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Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Statue at Windsor

Never, never can I forget this brilliant year… so full of marvellous kindness, loyalty & devotion of so many millions which I really could hardly have expected’. (Quoted in Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria, A Personal History, 379).

With these words, Queen Victoria made the final entry in her great journal for the year 1887 – that of her Golden Jubilee. She had written in her journal on the day itself – 20 June 1887: ‘Have entered the fiftieth year of my reign and my Jubilee Year’. (Quoted in A. N. Wilson, Victoria, 457). A statue of her had been unveiled on Castle Hill at Windsor, two days after the full celebratory splendour of the thanksgiving service held at Westminster Abbey, on the fiftieth anniversary of her accession. Incidentally, the words she wrote in her journal for that day – ‘The day has come and I am alone, though surrounded by many dear children…’ (Quoted in Hibbert, 380) – could singularly describe the statue itself, and its unveiling ceremony. For the Queen stood in bronze as she still does today, in a mid-point of Windsor’s busy High Street, surrounded by the visiting crowds that throng past her uphill towards Windsor Castle. Her Battenberg granddaughter, Princess Victoria Eugenie Julie – the future Queen Victoria Eugenie ‘Ena’ of Spain – was born on 24 October 1887 and described by her father, Prince Henry of Battenberg, as the Queen’s ‘little Jubilee grandchild’. (Quoted in Matthew Dennison, The Last Princess, 166).

Somehow, it could be said that the dark bronze hues of the statue fittingly correspond to that alliterate sobriquet which the grieving Queen acquired (and has never truly lost) in the wake of the death of the Prince Consort – the ‘Widow of Windsor’. The statue has nothing of the white glory of the Queen Victoria Memorial that faces London’s Mall or indeed, of the marble statue which was sculpted by her daughter, the talented artist Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll. Statues somehow help in their own way, to tell the story of the person they depict, not least because of the location and reason for their presence in the first place. Nor does this bronze statue convey the serene beauty of the Queen’s burial effigy by Baron Carlo Marochetti, made at the same time as that of Prince Albert, so that she might remain in the likeness of a young woman.

But then, that had been the most personal of all images, both sacred and symbolic. This statue was, however, of course, no effigy and a very different one indeed; it was a public image, of the monarch who was again seen by the public – solemnly triumphant, still in ‘black’ and standing ‘alone’. It was almost as if a strange full circle had occurred in the life of Queen Victoria, who had endured a lonely childhood at Kensington Palace, emerging from the chrysalises of both the Conroy Kensington System and royal adolescence, into a formidable, eighteen-year-old Queen, ‘of COURSE quite ALONE’ (Quoted in Ibid, 54). It was this strong independent young woman who three years later, married Prince Albert. The wracking loneliness and black grief of 1861 had now subsided to allow a very different woman (and Queen) to emerge.

The Queen of 1887 was a new woman; her various father figures – Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Coburg, Prince Albert, Leopold I, King of the Belgians – had died in 1844, 1861 and 1865 respectively; the woman that remained lived with the paradox of royal self-sufficiency – in that everything was done for her – but with a strong need to be protected. No longer ‘infantilised’ by her marriage in the words of her recent biographer, A. N. Wilson, (A. N. Wilson, Victoria, 259) as Prince Albert’s ‘kleines Frauchen. We could feel that her truly independent spirit had been restored by her once again single state, even though it was through the personal tragedy of widowhood; indeed, the strong personality which she had always shown in her marriage was partly responsible for the tense arguments which had often occurred in what had been, a passionate and happy royal marriage. She was again however, ‘quite ALONE’, but this time, it was the magnificent ‘ALONE’ at the time of her accession. The Queen first and foremost is talking here, not the (royal) widow, though such, she remained. Her statue shows her proudly holding the orb and sceptre, as she did on the day of her coronation – 28 June 1838. The Queen was also personally present at its unveiling ceremony – on 22 June 1887.

