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This article was written by Sidney Lee and was published in 1901
See this site for an extensive collection of photgraphs of Queen Victoria and her times.
With her marriage a new era in the queen's life and reign began. From a personal point of view the union realised the highest ideal of which matrimony is capable. The queen's love for her husband was without alloy, and invested him in her sight with every perfection. He, on his part, reciprocated her affection, and he made her happiness the main object of his life. Intellectually and morally he was worthy of his position. He was admirably educated; his interests were wide; he was devoted to art, science, and literature; his life was scrupulously well ordered; he was sagacious, philanthropic, conscientious, and unselfish. His example and influence gave new weight and stability to the queen's character and temperament, and her knowledge and experience grew. But outside the domestic circle the prince was not liked. He was cold and distant in manner, and his bearing, both mental and physical, was held to be characteristically German. It was out of harmony with the habitual ease and levity of the English aristocracy. He had no active sense of humour, no enthusiasm for field sports, no vices; he abhorred late hours, and did not conceal his disdain for many of the recreations in which the English leisured classes indulged. His public position was at the same time ill-defined. There was a jealous fear that his private influence with the queen and his foreign prejudices might affect her public action. Resentment at any possible interference by him in affairs of state quickly spread abroad. Although Melbourne gave the queen permission to show him official papers, he was during the first two years of his settlement in England excluded from her interviews with ministers. He felt his position to be one of humiliation. He was ‘the husband, not the master of the house,’ he wrote in May 1840 to his friend, Prince William of Löwenstein.
It was never with the queen's concurrence that he filled a rank in her household subordinate to herself. On 28 December 1841 she wrote in her journal: ‘He ought to be, and is above me in everything really, and therefore I wish that he should be equal in rank with me.’ As his abilities came to be recognised by ministers, they gradually yielded to her persuasion to take him fully into their counsels. He was allowed to act as her private secretary. The cares of maternity were soon to distract her on occasion from the details of public duty, and her dependence on her husband in all relations naturally increased. Ultimately Prince Albert assumed in behalf of his wife in reality, although not in form, most of her responsibilities, and his share in the rule of the country through most of the twenty-one years of their married life is indistinguishable from hers. ‘Lord Melbourne was very useful to me,’ she said many years afterwards, ‘but I can never be sufficiently thankful that I passed safely through those two years to my marriage. Then I was in a safe haven, and there I remained for twenty[-one] years'.
As soon as the prince finally settled down to his new life he regarded it as his duty (as he wrote in 1850 to the Duke of Wellington) to ‘fill up every gap which, as a woman, she would naturally leave in the exercise of her regal functions, continually and anxiously to watch every part of the public business, in order to be able to advise and assist her at any moment, in any of the multifarious and difficult questions or duties brought before her, sometimes international, sometimes political, or social, or personal.’ He claimed to be of right ‘the natural head of her family, superintendent of her household, manager of her private affairs, sole confidential adviser in politics, and only assistant in the communications with the officers of the government.’ At the same time he was, he pointed out, ‘the husband of the queen, the tutor of the royal children, the private secretary of the sovereign, and her permanent minister.’
The defect and danger of such a claim lay, according to the constitution of the country, in the fact that the prince was under no parliamentary control, and his description of himself as the queen's ‘permanent minister’ was in exact. Substantially, however, the statement truthfully represented the prince's functions and occupation during his career as Queen Victoria's consort. But a large section of the public never willingly acquiesced in his exercise of so much activity and authority. Until his death he had to run the gauntlet of a galling and unceasing public criticism, and the queen, despite her wealth of domestic happiness, was rarely free from the sense of discomfort and anxiety which was bred of a consciousness that many of her subjects viewed her husband with dislike or suspicion. But from 1841 to 1861, the date of his death, the fact is unassailable that Prince Albert had as good a right as the queen to be regarded as the ruler of the British realm.
On the queen's marriage the Duchess of Kent at once removed from the royal palace, and the Baroness Lehzen soon afterwards retired from the queen's service. These changes in the royal household disposed of checks which might have seriously limited the development of Prince Albert's influence. The supersession of both mother and gouvernante was effected without friction. The curmudgeonly king of Hanover declined the queen's request to give up to the Duchess of Kent his apartments in St. James's Palace which he never occupied, and thereupon the queen rented for her mother Ingestre House, Belgrave Square, at £2,000 a year; but on the death of the Princess Augusta in September, Clarence House, St. James's Palace, was made over to her, together with Frogmore Lodge at Windsor. Hardly a day passed without the exchange of visits. As a rule, the duchess both lunched and dined with her daughter. The Baroness Lehzen left England in October 1842 for her native country of Hanover, finally settling with a sister at Bückeburg. For many years the queen found time to write her a letter once a week, an interval which was subsequently lengthened to a month at the baroness's own considerate request; the correspondence was maintained until the baroness's death in 1870. Stockmar alone of the queen's early confidential attendants retained his position after her marriage; until 1857 he spent the autumn, winter, and spring of each year with the queen and Prince Albert, and occupied rooms in their palaces. On every domestic or public question that arose both the queen and prince looked to him for private guidance.
Amid the festivities which celebrated the early days of married life general alarm was caused by an attack on the queen's life. The outrage had no political significance, and served to increase her popularity. On 10 June a brainless potboy, Edward Oxford, fired two shots at her from a pistol as she was driving through the Green Park from Buckingham Palace to Hyde Park Corner. She was unhurt, and to all appearance unmoved, and after making a call at her mother's house to assure her of her safety, she continued her customary drive in Hyde Park. The lad was arrested and was mercifully pronounced to be insane. Addresses of congratulation were presented by both houses of parliament.
On 12 June 1840 — two days after the incident — a concert was given at Buckingham Palace under Costa's direction, and the queen herself took part in no less than five numbers, singing in a duet with Prince Albert, and in a trio with Signors Rubini and Lablache, and in three choruses. A week or two later a magnificent reception was accorded her at Ascot. Next month the approaching birth of an heir to the throne was announced, and, in accordance with the queen's wish, a bill was passed constituting Prince Albert regent in case of her death, provided that he did not remarry a catholic and that he resided in the country. Prince Albert, by the advice of Stockmar, and with the full concurrence of Melbourne, had already given proofs of an anxiety to relieve the strained relations between the court and the tories. Their leaders had been entertained by the queen, and she had shown them marked civility. With the Duke of Wellington every effort was made to maintain cordial relations, and he reciprocated the advances with alacrity. The Duke of Sussex, whose critical attitude to the queen still caused her discomfort, was partially conciliated by the bestowal of the title of Duchess of Inverness on his morganatic wife, and in April, when the queen and Prince Albert attended a great ball at Lansdowne House, she permitted the new duchess to sup at the royal table. The pacific atmosphere which was thus engendered had the agreeable effect of stifling opposition to the nomination of Prince Albert to the regency. In the House of Lords the Duke of Sussex alone resisted it on the ground that the rights of ‘the family’ were ignored. On 11 August, when the queen prorogued parliament in person, the prince sat in an arm-chair next the throne, and, although objection was feared, none was raised. His predominance was treated as inevitable. On 28 August he received the freedom of the city. On 11 September he was admitted to the privy council. On 5 February 1841 the queen ordered his name to be inserted in the liturgy.
Meanwhile, on 21 November, the queen's first child, a daughter, was born at Buckingham Palace. Her recovery from the confinement was rapid, and she removed to Windsor for the Christmas holidays. On 10 February, the anniversary of her marriage, the child, the princess royal of England, was baptised at Buckingham Palace in the names of Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa. The sponsors were the prince's father, the queen's mother, and her uncle Leopold, besides the Dowager Queen Adelaide, the Duchess of Gloucester, and the Duke of Sussex. The Duke of Saxe-Coburg was unable to attend in person, and the queen by her own motion chose the Duke of Wellington to represent him. The last trace of animosity in regard to Wellington on account of his open objections to the queen's marriage was now removed. ‘He is,’ the queen wrote in her journal, ‘the best friend we have.’
Meanwhile politics were casting clouds on the joys of domestic life. The queen was to suffer, for the first of many times, that conflict of feeling between her private obligations to her foreign kindred and her public obligations to her country, which, despite an instinctive repugnance to unworthy concessions in the sphere of foreign diplomacy, was liable to involve her in difficulties with her advisers. Under Prince Albert's guidance and in accordance with her own predisposition, the queen regarded foreign affairs as peculiarly within the sovereign's province, and the prince, who with Melbourne's assent now enjoyed access to foreign despatches, claimed in behalf of the queen the full right to a voice in consultation before any action was taken by the government abroad. Palmerston, the masterful minister of foreign affairs, was reluctant to recognise the existence outside parliament of any check on his independence. This attitude at once caused vexation in the royal circle, and after prolonged heartburnings ultimately led to an open rupture.
The immediate cause of divergence between the queen and her foreign minister was due to affairs in the east of Europe, which threatened a breach in the friendly relations of France and England. Egypt under her viceroy, Mehemet Ali, was seeking to cast off her allegiance to the sultan of Turkey. France encouraged the act of rebellion, while England and the rest of the great powers took Turkey under their protection. The queen and Prince Albert loathed the prospect of war with France, with whose sovereign, Louis Philippe, they had, through repeated intermarriages, close domestic relations; and the added likelihood that the dominions of her uncle and political ally, King Leopold, would, in case of war between England and France, be invaded by a French army filled the queen with alarm. Divisions in the cabinet encouraged resolute intervention on her part. In opposition to Lord John Russell's views, Palmerston, minister of foreign affairs, decided that the best way of dissipating all risk of French predominance in Egypt was to crush Mehemet Ali at once by force of English arms. The queen entreated Melbourne to reconcile his divided colleagues, to use his influence against Palmerston, and to seek a pacific settlement with France. But Palmerston stood firm. By his orders the British fleet forced Mehemet Ali to return to his allegiance to the sultan (November 1840). The minister's victory was more complete than he anticipated. Louis Philippe, to the general surprise, proved too pusillanimous to take the offensive in behalf of his friend in Egypt, and he finally joined the concert of the powers, who in July 1841 pledged themselves by treaty to maintain Turkey and Egypt in statu quo. The incident evoked in the French king, in his ministers, and in King Leopold a feeling of bitterness against Palmerston which found a ready echo in the minds of Queen Victoria and the prince.
