Posted By Claire on February 26, 2010
Queen Victoria died on the 22nd January 1901 after an amazing 63 years and 7 months as Queen. As Christopher Hibbert writes in “Queen Victoria: A Personal History”, Queen Victoria “had always had…a consuming interest in funerals” and so had carefully planned out her own funeral, along with giving instructions for the actions to be taken straight after her death.
Queen Victoria’s Coffin
The Queen’s instructions, which she had given to her dressers “to be always taken about and kept by”, so they could be put into action the moment she died, included instructions concerning the items she wanted to be buried with. In her coffin, Queen Victoria wanted various items of jewellery, Prince Albert’s dressing gown and his cloak which had been embroidered by Princess Alice, the daughter she had lost in 1878, a plaster cast of Prince Albert’s hand, her lace wedding veil, shawls, various photographs and also a lock of John Brown’s hair and a photo of him, which she wanted placing in her left hand. It has since been discovered that she was also buried wearing John Brown’s mother’s wedding ring and this fact caused speculation that the couple had married in secret. An article in “The Daily Mail” in May 2008 even suggested that an archivist found the marriage certificate of Queen Victoria and John Brown’s wedding when going through Queen Victoria’s private papers. When the archivist showed it to the Queen Mother, she took it from him and burned it without saying a word.
When the Queen’s doctor and good friend, Sir James Reid, had checked that Queen Victoria’s coffin contained all of the items listed in her “Instructions” and cut off locks of her hair for lockets, he placed a posy of flowers over her left hand to hide John Brown’s photo from the mourners who wanted to pay their last respects before the coffin lid was closed. Queen Victoria’s coffin was then covered by a white satin pall and carried down to the dining room of Osborne House by a group of sailors. The dining room was acting as a chapel until the Queen’s body could be transported to the mainland. In the candlelit dining room, four Grenadier Guards stood at each corner of the coffin which was now covered with crimson velvet and ermine, along with the Queen’s crown resting on a cushion.
The Queen had left instructions for a “Military Funeral” because she was “Head of the Army”. She wrote that she wanted her coffin drawn by 8 horses on a gun carriage and that it was to be a white funeral, rather than a black funeral. Apparently, Lord Tennyson had once remarked to the Queen, when they were visiting the Mausoleum at Frogmore, that he wished that funerals could be in white and, twenty years after this conversation, his coffin was indeed dressed in a white pall. It seems that Tennyson’s example gave the Queen the idea for her own funeral.
On the 1st February, Queen Victoria’s coffin was carried on the royal yacht, “Alberta”, from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth, to the sound of gunfire from the warships in the Solent. The new King, Edward VII, followed the Alberta in the “Victoria and Albert” and the Kaiser also followed behind. On the 2nd February, Lady Lytton accompanied the coffin by train to Victoria Station and the Queen’s subjects, dressed in black, knelt as they watched the train go by. Once in London, crowds gathered to watch as the coffin decorated with the Imperial Crown, orb, sceptre and the collar of the Order of the Garter was carried by gun carriage through the streets of London. People filled the soldier lined streets to watch the procession of the coffin followed by King Edward VII, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King George I of the Hellenes, King Carlos of Portugal, King Leopold II of the Belgians, the Crown Princes of Germany, Rumania, Greece, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and Siam, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch and the Duke of Aosta.
In Windsor, crowds watched as the gun carriage transported the Queen’s coffin up the hill from the station to Windsor Castle. Christopher Hibbert writes of how there was a near calamity when the splinter bar of the carriage broke and the Royal Horse Artillery, who had been drawing the carriage, had to be replaced by sailors who used drag ropes to pull the gun carriage through Windsor, up Windsor Castle’s Long Walk and up to St George’s Chapel for the funeral. The sailors did such a good job of dragging the coffin that the King suggested that they take it all the way to its final resting place at the Frogmore Mausoleum but it was eventually decided that the Royal Artillery would draw it, so as not to cause offence.
Queen Victoria’s Funeral
On the 4th February 1901, Queen Victoria’s coffin was drawn from the Albert Memorial Chapel in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, to the Mausoleum, accompanied by the Queen’s family. Christopher Hibbert quotes the following description from Maurice Brett’s “Journal and Letters of Reginal, Viscount Esher”:-
“Of all the ceremonials [Lord Esher thought], that in the Mausoleum was the simplest and most impressive. The procession from the sovereign’s entrance, the Princess of Wales leading Prince Edward [the future Duke of Windsor] the other children walking, was very touching and beautiful. At the Mausoleum, the arrangements were left to me. Everyone got into the Chapel and the iron gates were closed…the guardsmen brought in the coffin. The King and the Princes and Princesses standing on the right. The choir on the left…Of all the mourners the Princess of Wales and the young [sixteen-year-old son of the Duke of Albany] Duke of Coburg displayed the most emotion.”
Christopher Hibbert then writes of how after a moving service and the Blessing, the Royal family passed in single file over the platform overlooking the grave containing two coffins side by side (Albert and Victoria):-
“The King came first alone, but instead of simply walking by, he knelt down by the grave. Then the Queen followed, leading the little Prince Edward by the hand. She knelt down, but the little boy was frightened, and the King took him gently and made him kneel beside him, and the three, in perfect silence, were there together – a sight not to be forgotten. Then they passed on, and the Emperor came and knelt likewise, and so in turn all the rest of the Royal Family in a continuous string. Then the Household or at least the few who had been invited to be present. As we left the building the rain or sleet began to fall.” (Christopher Hibbert with a description from “Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury” by G K A Bell)
A white stone figure of the Queen, which had been sculpted by Baron Marochetti at the same time as he had sculpted Prince Albert’s figure, was then placed on to the tomb chest so that Queen Victoria’s face was inclined to Prince Albert, the love of her life.
And that was the end of the Queen and the Victorian period. An article by BBC News, reporting on the 100th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s death and the special commemoration ceremony in 2001, said:-
“When she succeeded her uncle, William IV, in 1837, the monarchy was probably less popular than at any time since the 17th Century. By the end of the reign, the crown had been raised to new heights of prestige and affection, and the British Empire ruled much of the world.”
What an achievement!
- “Queen Victoria: A Personal History” by Christopher Hibbert
- “Victoria’s Secret: The TV drama that lifts the lid on Queen Victoria’s lusty sensuality” an article by The Daily Mail