ancestors in the Bedford family had in olden days been advisers of the Crown, and Lord John thus came of a good stock; he himself, nevertheless, was always alert to prevent any encroachment upon the growing powers and rights of the people.
He was a favourite of the Queen, and she gave him as a residence a house and grounds in Richmond Park. He was a man of the world and an agreeable talker, very well read, fond of quoting poetry, and especially pleased if he could indulge in reminiscences in his own circle of what his royal mistress had said at her last visit.
Finally, mention must be made of one who, though he held no high position of State, can with justice be regarded as both friend and adviser of the Queen—John Brown. He entered the Queen's service at Balmoral, became later a gillie to the Prince Consort, and in 1851 the Queen's personal outdoor attendant. He was a man of a very straightforward nature and blunt speech, and even his Royal Mistress was not safe at times from criticism. In spite of his rough manner, he possessed many admirable qualities, and on his death in 1883 the Queen caused a granite seat to be erected in the grounds of Osborne with the following inscription:
A TRUER, NOBLER, TRUSTIER HEART, MORE LOVING
AND MORE LOYAL, NEVER BEAT WITHIN
A HUMAN BREAST.