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The First Christening The Season Of 1841

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The First Christening The Season Of 1841








The Queen was able to open Parliament in person at the end of January.

The first christening in the royal household had been fixed to take place
on the 10th of February, the first anniversary of the Queen's wedding-day,
which was thus a double gala in 1841. The day before the Prince again had
a dangerous accident. He was skating in the presence of the Queen and one
of her ladies on the lake in the gardens of Buckingham Palace when the ice
gave way a few yards from the bank, where the water was so deep that the
skater had to swim for two or three minutes before he could extricate
himself. The Queen had the presence of mind to lend him instant
assistance, while her lady was "more occupied in screaming for help," so
that the worst consequences of the plunge were a bad cold.

The christening took place at six in the evening in Buckingham Palace. The
ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the
Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Norwich, and the
Dean of Carlisle. The sponsors were the Duke of Saxe-Coburg Gotha,
represented by the Duke of Wellington, King Leopold, the Queen-dowager,
the Duchess of Gloucester, the Duchess of Kent, and the Duke of Sussex,
the most of whom had been present at the baptism of her Majesty, and were
able to compare royal child and royal mother in similar circumstances.
The Duke of Cambridge and his son, Prince George, with Prince Edward of
Saxe-Weimar, were among the company. The infant was named "Victoria
Adelaide Mary Louisa."

The Annual Register for the year has an elaborate description of
the new silver-gilt font used on the occasion. It was in the shape of a
water-lily supporting a shell, the rim of which was decorated with smaller
water-lilies. The base bore, between the arms of the Queen and Prince
Albert, the arms of the Princess Royal, surmounted by her Royal Highness's
coronet. The water had been brought from the river Jordan.

A simple description of the event was given by Prince Albert in a letter
to his grandmother, the Dowager-Duchess of Gotha. "The christening went
off very well; your little great-granddaughter behaved with great
propriety and like a Christian. She was awake, but did not cry at all,
and seemed to crow with immense satisfaction at the lights and brilliant
uniforms, for she is very intelligent and observing. The ceremony took
place at half-past six P.M. After it there was a dinner, and then we had
some instrumental music. The health of the little one was drunk with great
enthusiasm."

The lively noticing powers of the Princess Royal when she was between two
and three months of age is in amusing contradiction to a report which we
remember as current at the time. It was mentioned in order to be denied by
Leslie, who was commissioned to paint the royal christening, and worked at
the picture so diligently in the long days of the following summer that he
was often occupied with the work from nine in the morning till seven or
eight in the evening. He wrote in his "Recollections": "In 1841 I painted
a second picture for the Queen, the christening of the Princess Royal. I
was admitted to see the ceremony, and made a slight sketch of the royal
personages as they stood round the font in the room. I made a study from
the little Princess a few days afterwards. She was then three months old,
and a finer child of that age I never saw. It is a curious proof of the
readiness with which people believe whatever they hear to the disadvantage
of those placed high in rank above them, that at the time at which I made
the sketch it was said everywhere but in the palace and by those who
belonged to the royal household, that the Princess was born blind, and by
many it was even believed that she was born without feet. The sketch was
shown at a party at Mr. Moon's, the evening after I made it, and the
ladies all said, 'What a pity so fine a child should be entirely blind!'
It was in vain I told them that her eyes were beautifully clear and
bright, and that she took notice of everything about her. I was told that,
though her eyes looked bright, and though she might appear to turn them to
every object, it was certain she was blind."

What Leslie attributes to a species of envy, we think may be more justly
regarded as having its foundation in the love of sensationalism to which
human nature is prone--sensationalism which appears to become all the
racier when it finds its food in high quarters. The particular direction
the tendency took was influenced by the blindness of George III. and of
his grandson, the Crown Prince of Hanover, which seemed to lend a
plausibility to the absurd rumour.

Baron Stockmar states that the Princess Royal was a delicate child,
causing considerable apprehension for her successful rearing during the
first year of her life. It was only by judicious care that she developed a
splendid constitution. Charles Leslie goes on to say: "The most agreeable
part of my task in painting the christening of the Princess Royal was in
studying the fine head of the wisest and best of living Kings, Leopold, a
man whom the people he reigns over scarcely seem to deserve. Nothing could
be more agreeable than his manner, and that of his amiable Queen, who was
in the room all the time he sat. He speaks English very well, and she also
spoke it. After I had painted for some time, she said, "May I look?" and
suggesting some alterations, she said, "You must excuse me, I speak
honest; but if I am wrong, don't mind me."

