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The Story of the Effigies of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

The effigy of Queen Victoria has its own story. It rests next to that of the Prince Consort in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, one of the most remarkable buildings that was ever to be built in Victorian Britain, constructed as a burial place for Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. The recumbent effigy of the Queen was made at the same time as that of Prince Albert, although Queen Victoria was to outlive the Prince Consort by some forty years. Prince Albert died in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle on 14 December 1861. This is what makes the effigy so immediately striking to the historically curious; for the Queen’s image was sculpted in the likeness of a young woman, as she wished to remain in this most personal of monuments. It shows her unmistakably as both Queen and royal wife, not as a royal widow, presumably because for the Queen in death, there was no more widowhood. 

By the time of the Queen’s death in 1901, the truth of the octogenarian Queen’s image was, of course, a completely different one to that which Marochetti had originally sculpted. Whilst the Queen has come to represent the ultimate royal exemplar in terms of mourning custom and dress to the latter-day imagination, the diminutive, elderly Victoria – who history generally agrees as having been just under five feet tall in 1837 – was by then a figure in slightly relaxed black, with her lace veil, widow’s cap or trimmed bonnet and shawls. Indeed, her 1890s dresses indicate she was around 4ft 7inches at this time (Kay Staniland, In Royal Fashion, 171). This difference in height – the loss of about four inches indicated through her surviving costumes – was, of course, part of the Queen’s natural ageing process, so the measurement of the effigy should be just less than five feet, as the monument depicts a young Queen Victoria, as just stated. This detail is sensitively treated on the granite tomb chest upon which the effigies of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert rest; Queen Victoria’s feet, in this case, are lost within the sculpted folds of the effigy’s dress, and so her shortness is hidden. We cannot see her shoes – of which several examples survive, in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection.

The Queen is depicted in a dress which is probably best as a fine gown, though not necessarily a ceremonial one, whilst a long cloak envelops her from the diadem downwards. The Queen’s hands are half draped within it, perhaps reminiscent of her enduring habit of endlessly rearranging her capes of various thicknesses, when out driving in her carriage (David Duff, Hessian Tapestry, 271), a striking habit for one who so famously liked cold rooms.

The effigies of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria (detail) Fair use, Public domain via Victorian Web (http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/marochetti/21.html)

It is tempting to think that the effigy of Queen Victoria may have taken earlier inspiration from shared family ideas for funerary sculpture, but there is in fact, no real evidence for this. We know that Queen Victoria visited the Coburg Mausoleum in 1860, which contained the mortal remains of Prince Albert’s father, Ernest I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who had died in 1844. The Queen did not leave a description of an effigy for this visit. Similarly, a watercolour in the Royal Collection by Theodor Johann Lorenz Rothbath made in 1860 of the interior of the Mausoleum at Coburg, does not depict the Duke’s tomb or show any recumbent monument.

Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, was buried in her mausoleum in the grounds at Frogmore; its upper chamber contained a full-length standing statue of the Duchess by William Theed, with her sarcophagus in the lower chamber beneath. Theed sculpted Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in Anglo-Saxon dress, in a sculpture group in the Frogmore Royal Mausoleum’s Chapel of the Nativity; both the Queen and Prince are heavily robed. This group was also carved by Theed in 1867.

Previous examples of royal burial sculpture would have been known to the Queen at Westminster Abbey, and she visited the Royal Vault in St George’s Chapel, where the tomb of her father, the Duke of Kent was located. This did not house a funerary effigy of the Duke, and as various wood engravings and aquatints record, the Royal Vault containing the royal coffins shows them simply stacked on shelves. The Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore does contain a monument to Queen Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, by the sculptor Boehm, formerly at St George’s Chapel and placed there by the Queen in 1874 (Royal Collection Enterprises, Frogmore House and the Royal Mausoleum, 47; Elizabeth Jane Timms, Woolbrook Cottage, Royalty Digest Quarterly 2013/1). The coffin of the Prince Consort was interred in the entrance to the Royal Vault at St George’s Chapel on 23 December 1861, where it remained until the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore was completed. The Prince’s coffin was finally transferred to the Mausoleum on 18 December 1862, a little over a year after his death at Windsor Castle.

