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.
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.
No sooner had the celebrations of the princess's majority ended than death put her in possession of the fullest rights that it could confer. Early in June it was announced that the king's health was breaking. On Tuesday, 20 June 1837, at twelve minutes past two in the morning, he died at Windsor Castle. The last barrier between Princess Victoria and the crown was thus removed.
The archbishop of Canterbury, who had performed the last religious rites, at once took leave of Queen Adelaide and with Lord Conyngham, the lord chamberlain, drove through the early morning to Kensington to break the news to the new sovereign. They arrived there before 5 a.m. and found difficulty in obtaining admission. The porter refused to rouse the princess. At length the Baroness Lehzen was sent for, and she reluctantly agreed to warn the princess of their presence. The girl came into the room with a shawl thrown over her dressing-gown, her feet in slippers, and her hair falling down her back. Lord Conyngham dropped on his knee, saluted her as queen, and kissed the hand she held towards him. The archbishop did the like, addressing to her ‘a sort of pastoral charge.’ At the same time she was informed of the king's peaceful end. The princess clasped her hands and anxiously asked for news of her aunt .
The prime minister, Lord Melbourne, arrived before nine o'clock, and was at once received in audience. The queen's uncle, the Duke of Sussex, and the Duke of Wellington, the most popular man in the state, also visited her. But, in accordance with the constitution, it was from the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, alone that she could receive counsel as to her official duties and conduct. The privy council was hastily summoned to meet at Kensington at 11 a.m. on the day of the king's death. On entering the room the queen was met by her uncles, the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex, and having taken her seat at once read the speech which Lord Melbourne had written for her some days before in consultation with Lord Lansdowne, the veteran president of the council. She was dressed very plainly in black and wore no ornaments. She was already in mourning for the death of Queen Adelaide's mother. She spoke of herself as ‘educated in England under the tender and enlightened care of a most affectionate mother; she had learned from her infancy to respect and love the constitution of her native country.’ She would aim at securing the enjoyment of religious liberty and would protect the rights of all her subjects. She then took the oath, guaranteeing the security of the church of Scotland; the ministers gave up their seals to her and she returned them; they then kissed hands on reappointment, and the privy councillors took the oaths.
Although she was unusually short in stature (below five feet), and with no pretensions to beauty, her manner and movement were singularly unembarrassed, modest, graceful, and dignified, while her distinct and perfectly modulated elocution thrilled her auditors. ‘She not merely filled her chair,’ said the Duke of Wellington, ‘she filled the room.’ Throughout the ceremony she conducted herself as though she had long been familiar with her part in it.
The admirable impression she created on this her first public appearance as queen was fully confirmed in the weeks that followed. Next day she drove to St. James's Palace to attend the formal proclamation of her accession to the throne. While the heralds recited their announcement she stood in full view of the public between Lord Melbourne and Lord Lansdowne, at the open window of the privy council chamber, looking on the quadrangle nearest Marlborough House. The crowd cheered vociferously, and prominent in the throng was Daniel O'Connell, who waved his hat with conspicuous energy. ‘At the sound of the first shouts the colour faded from the queen's cheeks,’ wrote Lord Albemarle, her first master of the horse, who was also an onlooker, ‘and her eyes filled with tears. The emotion thus called forth imparted an additional charm to the winning courtesy with which the girl-sovereign accepted the proffered homage.
After the proclamation the queen saw Lord Hill, the commander-in-chief, the lord-chancellor, and other great officers of state. At noon her second council was held at St. James's Palace, and all the cabinet ministers were present. Later in the day the proclamation was repeated at Trafalgar Square, Temple Bar, Wood Street, and the Royal Exchange.
Although the queen signed the privy council register at her first council in the name of Victoria only, in all the official documents which were prepared on the first day of her he proclamation she was called ‘Her Royal Majesty Alexandrina Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom.’ But, despite the sentiment that had been excited against the name Victoria, it was contrary to her wish to be known by any other. Papers omitting the prefix ‘Alexandrina’ were hastily substituted for those in which that prefix had been introduced, and from the second day of the new reign the sovereign was known solely as Queen Victoria. Thenceforth that name was accepted without cavil as of the worthiest English significance. It has since spread far among her subjects. It was conferred on one of the most prosperous colonies of the British empire in 1851, and since on many smaller settlements or cities, while few municipalities in the United Kingdom or the empire have failed to employ it in the nomenclature of streets, parks, railway-stations, or places of public assembly.
Abroad, and even in some well-informed quarters at home, surprise was manifested at the tranquillity with which the nation saw the change of monarch effected. But the general enthusiasm that Queen Victoria's accession evoked was partly due to the contrast she presented with those who had lately occupied the throne. Since the century began there had been three kings of England — men all advanced in years — of whom the first was an imbecile, the second a profligate, and the third little better than a buffoon. The principle of monarchy was an article of faith with the British people which the personal unfitness of the monarch seemed unable to touch. But the substitution for kings whose characters could not inspire respect of an innocent girl, with what promised to be a long and virtuous life before her, evoked at the outset in the large mass of the people a new sentiment — a sentiment of chivalric devotion to the monarchy which gave it new stability and rendered revolution impossible.
Although the play of party politics failed to render the sentiment universal, and some actions of the queen in the early and late years of the reign severely tried it, it was a plant that, once taking root, did not readily decay. Politicians — of the high rank of Lord Palmerston, the foreign secretary in the whig ministry, and Sir Robert Peel, leader of the tories in the House of Commons — deplored the young queen's inexperience and ignorance of the world; but such defects were more specious than real in a constitutional monarch, and, as far as they were disadvantageous, were capable of remedy by time. Sydney Smith echoed the national feeling when, preaching in St. Paul's Cathedral on the first Sunday of her reign, he described the new sovereign as ‘a patriot queen,’ who might be expected to live to a ripe old age and to contribute to the happiness and prosperity of her people. ‘We have had glorious female reigns,’ said Lord John Russell, the home secretary under Melbourne, a few weeks later. ‘Those of Elizabeth and Anne led us to great victories. Let us now hope that we are going to have a female reign illustrious in its deeds of peace — an Elizabeth without her tyranny, an Anne without her weakness’.
