Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Queen's Heir, Part II

As much as Victoria enjoyed her correspondence with Vicky, which was voluminous, she rebuked her. ‘As regards Bertie---I quite agree with you, dear child----that he must be a little more affectionate and tender in his manner----if he is to expect it from me----and take a little more interest in what interests us if he is to be at all pleasant in the house. And now dearest child, I must say, without I hope making you angry----that you did not quite set about making things better’ She continued writing her letter and added,. ‘He left on Monday. His voice made me so nervous I could hardly bear it. Altogether I never felt in such a state of nerves for noise or sound.’
During these years, the prince attended college and was trained in the military. Being on his own for the first time, he grew very fond of social life, travel and parties, much to the irritation of his parents. The bond was tested but it was not broken. Albert managed to acquire a Norfolk estate for the boy called Sandringham with the funds coming from the Duchy of Cornwall. The house needed major renovations but once they were carried out, the home would be comfortable. This home was to become important to the Prince of Wales in future years, as it become one of his favorite home, bringing him much happiness and solace.
It was at about this time that Victoria and Albert began to seriously discuss whom Bertie might marry. The Prince of Wales asked if he could have a say in who he married. Several princesses were considered and all this took a great deal of time and maneuvering behind the scenes. As they narrowed down the prospects, even Vicky was involved in the process. She met with Princess Alexandra of Denmark and privately supplied this relatively unknown description to her parents, ‘It is very difficult to be impartial when one is captivated, and I never was more so----I never set eyes on a sweeter creature than Princess Alix. She is lovely! Not a dazzling, striking beauty but an indescribable charming. She is a good deal taller than I am, has a lovely figure but very thin, a complexion as beautiful as possible. Very fine white regular teeth and very fine large eyes----with extremely prettily marked eyebrows.. A very fine shaped nose, very narrow, but a little long----her while face is very narrow, her forehead too but well shaped and not at all flat. Her voice, her walk, carriage, manner are perfect, she is one of the most lady-like and aristocratic looking people I ever saw! She is as simple and natural and unaffected as possible---and seems exceedingly well brought up. She speaks English and German without the slightest accent.’
Prince Albert felt good about the match. After seeing her photograph, he reportedly said, “I would marry her in a second.” Vicky felt sure her parents would be “charmed” by Princess Alix, and she urged her parents not to delay making a decision on the matter, as she was worried that another Prince would propose to Alexandra in the meantime.
Since his position required him to “wait”---he did. He filled the time with many things that amused him---pursuits---- such a going to the opera and hunting. He enjoyed the very best foods in large quantities, being with the upper classes and drinking champagne. He enjoyed his whiskey and cigars, house parties and took to traveling and spared no expense to ensure that he was at his most comfortable. Although he was not respected much in his youth, people did gravitate towards him and he could be very kind and great fun. Some of his friends were less than desirable and Bertie had not learned how to be discreet, much to the dismay of his parents.
It was exactly that lack of discretion that began a chain of events that would tragically turn around the young mans life. Somehow, news filtered back and Albert was presented with the fact that his son had a liaison with an actress. Shocked, Albert tried his best to handle it, but it was one of the most difficult things in his life. Didn’t Bertie realize what could happen to the Monarchy if this became public knowledge? He and Victoria had made sure---all throughout the years----that their court was above reproach. What if this woman came back later, claiming that Bertie had fathered a child? How many people knew about this? Crushed and worried, he explained the matter to Victoria, who was beyond upset. Albert decided, for everyone’s good, that he needed to go speak with his son.
Bertie was staying at the time at Madingley Hall, Cambridge. His father traveled to see him there and they were seen walking alone in the cold, damp weather with their heads huddled together. They spoke for some time about the ramifications of what Bertie had done. Several important things were decided as a result of this meeting.. The Prince should propose to Princess Alexandra, whom he had met in September and he should undertake---quickly----a tour of the Near East.
The weather was raw and Albert got a chill. The pain he felt at what his son had done was almost too much for him to bear. When he returned home to Windsor, he did not feel well. He was quickly put to bed and the doctor summoned. Albert assured Victoria that the situation with The Prince Of Wales had been managed and pleaded with her not to worry over it. The Queen, rightly so, was not so quick to forgive or forget, fully aware of how much this crisis had hurt dear Albert.
From that time on, it did not appear that Albert ever got well. Some days were better than others, but as the weeks drew on he became weaker and weaker and the doctor’s stood by helplessly. Bertie was summoned to the sick room. Victoria felt disgust for him and she could not help herself. We do not know exactly what Bertie thought. His eyes went around the room, taking in the details of what would soon be, unbeknownst to him, the last memories of his father. Victoria would not give up hope.