Importantly, in the Albert Memorial Chapel as it became known at St George’s Chapel, which Queen Victoria named after the Prince Consort, is a recumbent memorial of white marble to her beloved. More intimate in some ways than his actual tomb effigy, it contains personal figures of tribute to the dead Prince, such as his favourite greyhound Eos, looking up at his feet, and a weeping, crowned figure of a female bent over a book on a lectern, almost certainly symbolic of the widowed Queen Victoria. At his feet are two angels and the effigy is surrounded by four angels of bronze. Winged angels top the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. Similarly, around the Prince’s actual tomb chest, are four bronze angels, made by the Paris firm Barbedienne and designed by Baron Carlo Marochetti, who sculpted the actual effigies (Ibid, 43). In the Mausoleum itself, the stained glass windows of the Entrance Chapel included angels playing musical instruments after Giovanni da Fiesole (Ibid, 45).

This marble memorial and the Prince’s tomb effigy were, of course, sacred versions of the cult of memory fast established by Queen Victoria on the Prince Consort’s death, which caused statues to spring up in abundance across Britain, as well as at Balmoral and by extension, even as far as Coburg, where a statue was unveiled by the widowed Queen in 1865: ‘The signal was given, and in one second the drapery fell away from the statue, which stood there, in all its beauty, so sad and grand…I was… inexpressibly sad and lonely.’ (Quoted in HRH The Duchess of York and Benita Stoney, Travels with Queen Victoria, 21).

The emotion that must have attended this event for the Queen, four years after Prince Albert’s death, in Coburg, the land of his birthplace, helps us guess at the emotional significance of Prince Albert’s actual resting place, a space she referred to as a ‘shrine’: on the eve of the wedding of the Prince of Wales in 1863, Queen Victoria had written: ‘I opened the shrine and took them [the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark] in… I said, ‘He gives you his blessing’. (cit., Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria, 303).

This was true even for the effigy, as I discovered in a negative in the Royal Photograph Collection, which shows Prince Albert’s effigy alone: Construction of the Mausoleum at Frogmore. Prince Albert’s effigy. December 14 1863’. This is to be found in the album Progress of the Mausoleum, November 1863 to March 1866 and shows the effigy covered with wreaths on the second anniversary of Prince Albert’s death, in 1863; a kind of gate encloses it.

The effigies of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Fair use, Public domain via Victorian Web (http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/marochetti/21.html)

The design of the tomb effigy is not unusual in the choice of recumbent statues, although they do not show the Queen and Prince Consort with hands clasped in prayer after the medieval fashion, as, do the tomb effigies of King George V and Queen Mary, at St George’s Chapel. Certainly there is not the passion implied (which however, certainly existed) between the royal couple, as one sees in the effigies of the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresia and her consort, Francis Stephen, in the Kaisergruft [Imperial Vault] in Vienna, which shows them facing one another upon a marital bed, by the great Austrian sculptor, Balthasar Ferdinand Moll. Nor are the hands of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert linked, as they had been in several artworks. 

The impression here is of royal sleep, a poignant choice perhaps, if we consider that Prince Albert died at nearby Windsor Castle and that he shared the Queen’s Bedchamber at Windsor until he was moved to the Blue Room where he spent the final days of his illness. Queen Victoria had been warned not to kiss the Prince’s body after death, although it was photographed. On the first morning after her widowhood, the Queen had gone to the Blue Room to gaze upon her dead husband’s features (Hibbert, 286). Significantly, a bust of Prince Albert was placed between the two beds in the Blue Room in which Albert died at Windsor, by Marochetti, recently shown in the Summer Exhibition at Buckingham Palace, thought by the present author to be most probably the same bust. The sacred overtones are huge here, as Queen Victoria regularly prayed in the Blue Room, just as she visited the Royal Mausoleum, the two perhaps being an extension of one another in the Queen’s mind, one being the room in which the Prince died, the second where his body actually lay.

The effigies of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are depicted as if in eternal slumber, something added to by the fact that the heads and shoulders rest on draped pillows. The effigy of Queen Victoria is half-turned towards that of Prince Albert, an intimate allusion perhaps to the marriage bed and not the deathbed, although there is an aesthetic, Romantic nineteenth-century link between the two, where death is a type of climax, with Wagner’s Liebestod as the supreme operatic expression of this idea (A. N. Wilson, Victoria, 261).

