ON the 26th of August, 1819 — the same year which witnessed the birth of the Queen — there was born to the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld a son, who was afterward named Albert. This child, who was destined to be closely allied with England, was lineally descended from those great Saxon princes "whose names are immortalized in European history by the stand they made in defense of their country's liberties against the encroaching power of the German emperors, as well as by the leading part they took in the Reformation." Albert was a delicate, nervous child, with a beautiful countenance, almost too much of a seraph, it was thought, for this mundane sphere; but by the time he was six years old he showed that he was pretty much like other boys. The young Prince's training was very thorough, embracing tuition in various branches of science, languages, music, literature, ethics, and politics. He had also a fine moral and physical training, so that as he advanced toward manhood he was upright both in mind and body. His mind was further enlarged by travel through Germany, Austria, and Holland.
In May, 1836, the Duke of Coburg, together with his two sons, Prince Ernest and Prince Albert, paid a visit to England, and spent nearly four weeks at Kensington Palace with the Duchess of Kent. It was now that the Princess Victoria saw for the first time her future husband. The distinguished visitors were feted at Windsor and at St. James's by the King (sic) and Queen, and by every member of the royal family in England. In the company of the Duchess of Kent and her daughter they also visited the chief attractions of the metropolis. In his home at Erenburg, in the spring of 1839, Prince Albert was agreeably surprised, on entering his apartments after a long journey, to receive a smiling welcome from the features of his fair cousin, the young Queen of England. It appears that she had sent her portrait, executed by Chalon, for his acceptance, and it was privately placed, by her desire, so that it should be the first object to meet his view on his return.
Albert again visited England in the ensuing October, this being the third occasion on which he had done so. He reached Buckingham Palace on the 10th, and was conveyed thence in royal carriages to Windsor Castle. The Queen appears to have been still more impressed than before with her young cousin. There was a great dinner every evening, with a dance after it three times a week. The Queen now put off the monarch, and was the woman alone. She danced with Prince Albert, and showed him many attentions which she could never show to others. "At one of the Castle balls, just before the Queen declared her engagement with her royal cousin to her Council, she presented his Serene Highness with her bouquet. This flattering indication of her favor might have involved a less quick-witted lover in an awkward dilemma, for his uniform jacket was fastened up to the chin, after the Prussian fashion, and offered no buttonhole wherein to place the precious gift. But the Prince, in the very spirit of Sir Walter Raleigh, seized a penknife and immediately slit an aperture in his dress next his heart, and there triumphantly deposited the royal flowers."
Royal courtships naturally excite curiosity, for those undistinguished in position are eager to learn whether love is, after all, the "leveler" he is represented. Her Majesty's experience proved that he was. One report says that the Queen endeavored to encourage her lover by asking him how he liked England, to which he responded "Very much." Next day the query was repeated, and the same answer was returned. But on the third occasion, when the maiden-monarch, with downcast eyes and tell-tale blushes, asked "If he would like to live in England?" he rose to the occasion. Emboldened by the Queen's demeanor it is stated that "on this hint he spoke" of feelings that he had treasured up in strictest secrecy since his first visit to England; having, with that sensitive delicacy which is the inseparable companion of true love, waited for some encouraging token before he ventured to offer his homage to the "bright particular star" of his devotions.
Another account says that her Majesty inquired of his Serene Highness whether his visit to this country had been agreeable to him? — whether he liked England? And on the answer being given, "Exceedingly," "Then," added the Queen, "it depends on you to make it your home."
All this is very pretty and very pleasant, but as a matter of fact the Queen actually proposed to the Prince, and was necessitated to do so from the circumstances of Tier position. We have it on her own admission that she directly made the proposal. Some days after she had done so she saw the Duchess of Gloucester in London, and told her that she was to make her declaration the next day. The Duchess asked her if it was not a nervous thing to do. She said:
"Yes; but I did a much more nervous thing a little while ago."
"What was that?"
"I proposed to Prince Albert."
The engagement was made on the 15th of October. Prince Albert had been out hunting with his brother, and returned to the Castle about noon. Half an hour afterward he received a summons from the Queen, and went to her room, finding her alone. After a few minutes conversation on other subjects, the Queen told him why she had sent for him, and the whole story of mutual love was once more quickly told. "Though as Queen," observes one writer, "she offered the Prince her coveted hand — that hand which had held the sceptre of sceptres, and which princes and peers and the representatives of the highest powers on earth had kissed in homage — it was only as a poor little woman's weak hand, which needed to be upheld and guided in good works by a stronger, firmer hand; and her head, when she laid it on her chosen husband's shoulder, had not the feel of the crown on it. Indeed, she seems to have felt that his love was her real coronation, his faith her consecration."
