Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840 and the wedding was a memorable occasion.
The marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was solemnized on the 10th of February 1840, at the Chapel Royal, St. James's. Queen Victoria's wedding day was inauspicious, a heavy rain falling; but immense multitudes assembled to gaze upon the processions.
At daybreak crowds of anxious and loyal subjects were seen hastening from all parts of the city in the direction of the royal palaces and the whole city exhibited the most extensive preparations for the proper celebration of Queen Victoria's wedding. In St. James's Park, the area in front of Buckingham Palace, and the avenue leading from thence to the garden entrance of St. James's was densely thronged before eight o'clock, and the rain which fell after that time caused no sensible diminution of the crowds, for as fast as the endeavor of one body of the eager visitors gave way their places were filled by the fresh numbers which were every minute arriving.
Her Royal highness the Duchess of Kent and the twelve Bridesmaids were in attendance upon her Majesty at an early hour in preparation for Queen Victoria's wedding. The Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Princess Mary, and the Princess Augusta of Cambridge, and the Duchess Gloucester also arrived early at the Palace and were admitted to Queen Victoria's private apartments.
The bridal procession from Buckingham Palace to St. James's, where the ceremony for Queen Victoria's wedding was to be performed, begun to move through the triumphal arch at 12 o'clock. A royal salute of 21 guns announced that Queen Victoria was entering her carriage. Every accessible part of St. James's Park which lies between the palaces had been crowded from an early hour, and Queen Victoria was received in the most enthusiastic manner by those who were so fortunate as to command a view of this procession.
The procession for Queen Victoria's wedding passed on to the Garden Entrance of St. James's Palace by which Her Majesty entered and proceeded to the Queen's Closet, or Privy Council Chamber, where she remained for half an hour till the procession was formed in front of the Throne. During all this time the cheering continued in front of the Palace with uninterrupted vehemence.
Prince Albert's portion of the procession moved first, preceded by the Lord and Deputy Chamberlains, who conducted His Royal Highness to the chapel where he remained on the right hand side, or left of the altar. He was attended by his Gentleman of Honor, and the Reigning Duke and Hereditary Prince of Saxe Coburg (his father and elder brother) and their suites, and preceded by drums and trumpets.
His Serene Highness wore a field marshal's uniform, with large rosettes of white satin on his shoulders. There was a flush on his brow as he entered the chapel to begin Queen Victoria's wedding. His manly and dignified bearing, and the cordial and unaffected manner with which he greeted those of the Peers and Peeresses around him, won all hearts. Many of those around pronounced that Prince Albert was a consort worthy of Queen Victoria.
On reaching his chair, Prince Albert advanced gracefully to the Queen Dowager and respectfully kissed her hand. He afterwards bowed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Church Dignitaries and remained for some time standing and casting many anxious glances towards the Chapel entrance. The Queen Dowager at length requested him to be seated and he entered into conversation with her.
The Lord Chamberlain and Deputy Chamberlain returned to Queen Victoria, and having their prescribed positions, her Majesty's procession advanced preceded by music, and guided by the Officers of the Earl Marshal. The procession passed through the Throne Room, the Ante Throne Room, Queen Anne's Drawing Room, the Guard Chamber, the Armory, the Grand Staircase, and the Colonnade leading to the Chapel. All these apartments were sumptuously adorned, and in all of them seats had been prepared for spectators, which crowded with an array of beauty and fashion. Twenty-one hundred tickets had been issued for the accommodation of spectators in these places.
In the procession, Queen Victoria was preceded by the usual display of heralds and trumpeters, by the various officers of the household, by the different members of the royal family, each with an attendant from their households, by the Chamberlains, and Lord Melbourne bearing the sword of state. Her Majesty's train was borne by her twelve bridesmaids, who were followed by the ladies of the bed chamber, the maids of honor, the women of the bed chamber, the gold stick, and six gentlemen of arms, and as many yeomen of the guard to close the procession.
The procession arrived at the chapel at half past one. The chapel itself had been crowded from an early hour. The galleries presented a magnificent display of nobility and beauty. In the Ambassador's gallery, facing the altar, among the first arrivals, were the American Minister and Mrs. Stevenson, the Turkish Ambassador, the Princess Esterhazy, Mr. and Mrs. Van de Weyhr, the Swedish Ambassador, Russian Ambassador, and Count Sebastiani. A number of others arrived in rapid succession, and the south gallery soon presented a very magnificent display of costly diamonds, stars, and decorations. At 10 o'clock one of the bands marching into the Palace yard passed the chapel window playing "Haste to the Wedding." While a smile mantled on the faces of the ladies, the Archbishop of Canterbury most appropriately entered the chapel and proceeded up to the altar.
The Queen Dowager entered immediately after eleven, and took her seat on the right of the state chair appropriated to Prince Albert - all the spectators rose on her entrance, and Queen Adelaide curtsied at this mark of respect.
The appearance of the large body of spectators was brilliant in the extreme. Bridal favors were universally worn, and the profusion of diamonds and other gems, the glittering state robes and costly decorations, formed a display of the most magnificent character. The altar was magnificently decorated. The pillars supporting the galleries were gilt, as was the communion table and the gothic railing which surrounded it.
Queen Victoria's dress was of rich white satin, trimmed with orange flower blossoms. The headdress was a wreath of orange flower blossoms, and over this a beautiful veil of Honiton lace, worn down. The bridesmaids or train-bearers were also attired in white. The cost of the lace alone on the dress was ?1,000. The satin, which was of a pure white, was manufactured in Spitalfields. Queen Victoria wore an armlet having the motto of the Order of the Garter: "Honi soit qui mal y pense," inscribed. She also wore the star of the Order.
The lace of Queen Victoria's bridal dress, though popularly called Honiton lace, was really worked at the village of Beer, which is situated near the sea coast, about ten miles from Honiton. It was executed under the direction of Miss Bidney, a native of the village, who went from London, at the command of her Majesty, for the express purpose of superintending the work. More than two hundred persons were employed upon it from March to November, during the past year.
The lace which formed the flounce of the dress, measured four yards, and was three quarters of a yard in depth. The pattern was a rich and exquisitely tasteful design, drawn expressly for the purpose, and surpasses anything that has ever been executed either in England or in Brussels. So anxious was the manufacturer that Queen Victoria should have a dress perfectly unique, that she has since the completion of the lace destroyed all the designs. The veil, which was of the same material, and was made to correspond, afforded employment to the poor lace workers for more than six weeks. It was a yard and a half square.
The Queen Dowager's dress was of English lace with a rich deep flounce over white satin; the body and sleeves trimmed with the same material. The train was of rich violet velvet lined with white satin and trimmed with ermine. The whole of this dress was entirely composed of articles of British manufacture. Queen Adelaide wore a diamond necklace and earrings, a head dress, feathers, and diamonds.
The dress worn by her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Kent, was of white satin splendidly brocaded with silver and trimmed with three flounces of blonde. It was trimmed with net and silver. The train was of sky-blue velvet lined with white satin and trimmed with ermine. The body and sleeves were tastefully ornamented with ermine and silver with blonde ruffles. The head dress was of diamonds and feathers with a necklace and earrings en suite. The articles in the dress were wholly of British manufacture.
H.R.H. Princess Augusta wore a corsage and train of rich blue velvet trimmed with Brussels point lace and tastefully ornamented with aigrettes of diamonds. There was a rich white satin petticoat with volants and heading of Brussels point lace. The head dress was of Brussels point lace with superb lappets to correspond and a magnificent spray of diamonds.
The Duchess of Sutherland wore a dress of white satin trimmed with barbs of Spanish point lace and white roses. Included was a stomacher of brilliants, point ruffles and berth?; plus a train of white moir? magnificently embroidered in coral and gold. The head dress was of feathers and point lappets with splendid diamonds.
The Countess of Carlisle had a dress of sapphire blue velvet with a Brussels point tucker and ruffles. Her head dress was a toque of velvet and Brussels point lappets.
Prince Albert met Queen Victoria and conducted her to her seat on the right hand side of the altar. The Archbishop of Canterbury advanced to the rails; next her Majesty and Prince Albert approached him and the service commenced. While the service was proceeding, her Majesty was observed looking frequently at Prince Albert, who was standing at her side. In fact she scarcely ever took her eyes off him till she left the chapel.
As the service concluded, the several members of the Royal Family who had occupied places around the altar returned to take up their positions in the procession. After all had passed, with the exception of the Royal bride and bridegroom, Queen Victoria stepped hastily across to the other side of the altar, where the Queen Dowager was standing and kissed her. Prince Albert then took her Majesty's hand, and the Royal pair left the chapel, all the spectators standing.
Having remained a short time in the Royal Closet, Queen Victoria and the Prince returned in the same carriage from the Royal Garden of St. James's to Buckingham Palace.
A wedding repast was prepared, at which several of the illustrious participators in the previous ceremony, and the officers of the household and ministers of state were present. It is needless to say that the taste and ingenuity of the confectioners and table-deckers were prominently displayed at the festival, a splendid wedding cake forming a prominent object of attraction.
On her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, Queen Victoria's own wedding cake was a sight to behold. The cake had a circumference of nine feet (2.75 meters) and weighed over 300 pounds (136 kilos). The cake is reported to have been about 14" high (35.6 cm), of a two-tier design with the second tier rising from the centre of the base. A pure white icing background was decorated with cupids and on the top a sculpture of the mythical Britannia and the marrying couple.
After partaking of the sumptuous dejeune, the royal bridal party set out for Windsor attended by the military, and on the road they were greeted by assembled thousands with the same affection and cordiality with the inhabitants of London.
In 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe wearing a white wedding gown. In those days white was not a symbol of purity, blue was. In fact, many women chose the color blue for their wedding dresses for specifically that reason. White, on the other hand, symbolized wealth.
Since white wasn't generally chosen as the color in which to be married, Victoria's dress came as quite the surprise. It wasn't an unpleasant surprise, however, because soon after women all over Europe and America began wearing white wedding dresses as well. There were still those who chose to get married in other colors, but it was the trend among those of an elevated social status to wear a glamorous white dress.
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HE queen's marriage was naturally a matter of the highest moment to the country, since the Duke of Cumberland, now become King of Hanover, was her next heir. Although he had signalized his accession to the throne of his German state by depriving his subjects of their constitution, the duke proved himself to be a better king than could have been anticipated from his career in England. The popular feeling of the nation was, however, still strongly against him, and it became the universal wish of her subjects that the queen should marry. And, subject to the queen's consent, her future husband had already been chosen by her family.
Three months after her own birth a second son, Albert, was born to the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, the brother of the Duchess of Kent, and King Leopold. The names of the baby prince and princess were immediately linked together in the family circle, and there is no doubt, from the constant references in the voluminous correspondence that passed between the Duchess of Kent and her Saxe-Coburg relatives, that the possibility of their marriage was discussed while they were still infants in arms. When he was only a few months old, his grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg, wrote to her daughter, the Duchess of Kent, "The little fellow is the pendant to the pretty cousin," and constantly sent accounts of the progress of "Alberinchen," as she called him.
The subject of his niece's marriage had likewise engaged the attention of King William IV, and with a view of a possible attachment he had invited Prince William Henry, a younger son of the King of the Netherlands to pay a visit to England, but without any result.
When the Princess Victoria was seventeen King Leopold thought the moment had arrived for the cousins to meet. He had already sent his private secretary, Baron Stockmar, to Coburg to make close inquiries into the habits of life and the character of Prince Albert. His report showed the prince to be all that could be desired, and at King Leopold's suggestion the Duchess of Kent invited her brother, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, and his two sons to spend a month with her at Kensington Palace. The two young people thus had every opportunity of making one another's close acquaintance. It had been arranged that both the Princess Victoria and Prince Albert should be kept in ignorance of the reason of the visit. But the princess must have been favorably impressed by her handsome cousin, for after his departure King Leopold confided to her his hopes of their future union. Her letter in answer proves that her lifelong devotion to Prince Albert began during his visit in the spring of 1836. "I have now only to beg you, my dearest uncle, to take care of the health of one now so dear to me, and to take him under your special protection. I hope and trust that all will go on prosperously and well on this subject, now of so much importance to me."
Prince Albert was kept in ignorance of the possibility of the future, but the cousins corresponded, and at her own request King Leopold kept the princess informed of the prince's life and movements, and especially of his studies. When King William died, Prince Albert wrote to his cousin: "Now, you are Queen of the mightiest land in Europe. In your hand lies the happiness of millions. May Heaven assist you and strengthen you with all its strength in that high but difficult task! I hope that your reign may be long, happy, and glorious; and that your efforts may be rewarded by the thankfulness and love of your subjects." The writer little dreamed how fully his wishes and hopes for his cousin would be fulfilled, and of the part he himself would play in bringing about their realization.
Shortly before her coronation King Leopold had written to the queen as to her marriage with Prince Albert, but in the first flush of her sovereignty, her days suddenly crowded with a thousand new interests and duties, with the power, for the first time in her life, of surrounding herself with brilliant and delightful people, the young sovereign, occupied by her duties of state, her hospitalities and the glamour of her position, felt in no hurry to take to herself a husband. She told her uncle that she did not wish to marry for three or four years at least, and for eighteen months the matter remained in abeyance, although her family and her ministers were anxious that she should make her choice ; the latter very wisely left the question entirely to the queen.
The possibility of an alliance with a great queen fluttered all the courts of Europe, since, apparently, the young sovereign was heart whole. Many young princes visited England in the two years the queen preferred to keep her independence, some of whom had doubtless matrimonial intentions. They began to come in 1837, for in the July of that year the Duchess of Sutherland, who was the first Mistress of the Robes to the queen, wrote: "There is a young Danish prince come over for a few days, rather genteel, only nineteen. I suppose he has been sent to see and be seen, but I should not think with any chance." A Prussian prince, the Duc de Nemours (son of the King of the French, and brother of King Leopold's wife), the Czarowitz of Russia, Prince William Henry of the Netherlands, and her cousin, the late Duke of Cambridge, were all reputed to be, more or less, suitors for her hand by the gossip of the court. The queen, however, showed no marked interest in any one of them, treating them all with the same exquisite courtesy as her guests.
After the crises of 1839, however, the queen looked upon marriage from a different point of view. She felt harassed by the cares of her position, lonely, and unhappy. There was much that she could not discuss even with her most intimate friends; she was always obliged to keep her personal interests as a woman separate from her interests as sovereign. Therefore, when King Leopold visited her in September with other members of the Coburg family, he found her willing to accept his suggestion that Prince Albert and his elder brother should shortly come to England. The visit of her uncle, to whom she was deeply attached and upon whose judgment she entirely relied, and of her Coburg relatives, raised the queen's spirits; King Leopold's wise counsels gave her renewed confidence. When the party left England she insisted on accompanying them to Woolwich, where they took passage in a British man-of-war for Brussels and Germany. An eyewitness tells a charming story of the queen's leaving the vessel after taking farewell of her relations. "Old Sir Robert Otway and all the officers, of course, very pressing to assist her Majesty in getting down the ship's tall side; but no such thing. With her little face still all swollen with her recent floods of tears, she looked up with the greatest spirit, and said quite loud and silvery, 'No help, thank you! I am used to this!' and got down like an old boatswain. The next cheer I could have joined with pleasure, I assure you. She afterwards said to me, 'I was quite glad to find myself on a ship again, the first time since I came to the throne. I do like ships!'"
Prince Albert and his brother arrived at Windsor in October, bringing with them the following letter from King Leopold:
"Laeken, October 8, 1839.
"My Dearest Victoria:
"Your cousins will be themselves the bearers of these lines. I recommend them to your bienviellance. They are good and honest creatures, deserving your kindness, and not pedantic, but really sensible and trustworthy.
"I have told them that your great wish is that they should be quite unbefangen * [*not to be on ceremony with you.]
"I am sure that if you have anything to recommend to them they will be most happy to learn it from you.
"My dear Victoria, 'Your most devoted uncle, "Leopold R."
The queen herself thus described their meeting: "At half-past seven I went to the top of the staircase to receive my two dear cousins, Ernest and Albert, whom I found grown, changed, and embellished. It was with some emotion I beheld Albert, who is beautiful.
"I took them both to Mamma. Their clothes not having arrived, they could not appear at dinner." They came to the drawing-room, however, after dinner, and Lord Melbourne told the queen that he observed a strong likeness between her and Prince Albert.
During the next four days the queen saw her cousin constantly, and daily the impression created in 1836 grew stronger. On October 14th she told Lord Melbourne that she had come to a decision about her marriage. The queen quoted his reply in her journal: "I think it will be very well received, for I hear that there is an anxiety now that it should be, and I am very glad of it. You will be much more comfortable; for a woman cannot stand alone for any time, in whatever position she may be."
The following day the queen proposed to her cousin. "It was a nervous thing to do," she told her aunt, the Duchess of Gloucester; but Prince Albert could not possibly have proposed to the Queen of England. She added, "He would never have presumed to take such a liberty." She described the interview in her diary thus: "On Tuesday, October 15th, the two Princes went out hunting early, but came back about twelve. At half-past twelve I sent for Albert. He came to the closet where I was alone. After a few minutes I said to him I thought he must be aware why I wished him to come, and that it would make me too happy if he would consent to what I wished namely, to marry me.
"There was no hesitation on his part, but the offer was received with the greatest demonstration of kindness and affection. He is perfection in every way in beauty, in everything. I told him I was quite unworthy of him. He said he would be very happy to spend his life with me. How I will strive to make him feel as little as possible the great sacrifice he has made! I told him it was a great sacrifice on his part, which he would not allow. I then told him to fetch Ernest, which he did, who congratulated us both and seemed very happy. He told me how perfect his brother was."
From that day the queen's private life was no longer "sad," or "lonely," until death crushed all the brightness out of her life twenty-one years later.
The correspondence between the queen and King Leopold [The Duke of Saxe-Coburg, Prince Albert's father.] has a particular interest, as it shows her Majesty's directness and frankness even in a matter where most newly engaged young women of her age are rather shy, and express themselves in roundabout phrases. "I love him," she wrote proudly to her uncle on the day she had proposed; "I love him more than I can say, and I shall do everything in my power to render this sacrifice as small as I can. He seems to have great tact a very necessary thing in his position. These last few days have passed like a dream to me, and I am so much bewildered by it all that I hardly know how to write. But I do feel very happy. It is absolutely necessary that this determination of mine should be known to no one but yourself and to Uncle Ernest until after the meeting of Parliament, as it would be considered otherwise neglectful on my part not to have assembled Parliament at once to inform them of it.
"Lord Melbourne has acted in this business, as he has always done toward me, with the greatest kindness and affection. We also think it better, and Albert quite approves of it, that we should be married very soon after Parliament meets, about the beginning of February; and, indeed, loving Albert as I do, I cannot wish it to be delayed. My feelings are a little changed, I must say, since last spring, when I said I could not think of marrying for three or four years; but seeing Albert has changed all this.
"Pray, dearest uncle, forward these two letters to Uncle Ernest, to whom I beg you will enjoin strict secrecy, and explain these details which I have not time to do, and to faithful Stockmar. I think you might tell Louise * [* Queen of King Leopold and daughter of Louis Philippe, King of the French. of it, but none of her family.
"I wish to keep the dear young gentlemen here till the end of next week. Ernest's sincere pleasure gives me great delight. He does so adore dearest Albert.
"Ever, dearest uncle, Your devoted niece, "V. R."
The touching note of reliance on Prince Albert's opinion, which finds expression in this first letter the queen wrote after her engagement in "and Albert quite approves," is the note that ran throughout their married life. It was a new joy to the queen to consult or defer to the personal wishes of any person; for by virtue of her position her own desires since her accession had always come first. From the outset her one fear was that the relationship of husband and wife should never be lost sight of, and that Prince Albert should not be considered merely as "the queen's husband."
King Leopold's reply shows the wisdom of the kindly relative whose counsels had so often guided the queen in moments of difficulty; the happiness of the queen's married life proved the foresight and judgment of character set forth in the following letter:
"I had, when I learned your decision, almost the feeling of old Simeon, 'Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.' Your choice has been for these last years my conviction of what might and would be best for your happiness; and just because I was convinced of it, and knew how strangely fate often changes what one tries to bring about, as being the best plan one could fix upon the maximum of a good arrangement I feared that it would not happen. In your position, which may, and will, perhaps, become in future even more difficult in a political point of view, you could not exist without having a happy and agreeable interieur. And I am much deceived (which I think I am not), or you will find in Albert just the very qualities and disposition which are indispensable for your happiness, and which will suit your own character, temper, and mode of life.
"You say most amiably that you consider it a sacrifice on the part of Albert. This is true in many points, because his position will be a difficult one; but much I may say all will depend on your affection for him. If you love him and are kind to him, he will easily bear the bothers of his position, and there is a steadiness and at the same time a cheerfulness in his character which will facilitate this.
"I think your plans are excellent. If Parliament had been called at an unusual time it would make them uncomfortable; and if, therefore, they receive the communication at the opening of the session it will be best. The marriage, as you say, might then follow as closely as possible."
Of Prince Albert his wise uncle wrote:
. "Albert is a very agreeable companion. His manners are so gentle and harmonious that one likes to have him near oneself. I always found him so when I had him near me, and I think his travels have still further improved him. He is full of talent and fun, and draws cleverly. I am glad to hear that they please the people who see them (Prince Albert and his brother Ernest). They deserve it, and were rather nervous about it. I trust they will enliven your sejour in the old castle, and may Albert be able to strew roses without thorns on the pathway of life of our good Victoria. He is well qualified to do so." Your devoted uncle, "Leopold R."
The prince himself wrote enthusiastically to Coburg of the queen: "Victoria does whatever she fancies I should wish or like, and we talk together a great deal about our future life, which she promises me to make as happy as possible." But he was not blind to the difficulties that must always beset the path of the consort of a reigning queen. "With the exception of my relations toward her" (the queen), he wrote in another letter, "my future position will have its dark sides, and the sky will not always be blue and unclouded. But life has its thorns in every position, and the consciousness of having used one's power and endeavors for an object so great as that of promoting the good of so many will surely be sufficient to support me."
The first time Prince Albert appeared in public with the queen, although the engagement was still officially secret, was at a review at Windsor on November 1st. The queen was now very deeply in love. "At ten minutes to twelve," she wrote, "I set off for the ground in my Windsor uniform and cap" this was a military cap which she wore for the first time "on my old charger 'Leopold,' with my beloved Albert, looking so handsome in his uniform (a green uniform of a Coburg regiment), on my right. ... A horrid day! Cold dreadfully blowing and, in addition, raining hard when we had been out a few minutes. It, however, ceased when we came to the ground. I rode alone down the ranks, and then took my place, as usual, with dearest Albert on my right, and Sir John Macdonald on my left, and saw the troops march past. They afterwards manoeuvred. The Rifles looked beautiful. It was piercingly cold, and I had my cape on, which dearest Albert settled comfortably for me. He was so cold, being en grande tenue, with high boots."
A fortnight later Prince Albert returned to Coburg, and the following day the queen announced her engagement to the Dowager Queen Adelaide and the members of her family. Sir Robert Peel, who saw the letter to Queen Adelaide, said Queen Victoria was "as full of love as Juliet." On November 23d the queen herself made the announcement to the Privy Council which had been specially summoned to Buckingham Palace.
"At two," the queen wrote, "I went in. The room was full, but I hardly knew who was there. Lord Melbourne I saw looking 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 when it was over. ... Of course, there was no end of congratulations. I wore a beautiful bracelet with the Prince's picture, and it seemed to give me courage at the Council."
Croker, moved like the rest of the assembly by the sweet womanliness and dignity of the queen, for once forgot his venom. "I have taken a fine sheet of paper," he wrote to Lady Hardwicke, "in honor of the Queen to write to you what passed in Council. We had a very full Council, and the great Duke (of Wellington) attended. When we had assembled to the number of eighty, and as many had taken their seats as could at a long table, her Majesty was handed in by the Lord Chamberlain, and bowing to us all round, sat down, saying, 'Your Lordships will be seated.' She then unfolded a paper, and read her declaration. I cannot describe to you with what a mixture of self-possession and feminine delicacy she read the paper. Her voice, which is naturally beautiful, was clear and untroubled, and her eye was bright and calm, neither bold nor downcast, but firm and soft. There was a blush on her cheek which made her look handsome and more interesting, and certainly she did look as interesting and as handsome as any young lady I ever saw. After the Lord President had asked her permission to publish her declaration, she bowed consent, handed him the paper, rose, bowed all round, and retired, led as before by the Lord Chamberlain, to the outer room, where the attendants who were not of the Council had waited."
The declaration was short and simple.
"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."
A grave mistake, seeing the religious temper of the time, was made by Lord Melbourne in drawing up this declaration. It made no mention of the prince's form of belief. The Tories did not approve of the match, and instantly seized upon the omission. The Lutheran principles of the House of Saxe-Coburg were a matter of history, the family having been one of the first of the royal houses of Germany to break away from the Church of Rome at the Reformation, but the prince's uncle, King Leopold, and another relative, Prince Ferdinand, had recently married Roman Catholic wives the first the daughter of King Louis Philippe of the French, and the second the Queen of Portugal. These marriages were quite sufficient, and an absurd report was spread abroad that the queen's future husband was a papist.
It seemed as if the fates were conspiring against the queen's love idyll. Difficulty after difficulty was raised. The queen in her intense affection wished to give Prince Albert a position which it was not within her own power or that of her ministers to grant, without the sanction of Parliament. She considered, as she had told King Leopold, that in becoming her husband her cousin was making a great sacrifice, and was exiling himself from his family and country for her sake; and she, therefore, thought that neither she nor her people could sufficiently reward him. The whole-souled generosity of her character was never more apparent than in the discussions with her ministers which followed the announcement of her engagement. She wanted to shower honors, dignities, everything that was within her power upon the man she loved. Lord Melbourne knew that she was asking more than Parliament could grant, and that it would be constitutionally impossible for the prince to be given any share in the government of the country; that was vested by the law in the queen's hands, and in the queen's hands it must remain. There was a constant correspondence between the royal lovers, the queen consulting the prince's wishes even in the most minute details, he replying with great wisdom and good sense. She was inclined to be indignant with her ministers when they did not support her wishes with regard to the prince's position, but when she found that he agreed with them she at once acquiesced, for she had already come to value his opinion and to rely on his discretion.
In her difficult and trying position she needed support, and this Prince Albert gave her from the day of their engagement. His clearness of judgment is shown in a letter he wrote during a much-debated question concerning the formation of his future household: "Now I come to a second point, which you touch upon in your letter, and which I have also much at heart; I mean the choice of the persons who are to belong to my household. The maxim, 'Tell me whom he associates with, and I will tell you who he is,' must here especially not be lost sight of. I should wish, particularly, that the selection should be made without regard to politics, for if I am really to keep myself free from all parties, my people must not belong exclusively to one side. Above all, these appointments should not be mere party rewards, but they should possess other recommendations besides those of party. Let them either be of very high rank, or very rich, or very clever, or who have performed important services for England. It is very necessary that they should be chosen from both sides the same number of Whigs as of Tories; and above all do I wish that they should be well-educated men and of high character, who, as I have already said, shall have distinguished themselves in their several positions, whether it be in the army, the navy, or in the scientific world."
The first question that arose, and one of especial importance in a court where each person had his or her place according to their birth, was the precedence Prince Albert should take. His father not being a monarch, but only the ruler of a duchy, the prince, although of what is styled "royal birth," only bore the title of highness. According to his rank, therefore, he would have followed after the whole of the English royal family, who were royal highnesses, in any ceremony or court function, since a royal highness is of higher rank than a highness. It was obviously impossible from the queen's point of view that her husband should be separated from her in public by all the English princes and princesses; she felt it would be a slur upon his dignity thus to emphasize the difference in rank. She, therefore, created him a "royal highness"; and this was the only title the prince would accept at her generous and willing hands. " My position," the prince wrote to a relative, "will be very pleasant, inasmuch as I have refused all the offered titles. I keep my own name and remain what I was."
Lord Melbourne was of the opinion that the prince's official position should be the same as that occupied by Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne, but it was thought that the queen herself had no right to settle the question, or to accord the prince any particular position, that right resting with Parliament.
When she opened the session in January, 1840, she announced her engagement, and asked for the approbation of her legislators with grave simplicity and dignity. "I humbly implore," she said in her speech from the throne, "that the Divine blessing may prosper this union and render it conducive to the interests of my people as well as of 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."
Parliament signified its approval, but when Lord Melbourne asked it to grant the prince an annuity of £50,000 a year, there was an outcry not only from the Tories but from his own side, the sum being considered unnecessarily extravagant. The same amount had been given to Prince George of Denmark, and to the queen consorts of George II, George III, and William III; Lord Melbourne was, therefore, acting upon precedence in making the proposal. A Radical member moved an amendment to reduce the sum to £21,000, but this was lost by over two hundred votes. A Tory member, noted for his insularity, proposed a sum of £30,000 a year, and his leader, Sir Robert Peel, having spoken strongly in favor of this second amendment, it was put to the vote and carried by a majority of 104.
It was a painful moment, and the Ministry was aghast. The Whigs instantly accused the Tories of "acting from a spiteful recollection of the events of last May," and roundly dubbed them "disloyal." Lord John Russell went so far as to declare that the vote was an insult to the queen, which it undoubtedly was.
Despite Sir Robert Peel's denial that his party was animated by political bias, Tory feeling still ran so strongly against the queen and the Whigs, that it certainly influenced their attitude in this delicate and purely non-party question, but when the same Tory member who had proposed the £30,000 allowance, brought in another amendment that, in the event of his surviving the queen, the prince should lose the allowance if he remarried a Roman Catholic, or if he did not reside in England for six months of the year, Sir Robert, feeling matters were going too far and that such a provision "implied want of confidence in the prince," was the first to move its rejection. When the question came before the House of Lords for its ratification of the decision of the Commons, the Duke of Wellington, the Tory leader in the Upper Chamber, proposed and carried an amendment "censuring Ministers for having failed to make a public declaration that the Prince was a Protestant, and able to take the Holy Communion in the form prescribed by the Church of England."
The queen was deeply distressed, not so much by the public slight put upon her by the House of Commons, but by the slight put upon Prince Albert. Nor was her cause for distress on his account at an end. A bill was shortly afterwards introduced into Parliament for the naturalization of the prince as a British subject, of which one of the clauses dealt with his precedence, which it suggested should be that next to the queen. The Dukes of Sussex and Cambridge, the queen's uncles, had agreed to waive their right of place, and to follow Prince Albert instead of preceding him a kindly consideration which the queen never forgot. The King of Hanover, however, who still held all the rights of his birth as Duke of Cumberland in England, flatly and rudely declined, protesting against the position it was desired to give the prince. A large number of the Tory peers were of his opinion, or professed to be so, and the Duke of Wellington declared that the prince's proper position was after the royal family. There was such determined opposition that Lord Melbourne withdrew the clause, the result being that the prince, to the intense chagrin of the queen, was left without "any specific place assigned by Parliament." The prince was already on his way to England when the news that Parliament had reduced his proposed allowance, and refused to give him precedence, reached him, and he naturally feared that the marriage was unpopular in the country.
It would not be within the bounds of actual truth to say that the marriage was popular, and it would be equally inexact to say that it was unpopular. The English people knew nothing of Prince Albert beyond that he was the younger son of a German prince, that he was the queen's cousin, her junior by a few months, and that he was not very rich. They were weary of German princes as exemplified by the House of Hanover; there was also an insular prejudice against "foreigners," and the feeling that the queen of so great a country might have made a more brilliant match. The absurd story of the prince being a Roman Catholic had likewise given a wrong impression. But the attitude of Parliament in no way represented the actual feeling of the country. Notwithstanding their disclaimers the Tories had taken advantage of the opportunity of striking a blow at the Whig government presented by the question of the prince's allowance, and the bill for his naturalization. The consequent slight upon the queen and the prince was, therefore, solely the outcome of the intense feeling then existing between the two political parties, while the attitude of the country in general was rather one of suspended judgment than of approval or disapproval.
When the prince arrived in London on February 8, 1840, his fears as to the unpopularity of the marriage must have been dissipated, for not only was his reception in the capital most enthusiastic, but upon his landing at Dover, and during his journey to London by road, he had been welcomed by vast crowds which were more than favorably impressed by his grace and dignified bearing, and by his handsomeness.
Immediately upon his arrival at Buckingham Palace he took the oaths that made him a British subject, before the Lord Chancellor of England, and two days later the marriage took place in the Chapel Royal at St. James's Palace.
The prince, who looked superbly handsome in his uniform of a field marshal of the British Army (to which rank he had been appointed by the queen) and his collar of the Order of the Garter (with which the queen had invested him), passed the few moments between his own arrival and that of his bride in talking to the Dowager Queen Adelaide, who with the Duchess of Kent and the Duke of Cambridge stood upon the left side of the altar; upon the right was the queen's aunt, the Princess Sophia, and her cousin, the Princess Augusta of Cambridge; the altar itself was laden with the magnificent gold plate and candlesticks which are always used on occasions of state. When the queen entered, the organ burst forth into the national anthem, and advancing slowly and with great dignity she knelt for a while in prayer and then sat down in her chair of state. There was a slight pause; the queen then rose, and taking her place by Prince Albert's side proceeded with him to the altar, the Duke of Sussex, the uncle who had the honor of giving her away, standing at her left hand. Lady WilheJmina Stanhope (afterwards Duchess of Cleveland), who had been one of the queen's train bearers at her coronation, was one of her Majesty's twelve bridesmaids. Her account of the ceremony is so vivid and interesting that it is worthy of quotation in full:
"The day proved very rainy early in the morning, but it cleared up at about eleven, and the sun shone out brightly upon the bride as she passed through the rooms (of St. James's Palace) with her procession on her way to the chapel.
The procession was thus formed:
"I arrived about, eleven with my pendant, Elizabeth West. Our orders were to go and lock ourselves up in the Queen's dressing room until she arrived; and accordingly Lord Erroll, whom we found at the foot of the staircase, gave us in charge to a Mr. Dobel, who, to our horror, marshalled us through the State rooms, filled with people waiting to see the procession some, as I am told, having been sitting there since half-past eight.'
The dressing room, where the twelve young ladies in tulle and white roses were immured for one hour and a half, fortunately commanded a view of the Park, and we spent our time in watching the lines of Foot Guards forming under our windows, the evolutions of the Blues, who looked a good deal rusted by the rain, the people in the Park, etc.
"At about half-past twelve the Queen arrived, looking as white as a sheet, but not apparently nervous. She was dressed in white satin and Honiton lace, with the collars of her Orders, which are very splendid, round her neck, and on her head a very high wreath of orange flowers, a very few diamonds studded into her hair behind, in which was fastened her veil, also, I believe, of Honiton lace, and very handsome.
"Her train was of white satin, trimmed with orange flowers, but rather too short for the number of young ladies who carried it. We were all huddled together, and scrambled rather than walked along, kicking each other's heels and treading on each other's gowns.
'The Queen was perfectly composed and quiet, but unusually pale. She walked very slowly, giving ample time for all the spectators to gratify their curiosity, and certainly she was never before more earnestly scrutinized.
"I thought she trembled a little as she entered the chapel, where Prince Albert, the Queen Dowager, and all the Royal family were waiting for her. She took her place on the left side of the altar, and knelt down in prayer for a few minutes, and Prince Albert followed her example. He wore a field marshal's uniform, and two large white satin rosettes on his shoulders, with the garter, etc. Perhaps he appeared awkward from embarrassment, but he was certainly a good deal perplexed and agitated in delivering the responses.
'Her Majesty was quite calm and composed. When Prince Albert was asked whether he would take this woman for his wife, she turned full round and looked into his face as he replied, 'I will.' Her own responses were given in the same clear, musical tones with which she reads her speeches in the House of Lords, and in much the same manner.
"The Duke of Sussex was greatly affected, and Lord FitzWilliam was heard to sob responsively from the gallery, but no one else seemed in the least disturbed. The Duke of Sussex has a story that no one cried but one of the singing boys; however, I can vouch for his tears. The Queen's two tears, mentioned in the Morning Post, I did not see.
"The old Duke of Cambridge was decidedly gay, making very audible remarks from time to time. The Queen Dowager looked quite the beau idéal of a Queen Dowager grave, dignified, and very becomingly dressed in purple velvet and ermine, and a purple velvet coiffure with a magificent diamond branch.
"After it was all over we filed out of the chapel in the same order, the Duke of Cambridge very gallantly handing the princesses down the steps with many audible civilities. The Queen gave her hand to her husband, who led her back through the rooms (where her reception was enthusiastic) to the Throne Room, where the Royal Family, the Coburgs, etc., signed their names in the Registry Book.
'The Queen then presented each of her bridesaids with a brooch, an eagle (Prince Albert's crest) of turquoise and pearls. After this she took her departure down the back stairs, at the foot of which I consigned the train to Prince Albert's care, who seemed a little nervous about getting into the carriage with a lady with a tail six yards long and voluminous in proportion."
There is a slight discrepancy between the Duchess of Cleveland's account and that of other spectators of the royal marriage. The young bridesmaid was not only behind the queen, but there were three other ladies between her Majesty and herself. She would scarcely, therefore, have been able to see the queen's face or note the signs of emotion with which the solemnity and sacredness of the ceremony filled her young sovereign. Another lady of the court wrote: "The Queen's look and manner were very pleasing; her eyes much swollen with tears, but great happiness in her countenance; and her look of confidence and comfort at the Prince when they walked away as man and wife was very pretty to see."
The newly married pair drove from St. James's Palace to Buckingham Palace, whence they had both come for the ceremony, amidst the booming of cannon and the cheers of a vast multitude that filled the Mall. A brilliant wedding breakfast followed, and then the queen and Prince Albert set out for Windsor, where the short honeymoon was spent. Unfortunately, the brief sunshine that had shone on the queen's procession to St. James's gave way to torrential rain and a violent wind, but Greville says: "Nevertheless, a countless multitude thronged the Park, and was scattered over the town. I never beheld such a congregation as there was, in spite of the weather." The downpour in no way damped the loyal ardor of the dense throngs who had stood for hours, waiting to greet their sovereign and the husband of her choice, and the queen herself wrote: "Our reception was most enthusiastic, hearty, and gratifying in every way, the people quite deafening us with their cheers, and horsemen, gigs, etc., going along with us." From London to Windsor the road was so crowded that at times it was difficult for the escort to force a way through for the royal carriage, and it was eight o'clock before they reached the Castle, being accompanied from Eton by all the boys at the school, who formed themselves into an additional guard of honor.
The honeymoon lasted only two days, the royal family and the prince's family joining them on the 10th; for two days more there was much merrymaking at Windsor, and then the court returned to London.
The queen was radiantly happy. "I understand," wrote a lady of the court, "she is in extremely high spirits. Such a new thing for her to dare to be unguarded in conversing with anybody; and with her frank and fearless nature the restraints she has hitherto been under, from one reason and another, with everybody, must have been most painful." No other woman in the history of the world has been called upon to exercise the rights and bear the burden of sovereignty at the age of eighteen, alone, and no one except the queen herself could realize the difficulties, the loneliness, and the distress she suffered during her first two years upon the throne, despite their outward brilliancy, and their glamour of power and independence. She herself described her marriage as a "safe haven." It brought her a happiness that falls to the lot of few women, whatever their position, and contrasting the fullness and completeness of her married life with the brief period when she reigned in splendid isolation, debarred by reason of her position from discussing her inmost thoughts with any friend or relative, however intimate, it is easy to understand the feelings with which her Majesty regarded that portion of her reign, and of which she wrote: "A worse school for a young girl, or one more detrimental to all natural feelings and affections, cannot well be imagined than the position of a Queen at eighteen, without experience, and without a husband to guide and support her. This the Queen can state from painful experience, and she thanks God that none of her dear daughters are exposed to such dangers."Victoria the Woman, By Frank Hird, 1908