Biography

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.


Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India 1819-1901

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.


VII

Illness of the crown prince

Queen VictoriaBut amid the jubilee festivities a new cloud was gathering over the royal house. Since the autumn of 1886 the crown prince, to whose future rule in Germany the queen had for nearly thirty years been looking forward with intense hope, was attacked by a mysterious affection of the throat. Early in June 1887 he and the crown princess came to England and settled at Upper Norwood in the hope of benefiting by change of environment. He was well enough to play a conspicuous part in the jubilee procession, when his handsome figure and his white uniform of the Pomeranian cuirassiers attracted universal admiration. Subsequently he stayed in the Isle of Wight and at Braemar, and he did not return to Germany till 14 September The winter of 1887-8 he spent at San Remo, and it there became apparent that he was suffering from cancer. The queen, who completely identified herself with the happiness of her eldest daughter, was constantly with her and her husband while they remained in England or Scotland, and she suffered greatly from the anxiety. Nor was it lessened when, on 9 March 1888, the queen's old friend, the Emperor William I, died, and the crown which she and her daughter had through earlier days longed to see on the crown prince's head was now at length placed there while he was sinking into the grave. But the queen did not abstain from rejoicings in another of her children's households. On 10 March she dined with the prince and princess of Wales at Marlborough House to celebrate their silver wedding, and at night, on her return to Windsor, she drove through London to witness the illuminations.

Family quarrel in Berlin. — The queen and Bismarck.

On 22 March she left England for a month's holiday at Florence. It was her first visit to the city, and it and its surroundings charmed her. King Humbert courteously paid her a visit on 5 April, and the attention pleased her. On 20 April she left for Germany, where she had resolved to visit the dying Emperor Frederick. On the journey — at Innsbruck — she was gratified by meeting the emperor of Austria. It was their second interview; the first was now nearly a quarter of a century old. On 21 April she drove through Berlin to Charlottenburg, her son-in-law's palace. But it was not solely to bid farewell to the stricken prince that she had come. It was to mediate in a quarrel in her daughter's family, which was causing grave embarrassment in political circles in Berlin, and for which she was herself freely held responsible. Her own kindly interest in the young princes of Battenberg was shared by her eldest daughter. Of the three brothers, the eldest had married her granddaughter and the youngest her daughter.

The second brother, Alexander, who was still unmarried, and was still no more than thirty-one, had had an adventurous career. For seven years he had been prince of Bulgaria, but he had incurred the distrust of the tsar, and in 1886, having been driven from his throne, retired to private life at Darmstadt. He, like his brothers, was personally known to the queen, whose guest he was at Windsor in 1879; she sympathised with his misfortunes, and she encouraged the notion that he also, like his brothers, might marry into her family. An opportunity was at hand. The second daughter of the Emperor Frederick, Victoria, fell in love with him, and a betrothal was arranged with the full approval of the young princess's mother and grandmother. But violent opposition was manifested at the German court. Prince Bismarck, chancellor of the empire, who had always been on hostile terms with the crown princess, denounced the match as the work of Queen Victoria, who had taken the Battenbergs under her protection. He declared that such a union was injurious to the interest of the German royal family. Not merely did it humiliate the imperial house by allying it with a prince of inferior social standing, but it compromised the good relations of Berlin with St. Petersburg, where Prince Alexander was heartily disliked. Bismarck even credited the queen with a deliberate design of alienating Russia and Germany in the hope of bringing about an Anglo-German alliance against the tsar. When the queen reached Charlottenburg this awkward dispute was at its height. The Empress Frederick stood by her daughter, who was unwilling to abandon Prince Alexander. The dying emperor and his son, the Crown Prince William, in vain endeavoured to move her. Prince Bismarck threatened resignation unless Prince Alexander was summarily dismissed. On 24 April the queen, after much conversation with her daughter, boldly discussed the question in all its bearings with Prince Bismarck. He forced her to realise the complications that resistance to his will would raise, and, yielding to his power, she used her influence with her daughter and granddaughter to induce them to break off the engagement with Prince Alexander. Reluctantly they yielded. The Crown Prince William, who had stoutly opposed his mother, was by the queen's persuasion reconciled to her, and domestic harmony was restored. On the night of her interview with Bismarck, the queen attended a state banquet in the Charlottenburg Palace, and the reconciliation was ratified. None the less the queen always took a kindly interest in Prince Alexander, whose humiliation she deplored; and though she regretted his marriage next year (6 February 1889) to Fräulein Loisinger, a singer at the Dresden and Darmstadt court theatres, she used no harsh language, merely remarking pathetically, ‘Perhaps they loved one another.’ The prince barely survived his marriage four years; he died on 17 February 1893.

Death of Emperor Frederick.

On 15 June 1888 the Emperor Frederick died. A week later the queen wrote from Windsor to her friend, Archbishop Benson: ‘The contrast between this year and the last jubilee one is most painful and remarkable. Who could have thought that that splendid, noble, knightly prince — as good as he was brave and noble — who was the admiration of all, would on the very day year — (yesterday) be no longer in this world? His loss is indeed a very mysterious dispensation, for it is such a very dreadful public as well as private misfortune’. Court mourning prevented any celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the queen's coronation on 28 June. But on her visit to Balmoral in the autumn she took part in several public ceremonials. She stayed with Sir Archibald Campbell at Blythswood in Renfrewshire in order to open new municipal buildings at Glasgow, and to visit the exhibition there. She also went to Paisley, which was celebrating the fourth centenary of its incorporation as a borough. In November the widowed Empress Frederick was her mother's guest at Windsor for the first of many times in succeeding years; the queen showed her the unusual attention of meeting her on her landing in England at Port Victoria (19 November).

The queen in Spain.

During 1889 the queen's health was good and her activity undiminished. Her spring holiday was spent for the first time at Biarritz, in former days the favoured health resort of the queen's friend, the Empress Eugénie (6 March to 1 April). On 27 March she made an excursion into Spain to visit the queen-regent at San Sebastian. This was another new experience for an English sovereign. None before had set foot on Spanish soil, although Charles I and Charles II went thither as princes. On her return to England she was distressed by the death of her aunt, the Duchess of Cambridge, at the age of ninety-one (6 April). The final link with her childhood was thus severed. The queen wished the duchess to be buried at Windsor, but her aunt had left instructions that she should be buried beside her husband at Kew. The queen was present at her funeral on the 13th, and placed a wreath on the coffin.

At the end of the month she paid a visit to her son at Sandringham, and on the 26th she witnessed there a performance by (Sir) Henry Irving and his company of ‘The Bells’ and the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice. It was the second time that the queen had permitted herself to witness a dramatic performance since the prince consort's death. The first occasion, which was near the end of her twentieth year of widowhood, was also afforded by the prince and princess of Wales, who, when at Abergeldie Castle in 1881, induced the queen to come there and see a London company of actors perform Mr. Burnand's comedy of The Colonel (11 October 1881).

In May 1889 she laid the foundation-stone of new buildings at Eton (on the 18th), and she reviewed troops at Aldershot (on the 31st). On 3 June she presented at Windsor new colours to the regiment with which she had already closely identified herself, Princess Victoria's royal Irish fusiliers; she had presented colours to it in 1833 and 1866. Next day, 4 June, she witnessed at Eton for the first time the annual procession of boats which celebrated George III's birthday lebrated George III's birthday.

The queen and her grandchildren.

