CHAPTER II

CHILDHOOD

I The child who, in these not very impressive circumstances, appeared in the world, received but scant attention. There was small reason to foresee her destiny. The Duchess of Clarence, two months before, had given birth to a daughter; this infant, indeed, had died almost immediately; but it seemed highly probable that the Duchess would again become a mother; and so it actually fell out. More than this, the Duchess of Kent was young, and the Duke was strong; there was every likelihood that before long a brother would follow, to snatch her faint chance of the succession from the little princess.

THE NAME AND BAPTISM

Nevertheless, the Duke had other views: there were prophecies. … At any rate, he would christen the child Elizabeth, a name of happy augury. In this, however, he reckoned without the Regent, who, seeing a chance of annoying his brother, suddenly announced that he himself would be present at the baptism, and signified at the same time that one of the godfathers was to be the Emperor Alexander of Russia. And so when the ceremony took place, and the Archbishop of Canterbury asked by what name he was to baptise the child, the Regent replied ” Alexandria.” At this the Duke ventured to suggest that another name might be added. ” Certainly,” said the Regent; ” Georgina? ” ” Or Elizabeth?” said the Duke. There was a pause, during which the Archbishop, with the baby in his lawn sleeves, looked with some uneasiness from one Prince to the other. ” Very well, then,” said the Regent at last, ” call her after her mother. But Alexandrina must come first.” Thus, to the disgust of her father, the child was christened Alexandrina Victoria.1

THE DUKE NOT HAPPY WITH NAME

The Duke had other subjects of disgust. The meagre grant of the Commons had by no means put an end to his financial distresses. It was to be feared that his services were not appreciated by the nation. His debts continued to grow. For many years he had lived upon £7000 a year; but now his expenses were exactly doubled; he could make no further reductions; as it was, there was not a single servant in his

i Murray, 62-3; Lee, 11-12.

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establishment who was idle for a moment from morning to night. He poured out his griefs in a long letter to Robert Owen, whose sympathy had the great merit of being practical. ” I now candidly state,” he wrote, ” that, after viewing the subject in every possible way, I am satisfied that, to continue to live in England, even in the quiet way in which we are going on, without splendour, and without show, nothing short of doubling the seven thousand pounds will do, Reduction Being Impossible.” It was clear that he would be obliged to sell his house for £51,300: if that failed, he would go and live on the Continent. ” If my services are useful to my country, it surely becomes those who have the power to support me in substantiating those just claims I have for the very extensive losses and privations I have experienced, during the very long period of my professional servitude in the Colonies; and if this is not attainable, it is a clear proof to me that they are not appreciated; and under that impression I shall not scruple, in due time, to resume my retirement abroad, when the Duchess and myself shall have fulfilled our duties in establishing the English birth of my child, and giving it material nutriment on the soil of Old England; and which we shallcertainly repeat, if Providence destines to give us any further increase of family.” 1•

THE FORTUNE TELLERS WORDS, THE KING DIES

In the meantime, he decided to spend the winter at Sidmouth, ” in order,” he told Owen, ” that the Duchess may have the benefit of tepid sea bathing, and our infant that of sea air, on the fine coast of Devonshire, during the months of the year that are so odious in London.”2 In December the move was made. With the new year, the Duke remembered another prophecy. In 1820, a fortune-teller had told him, two members of the Royal Family would die. Who would they be? He speculated on the various possibilities: the King, it was plain, could not live much longer; and the Duchess of York had been attacked by a mortal disease. Probably it would be the King and the Duchess of York; or perhaps the King and the Duke of York; or the King and the Regent. He himself was one of the healthiest men in England.3 ” My brothers,” he declared, ” are not so strong as I am; I have lived a regular life. I shall outlive them all. The crown will come to me and my children.”4 He went out for a walk, and got his feet wet. On coming home, he neglected to change his stockings. He caught cold, inflammation of the lungs set in, and on January 22 he was a dying man. By a curious chance, young Dr. Stockmar was staying in the house at the time; two years before, he had stood by the death-bed of the Princess Charlotte; and now he was watching the Duke of Kent in his agony. On Stockmar’s advice, a will was hastily prepared. The Duke’s earthly possessions were of a negative character; but it was important that the guardianship of the unwitting child, whose fortunes were now so strangely changing, should be assured to the Duchess. The Duke was just able to understand the document, and to append his signature. Having inquired whether his writing was perfectly clear, he became unconscious, and breathed his last on the following morning.1 Six days later came the fulfilment of the second half of the gipsy’s prophecy. The long, unhappy, and inglorious life of George the Third of England was ended.

lOwen, Journal, No. 1, February, 1853, 28-9. 2 Ibid., 31. aCroker, I, 155. ♦ Stockmar, 113.

