In the Days of Good Queen Anne
Gloom settles over Kensington after the death of Mary. The King is inconsolable, and spends sorrowful hours soliloquising on her goodness as he stands gazing up at her portiait. "I was the happiest man on earth," he cries, "and now I am the most miserable. She had no fault, none ; nobody but myself could know her goodness."
A pretty story lights up this sombre period. As the King sits brooding in the Green Closet one morning, there is a tap at the door.
" Who is there ? " asks the King.
" Lord Buck," replies a childish voice.
" And what does Lord Buck want ? " asks his Majesty, as he opens the door and encounters the small son of his Chamberlain.
" You to be a horse to my coach," says the boy, with infantile assurance. " I've wanted you a long time."
The King cannot resist such winning artlessness, and, taking the traces of the toy coach, plays at horses up and down the long gallery, as little Lord Buck shouts and spurs him on.
The doll's-house and furniture that Queen Victoria delighted to play with as a child. In the latter years of her life, with the cares of State heavy on her shoulders, a visit to the scenes of her happy childhood
Kensington when William hovers between life and death. The Ministers are laying their plans to secure the succession of Anne before tidings of the King's condition reaches the Jacobite Party. While they yet deliberate, William passes away in the arms of his faithful page. He is found to be wearing a locket containing a piece of Mary's beautiful golden hair bound to his arm with a black ribbon. Thus closes the first romance of the palace.
With the advent of Anne Kensington begins to merit the name of the "Court suburb." The narrow high-road becomes alive with rank and fashion wending their way to the palace. To the pillared entrance facing the green comes my lord's chariot, my lady's sedan, and the stately equipages of the Ministers and Ambassadors. The military are in evidence, and the Royal guards pass to and fro between the palace and the adjacent barracks. The Queen has enlarged and beautified the gardens, and on summer evenings gives grand illuminated fetes, to which she graciously invites her lieges of Kensington, as well as the Court circle of St. James's.
The ladies trail their gowns a la Watteau, a mode which it pleases her Majesty to behold. Sheltered alcoves have been erected in the gardens for the con-venience of the company, and some remain there today. There is music and dancing in the Queen's Orangery, erected by Wren and carved by Gibbons. There, too, on hot evenings it pleases the Queen to sup. She is surrounded by obsequious courtiers, the ladies in brocaded robes, fly-caps, and fans.
Adventurous citizens journey to Kensington when there is a garden fete to watch the promenaders, and perchance join at a respectful distance in the chorus of the Court lyrist's ode to " Gloriana " :
Bright Gloriana all along, Bright Gloriana was their song.
There is a romantic meeting in the gardens one morning when the ponderous Anne is taking her airing in a chair drawn by a "pant-ing stag." She is accosted in her favourite Cedar Walk by a young gentleman from my Lady Castlewood's in Kensington Square, who would feign crave an audience. One look at the visitor, and the Queen guesses that it is the son of her exiled father, the hope of the Jacobite Party, who solicits her sisterly recognition. The scene lives in the pages of " Esmond."
A few years later, and Anne, now a widowed and childless Queen, lies dying in her chamber at Kensington, murmuring in her delirium: "Oh, my brother! My dear brother ! What will become of you ? ' There is plotting and counter-plotting amongst the rival factions as the end approaches. " She dies upward ; her feet are cold," say her women. And there are young bloods amongst the Jacobites who would fain rush to Charing Cross and hoist the standard of the Chevalier. But the Protestant Lords of the Council have matured their plans, and Addison, now Secretary of State, is commissioned to announce his succession to George, the Elector of Hanover.
The new King's wife, the hapless Sophia Dorothea, languishes in exile, and there is now no gracious mistress to preside over the Court at Kensington. Nevertheless, his Majesty is much pleased with the Dutch style of the place, and adds to its State apartments, and his sprightly daughter-in-law, Caroline of Anspach, Princess of Wales, brings life and gaiety to the gardens when she comes thither to promenade with the ladies and gentlemen of her household.
