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This article was written by Sidney Lee and was published in 1901
See this site for an extensive collection of photgraphs of Queen Victoria and her times.
Palmerston's removal did not, in fact, even at the moment diminish anxiety at court. 1852 opened ominously. The intentions of France were doubtful. The need of increasing the naval and military forces was successfully urged on the government, but no sooner had the discussions on that subject opened in the House of Commons than Palmerston condemned as inadequate the earliest proposals of the government which were embodied in a militia bill, and, inflicting a defeat on his former colleagues, brought about their resignation on 20 February 1852, within two months of his own dismissal. The queen summoned Lord Derby, who formed a conservative government, with Disraeli as chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the House of Commons. It was not a strong ministry. Its members, almost all of whom were new to official life, belonged to the party of protection; but protection had long since vanished from practical politics, and the queen was disposed to reproach her new advisers with their delay in discerning the impracticability of their obsolete policy. A little more haste, she said, ‘would have saved so much annoyance, so much difficulty.’ But personal intercourse rapidly overcame her prejudices. Lord Derby proved extremely courteous. Lord Malmesbury, the foreign minister, kept her thoroughly well informed of the affairs of his office, and the personal difficulty that she and her friends had anticipated from Disraeli was held in check. Disraeli had won his first parliamentary repute by his caustic denunciations of the queen's friend Peel, and she was inclined to adopt the widespread view that he was an unprincipled adventurer. He was perfectly aware of her sentiment, and during the ministerial crisis of 1851 he expressed himself quite ready to accept a post that should not bring him into frequent relations with the court. But personal acquaintance with him at once diminished the queen's distrust; his clever conversation amused her. She afterwards gave signal proof of a dispassionate spirit by dismissing every trace of early hostility, and by extending to him in course of time a confidence and a devotion which far exceeded that she showed to any other minister of her reign. But her present experience of Disraeli and his colleagues was brief. A general election in July left the conservatives in a minority.
In the same month the queen made a cruise in the royal yacht on the south coast, and a few weeks later paid a second private visit to King Leopold at his summer palace at Laeken. The weather was bad, but on returning she visited the chief objects of interest in Antwerp, and steered close to Calais, so that she might see it. When at Balmoral later in the autumn, information reached her of the generous bequest to her by an eccentric subject, John Camden Neild, of all his fortune, amounting to a quarter of a million. The elation of spirit which this news caused her was succeeded by depression on hearing of the death of the Duke of Wellington on 14 September ‘He was to us a true friend,’ she wrote to her uncle Leopold, ‘and most valuable adviser ... we shall soon stand sadly alone. Aberdeen is almost the only personal friend of that kind left to us. Melbourne, Peel, [the third earl of] Liverpool, now the Duke — all gone.’ The queen issued a general order of regret to the army, and she put her household into mourning. She went to the lying in state in Chelsea Hospital, and witnessed the funeral procession to St. Paul's from the balcony of Buckingham Palace on 18 November.
On 11 November the queen opened the new parliament. Lord Derby was still prime minister, but the position of the government was hopeless. On 3 December Disraeli's budget was introduced, and on the 17th it was thrown out by a majority of nineteen. Lord Derby promptly resigned.
For six years the queen's government had been extraordinarily weak. Parties were disorganised, and no leader enjoyed the full confidence of any large section of the House of Commons. A reconstruction of party seemed essential to the queen and the prince. In November she had discussed with Lord Derby a possible coalition, and the chief condition she then imposed was that Palmerston should not lead the House of Commons. When Derby resigned she made up her mind to give her views effect. She sent for veteran statesmen on each side, Lord Aberdeen and Lord Lansdowne, both of whom she had known long and fully trusted. Lansdowne was ill, and Aberdeen came alone. On 19 December she wrote to Lord John Russell: ‘The queen thinks the moment to have arrived when a popular, efficient, and durable government could be formed by the sincere and united efforts of all parties professing conservative and liberal opinions.’ Aberdeen undertook to form such a government, with the queen's assistance. Palmerston's presence was deemed essential, and she raised no objection to his appointment to the home office. The foreign office was bestowed on Lord John, who almost immediately withdrew from it in favour of the queen's friend, Lord Clarendon. On 28 December Aberdeen had completed his task, and the queen wrote with sanguine satisfaction to her uncle Leopold of ‘our excellent Aberdeen's success,’ and of the ‘realisation of the country's and of our own most ardent wishes.’
Victoria, Albert and some of their many children
Thus the next year opened promisingly, but it proved a calm before a great storm. On 7 April 1853 the queen's fourth and youngest son was born, and was named Leopold, after the queen's uncle, King Leopold, who was his godfather. George, the new king of Hanover, was also a sponsor, and the infant's third name of Duncan celebrated the queen's affection for Scotland. She was not long in retirement, and public calls were numerous. Military training, in view of possible warlike complications on the continent, was proceeding actively with the queen's concurrence. Twice — 21 June and 5 August 1853 — she visited, the first time with her guests, the new king and queen of Hanover, a camp newly formed on Chobham Common, and (on 5 August 1901) a granite cross was unveiled to commemorate the first of these visits. In the interval between the two the queen, Prince Albert, the prince of Wales, Princess Royal, and Princess Alice had been disabled by an attack of measles, and Prince Albert, to the queen's alarm, suffered severely from nervous prostration. On 11 August the navy was encouraged by a great naval review which the queen held at Spithead. Before the month ended the queen paid a second visit to Dublin, in order to inspect an exhibition of Irish industries which was framed on the model of the Great Exhibition of 1851. A million Irish men and women are said to have met her on her landing at Kingstown. The royal party stayed in Dublin from 30 August to 3 September, and attended many public functions. As on the former occasion, the queen spent, she said, ‘a pleasant, gay, and interesting time.’
Throughout 1852 the queen continued her frank avowals of repugnance to personal intercourse with Napoleon III. Her relations with the exiled royal family of France rendered him an object of suspicion and dislike, and the benevolence with which Palmerston regarded him did not soften her animosity. But she gradually acknowledged the danger of allowing her personal feeling to compromise peaceful relations with France. On 2 December 1852 the empire had been formally recognised by the European powers, and the emperor was making marked advances to England. The French ambassador in London sounded Malmesbury, the foreign minister (December 1852), as to whether a marriage between the emperor and Princess Adelaide of Hohenlohe, daughter of the queen's half sister, would be acceptable. The queen spoke with horror of the emperor's religion and morals, and was not sorry that the discussion should be ended by the emperor's marriage in the following January with Mlle. Eugénie de Montijo, a lady with whom the irony of fate was soon to connect the queen in a lasting friendship.
Meanwhile the queen's uncle, King Leopold, realised the wisdom of promoting better relations between her and the emperor, whose openly expressed anxiety to secure her countenance was becoming a source of embarrassment. In the early months of 1853 Duke Ernest, Prince Albert's brother, after consultation with King Leopold, privately visited Paris and accepted the hospitality of the Tuileries. Emperor and empress outbid each other in their laudation of Queen Victoria's domestic life. The empress expressed a longing for close acquaintance with her, her husband, and children. A revolution had been worked, she said, in the conditions of court life throughout Europe by the virtuous examples of Queen Victoria and of her friend and ally the queen of Portugal. Duke Ernest promptly reported the conversation to his brother and sister-in-law. The queen, always sensitive to sympathy with her domestic experiences, was greatly mollified. Her initial prejudices were shaken, and the political situation soon opened the road to perfect amity.
Napoleon lost no opportunity of improving the situation. At the end of 1853 he boldly suggested a matrimonial alliance between the two families. With the approval of King Leopold and of Palmerston he proposed a marriage between his first cousin, Prince Jerome, who ultimately became the political head of the Bonaparte family, and the queen's first cousin, Princess Mary of Cambridge, afterwards Duchess of Teck. Princess Mary was a frequent guest at Windsor, and constantly shared in the queen's recreations. The queen had no faith in forced political marriages, and at once consulted the princess, whose buoyant, cheerful disposition endeared her to all the royal family. The princess rejected the proposal without hesitation, and the queen would hear no more of it. Palmerston coolly remarked that Prince Jerome was at any rate preferable to a German princeling.
But although Napoleon's first move led to nothing, an alliance between France and England was already at hand. It was not France among the countries of Europe that England under the queen's sway was first to meet in war. It was in conflict with Russia that her country, under the spell of Palmerston, in conjunction with France, was to break the peace of Europe for the first time in her reign. In the autumn of 1853 Russia pushed her claims to protect the Greek Christians of the Turkish empire with such violence as to extort from Turkey a declaration of war (23 October). The mass of the British nation held that England was under an imperative and an immediate obligation to intervene by force of arms in behalf of Turkey, her protégé and ally. The English cabinet was divided in opinion. Aberdeen regarded the conduct of Russia as indefensible, but hoped to avert war by negotiation. Palmerston, then home secretary, took the popular view, that the inability of Turkey to meet Russia single-handed allowed no delay in intervention.
On 16 December Palmerston suddenly resigned, on the ostensible ground that he differed from proposals of electoral reform which his colleagues had adopted. The true reason was his attitude to the foreign crisis. Signs that he interpreted the voice of the country aright abounded. The ministry felt compelled to readmit him to the cabinet, with the certainty of destroying the peace of Europe.
