IN the early years of the nineteenth century, frequenters of that part of London near the beautiful Kensington Palace and the still more beautiful gardens bearing its name, used to enjoy almost daily glimpses of a round-faced, red-cheeked child whose blue eyes were so bright with health and happiness that it was a pleasure to watch her. Sometimes the little girl was seen accompanied by a party of older persons, and riding a donkey with a gay harness of blue ribbons, and it was noticeable that she always had a merry greeting for those who spoke to her in passing. At other times she would be walking, with her hand holding tight the hand of a little playmate, or on other days she was wheeled in a small carriage over the gravel walks of the shady Gardens, followed by an older girl who would sometimes stop the carriage and let a stranger kiss the blue-eyed occupant of the carriage. On pleasant days this same little girl could frequently be seen in a simple white dress and big shade hat, watering the plants in the beds of Kensington Palace, and the blue-eyed child was no other than the Princess Victoria Alexandrina, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the child who was one day to become Queen of England.
In fancying one's self a Queen-to-be, there is never any place given to the prosaic duties of ordinary life, but Princess Victoria's child-life at Kensington was a very simple one such as any little girl with a sensible mother might have had.
At eight o'clock daily the Duchess had breakfast, and the Princess had hers at the same time, at a small table near her mother, then came an hour's drive or walk, and from ten to twelve lessons with the Duchess herself, after which Victoria amused herself in the suite of rooms which extended around the two sides of the palace, where she kept most of her toys. Then after a plain dinner came lessons again until four o'clock, after which came another walk or donkey ride in the Gardens, a simple supper, a romp with her nurse, whose name being Brock, Victoria called her "dear Boppy." In fact, so secluded a life did the young Princess lead that, except for those glimpses of her in the Gardens, she was almost unknown to all but intimate family friends; and King George the Fourth, called by Victoria her "Uncle King," sometimes expressed his displeasure that the child was not allowed to be present more often at his court. But the Duchess had her own ideas about that matter, and as they were not at all flattering to the court manners and customs of the day, she wisely continued to keep her little girl out of such an atmosphere, though in fear lest the King should carry out his threat of taking the child away from her, to bring her up in gloomy Windsor Castle, unless she was allowed to go there more often,—which threat his kingly power would allow him to carry out, if he so chose. But fortunately he never did as he threatened, and Victoria remained at Kensington with her mother, where with her half-sister and brother, the Princess Féodore and Prince Charles of Leiningen, the four formed a family group so loyal and so loving that nothing ever loosened the bond between them.
Although Victoria knew herself to be a Royal Highness, she was yet ignorant that some day she would be ruler of Great Britain, and she continued to do simple things as unconsciously as other girls might with a far different future. She was very enthusiastic over anything which took her fancy, and one day at a milliner's saw a hat which was exactly what she wanted. With eager enthusiasm she waited until it was trimmed, and then exclaimed, "Oh, I will take it with me!" and was soon seen hurrying towards Kensington with the precious hat in her hand. And this was a real flesh and blood Princess, heir to the throne of England!
The monotony of life at Kensington was broken by frequent trips to various parts of England, and visits to friends and relations, but the Duchess felt her responsibility to the English people in bringing up the future Queen, so keenly that she never took the risk of a trip to the continent with Victoria, because of the long journey and the change of climate. But the Princess thoroughly enjoyed what visits she did make, and evidently was an attractive guest, even as a child, for when she and her mother visited King George, her grandmother wrote to the Duchess: "The little monkey must have pleased and amused his Majesty. She is such a pretty, clever child!"
At another time when visiting at Wentworth House, Yorkshire, Victoria amused herself by running around the big garden with its tangle of shrubberies. One wet morning when the ground was very slippery, she ventured to run down a treacherous bit of ground from the terrace, and the gardener, who did not know who she was then, called out, "Be careful, Miss, it's slape!" a Yorkshire word for slippery. But the Princess had no intention of being stopped, so she merely turned her head as she ran, and asked, "What's slape?" As she spoke, her feet flew from under her and she came down with a thud. The gardener as he helped her to her feet said, "That's slape, Miss!"
