William IV. had only breathed his last word and given his last sigh when the messengers had started from Windsor to Kensington Palace to announce the event to his successor, and to summon a new Sovereign to the throne. William was the third son of George III., and had left no children to inherit the Crown. The next heir to the throne was the daughter of his brother, the Duke of Kent, who was George III.'s fourth son. This young Princess, Alexandrina Victoria, was born at Kensington Palace on the 24th of May, 1819, and was, therefore, little more than eighteen years of age. Her father died a very few months after her birth, and the young Princess was brought up under the care of her mother. That mother fulfilled her duty most faithfully to her child. The young Princess was not only well educated as far as mere teaching would go, but she was brought up to be courageous, self-reliant, prudent and economical. It had been well understood for a long time that she must, in the ordinary course of events, succeed to the throne, and every care was taken that her intellect and her heart should be fitted, so far as education could fit them, for the duties of the place to which she was to be called.
A very pretty description has been given by an eye-witness, Miss Wynn, of the manner in which the young Queen received the first news of her accession to the throne. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain had the official duty of making known to the Princess the fact that William IV. was dead and that Victoria reigned in his stead. They travelled from Windsor to Kensington Palace, which they reached about five o'clock in the morning. The Palace was in silence and darkness; the messengers had to ring and knock for some time before they could even arouse the porter at the gate. They demanded that the attendant of the Princess Victoria should be summoned and requested to inform her mistress that the King was dead, and that the young Queen was reigning. The attendant who was brought to speech with them said that the young Princess was asleep and must not be disturbed. The Archbishop and his colleague explained that they had come on business of State to the Queen, and that even her sleep must give way to that business. The story has been often told, but it will bear a brief telling again. When the Queen was roused and told of what had happened, she did not keep the messengers long waiting; in a few minutes she came into the room in a loose white nightgown and shawl, her hair falling upon her shoulders, her feet in slippers, tears in her eyes; but perfectly calm and dignified. The Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, was sent for at once; and a meeting of the Privy Council was summoned for eleven o'clock, when the Lord Chamberlain administered the usual oath to the Queen, and the new Sovereign received in return the oaths of allegiance of the Cabinet Ministers and of other Privy Councillors present.
Nothing could be more calm, composed, and dignified than the demeanour of the young Sovereign on whom such a weight of responsibility had been suddenly cast at so early an age; and she entered at once upon her State duties. One of the first among the Royal Dukes who took the oath of allegiance was the Duke of Cumberland, the man about whose darksome designs on the Crown of England so many alarming reports had spread through the country. There can be little doubt that there was some sort of an Orange plot which had for its object the setting aside of the Princess Victoria in favour of the Duke of Cumberland. Joseph Hume, the celebrated reformer, made the existence or supposed existence of such a plot a subject of debate in the House of Commons; and it is certain that the plot was believed in by a cool, hard-headed man like Joseph Hume himself, and by many other public men all over the country. A large number of persons persisted in the belief that the Duke of Cumberland was accessory to such a plot. It would be idle now to endeavour to ascertain whether the belief in the existence of such an Orange conspiracy had any actual foundation in fact, or whether, even if there were any such organisation, the Duke of Cumberland had anything to do with it. It is, however, a matter of historical interest to know that a great number of people at the time believed not only in the plot, but in the Duke of Cumberland's association with it; while, on the other hand, several eminent public men among the Tories went about expressing their belief that if the Liberal Ministers were allowed to have their way the young Queen, little more than a child in years, would be made a mere instrument in the hands of the politicians whose chief object was to surrender the ancient constitution of the realm to the destroying and degrading powers of the Radicals and the Revolutionists. Turning back now to some of the speeches delivered at the time on both sides of the subject, one might almost fancy that England was going through just such another crisis as that which came about when Bolingbroke and Atterbury were planning the restoration of a Stuart sovereign.
The time, however, had gone by for that sort of plotting and planning: no Stuart restoration was even talked of; and it may be taken as perfectly certain that even if the people of England did think of altering the succession they certainly would not have done so in favour of the Duke of Cumberland. Probably the whole story about the Duke of Cumberland only grew out of the common detestation in which his name was held by high and low in England. The death of William IV., in fact, brought about two auspicious events to all subjects of the British Crown: it brought the accession of Queen Victoria, and the withdrawal from England of the Duke of Cumberland. It has already been explained that the Crown of Hanover descends only through the male line, and therefore, when William IV. ceased to be King of Hanover, he was succeeded in that kingdom by the Duke of Cumberland, who presently made himself as obnoxious to the people of Hanover as he had previously been to the people of Great Britain and Ireland. It was, in every sense, a good thing for the people of these countries to be cut off from all connection with the Kingdom of Hanover. What complications might not have been brought on England in later days if the King of England had still been King of Hanover it is not necessary now to consider. The Kingdom of Hanover has passed away, and the State is merged in the great Monarchy of Prussia. The Duke of Cumberland, as Sovereign of Hanover, did his best to destroy what remnant of liberty still remained in that State; and he had his day and his way; and has now well-nigh passed altogether out of history. It is a curious fact, well worthy of notice by the student of history, how wild was the alarm among the English Tories at the prospect of the new Sovereign committing herself to the hands of the levelling Whigs; and how firm was the belief in the breast of many a stout old Tory that this was exactly what was going to happen - that the headlong advocates of reform were to be allowed to level down as much as they pleased, and that the glory of the country was to be extinguished for ever. Such men talked as if Lord Melbourne, whom we now all regard as a well-meaning, lazy, and timid old gentleman, were a radical reformer after the fashion of Orator Hunt or Feargus O'Connor.