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The Reign of Queen Victoria by  M. B. Synge


 

 

VICTORIA—QUEEN OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND

[7] THE Princess Victoria became Queen on June 20, 1837, just five weeks after keeping her eighteenth birthday. She died on January 22, 1901, having reigned for sixty-three years over a kingdom which, during this period, had grown into the strongest empire the world had yet seen.

The story of its growth is the subject of this hock. It is a story which has no equal in the world's history.

It will be interesting to learn something of the young girl-queen so suddenly called to a position of such immense importance.

Victoria was the niece of William the Fourth, and daughter of his younger brother, the Duke of Kent. Heir after heir to the British throne had died, and by the time that the little Princess Victoria was twelve years old, it became evident that she would succeed her uncle.


[Illustration]

WILLIAM IV.

For this great post she was educated with care by her widowed mother, so that when the change came it found her prepared to discharge her office with a high sense of public duty.

William the Fourth died in the early morning hours of June 20, 1837, at Windsor Castle. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain hurried off [8] at once to London to break the news to the young Princess, who was sleeping peacefully in her old home at Kensington Palace. They arrived about five o'clock in the morning, but it was some time before they could rouse the porter at the gate. At last they gained admittance, but no one seemed to realize the greatness of the moment. "We are come to the Queen on business of State," they assured the sleepy household.


[Illustration]

VICTORIA REGINA.

Soon the young Queen stood before them, her feet in slippers, her hair down her back, a shawl thrown round her shoulders. It was a great moment when [10] the Archbishop and the Lord Chamberlain fell on their knees and saluted her as Queen.

Her great responsibilities had begun—responsibilities which she laid down only with her life. The quiet uneventful life she had led alone with her mother at Kensington Palace was to be exchanged for a life of publicity, tried by that "fierce light that beats upon a throne".

Before nine o'clock the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, had arrived to instruct the young Queen in what would be required of her at the first Council meeting of the new reign. The simple dignity with which she performed her part, reading her speech in a clear untroubled voice before some hundred strange Privy Councillors, astonished all.

"Educated in England under the tender and enlightened care of a most affectionate mother," ran the stilted language of the message compiled for her, "I have learned from infancy to respect and love the Constitution of my native country."

[11] All through that long day, the great bell of St. Paul's tolled for the dead King, while the new Queen prepared for her formal Proclamation on the morrow. She was enthusiastically received by her new subjects, and a continuous shout of "Long live the Queen" greeted her as she drove to St. James's Palace. Dressed in deep mourning, with a large black bonnet, she appeared at the open window of the Privy Council Chamber while the guns fired a royal salute and bands played the National Anthem.

As the shouts of her people fell on her ears, the young Queen burst into tears. She was but eighteen, and Queen of the mightiest land of Europe.

"The Queen wishes to be alone," she announced on her return to Kensington Palace. Alone, amid her familiar surroundings, she wished to dedicate herself to her country.

She now took up her abode at Buckingham Palace, which had been built for her uncle, George the Fourth, and gave her whole attention to learning the high affairs of State. Lord Melbourne was ever at her right hand, instructing her in her great duties, explaining difficult situations, and guiding her through the intricate ways of the British Constitution.

At the end of a year, the Queen was crowned in the presence of her loyal subjects and representatives from France, Spain, Sweden, Hanover, Prussia, Russia, and other foreign nations.

At dawn on June 28, 1838, London was roused from fitful sleep by the thundering of guns from the Tower, and soon throngs of gaily dressed people [12] were surging up and down the London streets. In her state coach, drawn by eight cream-coloured horses, the Queen drove to Westminster Abbey: she was no longer unknown and untried; she had won all hearts by her considerate acts; and as she appeared, radiant with health and youth, the air was rent with shouts from the great crowds around her.

Inside the old weather-beaten Abbey, the scene of so many past coronations, a marvellous procession awaited the Queen. There were archbishops and bishops, princes and princesses of royal blood, and foreign visitors from the courts of Europe. The Queen, dressed in crimson velvet, trimmed with ermine fur and bordered with gold lace, walked to her place in the choir, while the Westminster boys chanted "Vivat Victoria Regina".


[Illustration]

LORD MELBOURNE.

Then the Archbishop presented her to the people: "Sirs," he cried in the traditional language of the service, "I here present unto you Queen Victoria, the undoubted Queen of this realm, wherefore all you who are this day to do your homage, are you willing to do the same?"

"God save the Queen," came the solemn answer.

As the sounds echoed away, the trumpets sounded, the drums rolled, and the band struck up the National Anthem. Then the Queen took the coronation oath, promising to maintain the law of the land and the national religion of the Church of England.

"The things which I have here promised I will perform and keep. So help me God."

At the end of five hours the great service was [13] ended—the Queen was Queen indeed, as, wearing her crown, she drove home through crowds of loyal English men and women.

"Poor little Queen!" said Thomas Carlyle, who was watching in the crowds. "Poor little Queen! She is at an age at which a girl can hardly be trusted to choose a bonnet for herself, yet a task is laid upon her from which an archangel might shrink."


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