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This article was written by Sidney Lee and was published in 1901.
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Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, only child of the Prince Regent (George III's heir), having married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg on 2 May 1816, died after the birth of a stillborn son on 6 November 1817. The crown was thereby deprived of its only legitimate representative in the third generation. Of the seven sons of George III who survived infancy three, at the date of Princess Charlotte's death, were bachelors, and the four who were married were either childless or without lawful issue. With a view to maintaining the succession it was deemed essential after Princess Charlotte's demise that the three unmarried sons — William, duke of Clarence, the third son; Edward, duke of Kent, the fourth son; and Adolphus Frederick, duke of Cambridge, the seventh and youngest son — should marry without delay. All were middle-aged. In each case the bride was chosen from a princely family of Germany. The weddings followed one another with rapidity. On 7 May 1818 the Duke of Cambridge, who had long resided in Hanover as the representative of his father, George III, in the government there, married, at Cassel, Augusta, daughter of Frederick, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. On 11 June 1818 the Duke of Clarence married in his fifty-third year Adelaide, eldest daughter of George Frederick Charles, reigning duke of Saxe-Meiningen. In the interval, on 29 May, the Duke of Kent, who was in his fifty-first year, and since 1816 had mainly lived abroad, took to wife a widowed sister of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, the widowed husband of that Princess Charlotte whose death had induced so much matrimonial activity in the English royal house.
The Duke of Kent's bride, who was commonly known by the Christian name of Victoria, although her full Christian names were Mary Louisa Victoria, was nearly thirty-two years old. She was fourth daughter and youngest of the eight children of Francis Frederick Antony (1750-1806), reigning duke of Saxe-Coburg and Saalfeld. (In 1825 Saalfeld, by a family arrangement, was exchanged for Gotha.) Her first husband was Ernest Charles, reigning prince of Leiningen, whose second wife she became on 21 September 1803, at the age of seventeen; he died on 4 July 1814, leaving by her a son and a daughter. For the son, who was born on 12 September 1804, she was acting as regent and guardian when the Duke of Kent proposed marriage to her. Her responsibilities to her first family and to the principality of Leiningen made her somewhat reluctant to accept the duke's offer. But her father's family of Saxe-Coburg was unwilling for her to neglect an opportunity of reinforcing those intimate relations with the English reigning house which the Princess Charlotte's marriage had no sooner brought into being than her premature death threatened to extinguish. The Dowager Princess of Leiningen consequently married the Duke of Kent, and the ceremony took place at the ducal palace of Coburg.
Victoria, Duchess of Kent
The princess was a cheerful woman of homely intellect and temperament, with a pronounced love of her family and her fatherland. Her kindred was exceptionally numerous; she maintained close relations with most of them, and domestic interests thus absorbed her attention through life. Besides the son and daughter of her first marriage, she had three surviving brothers and three sisters, all of whom married, and all but one of whom had issue. Fifteen nephews and three nieces reached maturity, and their marriages greatly extended her family connections. Most of her near kindred allied themselves in marriage, as she in the first instance had done, with the smaller German reigning families. Her eldest brother, Ernest, who succeeded to the duchy of Saxe-Coburg, and was father of Albert, prince consort of Queen Victoria, twice married princesses of small German courts. A sister, Antoinette Ernestina Amelia, married Alexander Frederick Charles, duke of Würtemberg. At the same time some matrimonial unions were effected by the Saxe-Coburg family with the royal houses of Latin countries — France and Portugal. One of the Duchess of Kent's nephews married the queen of Portugal, while there were no fewer than five intermarriages on the part of her family with that of King Louis Philippe: two of her brothers and two of her nephews married the French king's daughters, and a niece married his second son, the Duc de Nemours. Members of the Hanoverian family on the English throne had long been accustomed to seek husbands or wives at the minor courts of Germany, but the private relations of the English royal house with those courts became far closer than before through the strong family sentiment which the Duchess of Kent not merely cherished personally but instilled in her daughter, the queen of England. For the first time since the seventeenth century, too, the private ties of kinship and family feeling linked the sovereign of England with rulers of France and Portugal.
