Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Europe's Grandmother: the Death of Queen Victoria by Catherine Hokin

 Victoria, Albert & their 9 children
It's hard to write anything at the moment without the current political turmoils shouting to be heard. I'm deep in WWII and the parallels are strong enough to be frightening. I thought it would be worthwhile therefore, on the anniversary of Queen Victoria's death (22nd January 1901) to remind ourselves how closely entwined the UK once was with her continental neighbours, through the network of marriages entered into by the Queen and Prince Albert's nine children.

In the last decades of her life, Victoria earned the nickname 'The Grandmother of Europe' and on her death The Economist referred to her crown as "a golden link." That's hardly surprising when you run through the list of the matches she made and the offspring they produced. Take a breath and here they are.

 Victoria walks Princess Beatrice down the aisle
Victoria, the Princess Royal, became Empress of Germany and Queen of Prussia, and went on to be mother to Kaiser Wilhelm II who led Germany in WWI, and Queen Sophie of Greece. Edward VII married Princess Alexandra of Denmark and their daughter Maud became Queen of Norway. Princess Alice became Grand Duchess of Hesse and her daughter became the ill-fated Empress Alexandra of Russia. Prince Alfred married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandra of Russia and one of their daughters, Marie, became Queen of Romania. Princess Helena married into a German house (Shleswig-Holstein) as did Prince Leopold (Waldeck and Pyrmont). Prince Arthur married Princess Louise of Prussia, one of their daughters becoming Crown Princess of Sweden and Princess Beatrice married Henry of Battenberg, their daughter Victoria Eugenie then becoming Queen of Spain. Only the commonly-branded "unconventional" Princess Louise bucked the trend, marrying the Duke of Argyll and remaining childless. It's an exhausting list and tracing the multiple strands that run on from it through Europe has to be the work of many spreadsheets.

 Victoria with some of her children & grandchildren
Many of the family ties were shattered by World War One and its redrawing of Europe's political structures. Nevertheless, it is likely that all the current royal families of Europe, either in place or aspiring, can claim Victoria as their common ancestor. That includes: Sophia, wife of Juan Carlos of Spain who abdicated in 2014; Haakon Magnus, the Crown Prince of Norway and Carl XVI of Sweden. Her reach continues to be a long one, as was the hemophilia which Victoria and many of her female descendants carried.

The obituaries and funeral reports of the time frequently allude to apprehension over the future, which is hardly surprising at the end of such a long reign.

 Funeral cortege, 4 Feb 1901, Manchester Guardian
The Economist notes that "it is not a reign but an era which closes with her death." The Manchester Guardian talks quite lyrically about the silence that marked the cortege's passing in a way that seems to echo that apprehension: "It was a silent crowd; indeed its supreme characteristics were its blackness and silence. People were silent because they wished to be silent, because the magnetism of the hour was upon them, and its solemnity. Shutting one's eyes, it was the seashore that seemed to sound – not the busy city with its clamorous voices and roarings. Over London there hung the light mist of our winter mornings, and the sun shone like a dim, far-off lighthouse, with its intervals of eclipse. When the dead Queen's body was borne past, the silence simply deepened – that was all."

Silence seems to be something we are sorely lacking at the moment, every political moment is dominated by noise. Don't get me wrong, I'm no monarchist and have no desire to return to out-moded and, in the case of Empire, repugnant political systems. My thoughts here are simply about connections: trace back any of our tangled ancestral DNA and we're all a mix of more countries and customs than most of us know beyond a generation or two. The Economist obituary concludes its section on the strengths and weaknesses of the Queen with: "The hearts of the people are full of grief ... but there is no solid reason for political fear." On the anniversary of the death of that particular link across Europe, I wonder how many of us can feel the same.

1 comment:

Ms. said...

All said wisely and well. Thank you.