Inevitably, the family suffered a loss from which some of them would never fully recover. When he realized his father was-----gone----could it really be so?----he went to his mother, bravely and hugged her. He said the only thing he could say, which was, “Indeed Mama, I will be all I can to you.” He meant it. Victoria looked at her second born child, and in some way knew he meant it. The boy was grief stricken.
The Prince of Wales took on much of the responsibility for funeral and its details. The Queen couldn’t possibly handle it. The family was thrust into a deep mourning.
One thing that helped Victoria a little in the days to come, was knowing that there was unfinished business. There were many things that Albert had wished to see----and it was up to her to make it happen. Albert had very much wanted to see a marriage between the future King Of England and the Danish Princess. Victoria had a firm resolve to do what Albert would have wished and insisted “that his wishes ---his plans----about everything are to be my law!”
In regards to Bertie, “whose future he had traced everything so carefully,” Victoria began to implement his fathers wishes. He was sent away on his Near East Tour beginning on February 6, 1842. When Bertie began this exile all he could do was hope that his mother’s mood would eventually lift. He was fully aware of what his mother thought of him. In some ways, she felt he had a hand in Albert’s early death.
As Bertie stopped in Vienna and then headed for Egypt, Israel and Turkey, Victoria firmed up her plans for the marriage which hopefully would anchor the young man and settle him down. Later that year, Bertie met with Alexandra and clearly fell in love with her. When he formally proposed, she said yes without hesitation, knowing that someday she would be Queen of England.
With Victoria’s continued absence due to her grief and his upcoming marriage, Bertie was becoming quite popular. Clearly, this marriage would be the social event of the year----and quite possibly the decade. The grieving Queen, to her credit, did try her best on this momentous occasion, arranging to watch the wedding privately, away from glaring eyes----in Catherine of Aragon’s balcony, high above the altar of St. George’s chapel. Complimenting Princess Alexandra, Victoria said she was one of those sweet creatures “who seems to come down from the skies to help and bless pour souls.” Most people were dazzled by Alexandra’a beauty and could clearly see the adoration that the couple held for each other.
“I dread the whole thing awfully,” the Queen wrote to her daughter before the wedding. The rest of the country did not. There were screams and cheers when the young princess rode past them in her carriage on a grey, misty day on the way to her wedding. “Here she is!” people screamed. There were 900 seats in the chapel. Those lucky enough to be inside were able to watch the long, beautiful ceremony. Thousands of others were jammed outside. Prime Minister Gladstone described it as “the most gorgeous sight I ever witnessed.” Alexandra was dressed in white and silver satin, with a long train. The train was held by eight bridesmaids. For the ceremony, the Prince of Wales, looking dignified, was attired in a general’s uniform, under his velvet Garter robes. The Queen remained dramatically in her box, dressed in black. Prime Minister Disraeli made note of an amusing moment. He ‘had not seen the Queen since the catastrophe (Albert’s death) and ventured, being nearsighted, to use my glass. I saw Her Majesty well, and unfortunately caught her glance.’ Victoria frowned at him.
The young couple honeymooned on the Isle of Wight and returned to live in Marlborough House, located in London, after they were married. At the same time, they carefully watched the renovations taking place at Sandringham.
Some people predicted that due to the early death of the Prince Consort that the Prince of Wales might begin to have a more prominent place at court. This was not to be. Victoria did not allow him to step into this vacated spot or let him be much help to her at all. Shockingly, the Queen refused to let him see or be a part of anything relating to public life----and this continued not only for one or two years---while he and Alexanadra began their young family. It remained this way for 40 years. Clearly their bond was loosening. .
Life for Victoria and her son soon became a viscous cycle. Victoria simply refused to budge and would not give Bertie anything to do. Bertie chastised his mother because of her utter seclusion, but she retorted back that she did not care for his fast living, nor the company he kept. There was something in common that held them together, yet so much that kept them apart.
Victoria had raised her Prince of Wales, but in many ways held him back. He seemed ready to do what he was born to do, yet his mother would not give up the rights she had inherited. She shuddered to think of what would happen to the Monarchy once he became King. For Bertie’s part, he remained not quite in the background, but not where he felt he should be. In Victoria’s eyes, perhaps she always thought of him as that little baby she had held in her arms. Perhaps she didn’t want him to grow up. Some things can never be known. In some ways, maybe that’s the way it should be. The years went on and each one remained in the comfortable royal haven they had created for themselves, never quite knowing how or when it might end.

No comments: