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The Royal Mausoleum of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

‘You are entering a consecrated building, the burial place of a Queen and her Consort. Please be as quiet as possible’. These respectful words are what greeted any visitor before they entered the Royal Mausoleum of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, at Frogmore in Windsor Great Park, when it used to be open to the public.

It was of course, not the only royal memorial to the dead Prince; England was correspondingly filled with statues of the Prince. The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens by George Gilbert Scott, is arguably the most magnificent of these. The head of a bronze angel from the Albert Memorial is contained in the Royal Mausoleum’s Chapel of the Crucifixion – placed there by order of George VI after it fell from the Memorial during the air raid of 1-2 October 1940 (Royal Collection Publications, Frogmore House and the Royal Mausoleum, 47). The Royal Mausoleum did, however – inevitably – remain the most personal memorial. For the Mausoleum would enshrine the Prince’s mortal remains, as they would those of the Queen.

The Royal Mausoleum is a monument to a royal marriage; a comment on their love expressed through art. Fittingly, the Romanesque style of the architecture is much in style with the Prince’s admiration of Italy, whilst the interior takes its inspiration from Raphael, believed by Prince Albert to be of all artists, the most supreme. The Prince Consort then has been buried in the Neo-Renaissance of his own remarkable taste. The Mausoleum is unmistakably Victorian – and was built and paid for – by Victoria.

The Mausoleum tells us much about the Queen’s feelings at Prince Albert’s death. She chose the exact site of where it would be built within a mere four days after he died at Windsor Castle. On 14 December 1861; itself either an indication that the Queen and Prince had long since discussed the project or perhaps proof that the Queen simply chose a spot in the south-west of the gardens of Frogmore, to which her mother, the Duchess of Kent had been transferred that same year. The year 1861 has a black echo in any biography of Queen Victoria; it was a date referred to by the Queen with doleful dread as the ‘terrible 14th’ – a day on which her second daughter, Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse would die exactly seventeen years to the date of the death of her father, the Prince Consort. Incidentally, it was also the day in 1871 when the Prince of Wales – lying ill at Sandringham with the same typhoid which is thought to have been the cause of Prince Albert’s death – passed the worst point of his crisis. Prince Albert was first interred at St. George’s Chapel Windsor until the Royal Mausoleum was ready. This recumbent statue of the Prince is still in the Albert Memorial Chapel at St. George’s, although it is an empty sarcophagus and no longer covers a tomb; a very small figure on the Prince’s recumbent monument is that of a cloaked woman, bowed in grief – no doubt symbolic of the Queen herself.

1861 worked its ‘terrible’ magic and transformed the royal wife into a royal widow, plunging her into mourning for the rest of her reign; as she annotated a photograph made of her and her daughters shortly after the Prince’s death: ‘Day turned into night’. So the Queen would remain in popular memory, never taking off her widow’s weeds. While it has been necessary for a biography to redress this imbalance and remove these weeds to make the royal ‘widow’ back into ‘wife’, to study the Queen during the twenty-one years of marriage that she did experience, she did go into total mourning. It made sense then that the Royal Mausoleum would become for the Queen in her ‘afterlife’ of grief, a literal labour of love. It came to represent for the Queen a source of comfort, a shrine where her sorrow could reside. She even sketched it from her windows at Windsor Castle, the roof of Australian copper and great dome visible over the trees. She came to pray there, doing so as late as 1899, thirty-eight years after the death of Prince Albert and two years before her own death, during what was aptly known in the light of the Boer War, as ‘Black Week’.

No longer was it the raw, early years of her stunned seclusion, but yet the Queen remained the royal ‘Widow of Windsor’, praying in the Mausoleum just as she would pray in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle, where Prince Albert had died, which had been converted into a shrine of a different sort. Contrary to popular belief, it did not remain exactly as it was when Prince Albert died. Instead, it was adapted artistically to take on a sacred nature in a solemnity equal to the event; the ceiling was spangled with stars, just as the inner surface of the dome of the Royal Mausoleum was a decoration of deep blue, sparkling with gold stars. The room was meticulously photographed and painted. The Queen had the Mausoleum opened in 1863, before the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark: ‘I opened the shrine and took them in… I said, ‘He gives you his blessing!’ and joined Alix’s and Bertie’s hands, taking them both in my arms. It was a very touching moment and we all felt it. (Quoted in Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria, A Personal History, 303).

The idea for the Royal Mausoleum probably originated with the mausoleum erected in Coburg to Prince Albert’s father, Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which was planned by Prince Albert and his elder brother, Ernest. The Mausoleum of Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent was built originally as a summer-house but converted into a mausoleum on her death in 1861; this was executed by the architect A. J Humbert to the designs of Prince Albert’s artistic adviser, the Dresden professor, Ludwig Gruner, itself inspired by the mausoleum of Hawksmoor at Castle Howard. There may also have been inspiration taken from the Gothic mausoleum built at Claremont to the memory of Princess Charlotte (daughter of the Prince Regent) by Prince Leopold, later first King of the Belgians and Queen Victoria’s beloved Uncle, whose first wife she had been. The Royal Mausoleum was consecrated just over a year after Prince Albert’s death, by the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. (Wilson, 261).

It is notable that the Queen did not choose the Royal Vault at St. George’s Chapel – established by her paternal grandfather, George III – and where among others, her father, the Duke of Kent, who had died before she was one year old, lay interred. A recumbent monument by Sir Edgar Boehm to the Duke of Kent which initially was in St. George’s Chapel. It was moved to the Royal Mausoleum’s Chapel of the Crucifixion in 1950; it stands not far from the tomb of the daughter he predeceased in 1820, whom he had so proudly shown to his friends as his ‘pocket Hercules’, convinced that she would be Queen.

