Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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In this section
"High o'er the neighbouring lands,
'Midst greens and sweets, a regal fabric stands."—Tickell.
Situation of Kensington Palace—Houses near it—Kensington Palace Gardens—The "King's Arms"—Henry VIII.'s Conduit—Palace Green—The Kensington Volunteers—The Water Tower—Thackeray's House: his Death—Description of the Palace—The Chapel—The Principal Pictures formerly shown here—Early History of the Building—William III. and Dr. Radcliffe—A "Scene" in the Royal Apartments—Death of Queen Mary and William III.—Queen Anne and the Jacobites—"Scholar Dick," and his Fondness for the Bottle—Lax Manners of the Court under the Early Georges—Death of George II.—The Princess Sophia—Caroline, Princess of Wales—Balls and Parties given by her Royal Highness—An Undignified Act—The Duke of Sussex's Hospitality—Birth of the Princess Victoria—Her Baptism—Death of William IV., and Accession of Queen Victoria—Her First Council—Death of the Duke of Sussex—The Duchess of Inverness—Other Royal Inhabitants.
As in France, so also in England, nearly all the palaces of royalty are located outside the city. Greenwich, Eltham, Hatfield, Theobalds, Nonsuch, Enfield, Havering-atte-Bower, Oatlands, Hampton Court, Kew, Richmond, all in turn, as well as Kensington, have been chosen as residences for our sovereigns. Kensington Palace, though actually situated in the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster, is named from the adjoining town, to which it would more naturally seem to belong, and it stands in grounds about 350 acres in extent.
Palace Gate House, a spacious mansion, with ornamental elevation, standing on the north side of the High Street, near the entrance to the Palace, was long the residence of the late Mr. John Forster, the historian, biographer, and critic, and the friend of Charles Dickens. A broad roadway, leading from the High Street of Kensington to the Bayswater Road, and known as Kensington Palace Gardens, contains several costly mansions, including one of German-Gothic design, built for the Earl of Harrington in 1852.
In the High Street, close by the entrance to the Palace, is the "King's Arms" Tavern, at which Addison was a frequent visitor, when he took up his abode in his adopted home at Holland House as the husband of Lady Warwick.
On the west side of Palace Green, in what was formerly called the King's Garden, Henry VIII. is said to have built a conduit, or bath, for the use of the Princess Elizabeth, when a child. It was a low building, with walls of great thickness, and the roof covered with bricks. The interior was in good preservation when Faulkner wrote his "History of Kensington," and afforded a favourable specimen of the brickwork of the period. It is clear, from an entry in the parish books, though unnoticed by Faulkner, that Queen Elizabeth, at least on one occasion subsequent to her childhood, stayed within the parish, for the parish officers are rebuked and punished for not ringing "when Her Majesty left Kensington." Probably this entry refers to some visit which she paid to Holland House, where no doubt she was entertained as a guest by the then owner, the old Earl of Holland, or by Sir Walter Cope, who built the original mansion. On Palace Green are the barracks for foot-soldiers, who still regularly mount guard at the Palace. The Green, called in ancient documents the "Moor," was the military parade when the Court resided here, and the royal standard was hoisted on it daily.
Among the historical associations of this place must not be overlooked the Old Kensington Volunteers, which was formed towards the close of the last century. In 1801 an engraving was published, showing the presentation of colours to the regiment; the original painting, together with the colours themselves—which were worked by the Duchess of Gloucester and her daughter, the Princess Sophia Matilda—are now in the Vestry Hall. In 1876 these colours were placed in front of the Princess Louise, when she opened the New National Schools here, and the vicar of Kensington drew the attention of her Royal Highness to this work of her ancestors. Dr. Callcott, whom we have already mentioned as living near the Gravel Pits, was band-master in the above corps, which was disbanded at the Peace of Amiens, and also in the Kensington Corps of Volunteer Infantry, which was established in 1803.
On this green there stood formerly a water-tower of singular construction; it was built in the reign of Queen Anne, but had long ceased to be used when Faulkner wrote his "History of Kensington" in 1820. It was of red brick, and consisted of three storeys, surrounded by two heavy battlemented turrets; it is said to have been designed by Sir John Vanbrugh. The tower was removed in 1850.
In 1846, Thackeray removed from London to
Kensington, taking up his abode at No. 13, Young
Street, which connects the Square with the High
Street, occupying also by day, for working purposes, chambers at 10, Crown Office Row, Temple.
He afterwards removed to Onslow Square, Brompton; but about 1861, or the following year, he
again removed to the more congenial neighbourhood of Kensington
Palace, and took up his
permanent abode in the
"Old Court Suburb,"
about which Leigh Hunt
has gossiped so pleasantly. He took on a
long lease a somewhat
dilapidated mansion, on
the west side of Palace
Gardens. His intention
at first was to repair and
improve it, but he finally
resolved to pull it down,
and build a new house
in its place. This, a
handsome, solid mansion
of choice red brick,
with stone facings, was
built from his own designs, and he occupied
it until his death. "It
was," remarks Mr. James Hannay, "a dwelling
worthy of one who really represented literature in
the great world, and who, planting himself on his
books, yet sustained the character of his profession
with all the dignity of a gentleman." A friend who
called on him there from Edinburgh, in the summer
of 1862, knowing of old his love of the poet of
Venusia, playfully reminded him what Horace says
of those who, regardless of their death, employ
themselves in building houses:—
Immemor struis domos."
"Nay," said he, "I am memor sepulchri, for this house will always let for so many hundreds"—mentioning the sum—"a year." Thackeray was always of opinion, that notwithstanding the somewhat costly proceeding of pulling down and re-erecting, he had achieved the rare result for a private gentleman, of building for himself a house which, regarded as an investment of a portion of his fortune, left no cause for regret.
