Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 20, 1837 --- The King is Dead, Long Live the Queen

A bulletin from Windsor Castle announces: "It has pleased Almighty God to release from his sufferings our most gracious sovereign, King William IV." 

Death came almost imperceptably to the old King at 2:12 in the morning. William lingered long enough on his deathbed to achieve his twin goals: he saw the sun rise on one more Waterloo Day (18 June) and, more importantly, on 22 May, his niece Victoria turned 18, the age of majority. William despised Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, who returned the sentiment. He knew she wished him to hurry on with his dying so that she, along with her lackey, Sir John Conroy, might establish a Regency to act on behalf of the underage Queen. There will be no Regency.

News of the King's death is quickly carried to Kensington Palace where Victoria is awakened to be told she is now Queen of England. In the final days of her uncle's reign, the Princess had remained untouched by the backstairs machinations, confiding almost solely in her devoted governess, the Baroness Lehzen. It is important to note the emphasis the young Queen places on how she handles her first-day's duties - alone. Her first Privy Council meeting is held at 11, attended by her Whig Prime Minister, Melbourne, and the Duke of Wellington, the Tory leader, and others from the Archbishop of Canterbury to her scheming uncles, the Dukes of Sussex and Cumberland. Recalled Wellington, "She not merely filled her chair, she filled the room." The notoriously weepy Melbourne wept.

One of the Queen's first official acts is to dismiss Conroy from her staff, although he remained, troublesome as ever, in the employ of the Duchess. That night, in her journal, Victoria writes: "I am very young and perhaps in many, though in not all things, inexperienced, but I am sure, that very few have more real good
will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have."

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