Just Like Us: Victoria, Albert and the middle-class family (part 4 of 4)

Part 4: Christmas yet to come

With Albert’s death just before Christmas 1861, everything changed; Victoria made no entries in her journal until New Year’s Day, though she wrote to King Leopold on 20 December,

But oh! To be cut off in the prime of life – to see our pure, happy, quiet domestic life, which alone enabled me to bear my much disliked position, cut off at forty-two – when I had hoped with such instinctive certainty that God never would part us, and would let us grow old together… is too awful, too cruel! [1]

On Christmas Eve the following year her diary would record ‘Alas! Xmas Eve & all the joy I used to take in it gone! […] Felt terribly sad & low. The contrast with former happy blessed times, seemed almost more than I could bear.’ [2] But for the next four decades, if gradually at first, Christmas would continue to be celebrated by the Queen much as it was by others who were living through the Victorian era. Trees would be decorated, gifts would be exchanged, and families would gather to eat together. The menu for Her Majesty’s Dinner, Christmas Day, 1899, lists familiar festive treats such as ‘Mince Pies’, ‘Plum Pudding’, and ‘Dinde à la Chipolata’ – roast turkey, though the pigs appear not to have had blankets. [3]

Victoria began her first year without Albert by confiding to her diary,

Have been unable to write my Journal since the day my beloved one left us, & with what a heavy broken heart I enter on a new year without him! My dreadful & overwhelming calamity gives me so much to do, that I must henceforth merely keep notes of my sad & solitary life. This day last year found us so perfectly happy & now!! Last year music woke us! [4]

Caption: Queen Victoria’s Journal (detail), 1 January 1862 (Princess Beatrice’s copies) © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2012 © Bodleian Libraries © ProQuest

The Queen’s world had collapsed and over the next decade her neglect of ceremonial and public duties, coupled with her prolonged residencies at Balmoral and Osborne, raised suspicion among her ministers and the  people that she was at best ‘in hiding’ and at worst mentally unfit to rule. Without Albert’s guiding hand, and divested of the comfort and security of her former ‘happy domestic home’, Victoria would for many years struggle to function in the role of Queen, and, though she would eventually recapture the sobriquet ‘mother of the nation’, she would never again be able to fulfil the nineteenth-century role of wife in the ‘family of families’.

David Tomkins is a curator and project manager at the Bodleian Library, including on the ‘Queen Victoria’s Journals‘ project, which reproduces high-resolution, colour images of every page of the surviving volumes of Queen Victoria’s journals, from her first diary entry in 1832 to shortly before her death in 1901. In this, the final in a series of four articles, ‘Just Like Us’, David explores how Victoria’s journals showcase her would-be-middle-class identity.

See the previous post in this series: Part 3: Taking position – ‘the locale’

Notes & references

[1] Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria in her Letters and Journals (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2000), p. 157.

[2] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W) 24 December 1862 (Princess Beatrice’s copies) <http://www.queenvictoriasjournals.org> [accessed 20 July 2018].

[3] Pam Clark (et al), Treasures from The Royal Archives (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2014), p. 229.

[4] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W) 1 January 1862 (Princess Beatrice’s copies) <http://www.queenvictoriasjournals.org> [accessed 3 October 2018].

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