The Duke of Kent brought his bride to England for the first time in July 1818, and the marriage ceremony was repeated at Kew Palace on the 11th of that month. The duke received on his marriage an annuity of £6,000 from parliament, but he was embarrassed by debt, and his income was wholly inadequate to his needs. His brothers and sisters showed no disposition either to assist him or to show his duchess much personal courtesy. He therefore left the country for Germany and accepted the hospitality of his wife, with whom and with whose children by her former marriage he settled at her dower-house at Amorbach in her son's principality of Leiningen. In the spring of 1819 the birth of a child grew imminent. There was a likelihood, although at the moment it looked remote, that it might prove the heir to the English crown; the duke and duchess hurried to England so that the birth might take place on English soil. Apartments were allotted them in the palace at Kensington, in the south-east wing, and there on Monday, 24 May 1819, at 4.15 in the morning, was born to them the girl who was the future Queen Victoria. A gilt plate above the mantelpiece of the room still attests the fact. The Duke of Kent, while describing his daughter as ‘a fine healthy child,’ modestly deprecated congratulations which anticipated her succession to the throne, ‘for while I have three brothers senior to myself, and one (i.e. the Duke of Clarence) possessing every reasonable prospect of having a family, I should deem it the height of presumption to believe it probable that a future heir to the crown of England would spring from me.’ Her mother's mother, the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, wrote of her as ‘a Charlotte — destined perhaps to play a great part one day.’ ‘The English like queens,’ she added, ‘and the niece [and also first cousin] of the ever-lamented beloved Charlotte will be most dear to them.’ Her father remarked that the infant was too healthy to satisfy the members of his own family, who regarded her as an unwelcome intruder. The child held, in fact, the fifth place in the succession. Between her and the crown there stood her three uncles, the Prince Regent, the Duke of York, and the Duke of Clarence, besides her father the Duke of Kent.
Formal honours were accorded the newly born princess as one in the direct line. The privy councillors who were summoned to Kensington on her birth included her uncle, the Duke of Sussex, the Duke of Wellington, the Marquis of Lansdowne, and two leading members of Lord Liverpool's tory ministry, Canning and Vansittart. On 24 June her baptism took place in the grand saloon at Kensington Palace. The gold font, which was part of the regalia of the kingdom, was brought from the Tower, and crimson velvet curtains from the chapel at St. James's. There were three sponsors, of whom the most interesting was the tsar, Alexander I, the head of the Holy Alliance and the most powerful monarch on the continent of Europe. The regent and the tory prime minister, Lord Liverpool, desired to maintain friendly relations with Russia, and the offer of Prince Lieven, Russian ambassador in London, that his master should act as sponsor was accepted with alacrity. The second sponsor was the child's eldest aunt, the queen of Würtemberg (princess royal of England), and the third her mother's mother, the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The three were represented respectively by the infant's uncle, the Duke of York, and her aunts, the Princess Augusta and the Duchess of Gloucester. The rite was performed by Dr. Manners Sutton, archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the bishop of London. The prince regent, who was present, declared that the one name of ‘Alexandrina,’ after the tsar, was sufficient. The Duke of Kent requested that a second name should be added. The prince regent suggested ‘Georgina.’ The Duke of Kent urged ‘Elizabeth.’ Thereupon the regent brusquely insisted on the mother's name of Victoria, at the same time stipulating that it should follow that of Alexandrina. The princess was therefore named at baptism Alexandrina Victoria, and for several years was known in the family circle as ‘Drina.’ But her mother was desirous from the first to give public and official prominence to her second name of Victoria. When only four the child signed her name as Victoria to a letter which is now in the British Museum. The appellation, although it was not unknown in England, had a foreign sound to English ears, and its bestowal on the princess excited some insular prejudice.
When the child was a month old her parents removed with her to Claremont, the residence which had been granted for life to her uncle, Prince Leopold, the widowed husband of the Princess Charlotte, and remained his property till his death in 1865. In August the princess was vaccinated, and the fact of her being the first member of the royal family to undergo the operation widely extended its vogue. Before the end of the month the Duchess of Kent learned from her mother of the birth on the 26th, at Rosenau in Coburg, of the second son (Albert) of her eldest brother, the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (afterwards Gotha). Madame Siebold, the German accoucheuse, who had attended Princess Victoria's birth, was also present at Prince Albert's, and in the Saxe-Coburg circle the names of the two children were at once linked together. In December 1819 the Duke and Duchess of Kent went with their daughter to Sidmouth, where they rented a small house called Woolbrook Cottage. The sojourn there did not lack incident. The discharge of an arrow by a mischievous boy at the window of the room which the infant was occupying went very near ending her career before it was well begun. After a few weeks at Sidmouth, too, the child's position in the state underwent momentous change.
On 29 January 1820 her grandfather, King George III, who had long been blind and imbecile, passed away, and the prince regent became king at the age of fifty-eight. Nine days earlier, on 20 January 1820, her father, the Duke of Kent, fell ill of a cold contracted while walking in wet weather; inflammation of the lungs set in, and on the 23rd he died. Thus the four lives that had intervened between the princess and the highest place in the state were suddenly reduced to two — those of her uncles, the Duke of York, who was fifty-seven, and the Duke of Clarence, who was fifty-five. Neither duke had a lawful heir, or seemed likely to have one. A great future for the child of the Duchess of Kent thus seemed assured.