Owing to her sex, some changes in the position and duties of a British sovereign were inevitable. The Salic law rendered her incompetent to succeed to the throne of Hanover, which British sovereigns had filled since George the elector of Hanover became George I of England in 1714. Hanover had been elevated from an electorate to a kingdom by the congress of Vienna in 1814, and the kingdom now passed to the queen's uncle, the next heir after her to the English throne, Ernest, Duke of Cumberland. The dissolution of the union between England and Hanover was acquiesced in readily by both countries. They had long drifted apart in political sentiments and aspirations. The new king of Hanover was altogether out of sympathy with his royal niece. He proved an illiberal and reactionary ruler; but she, in whom domestic feeling was always strong, took a lively interest in the fortunes of his family, and showed especial kindness to them in the trials that awaited them.
At home the main alteration in her duty as sovereign related to the criminal law. Death was the punishment accorded to every manner of felony until William IV's parliament humanely reduced the number of capital offences to four or five, and it had been the custom of the sovereign personally to revise the numerous capital sentences pronounced in London at the Old Bailey. At the close of each session these were reported to the sovereign by the recorder for final judgment. A girl was obviously unfitted to perform this repugnant task. Accordingly the queen was promptly relieved of it by act of parliament (7 William IV and 1 Vict. cap. 77). Outside London the order of the court to the sheriff had long been sufficient to insure the execution of the death penalty. To that practice London now conformed, while the home secretary dealt henceforth by his sole authority with petitions affecting offenders capitally convicted, and was alone responsible for the grant of pardons, reprieves, or respites. Whenever capital sentences were modified by the home secretary, he made a report to that effect to the queen, and occasionally it evoked comment from her; but his decision was always acted on as soon as it was formed. Thus, although the statute of 1837 formally reserved ‘the royal prerogative of mercy,’ the accession of a woman to the throne had the paradoxical effect of practically annulling all that survived of it.
But, while the queen was not called on to do everything that her predecessors had done, she studied with ardour the routine duties of her station and was immersed from the moment of her accession in pressing business. The prime minister, Melbourne, approached his task of giving her political instruction with exceptional tact and consideration, and she proved on the whole an apt pupil. Melbourne was the leader of the whig party, whose constitutional principles denied the sovereign any independence; but it was with the whigs that her father had associated himself, and association with them was personally congenial to her.
Nonetheless, she was of an imperious, self-reliant, and somewhat wilful disposition; she was naturally proud of her elevation and of the dignified responsibilities which nominally adhered to the crown. While, therefore, accepting without demur Melbourne's theories of the dependent place of a sovereign in a constitutional monarchy, she soon set her own interpretation on their practical working. She was wise enough at the outset to recognise her inexperience, and she knew instinctively the need of trusting those who were older and better versed in affairs than herself. But she never admitted her subjection to her ministers. From almost the first to the last day of her reign she did not hesitate closely to interrogate them, to ask for time for consideration before accepting their decisions, and to express her own wishes and views frankly and ingenuously in all affairs of government that came before her. After giving voice to her opinion, she left the final choice of action or policy to her official advisers' discretion; but if she disapproved of their choice, or it failed of its effect, she exercised unsparingly the right of private rebuke.
The first duty of her ministers and herself was to create a royal household. The principles to be followed differed from those which had recently prevailed. It was necessary for a female sovereign to have women and not men as her personal attendants. She deprecated an establishment on the enormous scale that was adopted by the last female sovereign in England — Queen Anne. A mistress of the robes, eight ladies-in-waiting, and six women of the bedchamber she regarded as adequate. Her uncle Leopold wisely urged her to ignore political considerations in choosing her attendants. But she was without personal friends of the rank needed for the household offices, and she accepted Lord Melbourne's injudicious advice to choose their first holders exclusively from the wives and daughters of the whig ministers. She asked the Marchioness of Lansdowne to become mistress of the robes, and although her health did not permit her to accept that post, she agreed to act as first lady-in-waiting. The higher household dignity was filled (1 July 1837) by the Duchess of Sutherland, who was soon one of the queen's intimate associates.
Others of her first ladies-in-waiting were the Countess of Mulgrave, afterwards Marchioness of Normanby, and Lady Tavistock. The Countess of Rosebery declined to join them. In accord with better established precedent, the gentlemen of her household were also chosen from orthodox supporters of the whig ministry. The queen only asserted herself by requesting that Sir John Conroy, the master of her mother's and her own household, whom she never liked, should retire from her service; she gave him a pension of £3,000 a year, but refused his request for an order and an Irish peerage. Graver perplexities attached to the question of the appointment of a private secretary to the new sovereign. Although former occupants of the throne had found such an officer absolutely essential to the due performance of their duties, the ministers feared the influence that one occupying so confidential a relation with a young untried girl might gain over her. With admirable self-denial Melbourne solved the difficulty by taking on himself the work of her private secretary for all public business. As both her prime minister and private secretary it was thus necessary for him to be always with the court. For the first two years of her reign he was her constant companion, spending most of the morning at work with her, riding with her of an afternoon, and dining with her of an evening. The paternal care which he bestowed on her was acknowledged with gratitude by political friends and foes.
Melbourne's acceptance of the office of private secretary best guaranteed the queen's course against pitfalls which might have involved disaster. Members of the family circle in which she had grown up claimed the right and duty of taking part in her guidance when she began the labour of her life, and, owing to their foreign birth, it was in her own interest that their influence should be permanently counterbalanced by native counsel. King Leopold, the queen's foster-father, who had hitherto controlled her career, and remained a trusted adviser till his death, had, as soon as she reached her majority, sent his confidential friend and former secretary, Baron Stockmar, to direct her political education. The baron remained in continuous attendance on her, without official recognition, for the first fifteen months of her reign, and when the question of a choice of private secretary was first raised, the queen expressed an infelicitous anxiety to appoint him. A native of Coburg, who originally came to England with Leopold in 1816 as his medical attendant, Stockmar was now fifty years old. Sincerely devoted to his master and to the Saxe-Coburg family, he sought no personal advantage from his association with them. Even Lord Palmerston, who bore him no affection, admitted that he was the most disinterested man he ever met.