In the summer came difficulties which tried her tact and temper. She turned to consider the pecuniary prospects of her numerous grandchildren. Provision had already been made by parliament for every one of her nine children and for her three first cousins, the Duke of Cambridge and his sisters; and although the deaths of Princess Alice and Prince Leopold had caused a net reduction of £25,000, the sum annually assigned to members of the royal family, apart from the queen, amounted to £152,000. No responsibility for providing for the German royal family, the offspring of her eldest daughter, the Empress Frederick, or for the family of the Princess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt, attached to her; but she had twenty-two other grandchildren — domiciled in England — for whom she regarded it as her duty to make provision. In July 1889 events seemed to her to render an appeal to parliament in behalf of the third generation of her family appropriate. The elder son of the prince of Wales was coming of age, while his eldest daughter was about to marry with the queen's assent the Earl (afterwards Duke) of Fife. She therefore sent two messages to the House of Commons requesting due provision for the two elder children of her eldest son. The manner in which her request was approached was not all she could have wished. New life was given to the old cry against the expenses of monarchy.

False reports of her wealth.

The queen's financial position still from time to time excited jealous comments, not only among her subjects, but in foreign countries. Exaggerated reports of the extent of her fortune were widely current, and small heed was paid to her efforts to correct the false impression. In 1885 it was stated with some show of authority that she had lately invested a million pounds sterling in ground rents in the city of London. Through Sir Henry Ponsonby she denied that she had any such sum at her disposal. At Berlin, Bismarck often joked coarsely over her reputed affluence, to which he attributed the power she exerted over the Crown Prince Frederick and his household. But while the best friends of the crown deprecated such kind of criticism, they deemed it inexpedient for the country to undertake the maintenance indefinitely of the queen's family beyond the second generation. Both the extreme and the moderate opinions found free expression in the House of Commons, and calm observers like Lord Selborne perceived in the discussion ominous signs of a recrudescence of republican sentiment. To the government's proposal to appoint a committee representative of all sections of the house to determine the principles which should govern the reply to the queen's messages, a hostile amendment to refer the whole question of the revenues of the crown to the committee was moved by Mr. Bradlaugh. He argued that the queen's savings on the civil list enabled her unaided to provide for her grandchildren, and that the royal grants were an intolerable burden on the people. The amendment was rejected by a majority of 188, but 125 votes were cast in its favour.

Grants to prince of Wales's children, 1889.

On the due appointment of the committee the government recommended, with the queen's approval, the prospective allocation to the prince of Wales's children of annuities amounting on their marriages to £49,000, besides a sum of £30,000 by way of dowries. But the grant immediately payable was to be £21,000 annually and £10,000 for the dowry of the Princess Louise.

Precedent, it was shown, justified public provision for all the children of the sovereign's sons. The daughters of former sovereigns had invariably married foreign reigning princes, and their children, not being British subjects, were outside the purview of the British parliament. The question whether the children of the sovereign's daughters who were not married to foreign reigning princes were entitled to public provision had not previously arisen. The queen and the government perceived that public opinion was not in the mood to permit lavish or unconditional grants, and it was soon apparent that a compromise would be needful. The queen disliked the debate, but showed a wish to be conciliatory. She at once agreed to forego any demand on behalf of her daughters' children; but although she demurred to a formal withdrawal of her claim on behalf of her younger son's children, she stated that she would not press it. Gladstone, whose faith in the monarchy was strong, and who respected the royal family as its symbol, was anxious to ward off agitation, and he induced the government to modify their original proposal by granting to the prince of Wales a fixed annual sum of £36,000, to be paid quarterly, for his children's support. This proposal was accepted by a majority of the committee; but when it was presented to parliament, although Gladstone induced Parnell and the Irish nationalists to support it, it met with opposition from the radical side of the house.

Mr. Labouchere invited the house to refuse peremptorily any grant to the queen's grandchildren. The invitation was rejected by 398 votes against 116. Mr. John Morley then moved an amendment to the effect that the manner of granting the £36,000 to the prince of Wales left room for future applications from the crown for further grants, and that it was necessary to give finality to the present arrangement. Most of Gladstone's colleagues in the late government supported Mr. Morley, but his amendment was defeated by 355 votes against 134, and the grant of £36,000 a year was secured. In the course of the debate and inquiry it was officially stated that the queen's total savings from the civil list amounted to £824,025, but that out of this sum much had been spent on special entertainments to foreign visitors. In all the circumstances of the case the queen accepted the arrangement gratefully, and she was not unmindful of the value of Gladstone's intervention. For a season she displayed unusual cordiality towards him. On 25 July, while the negotiation was proceeding, she sent to him and Mrs. Gladstone warm congratulations on their golden wedding. Meanwhile, on 27 June, she attended the marriage of her granddaughter, Princess Louise of Wales, to the Earl of Fife in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace.

Visit of the German emperor William II.

After the thorny pecuniary question was settled, hospitalities to foreign sovereigns absorbed the queen's attention. In July 1889 she entertained, for a second time, the shah of Persia, and in August she welcomed her grandson, the German emperor William II, on his first visit to this country since his accession to his throne. The incident greatly interested her, and she arranged every detail of her grandson's reception. The emperor came to Cowes on his way to Osborne in his yacht Hohenzollern, accompanied by twelve warships. The queen held a naval review in his honour at Spithead, 8 August, and on 9 August reviewed the seamen and marines of the German fleet at Osborne. All passed off happily, and she congratulated herself on the cordial relations which the visit established between the two countries. The young emperor gave proof of private and public friendship by causing the queen to be gazetted honorary colonel of his first regiment of horseguards, on which he bestowed the title of Queen of England's Own (12 August). The emperor repeated his visit to Osborne next year, when a sham naval fight took place in his presence, and he came back in 1891, when he was officially received in London, in 1893, 1894, and 1895. There was then a three years' interval before he saw the queen again.

Mode of life, 1889-1901.

During the last eleven years (1889-1901) of her long career the queen's mode of life followed in all essentials the fixed routine. Three visits to Osborne, two to Balmoral, a few days in London or in Aldershot, alternated with her spring vacation abroad and her longer sojourns at Windsor. Occasionally, in going to or returning from Balmoral or Osborne, she modified her route to fulfil a public or private engagement. In August 1889, on her way to Scotland, she made a short tour in Wales, which she had been contemplating for some ten years. For four days she stayed at Palé Hall, near Lake Bala. On the 26th, ‘the dear prince's birthday,’ she paid a visit to Bryntysilio near Llangollen, the residence of Sir Theodore and Lady Martin, both of whom were congenial acquaintances. She was gratified by the loyalty shown by the Welsh people, and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the scenery. On 14 May 1890 she paid a visit to Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild's château at Waddesdon Manor. On 26 July following she opened the deep-water dock at Southampton. On 26 February 1891, at Portsmouth, she christened and launched the Royal Sovereign, the largest ironclad in her fleet, and the Royal Arthur, an unarmoured cruiser of new design. On 21 May 1891 she laid the foundation-stone of the new royal infirmary at Derby. On 21 May 1894 she revisited Manchester after an interval of thirty-seven years in order to open officially the great ship canal; on 21 May 1897 she went to Sheffield to open the new town hall; and on 15 November 1899 she performed a last function in the English provinces, when she went to Bristol to open the convalescent home which had been erected to commemorate her length of rule.

Foreign tours, 1890-9.