The immediate position of mother and daughter was not, however, enviable. The Duke of Kent appointed his widow sole guardian of their child, with his friends General Wetherall and Sir John Conroy as executors of his will. Conroy thenceforth acted as major-domo for the duchess, and lived under the same roof until the accession of the princess, by whom he was always cordially disliked. The duchess was obnoxious to her husband's brothers, especially to the new king, to the Duke of Clarence, and to their younger brother, the Duke of Cumberland, the next heir to the throne after her daughter. Speaking later of her relations with the heads of the royal family, she said that on her husband's death she stood with her daughter ‘friendless and alone.’ Not the least of her trials was her inability to speak English. Although the duke had made a will, he left no property. He only bequeathed a mass of debts, which the princess, to her lasting credit, took in course of time on her own shoulders and discharged to the last penny. Parliament had granted the duchess in 1818 an annuity of £6,000 in case of her widowhood; apartments were allowed her in Kensington Palace, but she and her daughter had no other acknowledged resources. Her desolate lot was, however, not without private mitigation. She had the sympathy of her late husband's unmarried sisters, Sophia and Augusta, who admired her self-possession at this critical period; and the kindly Duchess of Clarence, who, a German princess, like herself, conversed with her in her mother-tongue, paid her constant visits. But her main source of consolation was her brother Leopold, who proved an invaluable adviser and a generous benefactor. As soon as the gravity of the duke's illness declared itself he had hurried to Sidmouth to console and counsel her. Deprived by death some four years before of wife and child, he had since led an aimless career of travel in England and Scotland, without any recognised position or influence. It was congenial to him to assume informally the place of a father to the duke's child. Although his German education never made him quite at home in English politics, he was cautious and far-seeing, and was qualified for the rôle of guardian of his niece and counsellor of his sister. He impressed the duchess with the destiny in store for her youngest child. Her responsibilities as regent of the principality of Leiningen in behalf of her son by her first marriage weighed much with her. But strong as was her affection for her German kindred, anxious as she was to maintain close relations with them, and sensitive as she was to the indifference to her manifested at the English court, she, under Leopold's influence, resigned the regency of Leiningen, and resolved to reside permanently in England. After deliberating with her brother, she chose as ‘the whole object of her future life’ the education of her younger daughter, in view of the likelihood of her accession to the English throne. Until the princess's marriage, when she was in her twenty-first year, mother and daughter were never parted for a day.
Of her father the princess had no personal remembrance, but her mother taught her to honour his memory. Through his early life he had been an active soldier in Canada and at Gibraltar, and he was sincerely attached to the military profession. When his daughter, as Queen Victoria, presented new colours to his old regiment, the royal Scots, at Ballater on 26 September 1876, she said of him: ‘He was proud of his profession, and I was always told to consider myself a soldier's child.’ Strong sympathy with the army was a main characteristic of her career. Nor were her father's strong liberal, even radical, sympathies concealed from her. At the time of his death he was arranging to visit New Lanark with his wife as the guests of Robert Owen, with whose principles he had already declared his agreement. The princess's whiggish proclivities in early life were part of her paternal inheritance.
It was in the spring of 1820 that the Duchess of Kent took up her permanent abode in Kensington Palace, and there in comparative seclusion the princess spent most of her first eighteen years of life. Kensington was then effectually cut off from London by market gardens and country lanes. Besides her infant daughter the duchess had another companion in her child by her first husband, Princess Féodore of Leiningen, who was twelve years Princess Victoria's senior, and inspired her with deep and lasting affection. Prince Charles of Leiningen, Princess Victoria's stepbrother, was also a frequent visitor, and to him also she was much attached. Chief among the permanent members of the Kensington household was Louise Lehzen, the daughter of a Lutheran clergyman of Hanover, who had acted as governess of the Princess Féodore from 1818. Princess Victoria's education was begun in 1824, when Fräulein Lehzen transferred her services from the elder to the younger daughter. Voluble in talk, severe in manner, restricted in information, conventional in opinion, she was never popular in English society; but she was shrewd in judgment and whole-hearted in her devotion to her charge, whom she at once inspired with affection and fear, memory of which never wholly left her pupil. Long after the princess's girlhood close intimacy continued between the two. At Lehzen's death in 1870 the queen wrote of her: ‘She knew me from six months old, and from my fifth to my eighteenth years devoted all her care and energies to me with most wonderful abnegation of self, never even taking one day's holiday. I adored, though I was greatly in awe of her. She really seemed to have no thought but for me.’