To the court the crisis was from every point of view distressing. The queen placed implicit trust in Aberdeen, and with him she hoped to avoid war. But Palmerston's restored predominance alarmed her. Abroad the situation was not more reassuring. The Emperor Napoleon promptly offered to join his army with that of England, and the king of Sardinia promised to follow his example. But other foreign sovereigns with whom the queen was in fuller sympathy privately entreated her to thwart the bellicose designs which they identified with her most popular minister's name. The tsar protested to her the innocence of his designs (November 1853). The nervous king of Prussia petitioned her to keep the peace, and even sent her an autograph note by the hand of General von Gröben. Clarendon, the foreign minister, gave her wise advice regarding the tenor of her replies. She reproached the king of Prussia with his weakness in failing to aid the vindication of international law and order (17 March 1854), and her attitude to all her continental correspondents was irreproachable. But the rumour spread that she and her husband were employing their foreign intimacies against the country's interest.
Aberdeen's hesitation to proceed to extremities, the known dissensions between Palmerston and the court, the natural jealousy of foreign influences in the sphere of government, fed the suspicion that the crown at the instance of a foreign prince consort was obstructing the due assertion of the country's rights, and was playing into the hands of the country's foes. As the winter of 1853-4 progressed without any signs of decisive action on the part of the English government, popular indignation redoubled and burst in its fullest fury on the head of Prince Albert. He was denounced as the chief agent of an Austro-Belgian-Coburg-Orleans clique, the avowed enemy of England, and the subservient tool of Russian ambition. The tsar, it was seriously alleged, communicated his pleasure to the prince through the prince's kinsmen at Gotha and Brussels. ‘It is pretended,’ the prince told his brother (7 January 1854), ‘that I whisper [the tsar's orders] in Victoria's ear, she gets round old Aberdeen, and the voice of the only English minister, Palmerston, is not listened to — ay, he is always intrigued against, at the court and by the court’. The queen's husband, in fact, served as scapegoat for the ministry's vacillation. Honest men believed that he had exposed himself to the penalties of high treason, and they gravely doubted if the queen herself were wholly guiltless.
The queen took the calumnies to heart, and Aberdeen, who was, she told Stockmar, ‘all kindness,’ sought vainly for a time to console her. ‘In attacking the prince,’ she pointed out to Aberdeen (4 January 1854), ‘who is one and the same with the queen herself, the throne is assailed, and she must say she little expected that any portion of her subjects would thus requite the unceasing labours of the prince.’ The prime minister in reply spoke with disdain of ‘these contemptible exhibitions of malevolence and faction,’ but he admitted that the prince held an anomalous position which the constitution had not provided for. When the queen opened parliament on 31 January she was well received, and the leaders of both sides — Lord Aberdeen and Lord Derby in the upper house and Lord John Russell and Spencer Walpole in the commons — emphatically repudiated the slanders on her and her husband. The tide of abuse thereupon flowed more sluggishly, and it was temporarily checked on 27 February 1854, when the queen sent a message to the House of Lords announcing the breakdown of negotiations with Russia. War was formally declared next day, and France and Sardinia affirmed their readiness to fight at England's side.
The popular criticism of the queen was unwarranted. Repulsive as the incidents of war were to her, and active as was her sympathy with the suffering that it entailed, she never ceased to urge her ministers and her generals, when war was actually in being, to press forward with dogged resolution and not to slacken their efforts until the final goal of victory was reached. Her attitude was characterised alike by dignity and common sense. She was generous in the encouragement she gave all ranks of the army and navy. For months she watched in person the departure of troops.
On 10 March she inspected at Spithead the great fleet which was destined for the Baltic under Sir Charles Napier. At the opening of the conflict the government proposed a day of humiliation for the success of the British arms. The queen was not enthusiastic in favour of the proposal. She warned Aberdeen of the hypocrisy of self-abasement in the form of prayers, and at the same time she deprecated abuse of the enemy.
Some alleviation of anxiety was sought in the ordinary incidents of court life. On 12 May the queen, by way of acknowledging the alliance into which she had entered with the emperor, paid the French ambassador, Count Walewski, the high compliment of attending a bal costumé at the French embassy at Albert Gate. The queen alone wore ordinary evening dress. Next day she went to Woolwich to christen in her husband's honour a new battleship of enormous dimensions, the Royal Albert. In June the queen entertained for a month her cousin, the new king of Portugal, Pedro V, and his brother the Duke of Oporto, who afterwards succeeded to the throne. Their mother, in whom she was from her childhood deeply interested, had died in childbed seven months before (20 November 1853). The queen showed the young men every attention, taking them with her to the opera, the theatre, and Ascot. A suggestion made to them that Portugal should join England in the Crimean war was reasonably rejected by their advisers. The chief spectacular event of the season was the opening by the queen at Sydenham, on 10 June, of the Crystal Palace, which had, much to the prince's satisfaction, been transferred from Hyde Park after the Great Exhibition.
Through the summer the queen shared with a large section of the public a fear that the government was not pursuing the war with requisite energy. When Lord Aberdeen, in a speech in the House of Lords on 20 June, argumentatively defended Russia against violent assaults in the English press, the queen promptly reminded him of the misapprehensions that the appearance of lukewarmness must create in the public mind. Whatever were the misrepresentations of the tsar's policy, she said, it was at the moment incumbent on him to remember that ‘there is enough in that policy to make us fight with all our might against it.’
She and the prince incessantly appealed to the ministers to hasten their deliberations and to improve the organisation of the Crimean army. A hopeful feature of the situation was Napoleon III's zeal. In July the prince accepted the emperor's invitation to inspect with him the camp at St. Omer, where an army was fitting out for the Crimea. The meeting was completely successful, and the good relations of the rulers of the two countries were thus placed on a surer foundation. While at Balmoral in September the queen was elated to receive ‘all the most interesting and gratifying details of the splendid and decisive victory of the Alma.’ On leaving Balmoral (11 October) she visited the docks at Grimsby and Hull, but her mind was elsewhere. From Hull (13 October) she wrote to her uncle Leopold, ‘We are, and indeed the whole country is, entirely engrossed with one idea, one anxious thought — the Crimea.’ News of the victories of Inkermann (25 October) and Balaclava (5 November) did not entirely relieve her anxiety. ‘Such a time of suspense,’ she wrote on 7 November, ‘I never expected to see, much less to feel.’
During the winter the cruel hardships which climate, disease, and failure of the commissariat inflicted on the troops strongly stirred public feeling. The queen initiated or supported all manner of voluntary measures of relief. With her own hands she made woollen comforters and mittens for the men. On New Year's day, 1855, she wrote to the commander-in-chief, Lord Raglan, expressing her sympathy with the army in its ‘sad privations and constant sickness,’ and entreated him to make the camps ‘as comfortable as circumstances can admit of.’ No details escaped her, and she especially called his attention to the rumour ‘that the soldiers' coffee was given them green instead of roasted.’ Although the queen and the prince grew every day more convinced of the defective administration of the war office, they were unflinchingly loyal to the prime minister, Lord Aberdeen, who was the target of much public censure. Before the opening of parliament in January 1855, by way of proof of their personal sympathy, she made him a knight of the garter.
But it was beyond her power, had it been her wish, to prop the falling government. The session no sooner opened than Lord John insisted on seceding in face of the outcry against the management of the war. The blow was serious, and Lord Aberdeen was with difficulty persuaded by the queen to hold on. But complete shipwreck was not long delayed. On 29 January the government was hopelessly defeated on a hostile motion for an inquiry into the management of the war. Aberdeen's retirement was inevitable, and it was obvious that the queen was face to face with the distasteful necessity of conferring the supreme power in the state on her old enemy, Palmerston. The situation called for all her fortitude. She took time before submitting. A study of the division lists taught her that Lord Derby's supporters formed the greater number of the voters who had destroyed Lord Aberdeen's ministry. She therefore, despite Aberdeen's warning, invited Lord Derby to assume the government. Derby explained to her that he could not without aid from other parties, and a day later he announced his failure to secure extraneous assistance. The queen then turned to the veteran whig, Lord Lansdowne, and bade him privately seek advice for her from all the party leaders. In the result she summoned Lord John Russell on the ground that his followers were in number and compactness second to Lord Derby's. But she could not blind herself to the inevitable result of the negotiations, and, suppressing her private feeling, she assured Lord John that she hoped Palmerston would join him. But she had not gone far enough. Lord John was not strong enough to accept the queen's commands. A continuance of the deadlock was perilous. The queen confided to her sympathetic friend Lord Clarendon her reluctance to take the next step, but he convinced her that she had no course but one to follow. He assured her that Palmerston would prove conciliatory if frankly treated. Thereupon she took the plunge and bade Palmerston form an administration.
Palmerston's popular strength was undoubted, and resistance on the part of the crown was idle. As soon as the die was cast the queen with characteristic good sense indicated that she would extend her full confidence to her new prime minister. On 15 February he wrote to his brother: ‘I am backed by the general opinion of the whole country, and I have no reason to complain of the least want of cordiality or confidence on the part of the court.’ To the queen's satisfaction Lord Aberdeen had persuaded most of his colleagues to serve temporarily under his successor, but within a few days the Peelite members of the old government went out, the unity of the government was assured, and Palmerston's power was freed of all restraint.