Only in her foreign tours did she seek change of scene with any ardour. In 1890 her destination was Aix-les-Bains; in 1891, Grasse; and in 1892 Costebelle, near Hyères. In 1893 and again in 1894 she passed the spring at Florence for a second and a third time, and her delight in the city and neighbourhood grew with closer acquaintance. Each of these years King Humbert paid her a visit; and in 1894 Queen Margherita accompanied him. In 1895 she was at Cannes; both in 1896 and 1897 at Nice; and during the two successive years, 1898 and 1899, at Cimiez. On the homeward journey in 1890, 1892, and 1895 she revisited Darmstadt. On her return in 1894 she paid a last visit to Coburg — the city and duchy which were identified with her happiest memories. There she was present, on 19 April 1894, at the intermarriage of two of her grandchildren — the Princess Victoria Melita of Coburg, the second daughter of her second son, Alfred, with the Grand Duke of Hesse, the only surviving son of her second daughter, Alice. On returning from Nice in March 1897, while passing round Paris, she was met at the station of Noisy-le-Sec by M. Faure, the president of the French Republic, who greeted her with every courtesy. On 5 May 1899 she touched foreign soil for the last time when she embarked at Cherbourg on her home-coming from Cimiez. She frequently acknowledged with gratitude the amenities which were extended to her abroad, and sought to reciprocate them. On 19 August 1891 she welcomed the officers of the French squadron which was in the Channel under Admiral Gervais, and on 11 July 1895 she entertained the officers of an Italian squadron which was off Spithead under the Duke of Genoa.

Revival of drama and opera at court.

The queen's court in her last years regained a part of its pristine gaiety. Music and the drama were again among its recognised recreations. In February 1890 there were private theatricals and tableaux at Osborne, in which the queen's daughters took part, and in their preparation the queen took great personal interest. Next year, for the first time since the prince consort's death, a dramatic performance was commanded at Windsor Castle, 6 March 1891, when Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera of ‘The Gondoliers’ was performed. In 1894 the Italian actress, Signora Eleanora Duse, performed Goldoni's ‘La Locandiera’ before the queen at Windsor, and Mr. Tree acted ‘The Red Lamp’ at Balmoral. Her birthday in 1895 she celebrated by a performance there of Verdi's opera of ‘Il Trovatore’ in the Waterloo Chamber. On 26 June 1900 Mascagni's ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ with a selection from ‘Carmen’ was given there, and on 16 July 1900 the whole opera of ‘Faust.’

Betrothal and death of the Duke of Clarence. — The Duke of York's marriage.

Domestic incidents continued to bring the queen alternations of joy and grief in abundant measure. In December 1891 she was gratified by the betrothal of Princess Mary (May), daughter of her cousin the Duchess of Teck, to the Duke of Clarence, elder son of the prince of Wales, who was in the direct line of succession to the throne. But death stepped in to forbid the union. On 14 January 1892 the Duke died. The tragedy for a time overwhelmed the queen. ‘Was there ever a more terrible contrast?’ she wrote to Tennyson; ‘a wedding with bright hopes turned into a funeral!’ In an address to her people she described the occasion as ‘one more sad and tragical than any but one that had befallen her.’ The nation fully shared her sorrow. Gladstone wrote to Sir William Harcourt: ‘The national grief resembles that on the death of Princess Charlotte, and is a remarkable evidence of national attachment to the queen and royal family’ (6 February 1892). Lord Selborne foresaw in the good feeling thus evoked a new bond of affection between the queen and the masses of her people. On the Duke of Clarence's death, his brother George, Duke of York, became next heir to the crown after his father; and on 3 May 1893 the queen assented to his betrothal to the Princess May of Teck. Sorrow was thus succeeded by gladness. The Duke of York's marriage in the Chapel Royal at St. James's Palace on 6 July 1893, which the queen attended, revived her spirits; and she wrote to her people a letter full of hope, thanking them for their congratulations.

The duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Another change in her domestic environment followed. On 22 August 1893 her brother-in-law, Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg, died. The cordiality of her early relations with him was not maintained. She had never thought highly of his judgment, and his mode of life in his old age did not commend itself to her. His death gave effect to the arrangement by which the duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha passed to her second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh; and he and his family thenceforth made Coburg their chief home. Thus the German principality, which was endeared to her through her mother's and her husband's association with it, was brought permanently under the sway of her descendants.

Grandchildren's marriages.

The matrimonial fortunes of her grandchildren occupied much of her attention next year. At the time of the Grand Duke of Hesse's marriage with a daughter of the new Duke of Saxe-Coburg, which she herself attended at Coburg (19 April 1894), she warmly approved the betrothal of the Tsarevitch Nicholas with another granddaughter — Alix, sister of the Grand Duke of Hesse. This was the most imposing match that any of her grandchildren had made, or indeed any of her children save her eldest daughter. Her second son was already the husband of a tsar's daughter. But this union brought the head of the Russian royal family into far closer relations with her own. Before the tsarevitch's marriage, the death of his father, Tsar Alexander III, on 1 November 1894, placed him on the Russian throne. His marriage followed on 23 November The queen gave an appropriately elaborate banquet at Windsor in honour of the event, and made the new Tsar Nicholas II — now the husband of her granddaughter — colonel-in-chief of the second dragoons (Royal Scots Greys).

Meanwhile, on 23 June 1894, the birth of a first son (Edward) to the Duke and Duchess of York added a new heir in the fourth generation to the direct succession to her throne. The queen was present at the christening at White Lodge, Richmond, on 16 July. A year later she gave a hearty welcome to a foreign kinsman in the third generation, Carlos, king of Portugal, friendship with whose father and grandparents (Queen Maria II and her consort, Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg) she had warmly cherished. She celebrated King Carlos's visit by conferring on him the order of the Garter (9 November 1895).

Gladstone again in office, 1892-4.— The queen's farewell of Gladstone.

Politics at home had once more drifted in the direction which she dreaded. At the end of June 1892 the twelfth parliament of the reign was dissolved after a life of just six years, and a majority of home rulers was returned (355 to 315). Lord Salisbury waited for the meeting of parliament before resigning, but a vote of want of confidence was at once carried against him and he retired (12 August). The queen had no choice but to summon Gladstone for a fourth time to fill the post of prime minister, and with the legislation that his new government prepared the queen found herself in no greater sympathy than on former occasions.

Her objections to home rule for Ireland were rooted and permanent; but, though she was depressed by the passage of Gladstone's home rule bill through the House of Commons (27 July 1893), she rejoiced at its rejection by the House of Lords on 8 September by the decisive majority of 378. As far as her reign was concerned the scheme then received its death-blow. She was spared further anxieties in regard to it, and the political horizon brightened for her. On 2 March 1894 Gladstone went to Windsor to resign his office owing to his age and failing health, and the queen accepted his resignation with a coldness that distressed him and friends. She did not meet him again. On 19 May 1898 he died, and though she felt sympathy with his relatives, and was grateful for the proofs he had given of attachment to the monarchy, she honestly refrained from any unequivocal expression of admiration for his public labours. She was fully alive to the exalted view of his achievements which was shared by a large number of her subjects, and in a telegram to Mrs. Gladstone on the day of his funeral in Westminster Abbey she wrote with much adroitness of the gratification with which his widow must ‘see the respect and regret evinced by the nation for the memory of one whose character and intellectual abilities marked him as one of the most distinguished statesmen of my reign.’ But she did not commit herself to any personal appreciation beyond the concluding remark: ‘I shall ever gratefully remember his devotion and zeal in all that concerned my personal welfare and that of my family.’