Intelligently read in English history, he studied with zeal the theory of the British constitution. There was genuine virtue in the substance of his reiterated advice that the queen should endeavour to maintain a position above party and above intrigue. But, although sagacious, Stockmar was a pedantic and a sententious critic of English politics, and cherished some perilous heresies. The internal working of the British government was never quite understood by him. His opinion that the sovereign was no ‘nodding mandarin’ was arguable, but his contention that a monarch, if of competent ability, might act as his own minister was wholly fallacious. The constant intercourse which he sought with Melbourne and other ministers was consequently felt by them to be embarrassing, and to be disadvantageous to the queen. An impression got abroad that he exerted on her a mysterious anti-national influence behind the throne. Abercromby, speaker of the House of Commons, threatened in very early days to bring the subject to the notice of parliament. But when it was rumoured that Stockmar was acting as the queen's private secretary, Melbourne circulated a peremptory denial, and public attention was for the time diverted.
The queen's openly displayed fidelity to her old governess, the Baroness Lehzen, did not tend to dissipate the suspicion that she was in the hands of foreign advisers. But the baroness's relations with her mistress were above reproach and did credit to both. She had acted as her old pupil's secretary in private matters before she came to the throne, and she continued to perform the same functions after the queen's accession. But public affairs were never brought by the queen to her cognisance, and the baroness loyally accepted the situation. With the Duchess of Kent, who continued to reside with her daughter, although she was now given a separate suite of apartments, the queen's relation was no less discreet — far more discreet than the duchess approved. She was excluded from all share in public business — an exclusion in which she did not readily acquiesce. For a long time she treated her daughter's emancipation from her direction as a personal grievance. There was never any ground for the insinuation which Lord Brougham conveyed when he spoke in the House of Lords of the Duchess of Kent as ‘the queen-mother.’ Melbourne protested with just indignation against applying such a misnomer to ‘the mother of the queen,’ who was wholly outside the political sphere.
Public ceremonials meanwhile claimed much of the queen's attention. On 27 June she held her first levee at Kensington to receive the credentials of the ambassadors and envoys. She was dressed in black, but, as sovereign of the order of the Garter, wore all its brilliant insignia — ribbon, star, and a band bearing the motto, in place of the garter, buckled on the left arm. There followed a long series of deputations from public bodies, bearing addresses of condolence and congratulation, to all of which she replied with characteristic composure. On 17 July she went in state to dissolve parliament in accordance with the law which required a general election to take place immediately on the demise of the crown. For the first time she appeared in apparel of state — a mantle of crimson velvet lined with ermine, an ermine cape, a dress of white satin embroidered with gold, a tiara and stomacher of diamonds, and the insignia of the garter. She read the speech with splendid effect. Fanny Kemble, who was present, wrote: ‘The queen's voice was exquisite. ... The enunciation was as perfect as the intonation was melodious, and I think it is impossible to hear a more excellent utterance than that of the queen's English by the English queen.’ A more disinterested visitor, the American orator, Charles Sumner, used very similar language: ‘Her voice was sweet and finely modulated. ... I think I have never heard anything better read in my life than her speech.’ On 19 July the queen held her first levee at St. James's Palace, and next day her first drawing-room. On both occasions the attendance was enormous.
A few days before (13 July) the queen left the home of her girlhood at Kensington for Buckingham Palace, the new official residence in London appointed for the sovereign. The building had been begun by the architect John Nash for George IV, but was not completed until William IV became king. He, however, disliked it, and preferred to remain at St. James's Palace. No monarch occupied Buckingham Palace before Queen Victoria, for whom it was for the first time put in order. A contemporary wag in the Times declared it was the cheapest house ever built, having been built for one sovereign and furnished for another. But the inconvenience with which William IV credited it proved real, and it underwent radical alterations and additions at the instance of the queen and Prince Albert before it was deemed to be adapted for its purpose. An east front was erected to form a quadrangle; the ground behind the house, to the extent of forty acres, was laid out as a pleasure-garden; a conservatory was converted into a chapel, and a ballroom was added as late as 1856.
One of the first entertainments which were given at Buckingham Palace was a grand concert on 17 August 1837, under the direction of Signor Costa. In honour of the occasion the queen ordered the court to go out of mourning for the day. The vocalists were Madame Grisi, Madame Albertazzi, Signor Lablache, and Signor Tamburini. The queen's first official appearance in public out of doors took place on 21 August, when she opened the new gate of Hyde Park on the Bayswater Road, and conferred on it the name of Victoria. On 22 August she drove to Windsor to assume residence at the castle for the first time. On 28 September she had her earliest experience of a military review, when the guards in Windsor garrison marched before her in the Home Park. After remaining at Windsor till 4 October she made acquaintance with the third and last of the royal palaces then in existence, the pretentious Pavilion at Brighton, which George IV had erected in a foolish freak of fancy. Lord John Russell, the home secretary, together with his wife, stayed with her there. On 4 November she returned to Buckingham Palace.
The queen took a girlish delight in the sense of proprietorship: she actively directed her domestic establishments, and the mode of life she adopted in her palaces was of her own devising. She exercised a constant and wide hospitality which had been long unknown in the royal circle. The entertainments were somewhat formal and monotonous; but, although she was zealous for rules of etiquette, she was never indisposed to modify them if she was thereby the better able to indulge the kindly feeling that she invariably extended to her guests. Most of her mornings were spent at work with Melbourne. In the early afternoon when at Windsor she rode in the park or neighbouring country with a large cavalcade often numbering thirty persons. Later she romped with children, some of whom she usually contrived to include among her guests, or played at ball or battledore and shuttlecock with ladies of the court — a practice which she continued till middle age — or practised singing and pianoforte playing. Dining at half-past seven, she usually devoted the evening to round games of cards, chess, or draughts, while the Duchess of Kent played whist. One of her innovations was the institution of a court band, which played music during and after dinner. When she was settled at Buckingham Palace she gave a small dance every Monday.
She found time for a little serious historical reading, one of the earliest books through which she plodded as queen being Coxe's Life of Sir Robert Walpole and for the first time in her life she attempted novel-reading, making trial of three books by Sir Walter Scott, Fenimore Cooper, and Bulwer Lytton respectively. A little later she struggled with Hallam's Constitutional History and St. Simon's Memoirs.