Mr. John Forster has told us, in his "Life of Charles Dickens," how the latter met Thackeray at the Athenæum Club, just a week before his death, and shook hands with him at parting, little thinking that it was for the last time. "There had been some estrangement between them since the autumn of 1858. . . . Thackeray, justly indignant at a published description of himself by a member of a club to which both he and Dickens belonged (the Garrick), referred the matter to the committee, who decided to expel the writer. Dickens, thinking expulsion too harsh a penalty for an offence thoughtlessly given, and, as far as might be, manfully atoned for by withdrawal and regret, interposed to avert the extremity. Thackeray resented the interference, and Dickens was justly hurt at the manner in which he did so. Neither," adds Mr. Forster, "was wholly in the right, nor was either altogether in the wrong." The affair, however, is scarcely worth being added as a fresh chapter to the "Quarrels of Authors." Thackeray had often suffered from serious illness, so that his daughter was not much alarmed at finding him in considerable pain and suffering on Wednesday, the 23rd of December, 1863. He complained of pain when his servant left his room, wishing him "good-night," and in the morning, on entering, the manservant found him dead. He had passed away in the night from an effusion of blood on the brain.
Mr. Hannay wrote:—"Thackeray is dead; and the purest English prose writer of the nineteenth century, and the novelist with a greater knowledge of the human heart as it really is than any one—with the exception, perhaps, of Shakespeare and Balzac—is suddenly struck down in the midst of us. In the midst of us! No long illness, no lingering decay, no gradual suspension of power; almost pen in hand, like Kempenfelt, he went down. Well said the Examiner—'Whatever little feuds may have gathered about Mr. Thackeray's public life lay lightly on the surface of the minds that chanced to be in contest with him. They could be thrown off in a moment, at the first shock of the news that he was dead.' It seemed impossible to realise the fact. No other celebrity—be he writer, statesman, artist, actor—seemed so thoroughly a portion of London. That 'good grey head which all men knew' was as easy of recognition as his to whom the term applied, the Duke of Wellington. Scarcely a day passed without his being seen in the Pall-Mall districts; and a Londoner showing to 'country cousins' the wonders of the metropolis, generally knew how to arrange for them to get a sight of the great English writer."
The palace has been described as a "plain brick building, of no particular style or period, but containing a heterogeneous mass of dull apartments, halls, and galleries, presenting externally no single feature of architectural beauty; the united effect of its ill-proportioned divisions being irregular and disagreeable in the extreme." This criticism can hardly be considered too severe. Certain portions of the exterior, it is true, are admired as fine specimens of brickwork in their way; but it cannot be concealed that the general effect of the brick is mean and poor.
The following particulars of the interior of the palace, some of which stand good, even at the present day, we glean from John Timbs' "Curiosities of London," published in 1855:—"The great staircase, of black and white marble, and graceful ironwork (the walls painted by Kent with mythological subjects in chiaroscuro, and architectural and sculptural decoration), leads to the suite of twelve state apartments, some of which are hung with tapestry, and have painted ceilings. The 'Presence Chamber' has a chimney-piece richly sculptured by Gibbons, with flowers, fruits, and heads; the ceiling is diapered red, blue, and gold upon a white field, copied by Kent from Herculaneum; and the pier-glass is wreathed with flowers, by Jean Baptiste Monnoyer. The 'King's Gallery,' in the south front, has an elaborately painted allegorical ceiling, and a circular fresco of a Madonna, after Raphael. 'The Cube Room' is forty feet in height, and contains gilded statues and busts, and a marble bas-relief of a Roman marriage, by Rysbrack. The 'King's Great Drawing-room' was hung with the then new paper, in imitation of the old velvet flock. The 'Queen's Gallery,' in the rear of the eastern front, continued northwards, has above the doorway the monogram of William and Mary; and the pediment is enriched with fruits and flowers in high relief and wholly detached, probably carved by Gibbons. The 'Green Closet' was the private closet of William III., and contained his writing table and escritoire; and the 'Patchwork Closet' had its walls and chairs covered with tapestry worked by Queen Mary."
The palace contains a comfortable though far
from splendid or tasteful suite of state apartments,
the ceilings and staircases of which are ornamented
with paintings by Kent. The grand staircase leads
from the principal entrance to the palace, on the
west, by a long corridor, the sides of which are
painted to represent a gallery crowded with spectators on a Court day, in which the artist has introduced portraits of himself; of "Peter, the Wild
Boy;" of Ulric, a Polish lad, page to George I.;
and of the Turks Mahomet and Mustapha, two of
his personal attendants, who were taken prisoners
by the Imperialists in Hungary, and who, having
become converts to Christianity, obtained posts at
Court. Mahomet was extremely charitable, and
Pope thus records his personal worth:—
"From peer or bishop 'tis no easy thing
To draw the man who loves his God and king.
Alas! I copy (or my draught would fail)
From honest Mahomet or from Parson Hale."
The chapel royal is as plain and ordinary an apartment as a Scottish Presbyterian would wish to see; but it is remarkable for containing some fine communion plate. Divine service is performed here regularly by a chaplain to the household, and the public are admitted.