Lord Rosebery prime minister. — The queen and Mr. Chamberlain. — Her interest in the army.

On Gladstone's resignation in 1894, the queen, by her own act and without seeking any advice, chose the Earl of Rosebery to succeed him (3 March). She had long known him and his family (his mother had been one of her bridesmaids), and she admired his abilities. But the government's policy underwent small change. The Welsh disestablishment bill, which was read a second time in the House of Commons on 1 April 1895, ran directly counter to her personal devotion to church establishments. Nor did she welcome the changes at the war office, which relieved her cousin, the Duke of Cambridge, of the commandership-in-chief of the army, and by strictly limiting the future tenure of the post to a period of five years gave the deathblow to the cherished fiction that the commander-in-chief was the sovereign's permanent personal deputy. But Lord Rosebery's government fell in June, and Lord Salisbury, to the queen's satisfaction, resumed power on the understanding that he would be permitted an early appeal to the country.

In the new ministry the conservative leaders coalesced with the leaders of liberal unionists. The dissolution of parliament was followed by the return of the unionists in a strong majority, and the unionist party under Lord Salisbury's leadership retained power till her death. With Lord Salisbury and his unionist colleagues her relations were to the last harmonious. Her sympathy with the imperialist sentiments, which Mr. Chamberlain's control of the colonial office conspicuously fostered, was whole-hearted. As in the case of Peel and Disraeli, her first knowledge of him had not prepossessed her in his favour. When he was a leader of a radical section of the liberal party she regarded him with active distrust; but his steady resistance to the policy of home rule, and his secession from the ranks of Gladstone's followers, dissipated her fears, and his imperialist administration of colonial affairs from 1895 till her death was in complete accord with her sentiment. But, despite her confidence in her advisers, her energy in criticising their counsel never slackened. She still required all papers of state to be regularly submitted to her; she was impatient of any sign of carelessness in the conduct of public business, and she pertinaciously demanded full time for the consideration of ministers' proposals.

She had lately resumed her early practice of signing commissions in the army, and when in 1895 the work fell into arrears and an appeal was made to her to forego the labour, she declined the suggestion. Her resolve to identify herself with the army never knew any diminution. Her public appearances came to have almost exclusively military associations. On 10 May 1892 she opened with much formality the Imperial Institute, but participation in civil ceremonial was rare in her closing years. On 4 July 1890 she inspected the military exhibition at Chelsea hospital. On 27 June 1892 she laid the foundation-stone of a new church at Aldershot, and witnessed the march past of ten thousand men. Next year, to her joy, but amid signs of public discontent, her son the Duke of Connaught took the Aldershot command. In July 1894 she spent two days there; on the 11th there was a military tattoo at night in her honour, and a review followed next day. In July 1895, July 1898, and June 1899 she repeated the agreeable experience. In 1898, besides attending a review, she presented colours to the 3rd battalion of the Coldstream guards.

Early in 1896 the military ardour which she encouraged in her immediate circle cost it a sad bereavement. At the end of 1895 Prince Henry of Battenberg, her youngest daughter's husband, who resided under her roof, volunteered for active service in Ashanti, where native races were in revolt against British rule. Invalided home with fever, the prince died on board H.M.S. Blonde on the way to Madeira on 20 January 1896. His body was met on its arrival at Cowes on 5 February by the queen and her widowed daughter, who accompanied it to its last resting-place in the church at Whippingham, where their marriage took place less than eleven years before. In the following autumn (22 September-5 October) she had the gratification of entertaining at Balmoral the Tsar Nicholas II and her granddaughter the tsaritza with their infant daughter. The tsar's father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all been her guests in earlier days.

The diamond jubilee of 1897.

On 23 September 1896 the queen achieved the distinction of having reigned longer than any other English sovereign. She had worn her crown nearly twice as long as any contemporary monarch in the world, excepting only the emperor of Austria, and he ascended his throne more than eleven years after her accession. Hitherto George III's reign of fifty-nine years and ninety-six days had been the longest known to English history. In 1897 it was resolved to celebrate the completion of her sixtieth year of rule — her ‘diamond jubilee’ — with appropriate splendour. She readily accepted the suggestion that the celebration should be so framed as to emphasise that extension of her empire which was now recognised to have been one of the most imposing characteristics of her sovereignty. It was accordingly arranged that prime ministers of all the colonies, delegates from India and the dependencies, and representatives of all the armed forces of the British empire should take a prominent part in the public ceremonies.

The main feature of the celebration was a state procession through London on 22 June. The queen made almost a circuit of her capital, attended by her family, by envoys from foreign countries, by Indian and colonial officials, and by a great band of imperial troops — Indian native levies, mounted riflemen from Australia, South Africa, and Canada, and coloured soldiers from the West Coast of Africa, Cyprus, Hongkong, and Borneo. From Buckingham Palace the mighty cortège passed to the steps at the west end of St. Paul's, where a short religious service was conducted by the highest dignitaries of the church. Thence the royal progress was continued, over London Bridge, through the poorer districts of London on the south side of the Thames. Buckingham Palace was finally reached across Westminster Bridge and St. James's Park. Along the six miles route were ranged millions of the queen's subjects, who gave her a rousing welcome which brought tears to her eyes. Her feelings were faithfully reflected in the telegraphic greeting which she sent as she set out from the palace to all parts of the empire: ‘From my heart I thank my beloved people. May God bless them!’ In the evening, as in 1887, every British city was illuminated, and every headland or high ground in England, Scotland, and Wales, from Cornwall to Caithness, was ablaze with beacons.

The festivities lasted a fortnight. There was a garden party at Buckingham Palace on 28 June; a review in Windsor Park of the Indian and colonial troops on 2 July; a reception on 7 July of the colonial prime ministers, when they were all sworn of the privy council; and a reception on 13 July of 180 prelates of English-speaking protestant peoples who were assembled in congress at Lambeth. By an error on the part of officials, members of the House of Commons, when they presented an address of congratulation to the queen at Buckingham Palace on 23 June, were shown some want of courtesy. The queen repaired the neglect by inviting the members and their wives to a garden party at Windsor on 3 July. The only official celebration which the queen's age prevented her from attending in person was a great review of battleships at Spithead (26 June), which in the number of assembled vessels exceeded any preceding display of the kind. Vessels of war to the number of 173 were drawn up in four lines, stretching over a course of thirty miles. The queen was represented by the prince of Wales. Not the least of many gratifying incidents that marked the celebration was the gift to Great Britain of an ironclad from Cape Colony. On 18 July the close of the rejoicings drew from the queen a letter of thanks to her people, simply expressing her boundless gratitude. The passion of loyalty which the jubilee of 1887 had called forth was brought to a degree of intensity which had no historic precedent; and during the few years of life that yet remained to the queen it burned with undiminished force throughout the empire in the breasts of almost every one of her subjects, whatever their race or domicile.

Military expeditions, 1897-8.

The anxieties which are inseparable from the government of a great empire pursued the queen and her country in full measure during the rest of her reign, and her armies were engaged in active hostilities in many parts of the world. Most of her energies were consequently absorbed in giving characteristic proof of her concern for the welfare of her troops. She closely scanned the military expeditions on the frontier of India (1897-1899). The campaign of English and Egyptian troops under Lord Kitchener, which finally crushed the long-drawn-out rebellion in the Soudan at the battle of Omdurman on 2 September 1898, and restored to Egypt the greater part of the territory that had been lost in 1883, was a source of immense gratification to her. In 1898 she indicated the course of her sympathies by thrice visiting at Netley Hospital the wounded men from India and the Soudan (11 February, 14 May, and 3 December).