Relatives from the continent of Europe were in the first days of her reign very frequent guests. With them she always seemed most at ease, and she showed them marked attention. Vacant garters were bestowed on two of her German kinsmen, who came on early visits to her — the first on her half-brother, the Prince of Leiningen, in July 1837, the next on her uncle, Prince Albert's father, in the year following. The king of the Belgians and his gentle Queen Louise spent three weeks with her at Windsor (August-September 1837), and the visit was repeated for years every autumn. Her first cousin Victoria, daughter of Duke Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg, who in 1840 married the Duc de Nemours, was also often with her, and shared in her afternoon games. But she was not at the same time neglectful of her kinsfolk at home. Nothing could exceed the tenderness with which she treated the Dowager Queen Adelaide. On the day of her accession she wrote a letter of condolence, addressing it to ‘the Queen’ and not to ‘the Dowager Queen,’ for fear of adding to her grief. A very few days later, before the late king's funeral, she visited the widowed lady at Windsor, and she forbade, of her own motion, the lifting of the royal standard, then at half-mast, to mast-high, as was customary on the arrival of the sovereign. When Queen Adelaide removed from Windsor Castle ultimately to settle at Marlborough House, her royal niece bade her take from the castle any furniture that her residence there had especially endeared to her, and until the old queen's death the young queen never relaxed any of her attentions.
To all her uncles and aunts she showed like consideration. She corresponded with them, entertained them, visited them, read to them, sang to them; and she bore with little murmuring her uncles' displays of ill-temper. The Duchess of Cambridge, the last survivor of that generation, died as late as 1889, and no cares of family or state were ever permitted by the queen to interfere with the due rendering of those acts of personal devotion to which the aged duchess had been accustomed. Even to the welfare of the FitzClarences — William IV's illegitimate children by Mrs. Jordan — she was not indifferent, and often exerted her influence in their interests. At the same time domestic sentiment was rarely suffered to affect court etiquette. At her own table she deemed it politic to give, for the first time, precedence to foreign ambassadors — even to the American envoy, Mr. Stephenson — over all guests of whatever rank, excepting only Lord Melbourne, who always sat at her left hand. For years she declined to alter the practice in favour of the royal Dukes and duchesses, but ultimately made some exceptions.
Meanwhile the first general election of the new reign had taken place, and the battle of the rival parties mainly raged round the position and prospects of the queen. The tories, who were the attacking force, bitterly complained that Melbourne and the whigs in power identified her with themselves, and used her and her name as party weapons of offence. Lord John Russell, in a letter to Lord Mulgrave, lord-lieutenant of Ireland, had written of her sympathy with the whig policy in Ireland. Croker, a tory spokesman, in an article in the Quarterly Review (July 1837), denounced the policy of surrounding her with female relatives of the whig leaders. Sir Robert Peel argued that the monarchy was endangered by the rigour with which she was ruled by Melbourne, the chief of one political party. Release of the sovereign from whig tyranny consequently became a tory cry, and it gave rise to the epigram:
‘The Queen is with us,’ Whigs insulting say;
‘For when she found us in she let us stay.’
It may be so, but give me leave to doubt
How long she'll keep you when she finds you out. (Annual Register, 1837, p. 239).
Whig wire-pullers, on the other hand, made the most of the recent conduct of the next heir to the throne, the new king of Hanover, the queen's uncle Ernest, who had signalised his accession by revoking constitutional government in his dominions. They spread a report that the new king of Hanover was plotting to dethrone his niece in order to destroy constitutional government in England as well as in Hanover, and a cartoon was issued entitled The Contrast, which represented side by side portraits of the queen and her uncle, the queen being depicted as a charming ingénue, and her uncle as a grey-haired beetle-browed villain. The final result of the elections was not satisfactory to either side. The tories gained on the balance thirty-seven seats, and thus reduced their opponents' majority; but in the new House of Commons the whigs still led by thirty-eight, and Melbourne and his colleagues retained office.
Before the new parliament opened, the queen made a formal progress through London, going from Buckingham Palace to the Guildhall to dine in state with the lord mayor. Her passage through the streets evoked an imposing demonstration of loyalty. Fifty-eight carriages formed the procession, in which rode many of the foreign ambassadors. The lord mayor, Sir John Cowan, with the sheriffs, George Carroll and Moses Montefiore, and members of the corporation of London, received the queen at Temple Bar. The banquet lasted from 3.30 in the afternoon till 8.30 in the evening, when the city was ablaze with illuminations. A medal was struck from a design by William Wyon, and the queen's arrival at Temple Bar was pictured in a bas-relief on the monument that now marks the site of the old gate.
On 20 November the queen opened her first parliament, reading her own speech, as was her custom until her widowhood whenever she attended in person. The opening business of the session was a settlement of the royal civil list. Financially the queen's position since her accession had been a source of anxiety. She inherited nothing, and the crown had lost the royal revenues of Hanover. She had complained to Melbourne of her lack of money for immediate private expenses. He had done little but listen sympathetically, but Messrs. Coutts, who had been bankers to various members of the royal family, came to her rescue with temporary advances.
The main question for the government to consider was not merely the amount of the income necessary to maintain the throne in fitting dignity, but the proportion of that income which might be prudently derived from the hereditary revenues of the crown, i.e. revenues from the crown lands. In return for a fixed annuity George III had surrendered a large portion of these revenues, and George IV yielded a further portion, while William IV surrendered all but those proceeding from the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, which were held to belong to a different category. At the same time it was arranged, on the accession of William IV, that the general expenses of civil government, which had been previously defrayed out of the king's civil list, should henceforth be discharged by the consolidated fund, and that of the income allotted to King William only a very small proportion should be applied to aught outside his household and personal expenses; the sole external calls were £75,000 for pensions and £10,000 for the secret service fund. On these conditions King William was content to accept £460,000 instead of £850,000 which had been paid his predecessor, while an annuity of £50,000 was bestowed on his queen consort. His net personal parliamentary income (excluding pensions and the secret service fund) was thus £375,000, with some £25,000 from the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall.