Baseless rumours of the malign influence exerted by Prince Albert were still alive, but no doubt was permissible of the devoted energy with which the queen was promoting the relief of the wounded. In March she visited the hospitals at Chatham and Woolwich, and complained privately that she was not kept informed in sufficient detail of the condition and prospects of disabled soldiers on their return home. A new difficulty arose with the announcement on the part of Napoleon that he intended to proceed to the Crimea to take command of the French army there. His presence was certain to provoke complications in the command of the allied forces in the field. The emperor hinted that it might be well for him to discuss the project in person with the queen. She and her advisers at once acceded to the suggestion, and she invited him and the empress to pay her a state visit.
On all sides she was thrown into association with men who had inspired her with distrust, but she cheerfully yielded her private sentiments at the call of a national crisis. The queen made every effort to give her guests a brilliant reception. She personally supervised every detail of the programme and drew up with her own hands the lists of guests who were to be commanded to meet them. On 16 April the emperor and empress reached Dover and proceeded through London to Windsor. Every elaborate formality that could mark the entertainment of sovereigns was strictly observed, and the emperor was proportionately impressed. The ordeal proved far less trying than the queen feared. At a great banquet in St. George's Hall on the evening of his arrival, the emperor won the queen's heart by his adroit flattery and respectful familiarity. She found him ‘very quiet and amiable and easy to get on with.’ There was a review of the household troops in Windsor Park next day, and on the 18th the queen bestowed on Napoleon the knighthood of the garter. A visit to Her Majesty's opera house in the Haymarket on the 19th evoked a great display of popular enthusiasm, and amid similar manifestations the royal party went on the 20th to the Crystal Palace. On the 21st the visit ended, and with every sign of mutual goodwill the emperor left Buckingham Palace for Dover. Of ‘the great event’ the queen wrote: ‘On all it has left a pleasant satisfactory impression.’
The royal party had talked much of the war with the result that was desired. On 25 April the emperor wrote to the queen that he had abandoned his intention of going to the Crimea. But throughout the hospitable gaieties the ironies of fate that dog the steps of sovereigns were rarely far from the queen's mind. Three days before the emperor arrived, the widowed ex-queen of the French, who had fallen far from her high estate, visited her at Windsor, whence she drove away unnoticed in the humblest of equipages. After the great ball in the Waterloo room at Windsor, when she danced a quadrille with the emperor on the 17th, she noted in her diary, ‘How strange to think that I, the granddaughter of George III, should dance with the Emperor Napoleon, nephew of England's great enemy, and now my nearest and most intimate ally, in the Waterloo room, and this ally, only six years ago, living in this country an exile, poor and unthought of!’
Meanwhile peace proposals, which proved abortive, were under consideration at a conference of the powers at Vienna; but the queen was resolved that none but the best possible terms should be entertained by her ministers. Lord John represented England and M. Drouyn de Lhuys France, and when Lord John seemed willing to consider conditions that were to the queen unduly favourable to Russia she wrote peremptorily (25 April 1855) to Palmerston, ‘How Lord John Russell and M. Drouyn can recommend such proposals for our acceptance is beyond her [our] comprehension.’ In May the queen identified herself conspicuously with the national feeling by distributing with her own hands war medals to the returned soldiers on the Horse Guards' Parade (18 May). It was the queen's own suggestion, and it was the first time that the sovereign had performed such functions. ‘The rough hand of the brave and honest private soldier came,’ she said, ‘for the first time in contact with that of their [his] sovereign and their [his] queen.’ Later in the day she visited the riding school in Wellington barracks while the men were assembled at dinner. In the months that followed the queen and prince were indefatigable in exerting their influence against what they deemed unworthy concessions to Russia. From their point of view the resignation of Lord John on 16 July rendered the situation more hopeful.
At the moment domestic distress was occasioned by an outbreak of scarlet fever in the royal household, which attacked the four younger children. On their recovery the queen and prince sought to strengthen the French alliance by paying the emperor a return visit at Paris. Following the example of Prince Albert, the emperor had organised a great ‘Exposition,’ which it was his desire that his royal friends should compare with their own. On 20 August, after parliament had been prorogued by commission, the queen travelled, with the prince, the prince of Wales, and the Princess Royal, from Osborne to Boulogne. There the emperor met them. By an accident they reached Paris rather late, but they passed through it in procession to the palace of St. Cloud, and Marshal Magnan declared that the great Napoleon was not so warmly received on his return from Austerlitz. The occasion was worthy of enthusiasm. It was the first time that an English sovereign had entered the French capital since the infant Henry VI went there to be crowned in 1422. The splendid festivities allowed the queen time for several visits, not merely to the Exposition, but to the historic buildings of Paris and Versailles. Their historical associations greatly interested her, especially those which recalled the tragedies — always fascinating to her — of Marie Antoinette or James II. Among the official celebrations were a review on the Champ de Mars of 45,000 troops, and balls of dazzling magnificence at the Hôtel de Ville and at Versailles.
At the Versailles fête, on 25 August, the queen was introduced for the first time to Count (afterwards Prince) Bismarck, then Prussian minister at Frankfort, from whose iron will her host, and afterwards her daughter, were soon to suffer. The queen conversed with him in German with great civility. He thought that she was interested in him, but lacked sympathy with him. The impression was correct. On reaching Boulogne on her way to Osborne (27 August) she was accorded a great military reception by the emperor, who exchanged with her on parting the warmest assurances of attachment to her, her husband, and her children. The anticipations of a permanent alliance between the two countries seemed at the moment likely to be fulfilled, but they quickly proved too sanguine. The political relations between Napoleon III and the queen were soon to be severely strained, and her faith in his sincerity to be rudely shaken. Yet his personal courtesies left an indelible impression on her. Despite her political distrust she constantly corresponded with her host in autograph letters in terms of a dignified cordiality until the emperor's death; and the sympathetic affection which had arisen between the queen and the Empress Eugénie steadily grew with time and the vicissitudes of fortune.
The month (September-October) which was spent, as usual, at Balmoral was brightened by two gratifying incidents. On 10 September there reached the queen news of the fall of Sebastopol, after a siege of nearly a year — a decisive triumph for British arms, which brought honourable peace well in sight. Prince Albert himself superintended the lighting of a bonfire on the top of a neighbouring cairn. The other episode appealed more directly to the queen's maternal feeling. The eldest son of the prince of Prussia (afterwards the Emperor Frederick I), who, attended by Count von Moltke, was at the time a guest at Balmoral, requested permission to propose marriage to the Princess Royal. She was barely sixteen, and he was twenty-four, but there were indications of a mutual affection. The manly goodness of the prince strongly appealed to the queen, and an engagement was privately made on 29 September The public announcement was to be deferred till after the princess's confirmation next year. Prince Albert denied that the betrothal had any political significance.
From the point of view of English politics it had at the instant little to recommend it. A close union between the royal families of London and Berlin was not likely to recommend itself to the queen's late host of Paris. To most English statesmen Prussia appeared to be on the downward grade; and although Prince Albert and the queen had faith in its future, they were personally disappointed by the incompetence of its present ruler, the uncle of their future son-in-law. He had deserted them in the recent war, but was still seeking their influence in Europe in his own interests in private letters to the queen, which he conjured her not to divulge in Downing Street or at the Tuileries. His pertinacity had grown so troublesome that, to avoid friction, she deemed it wisest to suppress his correspondence unanswered. It was not surprising that, when the news of the betrothal leaked out, the public comments should be unpleasing to the court. The Times on 3 October denounced it with heat as an act of truckling ‘to a paltry German dynasty.’
In November, when the court was again at Windsor, the queen extended her acquaintance among great kings and statesmen by receiving a visit from her second ally in the Crimea, Victor Emanuel, king of Sardinia, and his minister, Count Cavour, and the affairs of one more country of Europe were pressed upon her attention. The king's brother, the Duke of Genoa, had been her guest in 1852, and she had presented him with a riding-horse in words that he interpreted to imply sympathy with the efforts of Cavour and his master to unite Italy under a single king, and to purge the separate states of native tyranny or foreign domination. Victor Emanuel had come to Windsor in effect to seek confirmation of his brother's version of the queen's sentiment, and to test its practical value. He had just been at the Tuileries, where Napoleon was encouraging, while Palmerston, now prime minister, was known to sympathise with the Italian aspiration. It was not opportune at the moment for Palmerston to promise material aid; while the prince, however deeply he deplored the misgovernment which it was sought to annul in Italy, deprecated any breach with Austria, which ruled in North Italy. He and the queen, moreover, dreaded the kindling of further war in Europe, in whatever cause. Victor Emanuel and Cavour therefore received from the queen cold comfort, but she paid the king every formal honour, despite his brusque and unrefined demeanour. He was invested with the garter on 5 December, and a great banquet was given him in St. George's Hall in the evening. When he departed the queen rose at four o'clock in the morning to bid him farewell.
Meanwhile peace was arranged in Paris with Russia, and the queen opened parliament on 31 January 1856 amid great rejoicing. On 30 March the treaty was signed and the encroachment of Russia on Turkey was checked. Napoleon had shown much supineness in the negotiations and seemed to be developing a tendency to conciliate the common enemy, Russia. But the queen exchanged hearty congratulations with him, and on 11 April she celebrated the general harmony by conferring the knighthood of the garter on Palmerston, to whom she acknowledged, with some natural qualifications, the successful issue to be mainly due.
