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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