The Betrothal

The Queen's remaining unmarried was becoming the source of innumerable

disturbing rumours and private intrigues for the bestowal of her hand. To

show the extent to which the public discussed the question in every light,

a serious publication like the Annual Register found space in its

pages for a ponderous joke on the subject which was employing all tongues.

Its chronicle professes to report an interview between her Majesty the

Queen and Lord Melbourne, in which the Premier gravely represents to his

sovereign the advisability of her marriage, and ventures to press her to

say whether there is any man for whom she might entertain a preference. Her

Majesty condescends to acknowledge there is one man for whom she could

conceive a regard. His name is "Arthur, Duke of Wellington."

Altogether, King Leopold was warranted in renewing his efforts to

accomplish the union which would best secure the happiness of his niece and

the welfare of a kingdom. He adopted a simple, and at the same time, a

masterly line of policy. He sent the Prince, whose majority had been

celebrated along with his brother's a few months before, over again to

England in the autumn of 1839; Prince Ernest of Saxe-Coburg went once more

with Prince Albert, in order to show that this was not a bridegroom come to

plead his suit in person; this was a mere cousinly visit of which nothing

need come. Indeed, the good king rather overdid his caution, for it seems

he led the Prince to believe that the earlier tacit understanding between

him and his cousin had come to an end, so that Prince Albert arrived more

resolved to relinquish his claims than to urge his rights. In his honest

pride there was hardly room for the thought of binding more closely and

indissolubly the silken cord of love, which had got loosened and warped in

the course of the three years since the pair had parted--a long interval at

the age of twenty. All the same, one of the most notably and deservedly

attractive young men of his generation was to be brought for the second

time, without the compulsory strain of an ulterior motive--declared or

unjustifiably implied--into new contact with a royal maiden, whom a

qualified judge described as possessing "a keen and quick apprehension,

being straightforward, singularly pure-hearted, and free from all vanity

and pretension." In the estimation of this sagacious well-wisher, she was

fitted beforehand "to do ample justice both to the head and heart of the


It was at half-past seven on the evening of Thursday, the 10th of October,

that the princely brothers entered again on the scene, no longer young lads

under the guidance of their father, come to make the acquaintance of a

girl-princess, their cousin, who though she might be the heir to a mighty

kingdom, was still entirely under the wing of the Duchess, their aunt and

her mother, in the homely old Palace of Kensington. These were two young

men in the flower of their early manhood, who alighted in due form under

the gateway of one of the stateliest of castles that could ever have

visited their dreams, and found a young Queen as well as a kinswoman

standing first among her ladies, awaiting them at the top of the grand

staircase. However cordial and affectionate, and like herself, she might

be, it had become her part, and she played it well, to take the initiative,

to give directions instead of receiving them, to command where she had

obeyed. It was she, and not the mother she loved and honoured, who was the

mistress of this castle; and it was for her to come forward, welcome her

guests, and graciously conduct them to the Duchess.

King Leopold had furnished the brothers with credentials in the shape of a

letter, recommending them, in studiously moderate terms, as "good, honest

creatures," deserving her kindness, "not pedantic, but really sensible and

trustworthy," whom he had told that her great wish was they should be at

ease with her.

Both of these simply summed-up guests were fine young men, tall, manly,

intelligent, and accomplished. Prince Albert was very handsome and winning,

as all his contemporaries must remember him, with a mixture of thought and

gentleness in his broad forehead, deep-blue eyes, and sweet smile.

The first incident of the visit was a trifle disconcerting, but not more so

than happy, privileged people may be permitted to surmount with a laughing

apology; even to draw additional light-hearted jests from the misadventure.

The baggage of the Princes by some chance was not forthcoming; they could

not appear at a Court dinner in their morning dress, but etiquette was

relaxed for the strangers to the extent that later in the evening they

joined the circle, which included Lord Melbourne, Lord Clanricarde, Lord

and Lady Granville, Baron Brunnow and Lord Normanby, as visitors at Windsor

at the time. The pleasant old courtier, Lord Melbourne, immediately told

the Queen that he was struck with the resemblance between Prince Albert and


"The way of life at Windsor during the stay of the Princes was much as

follows:--the Queen breakfasting at this time in her own room, they

afterwards paid her a visit there; and at two o'clock had luncheon with her

and the Duchess of Kent. In the afternoon they all rode--the Queen and

Duchess and the two Princes, with Lord Melbourne and most of the ladies and

gentlemen in attendance, forming a large cavalcade. There was a great

dinner every evening, with a dance after it, three times a week."

[Footnote: "Early Years of the Prince Consort."] Surely an ideal palace

life for the young--born to the Stately conditions, bright with all the

freshness of body and sparkle of spirit, unexhausted, undimmed by years and

care. Surely a fair field for true love to cast off its wilful shackles,

and be rid of its half-cherished misunderstandings, to assert itself master

of the situation. And so in five days, while King Leopold was still writing

wary recommendations and temperate praise, the prize which had been deemed

lost was won, and the Queen who had foredoomed herself to years of maidenly

toying with happiness and fruitless waiting, was ready to announce her

speedy marriage, with loyal satisfaction and innocent fearlessness, to her

servants in council.