Henceforth the army, to a larger extent than before, was the queen's constant care. A visit to the military hospital at Chatham on 16 April was followed by a first visit to the newly formed camp at Aldershot. There the queen, for the first of many times, slept the night in the royal pavilion, and next day she reviewed eighteen thousand men. She was on horseback, and wore the uniform of a field-marshal with the star and riband of the garter. Shortly after she laid two foundation stones — of a new military (the Royal Victoria) hospital at Netley (19 May), and of Wellington College, Sandhurst, for the sons of officers (2 June). Much of the summer she spent in welcoming troops on their return from the war. On 7 and 8 June the queen, accompanied by her guests, the king of the Belgians and Prince Oscar of Sweden, inspected a great body of them at Aldershot, and addressed to them stirring words of thanks and sympathy. Thoroughly identifying herself with the heroism of her soldiers and sailors, she instituted a decoration for acts of conspicuous valour in war, to be known as the Victoria Cross (V.C.); the decoration carried with it a pension of 10l. a year. A list of the earliest recipients of the honour was soon drawn up, and the crosses were pinned by the queen herself on the breasts of sixty-two men at a great review in Hyde Park next year (26 June 1857).
A melancholy incident had marked her visit to Aldershot on 8 June 1856. While the commander-in-chief, Lord Hardinge, was speaking to her he was seized by incurable paralysis, and had to vacate his post. An opportunity seemed thus presented to the queen of tightening the traditional bond between herself and the army, on which recent events had led her to set an enhanced value. Of no prerogative of the crown was the queen more tenacious than that which gave her a nominal control of the army through the commander-in-chief. It was a control that was in name independent of parliament, although that body claimed a concurrent authority over the military forces through the secretary of state for war. Parliament was in course of time, to the queen's dismay, to make its authority over the army sole and supreme, to the injury of her prerogative. But her immediate ambition was to confirm the personal connection between the army and herself. She therefore induced Palmerston to sanction the appointment of her cousin, George, Duke of Cambridge, as commander-in-chief, in succession to Lord Hardinge (14 July 1856). The Duke had held a command in the Crimea, and the queen's recent displays of attachment to the army rendered it difficult for her advisers to oppose her wish. But the choice was not in accord with public policy, and in practical effect ultimately weakened the military prerogative which she sought to strengthen.
Public and private affairs justified a season of exceptional gaiety. The Princess Royal had been confirmed on 20 March and her betrothal became generally known, when in May Prince Frederick William, again accompanied by Von Moltke, paid the court another visit. The queen's spirits ran high. On 7 May she gave a great banquet to the leaders of both parties and their wives, and she was amused at the signs of discomfort which made themselves apparent. But Lord Derby told the prince that the guests constituted ‘a happy family’. Balls were incessant, and at them all the queen danced indefatigably. On 9 May the new ball-room and concert-room at Buckingham Palace, which Prince Albert had devised, was brought into use for the first time on the occasion of a ball in honour of the Princess Royal's début. On 27 May the queen attended a ball at the Turkish ambassador's, and, to the ambassador's embarrassment, chose him for her partner in the first country dance. At a ball in the Waterloo Gallery at Windsor on 10 June the queen danced every dance, and finally a Scottish reel to the bagpipes.
On 20 June she entertained Sir Fenwick Williams of Kars at Buckingham Palace. On 26 June the Duke of Westminster gave a great ball in her honour at Grosvenor House. On 9 July there was a state reception by her of the guards on their home-coming from the Crimea. From 10 to 28 August the prince and princess of Prussia, the father and mother of her future son-in-law, were her guests, and later in the autumn the queen received at Balmoral Miss Florence Nightingale, to whom she had sent in the previous January a valuable memorial jewel. In November 1856 the family were plunged in mourning by the death of Prince Leiningen, the queen's half-brother and a companion of her youth.
The next year (1857) involved the queen in a new and great public anxiety, and the serious side of life oppressed her. Parliament was opened by commission on 3 February, and before the end of the month the country heard the first bitter cry of the Indian mutiny. Next month Palmerston was defeated in the House of Commons on Cobden's motion condemning his warlike policy in China. The queen, with characteristic reluctance, assented to his demand for a dissolution. His appeal to the country received a triumphant answer, and the new parliament assembled with a majority of seventy-nine in his favour — a signal tribute to his personal popularity. On 14 April the queen's youngest child, Princess Beatrice, was born at Buckingham Palace, and on the 30th the queen suffered much grief on the death of her aunt, the Duchess of Gloucester, the last surviving child of George III; ‘we all looked upon her,’ said the queen, ‘as a sort of grandmother.’
At the time the forthcoming marriage of her eldest daughter began to occupy her thoughts. On 16 May the betrothal was formally announced at Berlin, and on the 25th the queen sent a message to parliament asking for a provision for the princess. It was her earliest appeal to the nation for the pecuniary support of her children. The request was favourably entertained. The government proposed a dowry of £40,000 and an annuity of £8,000. Roebuck raised the objection that the marriage was an ‘entangling alliance,’ and opposed the grant of an annuity. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, the chancellor of the exchequer, called attention to the fact that the queen's recent expenses in connection with the French visits were defrayed out of her income, and that the eldest daughters of George II and George III each received a dowry of £80,000 and an annuity of £5,000. All parties finally combined to support the government's proposal, which found in its last stages only eighteen dissentients.
The royal betrothal continued to be celebrated by brilliant and prolonged festivities. In June and July Prince Frederick William once more stayed at court, and Von Moltke, who was again his companion, declared the succession of gaieties to be overpowering. One day (15 June) there was a state visit to the Princess's Theatre to see Kean's spectacular production of Shakespeare's Richard II. Next day the infant Princess Beatrice was baptised. On 11 June the Ascot ceremonies were conducted in full state, and among the royal guests was M. Achille Fould, the Paris banker and Napoleon III's minister of finance. On the 17th the whole court attended the first Handel festival at the Crystal Palace, when Judas Maccabeus was performed; the royal company drove to and fro in nine four-in-hands.
On the 18th a levee was followed by a state ball, in which the queen danced with unabated energy. Hardly a day passed without an elaborate ceremonial. On 26 June a military review took place in Hyde Park amid extraordinary signs of popular enthusiasm, and the first batch of Victoria crosses was distributed. From 29 June to 2 July the queen stayed with the Earl of Ellesmere at Worsley Hall to inspect the art treasures exhibition at Manchester. Next month she laid the foundation at Wandsworth Common of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for daughters of soldiers, sailors, and marines, and before the end of the month time was found for a visit to Aldershot. Royal personages from the continent thronged the queen's palaces. The king of the Belgians brought his daughter, the Princess Charlotte, and her fiancé the ArchDuke Maximilian of Austria, who was later to lay down his life in Mexico under heartrending circumstances. The prince of Hohenzollern, the queen of the Netherlands, and the Duke and Duchess of Montpensier all interested their royal hostess. She was gratified, too, on both personal and political grounds, by a short visit to Osborne of the Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, brother of the reigning tsar Alexander II. He had been invited to the Tuileries by Napoleon, who was ominously seeking every opportunity of manifesting goodwill to Russia, and the queen did not wish to be behind him in showing courtesies to her recent foes.
The constant intercourse of the queen and the prince at this moment with the royal families of Europe led her to define her husband's rank more accurately than had been done before. On 25 June 1857, by royal letters patent, she conferred on him the title of prince consort. ‘It was always a source of weakness,’ the prince wrote, ‘for the crown that the queen always appeared before the people with her foreign husband.’ But it was doubtful whether this bestowal of a new name effectively removed the embarrassment. The ‘Times’ wrote sneeringly that the new title guaranteed increased homage to its bearer on the banks of the Spree and the Danube, but made no difference in his position anywhere else. Abroad it achieved the desired result. When on 29 July the prince attended at Brussels the marriage of the ill-fated ArchDuke Maximilian with the Princess Charlotte of Belgium, he was accorded precedence before the Austrian archDukes and immediately after the king of the Belgians.
The English government still deemed it prudent to cultivate the French alliance, but the emperor's policy was growing enigmatic, and in the diplomatic skirmishes among the powers which attended the final adjustment, in accordance with the provisions of the treaty of Paris, of the affairs of the Balkan peninsula, he and the English government took opposite sides. The anxiety of the emperor to maintain good personal relations with the queen was the talisman which restored harmony. A few informal words with the queen, the emperor assured her ministers, would dissolve all difficulties. Accordingly he and the empress were invited to pay a private visit to Osborne, and they stayed there from 6 to 10 August The French ministers, Walewski and Persigny, accompanied their master, and the queen was attended by Palmerston and Clarendon. The blandest cordiality characterised the discussion, but from the point of view of practical diplomacy advantage lay with the emperor. He had supported the contention of Russia and Sardinia that it was desirable to unite under one ruler the two semi-independent principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. The English government supported Austria's desire to keep the two apart. Napoleon now agreed to the continued separation of the principalities; but in 1859, when they, by their own efforts, joined together and founded the dominion which was afterwards named Roumania, he insisted on maintaining the union.
