Read CHAPTER XXII - “PRINCEDOMS, VIRTUES, POWERS.” of Collections and Recollections, free online book, by George William Erskine Russell, on

The celebrations of the past week have set us all upon a royal tack. Diary-keepers have turned back to their earliest volumes for stories of the girl-queen; there has been an unprecedented run on the Annual Register for 1837; and every rusty print of Princess Victoria in the costume of Kate Nickleby has been paraded as a pearl of price. As I always pride myself on following what Mr. Matthew Arnold used to call “the great mundane movement,” I have been careful to obey the impulse of the hour. I have cudgelled my memory for Collections and Recollections suitable to this season of retrospective enthusiasm. Last week I endeavoured to touch some of the more serious aspects of the Jubilee, but now that the great day has come and gone-“Bedtime, Hal, and all well”-a lighter handling of the majestic theme may not be esteemed unpardonable.

Those of my fellow-chroniclers who have blacked themselves all over for the part have acted on the principle that no human life can be properly understood without an exhaustive knowledge of its grandfathers and grandmothers. They have resuscitated George III. and called Queen Charlotte from her long home. With a less heroic insistence on the historic method, I leave grandparents out of sight, and begin my gossip with the Queen’s uncles. Of George IV. it is less necessary that I should speak, for has not his character been drawn by Thackeray in his Lectures on the Four Georges?

“The dandy of sixty, who bows with a grace,
And has taste in wigs, collars, cuirasses, and lace;
Who to tricksters and fools leaves the State and its treasure,
And, while Britain’s in tears, sails about at his pleasure,”

was styled, as we all know, “the First Gentleman in Europe.” I forget if I have previously narrated the following instance of gentlemanlike conduct. If I have, it will bear repetition. The late Lord Charles Russell (1807-1894), when a youth of eighteen, had just received a commission in the Blues, and was commanded, with the rest of his regiment, to a full-dress ball at Carlton House, where the King then held his Court. Unluckily for his peace of mind, the young subaltern dressed at his father’s house, and, not being used to the splendid paraphernalia of the Blues’ uniform, he omitted to put on his aiguillette. Arrived at Carlton House the company, before they could enter the ball-room, had to advance in single file along a corridor in which the old King, bewigged and bestarred, was seated on a sofa. When the hapless youth who lacked the aiguillette approached the presence, he heard a very high voice exclaim, “Who is this d-d fellow?” Retreat was impossible, and there was nothing for it but to shuffle on and try to pass the King without further rebuke. Not a bit of it. As he neared the sofa the King exclaimed, “Good evening, sir. I suppose you are the regimental doctor?” and the imperfectly-accoutred youth, covered with confusion as with a cloak, fled blushing into the ball-room, and hid himself from further observation. And yet the narrator of this painful story always declared that George IV. could be very gracious when the fancy took him; that he was uniformly kind to children; and that on public occasions his manner was the perfection of kingly courtesy. His gorgeous habits and profuse expenditure made him strangely popular. The people, though they detested his conduct, thought him “every inch a King.” Lord Shaftesbury, noting in his diary for the 19th of May 1849 the attempt of Hamilton upon the Queen’s life, writes:-“The profligate George IV. passed through a life of selfishness and sin without a single proved attempt to take it. This mild and virtuous young woman has four times already been exposed to imminent peril.”

The careers of the King’s younger brothers and sisters would fill a volume of “queer stories.” Of the Duke of York Mr. Goldwin Smith genially remarks that “the only meritorious action of his life was that he once risked it in a duel.” The Duke of Clarence-Burns’s “Young royal Tarry Breeks”-lived in disreputable seclusion till he ascended the throne, and then was so excited by his elevation that people thought he was going mad. The Duke of Cumberland was the object of a popular detestation of which the grounds can be discovered in the Annual Register for 1810. The Duke of Sussex made two marriages in defiance of the Royal Marriage Act, and took a political part as active on the Liberal side as that of the Duke of Cumberland among the Tories. The Duke of Cambridge is chiefly remembered by his grotesque habit (recorded, by the way, in Happy Thoughts) of making loud responses of his own invention to the service in church. “Let us pray,” said the clergyman: “By all means,” said the Duke. The clergyman begins the prayer for rain: the Duke exclaims, “No good as long as the wind is in the east.”

Clergyman: “’Zacchaeus stood forth and said, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.’”

Duke: “Too much, too much; don’t mind tithes, but can’t stand that.” To two of the Commandments, which I decline to discriminate, the Duke’s responses were-“Quite right, quite right, but very difficult sometimes;’” and “No, no! It was my brother Ernest did that.”

