Letters of Queen Victoria: 1837 - 1861

Extracts concerning Ireland

Edited by Arthur Christopher Benson, M.A.
and Viscount Esher, G.C.V.O., K.C.B

Published by John Murray, 1908

Queen Victoria as a young woman

Queen Victoria as a young woman.

At the time of the first letter, Victoria was seventeen years old.

The Princess Victoria to the King of the Belgians, 28th April 1837 

MY MOST BELOVED UNCLE, - Sir Henry Harding’s motion was quite lost, I am happy to say, and don’t you think, dearest Uncle, that it has almost done good, as it proves that the Tories have lost all chance of getting in? It was a trial of strength, and the Ministry have triumphed. I have been reading in the papers, what I suppose you already know, that it is believed that the Lords will pass the Irish Corporation Bill[1]; and also that Ministers mean to drop for the present the question about Church Rates, as the Radicals, being angry with Ministers relative to Canada business, would not support them well.

The Princess Victoria to the King of the Belgians, 2nd May 1837 

[…] The Irish Tithes question came on last night in the House of Commons[2], and I am very anxious for the morning papers, to see what has been done…

Queen Victoria to the King of the Belgians, 22nd February 1838

MY DEAR UNCLE.- …I had a very brilliant Levée again yesterday, at which O’Connell and all his sons, son-in-law, nephew, etc., appeared. I received him, as you may imagine, with a very smiling face; he has been behaving very well this year.[3] It was quite a treat for me to see him, as I had for long wished it….

Viscount Melbourne to Queen Victoria, 25th October 1838 

…If Ireland should be vacant, there is a strong feeling amongst many that it would be nice to name the Duke of Sussex. It is said that it would be popular in Ireland, that the name of one of the Royal Family would do good there, and that it would afford to O’Connell a pretext and opportunity for giving up his new scheme of agitation. It is also added that the Duke would suffer himself to be guided on all essential matters by the advice of his Chief Secretary, and that he would content himself with discharging the ceremonial duties. Here are the reasons for it – your Majesty is so well acquainted with the reasons on the other side, that it is unnecessary for me to detail them.

I am afraid that times of some trouble are approaching, for which your Majesty must hold yourself prepared; but your Majesty is too well acquainted with the nature of human affairs not to be well aware that they cannot very well go on even as quietly as they have gone on during the last sixteen months.

Sir Robert Peel to the Prince Albert, 11th June 1843 

SIR, - In consequence of the conversation which I had with your Royal Highness on Thursday last on the subject of Ireland, I beg to mention to your Royal Highness that the Cabinet met again to-day at Lord Aberdeen’s house.

We had a very long discussion.

The prevailing opinion was that if legislation were proposed[4], that legislation should be as effectual as possible; that there would be no advantage in seeking for new powers unless these powers were commensurate with the full extent of the mischief to be apprehended.

Foreseeing, however, all the difficulties of procuring such powers, and the increased excitement which must follow the demand for them, we were unwilling to come to an immediate decision in favour of recommending new legislation, and resolved therefore to watch the course of events for some time longer, continuing precautionary measures against disturbances of the public peace.

I have not received any material information from Ireland by the post of this day, nor has Sir James Graham.

I have the honour to be, Sir, with sincere respect, your Royal Highness’ most faithful and humble Servant, ROBERT PEEL. 

Queen Victoria to the King of the Belgians, 15th April 1845 

MY BELOVED UNCLE, - Here we are in a great state of agitation about one of the greatest measures even proposed.[5] I am sure poor Peel ought to be blessed by all Catholics for the manly and noble way in which he stands forth to protect and do good to poor Ireland. But the bigotry, the wicked blind passions it brings forth is quite dreadful, and I blush for Protestantism![6] A Presbyterian clergyman said very truly, “Bigotry is more common than shame…

Queen Victoria to Lord John Russell, 3rd August 1846 

The Queen has just seen Lord Bessborough, who presses very much for her going to Ireland; she thinks it right to put Lord John Russell in possession of her views on this subject.

It is a journey which must one day or other be undertaken, and which the Queen would be glad to have accomplished, because it must be disagreeable to her that people should speculate whether she dare visit one part of her dominions. Much will depend on the proper moment, for, after those speculations, it ought to succeed if undertaken.