The need of fittingly providing for the princess's education first brought the child to the formal notice of parliament. In 1825 parliament unanimously resolved to allow the Duchess of Kent an additional £6,000 a year ‘for the purpose of making an adequate provision for the honourable support and education of her highness Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent’. English instruction was needful, and Fräulein Lehzen, whose position was never officially recognised, was hardly qualified for the whole of the teaching. On the advice of the Rev. Thomas Russell, vicar of Kensington, the Rev. George Davys, at the time vicar of a small Lincolnshire parish — from which he was soon transferred to the crown living of All Hallows-on-the-Wall, in the city of London — became the princess's preceptor. He was formally appointed in 1827, when he took up his residence at Kensington Palace. To reconcile Fräulein Lehzen to the new situation, George IV in 1827, at the request of his sister, Princess Sophia, made her a Hanoverian baroness. Davys did his work discreetly. He gathered round him a band of efficient masters in special subjects of study, mainly reserving for himself religious knowledge and history. Although his personal religious views were decidedly evangelical, he was liberal in his attitude to all religious opinions, and he encouraged in his pupil a singularly tolerant temper, which in after life served her in good stead. Thomas Steward, the writing-master of Westminster school, taught her penmanship and arithmetic. She rapidly acquired great ease and speed in writing, although at the sacrifice of elegance. As a girl she was a voluble correspondent with her numerous kinsfolk, and she maintained the practice till the end of her life. Although during her girlhood the duchess conscientiously caused her daughter to converse almost entirely in English, German was the earliest language she learned, and she always knew it as a mother-tongue. She studied it and German literature grammatically under M. Barez. At first she spoke English with a slight German accent; but this was soon mended, and in mature years her pronunciation of English was thoroughly natural, although refined. As a young woman she liked to be regarded as an authority on English accent. She was instructed in French by M. Grandineau, and came to speak it well and with fluency. At a later period, when she was fascinated by Italian opera, she studied Italian assiduously, and rarely lost an opportunity of speaking it. Although she was naturally a good linguist, she showed no marked aptitude or liking for literary subjects of study. She was not permitted in youth to read novels. First-rate literature never appealed to her. Nor was she endowed with genuine artistic taste. But to the practical pursuit of the arts she applied herself as a girl with persistency and delight. Music occupied much time. John Bernard Sale, organist of St. Margaret's, Westminster, and subsequently organist of the Chapel Royal, gave her her first lessons in singing in 1826. She developed a sweet soprano voice, and soon both sang and played the piano with good effect. Drawing was first taught her by Richard Westall the academician, who in 1829 painted one of the earliest portraits of her, and afterwards by (Sir) Edwin Landseer. Sketching in pencil or water-colours was a lifelong amusement, and after her marriage she attempted etching. In music and the pictorial arts she sought instruction till comparatively late in life. To dancing, which she was first taught by Mdlle. Bourdin, she was, like her mother, devoted; and like her, until middle age, danced with exceptional grace and energy. She was also from childhood a skilful horsewoman, and thoroughly enjoyed physical exercise, taking part in all manner of indoor and outdoor games
The princess grew up an amiable, merry, affectionate, simple-hearted child — very considerate for others' comfort, scrupulously regardful of truth, and easily pleased by homely amusement. At the same time she was self-willed and often showed impatience of restraint. Her memory was from the first singularly retentive. Great simplicity was encouraged in her general mode of life. She dressed without ostentation. Lord Albemarle watched her watering, at Kensington, a little garden of her own, wearing ‘a large straw hat and a suit of white cotton,’ her only ornament being ‘a coloured fichu round the neck.’ Charles Knight watched her breakfasting in the open air when she was nine years old, enjoying all the freedom of her years, and suddenly darting from the breakfast table ‘to gather a flower in an adjoining pasture.’ Leigh Hunt often met her walking at her ease in Kensington Gardens, and although he was impressed by the gorgeous raiment of the footman who followed her, noticed the unaffected playfulness with which she treated a companion of her own age. The Duchess of Kent was fond of presenting her at Kensington to her visitors, who included men of distinction in all ranks of life. William Wilberforce describes how he received an invitation to visit the duchess at Kensington Palace in July 1820, and how the duchess received him ‘with her fine animated child on the floor by her side with its playthings, of which I soon became one.’ On 19 May 1828 Sir Walter Scott ‘dined with the duchess’ and was ‘presented to the little Princess Victoria — I hope they will change her name (he added) — the heir apparent to the crown as things now stand. ... This little lady is educating with much care, and watched so closely, that no busy maid has a moment to whisper, “You are heir of England.”’ But Sir Walter suggested ‘I suspect, if we could dissect the little heart, we should find that some pigeon or other bird of the air had carried the matter.’
