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In the Days of Queen Victoria by  Eva March Tappan


 

 

THE QUEEN AND THE CHILDREN

[319]

T
HERE had been only one drawback to the Queen's happiness during the Jubilee rejoicings, and that was the poor health of her favorite son-in-law, the Crown Prince of Germany. In the procession he had looked superbly well and strong, but his throat was giving him so much trouble that he remained in England the rest of the year, hoping that a change of climate would do him good.

Everyone loved "Our Fritz," as he was called in Germany, both his own countrymen and the English. His father, the Emperor, was over ninety and so feeble that he could not possibly live many months. Ever since that summer day on the hills of Balmoral when the Prince had given the sprig of white heather to the maiden of his choice, the Queen had hoped that Germany would unite under one emperor and that [320] Prince Frederick William would become its ruler. The German states had united, and it was clear that the German throne would soon fall to her daughter's husband; but the physicians declared that his disease was incurable.

For several months the whole world watched for news of the beloved Emperor and his equally beloved son. Early in 1888 the Emperor died, and Queen Victoria's ambition of thirty years had come to pass; her daughter was Empress of Germany. But it was a sad accession to a throne, and the Queen forgot all about her ambitious hopes in her daughter's grief and her own. Hardly a day passed that she did not send some message of sympathy to the sorrowing wife. In three months the end came. The Emperor "Fritz," whose sufferings had been none the less because he sat on a throne, was dead. His son, the Frederick William Victor Albert who had given his young uncles so much trouble at the wedding of the Prince of Wales, now wore the German crown; but the Queen, instead of rejoicing in her daughter's being Empress of Germany, could only try as best she might to help her bear her loneliness.

[321] No one, whether Princess Royal or Highland cottager, ever appealed to the Queen for sympathy in vain. She was always especially interested in the sick. In her Jubilee year, the women of England made her a present of $375,000, and she gave almost all of it to found an institute which should provide trained nurses for the poor in their own homes. When injured soldiers returned to England, she was never weary of going to see them, of walking down the long rows of beds, saying to one man, "I am afraid you are in great pain," to another, "England owes much to her brave soldiers." If she only asked "Where were you wounded?" or looked at a sufferer with that peculiarly sweet smile of which everyone spoke and which the photographers could never catch, he was content. Some of the hospital patients almost believed that her coming would cure them.

"Oh, it does hurt so," sobbed one little girl in a ward for children, "but if the Queen would only come and see me, I know I'd be well."

"Perhaps she will," said the nurse.

"No," cried the little one. "She went right by the door."

[322] Somehow word was carried to the Queen that a little girl who had been terribly burned was crying to see her.

"Is there another ward that I have not visited?" she asked.

"Yes, Madam," answered the Doctor, "but it is at the extreme end of the hospital."

"Never mind," replied the Queen. "I will go and see the child."

After this visit the little girl who had been so honored was the envy of all the other children as she told over and over her story of the royal visit. "She came down just to see me," said the little one, "the Doctor told me she did. She put her hand right on my forehead and she said, 'I have a little granddaughter about as old as you, and I hope you will soon be able to run about as she does.' And then she said 'Good-by,' and she said, 'I shall come to see you again.' I wish she would come to-morrow."

All her life Queen Victoria was fond of children. She liked even the little boy who declared stoutly, "No, I don't like you because you cut Mary Queen of Scots' head off." When she first became Queen, she always managed to have [323] some little folks staying in the palace as visitors, and the ninth child of her own family was just as welcome as the first. In all the displays that were made at her various receptions, she was never more pleased than when throngs of children were gathered together to greet her. She knew how to please children, and when she went to visit a school for boys, she won their hearts by requesting the master to give them an extra week's holiday. She never could bear to disappoint a child. One day when she was driving very rapidly, she caught sight of a little boy by the roadside looking much grieved because he had tried to throw a bunch of flowers into her carriage, and it had fallen into the road. "Drive back," she ordered, and the carriage with its four horses and driver and attendants was turned back. "Will you give me those pretty flowers?" she asked, and the little boy with tears on his cheeks suddenly became the happiest little fellow in the Highlands, as he shyly handed her the rather dusty bouquet. The children of the Balmoral tenants knew that she would never forget her promises, and if she said a toy was coming to them at Christmas, it was as sure to [324] come as the day itself. When the little daughter of the minister in the village nearest to Balmoral was born, the Queen asked that she might be named Alexandrina Victoria for herself. Many gifts were sent to the little namesake, but perhaps the one that pleased her most was the tall sugar ornament from the Queen's birthday cake which the Queen herself brought over to the home of the tiny damsel and presented to her.

