Old Palace at Kensington

THE old red brick palace at Kensington does not strike one as a very beautiful object when viewed from the outside. The great Sir Christopher Wren had something to do with planning it, but then he had to consider the Dutch tastes of his employer ; and although the brickwork—simply considered as brickwork—is said to be remarkably good, the general effect of picturesque. But for all that the old Palace is still a very comfortable dwelling-place for royal folks, and about its courts and halls and galleries a great many associations thickly cluster. It has always had the credit of being a homely, domestic sort of place, rather than an abode of regal splendour. That lively writer, Leigh Hunt, says : " Windsor Castle is a place to receive monarchs in ; Buckingham Palace to see fashion in ; and Kensington Palace seems a place to drink tea in."

Old Palace at Kensington

William III

There is an old tradition which says that in the time of Henry VIII. there was a royal nursery upon this site. If such was the case, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria may both have passed their earliest years on the same spot. However that may be, we know that William III. took a fancy to a house that was standing here in his reign, and bought it of the owner, Lord Nottingham. The King considerably enlarged the mansion and altered it to suit his own tastes, until he had created for himself a regular Dutch palace in a Dutch garden. Here the blunt, taciturn monarch, sorely vexed because after all his trouble he might not use England at his pleasure as a mere pawn on the European chessboard, often held his dull Court, till his wife Mary and himself were successively carried from this Palace to their graves. Then came Queen Anne, sitting in quiet stupidity with her fan in her mouth, waiting so anxiously for dinner to be announced, and scarcely speaking three words at a time to anybody; whilst through her Court moved Bolingbroke, Swift, Addison, Steele, Prior, and others, whose very names give lustre to the story of her reign. Nor must we forget that extraordinary Sarah Jennings (afterwards Duchess of Marlborough) who knew so well how to manage her royal mistress.

George I and II

George I. improved the Palace, and George II. made it his chief residence. The last-mentioned King was very fond of having his own way in everything; and when his ministers saw that it was not for the good of England that he should have it, these old walls often saw strange scenes. The monarch used to work himself up into a dreadful passion and tear his wig to pieces, whilst Queen Caroline quietly waited for her royal spouse to get reasonable.

This irritable King died suddenly as he was sitting at breakfast in Kensington Palace one morning in 1760. His successors on the English throne, having more commodious and more attractive homes elsewhere, have as a rule left Kennsington to their relations. Here lived the good and patient Princess Sophia, the blind daughter of George III. Here for a few years resided the unfortunate and misguided Caroline, Princess of Wales, and under the rule of that pleasure-loving woman and her companions Kensington Palace knew, perhaps, the gayest period of its history.

Duke and Duchess of Kent

Passing over various illustrious occupants, we find in 1819 a portion of the old Palace occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Kent. The Duke of Kent was the fourth son of George III, and was superior to any of his brothers in all that commands admiration or respect. His cordial sympathy with the spirit of progress that was increasingly manifesting itself in the country, his mental ability, his upright character, and his amiable and generous disposition won for him the esteem of all right-minded Englishmen. Unfortunately, the oligarchy that then ruled England feared and hated the liberal sentiments of this enlightened Prince, and they meanly punished him for his progressive ideas by keeping him financially in a straitened condition, although ready enough to vote immense sums of public money for the maintenance of the extravagance and profligacy of his brother, the Prince of Wales. The Duke of Kent had married in 1818, Victoria Mary Louisa, a Saxe-Coburg Princess, widow of the Prince of Leiningen. She was also a sister of Prince Leopold, beloved of the English people, and of whom I shall have a word or two to say presently. The Kents had but one child, a girl, born at Kensington Palace on May 24th, 1819. That little girl grew up to be Queen Victoria of England.

Princess Victoria

And now let us pause for a moment and look back at that year 1819, when the illustrious lady was born, who now sits upon

"Her throne, unshaken still, Broad based upon her people's will And compassed by the inviolate sea."