In those years the King and Queen of the Belgians were such frequent
visitors of her Majesty, who may be said to have been his adopted child,
that a whole floor of Buckingham Palace which was set apart for their use
is still known as "the Belgian Floor." The portraits of both are in the
Palace, and so is his likeness when he was many years younger, and one of
the handsomest men in Europe. The last is hanging beside a full-length
portrait of his first wife, Princess Charlotte, with her fair face and
striking figure. In the summer of 1841 the Queen was farther and longer
separated from her mother than she had ever been previously. The Duchess
of Kent, secure in her daughter's prosperity and happiness, went to her
native Germany, for the first time since she had come to England
twenty-two years before. She was warmly received wherever she went. She
visited, among other places, Amorbach, the seat of her son, the Prince of
Leiningen, in Bavaria, where the Duchess had resided with the Duke of Kent
in the first years of their married life. "It is like a dream that I am
writing to you from this place," she addressed her daughter. "He (the
Prince of Leiningen) has made many alterations in the house. Your father
began them just before we left in March, 1819."

A threatened change of Ministry and a general election were pending; but
amidst the political anxieties which already occupied much of the Queen
and Prince Albert's thoughts, it was a bright summer, full of many
interests and special sources of pleasure.

Mademoiselle Rachel, the great French actress, arrived in England. She had
already established her empire in Paris by her marvellous revival of
Racine's and Corneille's masterpieces. She was now to exercise the same
fascination over an alien people, to whom her speech was a foreign tongue.
She made her first appearance in the part of Hermione in Racine's
Andromaque at the Italian Opera-house. Few who witnessed the
spectacle ever forgot the slight figure, the pale, dark, Jewish face, the
deep melody of the voice, the restrained passion, the concentrated rage,
especially the pitiless irony, with which she gave the poet's meaning.

The Queen and the Prince shared the general enthusiasm. For that matter
there was a little jealousy awakened lest there might be too much generous
abandon in the royal approval of the great player. Perhaps this
feeling arose in the minds of those who, dating from Puritan days, had a
conscientious objection to all plays and players, and waxed hotter as
time, alas! proved how, in contrast to the honourable reputation of the
English Queen of Tragedy, Sarah Siddons, the character and life of the
gifted French actress were miserably beneath her genius. There was a
little vexed talk, which probably had small enough foundation, of the
admission of Rachel into the highest society; of the Duchess of Kent's
condescending to give her shawl to the shivering foreigner; of a bracelet
with the simple inscription, "From Victoria to Rachel," as if there could
be a common meeting-ground between the two, though the one was a queen in
art and the other a queen in history. But if there was any imprudence, it
might well have been excused as a fault of noble sympathy with art and
cordial acknowledgement of it, which leant to virtue's side, a fault which
had hitherto been not too common in England. The same year a Kemble, the
last of the family who redeemed for a time the fallen fortunes of Covent
Garden Theatre, Adelaide, the beautiful and accomplished younger daughter
of Charles Kemble, brother to John Kemble and Sarah Siddons, came out as
an operatic-singer in the part of "Norma." She was welcomed as her sweet
voice, fine acting, and the traditions of her family deserved. She was
invited to sing at the palace. From girlhood the Queen had been familiar
with the Kembles in their connection with the English stage. The last time
she visited the Academy as Princess Victoria, just before the death of
King William, Leslie mentions, she asked that Charles Kemble might be
presented to her, when the gentleman had the opportunity of making his
"best genteel-comedy bow." Now it was on the younger generation of the
Kembles that the Queen bestowed her gracious countenance. These were
halcyon days for society as well as for the stage, when, in Mrs.
Oliphant's words, "the Queen was in the foreground of the national life,
affecting it always for good, and setting an example of purity and virtue.
The theatres to which she went, and which both she and her husband
enjoyed, were purified by her presence, evils which had been the growth of
years disappearing before the face of the young Queen...."

On the 13th of June the Queen revisited Oxford in company with her
husband, in time for Commemoration. Her Majesty and the Prince stayed at
Nuneham, the seat of the Archbishop of York, and drove in to the
University city. The Prince was present at a banquet in St. John's and
attended divine service at New Inn Hall.

On the 21st of June the Queen and Prince Albert were at Woolwich, for the
launch of the good ship Trafalgar. Nothing so gay had been seen at
the mouth of the river since King William and Queen Adelaide came down to
Greenwich to keep the anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar. The water
was covered with vessels, including every sort of craft that had been seen
"since the building of Noah's Ark." The shore was equally crowded with an
immense multitude of human beings finding standing-ground in the most
unlikely places. The Queen drove down to the Dockyard in a
travelling-carriage and four. She was received with a royal salute and
glad bursts of cheering.

It is hardly necessary to say that the young Queen was exceedingly popular
with the blue-jackets. In the course of a visit to Portsmouth she had gone
over one of her ships. She was shown through the men's quarters, the
sailors being under orders to remain perfectly quiet and abstain from
cheering. Her Majesty tasted the men's coffee and pronounced it good. She
asked if they got nothing stronger. A glass of grog was brought to her.
She put it to her lips, and Jack could contain himself no longer; a burst
of enthusiastic huzzas made the ribs of the ship ring.

At Woolwich a discharge of artillery announced the moment when the great
vessel slipped from her stays, and "floated gallantly down the river" till
she was brought up and swung round with her stern to London.