Radical members of parliament now urged Melbourne to bring the whole of the crown lands under parliamentary control, to deprive the crown of the control and income of the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, and to supply the sovereign with a revenue which should be exclusively applied to her own purposes, and not to any part of the civil government. Treasury officials drew out a scheme with these ends in view, but Melbourne rejected most of it from a fear of rousing against his somewhat unstable government the cry of tampering with the royal prerogative. In the result the precedent of William IV's case was followed, with certain modifications. The queen resigned all the hereditary revenues of the crown, but was left in possession of the revenues of the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, of which the latter was the lawful appanage of the heir-apparent. The duchy of Cornwall therefore ceased to be the sovereign's property as soon as a lawful heir to the throne was born. It and the duchy of Lancaster produced during the first years of the reign about £27,500 annually, but the revenues from both rose rapidly, and the duchy of Lancaster, which was a permanent source of income to the queen, ultimately produced above £60,000 a year. The duchy of Cornwall, which passed to the prince of Wales at his birth in 1841, ultimately produced more than £66,000.
Parliament now granted her, apart from these hereditary revenues, an annuity of £385,000, being £10,000 in excess of the net personal income granted by parliament to her predecessor. Of this sum £60,000 was appropriated to her privy purse, £131,260 to the salaries of the household, £172,500 to the expenses of the household, £13,200 to the royal bounty, while £8,040 was unappropriated. The annual payment from the civil list of £75,000 in pensions and of £10,000 secret service money was cancelled, but permission was given the crown to create ‘civil list’ pensions to the amount of £1,200 annually, a sum which the treasury undertook to defray independently of the royal income; this arrangement ultimately meant the yearly expenditure of some £23,000, but the pensions were only nominally associated with the sovereign's expenditure. Repairs to the sovereign's official residences and the maintenance of the royal yachts were also provided for by the treasury apart from the civil list revenues. Joseph Hume, on the third reading of the civil list bill, moved a reduction of £50,000, which was rejected by 199 votes against 19. Benjamin Hawes vainly moved a reduction of £10,000, which was supported by 41 members and opposed by 173. Lord Brougham severely criticised the settlement on the second reading of the bill in the House of Lords. He made searching inquiries respecting the incomes from the crown duchies, and objected to the arrangement being made for the queen's life. Although numerous additional grants, approaching a total of £200,000 a year, were afterwards allotted to the queen's children, the annual sum allowed her by parliament on her accession was never altered during her reign of nearly sixty-four years, and proved amply sufficient for all her needs. At the same time as the civil list bill passed through parliament, the queen's mother, at the sovereign's instance, was granted an annuity of £30,000; she formerly received £22,000 a year, of which £10,000 was appropriated to the care of her daughter while princess. On 23 December 1837 the queen went to parliament to return thanks in person for what had been done. Christmas was spent at Buckingham Palace, and next day the court withdrew to Windsor.
The liberal allowance enabled the queen to fulfil at once her resolve to pay off her father's debts. By the autumn of next year she had transferred to the late Duke's creditors from her privy purse nearly £50,000 and on 7 October 1839 she received their formal thanks. Meanwhile the queen's sympathy with her ministers increased. Through 1838-9 she followed their parliamentary movements with keen anxiety lest their narrow majority might prove inadequate to maintain them in office. Disturbances in Canada during the early months of 1838 roused differences of opinion in the House of Commons, which imperilled their position, but the crisis passed. ‘The queen is as steady to us as ever,’ wrote Palmerston on 14 April 1838, ‘and was in the depth of despair when she thought we were in danger of being turned out. She keeps well in health, and even in London takes long rides into the country, which have done her great good’. Under Melbourne's guidance, and in agreement with her own wish, she daily perused masses of despatches and correspondence with exemplary diligence.
Outside politics her chief interest lay in the preparations that were in progress for her coronation and for the festivities accompanying it. Three state balls — one on 18 June, the day of Waterloo, a choice of date which offended the French — two levees, a drawing-room, a state concert, a first state visit to Ascot, and attendance at Eton ‘montem’ immediately preceded the elaborate ceremonial, which took place on 28 June 1838, eight days after the anniversary of her accession. The ministers resolved to endow it with exceptional splendour. For the expenses of William IV's coronation £50,000 had been allowed. No less a sum than £200,000 was voted by parliament for the expenses of Queen Victoria's coronation. Westminster Abbey was elaborately decorated in crimson and gold. The royal procession to the abbey was revived for the first time since the coronation of George III in 1761, and four hundred thousand persons came to London to witness it, many bivouacking in the streets the night before. At 10 a.m. on the appointed day, in magnificent weather, the queen left Buckingham Palace in full panoply of state, passing up Constitution Hill, along Piccadilly, down St. James's Street, and across Trafalgar Square, which had just been laid out in Nelson's memory. The abbey was reached by way of Parliament Street at 11.30. Among foreign visitors, who went thither in advance of the queen, was Marshal Soult, the representative of France, whom the crowds received with hardly less enthusiasm than her majesty. The great company of her German relatives included her uncle the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and her half-brother and half-sister of Leiningen. When the queen entered the abbey, ‘with eight ladies all in white, floating about her like a silvery cloud, she paused, as if for breath, and clasped her hands’. A ray of sunlight fell on her head as she knelt to receive the crown, and the Duchess of Kent burst into tears. The brilliance of the scene impressed every one, but there were some drawbacks. Harriet Martineau, who was present, wrote: ‘The brightness, vastness, and dreamy magnificence produced a strange effect of exhaustion and sleepiness.’ The queen, too, suffered not only from natural emotion and fatigue, but from the hesitation of the officiating clergy as to the exact part she was to play in many parts of the long ritual, and from the insufficient training that had been accorded her. ‘Pray tell me what I am to do, for they [i.e. the clergy] don't know,’ she said at one solemn point to a lay official who stood near her. She complained that the orb which was unexpectedly put into her hand was too heavy for her to hold; and when the ruby ring, which had been made for her little finger, was forced by the archbishop on to her fourth, she nearly cried out with the pain. For the first time at a coronation, the commons were allowed to acclaim her after the peers. The latter had enjoyed the privilege from time immemorial. The commons now cheered their sovereign nine times; but Dean Stanley, who, then a boy, sat in a gallery, thought all the responses and acclamations were feebly given. Towards the close of the ceremony a singular accident befell Lord Rolle, a peer, eighty years old, as he was endeavouring to offer his homage. He ‘fell down as he was getting up the steps of the throne.’ The queen's ‘first impulse was to rise, and when afterwards he came again to do homage she said, “May I not get up and meet him?” and then rose from the throne and advanced down one or two of the steps to prevent his coming up, an act of graciousness and kindness which made a great sensation’.
