17 October 2017

Jewel History: The Intended Marriage of Her Majesty (1839)

Queen Victoria in an engraving, ca. 1838 (Grand Ladies Site)

"The Intended Marriage of Her Majesty"
(originally appeared in the Observer, 25 Nov 1839)

London, Sunday, November 24 -- Since the year 1761, when, on the 8th of July, King George III announced at a meeting of his Privy Council his intended marriage with the Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz [1], no meeting of that distinguished and important body has excited so much of public interest as that which was held yesterday at Buckingham Palace, and at which Her Majesty [2] signified her intention to contract a marriage with His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. For some days, rumours as to the object of the meeting of the Privy Council had been publicly circulated [3], and, in consequence, before twelve o'clock, numbers of well-dressed persons, among whom were a large number of females, began congregating themselves in St. James's Park, in the vicinity of the palace.

About half-past twelve o'clock, a guard of honour, accompanied by a band of the Coldstream Guards, entered the gates of the palace and took up a position on the lawn in front of the grand entrance. A body of police of the A division, under the direction of Inspector Russell, about the same time took charge of the gates and kept a clear passage for the carriages as they arrived. By that time the assemblage had increased to several hundreds, among whom the surmises and anticipations as to the interesting object of the meeting were most gratifying and amusing to those who heard them.

A colorful version of the famous image of Queen Victoria wearing Queen Adelaide's Fringe Tiara at the Drury Lane Theater, 1838 (Grand Ladies Site)

At one o'clock the Yeoman, Exons, and Gentleman Porters took their respective stations in front of and under the Grand Portico, and shortly afterwards the members of the Privy Council began to arrive. The first in attendance was the Earl of Albemarle (the Master of the Horse) [4], who was closely followed by Lord Burghersh [5], His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge [6], the Duke of Devonshire [7], Sir George Cockburn [8], Viscount Melbourne [9], the Archbishop of Canterbury [10], Sir George Grey, Bt. [11], Lord Brougham [12], the Lord Chancellor [13], the Duke of Norfolk [14], the Lord President of the Council [15], Lord Monteagle [16], the Duke of Wellington [17], the Speaker of the House of Commons [18], Lord Langdale [19], the Marquess of Salisbury [20], Lord Minto [21], Dr. Lushington [22], Sir Edward Knatchbull, Bt. [23], Lord Hill [24], the Bishop of London [25], the Marquess of Normanby [26], the Earl of Jersey [27], the Hon. T.P. Courtenay [28], Lord Holland [29], Lord Lyndhurst [30], Mr. Macauley [31], the Hon. Henry Pierrepont [32], Sir John Cam Hobhouse, Bt. [33], the Duke of Montrose [34], the Marquess of Anglesey [35], Sir William Alexander [36], the Earl of Surrey [37], the Earl of Erroll [38], Mr. Planta [39], Lord Durham [40], Lord John Russell [41], the Chancellor of the Exchequer [42], Viscount Beresford [43], Lord Ellenborough [44], Sir Edward Hyde East, Bt. [45], the Earl of Ripon [46], Sir Brook Taylor [47], the Earl Howe [48], Viscount Castlereagh [49], Lord Bexley [50], Lord Wharncliffe [51], Sir Robert Adair [52], Lord Abinger [53], Mr. William Ellice [54], Mr. William Peel [55], Sir Robert Peel, Bt. [56], Mr. Justice Bosanquet [57], Lord Cowley [58], Lord Hatherton [59], Mr. Henry Goulburn [60], Sir Henry Hardinge [61], the Earl of Tankerville [62], Lord Chief Justice Tindal [63], the Hon. Thomas Erskine [64], Sir Gore Ouseley, Bt. [65], Lord Ashburton [66], Lord Wynford [67], Lord Amherst [68], Lord Denman [69], etc., etc., to between 80 and 90 of the members of the Council, the last of whom (Lord Denman) entered as nearly as possible as the clock struck two.