THE WIDOWED DUCHESS

Ii Such was the confusion of affairs at Sidmouth, that the Duchess found herself without the means of returning to London. Prince Leopold hurried down, and himself conducted his sister and her family, by slow and bitter stages, to Kensington. The widowed lady, in her voluminous blacks, needed all her equanimity to support her. Her prospects were more dubious than ever. She had £6000 a year of her own; but her husband’s debts loomed before her like a mountain. Soon she learnt that the Duchess of Clarence was once more expecting a child. What had she to look forward to in England? Why should she remain in a foreign country, among strangers, whose language she could not speak, whose customs she could not understand? Surely it would be best to return to Amorbach, and there, among her own people, bring up her daughters in economical obscurity. But she was an inveterate optimist; she had spent her life in struggles, and would not be daunted now. And besides, she adored her baby. ” C’est mon bonheur, mes delices, mon existence,” she declared; the darling should be brought up as an English princess, whatever lot awaited her. Prince Leopold came forward nobly with an offer of an additional £3000 a year; and the Duchess remained at Kensington.1

i Stockmar, 114-5.

The child herself was extremely fat, and bore a remarkable resemblance to her grandfather. ” C’est l’image du feu Roi!” exclaimed the Duchess. ” C’est le Roi Georges en jupons,” echoed the surrounding ladies, as the little creature waddled with difficulty from one to the other.1

iLetters, I, 15, 257-8; Grey, App. A.

Before long, the world began to be slightly interested in the nursery at Kensington. When, early in 1821, the Duchess of Clarence’s second child, the Princess Elizabeth, died within three months of its birth, the interest increased. Great forces and fierce antagonisms seemed to be moving, obscurely, about the royal cradle. It was a time of faction and anger, of violent repression and profound discontent. A powerful movement, which had for long been checked by adverse circumstances, was now spreading throughout the country. New passions, new desires, were abroad; or rather old passions and old desires, reincarnated with a new potency: love of freedom, hatred of injustice, hope for the future of man. The mighty still sat proudly in their seats, dispensing their ancient tyranny; but a storm was gathering out of the darkness, and already there was lightning in the sky. But the vastest forces must needs operate through human instruments; and it seemed for many years as if the great cause of English liberalism hung upon the life of the little girl at Kensington. She alone stood between the country and her terrible uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, the hideous embodiment of reaction. Inevitably, the Duchess of Kent threw in her lot with her husband’s party; Whig leaders, Radical agitators, rallied round her; she was intimate with the bold Lord Durham, she was on friendly terms with the redoubtable O’Connell himself. She received Wilberforce—though, to be sure, she did not ask him to sit down.1

FAITH IN THE LIBERTIES OF THE PEOPLE

She declared in public that she put her faith in ” the liberties of the People.” 2 It was certain that the young Princess would be brought up in the way that she should go; yet there, close behind the throne, waiting, sinister, was the Duke of Cumberland. Brougham, looking forward into the future in his scurrilous fashion, hinted at dreadful possibilities. ” I never prayed so heartily for a Prince before,” he wrote, on hearing that George IV had been attacked by illness. ” If he had gone, all the troubles of these villains [the Tory Ministers] went with him, and they had Fred. I [the Duke of York] their own man for his life. . . . He [Fred. I] won’t live long either; that Prince of Blackguards, ‘ Brother William,’ is as bad a life, so we come in the course of nature to be assassinated by King Ernest I or Regent Ernest [the Duke of Cumberland].”1 Such thoughts were not peculiar to Brougham; in the seething state of public feeling, they constantly leapt to the surface; and, even so late as the year previous to her accession, the Radical newspapers were full of suggestions that the Princess Victoria was in danger from the machinations of her wicked uncle.2