As the many grandchildren began to circle around Queen Victoria, she had a warm corner in her heart for everyone. She always wore a bracelet with a place for a miniature, and here the picture of the "new baby" was put, to remain until there was a newer baby whose little portrait should take its place. The numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren were taught to greet her with the utmost respect, and little boys who could hardly walk would make a bow to her or kiss her hand as gravely as any grown-up courtiers. There the ceremony ended, and the good times began.

Of all the groups of children there were some to whom she was especially devoted. The daughters of the Princess Alice, as she was al- [325] ways called in England, she cared for almost as if they were her own. They made her long and frequent visits, and, little as the Queen cared for handsome clothes, she saw to it that when these orphan granddaughters were to be married, they should have all sorts of fine apparel and many beautiful jewels.

The children of whom she saw most during the last years of her life were those of Princess Beatrice. Two of them were born at Balmoral, first, a little Victoria Eugénie, the first child of the royal family born in Scotland for three hundred years. The tenants felt that this child was really their own, and they put their shillings together and bought her a very handsome cradle. They were all invited to come to the castle and see the baby, and a carriage was sent for any who were too feeble to walk. When the second child, a boy, was born, Craig Gowan again blazed with a bonfire. The pipers played, and all the people on the estate lighted their torches and marched up to the top of the hill for a dance.

It is to be hoped that the Princess Beatrice did not have as much difficulty in managing her own children as she did when she was six years [326] old in commanding the obedience of Prince Frederick William of Germany and his sister. She is said to have gone to Dr. McLeod, declaring indignantly, "Just think, my nephew William and my niece Elizabeth will not do as I bid them and shut the door, and I am their aunt! Aren't they naughty?"

One little grandchild who was especially dear to the Queen was the son of her son Leopold, who died so suddenly. The Duke of Albany commanded the "Seaforth Highlanders," and after his death the little Duke was looked upon as their commander. The story is told that when he was six years old, he was allowed to "review" his troops. Very seriously he set about it, wearing a uniform made just like that of the tall Highlanders. He had been carefully taught how to give some of the orders, and he piped them out as gravely as if the fate of a battle depended upon his words. He was delighted to see how promptly the men obeyed him, and he felt quite like a grown man; but he too had to obey as implicitly as his soldiers, and when he made a boat of a scrubbing brush belonging to a tenant, and it floated off down the river, the [327] small boy was taken straightway to a village store to buy another and pay for it with his own pocket money.

With so many children in whom she was interested, the Queen might well have been forgiven if she had forgotten a few of them at Christmas, but such a thing never occurred; and even when the birthdays came around, they were never overlooked. She always had a little pity for her own lonely childhood, and she was very fond of giving her children and grandchildren feasts and entertainments that they could enjoy together. Dancing bears were brought to Windsor to perform for the children; Punch and Judy often gave them a merry hour; and once at least a monkey was "commanded" to appear before the Queen with his owner and the hand-organ. Where other people "invited," the Queen "commanded." Performers were very ready to obey, for besides the price paid them by the palace commissioner, the Queen almost always made them a personal gift of money or jewelry. Moreover, it was an excellent advertisement for them to perform before the royal family. Among other performers Buffalo Bill and his troupe [328] were commanded to Windsor to show her Majesty and the little people what wild life on the plains of America used to be.

Once at Balmoral the Queen commanded a circus to perform before her. It was only a little circus, and the proprietor must have been almost overwhelmed with amazement and delight, but he made ready and set out for a field near the castle. The "Battenberg children" and the little folk from the other two castles which the Queen had built near Balmoral were summoned to come to the show. The little Alexandrina Victoria was invited, and word was sent to all the tenant children. The circus began. The children were happy, and even the performing donkey did so finely that the Queen wished to buy him. Unfortunately he was only a borrowed donkey and could not be sold; but after this fortunate day, it is very likely that whenever he entered the sawdust ring, he was announced as "Donkey in Special to Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India."