Before this foreign crisis terminated, the retirement of Melbourne's ministry, which the queen had long dreaded, took place. The prospect of parting with Melbourne, her tried councillor, caused her pain. But, in anticipation of the event, hints had been given at Prince Albert's instance by the court officials to the tory leaders that the queen would interpose no obstacle to a change of government when it became inevitable, and would not resist such reconstruction of her household as might be needful. The blow fell in May. The whig ministers introduced a budget which tended towards free trade, and on their proposal to reduce the duty on sugar they were defeated by a majority of 36. Sir Robert Peel thereupon carried a vote of confidence against them by one vote. Moved by the queen's feelings, Melbourne, instead of resigning, appealed to the country. Parliament was dissolved on 29 June.
In June, amid the political excitement, the queen paid a visit to Archbishop Harcourt at Nuneham, and thence she and Prince Albert proceeded to Oxford to attend commemoration. The Duke of Wellington, the chancellor of the university, presided, and conferred on the prince an honorary degree. The queen was disturbed by the hisses which were levelled at the whig ministers who were present, but she was not the less willing on that account to give further proof of her attachment to them, and she seized the opportunity to pay a series of visits among the whig nobility. After spending a day or two with the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, the royal party next month were entertained by the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey and by Lord Cowper, Melbourne's nephew, at Panshanger. From Panshanger they went to lunch with Melbourne himself at his country residence, Brocket Park. The general election was proceeding at the time, and the whigs made the most out of the queen's known sympathy with them and of her alleged antipathy to their opponents. But, to the queen's dismay, a large tory majority was returned.
The new parliament assembled on 19 August 1841. For the first time in her reign the queen was absent and her speech was read by the lord chancellor, an indication that the constitution of the House of Commons was not to her liking. Melbourne's ministry remained in office till the last possible moment, but on 28 August a vote of confidence was refused it by both houses of parliament; the same evening Melbourne saw the queen at Windsor and resigned his trust. She accepted his resignation in a spirit of deep dejection, which he helped to dissipate by an assurance of the high opinion he had formed of her husband. In conformity with his advice she at once summoned Sir Robert Peel, and although she spoke freely to him of her grief in separating from her late ministers, she quickly recovered her composure and discussed the business in hand with a correctness of manner which aroused in Peel enthusiastic admiration. He promised to consult her comfort in all household appointments.
The Duchess of Buccleuch replaced the Duchess of Sutherland as mistress of the robes, and the Duchess of Bedford and Lady Normanby voluntarily made way for other ladies-in-waiting. By September the new government was fully constituted, and the queen had the tact to treat her new ministers with much amiability. Peel adapted himself to the situation with complete success. He and the queen were soon the best of friends. Accepting Melbourne's hint, he fully yet briefly explained to her every detail of affairs. He strictly obeyed her request to send regularly and promptly a daily report of proceedings of interest that took place in both the houses of parliament. Melbourne was thenceforth an occasional and always an honoured guest at court, but the queen accustomed herself without delay to seek political guidance exclusively from Peel.
The queen's absence at the prorogation of parliament on 7 October, after a short autumn session, was due to personal affairs and to no want of confidence in her new advisers. On 9 November 1841 her second child, a son and heir, was born at Buckingham Palace. The confinement was imminent for several weeks, and, though she hesitated to appear in public, she, with characteristic spirit, continued ‘to write notes, sign her name, and declare her pleasure up to the last moment, as if nothing serious were at hand’. Sir Robert Peel had accepted an invitation to dine with her on the night of the child's birth. Much public and private rejoicing followed the arrival of an heir to the throne. Christmas festivities were kept with great brilliance at Windsor, and on 10 January the christening took place in St. George's Chapel with exceptional pomp. Vague political reasons induced the government to invite Frederick William, king of Prussia, to be the chief sponsor; the others were the Duke of Cambridge, Princess Sophia, and three members of the Saxe-Coburg family. To the king of Prussia, who stayed with her from 22 January to 4 February, the queen paid every honour. Subsequently he took advantage of the good personal relations he had formed with the queen to correspond with her confidentially on political affairs.
Adverse criticism was excited by the bestowal on the prince of Wales of the title of Duke of Saxony, and by the quartering of the arms of Saxony on his shield with those of England. Such procedure was regretted as a concession by the queen to her husband's German predilections. On 3 February 1842, when the queen opened parliament and the king of Prussia accompanied her, there was no great display of popular loyalty but she impressed her auditors by referring in the speech from the throne to the birth of her son as ‘an event which has completed the measure of my domestic happiness.’ When a week later she went with her young family to stay a month at the Pavilion at Brighton, her presence excited more public demonstration of goodwill than was convenient and the queen and Prince Albert, conceiving a dislike for the place, soon sought a more sequestered seaside retreat.
The season of 1842 combined agreeable with distasteful incidents. The first of a brilliant series of fancy dress balls took place to the queen's great contentment at Buckingham Palace on 12 May; the prince appeared as Edward III and the queen as Queen Philippa. Some feeling was shown in France at what was foolishly viewed as the celebration of ancient victories won by the English over French arms. The entertainment was charitably designed to give work to the Spitalfields weavers, who were then in distress. A fortnight later the queen and court went in state to a ball at Covent Garden theatre, which was organised in the interest of the same sufferers.
In June the queen had her first experience of railway travelling, an event of no little interest to herself and of no little encouragement to the pioneers of a mechanical invention which was to revolutionise the social economy of the country. She went by rail from Windsor to Paddington. Court etiquette required that the master of the horse and the coachmen under his control should actively direct the queen's travels by land, and it was difficult to adapt the old forms to the new conditions of locomotion. The queen, who thoroughly enjoyed the experiment, thenceforth utilised to the fullest extent the growing railway systems of the kingdom.
Unhappily two further senseless attempts on her life, which took place at the same time, marred her sense of security, and rendered new preventive legislation essential. In her attitude to the first attempt the queen and Prince Albert showed a courage which bordered on imprudence. On Sunday, 29 May, Prince Albert noticed that a man pointed a pistol at the queen as she drove past him in her carriage through the Green Park. She and the prince resolved to pass the same spot on the following afternoon in order to secure the arrest of the assailant. The bold device succeeded. ‘She would much rather,’ she said, ‘run the immediate risk at any time than have the presentiment of danger constantly hovering over her.’ The man, whose name was found to be John Francis, fired at her, happily without result, and, being captured, was condemned to death, a sentence which was commuted to transportation for life. On the evening following the outrage the queen visited the opera to hear the Prophète, and was cheered rapturously. But the danger was not past. On 3 July, when the queen was driving in the Mall with the king of the Belgians, who happened to be her guest, a crippled lad, John William Bean, sought in an aimless, halfhearted way to emulate the misdeeds of Francis and Oxford. Such contemptible outrages could, according to the existing law, be treated solely as acts of high treason. Now Peel hastily passed through parliament a ‘bill for providing for the further protection and security of her majesty's person,’ the terms of which made the offence to attempt to hurt the queen a misdemeanour punishable by either transportation for seven years or imprisonment for three with personal chastisement.
In the autumn Peel organised for the queen a holiday in Scotland. Chartist riots were distracting the country, but Peel and Sir James Graham, the home secretary, believed that the expedition might be safely and wisely made. It was the first visit that the queen paid to North Britain, and it inspired her with a lifelong regard for it and its inhabitants. The first portion of the journey, from Windsor to Paddington, was again made by rail. At Woolwich the royal party embarked on the Royal George yacht on 29 August, and on 1 September they arrived at Granton pier. There Sir Robert Peel, at the queen's request, met them. Passing through Edinburgh they stayed with the Duke of Buccleuch at Dalkeith, where on 5 September the queen held a drawing-room and received addresses. Next day they left for the highlands, and, after paying a visit to Lord Mansfield at Scone, were accorded a princely reception by Lord Breadalbane at Taymouth. A brief stay with Lord Willoughby at Drummond Castle was followed by their return to Dalkeith, and they left Scotland by sea on the 15th.
Not only was the queen enchanted with the scenery through which she passed, but the historic associations, especially those connected with Mary Stuart and her son, deeply interested her, and she read on the voyage with a new zest Sir Walter Scott's poems, The Lady of the Lake and The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Before embarking she instructed Lord Aberdeen to write to the lord advocate an expression of her regret that her visit was so brief, and of her admiration of the devotion and enthusiasm which her Scottish subjects had ‘evinced in every quarter and by all ranks’. On 17 September she was again at Windsor. In November the Duke of Wellington placed Walmer Castle at her disposal, and she and her family were there from 10 November to 3 December
With Peel the queen's relations steadily improved. On 6 April 1842 Peel described his own position thus: ‘My relations with her majesty are most satisfactory. The queen has acted towards me not merely (as every one who knew her majesty's character must have anticipated) with perfect fidelity and honour, but with great kindness and consideration. There is every facility for the despatch of public business, a scrupulous and most punctual discharge of every public duty, and an exact understanding of the relation of a constitutional sovereign to her advisers’. In January 1843 the queen was deeply concerned at the assassination of Peel's secretary, Edward Drummond, in mistake for himself, and she shrewdly denounced in private the verdict of insanity which the jury brought in against the assassin at his trial.
Among Peel's colleagues, Lord Aberdeen, minister of foreign affairs, came after Peel himself into closest personal relations with the queen and the prince, and with him she found herself in hardly less complete accord. At the same time she never concealed her wish to bring the foreign office under the active influence of the crown. She bade Aberdeen observe ‘the rule that all drafts not mere matters of course should be sent to her before the despatches had left the office.’ Aberdeen guardedly replied that ‘this should be done in all cases in which the exigencies of the situation did not require another course.’ She prudently accepted the reservation, but Lord Aberdeen's general policy developed no principle from which the queen or the prince dissented, and the harmony of their relations was undisturbed.