Alfred Edward Chalon's 1838 portrait of Victoria (Grand Ladies Site)

By that time the concourse of persons drawn to the scene by the fineness of the day and the novelty of the occasion had amounted to upwards of 2000, who lined the drive both from Constitution Hill and the stable yard. The reception experienced by the members of Her Majesty's Government from the assembled multitude was most flattering to their feelings, although a few hisses were heard in the distance, the utterers of which appeared to be persons of the lowest grades. Lord Melbourne, who was nearly the last that quitted the palace, was loudly cheered by the majority of those present. Mr. Goulburn, Mr. Wilson Croker [70], and others of that party, were allowed to pass almost unnoticed. The "Hero of Waterloo," who, though apparently in good spirits, yet looked very pale and wan from his recent illness, was most enthusiastically cheered both on his entering and leaving the palace, and Sir Robert Peel also came in for a share of the good feeling of a small portion of the assemblage, as did also His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge.

About twenty minutes to three o'clock, the whole council broke up, and within a very short time afterwards the whole of the members had quitted the palace, Lord Melbourne being nearly the last. The crowd then began gradually to disperse; but just as the clock had struck three, Her Majesty's carriage, drawn by four of the Queen's horses, and followed by two other of Her Majesty's carriages, drawn by four post horses, entered the quadrangle, and drew up at the grand entrance, while at the same time an escort of the 14th Royal Hussars took up a position on either side of the outside of the Marble Arch entrance to the palace [71], from which it became evident to the assemblage that Her Majesty intended taking her departure for Windsor. A large portion of the crowd accordingly remained to witness the departure of Her Majesty, who quitted the palace at precisely twenty-five minutes past three o'clock. Her Majesty, we rejoice to state, appeared in remarkably good health and spirits, and returned the spontaneous congratulations of the assemblage with her accustomed condescension. During her progress up Constitution Hill, Hyde Park, Kensington, Hammersmith, etc., the Queen was loudly cheered by the persons who lined the sides of the road.

A later illustration of a young Queen Victoria (Grand Ladies Site)

We observed among the crowd a certain noble marquess who has lately parted from the Whigs, and a baronet of some celebrity in East Indian affairs, who were signaling the populace as to what parties they should cheer or groan. These two gentlemen appeared to enjoy the fun amazingly, and remained on the ground till the last carriage had left the palace.


1. King George III of Great Britain and Ireland (1738-1820) was in love with Lady Sarah Lennox, sister of the Duke of Richmond, but following his sudden succession to the throne at the age of 22, he contracted a marriage with Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) instead. After he announced his intention to marry at the privy council meeting, a contingent from England traveled to Germany to fetch their queen-to-be. George and Charlotte met on their wedding day, September 8, 1761. They were married until her death in 1818 and had 15 children together.

2. Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (1819-1901), who was twenty years old at the time. She had already been on the British throne for two years. Her popularity had recently taken a serious hit, following the scandal surrounding the death of Lady Flora Hastings.

3. Rumors were circulating for a good reason: Victoria had proposed to her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1819-1861) more than a month before, on October 15, 1839, at Windsor Castle. This newspaper report gets his title and style slightly wrong; Albert was a serene highness until a few days before his wedding, when he was made a British subject and elevated to the position of royal highness.

4. William Keppel, 4th Earl of Albemarle (1772-1849) was a Whig politician who served as Master of the Horse to both King William IV and Queen Victoria. He traveled with Queen Victoria in the gold state coach on the way to Westminster Abbey for her coronation in 1838. He is an ancestor of both the Duchess of Cornwall and Sarah, Duchess of York.

5. John Fane, 11th Earl of Westmorland (1784-1859) was styled as Lord Burghersh until he succeeded his father as Earl of Westmorland in 1841. He was a decorated military officer, politician, and composer. His sister was Sarah Villiers, Countess of Jersey, a famous social hostess (and daughter-in-law, of the infamous mistress of King George IV).

6. Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (1774-1850) was the tenth child of King George III and Queen Charlotte, which means that he was also Queen Victoria's uncle. Through his younger daughter, Princess Mary Adelaide, he was the grandfather of Queen Mary.

7. William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858), known as the "Bachelor Duke," served two terms as Lord Chamberlain of the Household in the 1820s and early 1830s. He commissioned the unusual Devonshire Parure (which you can read more about in my recent article!).

8. Sir George Cockburn, 10th Bt. (1772-1853) was a decorated naval officer who was eventually named Admiral of the Fleet. He is probably best remembered as one of the military commanders who captured Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812 and directed the burning of numerous buildings, including the White House.

9. William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848) was Prime Minister at the time of this privy council meeting. He was perhaps the most important adviser and confidant of Queen Victoria until her marriage in 1840. There has been persistent speculation about the nature of their relationship, something played up in the recent ITV series, where he is played by Rufus Sewell.

10. William Howley (1766-1848) served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1828 until 1848. He was one of the people who informed Queen Victoria that she had succeeded to the throne in the early hours of June 20, 1837. He presided over the coronations of both Victoria and her predecessor, King William IV.

11. Sir George Grey, 2nd Bt. (1799-1882) was a Whig politician who served three times as Home Secretary during Victoria's reign. He was the nephew of Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey who served as Prime Minister from 1830 until 1834.

12. Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778-1868) was a Scottish politician, lawyer, designer, writer, and scientist. He served as Lord Chancellor from 1830 until 1834, but he is perhaps better known for his role in the abolition of slavery in Britain. He also served as a chief adviser to Queen Caroline, the estranged wife of King George IV. The brougham, a carriage that he designed, bears his name. He was also an early investor in the French seaside resort of Cannes.

13. Charles Pepys, 1st Earl of Cottenham (1781-1851), then Baron Cottenham, was Lord Chancellor in November 1839. He also served a second term in the office during Victoria's reign.

14. Bernard Howard, 12th Duke of Norfolk (1765-1842) inherited the Norfolk dukedom from a cousin in 1815. Through his ex-wife, Lady Elizabeth Belasyse (later Lady Lucan), he was connected to Lord Melbourne; she was Melbourne's first cousin.

15. Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780-1863) was Lord President of the Council in November 1839. The Lord President is the fourth of the Great Officers of State, following the Lord High Stewart (an ad hoc office that is now filled only for a coronation), the Lord Chancellor, and the Lord High Treasurer (which is now filled by a committee, not a single person).

16. Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon (1790-1866) had recently been elevated to the peerage after the end of his tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer, which ended in August 1839. His second daughter, the Hon. Mary Alicia Pery Spring Rice, was one of Queen Victoria's maids of honour during this period.

17. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), hero of the Battle of Waterloo, was one of the most popular and influential British figures of the nineteenth century. Following the end of his military career, he became an important Tory politician, serving as Prime Minister for both King George IV and King William IV. Victoria and Albert later named their third son, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, after Wellington, who served as the prince's godfather.

18. Charles Shaw-Lefevre, 1st Viscount Eversley (1794-1888) was the new Speaker of the House of Commons, having taken up the position in the spring of 1839. He remained in the role until 1857, when he was made Governor of the Isle of Wight.

19. Henry Bickersteth, 1st Baron Langdale (1783-1851) was Master of the Rolls from 1836 until his death in 1851. His major legacy is an important reform of public record keeping in Britain.

20. James Gascoyne-Cecil, 2nd Marquess of Salisbury (1791-1868) was a Tory politician who later served as the Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council. He was the father of one prime minister (the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury) and the grandfather of another (Arthur Balfour).

21. Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 2nd Earl of Minto (1782-1859) was First Lord of the Admiralty in November 1839. His daughter, Lady Frances, was the second wife of one of Queen Victoria's later prime ministers, Lord John Russell.