The Royal Mausoleum was intended to commemorate the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and enshrine them as a couple; consequently, the interior of the Mausoleum is rich with emotional symbolism.

Most important of all were the effigies. Prince Albert’s marble effigy shows him in his Garter Robes and was made when he died, in the studio of the great sculptor, Baron Carlo Marochetti (1805-67). Movingly, the Queen’s effigy was made at the same time as that of her husband but was not installed onto the tomb chest until she was interred on her death in 1901. The Queen’s effigy could not be located immediately after her death; Marochetti had died as long ago as 1867, and no one could remember where it was. It was eventually discovered ‘walled up in the stores at Windsor’ – where it had been since about 1865 – thanks to the memory of an elderly workman. (Hibbert, 501). The pair of effigies says much about the couple’s relationship, or rather as the Queen wished it to be commemorated. Her head is half turned towards the Prince Consort, and his face inclines towards the Raphaelesque frescos, as if towards Heaven. The two of them lie together as if asleep in the Queen’s Bedroom at Windsor. There is nothing of the pain of the Blue Room at Windsor Castle or of Prince Albert’s feverish deathbed, a room into which he had been moved during the last days of his illness and the same room where George IV and William IV had died, in 1830 and 1837 respectively. When the Mausoleum was formerly open, a small staircase used to be placed next to the effigy of Prince Albert, which would allow respectful visitors to climb up and survey the beauty of Marochetti’s burial sculptures.

Poignantly, the sculpting of the Queen’s effigy at the same time as that of Prince Albert, allowed her to remain young in death, although she was to outlive the Prince Consort by precisely forty years. Queen Victoria’s effigy does not show us the diminutive figure of an elderly Queen with spectacles, as we might remember her in popular memory. This is an important point because, in death, there is nothing of the ‘Widow of Windsor’ here; instead, we see serene marital union – or, re-union.

The tomb chest is on a base of Belgian marble given by King Leopold II of Belgium, whose father, Leopold I, King of the Belgians, had pledged it to the Queen for this purpose. The royal sarcophagus rests on a block of Scotch granite from Aberdeen; a poignant symbol perhaps of the couple’s romantic love of the Highlands (A. N. Wilson, Victoria, A Life 260) and their private retreat at Balmoral. The tomb is surrounded by four bronze angels, while above, pairs of angels hold wreaths of immortelles at the base of the dome, above the effigies. Statues of Hebrew Kings and prophets encircle the sarcophagus, and the frescoed mosaics contain depictions of the four Evangelists.

At the foot of the tomb, a small bronze cross on a Union Jack has been placed; it was a memorial to the Queen from Queen Alexandra, who also caused the large statue of Christ to be erected in the Royal Burial Ground, in tribute to Queen Victoria. The brilliantly artistic Princess Royal, later Crown Princess of Prussian and German Empress, made a cartoon which was used for the ceiling of the Entrance Chapel; she also gifted a head of Christ for the exterior. A statue of her husband, Emperor Frederick III by Boehm, is in the ambulatory of the Chapel of the Altar.

In the Chapel of the Nativity of the Royal Mausoleum, a statue of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria by the sculptor William Theed, show Queen and Prince in Anglo-Saxon dress; a touching pendant to the recumbent effigies, showing the Queen again, with her head half turned towards Prince Albert. The Chapel is full of private family memorials including a beautiful recumbent monument by Sir Edgar Boehm to Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, clasping her youngest daughter, Princess Marie of Hesse (1874-78); a copy of the original now in the Neues Mausoleum in Darmstadt. The moving inscription on the monument reads at the order of the Queen: ‘To the Memory of my much loved and lamented daughter, ALICE, Grand Duchess of HESSE, who survived but a few Days the fever-stricken Child beside whom SHE had watched not counting HER life dear to HERSELF.

The Royal Mausoleum also became a place where other memorials were placed, making it also something of a sacred, family church. This is reinforced by the fact that these memorials were placed in the Mausoleum to members of the Royal Family that had died, such as Princess Alice’s husband, Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein, who died in the South African War, the year before the death of Queen Victoria.

The Royal Burial Ground surrounds the Royal Mausoleum, a fitting symbol of how in death, Queen Victoria remained very much the ‘Grandmother of Europe’, surrounded by her family; the Burial Ground contains the resting places of three of Queen Victoria’s children, Princess Helena of Schleswig-Holstein, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll.

The words above the main entrance of the Royal Mausoleum are a final comment on how the Queen must have come to regard the Mausoleum and what it would for her, ultimately come to mean – reunion with the Prince Consort. This is what lends the Royal Mausoleum its own special poignancy. After the short service in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, the Queen’s coffin was taken out of the Albert Memorial Chapel and driven by gun carriage to Frogmore. There at last, she was indeed laid to rest with the Prince Consort and had her ‘white funeral’ – in February – the month of her marriage to Prince Albert, when she had also worn white, back in 1840. In Latin, the words over the door read: ‘His mourning widow, Victoria the Queen, directed that all that is mortal of Prince Albert be placed in this sepulchre. A.D 1862. Vale desideratissime! Hic demum Conquiescam tecum, tecum in Christo consurgeam. [Farewell, most beloved. Here at length I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again’. (Hibbert, 500).

©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.