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Added to which, all three were, as crown property, under the control of the Office of Woods and Forests , which inhibited changes to the buildings that would make them suit their needs and taste. The need for a home of their own became pressing. The major role in imagining, designing, and executing the building of the royal houses most closely associated with Victoria —Balmoral Castle on Deeside in Aberdeenshire, and Osborne House, near Cowes on the Isle of Wight—was Albert's , with Victoria an uncritical admirer of his achievements.
Albert's taste in matters architectural inevitably dominated: he, after all, had travelled, had been in Italy as well as his native Germany, while Victoria's experience, even of her own country, was limited to the tours Sir John Conroy had planned, and the childhood trips to the south coast for her health. In September the royal couple made their first visit to Scotland, keeping great state in Edinburgh but not on the scale of George IV's famous Scottish jaunt of , and then visiting in slightly less state some grandees of the lowlands and southern highlands.
It was, ' Albert says very German-looking' Leaves from the Journal , There could be no higher praise, and Victoria's love affair with Scotland, which long survived her husband, began. A summer cruise around the south coast and across to France and Belgium in reminded Victoria of her pleasant seaside holidays as a child, and she and Albert began to look for a seaside retreat. The Osborne estate near Cowes on the Isle of Wight was for sale, and after a preliminary visit in October they completed the purchase in November Even before this, Albert began an ambitious programme of building, and he and Victoria visited Osborne seven times in to familiarize themselves with their new home and to oversee progress on the building site.
An Italianate palace replaced the original eighteenth-century Osborne House with remarkable speed: the old house was demolished in May , and Victoria and Albert moved in during September , although the building was not complete until Victoria was delighted with it: it offered distance from the annoyances of London and politics, privacy, serenity, space for family life. More importantly, it was a 'place of one's own ' Letters , 1st ser. And it was all Albert's work: 'I get fonder and fonder of it, one is so quiet here, and everything is of interest, it being so completely my beloved one's creation—his delight and pride', she wrote Duchess of York , Victoria and Albert: Life at Osborne House , , Albert relaxed at Osborne, and occupied himself with estate improvement, building, and playing with the children while Victoria sketched and painted in watercolours and admired everything he did.
Courtiers and ministers were less enamoured of the domestic idyll on the island: there was no room in Osborne for a large entourage, and staff and courtiers were out-housed around the estate, while ministers found the distance from London inconvenient for the execution of public business. But the royal couple found that even a few miles of sea were insufficient protection from the intrusions of the curious and the demands of their position: Scotland called them.
Victoria and Albert returned to Scotland in to stay with the duke and duchess of Atholl at Blair Castle, Perthshire, and again in , this time as part of a yachting tour.
Their pleasure was dimmed by wet weather, and on learning that the east coast, and Deeside in particular, had a better climate, Victoria and Albert decided to look there for a Scottish home. They purchased Balmoral, sight unseen, in August and rebuilt it between and Balmoral provided privacy in abundance and, for Victoria , a kind of freedom unavailable elsewhere: 'The Queen is running in and out of the house all day long, and often goes about alone, walks into the cottages and sits down and chats with the old women', Charles Greville reported Charlot , Victoria delighted in the frank conversation of the highlanders.
Influenced by her love of Walter Scott's novels, she saw highlanders as noble peasants, with none of the cringing servility, corrupted manners, and predatory impertinence of southerners. They seemed to stand outside the usual British class structure: she thought them a colourful feudal remnant rather than an agricultural proletariat, enjoyed their theatricality, and granted them a licence not permitted to any others of her subjects.
Victoria and Albert embraced Scottishness wholeheartedly. Balmoral was bedecked in tartan, the children were dressed in kilts, and the whole family took to highland pursuits.
They made expeditions some in transparent incognito to local beauty spots, climbed and rode in the mountains, attended the local highland games, and rowed on the loch. Albert studied Gaelic, hunted, shot, and fished; Victoria followed, often taking her sketchbooks with her.
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When even Balmoral seemed too crowded, too urban, Victoria and Albert retreated to the remodelled shiels stone huts , formerly used by the gillies, at Alt-na Giuthasach, some 5 miles from the castle, for greater solitude and simplicity. The annual autumn train journey to Balmoral Victoria first travelled by train in was eagerly awaited by the royal family; the royal household were less enthralled at the prospect of weeks of isolation in the chilly north, while the ministers required to be in attendance, far from Westminster, seldom comfortable, and often unwelcome, tended to greet news of their duty with dismay.
