Princess Alice Maud Mary, the third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, arrived at Buckingham Palace 25 April 1843. Reportedly, the queen knew the severity of her labor, but the delivery itself was quite short, only about four hours. Although neither Victoria or Albert appeared concerned that the birth was of another daughter there were those who expressed “disappointment” that the succession was not shored up by the birth of a second son. Despite his removal from office of Prime Minister and of his health issues of crippling stroke, Lord Melbourne received the news of Princess Alice’s birth with great joy, and as “Alice” was one of his favorite female names, Melbourne celebrated the sovereign’s choice of names.
After Alice’s birth, Victoria declared the need for different quarters for their growing family and for the queen’s social requirements. As George IV had incurred a debt of £1 million to remodel Buckingham Palace, convincing the British taxpayer of a need for a nicer nursery for the royal children was impossible. We must recall that at this time that Buckingham was surrounded by the unclean of Pimlico. The air was often filled with soot and foul smells, especially as Industrial Revolution brought more furnaces and stovepipes and smoldering garbage.
The royal family customarily escaped to Windsor to avoid the constant stench of London. “Windsor Castle is a royal residence at Windsor in the English county of Berkshire. It is notable for its long association with the British royal family and for its architecture. The original castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I, it has been used by all monarchs, and is the longest-occupied palace in Europe.” (Windsor Castle)
Yet despite Windsor’s twenty mile remove from Buckingham Palace and the stench of London, it had its deficits. The most prominent of those was the inability to drain properly the sanitary needs of the neighborhood. “The primitive sanitary arrangements often caused a nearly over-powering stink, particularly when rainstorms overtaxed the drains. Randomly sited cesspits and foul odors in the summer from the sludgy Thames served only to increase Victoria’s impatience to get away from everything that was old. What she and Albert coveted for themselves and their growing family was cleanliness, space, and …privacy.” (Jerrold M. Packard, Victoria’s Daughters, page 28)
The need for a better environment for their family sent the royal pair upon a search. When a property became available on the Isle of Wight, Albert entered into serious negotiations with the seller. Soon they took possession of Osborne House. “Osborne House is a former royal residence in East Cowes, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom. The house was built between 1845 and 1851 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a summer home and rural retreat. Prince Albert designed the house himself in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. The builder was Thomas Cubitt, the London architect and builder whose company built the main façade of Buckingham Palace for the royal couple in 1847. An earlier smaller house on the site was demolished to make way for a new and far larger house, though the original entrance portico survives as the main gateway to the walled garden.” (Osborne House)
The house included a full-sized “Swiss Cottage” for the playtime of the royal princes and princesses. But the “cottage” was also a learning tool. The girls learned something of tending to the house and to serve tea to their parents, while the boys learned to take care of the gardens and upkeep of the house. It was at Osborne that the royal children got to be just that: children (or as childlike as any royal may be).
The children practiced the educational regimen designed by fellow Coburger, Baron Christian Friedrich Freiherr von Stockmar. “He was educated as a physician, and became the personal physician of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1816 at the time of Leopold’s marriage to Princess Charlotte of the United Kingdom, the only child of King George IV. Charlotte died giving birth to a stillborn son about a year later (had she lived, Leopold would have been Prince Consort of the United Kingdom), and Stockmar stayed in Leopold’s service as his private secretary, comptroller of the household, and political advisor. In 1837, he was sent by Leopold to serve as advisor to Queen Victoria: one of his first tasks was to brief her on whether Leopold’s nephew, Prince Albert, was a suitable mate. After the marriage of Victoria and Albert, Stockmar became their unofficial counsellor, including in the education of Victoria’s son and heir, the future King Edward VII, and intervened in several crises.” (Christian Friedrich Freiherr von Stockmar)
Stockmar earmarked an educational program for the royal children that included the “Child’s natural instincts.” Ironically, Prince Albert Edward (Bertie), the Prince of Wales, was not academically inclined, and the future king would resist all his tutor’s attempts to bring him in line with the program. The Princess Royal, on the other hand, was the perfect student. Jerrold Packard (page 30) says, “The potential dangers of their daughter’s brilliance were, of course, unseen by her proud and delighted parents. To her father, Vicky soon seemed a paragon of perfection. Vicky’s brother suffered in his mother’s evaluation the misfortune of coming up short in intellectual comparison. Many bitter weeds would go into the brew that poisoned more than a half century of relations between Victoria and this son. But one of the vilest was the early and invidious contrasting of Bertie and Vicky, the latter inevitably prevailing in their mother’s eye.
“Throughout her childhood, Vicky’s egotism represented one of her least admirable traits, a sense of superiority that would for years have her lording her natural authority over her sisters and brothers, as well as the servants, and even, sometimes, her mother’s ministers. …[I]n August 1844…Prince Alfred [joined the royal nursery]. His family diminutized [his given name] to “Affie,” a name that stuck for fifty-six years of his life – was from birth preordained for a non-English adulthood. In a joint decision with Albert’s childless brother Ernest (who succeeded to Coburg’s throne the year Affie was born), Victoria and Albert designated this son as the uncle’s heir. Bertie would have been the normal successor (after Albert himself), but as the Prince of Wales, [Bertie’s] future sovereignty of the kingdom, was, of course, already set. The family firmly believed Coburg required a full-time monarch. And so Affie would from his earliest childhood be taught to love, as his mother would put it, ‘the dear small country to which he belongs in every respect, as does his papa.’ [Affie] grew up far the handsomest of Victoria’s sons, little suspecting that time would bring a strange, ultimately ruinous mixture of adventure and tragedy, and a life more distant from his mother than that of any of his siblings.”