Lovers: Queen Victoria & Prince Albert
The Victoria Memorial casts a solemn gaze upon passersby as they make their way down The Mall toward Buckingham Palace, but this austere image is a far cry from the woman who reigned over an empire, yet was ruled by her own passionate heart.
Another regal portrayal, this one lovingly rendered by Victoria's daughterLouise, stands guard outside the queen's birthplace, Kensington Palace.
The residence which the late Princess Diana once called home is a living testament to Victoria's early years, and visitors have a chance to walk through the halls which still echo with her memory. The beginning of her life is represented in The Cupola Room, which houses the font where the infant who would one day give her name to an entire age was christened Alexandrina Victoria.
A tour of the royal ceremonial dress collection offers an ever-changing array of items which encompass not only Victoria's life but that of her descedants as well. Alongside Victoria's own childhood dresses are her children's garments, including a sailor suit, the first of its kind, which was worn by one of her sons. Modern accoutrements are on display as well, including a myriad of dresses donned by the current queen of England and fourteen gowns worn by the Princess of Wales. Standing in The Victorian Rooms, the bedroom shared by the young princess and her mother, you can almost hear the palpable beat of the adolescent royal's heart as you imagine the scene which took place there early one morning as the eighteen year old was awakened with the news which would alter her life-- she was the new monarch.
Little Drina, as she was referred to as a child, led a restrictive and isolated life within the confines of Kensington Palace. Starved for companionship, Victoria confessed her every deed and flight of fancy to her journal. She performed this ritual for the rest of her days, and on a trip to Windsor Castle shortly after her ascension to the throne an infatuated teenage queen wrote an intimate confession concerning a young German prince. "Albert really is quite charming and extremely handsome-- a beautiful figure, broad in the shoulders and a fine waist; my heart is quite going."
VICTORIA AND ALBERT
It was love at second sight for young Victoria and her first cousin, Albert. Their first encounter at age sixteen failed to strike an impression, but their emotions had matured with the passing of time, and after a whirlwind courtship their wedding was held on February 10, 1840 in the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace, which in recent years has been the London abode of Charles, Prince of Wales.
An independent spirit, Victoria eschewed the favored colors of the wedding attire of the day, mainly silver for those in high society and blue for commoners, and chose instead the innocence of white. The decision started a trend which has been followed by many in the western world ever since. The ring which the young bride slipped upon her beloved's finger as she pledged her love was engraved with a date etched in both their hearts-- October 15, 1839, the day Victoria found the courage to propose to her suitor. She wrote of the day, "It was a nervous thing to do, but Prince Albert could not possibly have proposed to the Queen of England."
Victoria's ring took the form of a diamond-encrusted snake with fiery ruby eyes biting its own tail- in its day a popular symbol for eternity. As befitted a royal bride, Victoria was adorned with a sapphire and diamond brooch (a wedding present from the groom which she wore close to her heart), a diamond necklace, and even a sprinkle of diamonds in her hair. She carried myrtle in her bouquet, which was subsequently grown on the grounds of the royal palaces and has been used in the bouquet's of all successive royal brides.
Foregoing a tiara, Victoria was crowned in a humble wreath of orange blossoms to signify her purity. The love-struck young woman confided to her diary the day following her wedding " What I can do to make him happy will be my greatest delight."
"Often I feel surprised at being so loved, and tremble at my great happiness." Written over a decade after her wedding, Victoria's words are witness to the fact that the couple's passion continued to burn despite the responsibility of raising a family of nine and the burden of her position in life.
In an attempt to provide a temporary reprieve from royal duties, Albert acquired two residences over the years where the family could go to hide from the world. The affection felt by today's royal family for the highlands was surely instilled in them a century earlier by Victoria and Albert, who fell in love with the Scottish countryside and purchased the Balmoral Estate in 1852. Tours of the Ballroom and a Carriage Hall Exhibition are available the months of April though July, and interested parties can feel like royalty themselves by renting holiday cottages at the annual summer retreat of the current monarch.
Another haven, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, is a time capsule of some of the family's happiest days. This Italianate style abode was a hideaway where the queen could indulge in one of her favorite pastimes, watercolor painting, while the children played in a miniature fort complete with a cannon and drawbridge or in a reconstructed Swiss chalet where the siblings learned to cultivate their own vegetable garden. The home is a representation of the queen's later life as well, as is evident in the Durbar Room, which was added when the monarch acquired the title Empress of India. She became fascinated with the exotic land and even learned a smattering of the Hindi and Urdu languages.
LIFE AFTER ALBERT
"Can I-- can I be alive when half my body and soul are gone?" Prince Albert's sudden death at the age of forty-two, presumed at the time to be the result of typhoid, was a blow from which Victoria never fully recovered. Grief consumed the sovereign and spread to all around her-- laughter was forbidden within the boundaries of Osbourne House, and in accordance with her wishes the prince's effects, ranging from clothing to his writing utensils, were meticulously laid out each morning, as though Albert had only been momentarily called away. Her nerves shattered, the household itself took on the silence of the tomb, and Victoria, dressed for the rest of her life in widow's weeds, became convinced that she would soon join her husband. Fate had other plans for the monarch, however, and Victoria lived to the age of eighty-two. Wearing her wedding veil, she was laid to rest at the Royal mausoleum at Frogmore on the Windsor estate, a location accessible to the public for only a few select days each year, where those fortunate enough to obtain the coveted tickets are privileged to see the effigies of Victoria and Albert, intimate renderings in marble, with Victoria's head slightly turned to gaze upon the friend and lover who will be forever by her side.
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