At another time she rebelled against the hours of practise insisted on by her music teacher, who stood her ground firmly, saying that there was no royal road to art, that only by conscientious and continued practise could she become a musician, whereupon with a gleam of mischief in her blue eyes, Victoria jumped up, closed the piano, locked it, put the key in her pocket and remarked to the surprised teacher, "Now you see there is a royal way of becoming mistress of the piano!" This incident shows that she was by no means the young prig painted by so many historians, but a girl full of fire and spirit, merry, unaffected and with a keen delight in all sorts of girlish amusements and pranks.
At that time the education of young ladies was more superficial than that of poorer girls, but the future Queen was given a solid foundation of the heavier branches of learning, such as Latin, which she hated, history, law, politics and the British Constitution, and, too, she had many lighter studies, modern languages, painting and music, becoming a charming singer under the famous teacher-master, Lablache. She also danced well, rode well and excelled at archery. One day when she had been reading about Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi and how she proudly presented her sons to the much-bejewelled Roman matron, saying, "These are my jewels," the quick-witted Princess added, "She should have said, 'My Cornelians!'"
As a young girl Victoria was very pretty, then she went through a period of homeliness, at which time a children's ball was given at Windsor Castle by King George in honour of a little visitor, Donna Maria II da Gloria, the child-Queen of Portugal, who was extremely pretty and very handsomely dressed, with a ribbon and glittering Order over her shoulder, making little Victoria, in her simple dress and with her less brilliant appearance, look quite plain and unattractive—and not only was Donna Maria seated at the King's right hand, but he seemed greatly amused by her conversation. Then the dancing began, and Donna Maria did not show up so finely, for she was an awkward dancer and fell, hurting herself so severely that she refused to dance again, and left the ballroom, while Victoria, who was as light as thistle-down on her feet, is said to have remarked gaily as she danced on: "Well, if I'm not so handsome and grand and smartly dressed as that Maria, I'm less awkward. I was able to keep my head and not lose my feet!"
With each year Victoria grew more attractive looking, and one night she stood before her glass scanning herself critically, while her eyes shone and her heart beat fast with excitement, for she was going to her first Drawing-room, and was thrilled at the idea.
Having arrived at Windsor Castle with her mother and a number of ladies and gentlemen in State carriages, escorted by a party of Life Guards, Victoria stood at the left of her aunt, the queen, in a maze of delight, watching the gay Court pageant, quite unconscious that she herself was a centre of attraction, with her fair skin, her big blue eyes, and her air of healthy, happy girlhood. Her dress was of simple white tulle, but there was no more conspicuous figure in all that royal assemblage, than the young Princess.
Like King George, when William IV succeeded to the throne, he was jealous of any honours paid to the young Princess or her mother, and even objected to their little journeys, calling them, with a sneer, "Royal Progresses," and forbade the salutes given to the vessel which carried them back and forth from the Isle of Wight, to which petty jealousies the Duchess paid no heed, but continued to bring up her daughter as she thought fit; persevering in the "Progresses" which so annoyed the King, and all of his objections failed to make the Princess less than an object of intense interest and devotion to those people who would one day be her subjects.
Although she was still unconscious of the part she was to play in the history of the nation, the day was coming when she could no longer be kept ignorant of it. A bill was before Parliament called the Regency Bill, which named the Duchess of Kent as regent if the King should die before Victoria came of age, and she heard much conversation about the bill. The Duchess felt that the time had now come to tell her of the position which was to be hers in the future of England, and finally after a long talk with Baroness Lehzen, Victoria's old governess, the way of telling her was decided upon.
On the following day, when the Princess was busily reading a book of history, the Baroness slipped a genealogical table on the page which Victoria was reading. She glanced at the slip of paper with an exclamation of surprise, then read it carefully and looking up, said with a startled expression, "Why, I never saw that before!"
