IT is the universal testimony that at the time of her wedding the
Princess Royal was at the height of her youthful beauty and
charm. This is not the mere flattery of courtiers, to whom all Royal
ladies are beautiful as a matter of course; it is the opinion
expressed by a multitude of observers in contemporary private letters,
diaries, and reminiscences. And of all the descriptions of her at this
time in existence the most lifelike we owe to a German lady of rank,
one of the Princess's future ladies-in-waiting, Countess Walpurga de
Hohenthal, who afterwards married Sir Augustus Berkeley Paget, British
Ambassador in Rome and Vienna. This lady gives in her book of
reminiscences, Scenes and Memories, this vivid vignette of her Royal
mistress as she looked just before her marriage:
"The Princess appeared extraordinarily young. All the childish roundness still clung to her and made her look shorter than she really was. She was dressed in a fashion long disused on the Continent, in a plum-coloured silk dress fastened at the back. Her hair was drawn off her forehead. Her eyes were what struck me most; the iris was green like the sea on a sunny day, and the white had a peculiar shimmer which gave them the fascination that, together with a smile showing her small and beautiful teeth, bewitched those who approached her. The nose was unusually small and turned up slightly, and the complexion was ruddy, perhaps too much so for one thing, but it gave the idea of perfect health and strength. The fault of the face lay in the squareness of the lower features, and there was even a look of determination about the chin, but the very gentle and almost timid manner prevented one realising this at first. The voice was very delightful, never going up to high tones, but lending a peculiar charm to the slight foreign accent with which the Princess spoke both English and German."
As we have already seen, Queen Victoria felt strongly that it was not every day that even a future King married the daughter of a Queen of England, and she was resolved to surround the ceremony with all possible pomp and circumstance. The reader may for the most part be spared the details of these functions. What is interesting to us, looking back on that age which seems so remote from our own, is the curious note of tearful sentiment, which some would now call by a harsher name, yet mingled with high hopes and pathetic confidence in the future.
The Court spent the early part of January 1858 at Windsor Castle, and on the 15th, the day of the departure for London, the Queen wrote in her diary:
"Went to look at the rooms prepared for Vicky's 'Honeymoon.' Very pretty. It quite agitated me to look at them. Poor, poor child! We took a short walk with Vicky, who was dreadfully upset at this real break in her life; the real separation from her childhood! She slept for the last time in the same room with Alice. Now all this is cut off."
And we may quote, too, a characteristic passage from a letter written to the Queen by her sister, the Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, with reference to another young Royal bride:
"Poor little wife now! I have quite the same feeling as you have on these dear young creatures entering the new life of duties, privations, and trials, on their marrying so young. Alas! the sweet blossoms coming in contact with rude life and all its realities so soon, are changed into mature and less lovely persons, so painful to a mother's eye and feeling; and yet we must be happy to see them fulfil their Bestimmung (destiny); but it is a happiness not unmixed with many a bitter drop of anguish and pain."
By the 19th all the Royal guests had arrived in London, among them the King of the Belgians with his sons, the Prince and Princess of Prussia, and Princes and Princesses in such numbers that the accommodation of Buckingham Palace was taxed to the uttermost. "Such a house-full," says the Queen in her diary. "Such bustle and excitement!" Between eighty and ninety sat down to dinner at the Royal table daily. "After dinner," says the same record, "a party, and a very gay and pretty dance. It was very animated, all the Princes dancing."
The first of the public festivities was a performance at Her Majesty's Theatre of Macbeth, by Helen Faucit and Phelps, while Mr. and Mrs. Keeley appeared in a farce. This was the first of four representations, organised at the Queen's command in honour of the marriage, and each was made the occasion of an extraordinary popular demonstration. A great ball, at which over a thousand guests were present, was given at the Palace, and there was also a State performance of Balfe's opera, The Rose of Castille. Prince Frederick William arrived on January 23, and on the next day Queen Victoria writes:
"Poor dear Vicky's last unmarried day. An eventful one, reminding me so much of mine. After breakfast we arranged in the large drawingroom the gifts (splendid ones) for Vicky in two tables. Fritz's pearls are the largest I ever saw, one row. On a third table were three fine candelabra, our gift to Fritz. Vicky was in ecstasies, quite startled, and Fritz delighted."
More magnificent presents kept on arriving, and the Queen goes on:
"Very busy - interrupted and disturbed every instant! Dear Vicky gave me a brooch (a very pretty one) before Church with her hair; and, clasping me in her arms, said: 'I hope to be worthy to be your child!'" At the end of the day the Queen and the Prince "accompanied Vicky to her room, kissed her and gave her our blessing, and she was much overcome. I pressed her in my arms, and she clung to her truly adored papa with much tenderness."
