Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Death of William IV - Accession of Queen Victoria

June, 1837.—The reign is not yet quite a week old, and yet how many strange occurrences and stranger feelings one wishes to recall, that all have passed before the eyes or in the mind in this short space. First, how strange it is that, in thinking of a departed sovereign, one can from the bottom of the heart pray, “May my
latter end be like his.'' Who that can look back some years—say to the period when we saw the Duke of Clarence at Stowe, where he was certainly endured only as an appendage of the Prince of Wales—who would have thought that he would have died more loved, more lamented, than either of his predecessors on the throne? Least of all, who could have thought he would have died the death of a good Christian, deriving comfort and hope from religion, and every alleviation which the most devoted conjugal affection could shed over him ?

Even his sins seem to have poured from their foul source pure streams of comfort in the attentions and affection of his children. The Queen is said to have complained that in the last days, after he well knew his situation, she never was left alone with him. The public, edified by every detail which comes to light, can feel but one regret, which is, that the Princess Victoria was not summoned to receive his blessing.

It is very interesting to compare the appearance of the town now, with that which it wore after the death of George IV.; then few, very few, thought it necessary to assume the mask of grief; now one feeling seems to actuate the nation ; party is forgotten, and all mourn, if not so deeply, quite as unanimously, as they did for Princess Charlotte. After a few days of short unsatisfactory bulletins, a prayer for the King was ordered, and sent with pitiful economy by the two-penny post, so that, though the prayer appeared in every newspaper of Saturday evening, it was received by hardly any of the London clergy in time for morning service on Sunday. In our chapel, prayers were desired for Our Sovereign Lord the King, lying dangerously ill; and these introduced in the Litany just as they would have been for the poorest of his subjects!

To me this simple ancient form was far more impressive than the fancy prayer, though it was a good one of its sort.

On Monday we were listening all day for the tolling of the bells, watching whether the guests were going to the Waterloo dinner at Apsley House. On Tuesday, at 2 a.m., the scene closed, and in a very short time the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham, the Chamberlain, set out to announce the event to their young sovereign. They reached Kensington palace at about five: they knocked, they rang, they thumped for a considerable time before they could rouse the porter at the gates; they were again kept waiting in the courtyard, then turned into one of the lower rooms, where they seemed forgotten by everybody.

They rang the bell, desired that the attendant of the Princess Victoria might be sent to inform H.R.H. that they requested an audience on business of importance; after another delay, and another ringing to enquire the cause, the attendant was summoned, who stated that the Princess 'was in such a sweet sleep she could not venture to disturb her. Then they said, ' We are come to the Queen on business of state, and even her sleep must give way to that.'

It did; and to prove that she did not keep them waiting, in a few minutes she came into the room in a loose white night-gown and shawl, her night-cap thrown off, and her hair falling upon her shoulders, her feet in slippers, tears in her eyes, but perfectly collected and dignified.

The first act of the reign was of course the summoning the Council, and most of the summonses were not received till after the early hour fixed for its meeting. The Queen was, upon the opening of the doors, found sitting at the head of the table. She received first the homage of the Duke of Cumberland, who, I suppose, was not King of Hanover when he knelt to her*; the Duke of Sussex rose to perform the same ceremony, but the Queen, with admirable grace, stood up, and preventing him from kneeling, kissed him on the forehead.

The crowd was so great, the arrangements were so ill made, that my brothers told me the scene of swearing allegiance to their young sovereign was more like that of the bidding at an auction than anything else.

* He became King of Hanover by the same event which made her Queen of England.

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