At the time, and for long afterwards, there were many wonderful little

stories, doubtless fanciful enough, but all taking colour from the one

charming fact of the royal lovers. How the Queen, whose place it was to

choose, had with maidenly grace made known her worthy choice at one of

these palace "dances," in which she had waltzed with her Prince, and

subsided from the liege lady into the loving woman. She had presented him

with her bouquet in a most marked and significant manner. He had accepted

it with the fullest and most becoming sense of the distinction conferred

upon him, and had sought to bestow her token in a manner which should prove

his devotion and gratitude. But his tight-fitting foreign uniform had

threatened to baffle his desire, till, in the exigency of the moment, he

took out a pocket-knife (or was it his sword from its sheath?) and cut a

slit in the breast of his coat on the left side, over the heart, where he

put the flowers. Was this at the end of that second day after the brothers'

arrival, on which, as the Prince mentions, in detailing to a friend the

turn of the tide, "the most friendly demonstrations were directed towards


On the 14th of October, the Queen told her fatherly adviser, Lord

Melbourne, that she had made her choice; at which he expressed great

satisfaction, and said to her (as her Majesty has stated in one of the

published portions of 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;" adding, in quite a paternal tone, "you will be much more

comfortable, for a woman cannot stand alone for any time in whatever

position she may be."

In the circumstances, the ordinary role was of necessity strangely

reversed, and the ordeal of the declaration fell to the maiden and not to

the young man. But the trial could not have come to a better pair. Innate

good sense and dignity, and single-hearted affection on the one hand, and

manly, delicate-minded tenderness on the other, made all things possible,

nay, easy. An intimation was conveyed to the Prince through an old friend,

who was in the suite of the brothers on this visit to England, Baron

Alvensleben, Master of the Horse to the Duke of Coburg, that the Queen

wished to speak to Prince Albert next day. Doubtless, the formality and

comparative length of the invitation had its significant importance to the

receiver of the message, and brought with it a tumult and thrill of

anticipation. But he was called on to show that he had outgrown youthful

impetuosity and impatience, and to prove himself worthy of trust and honour

by perfect self-restraint and composure. So far as the world knows, he

awaited his lady's will without a sign of restlessness or disturbance. If

blissful dreams drove away sleep from the pillows on which two young heads

rested in Royal Windsor that night, none save the couple needed to know of

it. It was not by any means the first time that queenly and princely heads

had courted oblivion in vain beneath the tower of St. George, and under the

banner of England, but never in more natural, lawful, happy wakefulness.

On the morning of the 15th, behaving himself as if nothing had happened, or

was going to happen, according to the code of Saxon Englishmen, Prince

Albert went out early, hunting with his brother, but came back by noon, and

"half an hour afterwards obeyed the Queen's summons to her room, where he

found her alone. After a few minutes' conversation on other subjects, the

Queen told him why she had sent for him."

The Prince wrote afterwards to the oldest of his relations: "The Queen sent

for me alone to her room a few days ago, and declared to me, in a genuine

outburst of love and affection, that I had gained her whole heart, and

would make her intensely happy if I would make her the sacrifice of sharing

her life with her, for she said she looked on it as a sacrifice; the only

thing that troubled her was, that she did not think she was worthy of me.

The joyous openness of manner with which she told me this quite enchanted

me, and I was quite carried away by it."

"The Prince answered by the warmest demonstration of kindness and


The affair had been settled by love itself in less time than it has taken

to tell it.

There is an entry in her Majesty's Journal of this date, which she has,

with noble and tender confidence, in the best feelings of humanity,

permitted her people to read.

"How I will strive to make him feel, as little as possible, the great

sacrifices he has made! I told him it was a great sacrifice on his

part, but he would not allow it."

This record has been enthusiastically dwelt upon for its thorough

womanliness; and so it is truly womanly, royally womanly. But it seems to

us that less weight has been put on the fine sympathetic intuition of the

Queen which enabled her to look beyond herself, beyond mere outward

appearance and worldly advantages, and see the fact of the sacrifice on the

part of such a man as Prince Albert, which he made with all his heart,

cheerfully, refusing so much as to acknowledge it, for her dear sake. For

the Queen was wisely right, and the Prince lovingly wrong. He not only gave

back in full measure what he got, but, looking at the contract in the light

of the knowledge which the Queen has granted to us of a rare nature, we

recognise that for such a man--so simple, noble, purely scholarly and

artistic; so capable of undying attachment; so fond of peaceful household

charities and the quiet of domestic life; so indifferent to pomp and show;

so wearied and worried in his patience by formality, parade, and the vulgar

strife and noise, glare and blare of the lower, commoner ambitions--it

was a sacrifice to forsake his fatherland, his father's house, the

brother whom he loved as his own soul, the plain living and high thinking,

healthful early hours and refined leisure--busy enough in good thoughts and

deeds--of Germany, for the great shackled responsibility which should rest

on the Queen's husband, for the artificial, crowded, high-pressure life of

an England which did not know him, did not understand him, for many a day.

If Baron Stockmar was right, that the physical constitution of the Prince

in his youth rendered strain and effort unwelcome, and that he was rather

deficient in interest in the ordinary work of the world, and in the broad

questions which concern the welfare of men and nations, than overendowed

with a passion for mastering and controlling them, then the sacrifice was

all the greater.

But he made it, led by what was, in him, an overruling sense of right, and

by the sweetest compelling motive, for highest duty and for her his Queen.