"It was not thought necessary that you should," replied the governess, and then there was a long silence. Then, after examining the paper again, the Princess glanced up and said with quaint solemnity, "I see I am nearer the throne than I supposed," adding, "Now many a child would boast, not knowing the difficulty. There is much splendour, but there is also much responsibility." Then placing her little hand in that of the Baroness, she said:
"Oh, I will be good! I understand now why you urged me so much to learn even Latin. You told me it was the foundation of English grammar, and all the elegant expressions, and I learned it as you wished it, but I understand all better now."
Then pressing the Baroness's hand again and looking solemnly into her eyes, she repeated, "I will be good!" and the Baroness felt a moisture rise in her eyes at the thought of what life might bring to challenge that vow.
The Princess was grave for a time after that day, then she grew accustomed to the new thought of her coming queendom, and was once more her gay, happy self, and there were three functions soon afterwards at which she appeared in all the joy of conscious power and happy girlhood.
On her thirteenth birthday the King and Queen gave a great ball in her honour, when she out-danced all the other girls, not because of her superior rank, but because of her grace and charm of manner. After the ball came a drawing-room when again the Princess had a glorious time, and another glimpse of her is at the Ascot races, when an American poet was thrilled to see her, with the Queen, leaning over the railing of the King's stand, both listening to a ballad-singer with as keen interest as though they had been simple country folk instead of royalty, and he remarked that the Princess was far better looking than most of her photographs pictured her.
Nearer and nearer to the throne came the young girl, and yet even when she was nearly seventeen she was still in the habit of living as quietly as she had in childhood, and it is told how at a formal reception given in her honour, followed by a dinner and a grand ball which she opened with Lord Exeter, after that first dance she left the ballroom to retire, as the Duchess thought she had had quite enough excitement for one day. That statement will seem incredible to a girl of to-day, but it is an historical fact.
On the twenty-fourth of May, 1837, Princess Victoria came of age according to the laws of England, and the joyous events of the day began very early in the morning, for when dawn was just breaking in the east, she was roused by the sound of music under her window. Jumping up, now quite awake, she peered through the blinds and saw a band playing merrily, and realised why they were there. Rushing into her mother's room she shook her out of a sound sleep, and pulled her into her room, where together they sat behind the closed blinds and applauded the serenaders. It did not take Victoria long to dress that morning. She was full of excitement, for by breakfast time messages of congratulations and presents had begun to pour in, and with shining eyes she exclaimed, "To think of all England celebrating a holiday just for me!" when she heard that Parliament was not in session, nor boys in school, all in her honour. And at night there was a great illumination of the city and a grand State Ball at the Palace of St. James—quite enough tribute to turn the head of any girl of eighteen,—but Victoria, even then in the midst of her enjoyment, seemed to feel the responsibility more than the flattery, and that night gave an appealing look of shy objection when on entering the ballroom she was obliged by court etiquette to enter before her mother, thus emphasising for the first time her superior rank.
Not long after this, one night through the vast audience rooms of gloomy Windsor Castle went the solemn word, "The King is dead!" and in the same breath, even the most loyal ministers of Church and State, who had known only too well the weaknesses of the sovereign who would reign no more, whispered softly, "Long live the Queen!"
Then there was a flurry of preparation. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain made ready to leave the place of mourning as fast as horses could carry them.
Arriving at Kensington Palace in the early dawn, they found the palace inmates sleeping quietly. It took an endless time, so it seemed, to arouse even the porter at the gate, but at last he appeared, rubbing sleepy eyes and grumbling at having been disturbed. At the entrance to the court-yard came another delay, but finally they were admitted to the Palace, were shown to a room, and waited until their patience was exhausted, and they rang a bell so insistently that finally another drowsy servant answered. They then requested that the Princess Victoria should be roused at once and told that they desired an immediate audience on most important business. The sleepy servant disappeared and still there were more delays, more waiting. Then the Princess' special maid appeared, saying with irritating calm that her royal mistress was in such a sweet sleep that she could not venture to disturb her. The Archbishop's command was not one to be set aside, "We are come on business of State to the Queen," he said, "Even her sleep must give way." To the Queen! Ah, then it had come! With flying feet the maid rushed into the room where the Princess had gone to sleep so peacefully a few hours since, and roused her with the cry, "They have come to make you Queen. Oh, be quick!"