The fine collection of historical paintings which once adorned the walls of Kensington Palace is unrecorded in Dr. Waagen's "Art and Artists in England." The fact is that they have been, for the most part, dispersed, and many of them now are to be found at the Palace of Hampton Court, and other public buildings. Mr. George Scharf, F.S.A., in his "Notes on the Royal Picture Galleries," states that Kensington Palace, during the reign of George II., appears to have contained many, if not most, of the finest pictures. He especially notes Vandyck's pictures of King Charles and his Queen, Cupid and Psyche, and the same painter's "Three Children of Charles I.;" Queen Elizabeth in a Chinese dress, drawn when she was a prisoner at Woodstock; Kneller's portraits of King William and Queen Mary, in their coronation robes (Kneller was knighted for painting these pictures); Tintoretto's grand pictures of "Esther fainting before Ahasuerus," and "Apollo and the Nine Muses." It appears that about the time of the fire at Whitehall, the series of old heads and foreign portraits were transferred to Kensington, as Vertue—on the title to his engravings of them, in "Rapin," published in 1736—mentions them as being in the latter palace; and Walpole, in the first edition of his "Anecdotes" (1762), especially alludes to the early royal portraits at Kensington. He also speaks of a chamber of very ancient portraits—among them one of the Duke of Norfolk—as then existing in the Princess Dowager's house at Kew. A catalogue of these pictures was taken by Benjamin West, at the king's desire, in 1818. Unlike the portraits in most galleries, many of those at Kensington had no names attached to them; and thus, if we may judge from a complaint made by the unfortunate Princess Caroline of Wales, their interest was in a great measure destroyed. The fine collection of Holbein's original drawings and designs for the portraits of the leading personages in the Court of Henry VIII., now in the Royal Library at Windsor, was accidentally discovered by Queen Caroline in a bureau here, shortly after the accession of George II.
The palace has a character of its own among the other residences of the royal family. Leigh Hunt hits the right nail on the head when he speaks of it as possessing "a Dutch solidity." "It can be imagined full of English comfort," he adds; "it is quiet, in a good air, and, though it is a palace, no tragical history is connected with it; all which considerations give it a sort of homely, fireside character, which seems to represent the domestic side of royalty itself, and thus renders an interesting service to what is not always so well recommended by cost and splendour. Windsor Castle is a place to receive monarchs in; Buckingham Palace, to see fashion in; Kensington Palace seems a place to drink tea in; and this is by no means a state of things in which the idea of royalty comes least home to the good wishes of its subjects."
The original mansion was the suburban residence of Lord Chancellor Finch, afterwards Earl of Nottingham, and as such it bore the name of "Nottingham House," of which the lower portion of the present north wing is part. It was purchased for the sum of £20,000 from his successor by William III.; and, as Northouck writes, "for its convenience and healthful situation for the king to reside in during the sitting of Parliament." Shortly after its purchase by the Crown, the house was nearly destroyed by fire, and the king himself had a narrow escape from being burned in his bed. The building was at first, comparatively speaking, small, and the grounds only occupied a few acres. Evelyn, in his "Memoirs," under date February 25, 1690–1, says: "I went to Kensington, which King William has bought of Lord Nottingham, and altered, but was yet a patched-up building, but with the gardens, however, it is a very neat villa." The king found its sequestered situation congenial with his moody and apathetic disposition, and therefore resolved to make it a royal residence superseding Whitehall. The palace was considerably enlarged by William III., at the suggestion of Queen Mary, from designs by Sir Christopher Wren, and surrounded by straight cut solitary lawns, and formal stately gardens, laid out with paths and flower-beds at right angles, after the stiffest Dutch fashion. Queen Anne added very largely to the size of the house, and also to the beauty of the gardens, such as that beauty may have been. The orangery, a fine detached building at a little distance on the north side, was built for her by Sir Christopher Wren. The eastern front of the palace itself was added by George I., from the designs of Kent. The north-western angle was added by George II., in order to form a nursery for his children; and to his queen, Caroline of Anspach, we owe the introduction of the ornamental water into the gardens and pleasuregrounds. The house, which had been growing all this time in size, was finally brought to its present size or appearance by the Duke of Sussex, who added or rebuilt the rooms that form the angle on the south-west. The Duchess of Kent's apartments were in the south-east part of the palace, under the King's Gallery. A melancholy interest hangs about the irregular pile, for within its walls died William III. and his wife, Queen Mary; her sister, Queen Anne, and her consort, Prince George of Denmark, who was carried hence to his tomb in Westminster Abbey; George II.; and lastly, the Queen's favourite uncle, the Duke of Sussex.
Such, then, is a rough outline of the history of the once favourite residence of the House of Hanover. "In the metropolis of commerce," observes Macaulay, "the point of convergence is the Exchange; in the metropolis of fashion it is the Palace." This was eminently true, as we have seen, of the Palace at Whitehall in the days of the second Charles, who made his Court the centre of fashionable gaiety as well as of political intrigue. Under the first of our Hanoverian kings this centre was transferred to Kensington. But the centre had lost much of its attractiveness under them. "The Revolution," Macaulay writes, "gave us several kings, unfitted by their education and habits to be gracious and affable hosts. They had been born and bred upon the Continent. They never felt themselves at home on our island. If they spoke our language, they spoke it inelegantly and with effort. Our national character they never understood; our national manners they hardly attempted to acquire. The most important part of their duty they performed better than any ruler that had preceded them: for they governed strictly according to law; but they could not be the first gentlemen of the realm—the heads of polite society. If ever they unbent, it was in a very small circle, where hardly an English face was to be seen; and they were never so happy as when they could escape for a summer to their native land. They had, indeed, their days of reception for our nobility and gentry; but the reception was a matter of form, and became at last as solemn a ceremony as a funeral." To the head-quarters of the Court at Kensington these remarks are to be applied quite literally.
William III. usually held his Courts at Kensington, and the decoration of the apartments of its palace was one of the chief amusements of his royal consort. And yet, fond as he was of Kensington, King William would often say that he preferred to be hunting on the shores of Guelderland rather than riding over the glades of this place or Hampton Court—a taste in which he was followed by George II. Indeed, with a natural love for his Dutch home, William made this palace and the gardens surrounding it look as much like his native country as he could.