Peel greatly strengthened his position by a full acknowledgment of Prince Albert's position. He permitted the prince to attend the audiences of ministers with the queen. He nominated him president of a royal commission to promote the fine arts of the United Kingdom in connection with the rebuilding of the houses of parliament, and he encouraged the prince to reform the confused administration of the royal palaces. The prince's authority consequently increased. From 1843 onwards the queen, in announcing her decision on public questions to her ministers, substituted for the singular personal pronoun ‘I’ the plural ‘we,’ and thus entirely identified her husband's judgment with her own. The growth of his authority was indicated in the spring of 1843 by his holding levees in the queen's behalf in her absence — an apparent assumption of power which was ill received.
Domestic incidents occupied much of the queen's attention, and compelled the occasional delegation of some of her duties. The death of the Duke of Sussex on 21 April 1843 preceded by four days the birth of a third child, the Princess Alice. In order to conciliate her unfriendly uncle, the king of Hanover, the queen asked him to be a sponsor, together with the queen's half-sister, Countess Féodore, Prince Albert's brother, and Princess Sophia. With characteristic awkwardness the king of Hanover arrived too late for the christening (5 June). A large family gathering followed in July, when the queen's first cousin Augusta, elder daughter of the Duke of Cambridge, married at Buckingham Palace (28 July) Friedrich, hereditary grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. In August two of Louis Philippe's sons, the Prince de Joinville and the Duc d'Aumale, were the queen's guests.
A month later, after proroguing parliament in person (24 August), and making a short yachting tour on the south coast, the queen carried out an intention that had long been present in her mind of paying a visit to the king of the French, with whose family her own was by marriage so closely connected. This was an event of much historic interest. In the first place it was the first occasion on which the queen had trodden foreign soil. In the second place it was the first occasion on which an English sovereign had visited a French sovereign since Henry VIII appeared on the Field of the Cloth of Gold at the invitation of Francis I in 1520. In the third place it was the first time for nearly a century that an English monarch had left his dominions, and the old procedure of nominating a regent or lords-justices in his absence was now first dropped.
Although the expedition was the outcome of domestic sentiment rather than of political design, Peel and Aberdeen encouraged it in the belief that the maintenance of good personal relations between the English sovereign and her continental colleagues was a guarantee of peace and goodwill among the nations — a view which Lord Brougham also held strongly. Louis Philippe and his queen were staying at the Château d'Eu, a private domain near Tréport. The queen, accompanied by Lord Aberdeen, arrived there on 2 September in her new yacht Victoria and Albert, which had been launched on 25 April, and of which Lord Adolphus FitzClarence, a natural son of William IV, had been appointed captain. Her host met the queen in his barge off the coast, and a magnificent reception was accorded her.
The happy domestic life of the French royal family strongly impressed her. She greeted with enthusiasm, among the French king's guests, the French musician Auber, with whose works she was very well acquainted, and she was charmed by two fêtes champêtres and a military review. Lord Aberdeen and M. Guizot, Louis Philippe's minister, discussed political questions with the atmost cordiality, and although their conversations led later to misunderstanding, everything passed off at the moment most agreeably. The visit lasted five days, from 2 to 7 September, and the queen's spirit fell when it was over. On leaving Tréport the queen spent another four days with her children at Brighton, and paid her last visit to George IV's inconvenient Pavilion. But her foreign tour was not yet ended. From Brighton she sailed in her yacht to Ostend, to pay a long promised visit to her uncle, the king of the Belgians, at the palace of Laeken, near Brussels. ‘It was such a joy for me,’ she wrote after parting with him, ‘to be once again under the roof of one who has ever been a father to me.’ Charlotte Brontë, who was in Brussels, saw her ‘laughing and talking very gaily’ when driving through the Rue Royale, and noticed how plainly and unpretentiously she was dressed. Her vivacity brought unwonted sunshine to King Leopold's habitually sombre court. She reached Woolwich, on her return from Antwerp, on 21 September
The concluding months of the year (1843) were agreeably spent in visits at home. In October she went by road to pay a first visit to Cambridge. She stayed, according to prescriptive right, at the lodge of Trinity College, where she held a levee. Prince Albert received a doctor's degree, and the undergraduates offered her a thoroughly enthusiastic reception. Next month she gave public proof of her regard for Peel by visiting him at Drayton Manor (28 November to 1 December). Thence she passed to Chatsworth, where, to her gratification, Melbourne and the Duke of Wellington were fellow-guests. The presence of Lord and Lady Palmerston was less congenial. At a great ball one evening her partners included Lord Morpeth and Lord Leveson (better known later as Earl Granville), who was afterwards to be one of her most trusted ministers. Another night there were a vast series of illuminations in the grounds, of which all traces were cleared away before the morning by two hundred men, working under the direction of the Duke's gardener, (Sir) Joseph Paxton. The royal progress was continued to Belvoir Castle, the home of the Duke of Rutland, where she again met Peel and Wellington, and it was not till 7 December that she returned to Windsor.
On 29 January 1844 Prince Albert's father died, and in the spring he paid a visit to his native land (28 March-11 April). It was the first time the queen had been separated from her husband, and in his absence the king and queen of the Belgians came over to console her. On 1 June two other continental sovereigns arrived to pay her their respects, the king of Saxony and the Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. To the tsar, who came uninvited at short notice, it was needful to pay elaborate attentions. His half-brother (Alexander I) had been the queen's godfather, and political interests made the strengthening of the personal tie desirable. He attended a great review at Windsor Park with the queen, and went with her to Ascot and to the opera. At a grand concert given in his honour at Buckingham Palace, Joseph Joachim, then on a visit to England as a boy, was engaged to perform. A rough soldier in appearance and manner, the tsar treated his hostess with a courtesy which seemed to her pathetic, and, although preoccupied by public affairs, civilly ignored all likelihood of a divergence of political interests between England and his own country.
At the time domestic politics were agitating the queen. The spread of disaffection in Ireland during the repeal agitation distressed her, and her name was made more prominent in the controversy than was prudent. The Irish lord chancellor, Sir Edward Sugden, publicly asserted that the queen was personally determined to prevent repeal (May 1843). The repeal leader O'Connell, a warm admirer of the queen, promptly denied the statement. Peel mildly reprimanded Sugden, but truth forced him to admit that the queen ‘would do all in her power to maintain the union as the bond of connection between the two countries’. The obstructive policy of the opposition in parliament at the same time caused her concern. She wrote to Peel on 15 August of ‘her indignation at the very unjustifiable manner in which the minority were obstructing the order of business;’ she hoped that every attempt would be made ‘to put an end to what is really indecent conduct,’ and that Sir Robert Peel would ‘make no kind of concession to these gentlemen which could encourage them to go on in the same way’. Worse followed in the month of the tsar's visit. On 14 June the government were defeated on a proposal to reduce the sugar duties. To the queen's consternation, Peel expressed an intention of resigning at once. Happily, four days later a vote of confidence was carried and the crisis passed. The queen wrote at once to express her relief (18 June). ‘Last night,’ she said, ‘every one thought that the government would be beat, and therefore the surprise was the more unexpected and gratifying’.
Foreign affairs, too, despite the hospitalities of the English court to royal visitors, were threatening. The jealousy between the English and French peoples might be restrained, but could not be stifled, by the friendliness subsisting between the courts, and in the autumn of 1844 the maltreatment by French officials of an English consul, George Pritchard, in the island of Tahiti, which the French had lately occupied, caused in England an explosion of popular wrath with France, which the queen and her government at one time feared must end in war.
Amid these excitements a second son, Prince Alfred, was born to the queen at Windsor on 6 August, and at the end of the month she entertained another royal personage from Germany, the prince of Prussia, brother of the king, and eventually first emperor of Germany. There sprang up between her and her new guest a warm friendship which lasted for more than forty years. A peaceful autumn holiday was again spent in Scotland, whither they proceeded by sea from Woolwich to Dundee. Thence they drove to Blair Athol to visit Lord and Lady Glenlyon, afterwards Duke and Duchess of Athol. Prince Albert engaged in deer-stalking, and the queen did much sketching. They thoroughly enjoyed ‘the life of quiet and liberty,’ and with regret disembarked at Woolwich on 3 October to face anew official anxieties.
Five days later Louis Philippe returned the queen's visit, and thus for the first time a French monarch voluntarily landed on English shores. The Tahiti quarrel had been composed, and the interchange of hospitable amenities was unclouded. On 9 October the king was invested with the order of the Garter. On the 14th the visit ended, and the queen and Prince Albert accompanied their visitor to Portsmouth, though the stormy weather ultimately compelled him to proceed to Dover to take the short sea trip to Calais. Another elaborate ceremony at home attested the queen's popularity, which she liked to trace to public sympathy with her happy domestic life. She went in state to the city on 28 October, to open the new Royal Exchange. An elaborate coloured panoramic plate of the procession which was published at the time is now rare. Of her reception Peel wrote to Sir Henry Hardinge (6 November 1844): ‘As usual she had a fine day, and uninterrupted success. It was a glorious spectacle. But she saw a sight which few sovereigns have ever seen, and perhaps none may see again, a million human faces with a smile on each. She did not hear one discordant sound’. On 12 November the radical town of Northampton gave her a hardly less enthusiastic greeting when she passed through it on her way to visit the Marquis of Exeter at Burghley House. Other noble hosts of the period included the Duke of Buckingham at Stowe (14-16 January 1845), and the Duke of Wellington at Strathfieldsaye (20-22 January).