Anon, when Caroline has become Queen, the Kensington promenades are the great diversion of the Court. Only courtiers and people of the best fashion are admitted.
At first the promenades are on Saturday, but later they are changed to Sunday. The courtiers and the wits, poets, and litterateurs who come in their train, all appear in full dress. Can we not picture the gay company under the elms bowing to and saluting each other, the gentlemen in powdered wigs, swords at their sides, and cocked hats tucked gallantly under their right arms, as they converse with the fair dames in flowered silks and chintzes ?
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is there, with a tongue as witty as that of Mary Bellenden, and Captain Dick Steele, always a favourite with the ladies, and Addison, of graver mien, strolling with observant eye making notes on the " fair sex " for next week's " Spectator." Tickell, also, is there, and immortalises the gay scene in verse.
For fifty years the Kensington promenades flourish, long after the brilliant Caroline has passed away, leaving the glorious Serpentine and its sylvan banks to perpetuate her memory. Even when George is King, and the palace is no longer the residence of the Court, it is considered "smarter " to walk in Kensington Gardens than in Hyde Park.
Though by the beginning of last century Kensington Palace ceased to be the abode of the monarch, members of the Royal House still reside within its walls. The Duke of Kent and his amiable Duchess have apartments in the south-east wing. On May 24, 1819, a baby daughter is born to the Duke and Duchess, and the proud father, as he 'holds the infant in his arms says, ' Take care of her ; she may one day be Queen of England." In the Cupola Room they baptise the "hope of the nation " by the name of " Victoria."
Eighteen years pass by, and the fair, blue-eyed, winning child in Leghorn hat and streamers who used to salute the visitors to the gardens so prettily, and water her flower-beds and draw her cart along the gravel paths has become a winsome girl in the first flush of womanhood. In the early dawn of a morning in June, 1837, she is roused from her slumbers - but let her tell the tale :
" It was about 6 a.m. that mamma came and called me, and said I must go and see Lord Conyngham directly - alone. I got. up, put on my dressing-gown, and went into a room, where I found Lord Conyngham, who knelt and kissed my hand, and gave me the certificate of the King's death."
Before the tearful figure of the young girl, with hair streaming over her white robe, Archbishop Howley and the Lord Chamberlain, Conyngham, knelt in homage, and the Queen of an hour, turning to the Archbishop, says, with all humility : " I ask your Grace to pray for me."
Sixty years pass by, and Queen Victoria, a revered figure with silver hair and the weight of close upon eighty years upon her, comes once again to the home of her youth. The State apartments of Kensington Palace have been converted into a shrine to her memory, and before they are thrown open to the public she would fain gaze upon the old scenes once again.
A Modern Romance
She is drawn in her wheeled chair from room to room, identifying old associations, and when at length she reaches the nursery where the cases containing her old toys stand, she desires her attendants to leave her alone. The flood-gates of tender memories are opened. The Ruler of a mighty Empire, who has wielded the sceptre so long with strong hand and sagacious mind, has still a tender woman's heart, and the sight of a battered doll speaking of the days of childhood moves her to tears.
Now the scene changes, and it is a merry party of princes and princesses who have come to see the renovated palace. Fair and tall among them stands our present Queen, then Duchess of York. It is her birthplace also, and she and her husband and brothers grow merry together as they recall the games of childhood in the old palace, in the same rooms where Queen Victoria's youth was passed.
Yet once again in recent years the old palace is a scene of courtly splendour. Princess Henry of Battenberg's apartments are full of life and colour, for her fair young daughter is having her coming-out ball, and Royal and courtly equipages throng the palace entrance. Amongst the brilliant company who offer congratulations to pretty Princess Ena none is more observed than Alfonso, the youthful King of Spain. Cupid's shaft goes home that night, and it is not long before the old palace yields the ardent young wooer the fairest of brides.
In The Beautiful Month Of May
From the painting by H. Koch By permission of the Berlin Photographic Co.