Although William was not over-fond of his new subjects, and his Court, for the most part, was as gloomy as his gardens, yet there still might occasionally be seen here some of the liveliest wits and courtiers that have left a name in history. Here came the Earl of Dorset, Prior's friend, who had been one of the wits of the Court of Charles II.; Prior himself, too, was there, and succeeded in obtaining an appointment as one of the "gentlemen of the king's bedchamber;" Congreve, whose plays were admired by Queen Mary; Halifax, who is spoken of as a "minor wit, but no mean statesman;" Swift, and Sir William Temple; Burnet, the gossiping historian, who afterwards became a bishop; the Earl of Devonshire, "whose nobler zeal," as Leigh Hunt puts it, "had made him a duke, one of a family remarkable for their constant and happy combination of popular politics with all the graces of their rank." Among other visitors here at this period, too, were Lord Monmouth, afterwards Earl of Peterborough, "the friend of Swift and Pope, conqueror of Spain, and lover, at the age of seventy, of Lady Suffolk;" Sheffield, afterwards Duke of Buckinghamshire, "a minor wit and poet, in love with (the rank of) the Princess Anne;" and last not least, Peter the Great, the "semi-barbarian, the premature forcer of Russian pseudo-civilisation, who came to England in order to import the art of shipbuilding into his dominions in his own proper mechanical person." Peter is stated to have frequently dined at Kensington Palace; and it has been wondered how the two sovereigns got on so well together. Leigh Hunt tells a story how that one day the king took the Russian monarch to the House of Lords, when the latter, owing to a natural shyness, made the lords and the king himself laugh, by peeping strangely at them out of a window in the roof. He got the same kind of sight at the House of Commons; and even at a ball at Kensington, on the Princess Anne's birthday, he contrived to be invisibly present in a closet prepared for him on purpose, where he could see without being seen.
Here, when William was ill with the dropsy, he called in the Court physician, Dr. Radcliffe, to pay him a professional visit. Showing him his swollen ankles, he exclaimed, "Doctor, what do you think of these?" "Why, truly," answered Radcliffe, "I would not have your Majesty's two legs for your three kingdoms." With this ill-timed jest, though it passed unnoticed at the moment, it is needless to add that the doctor's attendance on the Court at Kensington ceased. It is true that in 1714 he was sent for by Queen Anne upon her death-bed; but he was too ill to leave his house at Carshalton. His refusal, however, nearly exposed him to "lynch law," for the mob at the West End threatened to kill him if he came to London. The mob, however, was disappointed, for a few months later he died of the gout.
The following story, relating to a scene which happened in the royal apartments here, we tell in the words of Lord Sackville, as they stand recorded in the gossiping pages of Sir N. W. Wraxall:—"My father, having lost his own mother when very young, was brought up chiefly by the Dowager Countess of Northampton, his grandmother, who being particularly acceptable to Queen Mary, she commanded the countess always to bring her little grandson, Lord Buckhurst, to Kensington Palace, though at that time hardly four years of age; and he was allowed to amuse himself with a child's cart in the gallery. King William, like almost all Dutchmen, never failed to attend the tea-table every evening. It happened that her Majesty having one afternoon, by his desire, made tea, and waiting for the king's arrival, who was engaged in business in his cabinet, at the other extremity of the gallery, the boy, hearing the queen express her impatience at the delay, ran away to the closet, dragging after him the cart. When he arrived at the door, he knocked, and the king asked, 'Who is there?' 'Lord Buck,' answered he. 'And what does Lord Buck want with me?' replied his Majesty. 'You must come to tea directly,' said he; 'the queen is waiting for you.' King William immediately laid down his pen, and opened the door; then taking the child in his arms, placed Lord Buckhurst in the cart, and seizing the pole, drew them both along the gallery, quite to the room in which were seated the queen, Lady Northampton, and the company. But no sooner had he entered the apartment than, exhausted with the effort, which had forced the blood upon his lungs, and being naturally asthmatic, threw himself into a chair, and for some minutes was incapable of uttering a word, breathing with the utmost difficulty. The Countess of Northampton, shocked at the consequences of her grandson's indiscretion, which threw the whole circle into great consternation, would have punished him; but the king interposed in his behalf; and the story is chiefly interesting because (as serving to show how kindly he could behave to a troublesome child) it places that prince in a more amiable point of view than he is commonly represented in history."
Queen Mary, consort of William III., died here of the small-pox, and the king's attachment to the palace is said to have increased, from the circumstance of its having been the scene of the last acts of the queen, who was justly entitled to his affection. It was here that the king also died, in consequence of an accident in riding at Hampton Court a few days previously. The readers of Macaulay will not have forgotten the picture which he draws in the very last page of his history, when William, knowing that death was approaching, sent for his friends Albemarle, Auverquerque, and Bentinck, while Bishops Burnet and Tillotson read the last prayers by his bedside. After his Majesty's death, bracelets composed of the queen's hair were found upon his arm.
The Court at Kensington in Queen Anne's time was not much livelier than it had been in that of King William. Swift describes Anne, in a circle of twenty visitors, as sitting with her fan in her mouth, saying about three words once a minute to those that were near her, and then, upon hearing that dinner was ready, going out. Addison and Steele might have been occasionally seen at her Kensington levees, among the Whigs; and Swift, Prior, and Bolingbroke among the Tories. Marlborough would be there also; his celebrated duchess, Sarah Jennings, had entered upon a court life at an early age as one of the companions of Anne during the princess's girlhood.
