In the Days of Queen Victoria - E. M. Tappan

Nis! Nis! Nis! Hurrah!

Few men in England worked as hard as Prince Albert, the uncrowned King. If a corner stone of a school, a hospital, or a public building was to be laid, a missionary society to be formed, some new docks to be founded, a museum to be opened, Prince Albert must be present. He must attend naval reviews, councils to discuss reforms at Cambridge, dinners of scientific men, and first meetings of societies to aid superannuated servants. He must not only be seen, but he must be heard, for he was expected to make a speech on every occasion. In fact, whenever he opened the door of his own rooms, some delegation seemed to be waiting to ask him to attend a meeting and make a speech.

All these demands upon his time took him away from the Queen, and every absence made her lonely. She wrote to King Leopold: "You cannot think how forlorn I am when he is away; all the numerous children are as nothing. It seems as if the whole light of the house and home were gone." Prince Albert never let a day pass during any of these absences without writing to her. Once when he went to an important meeting of scientific men, he sent back the same day a little note that said: "I have locked myself in to send you two lines as a token of my life and love. You will be feeling somewhat lonely and forsaken among the two and a half millions of human beings in London, and I too feel the want of only one person to give a world of life to everything around me." The following day he sent her another letter, although it could reach her only two hours before his own arrival. However pressing his business might be, he always found time to write a word to her. One of these notes read:

"Your faithful husband, agreeably to your wishes, reports:

"1. That he is still alive;

"2. That he has discovered the North Pole from Lincoln Cathedral, but without finding either Captain Ross or Sir John Franklin;

"3. That he has arrived at Brocklesby, and received the address;

"4. That he subsequently rode out, and got home quite covered with snow, and with icicles on his nose;

"5. That the messenger is waiting to carry off this letter, which you will have in Windsor by the morning;

"6. Last, not least (in the dinner-speeches' phrase), that he loves his wife, and remains her devoted husband."

In the midst of all these engagements, the home life and the education of the children were not neglected. Lord Melbourne and Baron Stockmar had been consulted in regard to tutors and nursery arrangements as earnestly as on important political actions. Bishop Davys lived so simply that the Queen could not disturb him by a royal visit, but whenever she passed through Peterborough, she had her train delay so that he could come to her, and she could talk with him about the children and have his advice in regard to their training and their future. Lessons were important matters in the royal family, and if the governess was ill, either the Queen or the Prince heard the children recite, so that there should be no loss. There is a story that when a clergyman, who was hearing them say the catechism, remarked, "Your governess has taught you very thoroughly," they cried, "Oh, mamma always teaches us our catechism." She was interested in every detail of their lives, and when the man who made the clothes of the sailors on the Victoria and Albert  made a tiny sailor suit for the little Prince of Wales, she seemed as pleased as if one suit a year was the limit of the royal purse.

Besides the calls of home and state, many other responsibilities fell upon the sovereign of England. In the latter part of 1851, trade was very dull in London, and the Queen decided to give a great fancy ball at Buckingham Palace so that sales might be increased. All the guests were asked to come in the costume of the time of the Stuarts, and this was so gay and picturesque that the ballroom must have been a most brilliant sight. The Queen wore a gray dress, but it was hardly as simple as one would expect from those two words, for it was glittering with gold and silver lace, while clusters of diamonds flashed forth from bows of rose-colored ribbon. The front of the dress opened to display a cloth-of-gold stomacher and underskirt made gorgeous with large emeralds. Strings of pearls were braided in with her hair, and upon her head she wore a small crown of diamonds and emeralds. Her gloves and shoes were heavily embroidered with gold. The costume of the Prince was a veritable rainbow, for he was all aglow in an orange coat, with its sleeves turned up with crimson velvet, breeches of crimson velvet, and stockings of lavender silk. This was not all by any means, for there were pink epaulets, pink satin bows, gold lace, a silver baldric, and a hat with long white ostrich feathers.

Queen Victoria and family

Queen Victoria with her Children, King Edward and the Princess Royal

The Queen and the Prince retained their seats while the guests entered, each one making a low bow in passing. No one would have thought a royal ball complete without "the Duke," and he appeared in the dress of a Stuart general, his scarlet coat adorned with gold lace and point lace, and its sleeves slashed with white satin. Blue velvet trunks, crimson silk sash, white hat with blue plumes, and gold lace wherever there was room for it, completed his costume. So much he would concede to the state ball, but he utterly refused to appear in the long curls of the Stuart period, and in spite of all his gay trappings, he was still the stern old commander.