Of the wedding itself Queen Victoria made herself the historian for all time, and we cannot do better than quote her vividly emotional account of the scene:
"Monday, January 25. - The second most eventful day in my life as regards feelings. I felt as if I were being married over again myself, only much more nervous, for I had not that blessed feeling which I had then, which raises and supports one, of giving myself up for life to him whom I loved and worshipped - then and ever! Got up, and, while dressing, dearest Vicky came to see me, looking well and composed, and in a fine quiet frame of mind. She had slept more soundly and better than before. This relieved me greatly. Gave her a pretty book called The Bridal Offering." Before the procession started for the Chapel Royal at St. James's Palace, the Queen and the Princess were daguerreotyped together with Prince Albert, but, says the Queen, "I trembled so, my likeness has come out indistinct." Her Majesty continues:
"Then came the time to go. The sun was shining brightly; thousands had been out since very early, shouting, bells ringing, &c. Albert and Uncle, in Field Marshal's uniform, with batons, and the two eldest boys went first. Then the three girls in pink satin trimmed with Newport lace, Alice with a wreath, and the two others with only bouquets in their hair of cornflowers [the favourite flower of Queen Louise of Prussia and of all her children and descendants], and marguerites; next the four boys in Highland dress. The flourish of trumpets and cheering of thousands made my heart sink within me. Vicky was in the carriage with me, sitting opposite. At St. James's took her into a dressing-room prettily arranged, where were Uncle, Albert, and the eight bridesmaids, who looked charming in white tulle, with wreaths and bouquets of pink roses and white heather.
"Then the procession was formed, just as at my marriage, only how small the old Royal family has become! Mama last before me - then Lord Palmerston with the Sword of State - then Bertie and Alfred. I with the two little boys on either side (which they say had a most touching effect) and the three girls behind. The effect was very solemn and impressive as we passed through the rooms, down the staircase, and across a covered-in court.
"The Chapel, though too small, looked extremely imposing and well, - full as it was of so many elegantly-dressed ladies, uniforms, &c. The Archbishop, &c., at the altar, and on either side of it the Royal personages. Behind me Mama and the Cambridges, the girls and little boys near me, and opposite me the dear Princess of Prussia, and the foreign Princes behind her. Bertie and Affie, not far from the Princess, a little before the others.
"The drums and trumpets played marches, and the organ played others as the procession approached and entered. There was a pause between each, but not a very long one, and the effect was thrilling and striking as you heard the music gradually coming nearer and nearer. Fritz looked pale and much agitated, but behaved with the greatest selfpossession, bowing to us, and then kneeling down in a most devotional manner. Then came the bride's procession and our darling Flower looked very touching and lovely, with such an innocent, confident, and serious expression, her veil hanging back over her shoulders, walking between her beloved father and dearest Uncle Leopold, who had been at her christening and confirmation.
My last fear of being overcome vanished on seeing Vicky's quiet, calm, and composed manner. It was beautiful to see her kneeling with Fritz, their hands joined, and the train borne by eight young ladies, who looked like a cloud of maidens hovering round her, as they knelt near her. Dearest Albert took her by the hand to give her away. The music was very fine, the Archbishop very nervous; Fritz spoke very plainly, Vicky too. The Archbishop omitted some of the passages."
Sarah Lady Lyttelton, too, noted the calm and rather serious, though happy and loving, expression of the Princess's look and manner - "not a bit of bridal missiness and flutter."
Another eye-witness of the scene supplies a moving touch: "The light of happiness in the eyes of the bride appealed to the most reserved among the spectators, and an audible 'God bless you!' passed from mouth to mouth along the line."
The Queen's description proceeds:
"When the ceremony was over, we both embraced Vicky tenderly, but she shed not one tear, and then she kissed her grandmama, and I Fritz. She then went up to her new parents, and we crossed over to the dear Prince and Princess [of Prussia], who were both much moved, Albert shaking hands with them, and I kissing both and pressing their hands with a most happy feeling. My heart was so full. Then the bride and bridegroom left hand in hand, followed by the supporters, the 'Wedding March' by Mendelssohn being played, and we all went up to the Throne Room to sign the register. Here general congratulations, shaking hands with all the relations. I felt so moved, so overjoyed and relieved, that I could have embraced everybody."
The young couple drove off to Windsor for a honeymoon of only two days, as was then the custom with Royal personages.
