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….

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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….

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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….

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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….

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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….

 

 

 

On this day in history….30th May 1842

On this day in history : 30th May 1842 – Would-be assassin John Francis attempts to shoot Queen Victoria – for the second time in two days….as she rides in an open carriage….

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Photograph by Alexander Bassano 1882. Public domain

The first attempt had been on the 29th of May; Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had attended a Sunday morning service at the royal chapel, St. James’s Palace and were returning to Buckingham Palace…. As they travelled down the Mall, in their open carriage, Prince Albert saw ‘a little swarthy, ill-looking rascal’ point a flintlock pistol in their direction…. The man pulled the trigger but the gun failed to fire…. He tucked the weapon back into his coat and disappeared into the crowd towards Green Park…. It seemed as if nobody else had noticed what had happened….

Prince Albert informed the police of what had occurred …. Any doubts he may have had at what he had seen were soon dispelled – as a young lad, who had been in the crowd, came forward to say he had witnessed a respectably dressed man in his early twenties aim a pistol at the royal carriage….

Queen Victoria refused to be confined to the Palace whilst the police hunted for the suspect…. The following day, on the 30th of May, she and Prince Albert went out for an evening ride in an open barouche – although feeling nervous they thought this may flush the villain out…. Plain clothed police offices circulated amongst the crowds – and at around 6pm, as the carriage moved down Constitution Hill, a shot suddenly rang out nearby….

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fair use

Police Constable Tanner had been one of those surveying the crowds, when he saw a man raise a pistol – he rushed to knock the gun from the man’s hand and in the process the weapon had fired…. Thankfully the shot missed and the man was apprehended…. He turned out to be the same gunman from the previous day – one John Francis….

Following trial at the Old Bailey Francis was found guilty of high treason and sentence was passed….

“It now only remains for me to pass upon you the sentence of the law, which is that you, John Francis, be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, that you be drawn from thence on a hurdle to the place of execution and that you be hanged by the neck until you be dead; that your head be afterwards severed from your body, and that your body be divided into four quarters, to be disposed of in such a manner as to Her Majesty shall seem fit. And the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

~ [Sheffield Independent, Saturday 25 June 1842]

However, luckily for Francis, Queen Victoria intervened and his sentence was commuted to banishment…. He was transported for life with hard labour….

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A broadside on the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, conducted by John Francis on 30 May 1842, with a wood-engraving showing an open horse-drawn carriage with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert inside – Image credit: The British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

On this day in history….29th March 1871

On this day in history : 29th March 1871 – The Royal Albert Hall in London is opened by Queen Victoria…. Originally it was to be called The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences….img_2677

Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, had a vision borne from the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851 – a venue to promote the understanding and appreciation of the arts and sciences…. After his death from typhoid fever in 1861 the plans were shelved – but later revived by his collaborator on the Great Exhibition, Henry Cole…. Inspired by the ancient Roman amphitheatres Cole’s original intention had been for an establishment to hold 30,000 people – but this was revised to 7,000 for financial and practicality reasons; nowadays, due to safety regulations it has a capacity of 5,500….

On the 20th of May 1867 Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone…. A special marquee designed to accommodate 7,000 was erected – but it was more like 10,000 who packed in to witness Her Majesty lay the red Aberdeen granite block…. Beneath the stone was placed a time capsule which has lain undisturbed ever since…. Inside we know are some gold and silver coins and an inscription from Prime Minister Edward Smith-Stanley…. Of what else lies in the capsule little is known; the foundation stone is now located in the K stalls, row 11, under seat 87 in the main auditorium….img_2676

Queen Victoria, who was still in mourning and wearing all black, was rarely seen in public…. As the stone was laid she said “It is my wish that this Hall should bear his name to whom it will have owed its existence and be called The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Science”…. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave the benediction and a composition by Prince Albert ‘Invocation to Harmony’ was performed by an orchestra…. The ceremony was closed by a 21 gun salute from Hyde Park and a trumpet fanfare by Her Majesty’s Life Guards….

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The Hall at the opening ceremony, seen from Kensington Gardens. Public domain

At the opening ceremony of the Royal Albert Hall, some four years later, Queen Victoria was so overcome with emotion that her son, Edward Prince of Wales, had to make a speech on her behalf…. Her only recorded words of the day being that it reminded her of the British constitution….img_2678

On this day in history….2nd March 1882

On this day in history : 2nd March 1882 – Scotsman Roderick Maclean attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria as she waits to board her train at Windsor railway station….

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Photograph by Alexander Bassano 1882. Public domain

Queen Victoria had just walked across the platform to the waiting carriage with her daughter, Princess Beatrice and other members of her court, when a shot rang out…. Roderick Maclean had stepped from a crowd of cheering onlookers, raised a gun and fired…. Before he could do so again the crowd, including a group of Eton schoolboys who hit him with umbrellas, managed to overcome him…. Maclean was then arrested by a Superintendent Hayes….

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Queen Victoria with Princess Beatrice. Public domain via Wikimedia

Maclean had not been quite right in the head since a childhood accident. His father was the proprietor of  ‘Fun’ magazine – a rival to ‘Punch’ – and so the family would have been comfortable and Roderick Maclean depended upon them financially…. When his parents died he had no means of an income and had to rely on handouts from his three brothers and sister….

As time passed by this help became less frequent, which frustrated Maclean – as a republican he directed his anger at the Monarchy…. He took to wandering from town to town and was becoming more and more like a tramp….

Maclean was also a ‘would-be’ poet and he sent some of his verse to Queen Victoria – but was angered by the response he received from the Palace….his work was returned to him accompanied by a curt note from a lady-in-waiting…. This appears to have finally tipped him over the edge…. Maclean sold his meagre possessions, bought himself a cheap and cheerful revolver….and then walked to Windsor….

In fact Maclean had already been certified as insane two years previously in June 1880….and had spent some time in a lunatic asylum. He had complained of headaches and thought that everybody in England was plotting against him…. He even had a problem with the colour blue and thought people who wore it did so to deliberately provoke him…. He had also sent some disturbing letters to his sister Caroline, in which he discussed murder….

Maclean went on trial in Reading on April the 20th 1882 on the charge of high treason….a crime then punishable by death…. However he was found ‘not guilty but insane’ – the jury took just five minutes to deliver their verdict…. Roderick Maclean spent the rest of his days in Broadmoor Asylum….he died of apoplexy in 1921….

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Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor. Image credit : Wellcome Collection CC BY

On this day in history….25th January 1858

On this day in history : 25th January 1858 – The marriage of Princess Victoria – eldest daughter of Queen Victoria – and Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia takes place at St. James’s Palace….

Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa was born on the 21st of November 1840 and was the eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert – born nine months after their wedding…. Vicky was christened on their first wedding anniversary and on the 19th of January 1841 she was made ‘Princess Royal’….

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Queen Victoria with the Princess Royal c.1844-45 public domain

Vicky first met her future husband Frederick (Fritz) when she was just 10-years-old….he was approaching 20. Fritz was the son of William of Prussia and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach….and was second inline to the Prussian throne after his father – who was expected to succeed his childless brother….

Vicky and Fritz were introduced when he came to London with his family to visit the Great Exhibition in 1851…. Despite the age difference the pair got on well, although he spoke little English Vicky was fluent in German. She acted as his guide at the Exhibition….

Fritz spent quite a bit of time with the royal family during his four-week stay in England – and once he had returned to Germany began to regularly correspond with Vicky…. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were delighted as they wished to forge a closer alliance with Prussia…. If Vicky and Fritz were to marry two important powers would be united, Britain and Prussia, Germany’s main principality….

In 1855 Fritz visited Vicky and her family at Balmoral Castle….she was 15 by then. Vicky was not a classic beauty – her mother worried Fritz might find her too plain….but there was no need to worry because there was an instant spark between them…. After just three days Fritz asked Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for permission to marry their daughter…. Of course, they were thrilled – but because of Vicky’s young age made the condition that they would have to wait until after her 17th birthday….

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The Princess Royal c.1855 – Public domain

The engagement was publicly announced on the 17th of May 1856…. The news was not generally well-received in either country…. Many in Britain criticised the Kingdom of Prussia for its neutrality during the Crimean War…. Whereas, in Germany there were those of a more conservative mind who wished their Crown Prince to marry a Russian grand duchess – those more liberally minded welcomed a union with the British Crown….

The day of the wedding dawned as a bright, crisp Winter’s day…. After breakfast Queen Victoria invited her daughter to her rooms – and they dressed together and had their hair styled…. Vicky wore a gown of white silk moire over a flounced lace petticoat adorned with wreaths of orange and myrtle blossoms…. A matching wreath held her veil in place and she had white satin ribbons upon her train…. For jewellery she wore diamond earrings, necklace and brooch…. Queen Victoria wore lilac silk moire with a velvet train, her outfit completed with the Crown diamonds….

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Queen Victoria, the Prince Consort and Victoria, Princess Royal in the dress they wore at the marriage of the Princess Royal – 1858 Author: Thomas Richard Williams. (Photographs at the time required the subject to remain absolutely still for up to a minute – something Queen Victoria evidently found difficult – hence her blurred image)

Thousands of people lined the short route of the procession from Buckingham Palace to St. James’s Palace…. They were treated to a delightful spectacle….18 carriages, over 300 soldiers and 220 horses…. In one carriage rode three of her sisters, Alice, Helena and Louise (Beatrice, not yet being a year old, did not attend) and all were dressed in white lace over pink satin…. Another carriage carried her brothers, Bertie, Alfred, Arthur and Leopold, attired in Highland dress….

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Victoria with her sisters, Alice, Louise and Helena. Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter 1849

To trumpet fanfares and drumrolls the last coach in the procession, carrying Queen Victoria and Vicky, made its way to the Royal Chapel at St. James’s Palace…. There had been some discrepancy as to who should host the wedding – the Germans felt as Fritz was a future Monarch it should take place in Berlin. However, Queen Victoria had other ideas…. “The assumption of it being too much for a Prince Royal of Prussia to come over to marry the Princess Royal of Great Britain in England is too absurd, to say the least…. Whatever may be the usual practice for Prussian Princes, it is not everyday that one marries the eldest daughter of the Queen of England”…. Needless to say, Queen Victoria got her way….

Vicky was escorted down the aisle by her father and Godfather, her great-uncle, Leopold I of the Belgians…. Her groom was waiting for her and wore the dark blue tunic and white trousers of the Prussian Guard and was carrying his shining silver helmet….

It was a romantic wedding, one of love – unlike so many of the arranged royal weddings of the time…. The service was conducted by John Sumner, Archbishop of Canterbury – who was so nervous he left several parts out…. Queen Victoria later wrote in her journal that she was pleased “Vicky and Fritz spoke plainly”….

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Victoria’s Wedding by John Phillip – Public domain

After the service the bride and groom walked out of the chapel to Felix Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. Although it had been composed 16 years before it was the first time it was played at a royal wedding….and so there after it has become a popular choice at weddings ever since….

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Princess Victoria and Prince Frederick of Prussia 29th January 1858 – Public domain
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Vicky and Fritz 1860s – Public domain