According to a story recorded many years afterwards by Baroness Lehzen, the fact of her rank was carefully concealed from her until her twelfth year, when after much consultation it was solemnly revealed to her by the baroness, who cunningly inserted in the child's book of English history a royal genealogical tree in which her place was prominently indicated. The princess, the baroness stated, received the information, of which she knew nothing before, with an ecstatic assurance that she would be ‘good’ thenceforth. But there were many opportunities open to her previously of learning the truth about her position, and on the story in the precise form that it took in the Baroness Lehzen's reminiscence the queen herself threw doubt. Among the princess's childish companions were the daughters of Heinrich von Bülow, the Prussian ambassador in London, whose wife was daughter of Humboldt. When, on 28 May 1829, they and some other children spent an afternoon at Kensington at play with the princess, each of them on leaving was presented by her with her portrait — an act which does not harmonise well with the ignorance of her rank with which Baroness Lehzen was anxious to credit her.
The most impressive of the princess's recreations were summer and autumn excursions into the country or to the seaside. Visits to her uncle Leopold's house at Claremont, near Esher, were repeated many times a year. There, she said, the happiest days of her youth were spent. In the autumn of 1824 she was introduced at Claremont to Leopold's mother, who was her own godmother and grandmother, the Duchess Dowager of Saxe-Coburg, who stayed at Claremont for more than two months. The old duchess was enthusiastic in praise of her granddaughter — ‘the sweet blossom of May’ she called her — and she favoured the notion, which her son Leopold seems first to have suggested to her, that the girl might do worse than marry into the Saxe-Coburg family. Albert, the younger of the two sons of her eldest son, the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg — a boy of her own age — was seriously considered as a suitor. Thenceforth the princess's uncle Leopold was as solicitous about the well-being of his nephew Albert as about that of his niece Victoria. A little later in the same year (1824) the child and her mother paid the first of many visits to Ramsgate, staying at Albion House. Broadstairs was also in early days a favourite resort with the duchess and her daughter, and on returning thence on one occasion they paid a first visit to a nobleman, the Earl of Winchilsea, at Eastwell Park, Ashford.
In 1826 the princess and her mother were invited for the first time to visit the king, George IV, at Windsor. He was then residing at the royal lodge in the park while the castle was undergoing restoration, and his guests were allotted quarters at Cumberland Lodge. The king was gracious to his niece, and gave her the badge worn by members of the royal family. Her good spirits and frankness made her thoroughly agreeable to him. On one occasion she especially pleased him by bidding a band play ‘God save the King’ after he had invited her to choose the tune. On 17 August 1826 she went with him on Virginia Water, and afterwards he drove her out in his phaeton.
Next year there died without issue her uncle the Duke of York, of whom she knew little, although just before his death, while he was living in the King's Road, Chelsea, he had invited her to pay him a visit, and had provided a punch-and-judy show for her amusement. His death left only her uncle the Duke of Clarence between herself and the throne, and her ultimate succession was now recognised. On 28 May 1829 she attended, at St. James's Palace, a court function for the first time. The queen of Portugal, Maria II (da Gloria), who was only a month older than the princess, although she had already occupied her throne three years, was on a visit to England, and a ball was given in her honour by George IV. Queen Maria afterwards (9 April 1836) married Princess Victoria's first cousin, Prince Ferdinand Augustus of Saxe-Coburg, and Queen Victoria always took an extremely sympathetic interest in her career, her descendants, and her country.
In June 1830 the last stage but one in the princess's progress towards the crown was reached. Her uncle George IV died on 26 June, and was succeeded by his brother William, duke of Clarence. The girl thus became heir-presumptive. Public interest was much excited in her, and in November 1830 her status was brought to the notice of parliament. A bill was introduced by the lord chancellor, Lord Lyndhurst, and was duly passed, which conferred the regency on the Duchess of Kent, in case the new king died before the princess came of age. This mark of confidence was a source of great satisfaction to the duchess. Next year William IV invited parliament to make further ‘provision for Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, in view of recent events.’
he government recommended that £10,000 should be added to the Duchess of Kent's allowance on behalf of the princess. Two influential members, Sir Matthew White Ridley and Sir Robert Inglis, while supporting the proposal, urged that the princess should as queen assume the style of Elizabeth II, and repeated the old complaint that the name Victoria did not accord with the feelings of the people. The princess had, however, already taken a violent antipathy to Queen Elizabeth, and always deprecated any association with her. An amendment to reduce the new allowance by one half was lost, and the government's recommendation was adopted. Greater dignity was thus secured for the household of the Duchess of Kent and her daughter, although the duchess regarded the addition to her income as inadequate to the needs of her position. The Duchess of Northumberland (a granddaughter of Clive) was formally appointed governess of the princess, and her preceptor Davys was made dean of Chester. She was requested to attend court functions. On 20 July 1830, dressed in deep mourning with a long court train and veil reaching to the ground, she followed Queen Adelaide at a chapter of the order of the Garter held at St. James's Palace. A few months later she was present at the prorogation of parliament. On 24 February 1831 she attended her first drawing-room, in honour of Queen Adelaide's birthday. The king complained that she looked at him stonily, and was afterwards deeply offended by the irregularity of her attendances at court. She and her mother were expected to attend his coronation on 8 September 1831, but they did not come, and comment on their absence was made in parliament.
