Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

victoria revealed: a love story till death do they part...or longer.

In reflecting over the past week; starting off with the first birthday of my newest nephew; then midweek saying goodbye to great guy’s uncle; and yesterday starting my Lenten ‘fast’ (better late than never to cut out sugar and bread), life and death are running through my mind, as if in a race. I am confident that life will win, even as death will pull a last minute, daring stunt to pass. Life will ultimately cross the finish line. But it sure is a strange race.

In the impressive Victoria Revealed exhibit currently on at Kensington Palace, I toured through the life of an equally impressive woman, who ruled the British Empire for 64 years from 1837 to 1901. Queen Victoria’s descendants made up significant parts of the royal houses in Sweden, Norway, Greece, Romania, Germany and Russia, during her reign.

Walking through the rooms where she was born, spent her childhood, heard that she had become queen, and met her husband; I caught a glimpse of the love story she shared with Albert through her journals, intimate portraits, his gifts of music and jewellery, and the letters she wrote.

I stood in Victoria’s former bedroom; I should say Queen Victoria’s former bedroom, in the understated, yet grand Kensington Palace. Situated in North London, next to sprawling lawns as far as the eye can see, the palace feels royal, yet also like a large home. 

Princess Margaret, Princess Diana, Will, Kate, George and Harry all have or do make their home here. Reading letters Victoria had written to Albert, I felt a bit like I was intruding on something intimate…which I was.

Just a few months after she was born on the 24th of May, 1819 Victoria's father died of pneumonia leaving the princess and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, penniless. Wanting to prepare her for her future role as queen, her mother kept her isolated from life at court with few friends her own age. Victoria had a vivid imagination and loved the arts. She sketched, sewed costumes for her wooden peg dolls, loved riding her beloved horse Taglioni, and took singing lessons from an Italian opera singer named Luigi Lablache. 

And then one spring day, it all began…

From her journal on the 18th of May, 1836 Victoria wrote, “we went down into the hall, to receive my Uncle Ernest, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and my cousins, Ernest and Albert, his sons…Albert, who is just as tall as Ernest but stouter, is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth.”

On June 20th, 1837 His Majesty King William IV died at Windsor and Victoria became Queen. 

Can you imagine the problems trying to find a guy ‘man’ enough to handle dating you once you become queen? But Albert stepped up to the plate, responding like an actor in a well-scripted rom com. He sent Victoria gifts and letters when they were apart, and between 1838 and 1839 he composed pieces expressing all of his love-lorn emotions; such as, Gruss aus der Ferne (Greeting from Afar), Schmerz der Liebe (The Pain of Love), and Einsamkeit (Loneliness). Some of the pieces you can experience in the exhibit.

The coup d’état upon their engagement in 1839, was called Der Orangenzweig. Prince Albert composed a piece set to a poem by his brother Ernest, joyful that Victoria:

‘Would agree to the intimate bond
With Saxony’s most upright princely son
A zephyr with its whispering tones
Reached the distant land of flowers.’

Albert was one thoughtful fellow. He often tried to bridge the relationship between Victoria and her mother, the Duchess of Kent. Victoria harboured quite a bit of resentment against her mother due to her lonely childhood. So, Albert commissioned a bookmark formed of four green, silk ribbons with a circle of eight semi-precious stones, the initials of which spelled VICTORIA: Vermeil, Jargoon (J was often used as an I); Chrysolite; Turquoise; Opal; Ruby; Jargoon; Amethyst…I wouldn’t have thought of that.

They were married on the 10th of February, 1840 and ended up having 9 children. Throughout her pregnancies, beginning with the first one, Victoria, Princess Royal, who was born on the 21st of November 1840, Albert helped fulfill her political and practical responsibilities. Victoria even formalized Albert’s role by asking Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, to give Albert his own set of keys to her dispatch boxes. Victoria in turn supported and encouraged Albert in his projects, such as the Great Exhibition of 1851.

After they were married, Victoria and Albert often sang and played music together. They also formed a warm friendship with Mendelssohn, who visited them several times at Buckingham Palace. Between 1844 and 1847 he transcribed eight of his famous Songs without Words for the royal couple to play together. Throughout the exhibit, you realize how very suited to each other they were; they thoroughly enjoyed being together in work and play.

I moved through the exhibit slowly, taking it all in; her former rooms. Reading, listening, I was exploring someone's life. And then I turned a corner and the walls, the floor, the ceiling all went black.

People handle the loss of a beloved partner as differently as the people themselves are. Some move on fairly quickly, needing to grab life by the horns again and laugh and love; some fall apart completely and join their partner soon after; and others wait.

Queen Victoria waited forty years for her time on earth to be over, and to join Albert. He died of typhoid fever in 1861, and Victoria was never the same again. “My life as a happy one is ended”, she wrote.

Immediately upon his death, Victoria insisted that her entire household and her children all wear black. For the rest of her life, she wore a black dress, black stockings, black shoes and a black ‘sad cap’, as her young daughter, Beatrice, called the widow’s cap Victoria wore. She even wrote all of her letters on paper with black trim, sealing them with black wax. She faced a lot of criticism in the time after Albert’s death for not attending public events, nor dealing with her official duties as she should.

This is how she described her last moments with Albert: “I bent over him and said to him “Es ist Kleines Frauchen” (it is your little wife) and he bowed his head; I asked him if he would give me “ein Kuss” (a kiss) and he did so. He seemed half dozing, quite quiet…two or three long but perfectly gentle breaths were drawn, the hand clasping mine and…all, all was over.” Queen Victoria, 14 Dec. 1861

This afternoon, I had an unexpectedly moving conversation at the post office. The lady behind the counter, who is the father’s neighbour, asked when they were returning from their wintertime in Spain. I mentioned that the father had just been here for the week because his brother had died on Wednesday. The expression on her small, wrinkled face changed; her eyes grew dark. ‘Andreas died?’ she asked in disbelief. She began to repeat what I had heard from others, including Andreas himself. He was never the same after his Moni died 22 years ago. Even though he had children and grandchildren of his own, it was as if the light that kept him going; the interest to wander through each day, was gone.

No matter where you live, brothers are brothers and sisters are sisters. The bonds that keep family close are the same no matter where you are. [Takayuki Ikkaku;Arisa Hosaka]

Ultimately, time is all you have, and the idea isn’t to save it but to savour it.[Ellen Goodman]

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