Having put his hand to the plough he never looked back. What his hand found

to do, that he did with all his might, and he became one of the hardest

workers of his age. In seeing what he resigned, we also see that the

fullness of his life was rendered complete by the resignation. He was

called to do a grand, costly service, and he did well, at whatever price,

to obey the call. Without the sacrifice his life would have been less

honourable as an example, less full, less perfect, and so, in the end, less


When the troth was plighted, the Queen adds, "I then told him to fetch

Ernest, who congratulated us both and seemed very happy. He told me how

perfect his brother was."

There were other kind friends to rejoice in the best solution of the

problem and settlement of the vexed question. The good mother and aunt, the

Duchess of Kent, rendered as secure as mortal mother could be of the future

contentment and prosperity of her child; the attached kinsman beyond the

Channel; the father of the bridegroom; his female relations; trusty Baron

Stockmar; an early comrade, were all to be told and made happy, and in some

cases sorry also, for the promotion of Prince Albert to be the Queen's

husband meant exile from Germany.

The passages given from the Queen's and Prince's letters to King Leopold

and Baron Stockmar are not only very characteristic, the words express what

those who loved the writers best would have most wished them to say. The

respective utterances are radiant with delight softened by the modest, firm

resolves, the humble hearty conscientiousness which made the proposed

marriage so auspicious of all it was destined to prove.

The King of the Belgians was still in a state of doubt, writing his earnest

but studiously measured praise of his nephews to the Queen. "I am sure you

will like them the more, the longer you see them. They are young men of

merit, and without that puppy-like affectation which is so often found with

young gentlemen of rank; and though remarkably well informed, they are very

free from pedantry.

"Albert is a very agreeable companion. His manners are so quiet and

harmonious that one likes to have him near one's self. I always found him

so when I had him with me, and I think his travels have still improved

him. He is full of talent and fun, and draws cleverly."

At last there is a plainer insinuation. "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...."

On the very day this letter was written, the Queen was addressing her

uncle. "My dearest uncle, this letter will I am sure give you pleasure, for

you have always shown and taken so warm an interest in all that concerns

me. My mind is quite made up, and I told Albert this morning of it. The

warm affection he showed me on learning this, gave me great pleasure. He

seems perfection, and I think I have the prospect of very great happiness

before me. I love him more than I can say, and shall do everything in my

power to render this sacrifice (for such is my opinion it is) as small as I

can.... 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 towards 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."

The King's reply from Wiesbaden is like the man, and is pathetic in the

depth of its gratification. "My dearest Victoria, nothing could have given

me greater pleasure than your dear letter. I had, when I learnt 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 Prince Albert's letter to Baron Stockmar, written without delay, as he

says, "on one of the happiest days of my life to give you the most welcome

news possible," he goes on to declare that he is often at a loss to believe

that such affection should be shown to him. He quotes as applicable to

himself from Schiller's "Song of the Bell," of which the Prince was very


Das Auge sieht den Himmel offen,

Es schwimmt das Herz in seligkeit.

The passage from which these lines are taken is the very beautiful one thus

rendered in English by the late Lord Lytton:--

And, lo! as some sweet vision breaks

Out from its native morning skies,

With rosy shame on downcast cheeks,

The virgin stands before his eyes:

A nameless longing seizes him!

From all his wild companions flown;

Tears, strange till then, his eyes bedim,

He wanders all alone.

Blushing he glides where'er she moves,

Her greeting can transport him;

To every mead to deck his love,

The happy wild-flowers court him.

Sweet hope--and tender longing--ye

The growth of life's first age of gold,

When the heart, swelling, seems to see

The gates of heaven unfold.

Oh, were it ever green! oh, stay!

Linger, young Love, Life's blooming may.

In a later letter to Stockmar the Prince writes: "An individuality, a

character which shall win the respect, the love, and the confidence of the

Queen and of the nation, must be the groundwork of my position.... If

therefore I prove a 'noble' Prince in the true sense of the word, as you

call upon me to be, wise and prudent conduct will become easier to me, and

its results more rich in blessings;" and to his stepmother he makes the

thoughtful comment, "With the exception of my relation to her (the Queen),

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 powers and endeavours for an object so

great as that of promoting the good of so many will surely be sufficient to

support me."

The brothers remained at Windsor for a happy month, [Footnote: Lady

Bloomfield describes a beautiful emerald serpent ring which the Prince gave

the Queen when they were engaged.] when the royal lovers saw much of each

other, and as a matter of course often discussed the future, particularly

with reference to the Prince's position in his new country, and what his

title was to be. One can easily fancy how interesting and engrossing such

talks would become, especially when they were enlivened by the bright

humour, and controlled by the singular unselfishness, of the object of so

many hopes and plans. It was already blustering wintry weather, but there

was little room to feel the depressing influence of the grey cloudy sky or

the chill of the shrilly whistling wind and driving rain. Prince Ernest had

the misfortune to suffer from an attack of jaundice, but it was a passing

evil, sure to be lightened by ample sympathy, and it did not prevent the

friend of the bridegroom from rejoicing greatly at the sound of the

bridegroom's voice.

Perhaps the fact that a form of secrecy had to be kept up till her Majesty

should announce her marriage to the Council only added an additional

piquant flavour to the general satisfaction. But this did not cause the

Queen to fail in confidence towards the members of her family, for she

wrote herself to the Queen-dowager and to the rest of her kindred

announcing her intended marriage, and receiving their congratulations.

