Wandering Through London with a Purpose: Searching for Queen Victoria

June 23, 2017

When I travel to London, sometimes I just wander and enjoy the serendipities that I encounter. I enjoy walking in London, and I love discovering and meeting new people, places, and things. But on other occasions, I travel with a purpose. Once I went to England to find all the furniture once owned by Queen Marie-Antoinette and later sold to British aristocrats and to the King. Another trip took me on a search for the world of Thomas Hardy, my favorite author who wrote my favorite novels:  “Jude the Obscure,” “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” and of course “Tess.” But my favorite WANDERING WITH A PURPOSE was experiencing the World of Queen Victoria which had two parts. The first part was the queen’s life in London, and the second part was Victoria’s life outside of London in Scotland at Balmoral and on the Isle of Wight at Osborne House. Let me tell you about my WANDERING WITH A PURPOSE:  DISCOVERING THE WORLD OF QUEEN VICTORIA. You might consider this “wandering with a purpose” on your next trip to London.

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Let’s start our journey exactly when Queen Victoria started her life: Kensington Palace. Queen Victoria was born in 1819, the only child of the Duke of Kent, son of King George III, and Princess Victoria. When she was  born, she was fifth in line to become Sovereign so her early life was out of the spotlight and restricted within the walls of Kensington Palace. The Princess was controlled by her mother and her confident John Conroy who created the Kensington Plan which set out a program which aimed at sheltering Victoria, controlling her, restricting her social exposure  —  all in hopes that this granddaughter of King George III would one day be queen. Conroy set out a plan which would make the Duchess of Kent, Victoria’s mother, regent and Conroy would be the power behind the throne.

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During these early years, Princess Victoria played with her dolls and her famous dog Dash and slept in her mother’s bed; on great occasions she would visit her Uncle King William IV and Queen Adelaide at Windsor Castle who knew of Conroy’s plan for a regency and hoped that he would live long enough for the young Princess to become queen, destroying any possibility of having the Duchess of Kent and her personal assistant Conroy as Regents of Great Britain. Deep in the personality of Princess Victoria, a strong and determined personality was emerging.

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When she turned 18 on 27 May, 1837, she could become Queen without a Regency. So, on June 20, 1937, when King William IV died, Princess Victoria became Queen, and Conroy was exiled to Germany. Queen Victoria moved out of her mother’s bedroom, and made plans to leave Kensington Palace and move into Buckingham Palace. Queen Victoria became the first monarch to live in Buckingham Palace after the great refurbishment of King George IV. The Queen banned her mother to her own suite of rooms in the new palace, far from any influence over the young queen. So, on we go on our WANDERING WITH A PURPOSE to Buckingham Palace. Remember, Kensington Palace is open every day to the public; you can wander the rooms where Queen Victoria spent her youth.

The second place on our journey is Buckingham Palace where the young queen became its first royal inhabitant. The palace had not been completed, but she was now in control of her own life and left Kensington Palace far behind. The palace was dazzling, and the young Queen danced down the enormous corridors and took particular interest in its decoration. Over the Grand Staircase leading to the State Rooms of the Palace, she hung enormous paintings of her ancestors, making it clear that she was the rightful heir to her position. The portraits included her father the Duke of Kent, her uncle William IV and his consort Queen Adelaide, her grandparents King George III and his consort Queen Charlotte, and her uncle the Duke of Sussex who was her “special” uncle, always close by her side. During these early years in Buckingham Palace, there were plans for the Queen to marry and to create an ideal family life with a consort to help her in the heavy duties as sovereign. For those on the excursion to wander where Victoria wandered, Buckingham Palace is open to the public each August and September while the Queen is in Scotland. You can walk where Queen Victoria once walked.

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The third place on our “wandering with a purpose” is Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace where on the 10th of February, 1840, Queen Victoria asked Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to marry. Since Victoria was Queen, it was felt that she should ask for Albert’s hand rather than the established custom of the groom asking for the hand of his bride.  The wedding in Chapel Royal was attended by the Dowager Queen Adelaide, the Queen’s mother the Duchess of Kent, the Duke of Sussex, and Prince Albert’s brother Duke Ernest II of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha who had come from Coburg, Germany, for the wedding. For those wandering for a purpose, the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace is open to the public each Sunday morning for church. I think  it is very exciting to experience a part of the life of Queen Victoria in the very buildings where the Queen began her married life. The church service is very interesting, and you get a wonderful feeling knowing all the history of this beautiful room. The great window these days is a dedication to the current Queen Elizabeth II.