Half asleep—entirely dazed for the moment, then clear-eyed, Victoria sprang up, with only one thought, "I must not delay them any longer," and rushed into the presence of the waiting dignitaries with only a bed-gown thrown over her night-dress, her feet in slippers and her long brown hair flying over her shoulders!
As in a dream she heard the words, "Your Majesty," and received the first kiss of homage on her trembling hand, then with sweet pleading grace she spoke her first words as Queen of England, looking into the kind eyes of the Archbishop, "I beg your Grace to pray for me," she said, with utter simplicity and sincere desire, and raising his hand in benediction, the Archbishop's voice asked a blessing on the fair young sovereign of so great a land.
The hours following that first knowledge of her new dignity were overwhelmingly full of strange experiences for Victoria, but among them all she found time to go to her desk and write a letter to Queen Adelaide, expressing sympathy for her in her sorrow, and begging her to remain as long as she felt inclined at Windsor. Giving the letter to her mother, the Duchess noted that the name on it was to "Her Majesty, the Queen." With a smile she said, "My dear, you forget who is the Queen of England now. The King's widow is only Queen Dowager."
To which Victoria replied quickly, "I know that, but I will not be the first person to remind her of it!"
How many girls would have been as thoughtful as that, I wonder?
In a few hours she was obliged to meet many high officials, and even had to read her first speech from a throne which was hastily erected for the occasion. Then while the great bell of St. Paul's was tolling for the dead King, the young monarch, dressed very simply in mourning, which brought out in bold relief her clear fresh complexion, took an oath "for the security of the Church of Scotland," and received the oath of allegiance first from her royal uncles, the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex, whom she kissed as affectionately and impulsively as if she were still the little Princess. Following them came a great number of notable men to kneel before her and kiss her hand, among them the Duke of Wellington and the Premier, Lord Melbourne. To each she showed the same degree of winning courtesy, and only for a brief moment seemed disconcerted by the new and dazzling ceremony in her honour as Queen of the realm.
Evidently since the day when she had first learned that she was some day to be a Queen, she had been studying how to proceed when the momentous hour should come, for now she thought to do all those things which would have scarcely been expected of an older and experienced statesman. She even sent for Lord Albemarle, it is said, and after reminding him that according to law and precedent she must be proclaimed the next morning from a certain window of St. James Palace, asked him to provide a fitting conveyance and escort for her. Then, bowing graciously to right and left, including all the Princes, Archbishops and Cabinet Ministers present, in her gracious salutation, she left the room alone, as she had entered it.
What sort of a night's rest the young Queen had that night can well be imagined. Surely her maiden dreams must have been disturbed by many thoughts which forced her to put aside those personal fancies which yesterday she had been justified in harbouring!
The next day she went in state to St. James Palace, escorted by a number of great lords and ladies, and a squadron of the Life Guards and "Blues," and was formally proclaimed Queen of Great Britain from the window of the Presence Chamber. She wore a black silk dress and a little black chip bonnet, and we are told that as she stood there in her simple costume, with her smooth brown hair as plain as her dress, the tears ran down her cheeks when she was proclaimed to the people as their sovereign. Then when the band played the National Anthem in her honour, she bowed and smiled at the swaying mass of people below looking with eager interest and affection at their "Little Queen," then retired until noon, when she held a meeting of her chief counsellors, at which she presided with as much grace and ease as if she had been doing that sort of thing all her life, to the intense surprise and admiration of the great men who composed it. At one o'clock, the Council being over, she went back to Kensington and remained there quietly until after the funeral of the late King; and Council and populace were loud in their praise of this young girl, who, having been brought up in the utmost seclusion, yet now came out into the lime-light of public attention, and behaved with the dignity and discretion of an aged monarch.