When the Osborne visit was ended affectionate compliments passed between the emperor and the queen in autograph letters, and the agreement was regarded as final. The queen wrote with ingenuous confidence of the isolation that characterised the position of a sovereign, but added that fortunately her ally, no less than herself, enjoyed the compensation of a happy marriage. The ostentatious activity with which the emperor was strengthening his armaments at Cherbourg hardly seemed promising for the continuance of such personal harmony, but the emperor paradoxically converted the warlike preparations which were going forward almost within hail of the English shore, into new links of the chain of amity which was binding the two royal families together. At his suggestion, within a fortnight of his leaving Osborne, the queen and the prince crossed in her yacht Victoria and Albert to Cherbourg on 19 August in order to inspect the dockyard, arsenal, and fortifications. Every facility of examination was given them, but amid the civilities of the welcome the queen did not ignore the use to which those gigantic works might be put if England and France came to blows. The relations of the queen and emperor abounded in irony.
Meanwhile the nation was in the throes of the Indian mutiny — a crisis more trying and harrowing than the recent war. Having broken out in the previous June, it was in August at its cruel height, and the queen, in common with all her subjects, suffered acute mental torture. She eagerly scanned the news from the disturbed districts, and, according to her wont, showered upon her ministers entreaties to do this and that in order to suppress the rebellion with all available speed. Palmerston resented the queen's urgency of counsel, and wrote (18 July) with unbecoming sarcasm, to which she was happily blind, how fortunate it was for him that she was not on the opposition side of the House of Commons. At the same time he reminded her that ‘measures are sometimes best calculated to succeed which follow each other step by step.’ The minister's cavils only stimulated the activity of her pen. She left Osborne for her autumn holiday at Balmoral on 28 August Parliament was still sitting. Her withdrawal to the north before the prorogation excited adverse criticism, but throughout her sojourn at Balmoral little else except India occupied her mind. She vividly felt the added anxieties due to the distance and the difficulty of communication. Happily, just after the court left Scotland (on 16 September) events took a more favourable turn. On 3 December, when the queen opened parliament in person, the mutiny was in process of extinction.
The sudden death of the Duchess de Nemours in November at Claremont increased at the time the queen's depression. ‘We were like sisters,’ she wrote; ‘bore the same name, married the same year, our children of the same age.’ But the need of arranging for the celebration of her eldest daughter's marriage soon distracted her attention. As many as seventeen German princes and princesses accepted invitations to be present. The festivities opened on 19 January 1858 with a state performance at Her Majesty's Theatre, when Macbeth was performed, with Phelps and Miss Faucit in the chief parts, and was followed by Mr. and Mrs. Keeley's rendering of the farce of Twice Killed. The wedding took place at St. James's Palace on the 25th, and eight days later the bride and bridegroom left England. The queen felt the parting severely, and dwelt upon her mixed feelings of joy and sorrow in her replies to the addresses of congratulation which poured in upon her.
Before the queen quite reconciled herself to the separation from her daughter, she was suddenly involved in the perplexities of a ministerial crisis. The French alliance which Palmerston had initiated proved a boomerang and destroyed his government. On 15 January an explosive bomb had been thrown by one Orsini, an Italian refugee, at the emperor and empress of the French while entering the Opera House in Paris, and though they escaped unhurt ten persons were killed and 150 wounded. It was soon discovered that the plot had been hatched in England, and that the bomb had been manufactured there. A strongly worded despatch from the French minister Walewski to Palmerston demanded that he should take steps to restrict the right of asylum in England which was hitherto freely accorded to foreign political malcontents. Addresses of congratulation to the emperor on his escape, which he published in the official Moniteur, threatened England with reprisal.
Palmerston ignored Walewski's despatch, but introduced a mild bill making conspiracy to murder, hitherto a misdemeanour, a felony. The step was approved by the queen, but it was denounced as a weak truckling to Palmerston's old friend Napoleon, and his bill was defeated on the second reading (19 February). Thereupon he resigned. The queen begged him to reconsider the matter. Although she never derived much comfort from Palmerston, she had great faith in his colleague Clarendon, and it was on his account that she sought to keep the ministry in office; but Palmerston persisted in resigning, and she at once summoned Lord Derby. The queen, although she recognised the parliamentary weakness of a conservative government, was successful in urging him to attempt it. It gratified her that the brother of Sir Robert Peel, General Jonathan Peel, became secretary for war. ‘His likeness to his deceased brother,’ she wrote, ‘in manner, in his way of thinking, and in patriotic feeling, is quite touching.’ Friendly relations with France were easily re-established by the new ministry, and the queen was delighted by the emperor's choice of the eminent General Pélissier, Duc de Malakoff, to represent France at her court in place of Persigny, who was no favourite. General Pélissier was constantly at court, and was much liked by all the royal family, and when he withdrew, on 5 March 1859, tears were shed on both sides.
In June 1858 the prince consort paid a visit to his daughter and son-in-law in Germany, and on his return the queen, during exceptionally hot weather, which interfered with her comfort, made a royal progress to Birmingham to open the Aston Park. She and the prince stayed with Lord Leigh at Stoneleigh Abbey. The need of maintaining at full heat the French alliance again called them to France in August, when they paid a second visit to Cherbourg. The meeting of the sovereigns bore a somewhat equivocal aspect. The queen in her yacht was accompanied by a great escort of men-of-war, while nearly all the ships of the French navy stood by to welcome her. On landing at Cherbourg she joined the emperor in witnessing the formal opening of the new arsenal, and she climbed up the steep fort La Roule in order to survey the whole extent of the fortifications. The emperor pleasantly reminded the queen that a century before the English fleet had bombarded Cherbourg, but the cordiality between the two appeared unchanged, and the emperor repeated his confidence in the permanence of the Anglo-French alliance; the prince, however, thought the imperial ardour somewhat cooler than of old. From France the queen passed to Germany on a visit to her daughter. It was a long and interesting expedition, and she renewed personal intercourse with many friends and kinsmen. She and the prince landed at Antwerp, and at Malines met King Leopold, who travelled with them to Verviers. At Aix-la-Chapelle the prince of Prussia joined them. Thence they travelled to Hanover to visit the king and queen at Herrenhausen, where the queen delighted in the many memorials of her Hanoverian predecessors. Her daughter was residing at the castle of Babelsberg, about three miles from Potsdam, and there she arrived on 13 August In the course of the next few days many visits were paid to Berlin, and the queen inspected the public buildings, the tomb of Frederick the Great, and the royal palaces of Sans Souci and Charlottenberg, and the Neues Palais. On the 27th she left for Cologne, and after a brief visit to places of interest she arrived at Osborne by way of Antwerp and Dover on the 31st. She and the prince soon left for the north, but they paused on the journey at Leeds to open the new town-hall.
The foreign tour had not withdrawn the queen from important business at home. When she was setting out the country was excited by the completion of the laying of the first submarine cable between America and the United Kingdom, and the queen sent an elaborate message of congratulation over the wires to the president of the United States, James Buchanan. She described the enterprise as an additional link between nations whose friendship was founded upon common interest and reciprocal esteem. Unfortunately the cable soon ceased to work and the permanent connection was not established till 1861.
During her stay in Germany, Indian affairs mainly occupied her government's attention. While the mutiny was in course of suppression parliament decided to abolish the old East India Company and to transfer its territories and powers to the crown. India was thenceforth to be administered by a secretary of state assisted by a council of fifteen. The queen set a high value on the new and direct connection which the measure created between India and herself. She felt that it added to the prestige of the monarchy, but in two details the queen deemed the bill to encroach on her prerogative. In the first place, the introduction of competitive examinations for appointments in the new Indian civil service cancelled the crown's power of nomination. In the second place, the Indian army was to be put under the authority of the Indian council. She insisted that her prerogative gave her control of all military forces of the crown through the commander-in-chief exclusively. She laid her objections before Lord Derby with her usual frankness, but the government had pledged itself to the proposed arrangements, and on Lord Derby threatening to resign if the queen pressed the points, she prudently dropped the first and waited for a more opportune moment for renewing discussion on the second. In 1860 it was decided to amalgamate the European forces in India with the home army.
The act for the reorganisation of the Indian government received the royal assent on 2 August 1858. Thereupon Lord Derby's cabinet drafted a proclamation to the people of India defining the principles which would henceforth determine the crown's relations with them. The queen was resolved that her first address to the native population should plainly set forth her personal interest in its welfare. She had thrown the whole weight of her influence against those who defended indiscriminate retaliatory punishment of the native population for the misdeeds of the mutiny. The governor-general, Lord Canning, who pursued a policy of conciliation, had no more sympathising adherent than the queen. ‘The Indian people should know,’ she had written to him in December 1857, ‘that there is no hatred to a brown skin, none; but the greatest wish on their queen's part to see them happy, contented, and flourishing.’
The draft proclamation which was forwarded to her at Babelsberg seemed to assert England's power with needless brusqueness, and was not calculated to conciliate native sentiment. Undeterred by the ill-success which had attended her efforts to modify those provisions in the bill which offended her, she now reminded the prime minister ‘that it is a female sovereign who speaks to more than a hundred millions of eastern people on assuming the direct government over them, and after a bloody civil war, giving them pledges which her future reign is to redeem, and explaining the principles of her government. Such a document should breathe feelings of generosity, benevolence, and religious toleration, and point out the privilege which the Indians will receive in being placed on an equality with the subjects of the British crown, and the prosperity following in the train of civilisation’. She resented her ministers' failure to refer with sympathy to native religion and customs. The deep attachment which she felt to her own religion imposed on her, she said, the obligation of protecting all her subjects in their adherence to their own religious faith. She desired to give expression to her feelings of horror and regret at the mutiny, and her gratitude to God at its approaching end. She desired Lord Derby to rewrite the proclamation in what she described as ‘his excellent language.’
