Queen Victoria's Childhood

Infant Victoria Escapes Death

Kensington PalaceEITHER at Kensington or Claremont the Princess Victoria chiefly spent the first years of her life, but visits to watering-places and other attractive spots were by no means unfrequent. Indeed, she began her travels at a very early date, for she was barely six months old when she was taken to a pretty spot near Sidmouth, on the Devonshire coast, to spend her first winter. Here, at the beginning of 1820, the Princess had her first narrow escape from being killed. A boy who was shooting at sparrows near the house managed to send a charge of small shot through the nursery windows, and some of the shot actually passed close to the head of Princess Victoria, who was in her nurse's arms.

Death of the Duke of Kent

But of her danger and of her narrow escape the child was of course unconscious, and equally so of the real calamity that befel her a few days afterward. Her father, the Duke of Kent, came in one day with his feet wet after walking in the grounds, and instead of changing his things at once he lingered playing with his baby until a chill struck him. Severe inflammation of the lungs set in, and in January, 1820, he died. And now there began for the Duchess of Kent that long widowhood of forty-one years, during which the great purpose of her life seemed to be to watch over the career of the daughter left in her charge. The story of Queen Victoria and her eventful reign could never be rightly told without a tribute of praise to the noble-minded woman who moulded the character and trained the hopes and aspirations of England's future Queen. Uncle Leopold came at once in the hour of sorrow, took back the widow and her child to their home at Kensington, and, with true brotherly kindness and generous help, softened the difficulties of the position.

We get a peep at Princess Victoria and her mother a few months after the sad event just alluded to, in a letter written by William Wilberforce (the friend of Africa) to Hannah More. lie says, " In consequence of a very civil message from the Duchess of Kent, I waited on her this morning. She received me with her fine animated child on the floor by her side with its playthings, of which I soon became one. She was very civil, but as she did not sit down I did not think it right to stay above a quarter of an hour ; and there being but a female- attendant and a footman present, I could not well get up any topic so as to carry on a continued discourse. She apologised for not speaking English well enough to talk it ; but intimated a hope that she might speak it better and longer with me at some future time."

The old King George III. had died six days after the Duke of Kent, and soon afterwards the Duke of York's wife died, leaving no children, so the throne was gradually coming nearer and nearer to the little Princess at Kensington. But in December, 1820, the Clarences had another baby, who was styled Princess Elizabeth Georgina Adelando, and who, if she had lived, would in all probability have become Elizabeth II. of England. But in a few months the weakly infant passed away, and Princess Victoria--or "little Drina," as she was then called in the family—was again, through knowing nothing of her high destiny, in a fair way for being Queen of England.

Second Escape From Death For Princess

The little Princess was only about three years old when she again had a narrow escape from being killed. She was thrown out of a pony-carriage which her mother was driving in Kensington Gardens ; and the carriage was just falling over on the child, when a soldier caught at her dress and swung her into safety. The soldier was rewarded for saving the " little Drina," and the Duchess of Kent took down his name and regiment and promised to do something more for him. Five pounds were sent to the man afterwards when on duty in Ireland, but it was not till November, 1877, that John Maloney found out that the Princess Alexandrina, whose life he had saved fifty-six years before, was the same lady that had come to be Queen of England.

Day In The Life Of Little Drina

The routine of life in the old Palace at Kensington is thus described by a writer in The Queen. " The life of the Duchess and her children at Kensington was plain and simple. The family party met at breakfast at eight o'clock in summertime, Princess Victoria having her bread and milk and fruit put on a little table by her mother's side. After breakfast Princess Feodore and Princess Victoria went out for an hour's walk or drive. From ten to twelve her mother instructed her, after which she would amuse herself running through the suite of rooms which extended round two sides of the Palace, and in which were many of her toys. Her nurse was a Mrs. Brock, whom the Princess used to call her dear, dear Boppy.' At two came a plain dinner, while the Duchess took her luncheon. After this, lessons again till four ; then would come a visit or drive, and after that the Princess would ride or walk in the gardens, or occasionally, on very fine evenings, the whole party would sit out on the lawn under the trees. At the time of her mother's dinner the Princess had her supper laid at her side ; then, after playing with her nurse, she would join the party at dessert, and at nine she would retire to her bed, which was placed by the side of her mother's."

Princess Victoria's Half Sister

The Princess Feodore mentioned in the above extract was the beloved half- sister of our Queen, being the Duchess of Kent's child by a former marriage. Before passing on, we must take another peep at the royal infant, as described in tie columns of a newspaper of the period. The writer tells how he saw in Kensington Gardens " a party consisting of several ladies, a young child.and two men-servants, having in charge a
donkey, gaily caparisoned with blue ribbons, and for the use of the infant." He soon found that the Duchess of Kent and her daughter formed the centre of the group. " On approaching the royal party, the infant Princess, observing my respectful recognition, nodded and wished me a good morning with much liveliness, as she skipped along between her mother and her sister, Princess Feodore, holding a hand of each." She was careful to return all salutations as she passed along. " Her Royal Highness," continues the writer, " is remarkably beautiful, and her gay and animated countenance bespeaks perfect health and good temper. Her complexion is excessively fair, her eyes large and expressive, and her cheeks blooming. She bears a very striking resemblance to her late royal father, and indeed, to every member of our reigning family."

Holidays By The Sea

In the summer months (like a great many other children in less exalted families) Princess Victoria was often taken to stay at the sea-side. We have seen her at Sidmouth, and next year she was at Brighton, lodging in that extraordinary edifice, the Pavilion ; and afterwards she was several times at Ramsgate, which became a very favourite spot, both with her mother and herself. A writer in Fraser's Magazine tells us how he saw the Princess, when five years old, playing on the Ramsgate sands in her simple dress—" a plain straw bonnet with a white ribbon round the crown, a coloured muslin frock, looking gay and cheerful, and as pretty a pair of shoes on as pretty a pair of feet as I ever remember to have seen." Near by stood her mother, conversing with William Wilberforce, and laughing when an unexpected wave suddenly rippled over the feet of the Princess. The writer we are referring to watched the Duchess and her daughter proceed up the High Street to their residence, and saw the child run back to put some silver in the lap of an old Irishwoman sitting on a doorstep.

Princess Aged 7

Passing on a couple of years, we get a glimpse of the appearance of Princess Victoria when seven years old, from Lord Albemarle's Autobiography. He says, " One of my occupations of a morning, while waiting for the Duke, was to watch from the windows the movements of a bright pretty little girl, seven years of age. She was in the habit of watering the plants immediately under the window. It was amusing to see how impartially she divided the contents of the watering pot between the flowers and her own little feet." She was usually dressed in " a large straw hat and a suit of white cotton ; a coloured fichu round the neck was the only ornament she wore."

Princess Aged 9

Early in 1827 the Duke of York died, and the Duke of Clarence was now heir presumptive. During the last illness of the Duke of York, his little niece, Princess Victoria, visited him daily, always carrying in her hand a bouquet of choice flowers. In the summer of that year, the well-known author, Charles Knight, passing along the broad central walk of Kensington Gardens, "saw a group on the lawn before the palace, which to my mind was a vision of exquisite loveliness. The Duchess of Kent and her daughter, whose years then numbered nine, are breakfasting in the open air—a single page attending upon them at a respectful distance—the matron looking on with eyes of love, whilst the 'fair soft English fate' is bright with smiles." About a year afterwards, another writer, Leigh Hunt, gives us a picturesque glimpse at England's future Queen. He writes : " We remember well the peculiar kind of personal pleasure which it gave to see the future Queen, the first time we ever did see her, coming up a cross-path from the Bayswater Gate, with a girl of about her own age by her side, whose hand she was holding as if she loved her. A magnificent footman in scarlet came behind her, with the splendidest pair of calves in white stockings which we ever beheld. He looked somehow like a gigantic fairy, personating somehow for his little lady's sake the grandest kind of footman he could think of; and his calves he seemed to have made out of a couple of the biggest chaise lamps in the possession of the godmother of Cinderella."

Education

Of the early life of Princess Victoria, simplicity and regularity were very marked features: There was plenty of out-door exercise as well as plenty of good teaching and diligent study. Her Royal Highness rather objected to regular instruction at first, and (something after the style of her grandfather, George III.), was inclined to ask, " What good this ?" " What good that ?" but was soon convinced of the need for learning and accomplishments. Like many other children, she was very fond of pictures and objects of interest, and was especially gratified by a visit to the British Museum, not then despoiled of its natural history collections. Through the wise training of her excellent mother, her mental powers were solidly developed, and not merely devoted to the acquirement of showy accomplishments. Her frequent journeys, and as she grew older, her visits to the country mansions of the nobility, all tended to increase the child's powers of observation. She was al ways expected to finish whatever she was doing before she began anything else. This rule applied evon to her amusements. Once, when playing at hay-making, she flung down her little rake and was running off to seek some other amusement, but she was made to come back and finish the hay-cock she had begun before she was allowed to go away.

The duchess of Kent made it a special point to inculcated exact truthfulness, and her daughter proved an apt pupil in learning this important lesson. One morning. she had been very impatient and indeed refractory during her lessons. The Duchess coming in asked the governess, Baroness Lehzen, how the Princess had behaved. The governess said "Oh, once she was rather troublesome."
Princess Victoria gently touched her arm, and said, "No, Lehzen, twice. don't you remember?"

Financial Struggles

Considering her position, the Duchess of Kent was left in poor but circumstances, and, indeed, but for Prince Leopold's liberal help, would have been much straitened. The household arrangements were of necessity conducted with a business exactitude, and a regard for economy in striking contrast to the spendthrift extravagance which was so conspicuous in other branches of the royal family. The Princess had her allowance and was expected to make it suffice and never to overrun it.
Once at the Bazaar at Tunbridge Wells, in the year 1827, she had expended all her pocket money in a number of presents for various relations and friends, when she remembered another cousin, and saw a box marked half-a-crown which would be just the thing for him. The bazaar people wished to enclose it with the other articles purchased. But the governess said : " No ! you see the Princess has not the money and so of course she cannot buy the box." The offer was then made to lay it aside till purchased, and the Princess thankfully assented. As soon as quarter-day came round she came to the bazaar on her donkey before seven in the morning and carried the box away with her.

In 1828 sister Feodore was married to an upright and excellent man, the Prince of Hohenlohe. There was a grand wedding, and then the inevitable parting.

Princess Victoria had not often visited her uncle, George IV. We hear of her paying a visit to Windsor in 1829, and respecting this visit her Coburg grandmamma wrote: "The little monkey (!) must have pleased and amused him, she is such a pretty clever child." Princess Victoria was again at Court when a splendid children's ball was given in honour of the child-queen of Portugal, Donna Maria II. la Gloria. This grand little woman with the grand name fell down and bruised her face when she came to dance, and had to be taken away. But our Princess did not often find herself amongst these gaieties, for her prudent mother very wisely kept her away as much as possible from the disreputable Court of the worst of the Georges.