The Queen was never bored by these little entertainments, for with all her dignity, she had, [329] as her husband said of his eldest daughter, "the brain of a statesman and the heart of a child." When the circus came to Balmoral, she watched it for two long hours, and was apparently as much amused as her small grandchildren; and when the organ-grinder and his monkey were at Windsor, the Queen laughed as heartily as any of the children as the little creature tried his best to find a way into the castle.

When the Queen was amused, she was very much amused, and sometimes she found it as hard to keep from laughing outright as any young girl. One who was present describes the reception of an embassy from one of the Oriental countries when it was all the Queen could do to "keep a straight face." On the English side everything was very ceremonious, for it was desirable to pay special courtesy to the strangers. The embassy, too, wished to show extreme respect, but no one guessed how they would do it. They entered, and after making all sorts of strange gestures, they "suddenly bowed themselves, apparently as men struggling with acute internal pain, and squeezed their hands together between their knees." The Queen was as mo- [330] tionless as a statue, her face becoming more and more grave as the formalities proceeded. The moment the envoys had left the room, however, she broke down and laughed till her eyes were full of tears. "But I went through it," she cried to her ladies. "I did go right through it."

The Queen was no less kind to her servants than to children; but just as her children were taught to obey her, so her servants were required to give her prompt and excellent service. "I can't afford to be kept waiting," she would say, whether the delinquent was a servant or a court lady. "If I am to get through my work, I mustn't have my moments frittered away." After the housekeeping was once fully in her own hands, there was little more of the irregular, negligent management that had formerly prevailed. Everyone employed had his work and was responsible for its being well done. It is said that she even made use of the ancient expedient of housekeepers whose dusting has not been properly done, and that with her own royal forefinger she once wrote her name on a dusty cabinet. The next day the dust was still there, and then she wrote under her own name that of [331] the servant who was in fault. When the poor girl discovered that she had been reproved by the Queen of Great Britain and Empress of India, she was so overwhelmed with alarm that she ran away. It is a pleasant ending to the story to know that the royal mistress sent for her to come back. The Queen's rule was very strict, but if trouble came to any of her attendants, she was as sympathetic as if she had been one of their own family. She wanted them to have plenty of amusement, and when in 1886 a great exhibition was going on in London, she gave to her Balmoral servants an invitation to spend ten days at Windsor Castle to see the exhibition and the other sights of the city. The Queen demanded the best of service, but when it was given, she never felt that money alone would pay for it, and she was honestly grateful to those who served her well. She had to meet so many strangers that it was a pleasure to her to have familiar faces in her household. When new attendants were to be employed, she was always glad to have members of the families that already served her; and at the death of John Brown, she gave his place to one of his cousins, [332] who was already in her employ. When her servants were ill or unable to work, she always cared for them, and saw to it that they had a comfortable home for their old age.

The life of the Queen was gradually becoming very regular in some respects, and especially in the way that she divided her year. For a long time she had made two visits to Balmoral each year, one in the spring and one in the autumn. She made also three visits to Osborne and spent a week or more in London. The rest of her time was given to Windsor and to her "vacation," which she spent somewhere on the Continent. It is hardly fair to say that she had a vacation, for wherever she went, one of her Ministers accompanied her and the ever-present dispatch boxes followed her. At Balmoral the "Queen's Messenger" arrived about six o'clock every morning with his box of papers. These were arranged by the secretary in such a way as to save her all unnecessary trouble. About ten, she entered upon the government business of the day, reading, thinking, signing papers, and writing. At half-past two the messenger set out for London.

[333] But this was not all her work with the pen, for the royal family carried on a vast amount of correspondence with the Queen. As nearly as possible, she wished to hear from each one of them every day, not the kind of letter that says, "I am well and hope you are the same," but letters that told what the writers were doing, and what they thought of the events in which they took part. The Queen could not answer all these communications, of course, but if there was need of her advice or sympathy, she never failed to write; and those of her letters that have been made public are charmingly frank and sincere and full of most tender affection.