The Queen is anxious that when undertaken it should be a National thing, and the good which it is to do must be a permanent and not a transitory advantage to a particular Government, having the appearance of a party move.

As this is not a journey of pleasure like the Queen’s former ones, but a State act, it will have to be done with a certain degree of State, and ought to be done handsomely. It cannot be expected that the main expense of it should fall upon the Civil List, nor would this be able to bear it.

Queen Victoria to Lord John Russell, 16th April 1848 

The Queen has received Lord John Russell’s letter. The state of Ireland is most alarming and most anxious; altogether, there is so much inflammable matter all around us that it makes one tremble…

Queen Victoria to the King of the Belgians, 1st August 1848

There are ample means of crushing the Rebellion in Ireland[7], and I think it now is very likely to go off without any contest…. Lord Hardinge is going over there to serve on the Staff, which is very praiseworthy of him.

Lord  John Russell to the Earl of Clarendon, 23rd June 1849 

I have the satisfaction to inform your Excellency that I have received the Queen’s commands to acquaint you that Her Majesty hopes to be able in the course of the present summer to fulfil the intention, which you are aware she has long entertained, of a visit to Ireland. The general distress unfortunately still prevalent in Ireland precludes the Queen from visiting Dublin in state, and thereby causing ill-timed expenditure and inconvenience to her subjects; yet Her Majesty does not wish to let another year pass without visiting a part of her dominions which she has for so long a time been anxious personally to become acquainted with. She accordingly will, at some sacrifice of personal convenience, take a longer sea voyage for the purpose of visiting in the first instance the Cove of Cork, and from thence proceed along the Irish coast to Dublin. After remaining there a few days, during which time Her Majesty will be the guest of your Excellency, she would continue her cruise along the Irish coast northward and visit Belfast, and from thence cross to Scotland. Although the precise time of Her Majesty’s visit cannot yet be fixed, it will probably take place as early in August as the termination of the session of Parliament will permit, and I feel assured that this early announcement of her intentions will be received with great satisfaction by Her Majesty’s loyal and faithful subjects in Ireland.

Queen Victoria to Lord John Russell, 19th July 1849 

The Queen has received Lord John Russell’s letters. She returns Lord Clarendon’s, and the very kind one of the Primate.[8]

With respect to Lord Clarendon’s suggestion that the Prince of Wales should be created Duke, or rather, as Lord John says, Earl of Dublin – the Queen thinks it is a matter for consideration whether such an act should follow the Queen’s visit as a compliment to Ireland, but she is decidedly of opinion that it should not precede it.

We are sorry that Lord John does not intend going to Ireland, but fully comprehend his wishes to remain quiet for three weeks. We shall be very glad to see him at Balmoral on the 20th or 22nd of August.

We hope Lady John and the baby continue to go on well.

Queen Victoria to the King of the Belgians, 6th August 1849 

MY DEAREST UNCLE, - Though this letter will only go tomorrow, I will begin it to-day and tell you that everything has gone off beautifully since we arrived in Ireland, and that our entrance into Dublin was really a magnificent thing. By my letter to Louise you will have heard of our arrival in the Cove of Cork. Our visit to Cork was very successful; the Mayor was knighted on deck (on board the Fairy), like in times of old. Cork is about seventeen miles up the River Lee, which is beautifully wooded and reminds us of Devonshire scenery. We had previously stepped on shore at Cove, a small place, to enable them to call it Queen’s Town; the enthusiasm is immense, and at Cork there was more firing than I remember since the Rhine.

We left Cork with fair weather, but a head sea and contrary wind which made it rough and me very sick.

7th.- I was unable to continue till now, and have since received your kind letter, for which I return my warmest thanks. We went into Waterford Harbour on Saturday afternoon, which is likewise a fine, large, safe harbour. Albert went up to Waterford in the Fairy, but I did not. The next morning we received much the same report of the weather which we had done at Cork, viz. that the weather was fair but the wind contrary. However we went out, as it could not be helped, and we might have remained there some days for no use. The first three hours were very nasty, but afterwards it cleared and the evening was beautiful. The entrance at seven o’clock into Kingston Harbour was splendid; we came in with ten steamers, and the whole harbour, wharf, and every surrounding place was covered with thousands and thousands of people, who received us with the greatest enthusiasm. We disembarked yesterday morning at ten o’clock, and took two hours to come here. The most perfect order was maintained in spite of the immense mass of people assembled, and a more good-humoured crowd I never saw, but noisy and excitable beyond belief, talking, jumping, and shrieking instead of cheering. There were numbers of troops out, and it really was a wonderful scene. There is a very pretty place, and the house reminds me of dear Claremont. The view of the Wicklow Mountains from the windows is very beautiful, and the whole park is very extensive and full of very fine trees.

We drove out yesterday afternoon and were followed by jaunting-cars and riders and people running and screaming, which would have amused you. In the evening we had a dinner party, and so we have to-night. This morning we visited the Bank, the Model School (where the Protestant and Catholic Archbishops received us), and the College, and this afternoon we went to the Military Hospital. To-morrow we have a Levée, where 1,700 are to be presented, and the next day a Review, and in the evening the Drawing-Room, when 900 ladies are to be presented.

George[9] is here, and has a command here. He rode on one side of our carriage yesterday. You see more ragged and wretched people here than I ever saw anywhere else. En revanche, the women are really very handsome – quite in the lowest class – as well at Cork as here; such beautiful black eyes and hair and such fine colours and teeth.

I must now take my leave. Ever your most affectionate Niece, VICTORIA R.

The Earl of Clarendon to Sir George Grey, 14th August 1849 

MY DEAR GREY, - If I had known where to direct I should have thanked you sooner for your two welcome letters from Belfast, where everything seems to have gone off to our heart’s desire, and the Queen’s presence, as to the Stipendiary Magistrate writes word, has united all classes and parties in a manner incredible to those who know the distance at which they have hitherto been kept asunder.

The enthusiasm here has not abated, and there is not an individual in Dublin that does not take as a personal compliment to himself the Queen’s having gone upon the paddle-box and having ordered the Royal Standard to be lowered three times.

Even the ex-Clubbists[10], who threatened broken heads and windows before the Queen came, are now among the most loyal of her subjects, and are ready, according to the police reports, to fight any one who dare say a disrespectful word of Her Majesty.

In short, the people are not only enchanted with the Queen and the gracious kindness of her manner and the confidence she has shown in them, but they are pleased with themselves for their own good feelings and behaviour, which they consider having removed the barrier that hitherto existed between the Sovereign and themselves, and that they now occupy a higher position in the eyes of the world. Friend Bright was with me to-day, and said he would not for the world have missed the embarkation at Kingston, for he had felt just the same enthusiasm as the rest of the crowd. “Indeed,” he added, “I defy any man to have felt otherwise when he saw the Queen come upon the platform and bow to the people in a manner that showed her heart was with them.” He didn’t disguise either that the Monarchical principle had made great way with him since Friday. Ever yours truly, CLARENDON.

Queen Victoria to Lord John Russell, 3rd October 1849 

The Queen has received Lord John Russell’s explanation respecting the brevet promotions on the occasion of her visit to Ireland, but cannot say that his objections have convinced her of the impropriety of such a promotion (to a limited extent). To Lord John’s fears of the dangerous consequences of the precedent, the Queen has only to answer, that there can be only one first visit to Ireland, and that the first visit to Scotland in 1842 was followed by a few promotions, without this entailing promotions on her subsequent visits to that part of the country; that even the first visit to the Channel Islands was followed by promotions, and this under Lord John’s Government. All the precedents being in accordance with the proposition made by the Duke, an opposition on the part of the Government would imply a declaration against all brevets except in the field, which would deprive the Crown of a most valuable prerogative. If such a brevet as the one proposed were to lead to great additional expense, the Queen could understand the objection on the ground of economy; but the giving brevet rank to a few subaltern officers is too trifling a matter to alarm the Government. Perhaps the number might be reduced even, but to deviate from the established precedents for the first time altogether in this case, and that after the excellent behaviour of the Army in Ireland under very trying circumstances, would be felt as a great injustice.