The last memorable interview between Queen Anne and the Duke of Marlborough took place here. When Queen Anne was lying in the agonies of death, and the Jacobite party were correspondingly in the agonies of hope and expectation, two noblemen of the highest rank—John, Duke of Argyll, and the "proud" Duke of Somerset, who had been superseded in office at the time of the union with Scotland—suddenly, and unbidden, appeared at the council, and their unexpected presence is said to have stifled Lord Bolingbroke's designs, if he ever entertained any, of recalling the exiled Stuarts. On such slight events—accidents as we often call them—do the fates of dynasties, and indeed of whole nations, depend.
We learn from Thackeray's "Esmond" that while the royal guard had a very splendid table laid out for them at St. James's, the gentlemen ushers who waited on King William, and afterwards on Queen Anne, had their dinner here; and he tells us that Richard Steele liked the latter far better than his own chair at the former, "where there was less wine and more ceremony."Steele, who came to London in the suite of the Duke of Ormond, figures in the above work as "Scholar Dick;" he was one of the gentlemen ushers or members of the king's guard at Kensington.
When Esmond comes to England, after being wounded at Blenheim, he finds Mrs. Beatrix installed as a lady-in-waiting at the palace, and thenceforth "all his hopes and desires lay within Kensington Park wall."
George I., whose additions to the palace were the cupola-room and the great staircase, frequently resided here, as also did his successor, George II. Here, free from the restraint caused by Sir Robert Walpole's presence, the latter king, when angry with his ministers or his attendants, would fly into furious rages, expending his anger even on his innocent wig; whilst his clever spouse, Queen Caroline, stood by, maintaining her dignity and selfpossession, and, consequently, her ascendancy over him, and acting as a "conducting wire" between the sovereign and the premier. A good story is told by Horace Walpole, showing the lax and romping manners of the Court under the early Georges:—"There has been a great fracas at Kensington (he writes in 1742). One of the mesdames (the princesses) pulled the chair from under Countess Deloraine at cards, who, being provoked that her monarch was diverted with her disgrace, with the malice of a hobby-horse gave him just such another fall. But, alas! the monarch, like Louis XIV., is mortal in the part that touched the ground, and was so hurt and so angry, that the countess is disgraced, and her German rival remains in the sole and quiet possession of her royal master's favour." The Countess of Deloraine was governess to the young princesses, daughters of George II., and was a favourite with the king, with whom she generally played cards in the evenings in the princesses' apartments. Sir Robert Walpole considered her as a dangerous person about the Court, for she possessed, said the shrewd minister, "a weak head, a pretty face, a lying tongue, and a false heart." Lord Hervey, in his "Court Ballad," written in 1742, sarcastically styles her "virtuous, and sober, and wise Deloraine;" and in his "Memoirs," under date of 1735, he describes her as "one of the vainest as well as one of the simplest women that ever lived; but to this wretched head," he adds, "there was certainly joined one of the prettiest faces that ever was formed, which, though she was now five-and-thirty, had a bloom upon it, too, that not one woman in ten thousand has at fifteen."
George II. died quite suddenly as he sat at breakfast in the palace, on Saturday, October 25, 1760. The building underwent considerable alterations during his reign, and he was the last monarch who resided here, George III. having chosen as his homes St. James's Palace, Kew Gardens, and Buckingham House.
The palace, too, was the home of the Princess Sophia, the poor blind daughter of George III. Miss Amelia Murray, in her "Recollections," speaks of having constantly spent an evening with her in her apartments here, and bears testimony to the goodness of her disposition, as "an example of patient and unmurmuring endurance such as can rarely be met with."
Here, too, the unfortunate Caroline, Princess of Wales, was living from 1810 down to 1814, when she removed to Connaught Place. Here she held, if we may so speak, her rival Court, and kept up a kind of triangular duel with her royal husband, and her wayward child, the Princess Charlotte, not at all to the edification of those around her, who were obliged to feel and to own that, injured as she undoubtedly was by one who had sworn to love and cherish her, she did but little to win the respect and regard of either the Court or the nation at large. The hangers-on of the Princess would seem to have been of the ordinary type of "summer friends." At all events, one of her ladies in waiting writes thus, with a vein of unconscious sarcasm: "These noblemen and their wives continued to visit her royal highness the Princess of Wales till the old king was declared too ill to reign, and the Prince became in fact regent; then those ladies disappeared that moment from Kensington, and were never seen there more. It was the besom of expediency which swept them all away." It appears, however, that the Princess of Wales was well aware that her hangers-on were not very disinterested. At all events, she writes: "Unless I do show dem de knife and fork, no company has come to Kensington or Blackheath, and neither my purse nor my spirits can always afford to hang out de offer of 'an ordinary.'"
The friends of the Princess formed a circle by themselves. It included Lord and Lady Henry Fitz-Gerald, Lady C. Lindsay, Lord Rivers, Mr. H. (afterwards Lord) Brougham, Lord and Lady Abercorn, Sir Humphrey Davy, Lady Anne Hamilton, Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Gell, Mr. Craven, Sir J. Mackintosh, Mr. R. Payne Knight, Mr. and Lady E. Whitbread, Lord and Lady Grey, and Lord Erskine—a most strange and heterogeneous medley. Very frequently the dinners at Kensington were exceedingly agreeable, the company well chosen, and sufficient liberty given to admit of their conversing with unrestrained freedom. This expression does not imply a licentious mode of conversation, although sometimes discretion and modesty were trenched upon in favour of wit. Still, that was by no means the general turn of the discourse.