The young couple were very happy. They had many tastes and sympathies in common. The Prince had considerable facility as an artist, and still more as a composer. The music he composed to the songs written by his brother was beyond the average in sweetness of melody, and some of his sacred compositions, notably the tune "Gotha," were of a high order, and found their way into the psalmodies. He also sang well and played with skill.
During his stay at Windsor Castle her Majesty frequently accompanied him on the pianoforte, and at a later period they often sang together the admired productions of Rossini, Auber, Balfe, and Moore. Before he left the Castle, his engagement being then known, the Prince drew a pencil portrait of himself, which he presented to the Duchess of Kent. The King of the Belgians had always favored a marriage between the cousins Victoria and Albert. He, therefore, took a special interest in the engagement. Before he was aware of its conclusion he had written to the Queen as follows concerning his nephew: "Albert is a very agreeable companion. His manners are so quiet and harmonious that one likes to have him near one's self. I always found him so when I had him with me, and I think his travels have still further improved him. He is full of talent and fun, and draws cleverly." Then comes a very direct hint in the King's letter: "I trust that Albert may be able to strew roses without thorns in the pathway of life of our good Victoria. He is well qualified to do so."
A letter from the Queen to the King crossed this one. "My dearest uncle," she wrote, "this letter will, I am sure, give you pleasure, for you have always shown and taken so warm an interest in all that concerns me. My mind is quite made up, and I told Albert this morning of it. The warm affection he showed me at learning this gave me great pleasure. He seems perfection, and I think I have the prospect of very great happiness before me. I love him more than I can say, and shall do everything in my power to render this sacrifice as small as I can. We think it better — and Albert quite approves of it — that we should be married very soon after Parliament meets, about the beginning of February."
King Leopold sent a very affectionate reply from Wiesbaden; "My dearest Victoria, nothing could have given me greater pleasure than your dear letter. Your choice has been for these last years my conviction of what might and would be best for your happiness."
Albert remained for a month at Windsor, and we hear of a beautiful emerald serpent ring which he presented to his lady love.
Albert returned to the Continent on the 14th of November. After so many happy weeks the Queen felt her loneliness very much, and she spent a good deal of her time in playing over the musical compositions which she and her lover had enjoyed together. She had also another reminder of him in the shape of a beautiful miniature, which she wore in a bracelet on her arm when she subsequently announced her intended marriage to the Privy Council.
The Queen had more than one trying ordeal before her. She left Windsor with the Duchess of Kent on the 20th of November for Buckingham Palace, and immediately summoned a Council for the 23d.
Her task before the Council was an embarrassing one, but her courage, as she tells us, was inspired by the sight of the Prince's picture in her bracelet. "Precisely at two I went in," writes the Queen in her journal. "The room was full, but I hardly knew who was there. Lord Melbourne I saw looking kindly at me with tears in his eyes, but he was not near me. I then read my short declaration. I felt my hands shake, but I did not make one mistake. I felt most happy and thankful when it was over. Lord Lansdowne then rose, and in the name of the Privy Council asked that this most gracious and most welcome communication might be printed. I then left the room, the whole thing not lasting above two or three minutes. The Duke of Cambridge came into the small library where I was standing, and wished me joy."
The Queen's declaration to her Council was as follows: "I have caused you to be summoned at the present time in order that I may acquaint you with my resolution in a matter which deeply concerns the welfare of my people and the happiness of my future life. It is my intention to ally myself in marriage with the Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Deeply impressed with the solemnity of the engagement which I am about to contract, I have not come to this decision without mature consideration, nor without feeling a strong assurance that, with the blessing of Almighty God, it will at once secure my domestic felicity, and serve the interests of my country. I have thought fit to make known this resolution to you at the earliest period, in order that you may be apprised of a matter so highly important to me and to my kingdom, and which, I persuade myself, will be most acceptable to all my loving subjects."