Those who care to pursue these curious byways of not very ancient history are referred to the unfailing Greville; to Lady Anne Hamilton’s Secret History of the Court of England; and to the Recollections of a Lady of Quality, commonly ascribed to Lady Charlotte Bury. The closer our acquaintance with the manners and habits of the last age, even in what are called “the highest circles,” the more wonderful will appear the social transformation which dates from her Majesty’s accession. Thackeray spoke the words of truth and soberness when, after describing the virtues and the limitations of George III., he said: “I think we acknowledge in the inheritrix of his sceptre a wiser rule and a life as honourable and pure; and I am sure that the future painter of our manners will pay a willing allegiance to that good life, and be loyal to the memory of that unsullied virtue.”

For the earlier years of the Queen’s reign Greville continues to be a fairly safe guide, though his footing at the palace was by no means so intimate as it had been in the roistering days of George IV. and William IV. Of course, her Majesty’s own volumes and Sir Theodore Martin’s Life of the Prince Consort are of primary authority. Interesting glimpses are to be caught in the first volume of Bishop Wilberforce’s Life, ere yet his tergiversation in the matter of Bishop Hampden had forfeited the Royal favour; and the historian of the future will probably make great use of the Letters of Sarah Lady Lyttelton-Governess, to the Queen’s children-which, being printed for private circulation, are unluckily withheld from the present generation.

A pleasing instance of the ultra-German etiquette fomented by Prince Albert was told me by an eye-witness of the scene. The Prime Minister and his wife were dining at Buckingham Palace very shortly after they had received an addition to their family. When the ladies retired to the drawing-room after dinner, the Queen said most kindly to the Premier’s wife, “I know you are not very strong yet, Lady -; so I beg you will sit down. And, when the Prince comes in, Lady D - shall stand in front of you.” This device of screening a breach of etiquette by hiding it behind the portly figure of a British Matron always struck me as extremely droll.

Courtly etiquette, with the conditions out of which it springs and its effect upon the character of those who are subjected to it, has, of course, been a favourite theme of satirists time out of mind, and there can scarcely be a more fruitful one. There are no heights to which it does not rise, nor depths to which it does not sink. In the service for the Queen’s Accession the Christological psalms are boldly transferred to the Sovereign by the calm substitution of “her” for “Him.” A few years back-I do not know if it is so now-I noticed that in the prayer-books in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor all the pronouns which referred to the Holy Trinity were spelt with small letters, and those which referred to the Queen with capitals. So much for the heights of etiquette, and for its depths we will go to Thackeray’s account of an incident stated to have occurred on the birth of the Duke of Connaught:

“Lord John he next alights.
And who comes here in haste?
The Hero of a Hundred Fights,
The caudle for to taste.

“Then Mrs. Lily the nuss,
Towards them steps with joy;
Says the brave old Duke, ’Come tell to us.
Is it a gal or boy?’

“Says Mrs. L. to the Duke,
‘Your Grace, it is a Prince
And at that nurse’s bold rebuke
He did both laugh and wince.”

Such was the etiquette of the Royal nursery in 1850; but little Princes, even though ushered into the world under such very impressive circumstances, grow up into something not very unlike other little boys when once they go to school. Of course, in former days young Princes were educated at home by private tutors. This was the education of the Queen’s uncles and of her sons. A very different experience has been permitted to her grandsons. The Prince of Wales’s boys, as we all remember, were middies; Princess Christian’s sons were at Wellington; Prince Arthur of Connaught is at Eton. There he is to be joined next year by the little Duke of Albany, who is now at a private school in the New Forest. He has among his schoolfellows his cousin Prince Alexander of Battenberg, of whom a delightful story is current just now. Like many other little boys, he ran short of pocket money, and wrote an ingenious letter to his august Grandmother asking for some slight pecuniary assistance. He received in return a just rebuke, telling him that little boys should keep within their limits, and that he must wait till his allowance next became due. Shortly afterwards the undefeated little Prince resumed the correspondence in something like the following form: “My dear Grandmamma,-I am sure you will be glad to know that I need not trouble you for any money just now, for I sold your last letter to another boy here for 30s.”

As Royalty emerges from infancy and boyhood into the vulgar and artificial atmosphere of the grown-up world, it is daily and hourly exposed to such sycophancy that Royal persons acquire, quite unconsciously, a habit of regarding every subject in heaven and earth in its relation to themselves. An amusing instance of this occurred a few years ago on an occasion when one of our most popular Princesses expressed a gracious wish to present a very smart young gentleman to the Queen. This young man had a remarkably good opinion of himself; was the eldest son of a peer, and a Member of Parliament; and it happened that he was also related to a lady who belonged to one of the Royal Households. So the Princess led the young exquisite to the august presence, and then sweetly said, “I present Mr. -, who is”-not Lord Blank’s eldest son or Member for Loamshire, but-“nephew to dear Aunt Cambridge’s lady.” My young friend told me that he had never till that moment realized how completely he lacked a position of his own in the universe of created being.