22. Dr. Stephen Lushington (1782-1873) was a Whig politician who championed anti-slavery legislation while serving in parliament. Like Lord Brougham (see note #12) he was one of Queen Caroline's lawyers. He became judge of the High Court of Admiralty in 1838.

23. Sir Edward Knatchbull, 9th Baronet (1781-1849) was a Whig politician who served as both Paymaster of the Forces and Paymaster General. His second wife, Fanny Knight, was a niece of Jane Austen. He is a direct ancestor of the current Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

24. Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill (1772-1842), then Lord Hill, was Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces from 1828 until 1842. He served under Wellington as a commander during the Napoleonic Wars.

25. Charles James Blomfield (1786-1857) was Bishop of London from 1828 until 1856. He was a classical scholar and a noted speaker in the House of Lords.

26. Constantine Phipps, 1st Marquess of Normanby (1797-1863) was a Whig politician. In November 1839, he was Home Secretary, following a tenure as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He was also a published novelist.

27. George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey (1773-1859) was a Tory politician and royal courtier. He served as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King George IV. He was twice Master of the Horse to Queen Victoria. He also had family links to some of the other members of the Privy Council. He was a brother-in-law of the 11th Earl of Westmorland (see note #5), and his eldest son married a daughter of Sir Robert Peel. One of his daughters, Lady Sarah Villiers, was one of Queen Victoria's bridesmaids.

28. Thomas Peregrine Courtenay (1782-1841) was a noted writer and a former Vice-President of the Board of Trade. He was a younger brother of the 10th Earl of Devon.

29. Henry Vassall-Fox, 3rd Baron Holland (1773-1840) was an important nineteenth-century Whig politician. At the time of this meeting, he was serving as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He died less than a year later. Through his grandmother, Lady Caroline Lennox, he was an (illegitimate) descendant of King Charles II.

30. John Copley, 1st Baron Lyndhurst (1772-1863) was Lord Chancellor three times, serving King George IV, King William IV, and Queen Victoria. Born in Boston, he was the son of the famous American painter John Singleton Copley.

31. Sir Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron of Rothley (1800-1859) was a Whig politician and a famous British historian. In November 1839, Macauley was one of the newest members of the Privy Council; he had also recently been made Secretary at War. He was made Baron Macauley of Rothley in 1857.

32. Henry Manvers Pierrepont (1780-1851) was a British diplomat and son of the 1st Earl of Manvers. His daughter, Augusta, married Lord Charles Wellesley, second son of the Duke of Wellington.

33. John Cam Hobhouse, 1st Baron Broughton (1786-1869) was serving as the President of the Board of Control in November 1839. A pamphleteer, travel writer, and diarist, Hobhouse had been incarcerated at Newgate Prison in 1819 after publishing a radical pamphlet. He was also a close friend of Lord Byron.

34. James Graham, 4th Duke of Montrose (1799-1874) was a Tory politician. He served as both Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Postmaster General during Victoria's reign.

35. Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey (1768-1854) lost a leg at the Battle of Waterloo before starting a career in politics. He served twice as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In the battle between King George IV and Queen Caroline, he was firmly in the anti-Caroline camp, a stance that damaged his popularity. His first wife, Lady Caroline Villiers, was the sister of the 5th Earl of Jersey (see note #27). After a scandalous elopement with Lady Charlotte Cadogan, Charlotte's brother challenged him to a duel on Wimbledon Common; both walked away unscathed. One of his daughters, Lady Adelaide Paget, was a bridesmaid to Queen Victoria; so was one of his granddaughters, Lady Eleanor Paget.

36. Sir William Alexander (1754-1842) was a former Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer.

37. Henry Howard, 13th Duke of Norfolk (1791-1856), who was styled Earl of Surrey in November 1839, was the eldest son of the 12th Duke of Norfolk. He was Treasurer of the Household at the time of Victoria and Albert's engagement; later, he was Master of the Horse and then Lord Steward of the Household. His daughter, Lady Mary Howard, was one of Victoria's bridesmaids.