King William having been properly and pompously buried, the young Queen took up her new position as ruler of the realm, and her royal household was a very exceptional and magnificent one, because of the rank and character of those "ladies in waiting" as they were called, who composed it.
The young Queen and her household remained at Kensington until midsummer, when they moved to Buckingham Palace, and soon after this Victoria was obliged to go through a great parade and ceremony to dissolve Parliament. We are told that "the weather was fine and the whole route from Buckingham Palace to Parliament House was lined with shouting, cheering people, as the magnificent procession and the brilliant young Queen passed slowly along." A London journal of the day gives this account of the ceremony: "At ten minutes to three precisely, Her Majesty, preceded by the heralds and attended by the great officers of state, entered the House—all the peers and peeresses, who had risen at the flourish of the trumpets, remaining standing. Her Majesty was attired in a splendid white satin robe, with the ribbon of the Order crossing her shoulder, and a magnificent tiara of diamonds on her head. She also wore a necklace and a stomacher of large and costly brilliants."
Having ascended the throne, the royal mantle of crimson velvet was placed on Her Majesty's shoulders by the lords-in-waiting, and she carried herself with the air of having been born to such ceremonies, yet it was evident that she was much affected by the ordeal, and for a moment was so absorbed in her own conspicuous position as to forget to notice that the peers and peeresses with her were still standing. In a low voice, Lord Melbourne, who was standing beside her, reminded her of this, and with a gracious smile and inclination of her head, she said quietly, "My Lords, be seated," whereupon they and their wives and daughters sat. The incident had brought the Queen back to herself, and she was now so self-possessed that when the time came to read her speech, although she did it with quiet modesty, her voice was so clear that it rang through all the corners of the great room, and everyone could hear her words. A great statesman from America, Charles Sumner, who was present, was so astonished and delighted with Victoria's manner, that he wrote to a friend, "Her voice is sweet and finely modulated, and she pronounced every word with distinctly a fine regard for its meaning. I think I never heard anything better read in my life, and I could but respond to Lord Fitz-William's remark when the ceremony was over, 'How beautifully she performs!'" As days went on, this and other golden opinions were universally echoed about the eighteen-year-old Queen, who was not only strong of character, but possessed of personal charm, being then, we are told, short in height, but well formed, with hair the darkest shade of flaxen, with expressive blue eyes, and a complexion as fair and delicate as a rose leaf, while her expression was one of peculiar sweetness.
In her honour there was a grand new throne erected at Buckingham Palace, a gorgeous affair of crimson velvet, gold lace, gold fringe and ropes and tassels. Merrily the young Queen tried it, and with a gay laugh exclaimed, "It is quite perfect! I never sat on a more comfortable throne in my life!"
One of the things which Victoria most enjoyed was dealing with cases where stern military discipline should have been used, as in the case of a court martial which was presented to her by the Duke of Wellington to be signed. With eyes full of tears she asked, "Have you nothing to say in behalf of this man?"
"Nothing. He has deserted three times," replied the Duke.
"Oh, your Grace, think again!" exclaimed Victoria.
"Well, your Majesty," replied the Iron Man, "he certainly is a bad soldier, but there was somebody who spoke as to his good character. He may be a good fellow in civil life."
"Oh, thank you," exclaimed the Queen, and dashed off the word "Pardoned" to the lawful parchment and wrote under it her signature.
So many cases of this clemency of hers came to the notice of Parliament, that finally they arranged matters so that this fatal signing business could be done by royal commission, "To relieve her Majesty of painful duty," they said, but really because they could not trust her soft heart to deal with cases where military discipline should not be interfered with.
In Victoria's childhood, when her father, the Duke of Kent, died, he left very heavy debts, which the Duchess had endeavoured in every way to pay. This Victoria knew, and almost immediately after she became Queen, in all the whirl and splendour of her new life she sent for her Prime Minister and told him that she wished to settle the remaining debts standing in her father's name, saying, "I must do it. I consider it a sacred duty," and of course it was done. The Queen also sent some valuable pieces of plate to the largest creditors in token of her gratitude, and the young girl's earnestness and directness in thus carrying out her mother's chief desire, brought tears, it is said, to the eyes of Lord Melbourne, and made his feelings for the young Queen ever afterwards that of deepest chivalry. In fact all England was possessed of the wildest kind of enthusiasm for their new ruler, and one can imagine that in her youth and dignity of office she seemed to young men and maidens to be a heroine of fairy-tale made flesh and blood, while it was said that if necessity had arisen five hundred thousand brave Irishmen would arise to defend the life, the honour and the person of the beloved young lady on the throne of England.
In August Victoria took possession of Windsor Castle, which soon became anything but a gloomy place, with the gay company that filled its every room, and to whom the young royal housekeeper showed its beauties and comforts with as great satisfaction as if it had been a simple little house of her own on a plain English street.
When at Windsor, Brighton was an easy journey, and there the young Queen had a triumphal progress, her carriage passing under numberless arches, and between ranks and ranks of school children who strewed flowers before her and sang songs in her honour. Some months later, in London, she dined in state with the Lord Mayor, and as her carriage passed through the streets of the city on its way to Guildhall, a vast crowd lining the pavements riveted their gaze on the very youthful-looking Queen. She wore a wrap of swan's down which made a soft frame for the fair sweet face on which was the rose bloom of girlhood, while in her eyes beamed health and happiness.
That was a gorgeous ceremony which she attended at Guildhall. At Temple Bar she was met by the Lord Mayor himself who handed her the keys of the city, and also a sword, which she at once returned to his keeping. Then a little farther on, the Blue-Coat Boys of Christ's College gave an address of congratulation, saying how glad they were to have a woman rule over them, and then they sang the National Anthem, with rousing spirit, and the royal party proceeded to Guildhall, where in the gorgeous drawing-room the address of the city officials was read. Then Victoria performed a memorable act: she knighted Sheriff Montefiore, the first man of his race to receive such an honour from a British sovereign, and thereby not only reflected honour on the noble man she knighted, but on her own daring and just spirit. This ceremony over, they passed into the great hall, which had been wonderfully decorated and furnished for the occasion, and is said to have looked like fairyland with its glittering lights hanging from the roof, reflecting brilliancy over the gorgeous court dresses and superb jewels which made up the dazzling scene. When Victoria entered, a great chorus rang out in a song of praise to their Queen. Then she was led to a table on a platform at the end of the room, where she was served with a dinner as costly as could be procured to tempt her fancy, receiving the homage of city officials as she dined. The feast over, a person called the Common Crier strode into the middle of the hall and solemnly proclaimed, "The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor gives the health of our Most Gracious Sovereign, Queen Victoria!" Of course this was drunk amid a chorus of shouts which made the great hall ring to the roof. Victoria rose and bowed her thanks, and then the Common Crier announced, "Her Majesty's Toast, 'The Lord Mayor and prosperity to the city of London!'" This toast, it is said, the Queen responded to by drinking it in sherry one hundred and twenty years old, kept for some wonderful occasion such as this.
That year, Victoria's first as a Queen, she celebrated Christmas at Windsor Castle, and it would have been a very unnatural thing indeed if the girl had not exulted with joy over the wonderful presents which poured in on her from every side, and yet she kept through this, as in all the honours paid to her, her simple-hearted manner and was entirely unspoiled by what might easily have turned the head of an older and wiser monarch.
And now comes the greatest of all the great events in which the young Queen is the central figure—her Coronation. It is true that she had already been Queen for a whole year, but such was royal etiquette that the time had just arrived for the wonderful ceremonies which would mark her official taking of the Crown.