One of the ladies of the Princess Caroline writes, under date of 1810: "The Princess often does the most extraordinary things, apparently for no other purpose than to make her attendants stare. Very frequently she will take one of her ladies with her to walk in Kensington Gardens, who are accordingly dressed [it may be] in a costume very unsuited to the public highway; and, all of a sudden, she will bolt out at one of the smaller gates, and walk all over Bayswater, and along the Paddington Canal, at the risk of being insulted, or, if known, mobbed, enjoying the terror of the unfortunate attendant who may be destined to walk after her. One day, her royal highness inquired at all the doors of Bayswater and its neighbourhood if there were any houses to be let, and went into many of them, till at last she came to one where some children of a friend of hers (Lord H. F.) were placed for change of air, and she was quite enchanted to be known by them, and to boast of her extraordinary mode of walking over the country."
Her royal highness gave plenty of balls and parties whilst residing here, and amused herself pretty well as she chose. In 1811 she is thus described by Lady Brownlow, in her "Reminiscences of a Septuagenarian:"—"I had scarcely ever seen the Princess, and hardly knew her by sight. At the time of which I speak, her figure was fat and somewhat shapeless; her face had probably been pretty in youth, for her nose was well formed, her complexion was good, and she had bright blue eyes; but their expression was bold—this, however, might be partly caused by the quantity of rouge which she wore. Her fair hair hung in masses of curls on each side of her throat, like a lion's mane. Everybody, before the peace with France, dressed much according to their individual taste; and her royal highness was of a showy turn: her gowns were generally ornamented with gold or silver spangles, and her satin boots were also embroidered with them. Sometimes she wore a scarlet mantle, with a gold trimming round it, hanging from her shoulders; and as she swam, so attired, down an English dance, with no regard to the figure, the effect was rather strange. . . . The princess's parties themselves,"Lady Brownlow continues, "were marvellously heterogeneous in their composition. There were good people, and very bad ones, fine ladies and fine gentlemen, humdrums and clever people; among the latter the Rev. Sydney Smith, who, I thought, looked out of place there. . . . Her royal highness made rather a fuss with us, and we both always supped at her table. On one occasion I was much amused at seeing my father opposite to me, seated between the Duchess of Montrose and Lady Oxford. Sure never were there more incongruous supporters; and my father's countenance was irresistibly comic. 'Methought,' said he, as we drove home, 'that I was Hercules between Virtue and Vice.'"
The following anecdote of her royal highness shows how little of good sense or dignity she possessed:—"One day, the Princess set out to walk, accompanied by myself and one of her ladies, round Kensington Gardens. At last, being wearied, her royal highness sat down on a bench occupied by two old persons, and she conversed with them, to my infinite amusement, they being perfectly ignorant who she was. She asked them all manner of questions about herself, to which they replied favourably; but her lady, I observed, was considerably alarmed, and was obliged to draw her veil over her face to prevent betraying herself; and every moment I was myself afraid that something not so favourable might be expressed by these good people. Fortunately, this was not the case, and her royal highness walked away undiscovered, having informed them that, if they would be at such a door at such an hour at the palace on any day, they would meet with the Princess of Wales, to see whom they expressed the strongest desire. This Haroun Al-Raschid expedition passed off happily, but I own I dreaded its repetition."
On another occasion her royal highness made a party to go to a small cottage in the neighbourhood of Bayswater, where she could feel herself unshackled by the restraints of royalty and etiquette; there she received a set of persons wholly unfit to be admitted to her society. It is true that, since the days of Mary of Scotland (when Rizzio sang in the Queen's closet), and in the old time before her, all royal persons have delighted in some small retired place or apartment, where they conceived themselves at liberty to cast off the cares of their high station, and descend from the pedestal of power and place to taste the sweets of private life. But in all similar cases, this attempt to be what they were not has only proved injurious to them: every station has its price—its penalty. By the Princess, especially, a more unwise or foolish course could not have been pursued, than this imitation of her unfortunate sister-queen of France. All the follies, though not the elegance and splendour, of Le Petit Trianon were aped in the rural retreat of Bayswater; and the Princess's foes were not backward at seizing upon this circumstance, and turning it (as well they might) to effect her downfall.
"Monk" Lewis, under date November, 1811, writes: "I have neither seen nor heard anything of the Princess since she removed to Blackheath, except a report that she is in future to reside at Hampton Court, because the Princess Charlotte wants the apartments at Kensington; but I cannot believe that the young princess, who has been always described to me as so partial to her mother, would endure to turn her out of her apartments, or suffer it to be done. I have also been positively assured, that the Prince has announced that the first exertion of his power will be to decide the fate of the Princess; and that Perceval, even though he demurred at endeavouring to bring about a divorce, gave it to be understood that he should have no objection to her being excluded from the coronation, and exiled to Holyrood House." Here the Princess was living in 1813, when she received the address of sympathy from the citizens of London—an address which was regarded by the Prince as the first step towards defying his authority.
The Duke of Sussex, whilst occupying apartments here, used to entertain his friends hospitably. Among others who dined here was Mr. Rush, ambassador from the United States in 1819–25, who gives us the following sketch:—
"The duke sat at the head of his table in true old English style, and was full of cordiality and conversation. . . . General principles of government coming to be spoken of, he expatiated on the blessings of free government, declaring that as all men, kings as well as others, were prone to abuse power when they got to possess it, the only safe course was to limit its exercise by the strictest constitutional rules. In the palace of kings, and from the son and brother of a king," adds the honest and sensible republican, "I should not have been prepared for this declaration, but that it was not the first time that I had heard him converse in the same way." The duke continued to reside in this palace till his death. He was very fond of the long room on the first floor, which he made his library, and where he received visitors. The interior of the room has been often engraved.