When the queen read her speech at the opening of parliament, 4 February 1845, she referred with great satisfaction to the visits of the Tsar Nicholas and the king of the French, and Peel took an early opportunity of pointing out that the munificent receptions accorded those sovereigns and other royal visitors were paid for by the queen out of her personal income without incurring any debt. The session was largely occupied with the affairs of Ireland and the proposal of the government to endow the catholic priests' training college at Maynooth. The queen encouraged Peel to press on with the measure, which she regarded as a tolerant concession to the dominant religion in Ireland. But it roused much protestant bigotry, which excited the queen's disdain. On 15 April 1845 she wrote to Peel: ‘It is not honourable to protestantism to see the bad and violent and bigoted passions displayed at this moment.’
Another bal costumé at Buckingham Palace on 6 June, when the period chosen for illustration was the reign of George II, was the chief court entertainment of the year; and in the same month (21 June) there was a review of the fleet, which was assembled at Spithead in greater strength than was known before. Next month the queen received the king of the Netherlands at Osborne.
Again in the autumn the queen left England for a month's foreign travel, and Lord Aberdeen again bore the royal party company. The chief object of the journey was to visit Coburg and the scenes of Prince Albert's youth, but a subsidiary object was to pay on their outward road a return visit to the king of Prussia. Landing at Antwerp (6 August), they were met at Malines by the king and queen of the Belgians, and at Aix-la-Chapelle by the king of Prussia; thence they journeyed through Cologne to the king of Prussia's palace at Brühl. They visited Bonn to attend the unveiling of the statue of Beethoven, and a great Beethoven festival concert, while at a concert at Brühl, which Meyerbeer conducted, the artists included Jenny Lind, Liszt, and Vieuxtemps. The regal entertainment was continued at the king's castle of Stolzenfels, near Coblenz on the Rhine, which they left on 16 August The visit was not wholly without painful incident. The question of the prince's rank amid the great company caused the queen annoyance. ArchDuke Frederick of Austria, who was also a guest, claimed and, to the queen's chagrin, was awarded precedence of the prince. The refusal of court officials to give her husband at Stolzenfels in 1845 the place of honour next herself led her to refuse for many years offers of hospitality from the Prussian court.
On 19 August the queen finally reached the palace of Rosenau, Prince Albert's birthplace, and thence they passed through Coburg, finally making their way to Gotha. There the queen was gratified by a visit from her old governess Lehzen, and many pleasant excursions were made in the Thuringian forest. On 3 September they left for Frankfort, stopping a night at Weimar on the way. They reached Antwerp on the 6th, but on their way to Osborne they paid a flying visit to Tréport. The state of the tide did not allow them to land from the yacht, and Louis Philippe's homely wit suggested a debarkation in bathing machines. Next day (9 September) they settled once again at Osborne. Writing thence (14 September 1845) to her aunt, the Duchess of Gloucester, she said: ‘I am enchanted with Germany, and in particular with dear Coburg and Gotha, which I left with the very greatest regret. The realisation of this delightful visit, which I had wished for so many years, will be constant and lasting satisfaction to me.’ To her uncle Leopold she wrote to the same effect.
Before the close of 1845 the queen was involved in the always dreaded anxiety of a ministerial crisis. The potato crop had completely failed in Ireland, and the harvest in England and Scotland was very bad. Great distress was certain throughout the United Kingdom during the winter. Thereupon Peel made up his mind that the situation demanded the repeal of the corn laws — a step which he and his party were pledged to oppose. His colleagues were startled by his change of view, many threatened resistance, but all except Lord Stanley ultimately agreed to stand by him. The rank and file of the party showed fewer signs of complacence. The queen was gravely disturbed, but straightway threw the whole weight of her influence into the prime minister's scale. On 28 November 1845, after expressing her sorrow at the differences of opinion in the cabinet, she wrote without hesitation: ‘The queen thinks the time is come when a removal of the restrictions on the importation of food cannot be successfully resisted. Should this be Sir Robert's own opinion, the queen very much hopes that none of his colleagues will prevent him from doing what it is right to do’.
But Peel, although greatly heartened by the queen's support, deemed it just both to his supporters and to his opponents to let the opposite party, which had lately advocated the reform, carry it out. On 5 December 1845 he resigned. The queen was as loth to part with him as she had formerly been to part with Melbourne, but prepared herself to exercise, according to her wont, all the influence that was possible to her in the formation of a new government. By Peel's desire she sent for Lord John Russell, who was at the moment at Edinburgh, and did not reach Windsor till the 11th. In the meantime she asked Melbourne to come and give her counsel, but his health was failing, and on every ground prudence urged him to refuse interference. The queen's chief fear of a whig cabinet was due to her and her foreign kinsmen's distrust of Palmerston as foreign minister. No whig ministry could exclude him, but she promptly requested Lord John to give him the colonial office. Lord John demurred, and asked for time before proceeding further. In the extremity of her fear she begged Lord Aberdeen to support her objections to Palmerston; but since it was notorious in political circles that Palmerston would accept no post but that of foreign secretary, Aberdeen could give her little comfort. He merely advised her to impress Palmerston with her desire of peace with France, and to bid him consult her regularly on matters of foreign policy. On 13 December the queen had a second interview at Windsor with Lord John, who was now accompanied by the veteran whig leader, Lord Lansdowne. Prince Albert sat beside her, and she let her visitors understand that she spoke for him as well as for herself. Lord John asked her to obtain assurances from Peel that the dissentient members of his cabinet were not in a position to form a new government, and to secure for him, if he undertook to repeal the corn laws, the full support of Peel and his followers. Peel gave her a guarded answer, which dissatisfied Lord John, who urged her to obtain more specific promise of co-operation. The queen, although she deemed the request unreasonable, politely appealed anew to Peel without result. At length, on 18 December, Lord John accepted her command to form a government. But his difficulties were only begun. There were members of his party who distrusted Palmerston as thoroughly as the queen. Lord Grey declined to join the government if Palmerston took the foreign office, and demanded a place in the cabinet for Cobden. Lord John felt unable either to accept Lord Grey's proposal or to forego his presence in the administration; and greatly to the queen's surprise he, on 29 December, suddenly informed her that he was unable to serve her. For a moment it looked as if she were to be left without any government, but she turned once more to Peel, who, at her earnest request, resumed power. To this result she had passively contributed throughout the intricate negotiation, and it was completely satisfactory to her. The next day, 30 December, she wrote: ‘The queen cannot sufficiently express how much we feel Sir Robert Peel's high-minded conduct, courage, and loyalty, which can only add to the queen's confidence in him.’
Thenceforth the queen identified herself almost recklessly with Peel's policy of repeal. Melbourne, when dining at Windsor, told her that Peel's conduct was ‘damned dishonest,’ but she declined to discuss the topic. She lost no opportunity of urging Peel to persevere. On 12 January 1846 she wrote of her satisfaction at learning of the drastic character of his proposed measures, ‘feeling certain,’ she added, ‘that what was so just and wise must succeed.’ On 27 January Prince Albert attended the House of Commons to hear Peel announce his plan of abolishing the corn laws in the course of three years. Strong objection was raised to the prince's presence by protectionists, who argued that it showed partisanship on the part of the crown. The queen ridiculed the protest, but the prince never went to the lower house again. On 4 February she told Peel that he would be rewarded with the gratitude of the country, which ‘would make up for the abuse he has to endure from so many of his party.’ She expressed sympathy with him in his loss of the support of Gladstone and Lord Lincoln, who had accepted his policy, but had withdrawn from the House of Commons because, as parliamentary nominees of the Duke of Newcastle, who was a staunch protectionist, they could not honourably vote against his opinions. The queen pressed Peel to secure other seats for them. On 18 February She not only wrote to congratulate Peel on his speech in introducing the bill, but forwarded to him a letter from the Dowager Queen Adelaide which expressed an equally flattering opinion. Every speech during the corn-law debates she read with minute attention, and she closely studied the division lists.
The birth of the Princess Helena on 25 May was not suffered to distract the royal attention, and the queen watched with delight the safe passage of the bill through both houses of parliament. The sequel, however, disconcerted her. On 26 June, the night that the corn-law bill passed its third reading in the Lords, the protectionists and whigs voted together against the government on the second reading of a coercion bill for Ireland, and Peel was defeated by seventy-three. His resignation followed of necessity, and, at a moment when his services seemed most valuable to her, the queen saw herself deprived of them, as it proved for ever. She wrote of ‘her deep concern’ at parting with him. ‘In whatever position Sir Robert Peel may be,’ she concluded, ‘we shall ever look on him as a kind and true friend.’ Hardly less did she regret the retirement of Lord Aberdeen. ‘We felt so safe with them,’ she wrote of the two men to her uncle Leopold, who agreed that Peel, almost alone among contemporary English statesmen, could be trusted ‘never to let monarchy be robbed of the little strength and power it still may possess’.
At the queen's request Lord John Russell formed a new government, and with misgivings the queen agreed to Palmerston's return to the foreign office. The ministry lasted nearly five years. Lord John, although awkward and unattractive in manner, and wedded to a narrow view of the queen's constitutional powers, did much to conciliate the royal favour. Closer acquaintance improved his relations with the queen, and she marked the increase of cordiality by giving him for life Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park in March 1847, on the death of the Earl of Erroll, husband of a natural daughter of William IV. Some of Lord John's colleagues greatly interested the queen. Lord Clarendon, who was at first president of the board of trade, and in 1847 lord-lieutenant of Ireland, gained her entire confidence and became an intimate friend. She liked, too, Sir George Grey, the home secretary, and she admired the conversation of Macaulay, the paymaster-general, after he had overcome a feeling of shyness in meeting her.