The standards of the Queen and Prince Consort hang above them in the central octagon, together with their crests, helms and swords, which formerly hung in their stalls at St George’s Chapel. The rich hues of Neo-Renaissance decoration reflect Prince Albert’s love of the artist Raphael, whom he considered to rank as the greatest artist of all time. These bas-reliefs were conceived by Consoni, after paintings by Raphael. The Prince lies on an ermine mantle (Jonathan Marsden, ed. Victoria & Albert: Art & Love, 441). Queen Victoria appears to hold the coronation sceptre; her diadem I have judged bears resemblance to George IV’s circlet.

The dome that hovers above them – at an apex of some seventy feet – is adorned with angels bearing wreaths of immortelles and crowns, whilst the panels at the base of the dome contain pairs of angels, holding wreaths of immortelles over the couple’s shared monogram (Ibid, 44). The inner dome contained a background of clouds and gold stars on dark blue, significantly done by the Prince’s artistic adviser, Ludwig Gruner, who added the stars in the ceiling of the Blue Room at Windsor Castle. The upper chamber of the Duchess of Kent’s Mausoleum at Frogmore also contained a background of gold stars on a deep blue vault, so this was clearly a recurring theme which pleased the Queen and perhaps alluded to the exalted sense of a heavenly firmament (Elizabeth Jane Timms, The Mausoleum of Queen Victoria’s Mother, the Duchess of Kent, in Royalty Digest Quarterly, 2016/4).

The tomb chest is hewn from a block of grey Aberdeen granite from the quarries at Cairngall, a touching tribute in death, to the enduring love of the Queen and Prince Albert for Balmoral and their beloved Scottish Highlands. The chest is supported by a base of black Belgian marble, a gift from Queen Victoria’s uncle, Leopold I, King of the Belgians, and presented by his son, King Leopold II, after the former’s death in 1865.

It is poignant to consider that the room in which Queen Victoria died on a small couch bed, on 22 January 1901 at Osborne, contained – as did all of the bedrooms in her residences – a posthumous portrait of the recumbent Prince Consort next to the headboard of her actual bed, together with a pocket for Prince Albert’s watch (Michael Turner, Osborne House, 18).

However, the Queen wished to be depicted young in her funerary sculpture. I would theorise that this is partly also because she may have imagined that she would die shortly after the Prince, at least her sentiments expressed at the time suggest that. In a letter to her daughter, the Crown Princess of Prussia, Queen Victoria wrote in the early rawness of her widowhood: ‘Oh! I who prayed daily that we might die together & I never survive Him!’, adding that her death would be the ‘greatest blessing’. (cit, Hibbert, 289). The idea here surely, was that death would mean a reunion with the Prince Consort. It is perhaps telling that when she did die in 1901, she stipulated that she wanted a white funeral instead of a black one, in accordance with Lord Tennyson’s preference for white funerals, the Queen having taken Tennyson to visit the Royal Mausoleum, where they discussed the bright daylight streaming into the Mausoleum windows: ‘[he] went on to say that he wished funerals cd be in white.’ (cit., Hibbert, 497).

What is also clear, is that the Queen wished to be sculpted young to lie alongside her husband, so that although Queen Victoria died at the age of eighty-one, there is nothing of old age about this effigy, Prince Albert having died forty years earlier, at the early age of forty-two. Indeed, the Latin inscription above the entrance of the Royal Mausoleum confirms this sense of reunion: ‘Vale desideratissime! His demum Conquiescam tecum, tecum in Christo consurgeam’. [Farewell best beloved! Here at last I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again’. This was not the depiction of age, but youth, beauty, love and marriage.

Queen Victoria had commissioned a bronze maquette of Prince Albert’s marble tomb effigy in 1862. Marochetti had made a bust of the Prince in 1849, but the likeness for the effigy is based on Prince Albert’s death mask, done by William Theed. The Prince Consort is depicted dressed in his Garter robes and insignia, with his hands clasped upon his chest. The Queen’s third daughter, Princess Helena gave the Queen a photograph of her father’s effigy between 1862 and 1863; it survives in the Royal Collection. Other photographs of the Prince’s effigy in the Royal Photograph Collection indicate that the effigy of the Prince was an object of extreme personal importance to the Queen – as might be reasonably expected. A label on a brass tablet suggested that one of these photographs of his effigies was ‘always placed on the Queen’s writing table’. The latter is contained within an envelope labelled ‘One Set of Rooms (Reduced)’. Another of these photographs has been annotated ‘The beloved monument’, presumably by the Queen herself.