The fall of the Melbourne government in was a personal and political blow to the queen. Under Melbourne she had developed from an isolated, quietly rebellious child into an eager, imperious young woman. She had thoroughly established her independence from her mother and her mother's agents: by she was beginning to forgive the duchess of Kent for her childhood, and to establish a more amicable relationship with her. Albert's arrival at her side in ensured that the lessons of her early errors did not go unheeded: that gossip leads to slander, and too much fraternizing with courtiers endangered the dignity of the queen; and that while the ministry served at the queen's pleasure, the queen was to find her pleasure in accordance with the will of the electorate.
Even before the return of a tory majority in the House of Commons in September , Melbourne began preparing the ground for his inevitable departure, offering sound advice to Victoria on her constitutional duty towards her ministers, of whatever political complexion. It was arranged that three ladies would offer their resignations without being asked and would be replaced with less overtly political women, thereby saving face all round.
But, despite the months of careful preparation, Victoria was desolated by Melbourne's departure, and Melbourne similarly distressed agreed to continue their correspondence. Although Melbourne's letters urged the queen to have confidence in Peel and to comply with the ministry, the correspondence was strictly unconstitutional, as it meant that the monarch was secretly receiving information and advice from the opponents of her ministers.
Had it become widely known, the exchange would have amounted to a public declaration of her lack of confidence in her government. Despite intervention from Baron Stockmar the correspondence continued unabated through , and diminished only when Melbourne's health collapsed and the queen thoroughly let go of the past.
The constitution, according to Stockmar , gave ' the Sovereign in his functions a deliberative part ' Letters , 1st ser. Her prerogatives were to be observed rigorously, and in return she would support her ministers publicly and endorse their decisions. Stockmar doubted whether the queen possessed the means to carry out this deliberative role, an assessment which belittled both Victoria's intellect and her character. Certainly the queen needed political advisers, yet the constitution hindered her from obtaining them, as theoretically the monarch should be advised only by her ministers, and particularly by her prime minister.
From her ministers she would hear only one side of an argument, restricting her capacity to deliberate on the issues. If she could not receive advice from the opposition, where was she to turn? A king might expect his court to provide an additional source of political information, from among the lords-in-waiting with seats in parliament , and the great officers of his household, or from friends of his youth.
And she had no friends from her childhood. Educated in isolation, and a girl to boot, she had no network of acquaintances in the political world and restricted contacts even with aristocratic society: when she came to make appointments to her household, she was forced to rely on hearsay accounts of the agreeable qualities of different ladies or, as time passed, to select her attendants from among the families of people already in her service. So the queen had a small pool of resources on which to draw: King Leopold and Stockmar , Albert and his secretary Anson , and ultimately her own judgement.
Her judgement generally found that reliance on Albert in all political matters would produce the best results. An account of Victoria's political opinions and actions from her marriage until Albert's death, then, is largely an account of Albert's. Slowed down by her frequent pregnancies and constrained by her acceptance of the inferiority of women's capabilities and her own education and intellect, she gave the function of deliberation to Albert. Fitted by sex, by temperament, and by training, Albert was king in all but name. It was the one thing she could not do for him.
The years between and have often been described as a period of 'dual monarchy': Albert took on the executive, deliberative role, while Victoria took the more dignified part to use Bagehot's term and provided legitimacy for Albert's executive. She worked hard at the official papers, discussing them with Albert every morning and corresponding with and interviewing her ministers always with Albert present ; but Albert often drafted the responses, which Victoria copied out to send. In Albert summed up his interpretation of his position to the duke of Wellington : he was 'the natural head of her family, superintendent of her household, manager of her private affairs, sole confidential adviser in politics, and only assistant in her communications with the officers of the Government, … the private secretary of the sovereign and her permanent minister' Martin , 2.
Unlike Melbourne , Albert was not subject to the vagaries of the electorate, and he had no political interests to serve that were not Victoria's. The monarchy, in Albert's and Stockmar's formulation, was to be politically neutral. Neutrality meant not taking sides in party-political disputes; it meant considering a question from all sides and promoting the national interest, not the short-term interests of political parties bent on gaining and retaining power.
It did not mean forgoing a political function for the monarchy. If anything, it elevated the importance of the monarch's political voice: 'Is the sovereign not the natural guardian of the honour of his country, is he not necessarily a politician?
In the early Victorian state Albert was the politician in the royal family. Victoria's conversion to Albert's way of thinking was nowhere clearer than in the transformation of her feelings about Sir Robert Peel , whose assumption of office in she had so dreaded. By his own resignation was a matter of profound regret, for he had become 'our worthy Peel … a man of unbounded loyalty , courage , patriotism, and high-mindedness ' Letters , 1st ser. Peel was a man after Albert's own heart: hard-working, earnest, reserved, dedicated.
Through Albert's eyes Victoria came to see the merits of her prime minister, and, in his resignations over the corn laws in and , recognized a disinterested service to herself and the nation that rose above the interests of party. Above all, the domestic political agenda for Victoria and Albert was defined by a quest for political stability.