On 9 March 1850, when Macaulay dined at Buckingham Palace, he talked freely of his History. The queen owned that she had nothing to say for her poor ancestor, James II. ‘Not your majesty's ancestor, your majesty's predecessor,’ Macaulay returned; and the remark, which was intended as a compliment, was well received. On 14 January 1851, when he stayed at Windsor, he ‘made her laugh heartily,’ he said. ‘She talked on for some time most courteously and pleasantly. Nothing could be more sensible than her remarks on German affairs’. But, on the whole, the queen's relations with her third ministry were less amicable than with her first or second, owing to the unaccommodating temper of the most prominent member of it — Palmerston, the foreign secretary. Between him and the crown a constant struggle was in progress for the effective supervision of foreign affairs. The constitution did not define the distribution of control between monarch and minister over that or any other department of the state. The minister had it in his power to work quite independently of the crown, and it practically lay with him to admit or reject a claim on the crown's part to suggest even points of procedure, still less points of policy. For the crown to challenge the fact in dealing with a strong-willed and popular minister was to invite, as the queen and prince were to find, a tormenting sense of impotence.
At the outset monarch and minister found themselves in agreement. Although Palmerston realised anticipations by embroiling France and England, the breach was deemed, in the peculiar circumstances, inevitable even by the queen and the prince. A difference had for some years existed between the two countries in regard to the affairs of Spain. The Spanish throne was occupied by a child of sixteen (Queen Isabella), whose position sufficiently resembled that of the queen of England at her accession to excite at the English court interest in her future. It was the known ambition of Louis Philippe or of his ministers to bring the Spanish kingdom under French sway. English politicians of all parties were agreed, however, that an extension of French influence in the Spanish peninsula was undesirable. Perfectly conscious of the strength with which this view was held, Louis Philippe prudently announced in 1843 that his younger son, the Duc de Montpensier, was to be affianced, not to the little Spanish queen herself, but to her younger sister. Lord Aberdeen saw no objection to such a match provided that the marriage should be delayed till the Spanish queen had herself both married and had issue, and that no member of the French Bourbon house should become the royal consort of Spain. During each of the visits of Queen Victoria to the Château d'Eu the king of the French gave her a distinct verbal assent to these conditions. The Spanish queen had many suitors, but she was slow in making a choice, and her hesitation kept the Spanish question open.
Unluckily for the good relations of France and England, the personal position of Prince Albert in England and his relations with Germany introduced a curious complication into the process of selecting a consort for the Spanish queen. Christina, the mother of the Spanish queen, had no wish to facilitate French ambition. With a view to foiling it she urged her daughter to follow the example alike of the English queen and of the queen of Portugal, and marry into the Saxe-Coburg family. In 1841, when the notion was first put forward, Prince Albert's elder brother Ernest, who was as yet unmarried, was suggested as a desirable suitor; but on his marriage to another in 1842, Queen Christina designated for her son-in-law Ernest and Albert's first cousin, Prince Leopold, whose brother was already prince consort of Portugal.
Prince Albert, who had entertained the young man at Windsor, was consulted. He felt that his cousin should not be lightly deprived of the opportunity of securing a throne, but recognised a delicacy in urging English statesmen to serve Saxe-Coburg interests. France showed at once passionate hostility to the scheme, and at the instance of Guizot, who brusquely declared that he would at all hazards preserve Spain from England's and Portugal's fate of a Saxe-Coburg ruler, the Saxe-Coburg suit was before 1844 avowedly dropped by consent. On 2 May 1846 it was covertly revived by Queen Christina. That lady wrote to Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg, who was on a visit to his relatives in Portugal, bidding him seek the personal aid of Queen Victoria in marrying her daughter to Prince Leopold. With the embarrassing ignorance which prevailed in continental courts of English constitutional usages, Queen Christina desired her letter to reach Queen Victoria's hand alone, and not that of any of her ministers. Duke Ernest forwarded it to King Leopold, who communicated it to his niece.
Both Duke Ernest and King Leopold came to England in August, and they discussed the Saxe-Coburg aspect of the question with the queen and Prince Albert. Reluctantly a decision adverse to the Saxe-Coburg prince was reached, on the ground that both English and French ministers had virtually rejected him. Duke Ernest at once wrote to that effect to the Queen-mother Christina, and advised the young queen to marry a Spanish prince. At the same moment Palmerston returned to the foreign office, and in a despatch to the Spanish government which he wrote in haste and with half knowledge of the result of the recent Saxe-Coburg conclave, he pressed the Spanish queen to choose without delay one of three suitors, among whom he included Prince Leopold. The despatch was communicated to the French ministers, who saw in Palmerston's resuscitation of the Saxe-Coburg offer of marriage a special grievance against the English court. Retaliation was at once attempted. Without seeking further negotiations, the French ministers arranged at Madrid that the young queen should marry at once, that the bridegroom should be a Spanish suitor, the Duke of Cadiz, and that on the same day the Duc de Montpensier should marry her younger sister. On 8 September the queen of the French, in a private letter to Queen Victoria, announced the approaching marriage of her son, Montpensier. The queen, in reply (10 September), expressed surprise and regret. Louis Philippe sent an apologetic explanation to his daughter, the queen of the Belgians, who forwarded it to Queen Victoria. She replied that Louis Philippe had broken his word.
Bitter charges of breach of faith abounded on both sides, and the war of vituperation involved not merely both countries but both courts. The sinister rumour ran in England that the French ministers knew the Duke of Cadiz to be unfit for matrimony, and had selected him as husband of the Spanish queen so that the succession to the Spanish crown might be secured to the offspring of Montpensier. In any case, that hope was thwarted; for although the marriage of the Spanish queen Isabella proved unhappy, she was mother of five children, who were ostensibly born in wedlock. The indignation of the queen and Prince Albert was intensified by the contempt which was showered in France on the Saxe-Coburg family, and the efforts of Louis Philippe and his family at a domestic reconciliation proved vain
Palmerston, after his wont, conducted the official negotiation without any endeavour to respect the views of the queen or Prince Albert. In one despatch to Sir Henry Bulwer, the English minister at Madrid, he reinserted, to the queen's annoyance, a paragraph which Prince Albert had deleted in the first draft touching the relation of the issue of the Duc de Montpensier to the Spanish succession. King Leopold held Palmerston responsible for the whole imbroglio. But the queen's public and private sentiments were in this case identical with those of Palmerston and of the English public, and, in the absence of any genuine difference of opinion, the minister's independent action won from the queen reluctant acquiescence. The English government formally protested against the two Spanish marriages, but they duly took place on 10 October, despite English execrations. ‘There is but one voice here on the subject,’ the queen wrote (13 October) to King Leopold, ‘and I am, alas! unable to say a word in defence of one [i.e. Louis Philippe] whom I had esteemed and respected. You may imagine what the whole of this makes me suffer. ...You cannot represent too strongly to the king and queen [of the French] my indignation, and my sorrow, at what has been done’ (Martin). Then the hubbub, which seemed to threaten war, gradually subsided. The effect of the incident on English prestige proved small, but it cost Louis Philippe the moral support of England, and his tottering throne fell an easy prey to revolution.
At the opening of 1847 the political horizon was clouded on every side, but despite the political anxieties at home — threats of civil war in Ireland, and so great a rise in the price of wheat in England that the queen diminished the supply of bread to her own household — the ‘season’ of that year was exceptionally lively. Numerous foreign visitors were entertained, including the Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, the Tsar Nicholas's son, Prince Oscar of Sweden, and many German princes. On 15 June a state visit was paid to Her Majesty's Theatre in the Haymarket, during the first season of Jenny Lind, who appeared as Norma in Bellini's opera. The queen applauded eagerly, and wrote to her uncle Leopold: ‘Jenny Lind is quite a remarkable phenomenon.’
In the spring the queen had been much gratified by the election of Prince Albert as chancellor of Cambridge University. The choice was not made without a contest — ‘the unseemly contest’ the queen called it — and the prince won by a majority of only 117 votes over those cast for his opponent, the Earl of Powis. But the queen wisely concentrated her attention on the result, which she felt to be no gift of hers, but an honour that the prince had earned independently. In July she accompanied him to the Cambridge commencement, over which he presided as chancellor. From Tottenham she travelled on the Eastern Counties railway, under the personal guidance of the railway king, George Hudson. On 5 July 1847 she received from her husband in his official capacity, in the hall of Trinity College, an address of welcome. In reply she congratulated the university on their wise selection of a chancellor .
Melbourne and three German princes, who were royal guests — Prince Waldemar of Prussia, Prince Peter of Oldenburg, and the hereditary Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar — received honorary degrees from Prince Albert's hands. An installation ode was written by Wordsworth and set to music by T. A. Walmisley. On the evening of the 6th there was a levee at the lodge of Trinity College, and next morning the queen attended a public breakfast in Nevill's Court.
For the third time the queen spent her autumn holiday in Scotland, where she had taken a highland residence at Ardverikie, a lodge on Loch Laggan, in the occupation of the Marquis of Abercorn. They travelled thither by the west coast from the Isle of Wight in the yacht Victoria and Albert (11-14 August). Spending at the outset a night on the Scilly Isles, they made for the Menai Straits, where they transferred themselves to the yacht Fairy. Passing up the Clyde they visited Loch Fyne. On the 18th they arrived at Inveraray Castle, and afterwards reached their destination by way of Fort William. Palmerston was for the most part the minister in attendance, and, amid the deerstalking, walks, and drives, there was much political discussion between him and Prince Albert. The sojourn lasted three weeks, till 17 September, and on the return journey the royal party went by sea only as far as Fleetwood, proceeding by rail from Liverpool to London.
Meanwhile a general election had taken place in August without involving any change of ministry. In the new parliament, which was opened by commission on 18 November 1847, the liberals obtained a working majority numbering 325 to 226 protectionists and 105 conservative free traders or Peelites. Public affairs, especially abroad, abounded in causes of alarm for the queen. 1848, the year of revolution in Europe, passed off without serious disturbance in England, but the queen's equanimity was rudely shaken by rebellions in foreign lands. The dethronement of Louis Philippe in February shocked her. Ignoring recent political differences, she thought only of his distress. When his sons and daughters hurried to England, nothing for a time was known of the fate of Louis and his queen. On 2 March they arrived in disguise at Newhaven, and Louis immediately wrote to the queen, throwing himself on her protection.