When at Balmoral, 29 October 1898, she presented colours to the newly raised 2nd battalion of the Cameron highlanders. On 1 July 1899 she reviewed in Windsor Great Park the Honourable Artillery Company, of which the prince of Wales was captain-general, and a few days later (15 July) she presented in Windsor Castle colours to the Scots guards, afterwards attending a march past in the park. On 10 August, while at Osborne, she inspected the Portsmouth volunteers in camp at Ashley, and at Balmoral on 29 September she presented new colours to the 2nd battalion of the Seaforth highlanders. Her chief public appearance during 1899, which was unconnected with the army, was on 17 May 1899, when she laid the foundation-stone of the new buildings of the Victoria and Albert Museum at Kensington. The South Kensington Museum, as the institution had hitherto been named, had been brought into being by the prince consort, and was always identified in the queen's mind with her husband's public services.

The great Boer war.

All other military experiences which had recently confronted the queen sank into insignificance in the autumn of 1899 in the presence of the great Boer war. With her ministers' general policy in South Africa before the war she was in agreement, although she studied the details somewhat less closely than had been her wont. Failing sight disabled her after 1898 from reading all the official papers that were presented to her, but her confidence in the wisdom of Lord Salisbury and her faith in Mr. Chamberlain's devotion to the best interests of the empire, spared her any misgivings while the negotiations with the Transvaal were pending. As in former crises of the same kind, as long as any chance remained of maintaining an honourable peace, she cherished the hope that there would be no war; but when she grew convinced that peace was only to be obtained on conditions that were derogatory to the prestige of her government she focussed her energies on entreaties to her ministers to pursue the war with all possible promptitude and effect.

From the opening of active operations in October 1899 until consciousness failed her on her deathbed in January 1901, the serious conflict occupied the chief place in her thoughts. The disasters which befell British arms at the beginning of the struggle caused her infinite distress, but her spirit rose with the danger. Defeat merely added fuel to the zeal with which she urged her advisers to retrieve it. It was with her especial approval that in December 1899 reinforcements on an enormous scale, drawn both from the regular army and the volunteers, were hurriedly ordered to South Africa under the command of Lord Roberts, while Lord Kitchener was summoned from the Soudan to serve as chief of the staff. In both generals she had the fullest trust.

Emperor William II's visit, November 1899.

Offers of assistance from the colonies stirred her enthusiasm, and she sent many messages of thanks. She was consoled, too, by a visit at Windsor from her grandson, the German emperor, with the empress and two of his sons, on 20 November 1899. Of late there had been less harmony than of old between the courts of London and Berlin. A misunderstanding between the two countries on the subject of English relations with the Boer republics of South Africa had threatened early in 1896. The German emperor had then replied in congratulatory terms to a telegram from President Kruger informing him of the success of the Boers in repelling a filibustering raid which a few Englishmen under Dr. Jameson had made into the Transvaal. The queen, like her subjects, reprobated the emperor's interference, although it had none of the significance which popular feeling in England attributed to it.

The emperor's visit to the queen and prince of Wales in November 1899 had been arranged before the Boer war broke out, but the emperor did not permit his display of friendly feeling to be postponed by the opening of hostilities. His meeting with the queen was most cordial, and his relations with the English royal family were thenceforth unclouded. By way of indicating his practical sympathy with the British army, he subscribed 300l. to the fund for the relief of the widows and orphans of the men of the 1st royal dragoons who were then fighting in South Africa — a regiment of which he was colonel-in-chief.

The queen's sympathy with her soldiers.

Throughout 1900 the queen was indefatigable in inspecting troops who were proceeding to the seat of war, in sending to the front encouraging messages, and in writing letters of condolence to the relatives of officers who lost their lives, often requesting a photograph and inquiring into the position of their families. In the affairs of all who died in her service she took a vivid personal interest. Her anxieties at Christmas 1899 kept her at Windsor and precluded her from proceeding to Osborne for the holiday season, as had been her invariable custom, with one exception, for nearly fifty years. On Boxing day she entertained in St. George's Hall, Windsor, the wives and children of the non-commissioned officers and men of the regiments which were stationed in the royal borough. She caused a hundred thousand boxes of chocolate to be sent as her personal gift to every soldier at the front, and on New Year's day (1900) forwarded greetings to all ranks. When the news of British successes reached her in the early months of 1900 — the relief of Kimberley (15 February), the capture of General Cronje (27 February), the relief of Ladysmith (28 February), the occupation of Bloemfontein (13 March), the relief of Mafeking (17 May), and the occupation of Pretoria (5 June) — she exchanged congratulations with her generals with abundant enthusiasm.

Fourth visit to Ireland, 1900.

The gallantry displayed by the Irish soldiers was peculiarly gratifying to her, and she acknowledged it in a most emphatic fashion. On 2 March she gave permission to her Irish troops to wear on St. Patrick's day, by way of commemorating their achievements in South Africa, the Irish national emblem, a sprig of shamrock, the display of which had been hitherto forbidden in the army. On 7 March she came to London, and on the afternoons of 8th and 9th she drove publicly through many miles of streets in order to illustrate her watchful care of the public interests and her participation in the public anxiety. Public enthusiasm ran high, and she was greeted everywhere by cheering crowds.

On 22 March she went to the Herbert Hospital, at Woolwich, to visit wounded men from South Africa. But the completest sign that she gave of the depth of her sympathy with those who were bearing the brunt of the struggle was her decision to abandon for this spring her customary visit to the South of Europe and to spend her vacation in Ireland, whence the armies in the field had been largely recruited. This plan was wholly of her own devising. Nearly forty years had elapsed since she set foot in Ireland. In that interval political disaffection had been rife, and had unhappily discouraged her from renewing her acquaintance with the country.

She now spent in Dublin, at the viceregal lodge in Phenix Park, nearly the whole of April — from the 4th to the 25th. She came, she said, in reply to an address of welcome from the corporation of Dublin, to seek change and rest, and to revive happy recollections of the warm-hearted welcome given to her, her husband, and children in former days. Her reception was all that could be wished, and it vindicated her confidence in the loyalty, despite political agitation, of the Irish people to the crown. The days were spent busily and passed quickly. She entertained the leaders of Irish society, attended a military review and an assembly of fifty-two thousand school children in Phenix Park, and frequently drove through Dublin and the neighbouring country. On 5 April she gave orders for the formation of a new regiment of Irish guards. On her departure on 26 April she thanked the Irish people for their greeting in a public letter addressed to the lord lieutenant.

After her return to Windsor on 2 May 1900 she inspected the men of H.M.S. Powerful who had been besieged in Ladysmith, and warmly welcomed their commander, Captain Hedworth Lambton. On the 17th she visited the wounded at Netley. Lord Roberts's successes in South Africa at the time relieved her and her people of pressing anxieties, and ordinary court festivities were suffered to proceed. On 4 May she entertained at Windsor the king of Sweden and Norway, who had often been her guest as Prince Oscar of Sweden. On 10 May she held a drawing-room at Buckingham Palace; it was the only one she attended that season, and proved her last.

