A Christmas of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria, the longest-serving of our monarchs celebrated Christmas along with the rest of the country none more so at her private residence on the Isle of White, Osborne House.

Osborne House

From an unknown source writing from Cowes on Christmas Eve, in reference to the Christmas festivities at Osborne in the last decade of the nineteenth century, a correspondent says:

After transacting business the Queen drove out this afternoon, returning to Osborne just as the setting sun illumines with its rosy rays the Paladin Towers of her Majesty’s marine residence. The Queen desires to live, as far as the cares of State permit, the life of a private lady. Her Majesty loves the seclusion of this lordly estate, and here at Christmas time she enjoys the society of her children and grandchildren, who meet together as less exalted families do at this merry season to reciprocate the same homely delights as those which are experienced throughout the land.

At this time I would estimate the Queen Victoria would’ve been in her mid to late 70’s nearing the end of what would be a grand 63 years own the throne and ruling over the British Empire, the biggest the world had or probably will ever see.

“This afternoon a pleasant little festivity has been celebrated at Osborne House,

Osborne House was built between 1845 and 1851 for Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert as a summer rural residence and retreat.

Prince Albert,the talented man that he seems to be designed the house himself in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. Thomas Cubitt built the house, he was also responsible for the main façade of Buckingham Palace for the royal couple in 1847.

Queen Victoria is quoted as saying ‘It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot’.

where her Majesty, with an ever-kindly interest in her servants and dependants, has for many years inaugurated Christmas in a similar way, the children of her262 tenantry and the old and infirm enjoying by the Royal bounty the first taste of Christmas fare. The Osborne estate now comprises 5,000 acres, and it includes the Prince Consort’s model farm. The children of the labourers—who are housed in excellent cottages—attend the Whippingham National Schools, a pretty block of buildings, distant one mile from Osborne. About half the number of scholars live upon the Queen’s estate, and, in accordance with annual custom, the mistresses of the schools, the Misses Thomas, accompanied by the staff of teachers, have conducted a little band of boys and girls—fifty-four in all—to the house, there to take tea and to receive the customary Christmas gifts. Until very recently the Queen herself presided at the distribution; but the Princess Beatrice has lately relieved her mother of the fatigue involved; for the ceremony is no mere formality, it is made the occasion of many a kindly word the remembrance of which far outlasts the gifts. All sorts of rumours are current on the estate for weeks before this Christmas Eve gathering as to the nature of the presents to be bestowed, for no one is supposed to know beforehand what they will be; but there was a pretty shrewd guess to-day that the boys would be given gloves, and the girls cloaks. In some cases the former had had scarves or cloth for suits, and the latter dresses or shawls. Whatever the Christmas presents may be, here they are, arranged upon tables in two long lines, in the servants’ hall. To this holly-decorated apartment the expectant youngsters are brought, and their delighted gaze falls upon a huge Christmas-tree laden with beautiful toys.

It sound like a good place to work!

Everybody knows that the tree will be there, and moreover that its summit will be crowned with a splendid doll. Now, the ultimate ownership of this doll is a matter of much concern; it needs deliberation, as it is awarded to the best child, and the judges are the children themselves. The trophy is handed to the keeping of Miss Thomas, and on the next 1st of May the children select by their votes the most popular girl in the school to be elected May Queen. To her the gift goes, and no fairer way could be devised. The Princess Beatrice always makes a point of knowing to whom the prize has been awarded. Her Royal Highness is so constantly a visitor to the cottagers and to the school that she has many an inquiry to make of the little ones as they come forward to receive their gifts.“The girls are called up first by the mistress, and Mr. Andrew Blake, the steward, introduces each child to the Princess Beatrice, to whom Mr. Blake hands the presents that her Royal Highness may bestow them upon the recipients with a word of good will, which makes the day memorable. Then the boys are summoned to participate in the distribution of good things, which, it should be explained, consist not only of seasonable and sensible clothing, but toys from the tree, presented by the Queen’s grandchildren, who, with their parents, grace the ceremony with their presence and make the263 occasion one of family interest. The Ladies-in-Waiting also attend. Each boy and girl gets in addition a nicely-bound story-book and a large slice of plum pudding neatly packed in paper, and if any little one is sick at home its portion is carefully reserved. But the hospitality of the Queen is not limited to the children. On alternate years the old men and women resident on the estate are given, under the same pleasant auspices, presents of blankets or clothing. To-day it was the turn of the men, and they received tweed for suits. The aged people have their pudding as well. For the farm labourers and boys, who are not bidden to this entertainment, there is a distribution of tickets, each representing a goodly joint of beef for the Christmas dinner. The festivity this afternoon was brought to a close by the children singing the National Anthem in the courtyard.

“The Queen is accustomed to spend Christmas Day very quietly, attending service at the Chapel at Osborne in the morning, and in the evening the Royal family meeting at dinner. There are Christmas trees for the children, and for the servants too, but the houshold reserves its principal festivity for the New Year—a day which is specially set aside for their entertainment.”

That was probably one of her last Christmas celebrations and Queen Victoria probably knew it as she remarked:

“Another year begun and I am feeling so weak and unwell that I enter upon it sadly.” Queen Victoria 1901

Then the Empress of India, The sovereign of the Royal Family Order of King George, of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick, of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, of the Order of British India, of the Indian Order of Merit, of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert, of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, of the Distinguished Service Order and of the Royal Victorian Order passed away at Osborne Housed aged 81.

“The Queen had a rather disturbed night, and was very drowsy all forenoon, and disinclined to get up…I saw her asleep in bed in the forenoon, as I was rather anxious about her, and the maids said she was to drowsy to notice me…I was struck by how small she appeared.” Sir James Reid 16/01/01

She died on the 22nd January at Osborne House having spent her final Christmas and New Year there. Edward the Prince of Wales (Edward VII), and her eldest grandson, William II Emperor of Germany were at her side when passed away.

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