While the peers were doing homage, the lord-chamberlain and his officers flung medals, specially designed by Pistrucci, for the spectators to scramble for, and the confusion was not dignified. At length the ceremonial, which lasted more than five hours, ended, and at a quarter past four the queen returned to Buckingham Palace. She then wore her crown and all her apparel of state, but she looked to spectators pale and tremulous. Carlyle, who was in the throng, breathed a blessing on her: ‘Poor little queen!’ he added, ‘she is at an age at which a girl can hardly be trusted to choose a bonnet for herself; yet a task is laid upon her from which an archangel might shrink.’ But despite her zeal to fulfil the responsibilities of her station, she still had much of the child's lightness and simplicity of heart. On returning to the palace she hastily doffed her splendours in order to give her pet spaniel, Dash, its afternoon bath. She then dined quietly with her relatives who were her guests, and after sending a message of inquiry to the unfortunate Lord Rolle, concluded the day by witnessing from the roof of the palace the public illuminations and fireworks in the Green and Hyde Parks. Next morning a great ‘coronation’ fair was opened by permission of the government for four days in Hyde Park; and on the second day the queen paid it a long visit. The coronation festivities concluded with a review by her of five thousand men in Hyde Park (9 July), when she again shared the popular applause with Marshal Soult. A month later (16 August) she prorogued parliament in person, and, after listening to the usual harangue on the work of the session from the speaker of the House of Commons, read her speech with customary clearness.
A few months later the queen was to realise that her popularity was not invulnerable, and that, despite Melbourne's parental care, her position was fraught with difficulty and danger, with which she was as yet hardly fitted to cope. With both the crises through which the queen and her court passed in the first half of 1839, her youth and inexperience prevented her from dealing satisfactorily. In January 1839 Lady Flora Hastings, daughter of the Marquis of Hastings, was lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Kent at Buckingham Palace. On account of her appearance, she was most improperly suspected by some of the queen's attendants of immoral conduct. Neither the queen nor her mother put any faith in the imputation, but Lady Tavistock informed Melbourne of the matter, and the queen assented to his proposal that the unfortunate lady should be subjected by the royal physician, Sir James Clark, to a medical examination. Clark afterwards signed a certificate denying all allegations against Lady Flora (17 February 1839).
The incident was soon noised abroad. The lady's family appealed directly to the queen to make fitting reparation. Lady Flora's brother, the Marquis of Hastings, obtained an interview with her. Lady Flora's mother wrote her passionate letters and begged for the dismissal of Sir James Clark. The queen made no reply. Melbourne stated that she had seized the earliest opportunity of personally acknowledging to Lady Flora the unhappy error, but that it was not intended to take any other step. Lady Hastings published her correspondence with the queen and Melbourne in the Morning Post, and Clark circulated a defence of his own conduct. A general feeling of disgust was roused, and the reputation of the court suffered, especially with the conservative section of the nobility to which the Hastings family belonged. The situation was rendered worse by the tragic ending of the episode. Lady Flora was suffering from a fatal internal disease — the enlargement of the liver. On 4 July she was announced to be dying at Buckingham Palace. A royal banquet which was to take place that evening was countermanded. The lady died next day. The queen was gravely perturbed. Society was depressed and shocked. The blunder which the queen's advisers had committed was bad enough to warrant an unmistakable expression of her personal regret, and her innocent supineness, for which the blame was currently laid on the Baroness Lehzen, was a calamity.
The second court crisis of 1839 was due to a precisely opposite cause — to the queen's peremptory exercise of her personal authority without consulting any one. During the session of 1839 the whig ministry finally lost its hold on the House of Commons. The recent emancipation of the slaves in Jamaica had led the planters into rebellion, and the government was driven to the disagreeable necessity of inviting parliament to suspend the constitution. The proposal was carried by a majority of only five (7 May). Melbourne felt the position to be hopeless, and placed the resignation of himself and his colleagues in the queen's hands. The queen was deeply distressed. When Lord John, leader of the House of Commons, visited her to discuss the situation, she burst into tears. But she soon nerved herself fully to exert for the first time the sovereign's power of choosing a successor to the outgoing prime minister. Her grief at parting with Melbourne was quickly checked. She asked him for no advice, but, after consulting Lord Spencer, she sent for the Duke of Wellington, and startled him by her self-possession (8 May). He declined her offer to form a ministry on the ground of his age and of the desirability of the prime minister being in the House of Commons. Accordingly she summoned Sir Robert Peel, the leader of the conservative opposition in the lower house.
She feared his coldness and severity of manner, but her personal demeanour at their first interview was dignified, although very frank. She deprecated a dissolution of parliament at so early a date in the life of the existing parliament. Peel vaguely expressed sympathy with her view, but declined to pledge himself not to advise a dissolution. He, however, accepted without demur her commission to form the government, and, on leaving her, set about selecting members of the cabinet. There was already a strong feeling among the conservatives that the queen, who had hitherto shrunk from association with conservatives, was hedged in on all sides of her household by the female relatives of her whig ministers. Peel, in consultation with his friends, decided that the ladies holding the higher posts in the household must be displaced if conservative ministers were to receive adequate support from the crown. He had no intention of interfering with the subordinate offices, but deemed it essential to remove some at least of the ladies from such posts as those of mistress of the robes or of lady-in-waiting. Peel formed a high conception of his responsibility, and was willing to consult the queen's wishes in filling all appointments that might fall vacant. Unfortunately he did not define at the outset the precise posts or the number of them which were affected by his proposals. The subject was broached in a personal interview (9 May). The queen feared that she was to be deprived of the companionship of her closest friends, and suspected — quite incorrectly — that the Baroness Lehzen was aimed at. She declined point blank to entertain any suggestion of change in the female constitution of her household. After Peel left her she wrote to Melbourne that they wanted to deprive her of her ladies; they would rob her next of her dressers and housemaids; they thought to treat her as a girl; she would show them she was queen of England. Finally she requested her old minister to draft a reply of refusal to Peel's demands. Melbourne expressed no opinion, but did as he was asked. The queen's letter to Peel ran: ‘Buckingham Palace, May 10, 1839. — The Queen, having considered the proposal made to her yesterday by Sir Robert Peel to remove the ladies of her bedchamber, cannot consent to adopt a course which she conceives to be contrary to usage, and which is repugnant to her feelings.’ Peel answered that he feared there was some misunderstanding, and declined to proceed to the formation of a government.