June the twenty-eighth was the day, and the year 1838, and Victoria was nineteen years old. They came beforehand, the old courtiers, and explained to her the coming pageant, and how after kneeling to her they were all required to rise and kiss her on the left cheek. Gravely she listened and thought this over, thought not only of the salutes of the grave Archbishops, but of the kisses of those other younger peers, of whom there were six hundred, and then she issued a proclamation excusing them from this duty, so all but the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, who could kiss her rosy cheek by special privilege of kinship, would have to be content with pressing a salute on her hand!
As for the Coronation, it was one of the most wonderful in history, for all England wished to look with proud eyes on the crowning of this young girl who even in one year had proved herself to be capable of understanding the intricate doings of statescraft, and days before the ceremonies were to begin, people poured in from all parts of the United Kingdom to see the glittering spectacle and to prove their loyalty to her who was their sovereign.
The great procession started from Buckingham Palace about ten o'clock in the morning, and the first state carriages held the Duchess of Kent and her attendants, then came the grand state coach, imposing in its gorgeous array of gilding and glass, drawn by eight cream-coloured horses from the royal stables, with white flowing manes and tails. In the coach of state sat Her Majesty, and there was tremendous applause all along the line as soon as the bright girlish face beaming its welcome to her people, was seen. On reaching Westminster Abbey, the gorgeous scene might have startled or confused her, if she had not rehearsed beforehand as thoroughly as though it were a play in which she were to take part.
On each side of the nave were galleries erected for the spectators, which had been covered with crimson cloth fringed with gold, and under them were lines of very martial looking footguards. The stone floor was covered with crimson and purple cloth, while immediately under the central tower of the Abbey, inside the choir, five steps from the floor, was a platform covered with cloth of gold on which stood the golden "Chair of Homage." In the chancel, near the altar, stood the quaint old chair in which all the sovereigns since Edward the Confessor had been crowned. The tiers of galleries upholstered in crimson cloth and old tapestries, were occupied by Members of Parliament and foreign Ambassadors, while in the organ loft sat a large choir dressed in white, and players on instruments dressed in scarlet, while high above them were a score of trumpeters; all of which produced a brilliant effect that was heightened by the music pealing through the vast Abbey over the heads of the throng.
Long before the arrival of the royal party the Abbey was crowded to its doors with foreign Ambassadors and Princes in their gorgeous costumes, and most gorgeous of all were the Lord Mayor and Prince Esterhazy, who was costumed like a glittering shower of jewels from head to toe, while hundreds of pretty women were there in every kind of elaborate evening dress, although it was only eleven o'clock in the morning. It took both time and thought to place all the royal personages so that none would be offended, and every peer and peeress would be seated so as to have a good view of that part of the minster in which the Coronation was to take place.
The grand procession passed slowly up the long aisle, with its dignitaries of Church and State, and all its pomp and glitter of jewels and gorgeous costumes. Then came the Queen. She wore a royal robe of crimson velvet, trimmed with ermine and gold lace, and on her head was a circlet of gold. Her tremendously long train was borne by eight young court ladies, and never did she look quite so girlish and slight and young as she did in that great procession of older dignitaries. As she entered the Abbey the choir began the National Anthem, which could scarcely be heard because of the mighty cheers which burst from the general assembly, echoing through the dome and arched recesses of the vast building. Slowly the Queen moved toward the altar, sweetly the choir boys chanted Vivat Victoria Regina! while moving quietly to a chair placed between the "chair of homage" and the altar, Victoria knelt in prayer for a moment, then rose, and the Primate announced in a loud voice, "I here present unto you Queen Victoria, the undoubted Queen of this realm, wherefore all of you are come this day to do your homage. Are you willing to do the same?"