The unveiling of the statue at Windsor I think, conveys something of the thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey, in sculpture. It is a lasting monument to a nation’s gratitude for its Queen – the ‘loyalty & devotion of so many millions’. The photographs made of this event help to underline this fact – amongst the huge crowds gathered, the central emphasis is of course, upon the figure of the Queen in her open carriage, who had just celebrated her sixty-eighth birthday, the month before. Queen Victoria acquired images made of the event for the Royal Collection which has been attributed to the photographer George Piner Cartland; they skilfully capture the atmosphere of jubilation, with figures noticeably craning their necks to get a glimpse of the Queen. Banners have been hung from the gas lamps which bear Queen Victoria’s monogram and the embroidered years ‘1837 – 1887’.

Photographs, of course, mute sound; yet it is possible to imagine the loud cheers. Of particular interest is the fact that the statue, before its unveiling, was covered in the Union Jack. Soldiers in bearskins line the carriage route, and a posse of firemen can be seen close by. These crowds were not to be compared with the many ‘masses and millions of people thronging the streets’ in the words of a lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Cambridge (Quoted in Hibbert, 380). They did so to see the Queen as she arrived at Westminster Abbey for the thanksgiving service, but the streets of Windsor were so full that every space in taken and people can even be seen gathered on top of the walls of Windsor Castle itself. A balustrade of the corner house at the foot of Castle Hill is hung with banners and in front, ladies with bouquets of flowers are waiting to present them to the Queen.

Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Ernst Ludwig of Hesse, was among those present at the unveiling of his grandmother’s statue on Castle Hill that day – 22 June 1887; he can be identified in the photographs that show the gathered crowds greeting the Queen on her arrival; he does not however, describe the unveiling in the private memoirs that he wrote for his sons, focusing instead on the Golden Jubilee event as a whole and on the service at Westminster Abbey. Of interest however, is the fact that a photograph of the unveiling is contained with a memorial album which was personally dedicated by Queen Victoria to her Hessian grandson, Memorials of the Jubilee Year 1887. On closer inspection, we see that in the first row behind the specially erected stalls, stand Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse, the Marquess of Lorne (later 9th Duke of Argyll), Princess Irene of Hesse, Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein, Princess Alix of Hesse, Prince Ernst Ludwig and Prince Ludwig (Louis) of Battenberg. (Ernst Ludwig, Erinnertes, 206). The boys of Eton College serenaded the Queen at Windsor Castle with the Eton Boating Song. (Hibbert, 381).

Princess Alix of Hesse’s future lady-in-waiting, Gretchen von Fabrice, wrote in a letter to her sister, as governess to the daughters of Princess Helena, Queen Victoria’s third daughter: ‘We were also there for the Queen’s entrance in[to] Windsor – the Eton boys – over 900 – shouted so loud, that one could hear it about five miles away and understand the words of their songs…’ (Alix an Gretchen, ed. Heinrich Graf von Spreti, 211).

Statues in the Queen’s family had special, personal meaning, from the choice of location to the design, in which the Queen was intimately involved. The unveiling of these statues, therefore, was also the subject for commemoration in various art forms, from photography to watercolours; the unveiling of the statue of the Prince Consort in the grounds of Balmoral is a case in point, beneath which, the widowed Queen gathered in a poignant scene at its unveiling, together with the royal children. She had written to her eldest daughter, the Crown Princess of Prussia: ‘It will be 40 feet at the base – and 35 feet high and the following inscription is to be placed on it – in very large letters, “To the beloved memory of Albert the great and good, Prince Consort. Raised by his broken-hearted Widow’. (Quoted in A.N. Wilson, 262). One senses that the Queen found comfort in the exactness of these details as if memorialising Albert was a substitute for the lack of him; which is why I think, her grief produced astounding results of self-driven creativity.

Statues of the Queen herself had a different meaning. And they did in fact, take on a strange and apt symbolism – the Queen stood as a British queen regnant – and ‘of COURSE quite ALONE’.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018.

About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian and writer, specializing in Queen Victoria's family, Russian royalty and the Habsburgs. An independent scholar of royal studies, she has studied historic British and European royalty for nearly twenty years, speaking on the subject for both TV and BBC radio.