On the 2nd of November there was a review of the battalion of the Rifle

Brigade quartered at Windsor under Colonel, afterwards Sir George Brown, of

Crimean fame, in the Home Park. The Queen was present, accompanied by

Prince Albert, in the green uniform of the Coburg troops. What a picture,

full of joyful content, independent of all accidents of weather, survives

of the scene! "At ten minutes to twelve I set off in my Windsor uniform and

cap (already described) on my old charger 'Leopold,' with my beloved Albert

looking so handsome in his uniform on my right, and Sir John Macdonald, the

Adjutant-General, on my left, Colonel Grey and Colonel Wemyss preceding me,

a guard of honour, my other gentlemen, my cousin's gentlemen, Lady Caroline

Barrington, &c., for the ground.

"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. We cantered home again, and went in to show ourselves to.

poor Ernest, who had seen all from a window."

The Princes left Windsor on the 14th of November, visiting the King of the

Belgians on their way home, so that King Leopold could write to his niece,

"I find them looking well, particularly Albert. It proves that happiness is

an excellent remedy to keep people in better health than any other. He is

much attached to you, and modest when speaking of you. He is besides in

great spirits, full of gaiety and fun."

The bridegroom also sent kind words to his aunt and future mother-in-law,

as well as tender words to his cousin and bride. "Dearest aunt, a thousand

thanks for your two kind letters just received. I see from them that you

are in close sympathy with your nephew--your son-in-law soon to be--which

gratifies me very, very much.... What you say about my poor little bride

sitting all alone in her room, silent and sad, has touched me to the heart.

Oh, that I might fly to her side to cheer her!"

"For 'the poor little bride' there was no lack of those sweet words,

touched with the grateful humility of a manly love, to receive which was a

precious foretaste to her of the happiness of the years to come." "That I

am the object of so much love and devotion often comes over me as something

I can hardly realise," wrote the Prince. "My prevailing feeling is, What am

I that such happiness should be mine? For excess of happiness it is to me

to know that I am so dear to you." Again, in referring to his grandmother's

regret at his departure he added, "Still she hopes, what I am convinced

will be the case, that I may find in you, my dear Victoria, all the

happiness I could possibly desire. And so I SHALL, I can truly tell her for

her comfort." And once more he wrote from "dear old Coburg," brimming over

with loyal joy, "How often are my thoughts with you! The hours I was

privileged to pass with you in your dear little room are the radiant points

of my life, and I cannot even yet clearly picture to myself that I am to be

indeed so happy as to be always near you, always your protector." Last and

most touching assurance of all, touching as it was solemn, when he

mentioned to the Queen that in an hour he was to take the sacrament in

church at Coburg, and went on, "God will not take it amiss, if in that

serious act, even at the altar, I think of you, for I will pray to Him for

you and for your soul's health, and He will not refuse us His blessing."

In the meantime there was much to do in England. On the 20th of November

the Queen, with the Duchess of Kent, left Windsor for Buckingham Palace. On

the 23rd, the Council assembled there in the Bow-room on the ground floor.

The ceremony of declaring her proposed marriage was a mere form, but a very

trying form to a young and modest woman called to face alone a gathering of

eighty-three elderly gentlemen, and to make to them the announcement which

concerned herself so nearly. Of the Privy Councillors some, like the Duke

of Wellington, had known the Queen all her life, some had only served her

since she came to the throne, but all were accustomed to discuss very

different matters with her. How difficult the task was to the Queen we may

judge from the significant note. The Queen always wore a bracelet with the

Prince's picture, "and it seemed," she wrote in her Journal, "to give me

courage at the Council." Her own further account of the scene is as

follows: "Precisely at two I went in. The room was full, but I hardly knew

who was there. Lord Melbourne I saw looking kindly at me with tears in his

eyes, but he was not near me. I then read my short declaration. I felt my

hands shook, but I did not make one mistake. I felt most happy and thankful

when it was over. Lord Lansdowne then rose, and in the name of the Privy

Council asked that this most gracious and most welcome communication might

be printed. I then left the room, the whole thing not lasting above two or

three minutes. The Duke of Cambridge came into the small library where I

was standing and wished me joy."

The Queen's declaration was to this effect: "I have caused you to be

summoned at the present time in order that I may acquaint you with my

resolution in a matter which deeply concerns the welfare of my people and

the happiness of my future life.

"It is my intention to ally myself in marriage with the Prince Albert of

Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Deeply impressed with the solemnity of the

engagement which I am about to contract, I have not come to this decision

without mature consideration, nor without feeling a strong assurance that,

with the blessing of Almighty God, it will at once secure my domestic

felicity and serve the interests of my country.

"I have thought fit to make this resolution known to you at the earliest

period, in order that you may be apprised of a matter so highly important

to me and to my kingdom, and which, I persuade myself, will be most

acceptable to all my loving subjects."

The Queen returned to Windsor with the Duchess of Kent the same evening.