"We dined," says Queen Victoria, "en famille, but I felt so lost without Vicky." In the evening, however, there came a messenger from Windsor with a letter from the bride, containing the news that the Eton boys had dragged the carriage of the Prince and Princess from the railway station to the Castle, and that they had been welcomed by immense crowds and with the greatest enthusiasm. All London, too, was illuminated, and there were great rejoicings in the streets. The Duke of Buccleuch made it his business to mingle with the humblest people in the crowds, and he afterwards greatly pleased the Queen with his account of their simple, hearty enthusiasm.
Of those two days at Windsor, the bride, thirty-six years later, when she was already a widow, spoke to her old friend, Bishop Boyd Carpenter. She received the Bishop in the red brocade drawing-room which overlooks the Long Walk, a room which awakened memories: "We spent," she said, " our honeymoon at Windsor. This room was one of those we occupied. It was our private sitting-room. I remember how we sat here - two young innocent things - almost too shy to talk to one another."
The Court moved to Windsor on the 27th, and on the following day the bridegroom was invested with the Order of the Garter. On the 29th the Court returned to town, and in the evening the Queen and Prince Albert, and the bridal pair, went in state to Her Majesty's Theatre. The audience demanded the National Anthem twice before and once after the play, two additional verses appropriate to the occasion being added. Prince Frederick William led his bride to the front of the Royal box, and they stood to receive the acclamations of the house.
On January 30 the Queen held a Drawingroom, at which there were no presentations, "only congratulations," and the Princess wore her wedding dress and train. In the evening the eight bridesmaids, with their respective parents, came, but though there were no young men, they all danced till midnight.
The dreaded separation was fast approaching. Those were days in which people of all classes seemed to give freer play to their natural emotions than they do now, and the actual parting at Buckingham Palace may almost be described as agonising. "I think it will kill me to take leave of dear Papa!" were the words of the Princess to her mother. "A dreadful moment, and a dreadful day," wrote the Queen. "Such sickness came over me, real heartache, when I thought of our dearest child being gone, and for so long-all, all being over! It began to snow before Vicky went and continued to do so without intermission all day. At times I could be quite cheerful, but my tears began to flow afresh frequently, and I could not go near Vicky's corridor."
Even the less emotional but not less warmhearted Princess Mary of Cambridge writes in her diary of February 2:
"A very gloomy, tearful day! At eleven-thirty we drove to the palace to see poor dear Vicky off: It was our intention to wait downstairs; but we were sent for, and found dear Victoria [the Queen] surrounded by a number of crying relations in the Queen's Closet. It was a sad, a trying scene. We all accompanied her to the carriage, and, after bidding her adieu, Mamma and I hurried to one of the front rooms to see her drive up the Mall."
There exists a private photograph, or rather a daguerreotype, taken of the Princess Royal that morning, her face unrecognisable, swollen with tears.
It may be imagined how delighted the populace were when they saw that, though it was snowing hard, their Princess had chosen an open carriage for her drive through the London she even then loved so well, and went on loving to the very end. The route taken was through the Mall, Fleet Street, Cheapside, and over London Bridge, and in spite of the terrible weather enormous crowds gathered to see the last of the bride. The stalwart draymen of Barclay and Perkins's brewery shouted out to the bridegroom in menacing tones, "Be kind to her - or we'll have her back! "
The Princess was accompanied by her father and her two elder brothers; and at Gravesend, where the Royal yacht, the Victoria and Albert, was waiting to take her and her bridegroom across the Channel, the scene was again most affecting. The Prince Consort was deeply moved, but he was determined to appear composed, and he kept his look of serenity. Not so the Prince of Wales and Prince Alfred; they wept openly, and their example was followed by many, for there was something profoundly moving in this departure of the Daughter of England - as Cobden had called her - for a country of which the great majority of Englishmen and Englishwomen at that time knew little or nothing.
Perhaps the general feeling among the educated classes of the England of that day is best reflected in a leading article in the Times, which said:
"We only trust and pray that the policy of England and of Prussia may never present any painful alternatives to the Princess now about to leave our shores; that she will never be called on to forget the land of her birth, education, and religion; and that, should the occasion ever occur, she may have the wisdom to render what is due both to her new and her old country. There is no European State but what changes and is still susceptible of change, nor is this change wholly by any internal law of development. We influence one another. England, indeed, has ever been jealous of foreign influence, and she would be the last to repudiate the honour of influencing her neighbours. For our part, we are confident enough of our country to think an English Princess a gain to a Prussian Court, but not so confident to deny that we may be mutually benefited, and Europe through us, by a greater cordiality and better acquaintance than has hitherto been between the two countries."