The Queen therefore wishes Lord John to ask the Duke to send him the former precedents and to consider with his colleagues whether a modified recommendation cannot be laid before her.

Queen Victoria to the King of the Belgians, 26th August 1861 

MY BELOVED UNCLE,- Not to miss your messenger I write a few hurried lines to thank you for your two dear letters of the 16th and the 22nd, the last of which I received yesterday morning here… Would to God that affairs in Hungary took a favourable turn – mais j’en ai bien peur. We had a very good passage on Wednesday night, since which it has blown very hard. We left Osborne on Wednesday morning (21st) at quarter to nine, and anchored in Kingstown Bay at half-past eleven that night. The next day (22nd) we landed at eleven and came here, and it rained the whole day. On Saturday we all went over to the camp, where there was a field-day. It is a fine emplacement with beautiful turf. We had two cooling showers. Bertie marched past with his company, and did not look at all so very small.

Yesterday was again a bad day. I have felt weak and very nervous, and so low at time; I think so much of dearest mamma, and miss her love and interest and solicitude dreadfully; I feel as if we were no longer cared for, and miss writing to her and telling her everything, dreadfully. At the Review they played one of her marches, which entirely upset me.

Good Lord Carlisle[11] is most kind and amiable, and so much beloved. We start for Killarney at half-past twelve. This is the dearest of days, and one which fills my heart with love, gratitude, and emotion. God bless and protect for ever my beloved Albert – the purest and best of human beings! We miss our four little ones and baby sadly, but have our four eldest (except poor Vicky) with us.

[1] The Irish Municipal Bill, to convert Corporations of Municipalities into Electoral Councils, was introduced in the House of Commons on the 15th of February. The Bill was opposed by the Conservatives, but passed the House of Commons. In the Lords an amendment of Lyndhurst’s struck out the constructive clauses, and the Act became, on the 18th of May, an Act for the Abolition of Municipalities in Ireland. Lord John Russell brought forward a motion to reconstruct the Bill. But the Peers declined to pass it, and it was postponed.

[2] The Irish Tithe Bill, a measure to facilitate the collection of tithes, was abandoned because the Tories would not consent to any secular appropriation of Church revenues and the Whigs would not consent to the withdrawal of their amendments. A remarkable feature in the Bill was a proposal that a portion of very clergyman’s income should be applied to education, as was already prescribed by a former Act.

[3] Ever since the Accession, O’Connell’s speeches had been full of expressions of loyalty, and he had been acting in concert with the Whigs.

[4] In consequence of the Repeal agitation, the Ministers had already introduced an Irish Arms Bill, which was carried.

[5] The Bill to increase the grant to the Roman Catholic College of Maynooth was carried by Peel in the teeth of opposition from half his party: another measure was passed to establish colleges for purely secular teaching (“godless colleges” they were nicknamed) in Cork, Belfast, and Galway, and affiliate them to a new Irish university.

[6] As Macaulay had said during the previous night’s debate: “The Orangeman raises his war whoop, Exeter Hall sets up its bray, Mr Macneile shudders to see more costly cheer than ever provided for the priests of Baal at the table of the Queen, and the Protestant operatives of Dublin call for impeachments in exceedingly bad English.”

[7] Ireland was much disturbed during the year by what was known as the Young Ireland agitation, a movement organised by youthful, and for the most part cultivated, leaders, and utterly different from the sturdy Repeal movement of O’Connell. Smith O’Brien, brother of Lord Inchiquin, was the ringleader, and was backed by Mitchel, Duffy, Meagher, and others, as well as by the Nation and United Irishman newspapers. Like Chartism, the movement ignominiously collapsed and its leaders were convicted of treason. An Act was at the same time passed reducing some offences (till then legally defined as treason) to felonies, and improving the law as to offences against the person of the Sovereign.

[8] Lord John George de la Poer Beresford (1773 – 1862) was Archbishop of Armagh from 1822 until his death.

[9] The late Duke of Cambridge.

[10] Seditious clubs had been an important factor in the Irish disturbances of 1848.

[11] Lord Carlisle was Viceroy in both the administrations of Lord Palmerston; as Lord Morpeth he had been Chief Secretary in the Melbourne Government.

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