Queen Victoria reminisces about her childhood:
My earliest recollections are connected with Kensington Palace, where I can remember crawling on a yellow carpet spread out for that purpose—and being told that if I cried and was naughty my ‘Uncle Sussex’ would hear me and punish me, for which reason I always screamed when I saw him! I had a great horror of Bishops on account of their wigs and aprons, but recollect this being partially got over in the case of the then Bishop of Salisbury (Dr Fisher, great-uncle to Mr Fisher, Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales), by his kneeling down and letting me play with his badge of Chancellor of the Order of the Garter. With another Bishop, however, the persuasion of showing him my ‘pretty shoes’ was of no use.
Claremont remains as the brightest epoch of my otherwise rather melancholy childhood—where to be under the roof of that beloved Uncle*—to listen to some music in the Hall when there were dinner-parties—and to go and see dear old Louis!—the former faithful and devoted Dresser and friend of Princess Charlotte—beloved and respected by all who knew her—and who doted on the little Princess who was too much an idol in the House. This dear old lady was visited by every one—and was the only really devoted Attendant of the poor Princess, whose governesses paid little real attention to her—and who never left her, and was with her when she died.
I used to ride a donkey given me by my Uncle, the Duke of York, who was very kind to me. I remember him well—tall, rather large, very kind but extremely shy. He always gave me beautiful presents. The last time I saw him was at Mr Greenwood’s house, where D. Carlos lived at one time,—when he was already very ill,—and he had Punch and Judy in the garden for me.
To Ramsgate we used to go frequently in the summer, and I remember living at Townley House (near the town), and going there by steamer. Mamma was very unwell. Dear Uncle Leopold went with us.
To Tunbridge Wells we also went, living at a house called Mt. Pleasant, now an Hotel. Many pleasant days were spent here, and the return to Kensington in October or November was generally a day of tears.
I was brought up very simply—never had a room to myself till I was nearly grown up—always slept in my Mother’s room till I came to the Throne. At Claremont, and in the small houses at the bathing-places, I sat and took my lessons in my Governess’s bedroom. I was not fond of learning as a little child—and baffled every attempt to teach me my letters up to 5 years old—when I consented to learn them by their being written down before me.
I remember going to Carlton House, when George IV. lived there, as quite a little child before a dinner the King gave. The Duchess of Cambridge and my 2 cousins, George and Augusta, were there. My Aunt, the Queen of Würtemberg (Princess Royal), came over, in the year ’26, I think, and I recollect perfectly well seeing her drive through the Park in the King’s carriage with red liveries and 4 horses, in a Cap and evening dress,—my Aunt, her sister Princess Augusta, sitting opposite to her, also in evening attire, having dined early with the Duke of Sussex at Kensington. She had adopted all the German fashions and spoke broken English—and had not been in England for many many years. She was very kind and good-humoured but very large and unwieldy. She lived at St James’s and had a number of Germans with her.
In the year ’26 (I think) George IV. asked my Mother, my Sister and me down to Windsor for the first time; he had been on bad terms with my poor father when he died,—and took hardly any notice of the poor widow and little fatherless girl, who were so poor at the time of his (the Duke of Kent’s) death, that they could not have travelled back to Kensington Palace had it not been for the kind assistance of my dear Uncle, Prince Leopold. We went to Cumberland Lodge, the King living at the Royal Lodge. Aunt Gloucester was there at the same time. When we arrived at the Royal Lodge the King took me by the hand, saying: ‘Give me your little paw.’
He was large and gouty but with a wonderful dignity and charm of manner. He wore the wig which was so much worn in those days. Then he said he would give me something for me to wear, and that was his picture set in diamonds, which was worn by the Princesses as an order to a blue ribbon on the left shoulder. I was very proud of this,—and Lady Conyngham pinned it on my shoulder. Her husband, the late Marquis of Conyngham, was the Lord Chamberlain and constantly there, as well as Lord Mt. Charles (as Vice-Chamberlain), the present Lord Conyngham.
None of the Royal Family or general visitors lived at the Royal Lodge, but only the Conyngham family; all the rest at Cumberland Lodge. Lady Maria Conyngham (now dead, first wife to Lord Athlumney, daughter of Lord Conyngham), then quite young, and Lord Graves (brother-in-law to Lord Anglesey and who afterwards shot himself on account of his wife’s conduct, who was a Lady of the Bedchamber), were desired to take me a drive to amuse me. I went with them, and Baroness (then Miss) Lehzen (my governess) in a pony carriage and 4, with 4 grey ponies (like my own), and was driven about the Park and taken to Sandpit Gate where the King had a Menagerie—with wapitis, gazelles, chamois, etc., etc.