Next day she was present at the christening of the third son of the Duke of York, when she acted as sponsor. After the usual visit to Balmoral (22 May to 20 June) she gave several musical entertainments at Windsor. On 11 June there was a garden party at Buckingham Palace, and on 28 June at Windsor a state banquet to the khedive of Egypt, who was visiting the country. Her old friend the Empress Eugénie was her guest at Osborne in September.

The federation of Australia, 1900.

Apart from the war, she was interested during the session in the passage through the House of Commons of the Australian commonwealth bill, which was to create a federal union among the Australian colonies. She received at Windsor on 27 March the delegates from Australia, who were in England to watch the bill's progress. When in the autumn the bill received the royal assent, she, on 27 August, cordially accepted the suggestion that her grandson the Duke of York, with the duchess, should proceed as her representative to Australia in 1901, to open in her name the first session of the new commonwealth parliament. She was especially desirous of showing her appreciation of the part taken by colonial troops in the Boer war, and she directed that the inauguration of the commonwealth at Sydney on 1 January 1901, should be attended by a guard of honour representing every branch of the army, including the volunteers.

Distresses of the war.

But the situation in South Africa remained the central topic of her thought, and in the late summer it gave renewed cause for concern. Despite Lord Roberts's occupation of the chief towns of the enemy's territory, fighting was still proceeding in the open country, and deaths from disease or wounds in the British ranks were numerous. The queen was acutely distressed by the reports of suffering that reached her through the summer, but, while she constantly considered and suggested means of alleviating the position of affairs, and sought to convince herself that her ministers were doing all that was possible to hasten the final issue, she never faltered in her conviction that she and her people were under a solemn obligation to fight on till absolute victory was assured.

Owing to the prevailing feeling of gloom the queen, when at Balmoral in October and November, allowed no festivities. The usual highland gathering for sports and games at Braemar, which she had attended for many years with the utmost satisfaction, was abandoned. She still watched closely public events in foreign countries, and she found little consolation there. The assassination of her friend Humbert, king of Italy, on 29 July at Monza greatly disturbed her equanimity. In France a wave of strong anti-English feeling involved her name, and the shameless attacks on her by unprincipled journalists were rendered the more offensive by the approval they publicly won from the royalist leader, the Duc d'Orléans, great-grandson of Louis Philippe, to whom and to whose family she had proved the staunchest of friends. Happily the Duke afterwards apologised for his misbehaviour, and was magnanimously pardoned by the queen.

The new unionist House of Commons, October 1900.

In October a general election was deemed necessary by the government — the existing parliament was more than five years old — and the queen was gratified by the result. Lord Salisbury's government, which was responsible for the war and its conduct, received from England and Scotland overwhelming support. The election emphatically supported the queen's view that, despite the heavy cost of life and treasure, hostilities must be vigorously pursued until the enemy acknowledged defeat. When the queen's fifteenth and last parliament was opened in December, Lord Salisbury was still prime minister; but he resigned the foreign secretaryship to Lord Lansdowne, formerly minister of war, and he made with the queen's approval some unimpressive changes in the personal constitution of the ministry. Its policy remained unaltered.

The queen's latest bereavements.

Death had again been busy among the queen's relatives and associates, and cause for private sorrow abounded in her last years. Her cousin and friend of youth, the Duchess of Teck, had passed away on 27 October 1897. Another blow was the death at Meran of phthisis, on 5 February 1899, of her grandson, Prince Alfred, only son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The succession to the duchies of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which was thus deprived of an heir, was offered by the diet of the duchies to the queen's third son, the Duke of Connaught; but, although he temporarily accepted it, he, in accordance with the queen's wish, renounced the position in his own behalf and in that of his son a few months later in favour of his nephew, the Duke of Albany, the posthumous son of the queen's youngest son, Leopold. To the queen's satisfaction the little Duke of Albany was adopted on 30 June 1899 as heir presumptive to the beloved principality.

The arrangement unhappily took practical effect earlier than she anticipated. A mortal disease soon attacked the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg, the queen's second son, Alfred, and he died suddenly at Rosenau on 30 July 1900, before a fatal issue was expected. The last bereavement in the royal circle which the queen suffered was the death, on 29 October 1900, of her grandson, Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein, eldest son of Princess Helena, the queen's second daughter. The young man had contracted enteric fever on the battlefields of South Africa. But even more distressing was it for the queen to learn, in the summer of 1900, that her eldest child, the Empress Frederick, was herself the victim of a malady that must soon end in death. Although the empress was thenceforth gravely disabled, she survived her mother rather more than six months.

Final migrations of the court.

On 7 November the queen returned to Windsor from Balmoral in order to console Princess Christian on the death of her son, and twice before the end of the month she took the opportunity of welcoming home a few of the troops from South Africa, including colonial and Canadian detachments. On each occasion she addressed a few words to the men. On 12 December she made her last public appearance by attending a sale of needlework by Irish ladies at the Windsor town hall. On 14 December she celebrated the thirty-ninth anniversary of the prince consort's death at Frogmore with customary solemnity, and on the 18th she left for Osborne. It was the last journey of her life.

The queen's health in old age.

Throughout life the queen's physical condition was robust. She always believed in the efficacy of fresh air and abundant ventilation, and those who waited on her had often occasion to lament that the queen never felt cold. She was long extremely careful about her health, and usually consulted her resident physician, Sir James Reid, many times a day. Although she suffered no serious ailments, age told on her during the last five or six years of her life. Since 1895 she suffered from a rheumatic stiffness of the joints, which rendered walking difficult, and from 1898 incipient cataract greatly affected her eyesight. The growth of the disease was steady, but it did not reach the stage which rendered an operation expedient.In her latest year she was scarcely able to read, although she could still sign her name and could write letters with difficulty.

It was not till the late summer of 1900 that symptoms menacing to life made themselves apparent. The anxieties and sorrows due to the South African war and to deaths of relatives proved a severe strain on her nervous system. She manifested a tendency to aphasia, but by a strong effort of will she was for a time able to check its growth. She had long justly prided herself on the strength and precision of her memory, and the failure to recollect a familiar name or word irritated her, impelling increased mental exertion. No more specific disease declared itself, but loss of weight and complaints of sleeplessness in the autumn of 1900 pointed to a general physical decay. She hoped that a visit to the Riviera in the spring would restore her powers, but when she reached Windsor in November her physicians feared that a journey abroad might have evil effects. Arrangements for the removal of the court early next year to the Riviera were, however, begun. At Osborne her health showed no signs of improvement, but no immediate danger was apprehended.

Last days at Osborne. — The queen's death.

On Christmas morning her lifelong friend and lady-in-waiting, Jane Lady Churchill, passed away suddenly in her sleep. The queen was greatly distressed, and at once made a wreath for the coffin with her own hands. On 2 January 1901 she nerved herself to welcome Lord Roberts on his return from South Africa, where the command-in-chief had devolved on Lord Kitchener. She managed by an effort of will briefly to congratulate him on his successes, and she conferred on him an earldom and the order of the Garter. On the 10th Mr. Chamberlain had a few minutes' audience with her, so that she might learn the immediate prospect of South African affairs. It was her last interview with a minister.

The widowed duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha arrived on a visit, and, accompanied by her, the queen drove out on the 15th for the last time. By that date her medical attendants recognised her condition to be hopeless. The brain was failing, and life was slowly ebbing. On the 19th it was publicly announced that she was suffering from physical prostration. The next two days her weakness grew, and the children who were in England were summoned to her deathbed. On 21 January her grandson, the German emperor, arrived, and in his presence and in the presence of two sons and three daughters she passed away at half-past six in the evening of Tuesday, 22 January She was eighty-one years old and eight months, less two days. Her reign had lasted sixty-three years, seven months, and two days. She had lived three days longer than George III, the longest-lived sovereign of England before her. Her reign exceeded his, the longest yet known to English history, by nearly four years. On the day following her death her eldest son met the privy council at St. James's Palace, took the oaths as her successor to the throne, and was on the 24th proclaimed king under the style of Edward VII.

Her funeral.

In accordance with a dominant sentiment of her life the queen was accorded a military funeral. On 1 February the yacht Alberta, passing between long lines of warships which fired a last salute, carried the coffin from Cowes to Gosport. Early next day the remains were brought to London, and were borne on a gun carriage from Victoria station to Paddington. In the military procession which accompanied the cortège, every branch of the army was represented, while immediately behind the coffin rode King Edward VII, supported on one side by his brother, the Duke of Connaught, and on the other by his nephew, the German emperor. They were followed by the kings of Portugal and of Greece, most of the queen's grandsons, and members of every royal family in Europe. The funeral service took place in the afternoon, with imposing solemnity, in St. George's Chapel, Windsor. On Monday, 4 February, the coffin was removed privately, in the presence only of the royal family, to the Frogmore mausoleum, and was there placed in the sarcophagus which already held the remains of Prince Albert.

The universal sorrow. — The queen and imperial unity.

No British sovereign was more sincerely mourned. As the news of the queen's death spread, impassioned expressions of grief came from every part of the United Kingdom, of the British empire, and of the world. Native chieftains in India, in Africa, in New Zealand, vied with their British-born fellow-subjects in the avowals of a personal sense of loss. The demonstration of her people's sorrow testified to the spirit of loyalty to her person and position which had been evoked by her length of life and reign, her personal sorrows, and her recent manifestations of sympathy with her subjects' welfare. But the strength and popularity which the grief at the queen's death proved the monarchy to enjoy were only in part due to her personal character and the conditions of her personal career.

A force of circumstances which was not subject to any individual control largely contributed to the intense respect and affection on the part of the people of the empire which encircled her crown when her rule ended. The passion of loyalty with which she inspired her people during her last years was a comparatively late growth. In the middle period of her reign the popular interest, which her youth, innocence, and simplicity of domestic life had excited at the beginning, was exhausted, and the long seclusion which she maintained after her husband's death developed in its stead a coldness between her people and herself which bred much disrespectful criticism. Neither her partial resumption of her public life nor her venerable age fully accounts for the new sentiment of affectionate enthusiasm which greeted her declining days. It was largely the outcome of the new conception of the British monarchy which sprang from the development of the colonies and dependencies of Great Britain, and the sudden strengthening of the sense of unity between them and the mother country.

The crown after 1880 became the living symbol of imperial unity, and every year events deepened the impression that the queen in her own person typified the common interest and the common sympathy which spread a feeling of brotherhood through the continents that formed the British empire. She and her ministers in her last years encouraged the identification of the British sovereignty with the unifying spirit of imperialism, and she thoroughly reciprocated the warmth of feeling for herself and her office which that spirit engendered in her people at home and abroad. But it is doubtful if, in the absence of the imperial idea for the creation of which she was not responsible, she could under the constitution have enjoyed that popular regard and veneration of which she died in unchallenged possession.

Her attitude to business of state.

The practical anomalies incident to the position of a constitutional sovereign who is in theory invested with all the semblance of power, but is denied any of its reality or responsibility, were brought into strong relief by the queen's personal character and the circumstances of her life. Possessed of no commanding strength of intellect but of an imperious will, she laboriously studied every detail of government business, and on every question of policy or administration she formed for herself decided opinions, to which she obstinately adhered, pressing them pertinaciously on the notice of her ministers. No sovereign of England ever applied himself to the work of government with greater ardour or greater industry. None was a more voluminous correspondent with the officers of state. Although the result of her energy could not under the constitution be commensurate with its intensity, her activity was in the main advantageous. The detachment from party interests or prepossessions, which her elevated and isolated position came to foster in her, gave her the opportunity of detecting in ministerial schemes any national peril to which her ministers might at times be blinded by the spirit of faction, and her persistence occasionally led to some modification of policy in the direction that she urged with happy result. Her length of sovereignty, too, rendered in course of years her personal experiences of government far wider and far closer than that of any of her ministers, and she could recall much past procedure of which she was the only surviving witness. Absolutely frank and trustful in the expression of her views to her ministers, she had at the same time the tact to acquiesce with outward grace, however strong her private objections, in any verdict of the popular vote, against which appeal was seen to be hopeless. In the two instances of the Irish church bill of 1869 and the franchise extension bill of 1884 she made personal efforts, in the interest of the general peace of the country, to discourage an agitation which she felt to be doomed to failure. While, therefore, she shrank from no exertion whereby she might influence personally the machinery of the state, she was always conscious of her powerlessness to enforce her opinions or her wishes. With the principle of the constitution which imposed on the sovereign the obligation of giving formal assent to every final decision of his advisers, however privately obnoxious it might be to him, she had the practical wisdom to avoid any manner of conflict.

The decay of royal power. — Innovations in royal practice.

Partly owing to her respect for the constitution in which she was educated, partly owing to her personal idiosyncrasies, and partly owing to the growth of democratic principles among her people, the active force of such prerogatives as the crown possessed at her accession was, in spite of her toil and energy, diminished rather than increased during her reign. Parliament deliberately dissolved almost all the personal authority that the crown had hitherto exercised over the army. The prerogative of mercy was practically abrogated when the home secretary was in effect made by statute absolute controller of its operations. The distribution of titles and honours became in a larger degree than in former days an integral part of the machinery of party politics. The main outward signs of the sovereign's formal supremacy in the state lost, moreover, by her own acts, their old distinctness. Conservative as was her attitude to minor matters of etiquette, she was self-willed enough to break with large precedents if the breach consorted with her private predilections. During the last thirty-nine years of her reign she opened parliament in person only seven times, and did not prorogue it once after 1854. It had been the rule of her predecessors regularly to attend the legislature at the opening and close of each session, unless they were disabled by illness, and her defiance of this practice tended to weaken her semblance of hold on the central force of government. Another innovation in the usages of the monarchy, for which the queen, with a view to increasing her private convenience, was personally responsible, had a like effect. Her three immediate predecessors on the throne never left the country during their reigns. Only three earlier sovereigns of modern times occasionally crossed the seas while wearing the crown, and they were represented at home in their absence by a regent or by lords-justices, to whom were temporarily delegated the symbols of sovereign power, while a responsible minister was the sovereign's constant companion abroad. Queen Victoria ignored nearly the whole of this procedure. She repeatedly visited foreign countries; no regent nor lords-justices were called to office in her absence; she was at times unaccompanied by a responsible minister, and she often travelled privately and informally under an assumed title of inferior rank. The mechanical applications of steam and electricity which were new to her era facilitated communication with her, but the fact that she voluntarily cut herself off from the seat of government for weeks at a time — in some instances at seasons of crisis — seemed to prove that the sovereign's control of government was in effect less constant and essential than of old, or that it might, at any rate, incur interruption without in any way impairing the efficiency of the government's action. Her withdrawal from parliament and her modes of foreign travel alike enfeebled the illusion which is part of the fabric of a perfectly balanced monarchy that the motive power of government resides in the sovereign.