The King and Queen of the Belgians paid their second visit this year, the
Queen remaining six weeks, detained latterly by the illness of her son in
England. The long visit confirmed the tender friendship between the two
queens. "During this stay, which had been such a happiness for me, we
became most intimate," Queen Victoria wrote in her Journal, and she
grudged the necessity of having to set out with Prince Albert on a royal
progress before the departure of her cherished guest. "To lose four days
of her stay, of which, I repeat, every hour is precious, is dreadful," her
Majesty told King Leopold.

The short summer progress was otherwise very enjoyable. The Queen and
Prince Albert visited the Duke of Bedford at the Russells' stately seat of
Woburn Abbey, with its park twelve miles in extent. From Woburn the royal
couple went to Panshanger, Earl Cowper's, and Brocket Hall, Lord
Melbourne's, returning by Hatfield, the Marquis of Salisbury's. At Brocket
the Queen was entertained by her Prime Minister. At Hatfield there were
many memories of another Queen and her minister, since the ancient
country-house had been a palace of Queen Elizabeth's, passing, in her
successor's reign, by an exchange of mansions, from the hands of James I
into those of the son and representative of Lord Burleigh, little crooked,
long-headed Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury. In Hatfield Park there
is an oak still standing which bears the name of "Queen Elizabeth's Oak."
It is said Princess Elizabeth was sitting in its shade when the news was
brought to her of the death of her sister, Queen Mary, and her own
accession to the throne of England.

The only difficulty--a pleasant one after all--which was experienced in
these progresses, proceeded from the exuberant loyalty of the people. At
straw-plaiting Dunstable a volunteer company of farmers joined the regular
escort and nearly choked the travellers with the dust the worthy yeomen
raised. On leaving Woburn Abbey the same dubious compliment was paid. In
the Queen's merry words, "a crowd of good, loyal people rode with us part
of the way. They so pressed and pushed that it was as if we were hunting."

The recent election had returned a majority of Conservative members, and
soon after the reassembling of Parliament in August a vote of
non-confidence in Lord Melbourne's Ministry was carried. The same evening
the Prime Minister went to Windsor to announce his resignation. He acted
with his natural fairness and generosity, giving due honour to his
adversaries, and congratulating the Queen on the great advantage she
possessed in the presence and counsel of the Prince, thus softening to her
the trial of the first change of Ministers in her reign. He only regretted
the pain to himself of leaving her. "For four years I have seen you every
day; but it is so different from what it would have been in 1839. The
Prince understands everything so well, and has a clever, able head." The
Queen was much affected in taking leave of a "faithful and attached
friend," as well as Minister, while her words were, that his praise of the
Prince gave her "great pleasure" and made her "very proud."

In anticipation of the change of Ministry it had been arranged, with Sir
Robert Peel's concurrence, that the principal Whig ladies in the Queen's
household--the Duchess of Sutherland, the Duchess of Bedford, and Lady
Normanby--should voluntarily retire from office, and that this should be
the practice in any future change of Ministry, so that the question of
Ministerial interference in the withdrawal or the appointment of the
ladies of the Queen's household might be set at rest. [Footnote: The
retirement from office is now limited to the Mistress of the Robes.]

On the 3rd of September the new Ministers kissed hands on their
appointment at a Cabinet Council held at Claremont. Lord Campbell gives
some particulars. "I have just seen here several of our friends returned
from Claremont. Both parties met there at once. They were shown into
separate rooms. The Queen sat in her closet, no one being present but
Prince Albert. The exaunters were called in one by one and gave up
the seals or wands of their offices and retired. The new men by mistake
went to Claremont all in their Court costume, whereas the Queen at Windsor
and Claremont receives her Ministers in their usual morning dress.
Nonnanby says taking leave of the Queen was very affecting."

Whatever momentary awkwardness may have attended the substitution of Sir
Robert Peel as Prime Minister, it did not at all interfere--thanks to the
candid, liberal nature of all concerned--with the friendly goodwill which
it is so desirable should exist between sovereign and minister. We read in
the "Life of the Prince Consort," "Lord Melbourne told Baron Stockmar, who
had just returned from Coburg, that Sir Robert Peel had behaved most
handsomely, and that the conduct of the Prince had throughout been most
moderate and judicious."

Sir Robert had experienced considerable embarrassment at the recollection
of his share in the debates on the Royal Annuity Bill, but the Prince did
not show an equally retentive memory. His seeming forgetfulness of the
past and cordiality in the present did more than reassure, it deeply
touched and completely won a man who was himself capable of magnanimous
self-renunciation.

Sir Robert Peel had the pleasure, in his early days in office, of
suggesting to the Prince the Royal Commission to promote and encourage the
fine arts in the United Kingdom, with reference to the rebuilding of the
two Houses of Parliament. Sir Robert proposed that Prince Albert should be
placed at the head of the Commission. This was not only a movement after
the Prince's own heart, on which he spared no thought and labour for years
to come, it was an act in which Prince and Minister--both of them lovers
of art--could co-operate with the greatest satisfaction.





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Previous: Royal Occupations An Attempt On The Queen's Life



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