Queen Victoria died in the crook of the Kaiser’s perfect arm

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, London, Religion, Royalty on Friday, 7 March 2014

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This edited article about the death and funeral of Queen Victoria first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 585 published on 31 March 1973.

Funeral cortege of Victoria,  picture, image, illustration

The funeral cortege of Queen Victoria by Richard Hook

It was in the frosty early-evening darkness of a January day in 1901 that, in her bedroom at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, Queen Victoria prepared to leave this life to join, as she devoutly believed, her beloved Consort, Albert, in the next.

Albert’s portrait was, as always, beside the bed of the Queen. Waiting, as it were, in the wings, was the Court Painter, von Herkomer, whose early task it would be to paint the tiny image of Victoria as she lay in the misty gauze of her burial clothes. The Queen was 81-years-of-age and she had sat upon the Throne of England for 63 of them – the longest reign in English history.

Osborne House was filled almost to overflowing with the family as the end drew near, children and grandchildren. Among the latter was the grand old lady’s hot-headed grandson, the Kaiser, Wilhelm the Second of Germany, whose country was to be at war with Britain in thirteen years’ time. The Kaiser, by all accounts, had a deep and genuine affection for his grandmother, though his feelings for her son, Edward Prince of Wales, soon to be King, were far from cordial. The Kaiser despised “Uncle Bertie” for his worldly frivolity and affection for the French, and feared for the pure power of his presence. But there at Osborne, keeping discreetly out of sight, was the German Emperor, saying that his deepest wish was to see grandmamma before she died, but if that were impossible he would quite understand.

The unhappy Boer War was still on, though drawing towards its close. The Kaiser had incensed his grandmother by sending a congratulatory telegram to President Kruger of the Transvaal. Now it was that same President Kruger who sent to Osborne House a warm-hearted wish for the Queen’s “prompt recovery.” Victoria seemed immortal, both to friend and foe.

But immortal she was not. She whispered faintly that Turi, her Pomeranian dog, be brought to her. Turi came and went. Then, as the Prince of Wales hovered nearby, the old Queen uttered her last word. “Bertie”, she whispered, and her 60-year-old son who had lived in almost mortal terror of her all of his life, buried his face in his hands and wept. The Edwardian age was only a couple of hours away.

Oddly enough it was the German Kaiser who, having been admitted to his dying grandmother’s bedroom, was allowed to share with the Queen’s doctor the privilege of supporting her on her pillow. This he did for over two hours, unable to change arms since his left arm was withered. In the crook of the Kaiser’s arm, Queen Victoria died.

Victoria had expressly wished that no undertaker should be present after her death. This was not an occasion for the attention of strangers. Again, the Kaiser it was who measured her for her coffin, and the Kaiser it was who proposed to lift her in it. But this was too much for the Prince of Wales – now King Edward the Seventh – and his brother the Duke of Connaught. The honour of lifting mamma into her coffin was for sons, not grandsons. And lift her in they did, astonished, the pair of them, that there was hardly anything to lift. The mighty Queen Empress of whom all the family had stood in awe was the merest featherweight.

While Queen Victoria was known to be a great dab at fixing funerals she was also renowned for her fancy to make them as light-hearted as possible, and her own, despite the stunned tears of her subjects, was no exception. Black was out. The sight of a glum black hearse at Balmoral, complete with black-plumed horses, had profoundly depressed her. So white and gold was the pall which covered her tiny coffin which crossed the cold waters of the Solent in the Royal Yacht Alberta, and, in London, by Royal Will, all black was banished from the streets. Buildings were draped instead with purple embellished with white bows. The Queen, indeed, had very strong feelings about funerals and a keen dislike for the gun-carriage. “The gun carriage,” she had written in her will, “is very rough, jolting and noisy.”

Her gun-carriage took her through the streets of London to Paddington Station and the train to Windsor. There was some panic there when one of the horses shied, breaking the traces, so very promptly an escort of sailors was substituted to haul the Queen to the Chapel of St George at Windsor Castle. Immediately behind in the freezing weather walked King Edward the Seventh, his brother the Duke of Connaught, and, moustache jauntily pointed upwards at the corners, the King’s nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. A salute of 81 guns, one for every year of her life, sounded off in the Long Walk, and in the Chapel a specially written Anthem by Alfred Lord Tennyson soared upwards to the fan-vaulting ceiling. After three days of lying in State, Victoria was placed in the Mausoleum, where Albert had lain all those long years, waiting for her arrival.

Now Edward the Seventh at the age of sixty sat upon the Throne. Beside him as his Consort was that most gracious and most beloved of ladies whom in 1863 he had married as the Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Alexandra, although she knew all too well of her husband’s fondness for a good cigar, a bottle of champagne and the company of pretty women, managed to soar serenely above these human weaknesses. Not by any word or deed was she ever reported to consider herself a neglected wife. She rejoiced in being mother to her five-strong family, the eldest of whom, George, was to be England’s next King. And there is no doubt that both she and Edward, who was to prove himself the most popular King since Charles the Second, were deeply fond of each other.

As the Prince of Wales, with an allowance of £100,000 per year, Edward had led a jolly life, shooting pheasants at Sandringham, attending race meetings, and gambling with a close circle of friends. But when Edward addressed the Privy Council on the day after Queen Victoria’s death, he declared: “I am fully determined to be a constitutional sovereign in the strictest sense of the word.” Had he turned over a new leaf?

Well, not altogether. It was his breezy humanity which made him beloved, and he continued, in a measure, to breeze on. His very first act was to abandon Osborne House with its glum memories of Mamma, to regard both Sandringham and Balmoral as holiday homes and move the monarchy straight away into Buckingham Palace.

He was seen about everywhere. If a King was to be a King, reasoned Edward, then let him be seen to be being a King! A new-style King for the new-style age of the Edwardians.

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