The queen and Ireland.

In one other regard the queen, by conduct which can only be assigned to care for her personal comfort at the cost of the public advantage, almost sapped the influence which the crown can legitimately exert on the maintenance of a healthy harmony among the component parts of the United Kingdom. Outside England she bestowed markedly steady favour on Scotland. Her sojourns there, if reckoned together, occupied a period of time approaching seven years. She spent in Ireland in the whole of her reign a total period of less than five weeks. During fifty-nine of her sixty-three years of rule she never set foot there at all. Her visit in her latest year was a triumph of robust old age and a proof of undiminished alertness of sympathy. But it brought into broad relief the neglect of Ireland that preceded it, and it emphasised the errors of feeling and of judgment which made her almost a complete stranger to her Irish subjects in their own land during the rest of her long reign.

The queen's foreign relations.

The queen's visits to foreign lands were intimately associated with her devotion to her family which was a ruling principle of her life. The kinsmen and kinswomen with whom her relations were closest were German, and Germany had for her most of the associations of home. She encouraged in her household many German customs, and with her numerous German relatives maintained an enormous and detailed correspondence. Her patriotic attachment to her own country of England and to her British subjects could never be justly questioned, and it was her cherished conviction that England might and should mould the destinies of the world; but she was much influenced in her view of foreign policy by the identification of her family with Germany, and by her natural anxiety to protect the interests of ruling German princes who were lineally related to her. It was ‘a sacred duty,’ as she said, for her to work for the welfare of Prussia, because her eldest daughter had married the heir to the Prussian crown. As a daughter and a wife she felt bound to endeavour to preserve the independence of the duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, whence her mother and husband sprang. Her friendship for Belgium was a phase of her affection for her uncle, who sat on its throne. The spirit of patriotic kingship was always strong enough in her to quell hesitation as to the path she should follow when the interest of England was in direct conflict with that of her German kindred, but it was her constant endeavour to harmonise the two.

Her temperament.

Although the queen disliked war and its inevitable brutalities, she treated it as in certain conditions a dread necessity which no ruler could refuse to face. Thoroughly as she valued peace, she deemed it wrong to purchase it at the expense of national rights or dignity. But she desired that warfare should be practised with all the humanity that was possible, and she was deeply interested in the military hospitals and in the training of nurses. The queen's wealth of domestic affection was allied to a tenderness of feeling and breadth of sympathy with mankind generally, which her personal sorrows accentuated. She spared no exertion personally to console the bereaved, to whatever walk of life they belonged, and she greatly valued a reciprocation of her sympathy. Every instance of unmerited suffering that came to her notice — as in the case of Captain Dreyfus in France — stirred her to indignation. Nor were animals — horses and dogs — excluded from the scope of her compassion. To vivisection she was strenuously opposed, denouncing with heat the cruelty of wounding and torturing dumb creatures. She countenanced no lenity in the punishment of those guilty of cruel acts.

The queen was not altogether free from that morbid tendency of mind which comes of excessive study of incidents of sorrow and suffering. Her habit of accumulating sepulchral memorials of relations and friends was one manifestation of it. But it was held in check by an innate cheerfulness of disposition and by her vivacious curiosity regarding all that passed in the domestic and political circles of which she was the centre. She took a deep interest in her servants. She was an admirable hostess, personally consulting her guests' comfort. The ingenuousness of youth was never wholly extinguished in her. She was easily amused, and was never at a loss for recreation. Round games of cards or whist she abandoned in later years altogether; but she sketched, played the piano, sang, did needlework until old age.

The queen's artistic sense was not strong. In furniture and dress she preferred the fashions of her early married years to any other. She was never a judge of painting, and she bestowed her main patronage on portrait painters like Winterhalter and Von Angeli, and on sculptors like Boehm, who had little beyond their German nationality to recommend them. ‘The only studio of a master that she ever visited was that of Leighton, whose “Procession of Cimabue” the prince consort had bought for her, and whom she thought delightful, though perhaps more as an accomplished and highly agreeable courtier than as a painter.’ In music she showed greater taste. Staunch to the heroes of her youth, she always appreciated the operas of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti; Handel and Bach bored her, but Mendelssohn also won her early admiration, and Gounod and Sullivan fascinated her later. She never understood or approved Wagner or his school. She was devoted to the theatre from girlhood, and all her enthusiasm revived when in her last years she restored the dramatic performances at court, which her mourning had long interrupted. She was not well read, and although she emulated her husband's respect for literature, it entered little into the business or recreation of her life.

In talk she appreciated homely wit of a quiet kind, and laughed without restraint when a jest or anecdote appealed to her. Subtlety or indelicacy offended her, and sometimes evoked a scornful censure. Although she naturally expected courtesy of address, and resented brusque expression of contradiction or dissent, she was not conciliated by obsequiousness. ‘It is useless to ask 4's opinion,’ she would say; ‘he only tries to echo mine.’ Her own conversation had often the charm of naïveté. When told that a very involved piece of modern German music, to which she was listening with impatience, was a ‘drinking song’ by Rubinstein, she remarked, ‘Why, you could not drink a cup of tea to that.’ Her memory was unusually sound, and errors which were made in her hearing on matters familiar to her she corrected with briskness and point.

The queen's religion was simple, sincere, and undogmatic. Theology did not interest her, but in the virtue of religious toleration she was an ardent believer. When Dr. Creighton, the last bishop of London of her reign, declared that she was the best liberal he knew, he had in mind her breadth of religious sentiment. On moral questions her views were strict. She was opposed to the marriage of widows. To the movement for the greater emancipation of women she was thoroughly and almost blindly antipathetic. She never realised that her own position gave the advocates of women's rights their strongest argument. With a like inconsistency she regarded the greatest of her female predecessors, Queen Elizabeth, with aversion, although she resembled Queen Elizabeth in her frankness and tenacity of purpose, and might, had the constitution of the country in the nineteenth century permitted it, have played as decisive a part in history.

Queen Victoria's sympathies were with the Stuarts and the jacobites. She declined to identify Prince Charles Edward with his popular designation of ‘the Young Pretender,’ and gave in his memory the baptismal names of Charles Edward to her grandson, the Duke of Albany. She was deeply interested in the history of Mary Stuart; she placed a window in Carisbrooke Church in memory of Charles I's daughter Elizabeth (1850), and a marble tomb by Marochetti above her grave in the neighbouring church of St. Thomas at Newport (1856). She restored James II's tomb at St. Germain. Such likes and dislikes reflected purely personal idiosyncrasies. It was not Queen Elizabeth's mode of rule that offended Queen Victoria; it was her lack of feminine modesty. It was not the Stuarts' method of government that appealed to her; it was their fall from high estate to manifold misfortune. Queen Victoria's whole life and action were, indeed, guided by personal sentiment rather than by reasoned principles. But her personal sentiment, if not altogether removed from the commonplace, nor proof against occasional inconsistencies, bore ample trace of courage, truthfulness, and sympathy with suffering. Far from being an embodiment of selfish whim, the queen's personal sentiment blended in its main current sincere love of public justice with staunch fidelity to domestic duty, and ripe experience came in course of years to imbue it with the force of patriarchal wisdom. In her capacity alike of monarch and woman, the queen's personal sentiment proved, on the whole, a safer guide than the best devised system of moral or political philosophy.

Index Previous Next

Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 12 January, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
1789-1850
 
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind