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Birth Of The Princess Victoria








After the loss of his wife, Prince Leopold left for a time his sad home
of Claremont, and returned to the Continent, but came back some time in
1819, to visit a beloved sister, married since his own bereavement, and
become the mother of a little English girl, and for the second time a
widow. Lovingly, though with a pang at his heart, the Prince bent over
the cradle of this eight-months-old baby, who in her unconscious
orphanage smiled into his kindly face, and though he thought sorrowfully
of the little one whose eyes had never smiled into his, had never even
opened upon life, he vowed then and there to the child of his bereaved
sister, the devoted love, the help, sympathy, and guidance which never
failed her while he lived.

This baby girl was the daughter of the Duke of Kent and of the Princess
Victoire Marie Louise of Saxe-Coburg Saalfield, widow of Prince Charles
of Leiningen. Edward, Duke of Kent, was the fourth and altogether the
best son of George III. Making all allowance for the exaggeration of
loyal biographers, I should say he was an amiable, able, and upright man,
generous and charitable to a remarkable degree, for a royal Prince of
that time--perhaps too much so, for he kept himself poor and died poor.
He was not a favorite with his royal parents, who seem to have denied him
reasonable assistance, while lavishing large sums on his spendthrift
brother, the Prince of Wales. George was like the prodigal son of
Scripture, except that he never repented--Edward like the virtuous son,
except that he never complained.

On the death of the Princess Charlotte the Duke of York had become heir-
presumptive to the throne. He had no children, and the Duke of Clarence,
third son of George III., was therefore next in succession. He married in
the same year as his brother of Kent, and to him also a little daughter
was born, who, had she lived, would have finally succeeded to the throne
instead of Victoria. But the poor little Princess stayed but a little
while to flatter or disappoint royal hopes. She looked timidly out upon
life, with all its regal possibilities, and went away untempted. Still
the Duchess of Clarence (afterwards Queen Adelaide) might yet be the
happy mother of a Prince, or Princess Royal, and there were so many
probabilities against the accession of the Duke of Kent's baby to the
throne that people smiled when, holding her in his arms, the proud father
would say, in a spirit of prophecy, "Look at her well!--she will yet be
Queen of England."

One rainy afternoon the Duke stayed out late, walking in the grounds, and
came in with wet feet. He was urged to change his boots and stockings,
but his pretty baby, laughing and crowing on her mother's knee, was too
much for him; he took her in his arms and played with her till the fatal
chill struck him. He soon took to his bed, which he never left. He had
inflammation of the lungs, and a country doctor, which last took from him
one hundred and twenty ounces of blood. Then, as he grew no better, a
great London physician was called in, but he said it was too late to save
the illustrious patient; that if he had had charge of the case at first,
he would have "bled more freely." Such was the medical system of sixty
years ago.

The Duke of Kent's death brought his unconscious baby's feet a step--just
his grave's width--nearer the throne; but it was not till many years
later--till after the death of her kindly uncle of York, and her "fine
gentleman" uncle, George IV., and the accession of her rough sailor-
uncle, the Duke of Clarence, William IV., an old man, and legally
considered childless--that the Princess Victoria was confidently regarded
as the coming sovereign, and that the momentous truth was revealed to
her. She was twelve years old before any clear intimation had been
allowed to reach her of the exceptional grandeur of her destiny. Till
then she did not know that she was especially an object of national love
and hope, or especially great or fortunate. She knew that she was a
"Royal Highness," but she knew also, the wise child!--that since the
Guelphs came over to rule the English, Royal Highnesses had been more
plentiful than popular; she knew that she was obliged to wear, most of
the time, very plain cotton gowns and straw hats, and to learn a lot of
tiresome things, and that she was kept on short allowance of pin-money
and ponies.

The wise Duchess of Kent certainly guarded her with the most jealous care
from all premature realization of the splendid part she might have to
play in the world's history, as a hope too intoxicating, or a
responsibility too heavy, for the heart and mind of a sensitive child.

I wonder if her Serene Highness kept fond motherly records of the
babyhood and childhood of the Queen? If so, what a rich mine it would be
for a poor bewildered biographer like me, required to make my foundation
bricks with only a few golden bits of straw. I have searched the
chronicles of the writers of that time; I have questioned loyal old
people, but have found or gained little that is novel, or peculiarly
interesting.

Victoria was born in the sombre but picturesque old palace of Kensington,
on May 24, 1819, and on the 24th of the following June was baptized with
great pomp out of the splendid gold font, brought from the Tower, by the
Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the Bishop of London. Her sponsors
were the Prince Regent and the Emperor of Russia (the last represented by
the Duke of York), the Queen Dowager of W├╝rtemburg (represented by the
Princess Augusta) and the Duchess Dowager of Coburg (represented by the
Duchess Dowager of Gloucester), and her names were Alexandrina
Victoria, the first in honor of the Emperor Alexander of Russia. She
came awfully near being Alexandrina Georgiana, but the Prince Regent, at
the last moment, declared that the name of Georgiana should be second to
no other; then added, "Give her her mother's name--after that of the
Emperor." The Queen afterwards decided that her mother's name should be
second to no other. Yet as a child she was often called "little Drina."