Another great ball given by the Lord Mayor of London followed this one, and it is no wonder that Queen and Prince were glad to leave London for a little rest. This time and many other times they went to Scotland. They loved Osborne, but the Prince was feeling the strain of his intense work, and the physicians thought that the air of the mountains would be better for him than that of the sea. Therefore they went to Balmoral, a charming little gray castle that they had bought. It stood on the banks of the swiftly flowing River Dee, in the midst of hills and forests. The life at Balmoral was far more simple than that of many non-royal families. Of course a Cabinet Minister was always in attendance, and messengers with boxes of state dispatches were continually coming and going; but there was much greater freedom than the Queen could enjoy elsewhere. In the early years at Balmoral, the English court consisted of the Queen, the Prince, their four children, the two teachers, and four other persons, secretaries and ladies in attendance.

At Balmoral they climbed mountains, searched for crystals and cairngorms, took long walks through the woods, made little picnics far up in the hills and built a cairn, or great pile of stones, each person placing one in turn, to mark the new ownership of the place. At dinner, the Prince wore the Scotch dress, and the Queen often wore over her shoulder a scarf of Stuart plaid. While the Prince was out shooting in the morning, she frequently ran about among the cottages, chatting easily and comfortably with the cottagers, comparing the height and weight of the latest royal baby with the latest baby of the neighborhood, going to the little stores in the village to buy dresses for poor people and toys for their children. On Sunday she went to the kirk like a true Scotchwoman, and one day she wrote in her journal enthusiastic praise of Dr. McLeod's sermons, because they were so "simple and eloquent," she said. She was never pleased to have a minister pay her any special attention in his sermons; she liked to have him look upon her as only one more of his people; but she wrote that when Dr. McLeod prayed for her and the Prince, and then said "Bless their children," it gave her "a lump in the throat."

In their everyday life the royal family were Scotch when they were in Scotland. The English children of the palace wore kilts and tartans, they played in the brooks with the Scotch children of the cottages; and the Princess Royal of England walked into a wasps' nest and met the same fate that would have befallen any little Scotch girl who had done the same thing. A Highland dancing master and a fiddler were engaged to come to Balmoral and teach the Queen and her court how to dance Scottish reels and strathspeys. One evening, after an early dinner, the court set off for a fourteen-mile drive to see a Scotch ball at a neighboring castle. It must have been a weird and beautiful sight. The dancing floor was out of doors, and all around it stood Highlanders in their gay plaids, holding blazing torches, while seven pipers provided the music. One of the reels was danced by eight Highlanders, each bearing a torch. Another interesting sight was the sword dance. In this two swords crossed were laid upon the ground, and the performer must dance around them without touching them.

As in the case of Osborne, it was soon apparent that the pretty little gray castle was not large enough for the Queen's housekeeping. "Every bed in the house was full," wrote Mr. Greville when he had been spending a night at Balmoral. A new house was decided upon, and when the corner stone was laid, there was one of the little family celebrations that were so delightful to both Queen and Prince. The sun shone brightly on the stone, as it hung over the place that it was to occupy. The servants of the castle stood in a semicircle on one side, and the workmen behind them. The royal family and their guests came out of the house together and took their places on the opposite side. A clergyman offered up a prayer for a blessing on the work and on the new home. A parchment giving the date on which the stone was laid was signed by every member of the royal family and put into a bottle, together with the current coins of the country. The bottle was sealed and placed in the cavity; the architect gave the Queen a trowel to spread the mortar; and the stone was lowered. The Queen then struck the stone with a mallet, and said: "I now declare that this corner stone is laid." She poured oil upon it in token of plenty, and wine in token of gladness; the pipers played; the workmen had a feast and a dance; and the new house was begun.

When the house was partly done, the builder came to Prince Albert and said:

"The price of materials has risen so greatly that keeping this contract will ruin me."

"Tell me just what the prices are now and what they were when we made the contract," said the Prince. The builder made a rapid list and gave it to him.

A few days later, the Prince sent for the builder and said:

"I find that you are right, and so I have burned my copy of the contract. I will be the builder myself, and if you will superintend the work of building, I will pay you the same amount that you expected to make on the contract."