On the 16th of January, 1840, the Queen opened Parliament in person, and

made a similar statement. "Since you were last assembled I have declared my

intention of allying myself in marriage with the Prince Albert of

Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. I humbly implore that the Divine blessing may

prosper this union, and render it conducive to the interests of my people

as well as to my own domestic happiness, and it will be to me a source of

the most lively satisfaction to find the resolution I have taken approved

by my Parliament. The constant proofs which I have received of your

attachment to my person and family persuade me that you will enable me to

provide for such an establishment as may appear suitable to the rank of the

Prince and the dignity of the Crown."

To see and hear the young Queen, still only in her twenty-first year, when

she went to tell her people of her purpose, multitudes lined the streets

and cheered her on her way that wintry day, and every seat in the House

"was filled with the noblest and fairest of the land" ready to give her

quieter but not less heartfelt support. It is no mere courtly compliment to

say that Queen Victoria's marriage afforded the greatest satisfaction to

the nation at large. Not only was it a very desirable measure on political

grounds, but it appealed to the far deeper and wider feelings of humanity.

It had that touch of nature which makes the whole world kin. Sir Robert

Peel's words, when he claimed the right of the Opposition to join with the

Government in its felicitations to both sovereign and country, were not

required to convince the people that their Queen was not only making a

suitable alliance, but was marrying "for love," according to the oldest,

wisest, best plan. They knew the glad truth as if by instinct, and how

heartily high and low entered into her happiness and wished her joy! It is

said there is one spectacle which, whether the spectators own it or not,

hardly ever palls entirely even on the most hardened and worldly, the most

weary and wayworn, the poorest and most wretched--perhaps, least of all on

the last. It is a bridegroom rejoicing to leave his chamber, and a bride

blushing in her sweet bliss. There are after all only three great events in

human history which, projected forward or reflected backward, colour all

the rest--birth, marriage, and death. The most sordid or sullen population

will collect in knots, brighten a little, forget hard fate or mortal wrongs

for a moment, in the interest of seeing a wedding company go by. The

surliest, the most whining of the onlookers will spare a little relenting,

a happier thought, for "two lunatics," "a couple of young fools whose eyes

will soon be opened," "a pore delooded lad," "a soft silly of a gal;" who

are still so enviable in their brief bright day.

What was it then to know of a pair of royal lovers--a great Queen and her

chosen Prince--well mated! It softened all hearts, it made the old young

again, with a renewing breath of late romance and tenderness. And, oh! how

the young, who are old now, gloried in that ideal marriage! What tales they

told of it, what wonderful fancies they had about it! How it knit the

hearts of the Queen and her subjects together more strongly than anything

else save common sorrow could do! for when it comes to that, sorrow is more

universal than joy, sinks deeper, and in this world lasts longer.

Indeed, at this stage, as at every other, it was soon necessary to descend

from heaven to earth; and for the royal couple, as for the meanest of the

people, there were difficulties in connection with the arrangements,

troubles that proved both perplexing and vexatious. It may be said here

that the times were not very propitious for asking even the most just and

reasonable Parliamentary grants. The usual recurring sufferings from

insufficient harvests and from stagnation of trade were depressing the mind

of the country. Parliament was called on to act on the occasion of the

Queen's marriage, and the House was not only divided into two hostile

parties, the hostility had been envenomed by recent contretemps,

notably that which prevented Sir Robert Peel and the Tories from taking

office and kept in the Whig Government. The unpalatable fruits of the

embroilment had to be eaten and digested at the present crisis. Accordingly

there were carping faultfinding, and resistance--even defeat--on every

measure concerning the Prince brought before the Lords and Commons.

The accusation of disloyal retaliation was made against the Tories. On the

other hand the Whigs in power showed such a defiant attitude, in the

absence of any attempt to conciliate their antagonists, even when the

welfare of the Government's motions, and the interests and feelings of the

Queen and the Prince demanded the first consideration, that Lord

Melbourne's party were suspected of a crafty determination to let matters

take their course for the express purpose of prejudicing Prince Albert

against the Tories, and alienating him from them in the very beginning.

Lord Melbourne at least did not deserve this accusation. Whatever share he

had in the injudicious attitude of the Government, or in the blunders it

committed, must be attributed to the sort of high-handed carelessness which

distinguished the man. His singular fairness in the business is thus

recorded by Baron Stockmar. "As I was leaving the Palace, I met Melbourne

on the staircase. He took me aside and used the following remarkable and

true words, strongly characteristic of his great impartiality: 'The Prince

will doubtless be very much irritated against the Tories. But it is not the

Tories alone whom the Prince has to thank for the curtailment of his

appanage. It is the Tories, the Radicals, and a good many of our own

people.' I pressed his hand in approbation of his remarkable frankness.

I said, 'There's an honest man! I hope you will yourself say that to the

Prince.'" [Footnote: Lord Melbourne and Baron Stockmar were always on

excellent terms. At the same time the English Prime Minister was not

without a little jealousy of any suspicion of his Government being dictated

to by King Leopold.]

Umbrage was taken by the Duke of Wellington at no mention being made of

Prince Albert's Protestantism on the notification of the marriage. With

regard to the income and position to be secured to the Prince, the nearest

precedent which could be found to guide the discussion was that of Prince

George of Denmark, husband to Queen Anne. It was halting in many respects,

such as the fact that he had married the Princess long before she was

Queen, nay, while her succession to the throne was problematical. Besides,

his character and position in the country were only respectable for their

harmlessness, and did not recommend him by way of example of any kind,

either to Queen or people. Statesmen turned rather to the settlement and

dignity accorded to Prince Leopold, when he married Princess Charlotte; but

neither was that quite a case in point. The fittest reference, so far as

income was concerned, seemed to be to the private purses allowed to the

Queen Consorts of the reigning sovereigns of England. To the three last

Queens--Caroline, Charlotte, and Adelaide, the sum of fifty thousand

pounds a year had been granted. This also was the annuity settled on

Prince Leopold. Therefore fifty thousand was the amount confidently asked

by the Government.

After a good deal of wrangling and angry debate, in which, however, the

Queen's name was studiously respected, she and the Prince had the

mortification to learn that the country, by its representatives, had

refused the usual allowance, and voted only thirty thousand a year to the

Queen's husband.

The same ill-fortune attended an attempt to introduce into the bill for the

naturalisation of the Prince, before the House of Lords, a clause which

should secure his taking precedence of all save the Queen. The Duke of

Sussex opposed the clause, in the interest of the King of Hanover, and so

many jealous objections were urged that it was judged better to let the

provision drop than risk a defeat in the House of Lords similar to that in

the House of Commons. The awkward alternative remained that Prince Albert's

position, so far as it had to do with the Lord Chamberlain and the Heralds'

Office, was left undecided and ambiguous. It was only by the issue of

letters patent on the Queen's part, at a later date, that any certainty on

this point could be attained even in England.

The formation of the Prince's household, which one would think might have

been left to his own good feeling and discretion, or at least to the

Queen's judgment in acting for him, proved another bone of contention

calling forth many applications and implied claims.

Baron Stockmar came to England in January, to see to this important element

in the Prince's independence and comfort, as well as to the signing of the

marriage contract. But in spite of the able representative, the Prince's

written wishes, judicious and liberal-minded as might have been expected,

and the Queen's desire to carry them out, at least one of the offices was

filled up in a manner which caused Prince Albert anxiety and pain. The

gentleman who had been private secretary to Lord Melbourne was appointed

private secretary to the Prince, without regard to the circumstance that

the step would appear compromising in Tory eyes--the very result which

Prince Albert had striven to avoid, and that the official would be forced,

as it were, on the Prince's intimacy without such previous acquaintance as

might have justified confidence. It was only the sterling qualities of both

Prince and secretary which obviated the natural consequences of such an

ill-judged proceeding, and ended by producing the genuine liking and honest

friendship which ought to have preceded the connection. The grudging,

suspicions, selfish spirit thus manifested on all hands, was liable to

wound the Queen in the tenderest point, and the disappointment came upon

her with a shock, since she had been rashly assured by Lord Melbourne that

there would be no difficulty either as regarded income or precedence. The

indications were not encouraging to the stranger thus met on the threshold.

But his mission was to disarm adverse criticism, to shame want of

confidence and pettiness of jealousy, to confer benefits totally

irrespective of the spirit in which they might be taken. And even by the

irritated party-men as well as by the body of the people, the Prince was to

be well received for the Queen's sake, with his merits taken for granted,

so far as that went, since the heart of the country was all right, though

its Whig and Tory temper might be at fault.

On the 10th of January, 1840, a death instead of a marriage took place in

the royal family, but it was that of an aged member long expatriated.

Princess Elizabeth, Landgravine of Hesse Homburg, died at Frankfort. It was

twenty-two years since she had married and quitted England, shortly before

the old Queen's death, a year before the birth of Queen Victoria. The

Landgravine had returned once, a widow of sixty-four, and then had gone

back to her adopted country. She had survived her husband eleven years, and

her sister, resident like herself in Germany, the Princess Royal, Queen of

Wurtemberg, twelve years. The Landgravine as Princess Elizabeth showed

artistic talent. She was famous in her middle age for her great

embonpoint; as she was also tall she waxed enormous. Baroness

Bunsen, when Miss Waddington, saw Princess Elizabeth, while she was still

unmarried, dressed for a Drawing-room, with five or six yellow feathers

towering above her head, and refers to her huge dimensions then. It was

alleged afterwards that it required a chain of her husband's faithful

subjects in Homburg to encompass his consort. She accommodated herself

wonderfully, though she was an elderly woman before she had ever been out

of England, to the curious quaint mixture of State and homeliness in the

little German town in which she was held in much respect and regard. The

Landgravine was seventy years of age at the time of her death. After her

widowhood she resided in Hanover, where her brother, King William, gave her

a palace, and then at Frankfort, where she died. Out of her English income

of ten thousand a year, it was said she spared six thousand for the needs

of Hesse Homburg. Its castle and English garden still retain memories of

the English princess who made her quiet home there and loved the place.

The marriage of the Queen was fixed for the 10th of February, and many

eager, aspiring young couples throughout the country elected that it should

be their wedding-day, also. They wished that the gala of their lives should

fit in with hers, and that all future "happy returns of the day" might have

a well-known date to go by, and a State celebration to do them honour.

Lord Torrington and Colonel--afterwards General--Grey set out for Gotha to

escort the bridegroom to England. They carried with them the Order of the

Garter, with which Prince Albert was invested by his father, himself a

Knight of the Order, amidst much ceremony.

All the world knows that the Order of the Garter is the highest knightly

order of England, dating back to the time of Edward III., and associated

by a gay and gallant tradition with the beautiful Countess of Salisbury.