Parliament was opened by the Queen in person. On her way to the House she was received with fervent demonstrations of loyalty, and the knowledge of the happy errand she was upon lent additional interest to her progress on this occasion. The marriage that was soon to be solemnized touched the people deeply, for they knew it was one of affection, and not one ''arranged" merely for purposes of State.
The first part of her Majesty's speech, which was delivered with some amount of trepidation, was as follows: "Since you were last assembled I have declared my intention of allying myself in marriage with the Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. I humbly implore that the Divine blessing may prosper this union, and render it conducive to the interests of my people, as well as to my own domestic happiness; and it will be to me a source of the most lively satisfaction to find the resolution I have taken approved by my Parliament. The constant proofs which I have received of your attachment to my person and family, persuade me that you will enable me to provide for such an establishment as may appear suitable to the rank of the Prince and the dignity of the Crown."
A bill for the naturalization of Prince Albert was at once passed through both Houses, and the Queen subsequently conferred upon her future husband the title of "His Royal Highness," as well as the rank of a Field Marshal in the British Army.
The question of the precedence of Prince Albert, however, caused a great deal of difficulty, and much annoyance to the Queen. In the end the Queen settled the problem, so far as England was concerned, by declaring it to be her royal will and pleasure, under her sign-manual, that her husband should enjoy place, pre-eminence, and precedence next to her Majesty.
The royal marriage was fixed for the 10th of February, and on the afternoon of the 8th Prince Albert arrived at Buckingham Palace, accompanied by his father and elder brother. The Prince brought as a wedding gift to his bride a beautiful sapphire and diamond brooch; and her Majesty in return presented the Prince with the Star and Badge of the Garter, and the Garter itself set in diamonds. The wedding ceremony was one of unusual interest, for more than a century had elapsed since the nuptials of a reigning Queen of England had been celebrated, beside which the youth and grace of Victoria had touched all loyal hearts. At an early hour a dense throng of persons assembled in front of Buckingham Palace, from whence the procession was to set out for St. James's, where the marriage was to be solemnized. At a quarter before twelve the bridegroom's procession issued forth, consisting of Prince Albert, his father, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, his brother, Prince Ernest, and their suites. At ten minutes past twelve the signal was given for the departure of the Queen. Accompanied by the Duchess of Kent, and attended by the Duchess of Sutherland, her Majesty seated herself in her full-dress carriage. She wore a wreath of orange blossoms and a veil of Honiton lace, with a necklace and earrings of diamonds. Her dress was of white satin, with a very deep trimming of Honiton lace, in design similar to that of the veil. The body and sleeves were richly trimmed with the same material to correspond. The train, which was of white satin, was trimmed with orange blossoms. The cost of the lace alone on the Queen's dress was £1,000. The satin was manufactured in Spitalfields, and the lace at a village near Honiton. More than two hundred persons were employed upon the latter for a period of eight months, and as the lace trade of Honiton had seriously declined, all these persons would have been destitute during the winter had it not been for the Queen's express order that the lace should be manufactured by them.
As her Majesty entered her carriage she was extremely pale and agitated, but the cheers of the people quickened her spirits, and brought the blush to her cheeks and the smiles to her eyes. She bowed repeatedly in response to the joyous acclamations which greeted her on every side as the carriage moved off. All the way to St. James's Palace nothing was to be heard but enthusiastic cheering, and nothing to be seen but the waving of brides' favors and snowy handkerchiefs.
At twenty minutes past twelve a flourish of trumpets and drums gave notice of the approach of the royal bridegroom, and shortly afterward the band played the triumphant strains of "See the Conquering Hero Comes!" The Prince wore a Field Marshal's uniform, with the star and ribbon of the Garter, and the bridal favors on his shoulders heightened his picturesque appearance. One who stood near him thus made notes of his person: "Prince Albert is most prepossessing. His features are regular; his hair pale auburn, of silken glossy quality; eyebrows well defined and thickly set; eyes blue and lively; nose well proportioned, handsome mouth, teeth perfectly beautiful, small mustachios, and downy complexion. He greatly resembles the Queen, save that he is of a lighter complexion; still, he looks as though neither care nor sorrow had ever ruffled or cast a cloud over his placid and reflective brow. There is an unmistakable air of refinement and rectitude about him, and every year will add intellectual and manly beauty to his very interesting face and form."