But that which invests Kensington Palace with the greatest interest is the fact that it was the residence of the late Duke and Duchess of Kent, in the year 1819, and consequently the birth-place of her present Majesty, who spent here nearly all her infancy, and the greater part of her youthful days. In the Gardens, as a child, the Princess Victoria used daily to take her walk, or ride in a goat or donkey carriage, attended by her nurses. Her most gracious Majesty was born at a quarter past four o'clock in the morning of the 24th of May, 1819, and on the 24th of the following month she was christened in the grand saloon of the palace by the name of Alexandrina Victoria. The reason of the choice of these two names is thus explained by the Hon. Amelia Murray, in her "Recollections:"—"It was believed that the Duke of Kent wished to name his child Elizabeth, that being a popular name with the English people. But the Prince Regent, who was not kind to his brothers, gave notice that he should stand in person as one godfather, and that the Emperor of Russia was to be another. At the baptism, when asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to name the infant, the Prince Regent gave only the name of 'Alexandrina;' but the duke requested that one other name might be added: 'Give her her mother's also, then; but,' he added, 'it cannot precede that of the Emperor.' The Queen, on her accession, commanded that she should be proclaimed as 'Victoria' only."
We learn incidentally from Mr. Raikes' "Journal" that on the Princess Victoria coming of age, on the 24th of May, 1837, it was proposed by her uncle, the king, to form for her here an establishment of her own; but that the idea was "combated by her mother, as it would have given the nomination of the appointments to the then Court party." The death of King William, however, which happened very shortly afterwards, put an end to the idea. On the 20th of June following, only a month after attaining her majority, as a girl of eighteen, she was waited upon here early in the morning by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the then Lord Chamberlain, the Marquis of Conyngham, to receive the news that she was Queen of England!
For the following longer and more detailed account of the affair we are indebted to the "Diary of a Lady of Quality:"—"At Kensington Palace the Princess Victoria received the intelligence of the death of William IV., June, 1837. On the 20th, 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 about five; they knocked, they rang, they thumped for a considerable time before they could rouse the porter at the gate; they were again kept waiting in the court-yard; they 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 inquire 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 nightgown and shawl, her nightcap thrown off, and her hair falling upon her shoulders, her feet in slippers, tears in her eyes, but perfectly collected and dignified."
In this trying moment, though supported by her mother's presence, she gave vent to the feelings of her heart by bursting into a flood of tears as she thought of the responsibilities which had devolved upon her, and begged the Archbishop's prayers.
The story of Her Majesty's accession, and the account of her first council, is thus told in the "Greville Memoirs:"—"1837, June 21. The King died at twenty minutes after two yesterday morning, and the young Queen met the council at Kensington Palace at eleven. Never was anything like the first impression she produced, or the chorus of praise and admiration which is raised about her manner and behaviour, and certainly not without justice. It was very extraordinary and far beyond what was looked for. Her extreme youth and inexperience, and the ignorance of the world concerning her, naturally excited intense curiosity to see how she would act on this trying occasion, and there was a considerable assemblage at the palace, notwithstanding the short notice that was given. The first thing that was to be done was to teach her her lesson, which, for this purpose, Melbourne had himself to learn. I gave him the council papers, and explained all that was to be done, and he went and explained all this to her. He asked her if she would enter the room accompanied by the great officers of state, but she said she would come in alone. When the lords were assembled, the Lord President informed them of the King's death, and suggested, as they were so numerous, that a few of them should repair to the presence of the Queen, and inform her of the event, and that their lordships were assembled in consequence; and, accordingly, the two royal dukes, the two archbishops, the chancellor, and Melbourne, went with him. The Queen received them in the adjoining room alone. As soon as they had returned, the proclamation was read, and the usual order passed, when the doors were thrown open, and the Queen entered, accompanied by her two uncles, who advanced to meet her. She bowed to the lords, took her seat, and then read her speech in a clear, distinct, and audible voice, and without any appearance of fear or embarrassment. She was quite plainly dressed, and in mourning. After she had read her speech and taken and signed the oath for the security of the Church of Scotland, the Privy Councillors were sworn, the two royal dukes first by themselves; and as these two old men, her uncles, knelt before her, swearing allegiance and kissing her hand, I saw her blush up to the eyes, as if she felt the contrast between their several and natural relations; and this was the only sign of emotion she evinced. Her manner to them was very graceful and engaging. She kissed them both, and moved towards the Duke of Sussex, who was furthest from her seat, and too infirm to reach her. She seemed rather bewildered at the multitude of men who were sworn, and who came one after another to kiss her hand; but she did not speak to anybody, nor did she make the slightest difference in her manner, on show any in her countenance to any individual of any rank, station, or party. I particularly watched her when Melbourne and her ministers, and the Duke of Wellington and Peel approached her. She went through the whole ceremony, occasionally looking at Melbourne for instructions when she had any doubt what to do, and with perfect calmness and self-possession, but, at the same time, with a modesty and propriety particularly interesting and ingratiating. When the business was done she retired as she had entered, and I could see that no one was in the adjoining room."
The scene at Kensington Palace on the above occasion is thus described by Mr. Rush, from the lips of the late Lord Clarendon, one of the Privy Councillors present at the time:—"Lord Lansdowne, the president, announced to the council that they had met on the occasion of the demise of the crown; then with some others of the body, including the Premier, he left the council for a short time, when all returned with the Princess. She entered, leaning upon the arm of her uncle, the Duke of Sussex. The latter had not before been in the council-room, but resides in the same palace, and had been with the Princess in an adjoining apartment. He conducted her to a chair at the head of the council. A short time after she took her seat, she read the declaration which the sovereign makes on coming to the throne, and took the oath to govern the realm according to law, and cause justice to be executed in mercy. The members of the council then successively kneeled, one knee bending, and kissed the young queen's hand as she extended it to each—for now she was the veritable Queen of England. Lord Clarendon described the whole ceremony as performed in a very appropriate and graceful manner by the young lady. Some timidity was discernible at first, as she came into the room in the presence of the cabinet and privy councillors; but it soon disappeared, and a becoming self-possession took its place. He noticed her discretion in not talking, except as the business of the ceremonial made it proper, and confining herself chiefly, when she spoke, to Lord Melbourne, as official head of the Ministry, and to her uncle, the Duke of Sussex."