38. William Hay, 18th Earl of Erroll (1801-1846) was named Lord Steward of the Household two days before this meeting of the Privy Council. He was married to Lady Elizabeth FitzClarence, an illegitimate daughter of King William IV. His eldest daughter, Lady Ida Hay (later Lady Gainsborough) was one of Queen Victoria's bridesmaids. Another daughter, Lady Agnes, married the 5th Earl of Fife and later became the mother-in-law of Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Princess Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife.

39. Joseph Planta (1787-1847) was a British diplomat and Tory politician. His father was the principal librarian of the British Museum.

40. John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham (1792-1840) was a Whig politician and a colonial administrator. His mother, Lady Anne Villiers, was a sister of the 5th Earl of Jersey (see note #27). He was also a nephew of the 1st Marquess of Anglesey (see note #35). His second wife, Louisa, was a daughter of the former prime minister, the 2nd Earl Grey. He served as Governor General of British North America and Lieutenant-Governer of Lower Canada. He died less than a year after this meeting.

41. John Russell, 1st Earl Russell (1792-1878), then Lord John Russell, had recently ended his tenure as Home Secretary and taken up a new post, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, in November 1839. He served two terms as prime minister during Victoria's reign. His second wife, Frances, was the daughter of Lord Minto (see note #21). The philosopher Bertrand Russell was his grandson. Charles Dickens dedicated A Tale of Two Cities to him.

42. Francis Baring, 1st Baron Northbrook (1796-1866) was Chancellor of the Exchequer in November 1839. His first wife, Jane, was a sister of Sir George Grey, 2nd Bt. (see note # 11).

43. William Beresford, 1st Viscount Beresford (1768-1854) was an Irish soldier and politician. He fought alongside the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War.

44. Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough (1790-1871) was a Tory politician who served as the Governor-General of India in the 1840s. Law had been involved in marital scandal in the 1820s. His second wife, Jane Digby, had numerous affairs with royal men, including King Ludwig I of Bavaria, King Otto of Greece, and Prince Felix of Schwarzenberg. Edward and Jane were divorced by Act of Parliament in 1830.

45. Sir Edward Hyde East, 1st Bt. (1764-1847), a British politician, writer, and judge, was the Chief Justice of Calcutta during the reigns of King George III and King George IV.

46. Frederick John Robinson, 1st Earl of Ripon (1782-1859), also known as Viscount Goderich, was Prime Minister in the 1820s. He had one of the shortest premierships in British history. He also held numerous other government contributions, including Chancellor of the Exchequer and President of the Board of Trade.

47. Sir Brook Taylor (1776-1846) was a British diplomat who served as ambassador to Berlin from 1828 until 1831.

48. Richard Curzon-Howe, 1st Earl Howe (1796-1870) was a courtier who served prominently during the reign of King William IV. His daughter, Lady Adelaide, married the son of the 11th Earl of Westmorland (see note #5). Through another daughter, Lady Mary Anna, he is a direct ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales.

49. Frederick Stewart, 4th Marquess of Londonderry (1805-1872), styled as Viscount Castlereagh in November 1839, was a Tory politician who served as Vice-Chamberlain of the Household to King William IV.

50. Nicholas Vansittart, 1st Baron Bexley (1766-1851) was a pamphleteer and politician. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer during the reigns of both King George III and King George IV.

51. James Stuart-Wortley, 1st Baron Wharncliffe (1776-1845) was a Tory politician. He was the grandson of a prime minister, the 3rd Earl of Bute. He served as Lord Privy Seal in the 1830s and became Lord President of the Council in the 1840s. His son, James, later became Solicitor General.

52. Sir Robert Adair (1763-1855) was an important British diplomat who served in a number of posts, including stints in Vienna, Constantinople, and Belgium.

53. James Scarlett, 1st Baron Abinger (1769-1844) was Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer in November 1839.

