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


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 Würtemburg (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.

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