As the Prince moved along he was greeted with loud clapping of hands from the men, and enthusiastic waving of handkerchiefs from the assembled ladies. In his hand he carried a Bible bound in green velvet. Over his shoulders was hung the collar of the Garter, surmounted by two white rosettes. On his left knee was the Garter itself, which was of the most costly workmanship, and literally covered with diamonds.
When the bridegroom's procession reached the chapel the drums and trumpets filed off without the door, and the procession advancing, his Royal Highness was conducted to the seat provided for him on the left hand of the altar.
At half-past twelve the drums and trumpets sounded the National Anthem as a prelude to the arrival of the bride. Every person arose as the doors were again opened, and the royal procession came in with solemn steps and slow. The coup d'oeil was now magnificent, as floods of sunshine streamed through the windows upon the many gorgeous costumes in which the royal and distinguished persons who appeared in the procession were attired. The Princesses attracted much attention. First came the Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, still very beautiful, and dressed in lily-white satin; then the Princess Augusta of Cambridge, in pale blue, with blush roses round her train; next the Duchess of Cambridge, in white velvet, leading by the hand the lovely little Princess Mary, who was dressed in white satin and swansdown, the mother all animation and smiles at the applause which greeted her child; and lastly the Duchess of Kent, regal in stature and dignity, and dressed in white and silver, with blue velvet train. The Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex succeeded, the latter "looking blithe and full of merry conceits."
Immediately after Lord Melbourne, who carried the sword of State, came the Queen herself, the central figure, and one of universal interest. She looked anxious and excited, and with difficulty restrained her agitated feelings. Her Majesty's train was borne by twelve unmarried ladies, the daughters of well-known peers.
The bridesmaids, like their royal mistress, were attired in white. Their dresses were composed of delicate net, trimmed with festoons of white roses over slips of rich gros de Naples, with garlands of white roses over the head. The Duchess of Sutherland walked next to the Queen, and the ladies of the bedchamber and the maids of honor closed the bride's procession.
The Chapel Royal was specially prepared and decorated for the ceremony. The altar and haut pas had a splendid appearance, the whole being lined with crimson velvet. The wall above the communion-table was hung with rich festoons of crimson velvet edged with gold lace. The Gothic pillars supporting the galleries were gilt, as were the moldings of the oaken panels, and the Gothic railing round the communion-table. The communion-table itself was a rich profusion of gold plate. The entire floor was covered with a blue and gold pattern carpet, with the Norman rose. The whole of the remaining part of the interior was decorated; and the ceiling adorned with the arms of Great Britain in various colored devices.
The entire service was precisely that of the Church liturgy, the simple names of "Albert" and "Victoria" being used. To the usual questions Prince Albert answered firmly "I will," and the Queen — in accents which, though full of softness and music, were audible at the most extreme corner of the chapel — gave the same answer.
Upon the conclusion of the service, the Queen shook hands cordially with the various members of the royal family, who now took up their positions in the procession as arranged for the return.
The procession, being formed, left the chapel much in the same order as it had entered. But her Majesty and her newly-wedded consort now walked together hand-in-hand, ungloved — Prince Albert with sparkling eyes and a heightened color smiling down upon the Queen, and she appearing very bright and animated.
When the Queen and her husband passed through the corridor, after leaving the chapel, the clapping of hands and waving of handkerchiefs were renewed again and again, until they had vanished out of sight.
The procession passed on to the State apartments, but the Queen and Prince Albert, with their royal relatives and the principal Ministers of State and members of the Privy Council proceeded to the throne-room, where they were joined by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishop of London. The attestation of the marriage now took place upon a splendid table prepared for the purpose. Her Majesty and Prince Albert signed the marriage register, and it may here be mentioned that the name of the Queen is Alexandrina Victoria Guelph, while that of the Prince Consort was Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emanuel Busici. The marriage was attested by the Duke of Sussex and twenty-nine other persons. The attestation book, which is bound in rich purple velvet, is a speaking memento of royal nuptial ceremonies for many generations past. It is in the custody of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Amongst the witnesses who signed at the Queen's marriage was the Duke of Wellington, and it is an interesting fact that his signature also appeared at the attestation of her birth.
When all was concluded within St. James's, the procession to Buckingham Palace was reformed in almost the same order as when it set out in the morning, except that Prince Albert now took his place in the same carriage with her Majesty.
The wedding breakfast was given at Buckingham Palace, the guests including the various members of the royal family, the officers of the household, the Ministers of State, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of London. The wedding-cake, which was admirably designed, was a great object of attraction. It was more than nine feet in circumference by sixteen inches deep. Its weight was three hundred pounds, and the materials of which it was composed cost one hundred guineas. On the top of the cake was the figure of Britannia in the act of blessing the illustrious bride and bridegroom. The figures were nearly a foot in height, and by the feet of the Prince was the effigy of a dog, intended to represent fidelity, while at the feet of the Queen were two turtledoves, denoting the felicities of the marriage state. A cupid, beautifully modeled, was writing in a volume expanded on his knees the date of the day of the marriage, and various other cupids were disporting themselves after the manner of cupids. There were numerous bouquets of white flowers tied with true-lovers' knots of white satin ribbon on the top of the cake; and these were intended for presents to the guests at the nuptial breakfast. There were large medallions upon shields bearing the letters "V" and "A," and supported by cupids on pedestals, while all round and over the cake were wreaths and festoons of orange blossoms and myrtle, entwined with roses.
Each of the royal bridesmaids received a magnificent brooch, the gift of her Majesty. This brooch was in the shape of a bird, the body being formed entirely of turquoises; the eyes were rubles and the beak a diamond; the claws were of pure gold, and rested on pearls of great size and value. The whole workmanship was very exquisite, and the design was furnished by the Queen.
Shortly before four o'clock the royal party left Buckingham Palace for Windsor amid the acclamations of a vast multitude. Just as the procession left the palace the sun shone forth brilliantly upon the newly-married pair, an emblem, it was universally hoped, of their future happiness. On the road to Windsor the principal houses in the villages were illuminated, and crowds came forth to testify their loyal delight on the happy occasion. Eton College presented one of the finest spectacles on the route. Opposite to the college was a representation of the Parthenon at Athens, which was brilliantly illuminated by several thousand variegated lamps; it was surmounted by flags and banners, and under the royal arms was displayed the following motto: "Gratulatus Etona Victorioe et Alberto." Beneath the clock tower of the college there was a blaze of light, and a number of appropriate devices were displayed in various colored lamps. A triumphal arch, composed of evergreens and lamps tastefully displayed, extended across the road. The Etonians, wearing white favors, were marshaled in front of the college. They received the Queen with loud acclamations, and escorted her to the Castle gates.
By the time Windsor was reached the shades of evening had gathered. The whole town could be perceived therefore brilliantly illuminated before the royal carriage entered it. A splendid effect was created by the dazzling lights as they played upon the faces of the multitude. The crowd on the Castle hill was so dense at half-past six that it was with the utmost difficulty a line was kept clear for the royal carriages. The whole street was one living mass, whilst the walls of the houses glowed with crowns, stars, and all the brilliant devices which gas and oil could supply. At this moment a flight of rockets was visible in the air, and it was immediately concluded that the Oueen had entered Eton.
The bells now rang merrily, and the shouts of the spectators were heard as the royal cortege approached the Castle. At twenty minutes before seven the royal carriage arrived in the High Street, Windsor, preceded by the advance guard of the traveling escort. The shouts were now most loud and continuous, and from the windows and balconies of the houses handkerchiefs were waved by the ladies, whilst the gentlemen huzzaed and waved their hats. The carriage, owing to the crowd, proceeded slowly, the Queen and her royal consort bowing to the people. Her Majesty looked remarkably well, and Prince Albert seemed in the highest spirits at the cordiality with which he was greeted. When the carriage drew up at the grand entrance the Queen was handed from it by the Prince; she immediately took his arm and entered the Castle.
A splendid State banquet in celebration of the royal wedding was given at St. James's Palace in the grand banqueting-room. How well and judiciously on the whole the Prince fulfilled his functions as the Queen's adviser, history has already borne testimony. If he sometimes made mistakes, he certainly made fewer than might have been expected from one in his difficult position. But his unquestioned integrity, his sincerity, honesty, and high principle, stood him in good stead; and they were a sheet-anchor upon which the Queen could always rely. Neither her Majesty nor her husband expected to find life easy in their exalted station; but as both were in deep sympathy with each other, and as love, trustful and unfeigned, was the moving spring of both, difficulties were overcome instead of becoming themselves insurmountable. The Queen's was a marriage of profound happiness and mutual trust, for it was a real union of souls.