Peel's decision was received by the queen with immense relief, which she made no endeavour to conceal at a state ball that took place the same evening. With every sign of satisfaction she appealed to Melbourne to resume power. Although her action was her own, Melbourne had given it a tacit approval by not resisting it, when she first informed him of her intention. The old cabinet met on 11 May; some members argued for advising the queen to withdraw from the attitude that she had assumed. But Lord Spencer insisted that as gentlemen they must stand by her. Palmerston declared that her youth and isolation should have protected her from the odious conditions that Peel sought to impose. At length the good-natured Melbourne acquiesced in that opinion, and the whigs returned to office.
The episode formed the topic of animated debate in both houses of parliament. Peel defended his action, which Lord John Russell lamely endeavoured to prove to be without precedent. Melbourne thoroughly identified himself with the queen, and was severely handled from different points of view by both the Duke of Wellington and Lord Brougham. In point of fact Peel's conduct was amply warranted, and subsequently Melbourne, Lord John Russell, and the queen herself admitted as much. In 1853 she confided to Lord John that she had taken no advice in the matter. ‘No,’ she said, ‘it was entirely my own foolishness!’ Melbourne afterwards remarked characteristically: ‘You should take care to give people who are cross time to come round. Peel's fault in that business, when he failed to form a government, was not giving the queen time to come round.’
The momentary effect of the queen's act was to extend by more than two years the duration of Melbourne's ministry, and to embitter the personal hostility of the tories towards her. James Bradshaw, the tory M.P. for Canterbury, made in July so violent an attack upon her at a conservative meeting that the whig M.P. for Cockermouth, Edward Horsman, challenged him to a duel, which was duly fought. But the permanent outcome of the crisis was to the good. The queen never repeated her obduracy, and although she often asserted her authority and betrayed her personal predilection when a new ministry was in course of creation, the nineteen changes of government that followed during her reign were effected with comparatively little friction. The ‘household’ difficulty never recurred. Ladies-in-waiting at once ceased to be drawn from the families of any one political party, and as early as July 1839 the queen invited Lady Sandwich, the wife of a tory peer, to join the household. It became the settled practice for the office of mistress of the robes alone to bear a political complexion, and for its holder to retire from office with the party to which she owed her appointment. Increase of years and the good counsel of a wise husband were to teach the queen to exercise with greater tact that habit of command which was natural to her, and to bring under firmer control the impatience and quickness of her temper.
Absorption in the sovereign's work, the elation of spirit which accompanied the major part of her new experiences, the change from dependence to independence in her private affairs, put marriage out of her mind during the first two years of her reign. But King Leopold had no intention of quietly allowing his choice of her cousin Albert for her husband to be thwarted. Early in 1838 he reminded her of the suggestion. She replied that she and the prince, who was of her own age, were too young to think of marriage yet, and she claimed permission to defer a decision till the end of three years. King Leopold summoned Prince Albert to Brussels in March and explained the situation. Albert assented with some hesitation to the queen's proposal of delay. He assumed that in her proud elevation she would ultimately seek in marriage a partner of more exalted rank than a younger son of a poor and undistinguished German Duke. But Stockmar was as zealous in Albert's cause as his uncle Leopold. He had left the queen's side at the end of 1838 for the first time since her accession, and accompanied Prince Albert on a tour in Italy with a view to keeping him faithful to the plan and to instructing him betimes, in case of need, in the duties of the consort of a reigning English monarch. Among the English courtiers doubts of the success of the innocent conspiracy were freely entertained. Such members of the large Coburg family as visited the queen at this period were too ‘deutsch’ in manner to recommend themselves to her English attendants. ‘After being used to agreeable and well-informed Englishmen, I fear she will not easily find a foreign prince to her liking,’ Lord Palmerston wrote in April 1838. Several names besides Prince Albert's were, too, freely canvassed as those of suitable candidates for her hand. Another first cousin, Prince George of Cambridge, was often in her society. The Duc de Nemours (brother of the queen of the Belgians and son of Louis Philippe) and a prince of the Prussian reigning family were believed to possess attractions, both in her sight and in that of some of her advisers. In May 1839 she entertained at Windsor the tsarevitch of Russia (afterwards Tsar Alexander II) and Prince William Henry, younger son of King William II of the Netherlands; and both the young men were reported to aspire to her hand.
The social and political embarrassments of the first half of 1839 gave the queen a sense of isolation, which rendered the prospect of marriage more congenial to her than it was before. At the same time she suffered much annoyance from a number of offers of marriage made to her by weak-minded subjects, several of whom forced themselves personally on her notice when she was riding out, or even gained entrance to her palaces. King Leopold, who was her guest at Windsor in September 1839, was not slow to use the opportunity. He arranged that Prince Albert and his elder brother Ernest should stay at the English court next month. Nothing was said to the queen of the objects of the mission. On 10 October the young men arrived at Windsor, bearing a letter from King Leopold commending them to her notice. Many guests were there, besides Lord Melbourne. For four days the princes joined the queen and her crowded retinue in the ordinary routine of afternoon rides, evening banquets, and dances, but during the entertainments she contrived to have much talk with Albert, and suddenly a genuine and overpowering affection between them declared itself. On 15 October she summoned the prince to her room, and, taking full advantage of her royal station, offered him marriage. It was ‘a nervous thing’ to do, she afterwards told her aunt, the Duchess of Gloucester; but, she added, it would not have been possible for him to propose to the queen of England. Melbourne, who took the wise view that in the choice of a husband it was best for the queen to please herself, thought Prince Albert too young and untrained for the position, but hoped for the best and was warm in his congratulations.