With the apparent access of prosperity went griefs and annoyances which caused passing tears, and permanently impressed the princess's mind with a sense of the ‘sadness’ of her youth. In 1828 her constant companion, the Princess Féodore of Leiningen, left England for good, on her marriage, 18 February, to Prince von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, and the separation deeply pained Victoria. In 1830 alarm was felt at Kensington at the prospect of Prince Leopold's permanent removal to the continent. Both mother and daughter trusted his guidance implicitly. The princess was almost as deeply attached to him as to her mother. Although he declined the offer of the throne of Greece in 1830, his acceptance next year of the throne of Belgium grieved her acutely. As king of the Belgians, he watched her interests with no less devotion than before, and he was assiduous in correspondence; but his absence from the country and his subsequent marriage with Louis Philippe's daughter withdrew him from that constant control of her affairs to which she and her mother had grown accustomed. Two deaths which followed in the Saxe-Coburg family increased the sense of depression. The earlier loss did not justify deep regrets. The Duchess of Kent's sister-in-law, the mother of Prince Albert, who soon after his birth had been divorced, died in August 1831. But the death on 16 November of the Duchess Dowager of Saxe-Coburg, the Duchess of Kent's mother and the princess's godmother and grandmother, who took the warmest interest in the child's future, was a lasting sorrow.
The main cause of the Duchess of Kent's anxieties at the time was, however, the hostile attitude that William IV assumed towards her. She had no reason to complain of the unconventional good humour which he extended to her daughter, nor would it be easy to exaggerate the maternal solicitude which the homely Duchess of Clarence, now become Queen Adelaide, showed the princess. But the king resented the payment to the duchess of any of the public consideration which the princess's station warranted. The king seems to have been moved by a senile jealousy of the duchess's influence with the heiress presumptive to the crown, and he repeatedly threatened to remove the girl from her mother's care. When the two ladies received, in August 1831, a royal salute from the ships at Portsmouth on proceeding for their autumn holiday to a hired residence, Norris Castle, Isle of Wight, William IV requested the duchess to forego such honours, and, when she refused, prohibited them from being offered. Incessant wrangling between him and the duchess continued throughout the reign.
From a maternal point of view the duchess's conduct was unexceptionable. She was indefatigable in making her daughter acquainted with places of interest in England. On 23 October 1830 the princess opened at Bath the Royal Victoria Park, and afterwards inaugurated the Victoria Drive at Malvern. From 1832 onwards the duchess frequently accompanied her on extended tours, during which they were the guests of the nobility, or visited public works and manufacturing centres, so that the princess might acquire practical knowledge of the industrial and social conditions of the people. William IV made impotent protests against these ‘royal progresses,’ as he derisively called them. The royal heiress was everywhere well received, took part for the first time in public functions, and left in all directions a favourable impression. Municipal corporations invariably offered her addresses of welcome; and the Duchess of Kent, in varying phraseology, replied that it was ‘the object of her life to render her daughter deserving of the affectionate solicitude she so universally inspires, and to make her worthy of the attachment and respect of a free and loyal people.’
The first tour, which took place in the autumn of 1832, introduced the princess to the principality of Wales. Leaving Kensington in August, the party drove rapidly through Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Shrewsbury to Powis Castle, an early home of her governess, the Duchess of Northumberland; thence the princess went over the Menai Bridge to a house at Beaumaris, which she rented for a month. She presented prizes at the Eisteddfod there; but an outbreak of cholera shortened her stay, and she removed to Plas Newydd, which was lent them by the Marquis of Anglesea. She laid the first stone of a boys' school in the neighbourhood on 13 October, and made so good an impression that ‘the Princess Victoria’ was the topic set for a poetic competition in 1834 at the Cardiff Bardic Festival. The candidates were two hundred, and the prize was won by Mrs. Cornwell Baron Wilson. Passing on to Eaton Hall, the seat of Lord Grosvenor, she visited Chester on 17 October, and opened a new bridge over the Dee, which was called Victoria Bridge.
From 17 to 24 October she stayed with the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, and made many excursions in the neighbourhood, including a visit to Strutt's cotton mills at Belper. Subsequently they stayed at a long series of noblemen's houses — Shugborough, the house of Lord Lichfield; Pitchford, the seat of the third earl of Liverpool, half-brother of the tory statesman, and himself a politician of ability and insight, for whom the queen cherished affection; Hewell Grange, the seat of Lord Plymouth; and Wytham Abbey, the seat of the Earl of Abingdon. From Wytham she and her mother twice went over to Oxford (8-9 November), where they received addresses from both town and university; Dean Gaisford conducted them over Christ Church; they spent some time at the Bodleian Library and at the buildings of the university press. Robert Lowe (afterwards Viscount Sherbrooke), then an undergraduate, described the incidents of the visit in a brilliant macaronic poem. Leaving Oxford the royal party journeyed by way of High Wycombe and Uxbridge to Kensington. Throughout this tour the princess dined with her mother and her hosts at seven o'clock each evening.
Every year now saw some increase of social occupation. Visitors of all kinds grew numerous at Kensington. In November 1832 Captain Back came to explain his projected polar expedition. In January 1833 the portrait painters David Wilkie and George Hayter arrived to paint the princess's portrait. On 24 April the Duchess of Kent, with a view to mollifying the king, elaborately entertained him at a large dinner party; the princess was present only before and after dinner. In June two of her first cousins, Princes Alexander and Ernest of Würtemberg, and her half-brother, the prince of Leiningen, were her mother's guests. On 24 May 1833 the princess's fourteenth birthday was celebrated by a juvenile ball given by the king at St. James's Palace.
A summer and autumn tour was arranged for the south coast in July 1833. The royal party went a second time to Norris Castle, Isle of Wight, and made personal acquaintance with those parts of the island with which an important part of the princess's after-life was identified. She visited the director of her mother's household, Sir John Conroy, at his residence, Osborne Lodge, on the site of which at a later date Queen Victoria built Osborne Cottage, and near which she erected Osborne House. She explored Whippingham Church and East Cowes; but the main object of her present sojourn in the island was to inspect national objects of interest on the Hampshire coast. At Portsmouth she visited the Victory, Nelson's flagship. Crossing to Weymouth on 29 July she spent some time at Melbury, Lord Ilchester's seat. On 2 August she and her mother arrived at Plymouth to inspect the dockyards. Next day the princess presented on Plymouth Hoe new colours to the 89th regiment (royal Irish fusiliers), which was then stationed at Devonport. Lord Hill, the commander-in-chief, who happened to be at the barracks, took part in the ceremony. The Duchess of Kent on behalf of her daughter addressed the troops, declaring that her daughter's study of English history had inspired her with martial ardour. With the fortunes of the regiment the princess always identified herself thenceforth. It was at a later date named the Princess Victoria's Royal Irish Fusiliers, and twice again, in 1866 and 1889, she presented it with new colours. The princess afterwards made a cruise in the yacht Emerald to Eddystone lighthouse, to Torquay, whence she visited Exeter, and to Swanage.
The Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria in 1834While she was responding to the calls of public duty she was enjoying enlarged opportunities of recreation. She frequently visited the theatre, in which she always delighted. But it was the Italian opera that roused her highest enthusiasm. She never forgot the deep impressions that Pasta, Malibran, and Grisi, Tamburini and Rubini made on her girlhood. Grisi was her ideal vocalist, by whom she judged all others. All forms of music, competently rendered, fascinated her. Her reverence for the violinist Paganini, after she had once heard him, never waned. In June 1834 she was a deeply interested auditor at the royal musical festival that was given at Westminster Abbey. During her autumn holiday in the same year, when she first stayed at Tunbridge Wells, and afterwards at St. Leonards-on-Sea, she spent much of her time in playing and singing, and her instrument was then the harp. In 1836 Lablache became her singing master, and he gave her lessons for nearly twenty years, long after her accession to the throne.
During 1835, when she completed her sixteenth year, new experiences crowded on her. In June she went for the first time to Ascot, and joined in the royal procession. The American observer, N. P. Willis, watched her listening with unaffected delight to an itinerant ballad singer, and thought her ‘quite unnecessarily pretty and interesting,’ but he regretfully anticipated that it would be the fate of ‘the heir to such a crown of England’ to be sold in marriage for political purposes without regard to her personal character or wishes.
On 30 July 1835 the princess was confirmed at Chapel Royal, St. James's. The archbishop of Canterbury's address on her future responsibilities affected her. She ‘was drowned in tears and frightened to death.’ Next Sunday, at the chapel of Kensington Palace, the princess received the holy sacrament for the first time. The grim archbishop (Howley) again officiated, together with her preceptor, Davys, the dean of Chester.
After a second visit to Tunbridge Wells, where she stayed at Avoyne House, she made a triumphal northern progress. At York she remained a week with Archbishop Harcourt at Bishopsthorp, and visited Lord Fitzwilliam at Wentworth House, whence she went over to the races at Doncaster. She was the guest of the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir House, was enthusiastically received by the people of Stamford, and was next entertained by the Marquis of Exeter at Burghley. A great ball at Burghley was opened by a dance in which the marquis was the princess's partner. When she reached Lynn on her way to Holkham, the Earl of Leicester's seat, navvies yoked themselves to her carriage and drew it round the town. Her last sojourn on this tour was at Euston Hall, the residence of the Duke of Grafton. After returning to Kensington, she spent the month of September at Ramsgate, making excursions to Walmer Castle and to Dover.