The first Chapter of the Order was held in 1340, when twenty-five knights,

headed by the King, walked in solemn procession to St. George's Chapel,

founded for their use, and for the maintenance of poor knightly brethren to

pray for the souls of the Knights-Companions--hence "the Poor Knights of

Windsor." The first Knights-Companions dedicated their arms to God and St.

George, and held a high festival and tournament in commemoration of the act

in presence of Queen Philippa and her ladies. The habit of the knights was

always distinguished by its colour, blue. Various details were added at

different times by different kings. Henry VIII. gave the collar and the

greater and lesser medallions of St. George slaying the dragon. Charles

II. introduced the blue riband. It is scarcely necessary to say that the

full dress of the knights is very magnificent. "There are the blue velvet

mantle, with its dignified sweep, the hood of crimson velvet, the heron and

ostrich-plumed cap, the gold medallion, the blazing star, the gold-lettered

garter, to all which may be added the accessories that rank and wealth have

it in their power to display; as, for example, the diamonds worn by the

Marquis of Westminster, at a recent installation, on his sword and badge

alone were Worth the price of a small kingdom; or richer still her present

Majesty's jewels, that seem to have been showered by some Eastern fairy

over her habit of the Order, among, which the most beautiful and striking

feature is, perhaps, the ruby cross in the centre of the dazzling star of

St. George." [Footnote: Knight's "Old England."]

The whole court of Gotha was assembled to see Prince Albert get the Garter;

a hundred and one guns were fired to commemorate the auspicious occasion.

The younger Perthes, under whom the Prince had studied at Bonn, wrote of

the event, "The Grand-ducal papa bound the Garter round his boy's knee

amidst the roar of a hundred and one cannon" (the attaching of the Garter,

however, was done, not by Prince Albert's father, but by the Queen's

brother, the Prince of Leiningen, another Knight of the Order). "The

earnestness and gravity with which the Prince has obeyed this early call to

take a European position, give him dignity and standing in spite of his

youth, and increase the charm of his whole aspect."

The investiture was followed by a grand dinner, when the Duke proposed the

Queen's health, which was drunk by all the company standing, accompanied by

several distinct flourishes of trumpets, the band playing "God save the

Queen," and the artillery outside firing a royal salute. Already the Prince

had written to the Queen, when the marriage was officially declared at

Coburg, that the day had affected him very much, so many emotions had

filled his heart. Her health had been drunk at dinner "with a tempest of

huzzas." The joy of the people had been so great that they had gone on

firing in the streets, with guns and pistols, during the whole night, so

that one might have imagined a battle was going on. This was a repetition

of that earlier festival, only rendered more emphatic and with a touch of

pathos added to it by the impending departure of Prince Albert, to lay hold

of his high destiny. The leave-takings were earnest and prolonged, with

many pretty slightly fantastic German ceremonies, and must have been hard

upon a man whose affections were so tender and tenacious. Especially

painful was the farewell to his mother's mother, the Dowager Duchess of

Gotha, who had partly reared the princely lad. She was much attached to

him, and naturally saw him go with little hope of their meeting again in

this world.

The Prince was accompanied by his father and brother, with various friends

in their train, who, after the celebration of the marriage, were to return

to Germany. But Prince Albert carried with him--to remain in his near

neighbourhood--two old allies, whose familiar faces would be doubly welcome

in a foreign country. The one was his Swiss valet, Cart, a faithful,

devoted servant, "the best of nurses," who, had waited on his master since

the latter was a boy of seven years of age. The other was the beautiful

greyhound, Eos, jet black with the exception of a narrow white streak on

the nose and a white foot. Her master had got her as a puppy of six weeks

old, when he was a boy in his fourteenth year, and had trained the loving,

graceful creature in all imaginable canine, sagacity and cleverness. She

had been the constant companion of his youth. She had already come to

England with him, on the decisive visit of the previous autumn, and was

known and dear to his royal mistress.

It was severe wintry weather when the great cavalcade, in eight travelling

carriages, set out for England, and took its way across Germany, Belgium,

and the north of France, to the coast The whole journey assumed much of the

character of a festive procession. At each halting-place crowds turned out

to do the princes honour. Every court and governing body welcomed them

with demonstrations of respect and rejoicing. But at Aix-la-Chapelle, in a

newspaper which he came across, Prince Albert read the debates and votes in

the Houses of Parliament that cut down the ordinary annuity of the English

sovereign's consort, and left unsettled the question of his position in the

country. The first disappointment told in two ways. Young and

sensitive--though he was also resolute and cheerful-minded--he had been a

little nervous beforehand about the reception which might be accorded to

him in England; he now received a painful impression that the marriage was

not popular with the people. He had indulged in generous dreams of the

assistance and encouragement which he would be able to bestow on men of

letters and artists, when he suddenly found his resources curtailed to

nearly half the amount he had been warranted in counting upon. However, at

Brussels, the next halting-place, in writing to the Queen, and frankly

admitting his mortification at the words and acts of the majority of the

members of both English Houses of Parliament, he could add with perfect

sincerity, "All I have time to say is, that while I possess your love they

cannot make me unhappy."

And King Leopold was there with his sensible, calming counsel, while Baron

Stockmar had been careful to have a letter awaiting the Prince, which

explained the undercurrent of political, not personal, motives that had

influenced the debates.

