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Queen Victoria on the Chartists

Updated Wednesday 23rd September 2015

Agitation for extension of the franchise to all men was a feature of Victoria's reign, and the Queen and her advisors were alive to the possibility that some Chartists might try to advance their cause through an attack on her. That never happened, but as these extracts from her personal journal show, during the years of Chartist activity, the risk was never far from her mind.

Saturday 13th August 1842

Mama [Victoria, Duchess of Kent] joined us at breakfast, after which we went out walking with Papa [Ernest I, Prince Albert's father] and showed him the Rockery and all our improvements, the Kennels, &c.

It is a pleasure to show him anything, as he is so easily pleased, and takes such interest in everything, being so worthy of all. We then drove to Frogmore, where we walked about with Mama.

Read and wrote, when I came home.

Both Children appeared at our luncheon. Papa thinks the Baby, so like Albert.

The accounts from Manchester are dreadful - such disturbances, as also in some other parts, near Sheffield, &c

Drove out with Papa & Alexandrine, Albert & Ernest, &c, riding. We drove to the Stud & showed Papa all the horses. We also looked at the Hunters. I never felt anything like the heat

On returning, found Sir Robert Peel & some of the other Ministers had come down for a Council, & I found a box from Sir Robert, in my room, in which he wrote that 3 Magistrates had come to Town this morning, giving an account of the bad state of things in Manchester, and expressing their anxiety that something should be done before the 16th inst, the anniversary of a great mob fight, which took place there in 1819 [The Peterloo massacre], and some great explosion is dreaded for that day.

A contemporary drawing of Chartist riots Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Engraving from True Stories of the Reign of Queen Victoria An engraving depicting a "Chartist Riot"

We saw Sir Robert Peel, and he said that the whole thing had arisen from Anti- Corn Law people & Chartists having closed their Mills, telling the people they might play for a while, by which they immediately jumped at the conclusion they were to cease working. They marched in procession into Manchester, where they forced all the other Manufacturers to join them. It is the horrid system of agitation pursued by several Members, which is responsible for this serious agitation. They might be prosecuted if it could be brought home to them. It is proposed to send a Battalion of the Guards tonight, by rail, to Manchester.

Then, held a Council, which was only for the Proclamation. The Duke of Wellington kissed hands, on being made Commander in Chief.

Ran up to the Nursery for a moment. Dinner the same as yesterday. We went a moment on the Terrace afterwards. Such tremendous heat, — quite wonderful!

Monday 22nd August 1842

Dear "Pussy" [Victoria, Princess Royal; eldest daughter of the Queen] better, though still weak & languid, but otherwise there is nothing wrong with her.

I drove out with the Duchess of Norfolk, Albert riding, & the Ladies following. I found the Duchess very agreeable, & full of information. Papa, who had been to Kew, with Charles, met us, as we came home. It was again so hot.

Heard from Sir J. Graham that

"the reports from the North are better this morning than on any former day, since the commencement of these disturbances. Some symptoms of disturbance have appeared at Merthyr Tydvil, but a demonstration of prompt military assistance has checked an outburst. In Birmingham the Civil Authorities have taken active measures to disperse a Chartist Meeting, which was summoned to assemble today, and ample military means are provided to aid the Civil Power in case of necessity. The Meeting summoned for this day at noon on Kensington Common, has been a signal failure. All the workmen, in the Metropolis are fully employed & although this evening an attempt to hold a Chartist Meeting, is anticipated, Sir J. Graham has made arrangements for dispersing it, & he is confident that the Public Peace will not be seriously disturbed."

We went up to the Nursery & found "Pussy" much better, and  quite merry, in her bath.

Besides Mama, & Charles [the Queen's half-brother] ,  & c, Lord Melbourne, and Lord and Lady Beauvale, (who stay till the 25th) dined.

Lord Melbourne is looking so well. Lady Beauvale is very pleasing, and speaks English, perfectly well; her German is very Prussian or Berlin German.

Talked to Lord Melbourne of our journey to Scotland, and he said that it would never do, not to go - it would have such a very had effect, and that the late King's not going to the City, had had a deplorable effect. Unless anything very alarming or urgent, were to present us, we ought to carry out our project. He also, was glad to hear that the riots were better.

Tuesday 13th June 1848

A fine morning, and we were out for some time.

There was an alarm, which however ended in nothing, of 40 Chartists having come over to Cowes, with the intention of coming up here [Osborne House, the royal residence on the Isle of Wight]. In an instant all Cubitt's men & all our labourers armed with sticks, were placed in readiness. The sailors from the "Fairy" came up with carbines, some troops were sent for, from Park burst, who arrived in 2 hours time. All was in bath array, but it ended in nothing.

The suspected people belonged, it seems to a company of "Odd Fellows", who had come to enjoy themselves on Whit Tuesday, and it happened that two notable Chartists had been seen by the Police, and had been rude in their question at the lodge. This was all that caused the alarm.

When we walked out in the evening, we saw the small company of troops march away from Barton. It was a fine, but very windy evening.

Saturday 17th June 1848

In going home we had a fright, which however ended in nothing of all and was not connected with Chartism. Almost immediately after we had left the Opera, not far from the Duke of York's statue, a man ran up to the carriage on Albert's side, where the window was open, saying several times over something like "a real murderer".

This frightened me dreadfully, on account of the Chartist troubles & I could not get over it for some time. But the man quickly dropped back afterwards. The unpleasant episode quite filled my mind for a time. The Chartist's object being to surprise one at, night, as Sir George Grey told me, of course impressed one.

Monday 4th September 1848

Reached Buckingham Place at half past one. After our luncheon, we saw Lord Lansdowne, to whom I spoke strongly this Italian question

Then, saw Sir George Grey, who told us that the accounts of the state of London were very good; 64 Chartists are in prison, either awaiting their trial, or undergoing their sentence. Louis Blanc [the French socialist currently in exile in London] will be carefully watched, and should he attempt anything, or try to excite people, the Aliens Act will be used against him. This, he will be told.

[After the Chartist movement waned, there was to be one last mention of them in the Royal diaries]

Wednesday 10th April 1878

Already 20 years, since the celebrated 10th of April: when the great Chartist meeting came to nothing and failed.

 

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