In 1836, when the princess was seventeen, her uncle Leopold deemed that the time had arrived to apply a practical test to his scheme of uniting her in marriage with her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. Accordingly, he arranged with his sister, the Duchess of Kent, that Albert and his elder brother Ernest, the heir-apparent to the duchy, should in the spring pay a visit of some weeks' duration to aunt and daughter at Kensington Palace. In May Princess Victoria met Prince Albert for the first time. William IV and Queen Adelaide received him and his brother courteously, and they were frequently entertained at court. They saw the chief sights of London, and lunched with the lord mayor at the Mansion House. But the king looked with no favour on Prince Albert as a suitor for his niece's hand. At any rate, he was resolved to provide her with a wider field of choice, and he therefore invited the prince of Orange and his two sons and Duke William of Brunswick to be his guests at the same period that the Saxe-Coburg princes were in England, and he gave the princess every opportunity of meeting all the young men together. His own choice finally fell on Alexander, the younger son of the prince of Orange. On 30 May the Duchess of Kent gave a brilliant ball at Kensington Palace, and found herself under the necessity of inviting Duke William of Brunswick and the prince of Orange with his two sons as well as her own protégés. Among the general guests was the Duke of Wellington.
Some days later the Saxe-Coburg princes left England. Albert had constantly sketched and played the piano with his cousin; but her ordinary language, like that of those about her, was English which placed him at a disadvantage, for he had but recently begun to learn it. The result of their visit was hardly decisive. Prince Albert wrote of his cousin as ‘very amiable,’ and astonishingly self-possessed, but parted with her heart-whole. The princess, however, had learned the suggested plan from her uncle Leopold, whose wishes were law for her, and on 7 June, after Albert had left England, she wrote ingenuously to Leopold that she commended the youth to her uncle's special protection, adding, ‘I hope and trust that all will go on prosperously and well on this subject, now of so much importance to me.’ Her views were uncoloured by sentiment. It was natural and congenial to obey her uncle.
In the early autumn of 1836 she paid a second visit to the retired tory statesman, Lord Liverpool, who was then living at Buxted Park, near Uckfield, and afterwards spent a quiet month at Ramsgate. The old king was at the moment causing the Duchess of Kent renewed disquietude. The princess had consequently absented herself from court, and the king complained that he saw too little of her. On 20 August 1836, the king's birthday, mother and daughter dined with him at a state banquet, when he publicly expressed the hope that he might live till his niece came of age, so that the kingdom might be spared the regency which parliament had designed for the Duchess of Kent. He described his sister-in-law as a ‘person’ ‘surrounded by evil counsellors,’ and unfitted ‘to the exercise of the duties of her station.’ He asserted that, contrary to his command, she was occupying an excessive number of rooms — seventeen — at Kensington Palace. He would not ‘endure conduct so disrespectful to him.’ The princess burst into tears. The breach between the king and her mother was complete.
William IV's hope of living long enough to prevent a regency was fulfilled. Although his health was feeble, no serious crisis was feared when, on 24 May 1837, the princess celebrated her eighteenth birthday, and thus came of age. At Kensington the occasion was worthily celebrated, and the hamlet kept holiday. The princess was awakened by an aubade, and received many costly gifts. Addresses from public bodies were presented to her mother. To one from the corporation of London the duchess made, on behalf of her daughter, an elaborate reply. She pointed out that the princess was in intercourse with all classes of society, and, after an indiscreet reference to the slights put on herself by the royal family, spoke volubly of the diffusion of religious knowledge, the preservation of the constitutional prerogatives of the crown, and the protection of popular liberties as the proper aims of a sovereign. The king was loth to withdraw himself from the public rejoicing. He sent his niece a grand piano, and in the evening gave a state ball in her honour at St. James's Palace. Neither he nor the queen attended it, owing, it was stated, to illness. The princess opened the entertainment in a quadrille with Lord FitzAlan, grandson of the Duke of Norfolk, and afterwards danced with Nicholas Esterhazy, son of the Austrian ambassador. In the same month she paid two visits to the Royal Academy, which then for the first time held its exhibition in what is now the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square. She was the centre of attraction. On the first visit she shook hands and talked with Rogers the poet, and, hearing that the actor, Charles Kemble, was in the room, desired that he should be introduced to her. A few days later the king, in a letter addressed personally to her, offered to place £10,000 a year at her own disposal, independently of her mother. She accepted the offer to her mother's chagrin.
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12 July, 2014