The baby's first move from her stately birthplace was to a lovely country
residence called Woolbrook Glen, near Sidmouth. Here Victoria had the
first of those remarkable narrow escapes from sudden and violent death
which have almost seemed to prove that she bears a "charmed life." A boy
was shooting sparrows in vicinity of the house, and a charge from his
carelessly-handled gun pierced the window by which the nurse was sitting,
with the little Princess in her arms. It is stated that the shot passed
frightfully near the head of the child. But she was as happily
unconscious of the deadly peril she had been in as, a few months later,
she was of the sad loss she sustained in the death of her father, who was
laid away with the other Guelphs in the Windsor Royal Vault, never again
to throne his little "Queen" in his loyal, loving arms.

The Princess Victoria seems to have been always ready for play, dearly
loving a romp. One of the earliest mentions I find of her is in the
correspondence of Bishop Wilberforce. After stating that he had been
summoned to the presence of the Duchess of Kent, he says: "She received
me with her fine, animated child on the floor by her side busy with its
playthings, of which I soon became one."

This little domestic picture gives a glimpse of the tender intimacy, the
constant companionship of this noble mother with her child. It is stated
that, unlike most mothers in high life, the Duchess nursed this
illustrious child at her own breast, and so mingled her life with its
life that nothing thenceforth could divide them. The wee Princess passed
happily through the perils of infantile ailments. She cut her teeth as
easily as most children, with the help of her gold-mounted coral--and
very nice teeth they were, though a little too prominent according to the
early pictures. If the infant Prince Albert reminded his grandmamma of a
"weasel," his "pretty cousin" might have suggested to her a squirrel by
"a little something about the mouth."

An old newspaper writer gave a rather rapturous and pompous account of
the Princess Victoria when she was about three years old. He says:
"Passing through Kensington Gardens a few days since, I observed at some
distance a party consisting of several ladies, a young child, and two
men-servants, having in charge a donkey, gayly caparisoned with blue
ribbons, and accoutred for the use of the infant." He soon ascertained
that the party was the Duchess of Kent and her daughter, the Princess
Feodore of Leiningen, and the Princess Alexandrina Victoria. On his
approaching them the little one replied to his "respectful recognition"
with a pleasant "good-morning," and he noted that she was equally polite
to all who politely greeted her--truly one "to the manner born." This
writer adds: "Her Royal Highness is remarkably beautiful, and her gay and
animated countenance bespeaks perfect health and good temper. Her
complexion is excessively fair, her eyes large and expressive, and her
cheeks blooming. She bears a striking resemblance to her royal father."

A glimpse which Leigh Hunt gives of his little liege lady, as she
appeared to him for the first time in Kensington Gardens, is interesting,
as revealing the child's affectionate disposition. "She was coming up a
cross-path from the Bayswater Gate, with a little girl of her own age by
her side, whose hand she was holding as though she loved her." And why
not, Mr. Poet? Princesses, especially Princesses of the bread-and-butter
age, are as susceptible to joys of sympathy and companionship as any of
us--untitled poets and title-contemning Republicans.

Lord Albemarle, in his autobiography, speaks of watching, in an idle
hour, from the windows of the old palace, "the movements of a bright,
pretty little girl, seven years of age, engaged in watering the plants
immediately under the window. It was amusing to see how impartially she
divided the contents of the watering-pot between the flowers and her own
little feet. Her simple but becoming dress--a large straw hat and a white
cotton gown--contrasted favorably with the gorgeous apparel now worn by
the little damsels of the rising generation. A colored fichu round the
neck was the only ornament she wore. The young lady I am describing was
the Princess Victoria, now our Gracious Sovereign."

Queen Victoria dressed her own children in the same simple style, voted
quaint and old-fashioned by a later generation. I heard long ago a story
of a fashionable lady from some provincial town taking a morning walk in
Windsor Park, in the wild hope of a glimpse of royalty, and meeting a
lady and gentleman, accompanied only by two or three children, and all so
plainly dressed that she merely glanced at them as they passed. Some
distance further she walked in her eager quest, when she met an old
Scotch gardener, of whom she asked if there was any chance of her
encountering the Queen anywhere on the domain. "Weel, ye maun, turn back
and rin a good bit, for you've passed her Mawjesty, the Prince, and the
Royal bairns."

Ah, wasn't she spited as she looked back and saw the joyous family party
in the dim distance, and realized what she had lost in not indulging
herself in a good long British stare, and what a sin she had committed in
not making a loyal British obeisance.





Next: Victoria's Early Education

Previous: Sketch Of The Princess Charlotte



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