Friday, May 01, 2009

What happened that cold winter....

Part II of A Queens Mother... I was saying on the post below...what happened when they got to Sidmouth was so terrible that... WELL, I'm getting ahead of myself here. Victoria's mother and father, The Duke and Duchess of Kent, arrived at Sidmouth on Christmas Day during quite a snowstorm. Here they would spend their holiday at the sea. The "cottage" was very close to the sea...only about 150 yards from it. The Duke had just gotten over a gastric upset but was feeling better. Little did they know that it was to be one of the coldest and severest winters anyone could remember.

A few days after Christmas, the Duchess of Kent was sitting in the drawing room. It was a quiet afternoon and baby Princess Victoria was with her.The quiet was literally shattered as a bullet blast through the drawing room windows. It turned out to be a local boy shooting birds...and he'd misfired. The royal couple did not want him punished, however, it must be prevented from ever happening again.

The days were sunny and cold, but the nights were bitter. The Duke wrote that the nights were "rather canadian." During the day the Duchess walked near the sea with Princess Feodora (Victoria's half-older sister) and worked hard on her English lessons. She was still speaking fluent German, and had a hard time conversing in English. The Duchess took some sea baths and the Duke spent time writing letters.

About January 7th, the Duchess began to worry. Baby 'Vickelchen' was restless and she feared the baby wasn't feeling well. The Duke also caught a cold. However, he insisted on going outside with Captain Conroy--his equerry--to look after the horses. He returned later chilled to the bone and wet. The next day his cold got worse--quite. He couldn't even walk outside with the Duchess. He rested but was not better the next day. They were expecting company and the Duke would not hear of cancelling. He wanted his guests to come that evening. As a wife and mother, the Duchess must have worried.

That night, his fever rose. Alarmed, the Duchess summoned the doctor the very next day. The doctor didn't like the way the patient looked at all and was concerned. The Duchess was determined to take care of him and nurse him back to health. She worried, though, about his cold room. It had such a draft. Even with the fireplaces lit it wasn't sufficiently warm. She wrote to a confidant that her beloved husband was very ill but that she was nursing him to the best of her ability. Feodora also caught a chill but the baby Victoria seemed better.

But then the doctor decided that he needed to bring in the dreaded leeches. They believed that blood letting would bring down the fever and so they were applied to his chest. On the 12th of January, the Duchess had the Duke's bed moved to a warmer room. It was really imperative to keep him as warm as possible. His fever has risen, he had pains in his chest and other symptoms. The doctor decided to blood let him again when he became delirious. And when that didn't help him, he needed to be bled again.

He was being tormented...couldn't anyone see that? the Duchess thought. It anguished her deeply to watch him suffer through this...with all these blisters on his chest. He wasn't getting better...he was getting weaker. She sent for the royal physician--begging for him to come.

The doctor that was there urged her to rest but she couldn't. She stayed by her husbands side and hand fed him all his medication herself. She tried to comfort him and reassure him. She spent a few minutes when she could with Victoria, but was upset and inconsolable. Here they were in this place--this frozen place at the sea--and all alone. They were so far from secluded. It was more than she could bear. Oh, why had they come?

But there was more to bear. The doctor decided that the Duke should be cupped, which was another form of blood letting, but this one more painful. The Duchess would barely watch the scene as this went on hour after hour. Her dear husband was near delirium and in great pain.

Soon though, one of the royal doctors arrived. It wasn't the one she had hoped for, as he was tending to the King. The new doctor decided that more blood letting needed to be done. They had already taken 6 pints of blood from him. But...he was a strong man. He had always been one of the very strongest of the Princes. He would pull through. If any of the King's sons could, it would be him.

The Duchess of Kent wrung her hands in misery as she watched this blood letting go on ---for days. It was so painful for the Duke that at one point he cried when they told him they needed to do it again. His wife felt it was weakening him---yet, no one listened to her. Anyway, she had trouble communicating with the doctors.

Word was sent to the Duchess's brother---Prince Leopold. Leopold had been married to the Prince Regents daughter, but unfortunately, she had died in childbirth. The Prince and some others headed to Sidmouth in the frigid cold. It was an icy cold that Leopold would never forget. They arrived to find the Duke in a terribly weakened state. Soon after they arrived he used the last of his strength to sign his will. His wife remained at his side--she would not leave him-- and was holding his hand tightly as he took his last breath and passed away.

They had cherished each other and the Duke had shielded her in all ways. What would she do without him? Here she was in a foreign country, barely able to speak English. Princess Victoria was in line for the Throne and as much as she wanted to FLEE---she could not. Prince Leopold reminded his german sister that she had a destiny to fulfill. Victoria must stay in England. Yet, she couldn't believe that her husband was...gone. He had protected her...he had been her dearest friend and confidante. And...the royals did not like her.

It was then that she found out that since the Duke was in terrible debt, there was not even enough money to pay for the trip back to London. Victoria was only 9 months old...and Leopold felt sure they (the royals) wanted to drive the Duchess from the continent.

In late January they left the cottage, never to return. Leopold took his sister and the children back to....well...actually...they didnt know where she was to go. The Prince Regent wasn't fond of the Duchess and it wasnt known if he would allow her to return to her home at Kensington Palace. They couldnt go to Claremont (Leopold's home) because there had been an outbreak of measles.

Not knowing what to do, Leopold begged Princess Mary, the Prince Regents favorite sister to help him. She interceded and permission was granted for the widow to return to Kensington, and a letter was dispatched to Leopold as they journeyed back.Thank goodness! After all, the Prince Regent couldn't throw a widow out in the cold, could he? But when they arrived home, there was more bad news. The creditors wanted to be paid, and the Duchess had nothing. Not only was she coping with being a widow, she had no source of income and the creditors wouldn't leave her alone.

Several requests were sent to the Prince Regent to help. Here she was---a widow with children, and one in line to the Throne of England---certainly, something should be done to help her. She deserved some pity. And the Prince Regent said...NO! He wouldnt throw her a pence. He would give her nothing. The creditors took everything--furniture, glasses, linens, horses and carriages. They took anything that wasnt nailed down and was worth anything at all. The Duchess was left with nothing. Nothing. Can you imagine her thoughts and anxiety as she watched her possessions being carried out?

No husband. No money. No things. And she had a baby.

So much has been said of Victoria's mother. I wonder, though, if that happened to you...what you would have done? And, this reads like fiction. Sometimes the real thing is crazier than any fiction one could imagine.

And thats how Queen Victoria's mother started out... in that, oh, so wonderful year of 1820....


Matterhorn said...

Very sad...thanks for this post.

Ms. Lucy said...

Oh my goodness...Thanks so much for this post- I had no idea..

TammiMagee said...

I love this story! I have just recently read Becoming Queen which describes this. Fantastic book!

Susan Flanders, Writer of Queens said...

Thanks...glad you enjoyed. It's relatively unknown for the most part. I'll have to pick up Becoming Queen.

SwissAmerican Girl said...

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