THE FUTURE QUEEN’S NICKNAME “DRINA”

But no echo of these conflicts and forebodings reached the little Drina—for so she was called in the family circle—as she played with her dolls, or scampered down the passages, or rode on the donkey her uncle York had given her3 along the avenues of Kensington Gardens. The fairhaired, blue-eyed child was idolised by her nurses, and her mother’s ladies, and her sister Feodora; and for a few years there was danger, in spite of her mother’s strictness, of her being spoilt. From time to time, she would fly into a violent passion, stamp her little foot, and set everyone at defiance; whatever they might say, she would not learn her letters—no, she would not; afterwards, she was very sorry, and burst into tears; but her letters remained unlearnt. When she was five years old, however, a change came, with the appearance of Fraulein Lehzen. This lady, who was the daughter of a Hanoverian clergyman and had previously been the Princess Feodora’s governess, soon succeeded in instilling a new spirit into her charge. At first, indeed, she was appalled by the little Princess’s outbursts of temper; never in her life, she declared, had she seen such a passionate and naughty child. Then she observed something else; the child was extraordinarily truthful; whatever punishment might follow, she never told a lie.1 Firm, very firm, the new governess yet had the sense to see that all the firmness in the world would be useless, unless she could win her way into little Drina’s heart. She did so, and there were no more difficulties. Drina learnt her letters like an angel; and she learnt other things as well. The Baroness de Spath taught her how to make little board boxes and decorate them with tinsel and painted flowers;2 her mother taught her religion. Sitting in the pew every Sunday morning, the child of six was seen listening in rapt attention to the clergyman’s endless sermon, for she was to be examined upon it in the afternoon.1

EDUCATING AND PREPARING A FUTURE QUEEN

The Duchess was determined that her daughter, from the earliest possible moment, should be prepared for her high station in a way that would commend itself to the most respectable; her good, plain, thrifty German mind recoiled with horror and amazement from the shameless junketings at Carlton House; Drina should never be allowed to forget for a moment the virtues of simplicity, regularity, propriety, and devotion. The little girl, however, was really in small need of such lessons, for she was naturally simple and orderly, she was pious without difficulty, and her sense of propriety was keen. She understood very well the niceties of her own position. When, a child of six, Lady Jane Ellice was taken by her grandmother to Kensington Palace, she was put to play with the Princess Victoria, who was the same age as herself. The young visitor, ignorant of etiquette, began to make free with the toys on the floor, in a way which was a little too familiar; but “You must not touch those,” she was quickly told, ” they are mine; and I may call you Jane, but you must not call me Victoria.” z The Princess’s most constant playmate was Victoire, the daughter of Sir John Conroy, the Duchess’s major-domo. The two girls were very fond of one another; they would walk hand in hand together in Kensington Gardens. But little Drina was perfectly aware for which of them it was that they were followed, at a respectful distance, by a gigantic scarlet flunkey.1

i Creevey, I, 297-8. a Jerrold, Early Court, 15-17.

a Lett en, I, 10.

iLetter*, I, 14; Girlhood, I, 280. 2 Crawford, 6.

i Smith, 21-2. * Oornhill Magazine, LXXV, 730.

Warm-hearted, responsive, she loved her dear Lehzen, and she loved her dear Feodora, and her dear Victoire, and her dear Madame de Spath. And her dear Mamma … of course, she loved her too; it was her duty; and yet—she could not tell why it was—she was always happier when she was staying with her Uncle Leopold at Claremont. There old Mrs. Louis, who, years ago, had waited on her Cousin Charlotte, petted her to her heart’s content; and her uncle himself was wonderfully kind to her, talking to her seriously and gently, almost as if she were a grown-up person. She and Feodora invariably wept when the too short visit was over, and they were obliged to return to the dutiful monotony, and the affectionate supervision of Kensington. But sometimes when her mother had to stay at home, she was allowed to go out driving all alone with her dear Feodora and her dear Lehzen, and she could talk and look as she liked, and it was very delightful.2