Then we went (I think the next day) to Virginia Water, and met the King in his phaeton in which he was driving the Duchess of Gloucester,—and he said ‘Pop her in,’ and I was lifted in and placed between him and Aunt Gloucester, who held me round the waist. (Mamma was much frightened.) I was greatly pleased, and remember that I looked with great respect at the scarlet liveries, etc. (the Royal Family had crimson and green liveries and only the King scarlet and blue in those days). We drove round the nicest part of Virginia Water and stopped at the Fishing Temple. Here there was a large barge and every one went on board and fished, while a band played in another!
There were numbers of great people there, amongst whom was the last Duke of Dorset, then Master of the Horse. The King paid great attention to my Sister**, and some people fancied he might marry her!! She was very lovely then—about 18—and had charming manners, about which the King was extremely particular. I afterwards went with Baroness Lehzen and Lady Maria C. to the Page Whiting’s cottage. Whiting had been at one time in my father’s service. He lived where Mr Walsh now does (and where he died years ago), in the small cottage close by; and here I had some fruit and amused myself by cramming one of Whiting’s children, a little girl, with peaches. I came after dinner to hear the band play in the Conservatory, which is still standing, and which was lit up by coloured lamps—the King, Royal Family, etc., sitting in a corner of the large saloon, which still stands.
On the second visit (I think) the following year, also in summer, there was a great encampment of tents (the same which were used at the Camp at Chobham in ’53, and some single ones at the Breakfasts at Buckingham Palace in ’68-9), and which were quite like a house, made into different compartments. It rained dreadfully on this occasion, I well remember. The King and party dined there, Prince and Princess Lieven, the Russian Ambassador and Ambassadress were there.
I also remember going to see Aunt Augusta at Frogmore, where she lived always in the summer. We lived in a very simple, plain manner; breakfast was at half-past eight, luncheon at half-past one, dinner at seven—to which I came generally (when it was no regular large dinner party)—eating my bread and milk out of a small silver basin. Tea was only allowed as a great treat in later years.
In 1826 (I think) my dear Grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, came to Claremont, in the summer. Mamma and my sister went on part of the way to meet her, and Uncle Leopold I think had been to fetch her as far as Dover. I recollect the excitement and anxiety I was in, at this event,—going down the great flight of steps to meet her when she got out of the carriage, and hearing her say, when she sat down in her room, and fixed her fine clear blue eyes on her little grand-daughter whom she called in her letters ‘the flower of May,’ ‘Ein schönes Kind’—’a fine child.’ She was very clever and adored by her children but especially by her sons. She was a good deal bent and walked with a stick, and frequently with her hands on her back.
She took long drives in an open carriage and I was frequently sent out with her, which I am sorry to confess I did not like, as, like most children of that age, I preferred running about. She was excessively kind to children, but could not bear naughty ones—and I shall never forget her coming into the room when I had been crying and naughty at my lessons—from the next room but one, where she had been with Mamma—and scolding me severely, which had a very salutary effect. She dined early in the afternoon and Uncle Leopold asked many of the neighbours and others to dinner to meet her. My brother Prince Leiningen came over with her, and was at that time paying his court to one of her ladies, Countess Klebelsberg, whom he afterwards married—against the wish of his grandmother and mother—but which was afterwards quite made up.
In November (I think, or it may have been at the end of October) she left, taking my sister with her back to Coburg. I was very ill at that time, of dysentery, which illness increased to an alarming degree; many children died of it in the village of Esher. The Doctor lost his head, having lost his own child from it, and almost every doctor in London was away. Mr Blagden came down and showed much energy on the occasion. I recovered, and remember well being very cross and screaming dreadfully at having to wear, for a time, flannel next my skin.
Up to my 5th year I had been very much indulged by every one, and set pretty well all at defiance. Old Baroness de Späth, the devoted Lady of my Mother, my Nurse Mrs Brock, dear old Mrs Louis—all worshipped the poor little fatherless child whose future then was still very uncertain; my Uncle the Duke of Clarence’s poor little child being alive, and the Duchess of Clarence had one or two others later. At 5 years old, Miss Lehzen was placed about me, and though she was most kind, she was very firm and I had a proper respect for her. I was naturally very passionate, but always most contrite afterwards. I was taught from the first to beg my maid’s pardon for any naughtiness or rudeness towards her; a feeling I have ever retained, and think every one should own their fault in a kind way to any one, be he or she the lowest—if one has been rude to or injured them by word or deed, especially those below you. People will readily forget an insult or an injury when others own their fault, and express sorrow or regret at what they have done.
* Her maternal uncle Leopold, widower of Princess Charlotte of Wales. He later became the first King of the Belgians.
** The Princess Feodore of Leiningen, afterwards Princess of Hohenlohe, Queen Victoria’s half-sister.
The Letters of Queen Victoria, Volume 1