Her own marriage had been so happy that in the marriage of her descendants she paid little attention to whether a proposed alliance would be of advantage to the kingdom; the chief question in her mind was whether the young people would be happy together. Two years after the Jubilee, the eldest daughter of the Prince of Wales married the Duke of Fife. According to English custom, the daughter of a Prince is not a peer, but a commoner, and although a title is usually given her, it is only by courtesy and not [334] by right. The Princess Louise, then, was a commoner, but by marrying a Duke she became a duchess, and would have the right to precede her sisters if they did not also marry dukes or men of higher rank. One other privilege that she acquired was that, if she was accused of any crime, she could demand to be tried by a jury composed of peers.

In 1891 came the fiftieth anniversary of Queen Victoria's marriage, her "Golden Wedding," as her children tenderly called the day. They gave her a prayer book in which was written a stanza given them by Tennyson:

"Remembering him who waits thee far away,

And with thee, Mother, taught us first to pray,

Accept on this, your golden bridal day,

The Book of Prayer."

Through the sorrowful memories that thoughts of her own wedding aroused, the Queen was looking forward with much pleasure to a marriage that she hoped would take place. Next to the sovereign herself and the Prince of Wales, the interest of the English centered upon "Prince Eddie," the Duke of Clarence and Avondale, for after his father, he would wear the [335] English crown, and the whole country was waiting to see whom he would choose for his wife. Princess Mary of Cambridge, who had always been a warm friend of Princess Alexandra, had married the Duke of Teck. Their daughter Mary was the choice of the Duke of Clarence, and late in 1891 the engagement was announced. Only a month passed before the Duke was taken ill, and in a few days he died. There was a deep and general mourning, for "Prince Eddie" was greatly loved; but to the Queen there was the loss not only of the first child of her first-born son, but of the heir to her crown. She wrote to Tennyson, "Was there ever a more terrible contrast, a wedding with bright hopes turned into a funeral?"

The English people grieved for the loss of "Prince Eddie," whom Tennyson called "so princely, tender, truthful, reverent, pure," and they were sad for the young Princess, "Princess May," as she was always called, for her merry disposition and good heart had made her a general favorite. She said of herself that when she was a child, she was "very naughty, very happy, and very uninteresting," but the people who [336] knew her did not agree that she was either naughty or uninteresting. She and the children of the Prince of Wales were old playfellows and the best of friends. Time passed on, and it began to be whispered that a marriage would take place between Princess May and Prince George, the second son of the Prince of Wales. He was now the heir to the throne, and the people were glad that Princess May would some day become their Queen.

Prince George, or the Duke of York, had spent some years of his life at sea, for before he was twelve years old he entered the navy. The other midshipmen were on the watch to see whether he would put on airs because he was the Prince of Wales's son, but he soon showed himself ready to take part in whatever came up, and no more favor was shown him than to any other young sailor. Like his uncle, the Duke of Edinburgh, he was called the Sailor Prince. After his marriage to Princess May had taken place, and the young pair were on their way to Sandringham, they found arches built over the road, and on one was "God bless our Sailor Prince."

A loss which in her daily life touched the [337] Queen even more nearly than that of the Duke of Clarence, was that of Prince Henry of Battenberg. In 1895 the Africans of Ashanti revolted against British rule, and forces were sent to suppress them. Prince Henry wished to serve. "I have been brought up as a soldier," he said, "and now is my time to show what I can do." The Queen was not willing to have him go, but he did not give up. "England is my adopted country," he urged. "I belong to her regular army, and I ought to help protect her interests; and for the sake of my children I ought to establish my position." Even the Princess Beatrice could not deny that this was true, and at last the Queen yielded. The service of the Prince was short, for not many weeks after reaching Africa, he was sent home ill of fever, and died on the voyage. The Queen suffered with her daughter, for the bright, merry ways of the Prince had been a real delight to her. "I have lost the sunbeam of my household," she said sadly. One by one she was losing those who were dear to her, but in every trouble the love of her subjects was her great comfort, and this love was soon to be manifested even more clearly than at the Jubilee of 1887.


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