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On we go with our “wandering with a purpose” to Windsor Castle where the Queen and Prince Consort spent most of their married lives. They gave great balls and parties and receptions and weddings at both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.  The Prince made jewelry for the Queen. They dressed in period clothing for themed costume balls.  The family grew to 9 children, and every holiday was celebrated with great festivities and tradition. Prince Albert was a wonderful father who delighted his family with his love of music, drawing, collecting, and great civic projects.

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The world fell apart for the Queen and her family when he died on December 14, 1861, leaving the Queen devastated in the deepest of level of grieving. She wore black, deep mourning, for the rest of her life added by a white head-piece and lace symbolizing half mourning. Truly, the light had left her life. She became known as the Widow of Windsor. The lights went out in Buckingham Palace and there were no gatherings in the palace for another 30 years. For those on the “search for Queen Victoria,” Windsor castle is open to the public every day and is filled with mementos of great public interest. Be sure you hear  about the Munshi Abdul Karim, her Indian servant and eventual teacher who taught the Queen all about India, its food, its music, its culture, its history, its beauty and traditions. The Queen loved lamb curry, thanks to the Munshi. Curry became part of English cuisine because the Queen enjoyed this dish and served it frequently at Windsor Castle.

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On we go with our “wandering with a purpose” to St Paul’s Cathedral where the Nation celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. She was aged then and unable to walk the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral so the great celebration took place outside while the Queen remained in her open landau and umbrella accompanied by Princess Alexandra. The parade included every European monarch on horseback. Every trumpet, every regiment, every banner, every anthem, every hymn, every souvenir shouted “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.” These days, a visit to St Paul’s is a special experience. But since we are focusing on the life of Queen Victoria, stand at the bottom of the steps leading into the cathedral and you will enjoy reading a huge memorial plaque which celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria at the cathedral, outside this magnificent baroque edifice.

On we go with our “wandering with a purpose” to Frogmore House in the grounds of Windsor Great Park. Here stands a magnificent mausoleum which was completed after Prince Albert had died. The two great tombs of these two amazing people are exquisite.  Prince Albert’s edifice and the figure of the Prince cover the remains of the Consort. When the Prince’s image was carved in marble to cover his vault, Queen Victoria had her image carved at the same time to insure that a young prince is entombed next to his beautiful young Queen Victoria. The mausoleum is open once a year, so be sure you watch for the published dates.  

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To end your “wandering with a purpose” around London, stand in front of Buckingham Palace and enjoy the enormous monument dedicated to the memory of this powerful figure in British history who reigned during a period when the “sun never set on the British Empire.” The monument including the Queen’s figure was finished 12 years after the Queen’s death on January 22, 1901. She died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, her beloved home built and designed by her beloved Consort Prince Albert.

For those who have time to “wander with a purpose” further afield, you would enjoy Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s residence at Balmoral, Scotland, where many happy years were spent with their large family. Also, closer to London, a day trip to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight is a must. Take the train From Victoria Station to Portsmouth from central London right to the harbor. Take the Ferry to Ryde on the Isle of Wight where you will catch a bus which will take you directly to Osborne House. Leave London early early, spend a fabulous day wandering around this very beautiful estate, spend a few moments in Queen Victoria’s bedroom where she died, and enjoy the restored bathing machine, and Swiss Cottage. It will be as if Victoria and Albert have come alive.

Remember, the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington was the dream of Prince Albert.  It was finished after the Queen’s death in 1901 and dedicated by her son King Edward VII.

The Queen’s diaries are in the library at Windsor Castle. Unfortunately, King Edward VII destroyed the correspondence between the Munshi Abdul Karim and Queen Victoria. What an unfortunate loss to history.

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“Wandering with a Purpose” is an excellent technique for creating a unified experience in London. You will walk away with a deep understanding about various aspects of British culture.