On this day in history….22nd January 1901

On this day in history : 22nd January 1901 – The death, at the age of 81, of Queen Victoria – who had reigned for 63 years and 7 months….

Photograph of Queen Victoria 1882 – Image credit : Alexander Bassano – Public domain

When the announcement came from Osbourne House ~ that at 6.30pm, surrounded by her family, Queen Victoria had drawn her last breath ~ it somewhat took the nation by surprise…. The Queen had been on the throne for nearly 64 years, for most people all of their living memory…. An imperative question arose…. ‘Just how exactly does one bury a monarch?’ Nobody could actually remember ever having to do so….

It had been kept from the public just how quickly the Queen was fading away….and even her family were in denial…. She had lost so much weight that she was but a shadow of her former self…. She was confined to a wheelchair, had all but lost her eyesight and suffered bouts of memory loss….

Queen Victoria had seen in the New Year with a sense of trepidation ~ “Another year begun, I am feeling so weak and unwell, that I enter upon it sadly”…. 1900 had been one hell of a year for the Queen…. Her daughter Vicky, Dowager Empress of Germany, had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer; her son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, had died from throat cancer…. Her much loved grandson, Prince Christian Victor, had been lost to fever whilst serving with the British Army in South Africa…. And only just a few days before, Queen Victoria’s dear friend, Lady Churchill, had died in her bed whilst staying with the Queen at Osbourne House…. Then to top it all, there was the continual worry of the ongoing Boer War….

Queen Victoria aged 80, 1899 – After Heinrich von Angeli – Public domain

The government was totally unprepared for what was to come…. Queen Victoria had expressed her wish for a full state military funeral, “befitting for a soldier’s daughter”…. There was to be no lying-in-state, no embalming and ~ even though she herself had worn widow’s weeds since the death of her beloved Albert ~ no mourning black…. She wanted a white funeral with purple trimmings, with a gun carriage and white ponies….

With only a few days to organise such a grand funeral chaos reigned…. The family argued amongst themselves and officials panicked….

The preparation of Queen Victoria for her coffin was a closed affair, with only her doctor and a long-trusted woman servant in attendance…. The Queen was dressed in a white silk gown and her wedding veil placed over her face…. Unbeknown to the family there were some items Queen Victoria had instructed that she wished to take with her…. Secreted inside the coffin was a lock of hair, photographs and the pocket handkerchief of one John Brown…. Upon her finger she wore the wedding ring that had belonged to Brown’s mother – and which Queen Victoria had worn since his death in 1883…. John Brown was Queen Victoria’s devoted Scottish Highland servant – the two of them had been very close….

Queen Victoria and John Brown at Balmoral, 1863 – Photograph G.W.Wilson, Public domain

On the 1st of February the funeral cortège began its long journey…. The coffin was carried onboard the Royal Yacht ‘Alberta’ across the Solent from the Isle of Wight to the mainland…. An eleven mile procession of battleships and cruisers lined the way….each firing a gun salute as the little yacht passed by…. The cortège stayed in harbour overnight before continuing by train to London’s Victoria early the next morning….

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Passing of a Great Queen ; painting by William Wyllie – Public domain

What was to follow was the largest procession since 1852 and the state funeral of the Duke of Wellington…. Through Hyde Park and on to Paddington, the Queen’s coffin high on a gun carriage was drawn by eight white ponies…. The streets, lined with mourners, remained silent….

Queen Victoria’s funeral procession – Russell & Sons : http://www.royalcollection.org.uk – Public domain

From Paddington the coffin was taken by train to Windsor – and then to the waiting gun carriage…. It was here that disaster almost struck…. The horses, which had been kept standing in the freezing conditions for perhaps too long, broke away – nearly causing the coffin to topple…. Unable to re-harness the horses 183 bluejackets from the naval guard of honour attached ropes to the gun carriage – they then proceeded to drag it to St. George’s Chapel….

After the official funeral service a further ceremony was held on the 4th of February just for the family…. It was then that Queen Victoria’s coffin was lowered into the mausoleum that she’d had built for her Albert ~ they were together again….