She obtained her uncle Leopold's consent to offer them his own royal residence at Claremont. There Prince Albert at once visited them. To all members of the French royal family the queen showed henceforth unremitting attention. To the Duc de Nemours she allotted another royal residence at Bushey. She frequently entertained him and his brothers, and always treated them with the respect which was due to members of reigning families. But it was not only in France that the revolution dealt havoc in the queen's circle of acquaintances. Her half-brother of Leiningen, who had been in Scotland with her the year before, her half-sister, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Prince Albert's brother), and their friend, the king of Prussia, suffered severely in the revolutionary movements of Germany. In Italy and Austria, too, kings and princes were similarly menaced. Happily, in England, threats of revolution came to nothing. The great chartist meeting on Kensington Common, on 10 April, proved abortive. By the advice of ministers the queen and her family removed to Osborne a few days before, but they returned on 2 May. During the crisis the queen was temporarily disabled by the birth, on 18 March, of the Princess Louise; but throughout her confinement, she wrote to her uncle, King Leopold, ‘My only thoughts and talk were politics, and I never was calmer or quieter or more earnest. Great events make me calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves’ (4 April). When the infant Princess Louise was christened at Buckingham Palace on the 13th, the queen of the Belgians stood godmother, and the strain of anxiety was greatly lessened.
A new perplexity arose in June 1848, when Lord John feared defeat in the House of Commons on the old question of the sugar duties, which had already nearly wrecked two governments. The queen, although her confidence in the ministry was chequered by Palmerston's conduct of the foreign office, declared any change inopportune, and she approached with reluctance the consideration of the choice of Lord John's successor. Demurring to Lord John's own suggestion of Lord Stanley, who as a seceder from Peel was not congenial to her, she took counsel with Melbourne, who advised her to summon Peel. But the government proved stronger than was anticipated, and for three years more Lord John continued in office. On 5 September 1848 the queen prorogued parliament in person, the ceremony taking place for the first time in the Peers' Chamber in the new houses of parliament, which had been rebuilt after the fire of 1834. Her French kinsmen, the Duc de Nemours and the Prince de Joinville, were present with her. Popular enthusiasm ran high, and she was in thorough accord with the congratulatory words which her ministers put into her mouth on the steadfastness with which the bulk of her people had resisted incitements to disorder.
On the same afternoon she embarked at Woolwich for Aberdeen in order to spend three weeks at Balmoral House, then little more than a shooting lodge, which she now hired for the first time of Lord Aberdeen's brother, Sir Robert Gordon. Owing to bad weather the queen tried the new experiment of making practically the whole of the return journey to London by rail, travelling from Perth by way of Crewe. Thenceforth she travelled to and from Scotland in no other way. Later in the year a distressing accident caused the queen deep depression (9 October). While she was crossing from Osborne to Portsmouth, her yacht, the Fairy, ran down a boat belonging to the Grampus frigate, and three women were drowned. ‘It is a terrible thing, and haunts me continually,’ the queen wrote.
Programme for the performance of Twelfth Night in 1852Click on image for a larger view
Every year the queen, when in London or at Windsor, sought recreation more and more conspicuously in music and the drama. Elaborate concerts, oratorios, or musical recitations were repeatedly given both at Windsor and at Buckingham Palace. On 10 February 1846 Charles Kemble read the words of the Antigone when Mendelssohn's music was rendered, and there followed like renderings of Athalie (1 January 1847), again of Antigone (1 January 1848), and of Œdipus at Colonos (10 February 1848 and 1 January 1852). During 1842 and 1844 the composer Mendelssohn was many times at court. The great French actress Rachel was invited to recite on more than one occasion, and on 26 February 1851, when Macready took farewell of the stage at Drury Lane, the queen was present. Meanwhile, to give greater brilliance to the Christmas festivities, the queen organised at the end of 1848 dramatic performances at Windsor. Charles Kean was appointed director, and until Prince Albert's death, except during three years — in 1850 owing to the queen dowager's death, in 1855 during the gloom of the Crimean war, and in 1858 owing to the distraction of the princess royal's marriage — dramatic representations were repeated in the Rubens room at the castle during each Christmas season.
On 28 December 1848, at the first performance, The Merchant of Venice was presented, with Mr. and Mrs. Kean and Mr. and Mrs. Keeley in the cast. Thirteen other plays of Shakespeare and nineteen lighter pieces followed in the course of the next thirteen years, and the actors included Macready, Phelps, Charles Mathews, Ben Webster, and Buckstone. In 1857 William Bodham Donne succeeded Kean as director; and the last performance under Donne's management took place on 31 January 1861. More than thirty years then elapsed before the queen suffered another professional dramatic entertainment to take place in a royal palace. The most conspicuous encouragement which the queen and her husband bestowed on art during this period was their commission to eight artists (Eastlake, Maclise, Landseer, Dyce, Stanfield, Uwins, Leslie, and Ross) to decorate with frescoes the queen's summer house in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. The subjects were drawn from Milton's Comus. The work was completed in 1845.
Under Prince Albert's guidance, the queen's domestic life was now very systematically ordered. The education of the growing family occupied their parents' minds almost from the children's birth. Prince Albert frequently took counsel on the subject with Stockmar and Bunsen, and the queen consulted Melbourne (24 March 1842) even after he had ceased to be her minister. In the result Lady Lyttelton, widow of the third Baron Lyttelton, and sister of the second Earl Spencer (Lord Althorp), who had been a lady-in-waiting since 1837, was in 1842 appointed governess of the royal children, and, on her retirement in January 1851, she was succeeded by Lady Caroline Barrington, widow of Captain the Hon. George Barrington, R.N., and daughter of the second Earl Grey; she held the office till her death on 28 April 1875. The office of royal governess, which thus was filled during the queen's reign by only two holders, carried with it complete control of the ‘nursery establishment,’ which soon included German and French as well as English attendants. All the children spoke German fluently from infancy.
The queen sensibly insisted that they should be brought up as simply, naturally, and domestically as possible, and that no obsequious deference should be paid to their rank. The need of cultivating perfect trust between parents and children, the value of a thorough but liberal religious training from childhood, and the folly of child-worship or excessive laudation were constantly in her mind. She spent with her children all the time that her public engagements permitted, and delighted in teaching them youthful amusements. As they grew older she and the prince encouraged them to recite poetry and to act little plays, or arrange tableaux vivants. To the education of the prince of Wales as the heir apparent they naturally devoted special attention, and in every way they protected his interests. Very soon after his birth the queen appointed a commission to receive and accumulate the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall, the appanage of the heir apparent, in their son's behalf, until he should come of age, and the estate was administered admirably. Although the queen abhorred advanced views on the position of women in social life, she sought to make her daughters as useful as her sons to the world at large, and, while causing them to be instructed in all domestic arts, repudiated the notion that marriage was the only object which they should be brought up to attain. She expressed regret that among the upper classes in England girls were taught to aim at little else in life than matrimony
The queen and Prince Albert regulated with care their own habits and pursuits. Although public business compelled them to spend much time in London, the prince rapidly acquired a distaste for it, which he soon communicated to the queen. As a young woman she was, she said, wretched to leave London, but, though she never despised or disliked London amusements, she came to adopt her husband's view, that peace and quiet were most readily to be secured at a distance from the capital. The sentiment grew, and she reached the conclusion that ‘the extreme weight and thickness of the atmosphere’ injured her health, and in consequence her sojourns at Buckingham Palace became less frequent and briefer; in later life she did not visit it more than twice or thrice a year, staying on each occasion not more than two days. Windsor, which was agreeable to her, was near enough to London to enable her to transact business there without inconvenience. In early married life she chiefly resided there.
The Pavilion at Brighton she abandoned, and, after being dismantled in 1846, it was sold to the corporation of Brighton in 1850 to form a place of public assembly. Anxious to secure residences which should be personal property and free from the restraints of supervision by public officials, she soon decided to acquire private abodes in those parts of her dominions which were peculiarly congenial to her — the Isle of Wight and the highlands of Scotland.
Her residence in the south was secured first. Late in 1844 she purchased of Lady Isabella Blachford the estate of Osborne, consisting of about eight hundred acres, near East Cowes. Subsequent purchases increased the land to about two thousand acres. The existing house proved inconvenient, and the foundation-stone of a new one was laid on 23 June 1845. A portion of it was occupied in September 1846, although the whole was not completed until 1851. In the grounds was set up in 1854 a Swiss cottage as a workshop and playhouse for the children. In the designing of the new Osborne House and in laying out the gardens Prince Albert took a very active part. The queen interested herself in the neighbourhood, and rebuilt the parish church at Whippingham. In 1848 the queen leased of the Fife trustees Balmoral House, as her residence in the highlands; she purchased it in 1852, and then resolved to replace it by an elaborate edifice. The new Balmoral Castle was completed in the autumn of 1854, and large additions were subsequently made to the estate. The Duchess of Kent rented in the neighbourhood Abergeldie Castle, which was subsequently occupied by the prince of Wales. At Balmoral, after 1854, a part of every spring and autumn was spent during the rest of the queen's life, while three or four annual visits were paid regularly to Osborne.
At both Osborne and Balmoral very homely modes of life were adopted, and, at Balmoral especially, ministers and foreign friends were surprised at the simplicity which characterised the queen's domestic arrangements. Before the larger house was built only two sitting-rooms were occupied by the royal family. Of an evening billiards were played in the one, under such cramped conditions that the queen, who usually looked on, had constantly to move her seat to give the players elbow-space. In the other room the queen at times would take lessons in the Scotch reel. The minister in attendance did all his work in his small bedroom, and the queen would run carelessly in and out of the house all day long, walking alone, visiting neighbouring cottages, and chatting unreservedly with their occupants.