When first her baby eyes opened to the light of day in the old Palace at Kensington, the nations of Europe were at peace—a long, long era of fire and sword had come to a close in the three days' carnage of Waterloo. The great disturber of the nations, Napoleon, was pining on the rock of St. Helena, with ample leisure to meditate upon the seas of blood with which he had deluged the soil of Europe. There was great distress in England ; the wicked Bread Tax was in force, and many cruel things were done to keep down the people when they met together to try and get old-fashioned wrongs set right. The poor old King George III., blind and crazy, was gradually nearing the tomb to which Queen Charlotte (his wife for more than fifty years) had been borne in the previous year. The Prince Regent was revelling at Carlton House. In the world of science, Sir Humphry Davy took the highest place ; whilst the prominent names in literature were : Scott, Byron, Shelley. Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Campbell, Moore. The slave-trade had been abolished, but Catholic Emancipation, the Repeal of the Corn Laws, the Reform Bill and other great works had yet to be accomplished. Lord Ashley (afterwards Earl of Shaftesbury) was at this time a youth of eighteen, and, of course, not yet in Parliament, so that his long career of philanthropic triumphs, which we have so lately seen brought to a close, was still in the future, and the many wrongs which he attacked and conquered, were flourishing unchecked. As it is intended to make the present sketch of Queen Victoria's career as far as possible a personal one, future allusions to political or general topics will be few and brief, but a rapid glance round before beginning the story seemed desirable.

And next it will be well to say a word or two about the baby's ancestors. On both sides the royal infant could claim a grand pedigree. Her father was the son of the reigning monarch, and could trace back his descent through a long line of Kings and Princes, to Alfred the Great. Her mother's family, the Coburgs, showed an unbroken descent for nine hundred years from a Saxon Earl, Theodoric. A notable man amongst these Coburg ancestors was Frederic the Wise, Elector of Saxony, one of the first German Princes to accept the doctrine of the Reformation, and a powerful protector of Martin Luther. About a hundred years previously there had been another Elector, Frederic of Saxony, who had his two children kidnapped by a rebel knight. But the children were recovered, and the rescue was chiefly due to the exertions of a brave charcoal-burner who, with the pole used in his business, fiercely belaboured the rebel knight. For this day's services, the right of cutting from the royal forests such wood as they needed in their business operations was granted to the charcoal-burner and his heirs for ever, as well as a nice farm and an annual allowance of corn. All these privileges are still (or were till very lately) enjoyed by the descendants of the charcoal-burner. " Our Gracious Queen " is twelfth in descent in a direct line from Ernest, the elder of the two kidnapped and rescued children.

When Princess Victoria first saw the light in Kensington Palace, it was by no means a certainty that if she lived to be a woman she would be Queen of England. The Regent's daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, had not long before been laid in the grave, after eighteen months of happy wedded life at Claremont. Her husband, Leopold of Coburg, afterwards King of the Belgians, went homee stricken with sorrow, whilst England was mourning for the hope of the nation cut off in her youthful prime. Still more recently, the Princess Victoria's Uncle and Aunt Clarence had lost their first little infant princess. Still, the Clarences might have other children, and if so, they would be nearer to the throne than the child of the Duke of Kent But Kent always looked upon his daughter's high destiny as a settled thing, and he delighted to hold up his little girl and say, "Look at her well, she will yet be Queen of England ! "

Princess Baptised

When a month old the little Princess was baptised with great pomp in the grand saloon of Kensington Palace. In order to do all proper honour to her small Royal Highness, the royal gold font was brought from the Tower, and the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London came to perform the ceremony. There had been some little fuss about finding a name for the baby—the father wanted to call his child Elizabeth, thinking it was a name that would please the people, if she came to occupy the throne. But the Prince Regent said that he and the Emperor of Russia would be godfathers, and the child should be named Georgiana Alexandrina, after the pair of them. Happily this doom was escaped, and the little Princess was duly christened Alexandrina Victoria. Uncle Leopold, heartsore from his recent bereavement, and shrinking from all public ceremonials, nevertheless constrained himself to be present.