54. Edward Ellice (1783-1863) was a British politician and merchant whose work in the fur trading industry in Canada earned him the nickname "the Bear." Ellice served as a deputy-governor of the Hudson's Bay Company and held several British government posts, including Secretary to the Treasury and Secretary at War. His first wife, Hannah, was a sister of Sir George Grey (see note #11); his second wife, Anne, was a daughter of the 4th Earl of Albemarle (see note #4).

55. William Yates Peel (1789-1858), brother of Sir Robert Peel, was a Tory politician who served as a Lord of the Treasury.

56. Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Bt. (1788-1850) served as Prime Minister twice, once during the reign of King William IV, and once during Victoria's reign. Shortly before this meeting, Peel and Victoria had clashed during the Bedchamber Crisis. Tasked with forming a government in May 1839, Peel requested that some of the Whig ladies who served the Queen be replaced with Tory ladies. When she refused, Peel refused to form a government, and Lord Melbourne and the Whigs returned to power.

57. Sir John Bosanquet (1773-1847), son of a governor of the Bank of England, was Third Justice of the Court of Common Pleas.

58. Henry Wellesley, 1st Baron Cowley (1773-1847) was a British diplomat and politician. He was a younger brother of the Duke of Wellington. His first wife, Lady Charlotte Cadogan, abandoned him in 1809 and eloped with Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey (see note #35). His second wife, Lady Georgiana Cecil, was a sister of the 2nd Marquess of Salisbury (see note #20). Cowley served as ambassador to France during Queen Victoria's reign.

59. Edward John Littleton, 1st Baron Hatherton (1791-1863) was a British politician who served as Chief Secretary for Ireland during the reign of King William IV. His first wife, Hyacinthe, was an (illegitimate) niece of the Duke of Wellington.

60. Henry Goulburn (1784-1856) was a Tory politician who served as both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary.

61. Henry Hardinge, 1st Viscount Hardinge (1785-1856) was a British military officer and politician. During Victoria's reign, he was Governor-General of India and Commander-in-Chief of the Forces.

62. Charles Bennet, 5th Earl of Tankerville (1776-1859) was a British politician and courtier. He served as Treasurer of the Household during the reign of King George III.

63. Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal (1776-1846), the Chief Justice of Common Pleas, was an English lawyer and judge. He is remembered for introducing the special verdict "not guilty by reason of insanity" into common law from the bench. He also successfully defended Queen Caroline, estranged wife of King George III, at her adultery trial in 1820.

64. The Rt. Hon. Thomas Erskine (1788-1868) was Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

65. Sir Gore Ouseley, 1st Bt. (1770-1844) was a British diplomat whose achievements included the negotiation of a crucial treaty between Russia and Persia. He was also an accomplished linguist who taught himself Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit.

66. Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton (1774-1848) was a British politician and a member of the famed Baring family of bankers, financiers, and merchants. He served as Master of the Mint and President of the Board of Trade during the reign of King William IV.

67. William Best, 1st Baron Wynford (1767-1845) was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas during the 1820s.

68. William Pitt Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst (1773-1857) served as Governor-General of India from 1823 until 1828, although his tenure was not particularly successful. He had previously served as an ambassador extraordinary to the court of China.

69. Thomas Denman, 1st Baron Denman (1779-1854) was Lord Chief Justice of England during the reigns of both King William IV and Queen Victoria. Along with several other privy councillors, he was part of Queen Caroline's counsel during her adultery trial. He also presided as Lord High Steward during the Earl of Cardigan's murder trial following a duel in 1841.

70. John Wilson Croker (1780-1857) was an Irish politician and writer. He served as Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 until 1830. He was a close friend of the Duke of Wellington.

71. In Queen Victoria's day, the front section of Buckingham Palace was an open courtyard. The Marble Arch was designed by John Nash to be the state entrance to the palace. It was positioned roughly where the famous palace balcony is today. The arch was moved in 1847 to allow an addition to the palace, and it now resides at the corner of Hyde Park.