As the Queen becomes our longest serving monarch overtaking her great great grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose reign I am currently mired in with smock frocks, I post this entry.
Royal stories seem to have been just as popular in the nineteenth century press as they are today, although then as now, there were also periods where republicanism was more to the foreground, partly influenced by events in the rest of the world and probably partly by the actions of the royal family itself. The popularity of Queen Victoria when she came to the throne in 1837 was by no means assured and she survived assassination attempts and hostility, particularly in the early part of her reign.
Starting a family may have helped her in her PR exercise. In November 1841, the Gloucester Journal reported the birth of the Prince of Wales and the way that one man had reacted to it:
‘A Prince of Wales born!’ exclaimed the fellow. ‘Well! That’s what never happened in my time before; may be it never will again. I’ll drink his health whether or not!’
As the paper noted, the man was ‘more fervent than rich’ but a handy pawnshop allowed the man to leave his smock frock and get cash to take to the pub to raise a toast. A light-hearted story but one that shows how people’s clothes in this period were like a cashpoint. The only problem was having the financial means to get them back again when needed.
By 1851, the Queen and her expanding family were perhaps making an effort to connect with more ordinary people. The Great Exhibition, organised by Prince Albert and on at the same time, had been a great success with people from all over the country flocking to see the exhibits and special trains laid on to provide transport. On a Sunday, the East Terrace at Windsor, recently remodelled in 1843, was thrown open to visitors so they could see the Queen and her court. These links give some idea of what it might have been like:
On this particular Sunday, not only the local elites were there but also a ‘vast assemblage’ of farmers and agricultural labourers. In Kensington Gardens, which started off as royal gardens around a royal palace before Queen Victoria moved the court to Buckingham Palace, anyone who was ‘respectably dressed’ was allowed free entry on Saturday. A similar rule seemed to apply to the East Terrace on a Sunday in Windsor. However, that rule was relaxed on this occasion by command of the Queen, allowing ‘sunburnt’ labourers in their smock frocks to part-take in the spectacle.
The crowd of ‘thousands’ were entertained by the bands of the Grenadier Guards and the Royal Horse Guards before the Queen, Prince Albert and their children appeared and the National Anthem was played. The royal party ‘promenaded’ for half an hour allowing the multitude to catch a glimpse of them before retiring to their private apartments, perhaps as seen here:
It seems that special dispensation was needed to get a smock frock within close proximity of the royal family…