The queen never brought her influence to bear on an executive act of government with nobler effect. The second draft, which was warmly approved by the queen, breathed that wise spirit of humanity and toleration which was the best guarantee of the future prosperity of English rule in India. Her suggestion was especially responsible for the magnificent passage in the proclamation the effect of which, from the point of view of both literature and politics, it would be difficult to exaggerate: ‘Firmly relying ourselves on the truth of Christianity, and acknowledging with gratitude the solace of religion, we disclaim alike the right and the desire to impose our convictions on any of our subjects. We declare it to be our royal will and pleasure that none be in any wise favoured, none molested or disquieted by reason of their religious faith or observances, but that all shall alike enjoy the equal and impartial protection of the law; and we do strictly charge and enjoin all those who may be in authority under us that they abstain from all interference with the religious belief or worship of any of our subjects on pain of our highest displeasure.’ Finally, the queen recommended the establishment of a new order of the star of India as a decorative reward for those native princes who were loyal to her rule, and such of her officials in the Indian government as rendered conspicuous service. The first investiture took place on 1 November 1861.
In the closing months of 1858 and the opening months of 1859 time forcibly reminded the queen of its passage. On 9 November 1858 the prince of Wales, who had been confirmed on 1 April 1858, completed his eighteenth year. That age in the royal family was equivalent to a majority, and the queen in an admirable letter to her eldest son, while acknowledging that, in the interest of his own welfare, his discipline had been severe, now bade him consider himself his own master; she would always be ready to offer him advice if he wished it, but she would not intrude it. No sooner had she set her eldest son on the road to independence than she welcomed the first birth of that second generation of her family which before her death was to grow to great dimensions. On 27 January 1859 a son and heir was born at Berlin to the Princess Royal. The child ultimately became the present German emperor William II. For some time the princess's condition caused anxiety to her family, but the crisis happily passed. The queen thus became a grandmother at the age of thirty-nine. Congratulations poured in from every quarter.
Among the earliest and the warmest greetings came one from Napoleon III, and the queen in her acknowledgment took occasion solemnly to urge him to abide in the paths of peace. The persistency with which he continued to increase his armaments had roused a widespread suspicion that he was preparing to emulate the example of his great predecessor. For a time it seemed doubtful in which direction he would aim his first blow. But when the queen's first grandson was born, she knew that her gentle-spoken spoken ally was about to challenge the peace of Europe by joining the king of Sardinia in an endeavour to expel Austria from Lombardy and Venetia, and thereby to promote the unity of Italy under the kingship of the royal house of Sardinia. The emperor accepted the queen's pacific counsel in good part, but at the same time wrote to her in defence of the proposed war.
On 3 February she opened parliament in person and read with emphasis those passages in her speech which delared that England would be no party to the Emperor Napoleon's ambitious designs. Before the end of April the queen's hopes of peace were defeated by the unexpected action of Austria, which, grasping its nettle, declared war on Sardinia. Napoleon at once entered the field with his ally of Italy. The queen and the prince were harassed by fear of a universal war. Popular feeling in England in regard to the struggle that was in progress was entirely distasteful to them. English public sentiment regarded Sardinia as the courageous challenger of absolutist tyranny. Napoleon was applauded for rendering Sardinia assistance. The queen and the prince, on the other hand, while they deplored Austria's precipitancy, cherished sympathy with her as a German power, whose fortunes appeared to affect immediately those of her neighbour, Prussia.
Affection for her newly married daughter redoubled the queen's desire for the safety of Prussia. Her son-in-law had risen a step nearer the Prussian throne in 1858, when the king, his uncle, had, owing to failing health, been superseded by his father, the prince of Prussia, who became prince-regent. The change of rule greatly increased the influence that Prince Albert could exert on Prussia, for the new ruler was an old friend of his and of the queen, and, having much faith in the prince's judgment, freely appealed to them for confidential counsel. It was now for the prince-regent of Prussia to decide whether the safety of his dominions required him to throw in his lot with Austria. The English court, mainly moved by a desire to protect their daughter from the consequences of strife, besought him to stand aside. He assented, and the queen turned to Napoleon to persuade him to keep hostilities within a narrow compass. When the empress of the French sent her birthday congratulations on 25 May, she in reply entreated her to persuade her husband to localise the war. The prompt triumph of the French arms achieved that result, and, to the queen's relief, although not without anxiety, she learned that the two emperors were to meet at Villafranca to negotiate terms of peace.
The queen's fears of the sequel were greatly increased by the change of government which took place during the progress of the war. On 1 April Lord Derby's government, which in the main held her views in regard to the foreign situation, was defeated on its reform bill. She declined to accept the ministers' resignation, but assented to the only alternative, dissolution of parliament. The elections passed off quietly, but left the conservatives in a minority of forty-three. On 10 June the ministers were attacked and defeated, and, to the queen's disappointment, she saw herself compelled to accept Lord Derby's resignation. Again Palmerston was the conservative leader's only practicable successor. But it was repugnant to the queen to recall him to power at the existing juncture in foreign politics. His sympathy with Italy and his antipathy to Austria were alike notorious. Lord John Russell, too, had identified himself with Italian interests.
On 11 June she therefore invited Lord Granville, a comparatively subordinate member of the party, to extricate her from her difficulties by forming a government. To him she was personally attached, and he was calculated to prove more pliable than his older colleagues. In autograph letters addressed to Palmerston and Lord John, which Granville was charged to deliver, she requested those veterans to serve under him. Her action was mortifying to both, and by accident involved her and them in even more embarrassment than could have been anticipated. Owing to some indiscreet talk of Lord Granville with a friend, a correct report of the queen's conversation with him appeared in the Times next day (12 June). She was in despair. ‘Whom am I to trust?’ she said; ‘these were my own very words.’ In the result Palmerston genially agreed to accept Granville's leadership, but Lord John refused to hear of it; and Lord Granville withdrew from the negotiation. The queen was thus compelled to appeal to Palmerston, and to accept him as her prime minister for the second time. Before his ministry was constituted she suffered yet another disappointment. Lord John insisted on taking the foreign office, and, as a consequence, Lord Clarendon, her trusted friend, who had good claims to the post, was excluded from the government.
Her forebodings of difficulties with her new ministers were justified. At the hands of Lord John, as foreign minister, she endured hardly fewer torments than Palmerston had inflicted on her when he held that office. Lord John and his chief at once avowed a resolve to serve the interests of Italy at the expense of Austria, and won, in the inner circle of the court, the sobriquet of ‘the old Italian masters.’ At the same time the course of the negotiations between Napoleon and the emperor of Austria was perplexing alike to the queen and to her ministers. Napoleon had at Villafranca arranged mysterious terms with the emperor of Austria which seemed to the friends of Italy far too favourable to Austria, although they gave France no advantage. Austria was to lose Lombardy, but was to retain Venetia. France protested unwillingness to take further part in the matter. Sardinia was recommended to rely on her own efforts to obtain whatever other changes she sought in the adjustment of Italy. So barren a result was unsatisfactory to all Italian liberals, and was deemed by Palmerston and Lord John to be grossly unjust to them.
They opened diplomatic negotiations with a view to a modification of the proposed treaty, and to the encouragement of the Italians to fight their battle out to the end. The queen, who was relieved by the cessation of hostilities and by the easy terms offered to Austria, stoutly objected to her ministers' intervention. ‘We did not protest against the war,’ she told Lord John; ‘we cannot protest against the peace.’ She insisted that the cry ‘Italy for the Italians,’ if loudly raised by the government, would compel this country to join Sardinia in war. But Palmerston and Lord John were unmoved by her appeals. Palmerston declared that, if their advice were not acted on, their resignations would follow. In August, when the vacation had scattered the ministers, the queen insisted on the whole cabinet being summoned, so that they might realise her unconquerable determination to observe a strict neutrality. Palmerston affected indifference to her persistency, but Italian affairs were suffered to take their own course without English intervention. Yet the outcome was not agreeable to the queen.
As soon as the treaty of Villafranca was signed, Sardinia, aided by Garibaldi, sought at the sword's point, without foreign aid, full control of the independent states of the peninsula outside Rome and Venetia. Although she was aware of the weakness of their cause, the queen could not resist sympathy with the petty Italian rulers who were driven by Sardinia from their principalities. The Duchess of Parma, one of the discrowned sovereigns, appealed to the queen for protection. Lord John, whose stolidity in such matters widened the breach between him and the queen, drew up a cold and bald refusal, which she declined to send. Lord Clarendon, however, was on a visit to her at the moment, and by his advice she gave her reply a more sympathetic tone, without openly defying her ministers.