In fact, so far from being unpopular, the Prince, who was the Queen's

choice, was really the most acceptable of all her suitors in the eyes of

her people. The sole serious objection urged against him in those days was

that of his youth, a fault which was not only daily lessening, but was

speedily forgotten in the conviction of the manly and serious attention to

duty on his part which he quickly inspired.

On the 5th of February the party arrived at Calais. Lord Clarence Paget had

been sent over with the Firebrand to await their arrival, but the

usual difficulties of an adverse tide and an insufficient French harbour

presented themselves, and the company had to sail on the morning of the 6th

in one of the ordinary Dover packet-boats, under a strong gale from the

south-east, with a heavy sea, which rendered the horrors of the Channel

crossing, at the worst, what only those who have experienced them can


The Prince, like most natives of inland Germany, had been little inured to

sailing, and his constitution rendered him specially liable to

sea-sickness. As a lad of seventeen, facing the insidious and repulsive foe

for the first time, he had expressed his own and his brother's dread of the

unequal encounter. Now he was doomed to feel its ignoble clutch to the last

moment. "The Duke had gone below, and on either side of the cabin staircase

lay the two princes in an almost helpless state."

It was in such unpropitious circumstances that Prince Albert had to rise,

pull himself together, and bow his acknowledgements to the crowds on the

pier ready to greet him. Who that has rebelled against the calm

superiority of the comfortable; amused onlookers at the haggard, giddy

sufferers reeling on shore from the disastrous crossing of a stormy ferry,

cannot comprehend the ordeal!

The Prince surmounted it gallantly, anticipating the time when, at the call

of work or duty, he was known to rise to any effort, to shake off fatigue

and indisposition as if he had been the most muscular of giants, and to

make a brave fight to the last against deadly illness. He had his reward.

The raw inclement day, the disabling, discomfiting malady--which had

appeared in themselves a bad beginning, an inhospitable introduction to his

future life--the recent misgivings he had entertained, were all forgotten

in the enthusiastic reception he received before he put foot on land. A

kind heart responds readily to kindness, and the Prince felt, in spite of

parliamentary votes, the people were glad to see him, with an overflowing


It had been fixed that the Prince should not arrive at Buckingham Palace

till the 8th. Accordingly there was time for the much-needed rest and

refreshment, and for a leisurely conclusion of the long journey. The

travellers stayed that night at Dover, the next at Canterbury, the Prince

beginning the long list of fatiguing ceremonials which he was to undergo in

the days to come, by receiving addresses, holding a reception, and showing

himself on the balcony, as well as by the quieter, more congenial interlude

of attending afternoon service in Canterbury Cathedral with his brother.

The weather was still bad; pouring rain had set in, but it could not damp

the spirit of the holiday-makers. As for the hero of the holiday, he was

chafing, lover-like, at the formal delay which was all that interposed

between him and a blissful reunion. He wrote to the Queen before starting

for Canterbury, "Now I am once more in the same country with you. What a

delightful thought for me. It will be hard for me to have to wait till

to-morrow evening. Still, our long parting has flown by so quickly, and

to-morrow's dawn will soon be here.... Our reception has been most

satisfactory. There were thousands of people on the quays, and they saluted

pus with loud and uninterrupted cheers.".

From Canterbury Prince Albert sent on his valet, Cart, with the greyhound

Eos. "Little Dash," if Dash still lived, was to have a formidable rival,

and the Queen speaks in her Journal of the pleasure which the sight of

"dear Eos," the evening before the arrival of the Prince, gave her."

[Footnote: Early Years of the Prince Consort.] Words are not wanted to

picture the bright little scene, the light interruption to "affairs of the

State," always weighty, often harassing, the gay reaction, the hearty

unceremonious recognition on both sides, the warm welcome to the gentle

avant courier. This was not a great queen, but a gleeful girl at the

height of her happiness, who stroked with white taper hand the sleek black

head, looked eagerly into the fond eyes, perhaps went so far as to hug the

humble friend, stretching up fleet shapely paws, wildly wagging a slender

tail, uttering sharp little yelps of delight to greet her. What wealth of

cherished associations, of thrice happy realisation, the mere presence

there, once more of "only a dog," brought to the mistress of the palace,

the lady of the land!

On Saturday, the 8th of the month, Prince Albert proceeded to London, being

cordially greeted along the whole road by multitudes flocking from every

town and village to see him and shout their approval. At half-past four, in

the pale light of a February afternoon, the travellers arrived at

Buckingham Palace, "and were received at the hall door by the Queen and the

Duchess of Kent, attended by the whole household," to whom a worthy master

had come. The fullness of satisfaction and perfect joy of the meeting to

two in the company are sacred.

An hour after his arrival the oath of naturalisation was administered to

the Prince, "and the day ended with a great State dinner. Sunday was a rest

day. Divine service was performed by the Bishop of London in the Bow-room

on the ground floor--the same room in which the Queen had met her assembled

Council in the course of the previous November, and announced to them her

intended marriage. Afterwards the Prince drove out and paid the visits

required of him to the different members of the royal family. In spite of

the season and weather, throngs of Londoners surrounded the Palace, and

watched and cheered him as he went and came. That day the Queen and Prince

exchanged their wedding gifts. She gave him the star and badge of the

Garter and the Garter set in diamonds, and he gave her a sapphire and

diamond brooch.

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