Then the people all shouted, "God save Queen Victoria!" which "recognition," as it was called, was repeated many times and answered each time by the beating of drums and the sounding of trumpets. Throughout all this the Queen stood, turning towards the side from which the recognition came, and then followed a great number of curious old rites and ceremonies which always go with a Coronation, even though many of them have entirely lost their meaning through the lapse of time. There were prayers and the Litany and a sermon, and then the administration of the oath of office, and after a long questioning by the Archbishop, Her Majesty was led to the altar, where, kneeling with her hand on the Gospels in the Great Bible, she said in clear, solemn tones which could be heard all through the Abbey:
"The things which I have herebefore promised I will perform and keep. So help me God."
She then kissed the book and continued to kneel while the choir sang a hymn, then while she sat in St. Edward's chair, a rich cloth of gold was held over her head and the Archbishop anointed her with oil in the form of a cross, after which came still more forms and ceremonies, the presentation of swords and spurs, the investing her with the Imperial robe, the sceptre and the ring, the consecration and blessing of the new crown, which had been made especially for her, and at last the crowning. The moment this was over all the peers and peeresses, who had held their coronets in their hands during the ceremonies, placed them on their heads, and shouted, "God save the Queen!" The trumpets and drums sounded again, while outside in the sunlight, guns fired by signal boomed their salute to the new sovereign, who was led to the chair of homage to receive the salutation of Church and State. First in line came the dignitaries of the Church, who knelt and kissed her hand, then the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, who, taking off their coronets and touching them to the crown (a pretty ceremony that!), solemnly pledged their loyalty, and kissed their niece on the left cheek. Then, according to her decree, the other dukes and peers, even the Duke of Wellington, who knelt before her, had only the honour of kissing the small white hand.
Last of all came an old and feeble peer who found such difficulty in mounting the steps that he stumbled at the top and fell to the bottom, rolling all the way back to the floor, where he lay, hopelessly entangled in his robes. Impulsively the Queen rose from her throne as if it were but a chair and stretched out her hands to help him, but the old peer had risen by that time, and was trying his best to raise his coronet to touch the crown, but failed because of the trembling of his hand, and the Queen with ready tact held out her hand for him to kiss without the form of touching her crown. It was a pretty incident, proving the entire unconsciousness of self which the young Queen showed all through the imposing ceremonies. And they were not yet over. There was yet the Sacrament to be administered to the Queen, who knelt, uncrowned, to receive it; then came a recrowning, a re-enthronement, more music and then the welcome release of the benediction. Passing into King Edward's chapel, the queen changed the imperial for the royal robe of purple velvet and went out of the Abbey wearing the crown and carrying her sceptre in her right hand, and drove home through a surging mass of shouting, cheering subjects and sight-seers, who noticed that she looked exhausted, and that she frequently put her hand to her head, as if wearing a crown were not at all a comfortable thing.
The gates of the palace were reached at last, the long, vast, tiresome ceremonial was at an end. The home door swung open to receive her, and out dashed her pet spaniel, barking a joyous welcome as he always did when she had been away a long time. A girlish smile broke over Victoria's face, for so many hours moulded into a maturer expression of sovereignty, and crying, "There, Dash!" she unceremoniously ran in, flung off her crown and royal robe and sceptre and ran upstairs to give the dog his daily bath!
At that time Carlyle said of her: "Poor little Queen! She is at an age when a girl can scarcely be trusted to choose a bonnet for herself, yet a task is thrust upon her from which an archangel might shrink."
True indeed, but her Majesty, Queen Victoria, even at the moment of doffing her crown to give her dog a bath, could with equal grace and capability have answered a summons to discuss grave national issues, and would have shown both good judgment and wisdom in the discussion. A wonderful little woman she was, young for her task, but old for her age, and as we see her standing in the famous portrait painted in her coronation robes we see all that is fairest and noblest in both girl and Queen. She stands there as though mounting the steps to her throne, her head slightly turned, looking back over her shoulder, and we feel the buoyancy of her youth and the dignity of her purity, a far more royal robe than the one of velvet and ermine which is over her shoulders, and we know that she is already worthy of the homage so universally paid her, this girl Queen of England awaiting what the future may bring.
You may also enjoy our stories about interesting figures and authors: American Biographies for Kids
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