At the same time, with Sardinia's reluctant assent, Napoleon annexed Savoy and Nice to France as the price of his benevolent service to Italy in the past, and by way of a warning that he would tolerate no foreign intrusion while the internal struggle for Italian unity was proceeding. The queen viewed this episode with especial disgust. That Napoleon should benefit from the confusion into which, in her eyes, he had wantonly thrown southern Europe roused her indignation to its full height. She bitterly reproached her ministers, whom she suspected of secret sympathy with him, with playing into his hands. Her complaint was hardly logical, for she had herself urged on them the strictest neutrality. On 5 February 1860 she wrote to Lord John, ‘We have been made regular dupes, which the queen apprehended and warned against all along.’ Her hope that Europe would stand together to prevent the annexation was unavailing, and she wrathfully exclaimed against maintaining further intercourse with France. ‘France,’ she wrote to her uncle (8 May 1860), ‘must needs disturb every quarter of the globe, and try to make mischief, and set every one by the ears. Of course this will end some day in a general crusade against the universal disturber of the world.’ But her wrath cooled, and her future action bore small trace of it. In 1860 the ministry gave her another ground for annoyance by proposing to abolish the post of commander-in-chief, and to bring the army entirely under the control of parliament through the secretary of state. She protested with warmth against the change as an infringement of her prerogative, and for the moment the scheme was dropped.
Apart from political questions her life still knew no cloud. Her public duties continued to bring her into personal relations with the army which were always congenial to her. On 29 January 1859 she opened Wellington College for the sons of officers, an institution of which she had already laid the foundation-stone. On 6 June she once more distributed Victoria crosses. On 26 August she inspected at Portsmouth the 32rd regiment, whence the heroes of Lucknow had been drawn. To meet surprises of invasion a volunteer force was called into existence by royal command in May 1859, and to this new branch of the service the queen showed every favour. She held a special levee of 2,500 volunteer officers at St. James's Palace on 7 March 1860, and she reviewed twenty thousand men in Hyde Park on 23 June. Her brother-in-law, Duke Ernest, who accompanied her on the occasion, did not conceal his contempt for the evolutions of her citizen soldiers, but she was earnest in her commendation of their zeal. On 2 July 1860 she personally inaugurated the National Rifle Association, which was a needful complement of the volunteer movement, and in opening its first annual meeting on Wimbledon Common she fired the first shot at the targets from a Whitworth rifle. She at once instituted the queen's prize of the value of £250, which was awarded annually till the end of her reign. When on the way to Balmoral in August 1860 she stayed at Holyrood in order to review the Scottish volunteer forces.
Domestic life proceeded agreeably. Twice in 1859 her daughter, the Princess Royal, visited her, on the second occasion with her husband. During the autumn sojourn at Balmoral of that year the queen was exceptionally vigorous, making many mountaineering expeditions with her children. The prince consort presided over the meeting of the British Association at Aberdeen in September 1859, and afterwards invited two hundred of the members to be the queen's guests at a highland gathering on Deeside. On her way south she opened the Glasgow waterworks at Loch Katrine, and made a tour through the Trossachs. She also paid a visit to Colonel Douglas Pennant, M.P., at Penrhyn Castle, near Bangor, and was well received by the workmen at the Penrhyn slate quarries. During the season of next year, when she opened parliament in person (24 January, 1860), her guests included the king of the Belgians and the young German princes, Louis of Hesse-Darmstadt and his brother. She looked with silent favour on the attentions which Prince Louis paid her second daughter, the Princess Alice, who was now seventeen, and, although she deprecated so early a marriage, awaited the result with interest. At the same time the queen and prince were organising a tour for the prince of Wales through Canada and the United States, which promised well for the good relations of England and the United States. President Buchanan, in a letter to the queen, invited the prince to Washington, an invitation which she accepted in an autograph reply.
In the late autumn of 1860 the royal family paid a second visit to Coburg. A main inducement was to converse once more with Stockmar, who had since 1857 lived there in retirement owing to age and failing health. The queen and the prince were still actively corresponding with him, and were as dependent as ever on his counsel. On 22 September, accompanied by Princess Alice and attended by Lord John Russell, they embarked at Gravesend for Antwerp. On the journey they were distressed by the intelligence of the death of the prince consort's stepmother, with whom they had both cherished a sympathetic intimacy. While passing through Germany they were joined by members of the Prussian royal family, including their son-in-law. At Coburg they met their daughter and her first-born son, with whom his grandmother then made her first acquaintance. On 29 September they removed to Rosenau. Among the guests there was Gustav Freytag, the German novelist, who interested the queen, and described in his reminiscences her ‘march-like gait’ and affable demeanour.
On 1 October the prince met with an alarming carriage accident. The queen, though she suppressed her emotion, was gravely perturbed, and by way of thank-offering instituted at Coburg, after her return home, a Victoria-Stift (i.e. foundation), endowing it with £1,000 for the assistance of young men and women beginning life. Happily the prince sustained slight injury, but the nervous depression which followed led his friend Stockmar to remark that he would fall an easy prey to illness. When walking with his brother on the day of his departure (10 October) he completely broke down, and sobbed out that he would never see his native land again.
On the return journey the prince and princess of Prussia entertained the queen and the prince at the palace of Coblenz, where slight illness detained the queen for a few days. Lord John Russell and Baron von Schleinitz, the German minister, spent the time in political discussion, partly in regard to a trifling incident which was at the moment causing friction between the two countries. An English traveller, Captain Macdonald, had been imprisoned by the mistake of an over-zealous policeman at Bonn. No settlement was reached by Lord John. Afterwards Palmerston used characteristically strong language in a demand for reparation. A vexatious dispute followed between the two governments, and the queen and the prince were displeased by the manner in which the English ministers handled it. The queen wisely avoided all open expression of opinion, but shrewdly observed that, ‘although foreign governments were often violent and arbitrary, our people are apt to give offence and to pay no regard to the laws of the country.’
The discussion was gradually dropped, and when, on 2 January 1861, the death of the paralysed Frederick William IV placed the queen's friend, the prince-regent of Prussia, finally on the throne of Prussia as King William I, and her son-in-law and her daughter then became crown prince and princess, the queen believed that friendship between the two countries, as between the two courts, was permanently assured. Her wrath with Napoleon, too, was waning. A private visit to Windsor and Osborne from the Empress Eugénie, who had come in search of health, revived the tie of personal affection that bound her to the queen, and the new year (1861) saw the customary interchange of letters between the queen and Napoleon III. English and French armies had been engaged together in China. But the main burden of the queen's greeting to the emperor was an appeal for peace.
A further source of satisfaction sprang from the second visit which Prince Louis of Hesse paid to Windsor in November 1860, when he formally betrothed himself to Princess Alice (30 November).
Christmas and New Year 1860-1 were kept at Windsor with unusual spirit, although the death of Lord Aberdeen on 14 December was a cause of grief. Among the many guests were both Lord Palmerston and Mr. Disraeli with his wife. The queen and prince had much talk with Disraeli, of whose growing influence they took due account, and they were gratified by his assurance that his followers might be relied on to support a national policy. On more personal questions he was equally complacent. He readily agreed to support the government in granting a dowry of £30,000 and an annuity of £3,000 to Princess Alice on her approaching marriage. On 4 February 1861 the queen opened parliament in person, and herself announced the happy event. It was the last occasion on which she delivered with her own voice the speech from the throne. On 10 February she kept quietly at Buckingham Palace the twenty-first anniversary of her marriage. ‘Very few,’ she wrote to her uncle Leopold, ‘can say with me that their husband at the end of twenty-one years is not only full of the friendship, kindness, and affection which a truly happy marriage brings with it, but of the same tender love as in the very first days of our marriage.’ But death was to destroy the mainspring of her happiness within the year.
The queen passed to the crowning sorrow of her life through a lesser grief, which on its coming tried her severely. On 16 March her mother, who kept her youthful spirit and cheerfulness to the last, and especially delighted in her grandchildren, died at Frogmore after a brief illness. It was the queen's first experience of death in the inmost circle of her family. Princess Alice, who was with her at the moment, first gave proof of that capacity of consolation which she was often afterwards to display in her mother's future trials. Although she was much broken, the queen at once sent the sad news in her own hand to her half-sister, to the princess royal, and to King Leopold. Expressions of sympathy abounded, and the general sentiment was well interpreted by Disraeli, who said in his speech in the House of Commons, in seconding a vote of condolence: ‘She who reigns over us has elected, amid all the splendours of empire, to establish her life on the principle of domestic love.’
The duchess's body was laid on 25 March in St. George's Chapel, Windsor. The queen resolved that a special mausoleum should be built at Frogmore for a permanent burial-place, and the remains were removed thither on 17 August The queen's behaviour to all who were in any way dependent on her mother was exemplary. She pensioned her servants; she continued allowances that the Duchess of Kent had made to the Princess Hohenlohe and her sons Victor and Edward Leiningen. To the duchess's lady-in-waiting, Lady Augusta Bruce, sister of Lord Elgin, who had shown great devotion, the queen was herself much attached, and she at once made her her own bedchamber woman in permanent attendance upon her.
The mourning at court put an end for the time to festivities, and some minor troubles added to the queen's depression. In May, when Prince Louis of Hesse visited Osborne, he fell ill of measles. On 14 July the queen was shocked by news of the attempted assassination at Baden of her friend the king of Prussia. But she gradually resumed the hospitalities and activities of public life. Before the end of the season she entertained the king of the Belgians and the crown prince and princess of Prussia, the king and Prince Oscar of Sweden, and the ill-fated ArchDuke and Archduchess Maximilian.