But the Queen’s short funeral at St George’s Chapel on 1 February 1901, was not the end of the story. The effigy which had been sculpted of her by Marochetti at the same time as that of the Prince, could not be found on her death, although it was long since completed. Prince Albert’s effigy appears to show him wearing military dress underneath; as befitted a soldier’s daughter, Queen Victoria requested a military funeral and her coffin was duly borne on a gun carriage.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Royal Collection contained no photograph of the Queen’s effigy; although this, in turn, could have provided possible comfort to the Queen, who had been left in the land of the living, for however long. She seems to have been less interested in her monument, at least, that is my impression on reading the few references the Queen made in her journals on the subject. She seems far more interested in the fact that the sculptures will eventually lie together, as a pair, and until that time, Prince Albert’s effigy would remain ‘the beloved monument’. The effigies were made by Marochetti at the same time and were the sculptor’s last works, which he managed to complete. They were still in Marochetti’s studio after his death.

Queen Victoria’s journals contain only scant references to her effigy; this is part of the whole cult of the Prince’s memory and the erection of countless memorials, plaques, stones and statues, with which she was far more concerned. As the body of the Prince Consort was moved to the Mausoleum in December 1862, the effigy was only placed over the tomb chest much later, on the chest’s completion, in 1868. This is why the Queen describes their shared monument and individual statues in a journal entry for example for 4 March 1863 – six days before the Prince of Wales’ wedding to Princess Alexandra of Denmark – where she visits Marochetti but is dismayed that the recumbent statues don’t seem to lie close enough together.

Initially, this confused me, because I couldn’t understand how it was possible for the negative in the Royal Photograph Collection of the Prince’s effigy to be covered in wreaths, on the second anniversary of his death, in 1863. If this was in the album charting the Frogmore Mausoleum’s construction and the tomb was still only a sarcophagus at Frogmore at this date, this might suggest that the effigy of the Prince was covered in wreaths whilst it remained in Marochetti’s studio; Marochetti died on 29 December 1867.

Following Queen Victoria’s death, Lord Esher was charged with establishing what had happened to her white stone effigy, the Queen having discussed it with him the year before. Lord Esher’s enquiries were successful. Finally, an old workman remembered that the effigy had been bricked up at Windsor, presumably after it was taken out of Marochetti’s studio. Lord Esher recorded what happened next: ‘The brickwork was taken down, and the figure found’. (Maurice V. Brett, Journals and Letters of Reginald, Viscount Esher, two vols, cit., Hibbert, 501).

Whilst I haven’t managed to establish when exactly Queen Victoria’s effigy was placed upon the tomb, I did discover a letter from the Queen’s eldest daughter, the Empress Frederick, to her younger sister, Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, dated 22 February 1901: ‘Today it is a month that she was taken from us… How does the statue [of Queen Victoria] look in the Mausoleum on the sarcophagus? I would not mind its being a little stained and think the crude whiteness being a little toned down the effect is much more harmonious and effective…‘ (cit., Elizabeth Longford, Darling Loosy, Letters to Princess Louise, 263). So, it was clearly placed there sometime between the Queen’s funeral on 1 February and 22 February 1901.

When the Royal Mausoleum was still open to the public, it was difficult to actually study these effigies, because the average person is not tall enough, for which reason, a special observation bridge was constructed on the side of Prince Albert’s effigy, to allow visitors to pay their respects at the same time, including the present author.

In a poignant royal parallel, Queen Victoria had been reunited with the Prince Consort on 22 January 1901, on her death. Her effigy also therefore had to be reunited with his, which it duly – eventually – was.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian, freelance writer and historical consultant. She contributes to an academic journal on royalty and writes for journals, newsletters, magazines and the web. She writes a popular blog as resident historian for Royal Central.

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