Men and measures that upset the equilibrium of the country were to be deplored, and the highest praise they could heap on a minister was that he was 'safe'. A safe minister placed the needs of his country above the demands of party politics; a safe minister headed a government with a firm, controllable majority in the House of Commons, thus obviating the need for frequent, potentially tumultuous elections; a safe minister was considerate of Victoria's and Albert's feelings and position, and upheld the constitutional privileges of the monarchy.
All government business passed across Victoria's and Albert's desks; Albert's conscientiousness ensured that it all received due attention.
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Victoria involved herself wholeheartedly less often. The issues which caught her attention and seemed to her to be of paramount importance fell broadly into two categories: matters concerning British security and prestige, and matters concerning royal authority, prestige, and security. In the substantive domestic debates of the s—over the corn laws, the effects of industrialization, the implications of organized working-class radicalism—she expressed little interest. Neither Lord Ashley's Ten Hours Act which reduced working hours for women and children in factories nor the agitations of the Chartists could expect sympathy from the queen.
It was not that Victoria lacked compassion. But like most of the upper classes, she regarded charity as an individual, religious duty, not a matter for government or collective action, which could damage trade and industry. She used her position to encourage others to be charitable, and became patron of some institutions.
But her sympathy with the sufferings of the Irish peasantry waned rapidly when they turned to political action to improve their lot, threatening the security of her realm. The agitation in Ireland and the murders of landlords in —8, coinciding with the year of revolutions on the continent, filled Victoria with foreboding for the safety of her throne; the Chartists' Kennington Common meeting of 10 April , though ultimately a damp squib, sent the royal family scurrying from London to the safety of the Isle of Wight.
Foreign affairs were Albert's greatest preoccupation, and he drew Victoria along with him.
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His vision was for Europe to be led by a united, liberal Germany in alliance with Britain—constitutional monarchy triumphing over the despotic monarchies of Russia, Austria, and Prussia for the general good and in the interests of international peace. Ironically, it was with Britain's hereditary enemy, France, that Victoria and Albert developed their first ties in the s. Perhaps in consequence, Victoria was in visited by no fewer than three reigning sovereigns: the king of Saxony , Tsar Nicholas I of Russia , and Louis Philippe paying a reciprocal visit, the first such since The crown prince of Prussia also visited Windsor in , and in Victoria made her first journey to Germany, to see Albert's homeland of Coburg and also to visit the Prussian court in Berlin.
In consequence, Victoria came increasingly to feel herself part of an international brotherhood of monarchy.
She and Albert felt that their personal ties with the ruling houses of Europe gave them a special knowledge and authority in foreign affairs, an opinion which brought them into regular conflict with Lord Palmerston , who in returned to the Foreign Office. Palmerston took a thoroughgoing whig view of the relationship between crown and parliament , and had no time for the royal couple's inflated idea of their own role.
For their part, Victoria and Albert found Palmerston's policies often rash and inflammatory, and they found his unpopularity in the courts and embassies of Europe personally embarrassing. His support for liberal, constitutional causes abroad and his hostility to French interests seemed to Victoria and Albert the very opposite of desirable—not least because they undermined the position of monarchs abroad—and his habits in the matter of the dispatches, which he often sent to the royal couple only after they had been sent abroad, were at best discourteous and at worst unconstitutional.
While the queen repeatedly called on her prime minister, Lord John Russell , to dismiss Palmerston , and even threatened to do so herself, Palmerston , secure in popular approval and parliamentary ascendancy, carried on blithely, though he bowed to proprieties and pulled back from the brink of open confrontation with the queen.
Great were the rejoicings at court in December when Palmerston brought about his own downfall by expressing support for the new emperor of France , Napoleon III , contrary to the government's stated policy of neutrality. Palmerston's fall crowned for Victoria a triumphant year which had been dominated by the realization of Albert's plans for the Great Exhibition. Her total faith in her husband's vision for the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park was triumphantly vindicated. The opening was, Victoria thought, 'the greatest day in our history, the most beautiful and imposing and touching spectacle ever seen' Letters , 1st ser.
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Albert still had no official status in Britain, a situation the queen considered intolerable and which she regularly pressed her ministers to remedy, to no avail. Two events overseas engaged Victoria in a way that no peacetime incident had: the war in the Crimea, and the mutiny in India in As the first troops departed for the Crimea in , she became fervently martial in spirit. Regarding herself as head of the army, and the soldiers peculiarly her own, she watched countless soldiers depart, and when the navy set sail for the Baltic, she was aboard the royal yacht Fairy at Spithead: 'Navy and Nation were particularly pleased at my leading them out ', she reported to King Leopold Letters , 1st ser.