The queen sent the information at once to King Leopold, but the public announcement was delayed for more than a month. During that period the queen and her affianced lover were rarely separated either in public or private. The prince was conspicuously at her side at a review of the rifle brigade which she held in the Home Park on 1 November. On the 14th the visit of Albert and his brother came to an end. Next day the queen wrote with delightful naïveté to all members of the royal family announcing her engagement. Sir Robert Peel saw the communication she sent to Queen Adelaide, and, although he regarded the match with little enthusiasm, said she was ‘as full of love as Juliet’. On 20 November she left Windsor for Buckingham Palace, where on 23 November she made the official declaration, which Melbourne had drawn up, to an extraordinary meeting of the privy council. No less than eighty-three members were present. The queen wore on her arm a bracelet enclosing the prince's miniature; although her hand shook, she read her short and simple speech without hesitation, and accepted the congratulations of her councillors with composure.
The news was received by the public with mixed feeling. Daniel O'Connell, when he spoke of it at a meeting at Bandon, gave vent to ludicrous hyperboles of joy. But there were ominous murmurs amid the popular applause. Little was definitely known of the prince, excepting that he was German and very young. The tories took for granted that he was of ‘liberal’ opinions — an assumption which did not please them — and while some agreed that he owed his good fortune to his distaste for affairs of state and his fondness for empty amusement, others credited him with perilously stirring ambition. Although it was notorious that the Saxe-Coburg house was staunchly Lutheran, two of its members, King Leopold and Prince Ferdinand, had lately married Catholics, and a foolish rumour circulated that Albert was a Papist. At foreign courts, and even in his own domestic circle, it was felt that the prize the prince had won was above his station. The queen, who saw the situation only through the haze of true womanly affection, deplored the sacrifice of family and country which she regarded the prince as making for her sake. She pressed her ministers to secure for him wellnigh every honour that she enjoyed, in order to compensate him for his expatriation.
Like Queen Mary, she entreated that her husband should be created a king consort. The ministers pointed out that Prince Albert's rank, as well as his household and emoluments, must correspond with those accorded the last prince consort, Prince George of Denmark, and she was galled by the comparison of her lover with ‘the stupid and insignificant husband of Queen Anne,’ as she called him. The final decision rested with parliament, and Melbourne made no effort to force its hand. The session opened on 16 January 1840, and the queen, in the speech which she read from the throne, spoke of her approaching marriage. Melbourne found himself in a critical situation. While the queen demanded a far higher status for her future husband than precedent warranted, a majority in both houses of parliament showed signs of a resolve to grant far less. Stockmar, who had resumed residence with the queen in order to watch the position of affairs and give her private advice, wisely recommended a consultation between whigs and tories so as to avoid public disputes, but he gained no hearing. The ministers proposed to grant Prince Albert an annuity of £50,000, the sum granted to the queen consorts of George II, George III, and William IV. Joseph Hume moved an amendment to reduce the sum to £21,000 on his favourite ground of economy. This was negatived by 305 to 38; but Colonel Sibthorp, a tory of a very pronounced kind, who echoed the general sentiment of dissatisfaction, moved another amendment to reduce the sum to £30,000. He received exceptionally powerful support. Sir Robert Peel spoke in his favour. Sir James Graham denied that the parallel with the position of the queen consorts could be sustained; the independent status of the queen consort, he said, not very logically, was recognised by the constitution, but the prince consort stood in no need of a separate establishment. On a division the reduction was carried by the large majority of 104, the votes being 262 to 158.
Sir Robert Peel and his friends made emphatic protests against insinuations of disloyalty, and denied that the tories were ‘acting from a spiteful recollection of the events of last May.’ Lord John Russell insisted that the vote was an insult to the sovereign. Colonel Sibthorp further proposed in committee that, should the prince survive the queen, he should forfeit the annuity if he remarried a catholic, or failed to reside in the United Kingdom for at least six months a year. This motion was disavowed by Peel, who agreed that it implied a want of confidence in the prince, and it was rejected. But the whole proceedings deeply incensed the queen, and King Leopold wrote that the action of the commons was intolerable.
The House of Lords was in no more amiable mood. The Duke of Wellington carried an amendment to the address censuring ministers for having failed to make a public declaration that the prince was a protestant and able to take the holy communion in the form prescribed by the church of England — a point on which Stockmar had already given the ministers satisfactory assurances in private. When, on 27 January, the bill for the naturalisation of the prince was introduced into the upper chamber, it contained a clause giving him precedence next after the queen. The royal Dukes of Sussex and Cambridge had agreed to accept a position below the queen's husband; but the king of Hanover, who was still Duke of Cumberland, bluntly declined to give way to any ‘paper royal highness;’ and his protest found much sympathy in the lords. Melbourne argued that he was following the precedent set in the case of Philip and Mary, but was willing to modify the clause so as to give the heir-apparent, when he should arrive, precedence of his father. The concession was deemed inadequate, and the clause was withdrawn. Thereupon the naturalisation bill passed without further opposition. Subsequently Greville, the clerk of the council, issued a paper proving that the queen could grant her husband by royal warrant what precedence she chose without any appeal to parliament, and she acted accordingly, giving him the next place to her. But, to the queen's chagrin, foreign courts declined to recognise in him any rank above that of his hereditary honours. Another difficulty arose with regard to the choice of his personal attendants. It was deemed inadvisable to allow him to appoint a private secretary for himself. A German was not reckoned fit for the post. Melbourne nominated his own private secretary, George Anson.
Meanwhile the marriage was fixed for 10 February. Before the parliamentary wrangle ended, Lord Torrington and Colonel Grey had been sent to Coburg to invest the prince with the insignia of the Garter, and to conduct him to England. On 28 January the prince with his father and brother left Coburg. At Brussels he met his uncle Leopold. On 7 February he was at Dover. Next day he was received with much enthusiasm in London, and on reaching Buckingham Palace the oaths of naturalisation were administered to him by the lord chancellor. On the 10th the wedding took place in the chapel of St. James's Palace, and after an elaborate breakfast at Buckingham Palace the bride and bridegroom drove to Windsor amid vociferous acclamations. Two days later they were visited by the Duchess of Kent, the Duke of Coburg, and others, and on 14 February returned to London. On 19 February the queen held a levee, and the prince stood at her left hand.
|Meet the web creator
These materials may be freely used for
non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances
and distribution to students.
Last modified 12 January, 2016
|American Affairs 1760-83
|The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815
|Irish Affairs 1760-89
|Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel
|Primary sources index
|British Political Personalities
|British Foreign policy 1815-65