The author of "The Diary of a Lady of Quality" thus describes the first meeting of the Privy Council of the youthful queen, which differs only in some slight particulars from the accounts given above: "The first act of the reign was, of course, the summoning of 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."
The state document signed by the youthful sovereign is to be seen in the Record Office. Sir David Wilkie has painted the scene, but with a difference. The picture, it may be added, is well known to the public, thanks to the engraver's art. It may be a matter of wonder that the Lord Mayor of London (Alderman Kelly), should have figured in this picture; but on the sovereign's death the Lord Mayor is the only officer in the kingdom whose commission still holds good; and as such he takes his place, by virtue of his office, at the Privy Council board until the new sovereign is proclaimed.
Here, on the 21st of April, 1843, died, at the age of seventy, Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex. Mr. T. Raikes, in his "Journal," says of him: "He was a stout, coarse-looking man, of a free habit, plethoric, and subject to asthma. He lived at Kensington Palace, and was married to Lady Cecilia Gore, who had been made Duchess of Inverness by the Whigs. He had married previously, in 1793, Lady Augusta Murray; but that marriage had been dissolved on the plea of the duke not obtaining his father's consent. He was always on bad terms with George IV., and under the weak government of William IV. he took the Radical line, courted the Whigs, and got the rangership of a royal park." He was buried at Kensal Green. His royal highness was, perhaps, the most popular of the sons of George III. He had a magnificent library at Kensington, including one of the finest collection of Bibles in the world, which was dispersed, soon after his death, under the hammer of the auctioneer. His widow, the Duchess of Inverness, was allowed to occupy his apartments until her death, in 1873. Under date of Sunday, 29th March, 1840, Mr. Raikes writes in his "Journal:" "The Duke of Sussex claims from the Whig Ministry the public acknowledgment of his marriage with Lady Cecilia Underwood, and an addition of £6,000 a year to his income. This is the explanation: on the question of Prince Albert's precedence they first applied to the Duke of Sussex for his acquiescence, which he most violently refused. They then went to the Duke of Cambridge with the same request, to which he made less difficulty, saying, that he wished to promote harmony in the family, and as it could not prevent him from being the son of his father, if the Duke of Sussex consented, he should not object. Lord Melbourne then returned to the latter, saying that the Duke of Cambridge had agreed at once; upon which Sussex, finding that he should lose all the merit of the concession, went straight to the Queen, and professed to be the first to meet her wishes, but stipulating also that he expected a great favour for himself in return. This now proves to have been his object in view."
Shortly after the death of the duke, the following paragraph, headed "The late 'Duchess of Sussex,'" appeared in the Times newspaper: "As the fact is becoming a matter of general discussion, that in the event of the death of the King of Hanover, and of the Crown Prince, his son, the question of the title of Sir Augustus D'Este to the throne of that kingdom will create some controversy, the following letter from her royal highness (the Countess d'Ameland) to Sir S. J. Dillon, will not be uninteresting. It is dated so long since as December 16, 1811: 'My dear Sir,—I wished to have answered your last letter, but having mislaid your first, I did not know how to direct to you. I am sure you must believe that I am delighted with your pamphlet; but I must confess I do not think you have stated the fact quite exactly when you say (page 25) "that the question is at rest between me and the Duke of Sussex, because the connection has not only been declared illegal by sentence of the Ecclesiastical Court, but has been dissolved by consent—that I have agreed to abandon all claims to his name," &c. Now, my dear sir, had I believed the sentence of the Ecclesiastical Court to be anything but a stretch of power, my girl would not have been born. Lord Thurlow told me my marriage was good abroad—religion taught me it was good at home, and not one decree of any powerful enemy could make me believe otherwise, nor ever will. By refusing me a subsistence they forced me to take a name—not the Duke of Sussex's—but they have not made me believe that I had no right to his. My children and myself were to starve, or I was to obey; and I obeyed; but I am not convinced. Therefore, pray don't call this "an act of mutual consent," or say "the question is at rest." The moment my son wishes it, I am ready to declare that it was debt, imprisonment, arrestation, necessity (force like this, in short), which obliged me to seem to give up my claims, and not my conviction of their fallacy. When the banns were published in the most frequented church in London, and where all the town goes, is not that a permission asked? And why were they not forbid? I believe my marriage at Rome good; and I shall never feel "the question at rest" till this is acknowledged. Prince Augustus is now sent to Jersey, as Lieutenant D'Este, in the 7th Fusiliers. Before he went, he told his father he had no objection to go under any name they chose to make him take; but that he knew what he was, and the time, he trusted, would come when himself would see justice done to his mother and sister, and his own birth.'"
George III. having made St. James's and Buckingham Palace the head-quarters of royalty and the court, henceforward Kensington became the occasional or permanent residence of some of the younger branches of the royal family.
Kensington Palace, we need hardly add, is maintained at the cost of the nation; and, though no longer used actually as a royal residence, it is appropriated to the use of certain pensioned families, favoured by royalty, and a lady who is distantly connected with the highest court circles holds the envied and not very laborious post of housekeeper. It may safely be assumed, we think, that she is "at the top of her profession." The Right Hon. John Wilson Croker lived here for some time. The Duke and Duchess of Teck and the Marquis and Marchioness of Lorne have since occupied those apartments which formerly were inhabited by the distinguished personages mentioned above.