Following her wedding at St James’s Palace to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on 10 February 1840, Queen Victoria drove to Windsor for her honeymoon. Windsor had mixed associations for the Queen. It was the place of the famous contretemps between her uncle, King William IV and her mother, the Duchess of Kent; it was also where the father she had never known, Edward, Duke of Kent, was buried, in the Royal Vault established by George III, which she visited in 1836. She made visits to Windsor Castle only rarely before her accession, but she visited Windsor for the first time as Queen on a dark, rainy autumn day in August 1837.
The honeymoon of her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, was spent at Claremont, the great house of Lord Clive of Plassey and the home of Prince Leopold, later King of the Belgians, who had lent them Claremont after their second, English wedding ceremony. Claremont was where his first wife, the Prince Regent’s only daughter, Princess Charlotte, died following childbirth in 1817. The house would later be given to Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold, following his marriage to Princess Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont, in 1882. The Queen’s fourth daughter, Princess Louise also spent her honeymoon at Claremont following her marriage to the Marquess of Lorne, future 9th Duke of Argyll, in 1871; Prince Arthur would also do so, following his wedding to Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, in 1879.
Queen Victoria’s attitude to Windsor was a complex one; during her marriage to Prince Albert, she reputedly became rather fond of the place. The painting by Sir Edwin Landseer ‘Windsor Castle in Modern Times’, depicted this marital idyll of the Queen and Prince Albert against a backdrop of Windsor Castle’s East Terrace, with the infant Princess Royal and a variety of freshly killed game birds at the feet of the Prince, who strokes his beloved German greyhound Eos. After the Prince’s death in 1861 there, she seems to have reverted to her original dislike of Windsor, describing it as ‘prison-like, so large and gloomy’ (op. cit, Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria, A Personal History, Pg 159, 2000). We might suppose that this was caused by the death of the Prince; the room in which he died – in which incidentally, both her uncles King George IV and King William IV had both died respectively – was turned into a memorial room, becoming a space almost like a type of personal chapel, underlined by the fact that the Queen prayed regularly in the room. Even more strikingly, she called it in 1867 ‘that dungeon’ and much later, in 1884 – a considerable period afterwards – as ‘this dreary, gloomy old place’ (Ibid, Pg 87).Windsor did, however, provide the setting for the Queen’s brief honeymoon, so perhaps this memory of this intense period of private happiness, linked with the death of Prince Albert had the effect of turning the Queen’s heart against the place. Windsor, of course, was the place to which, the Queen’s body returned after her death at Osborne in 1901. The cortege set out on a gun carriage from Windsor Castle, bound for Frogmore and the Royal Mausoleum.
However, back in 1840, the Queen’s feelings were markedly different. Her journals breathe with the ecstatic delight of a new bride, and the candid nature of these entries allow us remarkably personal glimpses into what was, a period of great happiness in the Queen’s life.
Following the wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace, the Queen set out for Windsor at about four o’clock in the afternoon, ‘Albert and I alone which was SO delightful’. In her own words, she said: ‘I went upstairs and undressed and put on a white silk gown trimmed with swansdown, and a bonnet with orange flowers. Albert went downstairs and undressed’ (Kay Staniland, In Royal Fashion, Pg 122, 1997). The beautiful ‘going-away’ bonnet, trimmed in the Queen’s beloved orange blossoms, is still preserved in the Royal Collection, a sign of things that were to come, down to the smallest item which was of sentimental importance. It was as if the Queen was storing away these things and memorialising her love for the Prince; something which was already well established long before Prince Albert died. The royal couple arrived at Windsor Castle at about eight o‘clock in the evening, so late because the ‘crowds on the roads were so great’, in the words of the diarist Charles Greville.
The Queen wrote: “There was an immense crowd of people outside the Palace, and which I must say never ceased until we reached Windsor Castle… we came through Eton where all the Boys… cheered and shouted…” (op cit, Hibbert, Pg 123).
The choice of Windsor Castle as the place to spend her honeymoon was, of course, for the Queen of immense importance. It had also been the place where she saw Prince Albert again, at the top of the staircase on 10 October 1839, on his next visit to England, the scene of one of British royal history’s great coup de foudres.
At Windsor, the Queen and the Prince went to look over their new apartments; Prince Albert changed into Windsor uniform and played the piano. The Queen had a ‘sick headache’ but nevertheless, spent by her own admission that she had ‘NEVER, NEVER, spent such an evening!! MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert sat on a footstool by my side, and his excessive love and affection gave me feelings of heavenly love and happiness that I never could have hoped to have felt before!…” These diary entries contain the Queen’s own words in the higher case and aptly convey a sort of breathless, spellbound impression on the reader; the Queen seems almost amazed at the intensity of happiness she is experiencing.
The first evening would be the only one which the couple would spend alone together, perhaps another reason why the descriptions are so euphoric and intense. The rest of the three days of their Windsor honeymoon did remain blissfully happy, but even the second and third evenings of it were occupied with first a ‘dinner party’ and then an ‘immense party’. Perhaps there was no other night that so entirely belonged to the Queen entirely as that first wedding night with Prince Albert. Significantly, of course, it was some considerable time before the couple would acquire their private residences of Balmoral and Osborne, where they were able to enjoy something of personal, family life.
For now, though, the Queen was thrilled to experience the new delights of waking up with Prince Albert at her side, watching him shave, or the unique pleasure of having him help her on with her stockings. Something of the joy that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert shared in their personal life may also be seen in the famous ‘erotic’ painting of the Queen by Franz Xavier Winterhalter. This was Prince Albert’s favourite painting of her. In it, she is depicted with her hair loose over one shoulder and her long neck well displayed, aged twenty-four in 1843, the year of the birth of their second daughter, Princess Alice.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s first child, ‘Vicky’, Princess Royal, future German Empress, would spend her two-day honeymoon at Windsor Castle, with her bridegroom, Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia. Touchingly, this represented a sort of continuity with her parents’ marriage, following on from Sir Edwin Landseer’s portrait of her with her parents, at Windsor Castle, where they spent their honeymoon in 1840.
The Princess Royal was the only one of the Queen’s children to spend her honeymoon at Windsor Castle. Princess Alice spent her honeymoon with Prince Ludwig of Hesse at Ryde on the Isle of Wight in 1862; Princess Beatrice, the youngest daughter of the Queen, spent five days with Prince Henry of Battenberg, a honeymoon which they spent at Quarr Abbey, in 1885 (Matthew Dennison, The Last Princess, Pg 156, 2007). The Prince and Princess of Wales went to Osborne for their honeymoon following their marriage at St George’s Chapel, in 1863. Princess Helena, the Queen’s third daughter, spent her wedding night with Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein at Osborne House in 1866, before continuing their honeymoon on the continent.
The Queen’s second son, Prince Alfred, spent his wedding night with the Russian Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna at the Alexander Palace, Tsarskoe Selo, where, in fact, the Queen’s granddaughter, Princess Alix of Hesse, would later live with her husband, Tsar Nicholas II and their family, their private residence outside St. Petersburg. Their Imperial Bedroom at the Alexander Palace had been part of the honeymoon suite decorated for Prince Alfred and Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, by Marie’s father, Tsar Alexander II.