On 21 August the queen, with the prince consort, the Princesses Alice and Helena, and Prince Arthur, set out from Osborne to pay Ireland a third visit. The immediate inducement was to see the prince of Wales, who was learning regimental duties at the Curragh camp. The royal party travelled by railway from Southampton to Holyhead, and crossed to Kingstown in the royal yacht. The queen took up her residence in the Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park on the 22nd. On Saturday the 24th she went to the Curragh to review a force of ten thousand men, among whom her eldest son held a place. On the 26th the queen and her family went south, travelling to Killarney and taking up their residence at Kenmare House. They were received by the people of the district with every mark of enthusiasm. Next day they explored the lakes of Killarney, and removed in the evening to Muckross Abbey, the residence of Mr. Herbert. Among the queen's guests there was James O'Connell, brother of Daniel O'Connell the agitator, with other members of the agitator's family. A stag hunt, which proved abortive, was organised for the enjoyment of the royal party.
On the 29th the queen left Killarney for Dublin and Holyhead on her way to Balmoral. Nearly thirty-nine years were to pass before the queen visited Ireland again for the fourth and last time. At Balmoral she occupied herself mainly with outdoor pursuits. On 4 September, to her delight, she was joined by her half-sister, the Princess Leiningen, who came on a long visit. Near the end of October, on the journey south, a short halt was made at Edinburgh to enable the prince consort to lay the foundation-stones of a new post office and the industrial museum of Scotland (22 October). Windsor Castle was reached the next morning. This was the last migration of the court which the prince consort was destined to share.
As usual, guests were numerous at Windsor in November, but the deaths of Sir James Graham and of Pedro V of Portugal and his brother Ferdinand damped the spirits of host and hostess. In the middle of November signs that the prince's health was failing became obvious. A year before he had had an attack of English cholera, and he suffered habitually from low fever. Though the queen was solicitous, she, like most persons in robust health, was inclined to take a hopeful view of his condition, and not until the last did she realise that a fatal issue was impending. A serious political crisis suddenly arose to absorb her attention, and for the last time she, under her husband's advice, brought personal influence to bear on her ministers in the interests of the country's peace.
In April the civil war in America had broken out, and the queen had issued a proclamation of neutrality. Public opinion in England was divided on the merits of the two antagonists, but the mass of the people favoured the confederation of the south. Palmerston, the prime minister, Gladstone, and many of their colleagues made no secret of their faith in the justice of the cause of the south. In November the prevailing sentiment seemed on the point of translating itself into actual war with the north.
Two southern envoys, named respectively Mason and Slidell, had been despatched by the southern confederates to plead their cause at the English and French courts. They had run the federals' blockade of the American coast, and, embarking on the Trent, an English steamer, at Havana, set sail in her on 8 November Next day a federal ship-of-war fired at the Trent. The federal captain (Wilkes) boarded her after threatening violence, and captured the confederate envoys with their secretaries. On 27 November the Trent arrived at Southampton, and the news was divulged in England.
On 30 November Palmerston forwarded to the queen the draft of a despatch to be forwarded to Washington. In peremptory and uncompromising terms the English government demanded immediate reparation and redress. The strength of Palmerston's language seemed to place any likelihood of an accommodation out of question. The prince consort realised the perils of the situation. He did not share the prime minister's veneration of the southerners, and war with any party in the United States was abhorrent to him. He at once suggested, in behalf of the queen, gentler phraseology, and in spite of his rapidly developing illness wrote to Lord Palmerston for the queen (1 December) urging him to recast the critical despatch so that it might disavow the belief that the assault on the Trent was the deliberate act of the government of the United States. Let the prime minister assume that an over-zealous officer of the federal fleet had made an unfortunate error which could easily be repaired by ‘the restoration of the unfortunate passengers and a suitable apology.’ This note to Palmerston ‘was the last thing’ the prince ‘ever wrote,’ the queen said afterwards, and it had the effect its author desired. The English government had a strong case. The emperor of the French, the emperor of Austria, the king of Prussia, and the emperor of Russia expressed themselves in full sympathy with England. But Palmerston and Russell willingly accepted the prince consort's correction. They substituted his moderation for their virulence, with the result that the government of Washington assented cheerfully to their demands. Both in England and America it was acknowledged that a grave disaster was averted by the prince's tact.
But he was never to learn of his victory. He already had a presentiment that he was going to die, and he did not cling to life.He had none of the queen's sanguineness or elasticity of temperament, and of late irremovable gloom had oppressed him. During the early days of December he gradually sank, and on the 14th he passed away unexpectedly in the queen's presence. Almost without warning the romance of the queen's life was changed into a tragedy.
At the time of the prince's death, her daughter Alice and her stepsister the Princess Hohenlohe were with her at Windsor, and all the comfort that kindred could offer they gave her in full measure. Four days after the tragic event she drove with Princess Alice to the gardens at Frogmore, and chose a site for a mausoleum, where she and her husband might both be buried together. Her uncle Leopold took control of her immediate action, and at his bidding she reluctantly removed to Osborne next day. In the course of the 20th she mechanically signed some papers of state. At midnight her brother-in-law, Duke Ernest, reached Osborne, and, dissolved in tears, she at once met him on the staircase. On 23 December, in all the panoply of state, the prince's remains were temporarily laid to rest in St. George's Chapel, Windsor. The prince of Wales represented her as chief mourner. Early in January her uncle Leopold came to Osborne to console and counsel her.
No heavier blow than the prince's removal could have fallen on the queen. Rarely was a wife more dependent on a husband. More than fifteen years before she had written to Stockmar (30 July 1846), in reference to a few days' separation from the prince: ‘Without him everything loses its interest ...it will always be a terrible pang for me to separate from him even for two days, and I pray God never to let me survive him.’ Now that the permanent separation had come, the future spelt for her desolation. As she wrote on a photograph of a family group, consisting of herself, her children, and a bust of the prince consort, ‘day for her was turned into night’.
Her tragic fate appealed strongly to the sympathies of her people, who mourned with her through every rank. ‘They cannot tell what I have lost,’ she said; but she was not indifferent to the mighty outburst of compassion. Personal sympathy with her in her bereavement was not, however, all that she asked. She knew that the exalted estimate she had formed of her husband was not shared by her subjects, and as in his lifetime, so to a greater degree after his death, she yearned for signs that he had won her countrymen's and countrywomen's highest esteem. ‘Will they do him justice now?’ she cried, as, in company with her friend the Duchess of Sutherland, she looked for the last time on his dead face.
Praise of him was her fullest consolation, and happily it was not denied her. The elegiac eulogy with which Tennyson prefaced his Idylls of the King, within a month of the prince's death, was the manner of salve that best soothed ‘her aching, bleeding heart.’ The memorials and statues that sprang up in profusion over the land served to illumine the gloom that encircled her, and in course of years she found in the task of supervising the compilation of his biography a potent mitigation of grief. Public opinion proved tractable, and ultimately she enjoyed the satisfaction of an almost universal acknowledgment that the prince had worked zealously and honestly for the good of his adopted country.
But, despite the poignancy of her sorrow, and the sense of isolation which thenceforth abode with her, her nerve was never wholly shattered. Naturally and freely as she gave vent to her grief, her woe did not degenerate into morbid wailing. One of its most permanent results was to sharpen her sense of sympathy, which had always been keen, with the distresses of others, especially with distresses resembling her own; no widow in the land, in whatever rank of life, had henceforth a more tender sympathiser than the queen. As early as 10 January 1862 she sent a touching message of sympathy with a gift of £200 to the relatives of the victims of a great colliery explosion in Northumberland. In the days following the prince's death, the Princess Alice and Sir Charles Phipps, keeper of her privy purse, acted as intermediaries between her and her ministers, but before the end of the first month her ministers reminded her that she was bound to communicate with them directly. Palmerston at the moment was disabled by gout, and the cabinet was under the somewhat severe and pedantic control of Lord John Russell.
The reproof awoke the queen to a sense of her position. Gradually she controlled her anguish, and resigned herself to her fate. She had lost half her existence. Nothing hereafter could be to her what it had once been. No child could fill the place that was vacant. But she did not seek to ease herself of her burden. She steeled herself to bear it alone. Hitherto the prince, she said, had thought for her. Now she would think for herself. His example was to be her guide. The minute care that he had bestowed with her on affairs of state she would bestow. Her decisions would be those that she believed he would have taken. She would seek every advantage that she could derive from the memory of his counsel. Nothing that reminded her of him was disturbed — no room that he inhabited, scarcely a paper that he had handled.
The anniversary of his death was henceforth kept as a solemn day of rest and prayer, and the days of his birth, betrothal, and marriage were held in religious veneration. She never ceased to wear mourning for him; she long lived in seclusion, and took no part in court festivities or ceremonial pageantry. Now that the grave had closed over her sole companion and oracle of one-and-twenty years, she felt that a new reign had begun, and must in outward aspect be distinguished from the reign that had closed. But the lessons that the prince had taught her left so deep an impression on her, she clung so tenaciously to his spirit, that her attitude to the business of state and her action in it during the forty years that followed his death bore little outward sign of change from the days when he was perpetually at her side.
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