Only a few days after one of the simple, merry evenings at Balmoral, a telegram broke into the happiness of the household, saying that the Duke of Wellington was dead. "One cannot think of this country without the Duke," wrote the Queen. "Not an eye will be dry. He was Britain's pride, her glory, her hero, the greatest man she had ever produced." A public funeral was given him by order of Parliament. His body lay in state in a great hall whose walls were heavily draped with black, relieved only by the banners that he had captured in battle. Guardsmen as motionless as statues stood at intervals along the passage, leaning upon their muskets, which rested, muzzles down, on the floor. On the coffin lay the Duke's sword and his cocked hat, and around the bier stood officers on guard, whose scarlet uniforms shone out of the darkness in the light of the tall wax candles that outlined the bier. Finally the body of the Duke was borne to St. Paul's on an iron gun-carriage, followed by the dead commander's horse with its empty saddle and by a long line of soldiers representing every regiment. Thousands of people lined the street through which the funeral cortège  marched. They stood with bared heads and in such perfect silence that not a sound was heard but the steady tramp of feet and the roll of the funeral drums. So it was that the great soldier was buried amid the grief of the nation.

Never was he needed more, for the sound of war was coming near. The Emperor Nicholas, whom the Queen had called so "easy to get along with," proved to be somewhat less easy than he had been when on a visit. He had declared that he should protect the Christians in Turkey from the outrages of the Turks; but France and England believed that what he was really aiming at was to get possession of Constantinople. If he succeeded in this, no ship could enter the Black Sea against his will, and it would not be impossible for him to gain control of the Asiatic lands then ruled by Great Britain. If this came to pass, Russia would be far more powerful than any other state in Europe. This was the belief of England and France, and they wished to oppose him.

The Queen was always against war, but when it was finally declared, early in 1854, she did everything in her power for the success of England. When the first regiments that were ready to go to the Crimea marched through the courtyard of Buckingham Palace, she and the Prince stood on the balcony as enthusiastic as the troops. Then she hastened to Osborne to say farewell to the warships that were starting for the Baltic. Prince Alfred had already made up his mind to be a sailor, and the Duke's little namesake was destined to follow the Duke's example and be a soldier, but they were as yet only small children, and the Queen exclaimed, "How I wish I had two sons in the army now and two in the navy!" Nothing that affected the war was too great or too small for her to notice, and she had a definite opinion on every subject.

"Your Majesty," said Lord Aberdeen, the Prime Minister, "it is proposed to have a day of humiliation and fasting for the success of our arms."

"I approve most heartily of a day of prayer," declared the Queen, "but not of calling it a day of humiliation. We are not humiliated. It is not our wickedness, but the selfish ambition and want of honesty of the Emperor which have brought on this war. We believe that our cause is just, and that we are contending for what is right."

"But it has long been the custom to call such days times of fasting and prayer," the Prime Minister suggested.

"We will thank God for the blessings we have enjoyed," said the Queen, "and ask His help and protection, but it is my particular wish that we call the day one of prayer and supplication."

The war was begun, and during the two years following, no one in the land suffered more intensely than the Queen. A powerful nation is always inclined to expect that its enemies may be crushed at a blow, but Russia was not so easily crushed.

The Queen was prepared for battles lost and battles won, but not for blunders and poor management; and to a woman as prompt and as careful of details as she, such faults were unpardonable. Before many months came the report of the Charge of the Light Brigade, which Tennyson has made famous in his poem. This useless charge by which six hundred men were sent to attack an army was caused by a mistake. "Someone had blundered." Thousands of copies of the poem were printed and sent to the soldiers who were besieging Sebastopol.

The Queen was in constant anxiety. Telegrams were false and misleading, and if one brought good news in the morning, she dared not rejoice lest it should be contradicted before night. It was then that the work of the "special correspondent" began, for a physician who was at the scene of the war sent letters to the London Times, and for the first time, the people at home knew the daily life of their soldiers.

The story told in the columns of the Times  was a narration of terrible suffering, which was all the worse because so much of it was unnecessary. It does not seem possible that such stupid blunders could have been made. Food was sent that was not fit to eat. A whole shipload of much-needed shoes braved the storms of the Atlantic and Mediterranean—and proved to be all for the left foot! Clothes, blankets, and medicines in generous quantities lay in the holds of English vessels off Balaklava Bay, while men were dying for the lack of them. Shiploads of cattle arrived at Balaklava, and instead of being driven to the front, where there was sore need of beef, they were killed at once, and then came a long delay in arranging for transportation. The trouble was that it was no one's business to transport the stores, and no one had the right to interfere. The hospitals were so inefficient that nine-tenths of the men who died, perished of disease and mismanagement, and not from the bullets of the Russians.

When such news as this reached England, the whole country was aroused, but it was helpless. There was no time to change the organization of the conflicting "departments," and the Minister of War finally decided to do exactly what the Romans used to do in times of great difficulty: he appointed a dictator, with full power to go to the Crimea and do precisely as she thought best in making arrangements for the sick and wounded soldiers. This dictator was a woman named Florence Nightingale. She had a large fortune and a beautiful home, but she cared more for helping the sick than for living in luxury. For more than ten years she had been studying nursing, not only in England, but in France and Germany. Late in 1854 she went to the Crimea, taking forty-two nurses with her. It was no small task that she had undertaken, for in a short time ten thousand sick men were in her charge. The sanitary arrangements of the camp and the hospital were all in her hands. She was a gentle, modest woman, by nature shy and retiring, but where the comfort of her soldiers was concerned, she would never yield a point to anyone. "She had a voice of velvet and a will of steel," they said of her; and as she walked down the long aisles of the hospitals—in one of them the rows of beds stretched along for nearly two and a half miles—the poor sufferers kissed her very shadow. It was of her that Longfellow wrote

"And slow, as in a dream of bliss,

The speechless sufferer turns to kiss

Her shadow, as it falls

Upon the darkening walls."

Meanwhile, the Queen was doing all in her power for the soldiers and their families. A Patriotic Fund was begun, and it soon reached $5,000,000. The "Soldier's Daughter" and her older girls sewed and knit for the army, the Prince of Wales, who was now thirteen years of age, painted a picture to be sold for the fund—no small contribution, for it brought nearly three hundred dollars—and the two older Princesses talked, as they sat knitting, about Miss Nightingale, and wished they could go to the Crimea and work by her side. At the opening of Parliament, the Queen began her speech bravely, but when she spoke of the war, her self-control failed her, and she struggled through the sentences as best she could with her eyes full of tears.

News of victories came, but nothing could be decisive except the capture of Sebastopol. "If we could only take Sebastopol!" she was always saying to herself, and one of her children said to a general who was starting for the Crimea, "Do hurry and take Sebastopol, or it will kill mamma." In September, 1855, the royal family and the Duchess of Kent were at Balmoral, when late one evening on the third day after their arrival, two telegrams were brought in, one for the Queen, and one for the Cabinet Minister.

"Good news," exclaimed the Queen. "This tells the details of the destruction of the Russian ships."

"But I have still better news," said the Minister. "Mine reads, 'Sebastopol is in the hands of the allies.' "

"Come and light the bonfire," cried Prince Albert, and he started up Craig Gowan, the hill opposite the house, where material for a bonfire had been piled up nearly a year before in the hope that Sebastopol would fall before the Queen had to return to London.

The gentlemen of the court hastened after the Prince, in full evening dress as they were. The little Princes were awakened and hurriedly dressed, and they followed after their father. The servants followed, the keepers, the workmen, the whole population of the village. The fires blazed out and shone on all the peaks round about. The people in the valleys knew what it meant, and they too hurried to the top of the hill. There was cheering, dancing, shouting, playing of bagpipes, and firing of guns. "It was a veritable witches' dance," declared the Prince when he came down. He was soon followed by the rest of the people, and when they were under the Queen's window, they sang to the music of the bagpipes, they fired guns, and then they cheered the Queen, the Prince, the Emperor of France, and last they gave a deafening "Nis! nis! nis! hurrah, for the fall of Sebastopol!"

It would seem as if this was excitement enough for one month, but four days later, the young Prince Frederick William of Prussia came to Balmoral to make a visit; and before the visit had lasted two weeks, there was a pretty little scene on the mountain side when he gave Princess "Vicky" a piece of white heather, the emblem of good fortune, and contrived to make it clear to her that the best fortune which could happen to him would be the gift of her hand. A few days before this, the father and mother and their guest had agreed that nothing should be said to the Princess for six months, but the secret had found its way out.

The Princess Victoria had always been Baron Stockmar's special favorite, and she as well as her father wrote their good friend at once, and sent him the news that the kindly old matchmaker had been waiting for since the Princess was a little child, for such a marriage would make a strong alliance between England and Prussia, the two great Protestant powers of Europe. Prince Albert wrote, "The Prince is really in love, and the little lady does her best to please him. Come to us soon. We have so much to talk over." A little later, he wrote again of his hope that he should soon hear the children say, "Do you know, papa, that the Baron is in his room below?" He closed, "We positively must have some talk face to face."

The Princess was to be confirmed in the spring, and until that event was past, nothing was to be said in public of the engagement. The marriage was not to take place until at least a year after the confirmation, but Prince Albert felt that the time was far too short for the preparation that her future position would make desirable; and, busy man as he was, he set apart an hour every evening to talk with her on historical topics, and listen to the papers which she prepared on subjects that he had given her. In the spring came her confirmation, which was preceded by an examination in the catechism held in the presence of her father and mother, the Duchess of Kent, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This betrothal of the eldest daughter brought to the Queen mingled feelings of pleasure and pain; pleasure, because the alliance with Prussia, so desirable an arrangement for both countries, was to be brought about by a marriage that promised the happiness of her daughter; pain, because that marriage was the first break in the family circle. Nevertheless, in joy or in sorrow, the public life of the sovereign must go on. Many of the soldiers who had been severely wounded were sent home. The Queen had often visited them in the hospitals, and one day she said to her Minister:

"Those brave men ought to have medals that they can hand down to their children, and I have ordered a number to be made."

As the day appointed for the distribution of the medals drew near, the Minister asked if she would have them sent to the men.

"No," replied the Queen with decision, "I want to put those medals into their hands myself. I feel as if those men were my own children."

It was a pitiable company of sufferers that she met. There were men with deep red scars, men with empty sleeves, men tottering up to her on crutches to touch the hand of their Queen. Many of them would not give up their medals to be marked with their names, lest they should not receive again the very ones that the Queen had given them. One man was wheeled up in a chair. He had lost one leg and the foot from the other, but he had refused to give up the command of his battery till the fight was over, and had given his orders as calmly as if he had not been touched.

"Such bravery as that," cried the Queen, with tears in her eyes, "calls for more than a medal, and you shall be one of my aides-de-camp."

"That pays me amply for everything," he replied. The Queen wrote the account of this incident to King Leopold. "One must revere and love such soldiers as those," she added.

She was never weary of visiting the hospitals and camps. As the regiments returned from the Crimea in the spring and summer of 1856, there were reviews without end. On one occasion she reviewed eighteen thousand troops. She was dressed in the uniform of a field marshal, with a dark blue skirt; and as she rode down the front and returned by the rear, the thousands of men presented arms, and the bands of twenty regiments gave her a joyful greeting. Then she rode to a little mound from which she watched her troops as they filed past her.

There was no limit to the enthusiasm and loyalty which were aroused by the presence of the Queen. One review was held in a pelting rain. The evolutions were spoiled, and the men had every reason to feel gloomy and disappointed, but the Queen saved the day, for she rose in her carriage and made them a warm-hearted little speech of welcome that was like a flash of sunshine. When she closed with, "I thank God that your dangers are over, while the glory of your deeds remains," there was a wild outburst of cheers. The men waved their hats, their sabers, anything and everything that would wave, and shouted till the hills echoed.

The sailors were no less loyal. During this same summer, there was a superb naval review off Spitshead which the Queen witnessed from the royal yacht. Two hundred and forty ships of war were assembled, but that was not all, for the Queen's suite alone consisted of thirty steamships, and there were many hundred private steamboats and sailing vessels. Every foot of the shore that would give a view of the warships was crowded with spectators, and they had a sight well worth the seeing. Ships and steamers were beautifully decorated with flags and crowded with guests. The men-of-war were drawn up in a double line, and the royal yacht steamed slowly along between them. Every vessel manned its yards and fired a royal salute as the Queen passed. The most enthusiastic cheering echoed and reechoed. Then came a mimic naval attack on Southsea Castle, and the brilliant day was at an end.

One thing more the Queen planned to do for her soldiers, and that was to give a badge of special honor to those who had been especially distinguished by some deed of rare bravery. This badge was the Victoria Cross, which was then bestowed for the first time. With it went a pension of fifty dollars a year. More than one hundred thousand people assembled in Hyde Park to see the sixty-two chosen heroes receive their Crosses. The Queen was now in the scarlet jacket of the army. Prince Albert rode on one side of her and Prince Frederick William on the other side. She remained on horseback during the whole ceremony, leaning forward as one brave fighter after another was led up to her, and pinning the Cross on his breast.

The woman whose battles had been, not with Russians, but with mismanagement and inefficiency, lingered in the Crimea until she had seen every soldier leave for home, then she herself returned as quietly as if she had been on a pleasure trip. She seemed to have entirely forgotten that thousands of men in England would have been lying in Crimean graves had it not been for her; but the men remembered, and England gave her such a welcome as even the Duke of Wellington had hardly received. She was an honored guest at Balmoral. Everyone was longing to do something for her, but what should it be?" "Make her a gift," said the people, "and let her do with it as she will." Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars was raised by popular subscription and presented to her. She did with it as she would; she endowed schools for the training of nurses to carry on the work that she loved.