After identifying herself thus closely with Scotland, it was only right for her to make the acquaintance of Ireland, the only portion of the United Kingdom which she had not visited during the first decade of her reign. Peel had entertained a suggestion that the queen should visit the country in 1844, when she received an invitation from the lord mayor of Dublin, and a conditional promise of future acceptance was given. In the early autumn of 1849 the plan was carried out with good results. The social and political condition of the country was not promising. The effects of the famine were still acute. Civil war had broken out in 1848, and, although it was easily repressed, disaffection was widespread. In June 1849 the queen's attention was disagreeably drawn to the unsatisfactory condition of the country by a difficulty which arose in regard to recent convictions for high treason; commutation of capital sentences was resolved upon, but it was found to be impossible to substitute terms of imprisonment until a new statute had been hastily devised, giving the crown specific authority to that effect. The general distress precluded a state visit. But personal loyalty to the sovereign was still believed to prevail in Ireland.
The queen went by sea from Cowes to the Cove of Cork, upon which she bestowed the new name of Queenstown in honour of her first landing there on Irish soil. She thence proceeded in her yacht to Kingstown, and took up her residence for four days at the viceregal lodge in Phenix Park, Dublin. She held a levee one evening in Dublin Castle. Her reception was all that could be wished. It was ‘idolatrous,’ wrote Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton, ‘and utterly unworthy of a free, not to say ill-used, nation’. She received addresses and visited public institutions. Everything she saw delighted her, and she commemorated her presence in Dublin by making the prince of Wales Earl of Dublin (10 September 1849). From the Irish capital she went by sea to Belfast, where her reception was equally enthusiastic. Thence she crossed to the Scottish coast, and after a public visit to Glasgow she sought the grateful seclusion of Balmoral.
On 30 October 1849 an attack of chicken-pox prevented the queen from fulfilling her promise to open the new coal exchange in Lower Thames Street, and she was represented by her husband. In two ways the incident proved of interest. The queen's two eldest children there first appeared at a public ceremonial, while the royal barge, which bore the royal party from Westminster to St. Paul's wharf, made its last state journey on the Thames during the queen's reign.
In the large circle of the queen's family and court, it was inevitable that death should be often busy and should gradually sever valued links with the queen's youth. Her aunt, Princess Sophia, died on 27 May 1848, and her old minister and mentor, Melbourne, on 24 November 1848, while a year later George Anson, the prince's former secretary and now keeper of his privy purse, passed suddenly away, and his loss was severely felt by the queen. Another grief was the death, on 2 December 1849 at Stanmore Priory, of the old Queen Adelaide, who was buried in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, beside William IV on 13 December. The summer of the following year (1850) was still more fruitful in episodes of mourning. On 3 July Peel succumbed to an accidental fall from his horse; in him the queen said she lost not merely a friend, but a father. Five days later there died her uncle, the Duke of Cambridge; on 26 August, Louis Philippe, whose fate of exile roused the queen's abiding sympathy; and on 10 October the French king's gentle daughter, the queen of the Belgians, wife of King Leopold. Minor anxieties were caused the queen by two brutal attacks upon her person: on 19 May 1849, when she was returning from a drive near Constitution Hill, a blank charge was fired at her from a pistol by an Irishman, William Hamilton of Adare, and on 27 May 1850 one Robert Pate, a retired officer, hit her on the head with a cane as she was leaving Cambridge House in Piccadilly, where the Duke of Cambridge was lying ill.
The last outrage was the more brutal, seeing that the queen was just recovering from her confinement. Her third son, Arthur, was born on 1 May 1850. The date was the Duke of Wellington's eighty-first birthday. A few weeks before the Duke had delighted the queen by the injudicious suggestion that Prince Albert should become commander-in-chief of the army in succession to himself. The prince wisely declined the honour. Apart from other considerations his hands were over full already and his health was giving evidence of undue mental strain. But, by way of showing her appreciation of the Duke's proposal, the queen made him godfather to her new-born son. A second sponsor was the prince of Prussia, and the christening took place on 22 June. The infant's third name, Patrick, commemorated the queen's recent Irish visit. At the time, despite family and political cares, the queen's health was exceptionally robust. On going north in the autumn, after inaugurating the high-level bridge at Newcastle and the Royal Border Bridge on the Scottish boundary at Berwick, she stopped two days in Edinburgh at Holyrood Palace, in order to climb Arthur's Seat. When she settled down to her holiday at Balmoral, she took energetic walking exercise and showed a physical briskness enabling her to face boldly annoyances in official life, which were now graver than any she had yet experienced.
The breach between the foreign minister (Palmerston) and the crown was growing wider each year. Foreign affairs interested the queen and her husband intensely. As they grew more complex the prince studied them more closely, and prepared memoranda with a view to counselling the foreign minister. But Palmerston rendered such efforts abortive by going his own way, without consulting the court or, at times, even his colleagues. The antagonism between Prince Albert's views, with which the queen identified herself, and those of Palmerston was largely based on principle. Palmerston consistently supported liberal movements abroad, even at the risk of exposing himself to the charge of encouraging revolution. Although the queen and the prince fully recognised the value of constitutional methods of government in England, and were by no means averse to their spread on the continent of Europe, their personal relations with foreign dynasties evoked strong sympathy with reigning monarchs and an active dread of revolution, which Palmerston seemed to them to view with a perilous complaisance.
Through 1848, the year of revolution, the difference steadily grew. Palmerston treated with equanimity the revolutionary riots at Berlin, Vienna, and Baden in 1848-9, while they stirred in his royal mistress a poignant compassion for those crowned kinsmen or acquaintances whose lives and fortunes were menaced. When efforts were first made in Italy to secure national unity and to throw off the yoke of Austria, Palmerston spoke with benevolence of the endeavours of the Italian patriots. Although the prince strongly deprecated the cruelties which Italian rulers practised on their subjects, he and the queen cherished a warm sympathy with the Austrians and their emperor. In regard to Germany, on the other hand, the opposition between royal and ministerial opinions involved other considerations. The prince was well affected to the movement for national unity under Prussia's leadership. Palmerston's distrust of the weak reactionary Prussian king and his allies among the German princes rendered him suspicious of German nationalist aspirations. In the intricate struggle for the possession of the duchies of Schleswig-Holstein, which opened in 1848, Palmerston inclined to the claim of Denmark against that of the confederation of German states with Prussia at its head, whose triumph the English royal family hopefully anticipated.
In point of practice Palmerston was equally offensive to the prince and the queen. He frequently caused them intense irritation or alarm by involving the government in acute international crises without warning the queen of their approach. In 1848, before consulting her, he peremptorily ordered the reactionary Spanish government to liberalise its institutions, with the result that the English ambassador, Sir Henry Bulwer, was promptly expelled from Madrid. In January 1850, to the queen's consternation, Palmerston coerced Greece into compliance with English demands for the compensation of Don Pacifico and other English subjects who had claims against the Greek government. Thereupon France, who was trying to mediate, and regarded Palmerston's precipitate action as insulting, withdrew her ambassador from London, and for the third time in the queen's reign — on this occasion almost before she had an opportunity of learning the cause — Palmerston brought France and England to the brink of war.
The queen's embarrassments were aggravated by the habit of foreign sovereigns, who believed her power to be far greater than it was, of writing autograph appeals to her personally on political affairs, and of seeking privately to influence the foreign policy of the country. She was wise enough to avoid the snares that were thus laid for her, and frankly consulted Palmerston before replying. He invariably derided the notion of conciliating the good opinion of foreign courts, where his name was a word of loathing. The experience was often mortifying for the queen. In 1847, when the queen of Portugal, the queen's early playmate, was threatened by her revolutionary subjects, she appealed directly to Queen Victoria for protection. Palmerston treated the Portuguese difficulty as a ‘Coburg family affair.’ He attributed the queen's peril to her reliance on the absolutist advice of one Dietz, a native of Coburg, who stood towards the Portuguese queen and her husband, Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg, in a relation resembling that of Stockmar to Prince Albert and the queen. Palmerston insisted on Dietz's dismissal — a proceeding that was highly offensive to the queen and to her Saxe-Coburg kinsmen. Afterwards he dictated a solemn letter of constitutional advice for his royal mistress to copy in her own hand and forward to her unhappy correspondent at Lisbon.
Later in the year the king of Prussia, in a private letter which his ambassador at St. James's, Baron Bunsen, was directed to deliver to the queen in private audience, invited her encouragement of the feeble efforts of Prussia to dominate the German federation. Palmerston learned from Bunsen of the missive, and told him that it was irregular for the English sovereign to correspond with foreign monarchs unless they were her relatives. In concert with Prince Albert he sketched a colourless draft reply, which the queen copied out; it ‘began and ended in German, though the body of it was in English.’ Prince Albert, in frequent private correspondence with the king of Prussia, had sought to stimulate the king to more active assertion of Prussian power in Germany, and the apparent discrepancy between the prince's ardour and the coolness which Palmerston imposed on his wife was peculiarly repugnant to both her and her husband. Expostulation with Palmerston seemed vain. In June 1848 Prince Albert bade Lord John remind him that every one of the ten thousand despatches which were received annually at the foreign office was addressed to the queen and to the prime minister as well as to himself, and that the replies involved them all.
In the following autumn Palmerston remarked on a further protest made in the queen's behalf by Lord John: ‘Unfortunately the queen gives ear too easily to persons who are hostile to her government, and who wish to poison her mind with distrust of her ministers, and in this way she is constantly suffering under groundless uneasiness.’ To this challenge she answered, through Lord John, 1 October 1848: ‘The queen naturally, as I think, dreads that upon some occasion you may give her name to sanction proceedings which she may afterwards be compelled to disavow’. Unluckily for the queen, Palmerston's action was vehemently applauded by a majority in parliament and in the country, and his defence of his action in regard to Greece in the Don Pacifico affair in June 1850 elicited the stirring enthusiasm of the House of Commons. The queen, in conversation with political friends like Aberdeen and Clarendon, loudly exclaimed against her humiliation. Lord John was often as much out of sympathy with Palmerston as she, but he knew the government could not stand without its foreign secretary; and the queen, who was always averse to inviting the perplexities of a change of ministry, viewed the situation with blank despair.
In March 1850 she and the prince drafted a statement of their grievance, but in face of the statesman's triumphant appeal to the House of Commons in June it was laid aside. In the summer Lord John recalled Palmerston's attention to the queen's irritation, and he disavowed any intention of treating her with disrespect. At length, on 12 August 1850, she sent him through Lord John two requests in regard to his future conduct: ‘She requires,’ her words ran, ‘(1) that the foreign secretary will distinctly state what he proposes in a given case, in order that the queen may know as distinctly to what she has given her royal sanction. (2) Having once given her sanction to a measure, that it be not arbitrarily altered or modified by the minister. Such an act she must consider as failure in sincerity towards the crown, and justly to be visited by the exercise of her constitutional right of dismissing that minister. She expects to be kept informed of what passes between him and the foreign ministers before important decisions are taken, based upon that intercourse; to receive the foreign despatches in good time, and to have the drafts for her approval sent to her in sufficient time to make herself acquainted with their contents before they must be sent off’. Two days afterwards Prince Albert explained more fully to Palmerston, in a personal interview, the queen's grounds of complaint. ‘The queen had often,’ the prince said, ‘latterly almost invariably, differed from the line of policy pursued by Lord Palmerston. She had always openly stated her objections; but when overruled by the cabinet, or convinced that it would, from political reasons, be more prudent to waive her objections, she knew her constitutional position too well not to give her full support to whatever was done on the part of the government. She knew that they were going to battle together, and that she was going to receive the blows which were aimed at the government; and she had these last years received several, such as no sovereign of England had before been obliged to put up with, and which had been most painful to her. But what she had a right to require in return was, that before a line of policy was adopted or brought before her for her sanction, she should be in full possession of all the facts and all the motives operating; she felt that in this respect she was not dealt with as she ought to be. She never found a matter “intact,” nor a question, in which we were not already compromised, when it was submitted to her; she had no means of knowing what passed in the cabinet, nor what passed between Lord Palmerston and the foreign ministers in their conferences, but what Lord Palmerston chose to tell her, or what she found in the newspapers.
Palmerston affected pained surprise and solemnly promised amendment, but he remained in office and his course of action underwent no permanent change. A few months later he committed the queen, without her assent, to new dissensions with the Austrian government and to new encouragement of Denmark in her claims to Schleswig-Holstein. In the first case Palmerston, after threatening Lord John with resignation, endeavoured to modify his action in accordance with the royal wish, but he was still impenitent.
In the winter of 1850 a distasteful domestic question distracted the queen's mind from foreign affairs. Lord John had identified the government with the strong protestant feeling which was roused by Cardinal Wiseman's announcement of the Pope's revival of Roman Catholic bishoprics in England. Hundreds of protests from public bodies were addressed to the queen in person, and she received them patiently. But she detested the controversy and regretted ‘the unchristian and intolerant spirit’ exhibited by the protestant agitators. ‘I cannot bear to hear the violent abuse of the catholic religion, which is so painful and so cruel towards the many innocent and good Roman catholics.’ When she opened parliament on 4 February 1851 she resented the cries of ‘no popery,’ with which she was greeted; but the ministry determined actively to resist the ‘Papal aggression,’ and the queen acquiesced. It was consequently with composure that she saw Lord John's government — partly through intestine differences on the religious question — outvoted in the House of Commons in February 1851.
The immediate question at issue was electoral reform. Lord John at once resigned. The queen sent for the conservative leader, Lord Stanley, afterwards Lord Derby, who declined office without adequate support in the House of Commons. He advised a reconstruction of the existing ministry — a course congenial to the queen. On 22 February she consulted Lord Aberdeen with a view to a fusion between whigs and Peelites, but the combination proved impracticable. Perplexed by the deadlock which the refusals of Derby and Aberdeen created, she turned for advice to the old Duke of Wellington. In agreement with the Duke's counsel she recalled Russell after Prince Albert had sent him a memorandum of the recent negotiations. Lord John managed to get through the session in safety and secured the passage of his antipapal Ecclesiastical Titles Bill after completely emasculating it; it received the royal assent on 29 July 1851.
Meanwhile the attention of the court and country had turned from party polemics to a demonstration of peace and goodwill among the nations which excited the queen's highest hopes. It was the inauguration of the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace which was erected in Hyde Park. In origin and execution that design was due to Prince Albert; and it had consequently encountered abundant opposition from high tories and all sections of society who disliked the prince. Abroad it was condemned by absolute monarchs and their ministers as an invitation to revolutionary conspiracy through the suggestion it offered to revolutionary agents in Europe to assemble in London on a speciously innocent pretext, and hatch nefarious designs against law and order. The result belied the prophets of evil. The queen flung herself with spirit into the enterprise. She interested herself in every detail, and she was rewarded for her energy by the knowledge that the realised scheme powerfully appealed to the imagination of the mass of her people. The brilliant opening ceremony over which she presided on 1 May 1851 evoked a marvellous outburst of loyalty.
Her bearing was described on all hands as ‘thoroughly regal’. Besides twenty-five thousand people in the building, seven hundred thousand cheered her outside as she passed them on her way from Buckingham Palace. It was, she said, the proudest and happiest day of her happy life. Her feelings were gratified both as queen and wife. ‘The great event has taken place,’ she wrote in her diary (1 May), ‘a complete and beautiful triumph — a glorious and touching sight, one which I shall ever be proud of for my beloved Albert and my country. ... Yes! it is a day which makes my heart swell with pride and glory and thankfulness!’ In her eyes the great festival of peace was a thousand times more memorable than the thrilling scene of her coronation. In spite of their censorious fears foreign courts were well represented, and among the queen's guests were the prince and princess of Prussia. Tennyson, who had been appointed poet laureate in November 1850, in succession to Wordsworth, in the address ‘To the Queen,’ which he prefixed to the seventh edition of his ‘Poems’ (March 1851), wrote of the Great Exhibition, in a stanza which was not reprinted:
She brought a vast design to pass
When Europe and the scatter'd ends
Of our fierce world did meet as friends
And brethren in her halls of glass.
The season of the Great Exhibition was exceptionally brilliant. On 13 June another bal costumé at Buckingham Palace illustrated the reign of Charles II. On 9 July the queen attended a ball at the Guildhall, which celebrated the success of the Exhibition. Everywhere her reception was admirably cordial. When at length she temporarily left London for Osborne, she expressed pain that ‘this brilliant and for ever memorable season should be past.’ Of the continuous display of devotion to her in London she wrote to Stockmar: ‘All this will be of a use not to be described: it identifies us with the people and gives them an additional cause for loyalty and attachment.’ Early in August, when the queen came to Westminster to prorogue parliament, she visited the Exhibition for the last time. In October, on her removal to Balmoral, she made a formal progress through Liverpool and Manchester, and stayed for a few days with the Earl of Ellesmere at Worsley Hall. She manifested intelligent interest in the improvements which manufacturing processes were making in these great centres of industry. Her visit to Peel Park, Salford (10 October), was commemorated by a statue of her, the cost of which was mainly defrayed by 80,000 Sunday school teachers and scholars; it was unveiled by Prince Albert 5 May 1857.
A month after the closing of the Exhibition the dream of happiness was fading. The death of her sour-tempered uncle, King Ernest of Hanover (18 November 1851), was not a heavy blow, but Palmerston was again disturbing her equanimity. Kossuth, the leader of the Hungarian revolution, had just arrived in England; Palmerston openly avowed sympathy with him. Both the queen and Lord John remonstrated, and the queen begged the cabinet to censure his attitude unequivocally; but her appeal was vain. Relief from the tormenting attitude of Palmerston was, however, at hand. It came at a moment when the queen despaired of any alleviation of her lot. On 2 December 1851 Prince Louis Napoleon by a coup d'état made himself absolute head of the French government. Palmerston believed in Napoleon's ability, and a day or two later, in conversation with the French ambassador, Walewski, expressed of his own initiative approbation of the new form of government in France. The queen and Lord John viewed Napoleon's accession to power, and the means whereby it had been accomplished, with detestation. Palmerston's precipitate committal of England to a friendly recognition of the new régime before he had communicated with the queen or his colleagues united the Gordian knot that bound him to the queen. This display of self-sufficiency roused the temper of Lord John, who had assured the queen that for the present England would extend to Napoleon the coldest neutrality. To the queen's surprise and delight, Lord John summarily demanded Palmerston's resignation (19 December). Palmerston feebly defended himself by claiming that in his intercourse with Walewski he had only expressed his personal views, and that he was entitled to converse at will with ambassadors. Lord John offered to rearrange the government so as to give him another office, but this Palmerston declined. The seals of the foreign office were transferred to the queen's friend, Lord Granville.
The queen and the prince did not conceal their joy at the turn of events. To his brother Ernest, Prince Albert wrote without reserve: ‘And now the year closes with the happy circumstance for us, that the man who embittered our whole life, by continually placing before us the shameful alternative of either sanctioning his misdeeds throughout Europe, and rearing up the radical party here to a power under his leadership, or bringing about an open conflict with the crown, and thus plunging the only country where liberty, order, and lawfulness exist together into the general chaos — that this man has, as it were, cut his own throat. “Give a rogue rope enough and he will hang himself” is an old English adage with which we have sometimes tried to console ourselves, and which has proved true again here.
As a matter of fact, Palmerston's dismissal was a doubtful triumph for the crown. It was, in the first place, not the queen's act; it was the act of Lord John, who was not greatly influenced by court feeling, and it was an act that Lord John lived to regret. Palmerston's popularity in the country grew in proportion to his unpopularity at court, and, in the decade that followed, his power and ministerial power generally increased steadily at the expense of the crown's influence in both home and foreign affairs. The genuine victory lay with the minister.
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