Printer Friendly

The heart of Victorian England.

Every May the public has a rare opportunity to see one of England's most unusual royal buildings. The Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, the final resting place for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, stands apart. Its copper roof, now turned a gentle green, is just visible among the trees in Windsor Great Park. The visitor reaches it by walking down the Long Walk. The building seems to have been transplanted from Ravenna and set down in the midst of a quintessentially English landscape. Few buildings in England are more poignant in their memories and few embody the character of their creator more than the Royal Mausoleum.

Queen Victoria's decision to build a special resting place for herself and Prince Albert had been taken before his early death in December, 1861. Albert's father had been buried in a mausoleum at Coburg after his death in 1844 and her own mother, the Duchess of Kent (who was also Albert's aunt) decided on a classical mausoleum for herself. The site she chose was at Frogmore, in the grounds near Frogmore House which had become her residence. Indeed, as she lay dying in 1861 the builders could be seen from her windows on their way to the unfinished structure.

It was therefore not surprising that Victoria should herself choose Frogmore after Albert's death, or that she should choose to have a mausoleum. The alternative would have been burial in the vaults of St George's Chapel, Windsor. This proposal filled the Queen with horror. She had always disliked Windsor, even before the Prince's death. She remembered the appalling scene enacted there in the months before she came to the throne, when her |Uncle-King', William IV, attacked her mother at a state dinner to celebrate his birthday. To her own dying day she shuddered when she saw the room to which she had fled in tears. She especially disliked the rows of coffins which filled the crypt underneath the glories of St George's Chapel, just above. There the remains of the martyred King Charles I lie near those of the Tudor despot, Henry VIII.

Windsor, however, symbolised much more than this: it embodied the spirit of the bad old days -- of George III, blind and senile and of her |wicked uncles'. With Albert she had established what she saw as a new dynasty, not just in name but in spirit, and it must be made clear to the nation that Albert, to whom all was owed, could not be buried in just one more coffin in the royal vaults. A special structure was needed to express in stone the new era. The Orleans dynasty in France, after Louis Philippe succeede his deposed Bourbon cousin, Charles X, in 1830, had done the same thing. They had rejected St Denis for a new mausoleum at Dreux: Victoria had always befriended the Orleans family and the example was not lost. The Mausoleum at Frogmore, like that at Dreux, was meant both to house the mortal remains of the new dynasty's founder and to symbolise the altered character of the Monarchy.

It is not surprising that the sketches which the Queen drew for the architects were based on the mausoleum built for Albert's father which the Prince himself had helped to design. Because of his love for Italy, he had wanted an Italian design based on the thirteenth century and Victoria did the same. What she had so liked about the Coburg structure was its cheerfulness: the stereotyped view we have of her as a grieving widow sunk in unrelieved grief and near to madness is a fiction based on court gossip.

The Queen's strong and straight-forward faith in the resurrection meant that she wanted the new structure to reflect God's glory which would swallow up her own grief. In a letter to her eldest daughter, written as the foundations were being dug at Frogmore, she said: |Always pray for him [Albert], as before -- never make any difference, I don't and won't, and treat him as living, only invisible to us --as he has reached the end of our journey'. The Mausoleum, therefore, would need to reflecct this strong faith: it must be bright and affirmative. She saw it not as a |Sterbe-Zimmer [death chamber] but as a living beautiful monument'. It must be a structure in which one could pray. It surprised some of her clerical advisers (as always wary of public criticism from extremist groups -- in this case fanatical Protestant) that she wanted an Altar in the building and that she intended to use the Mausoleum as a chapel in which to hold services. Today, when one visits Frogmore, a sign reminds visitors that this remains a consecrated building.

Outside, the new structure was 80 feet long and 70 feet wide and built of British granite and Portland stone: many of the stones weigh over a ton and the walls are extremely thick. The structure outside looks octogan in shape but is actually a square cross with the intervening walls curved. The internal walls from an ambulatory marked off from the centre by four mammoth arches. In the centre is the sarcophagus with recumbent figures of the Queen and Prince. Above them is a splendid dome covered on the outside with Australian copper. The ambulatory gives the impression of greater space just as the dome gives that of greater height than there actually is.

The decorations chosen were copies of Raphael cartoons and paintings as he had always remained Prince Albert's favourite painter. There are, interspersed, biblical texts in English and, higher up, in German. The dome is lit by eight groups of windows and the ceiling is 70 feet above the floor. Painted angels, actually made of papier mache, decorate the ribs which divide the dome's ceiling: this was originally painted blue with gold stars but in 1909 it was redone to show angels bearing crowns and wreaths of immortelles against a background of clouds and stars. Throughout, especially on a sunlit afternoon, the building in its frescoes, marbles and mosaics is rich in colour, light and space.

The central feature remains, of course, the magnificent marble effigies of the Prince and Queen Victoria by the Italian sculptor, Baron Carlo Marochetti. His statue of Richard the Lionheart, now outside the Palace of Westminster, was described by Ruskin in the second of his |Art of England' lectures as |the only really interesting piece of historical sculpture we have hitherto given to out City populace'. He based his effigy of Prince Albert on a design sent by their eldest daughter, the Princes Royal. The figures rest, with each head inclined towards the other, on the sarcophagus, itself reported to be the largest block of perfect granite in the world. It was only on the fourth attempt that a perfect block, quarried from the Cairngall quarry in Scotland, was produced. It is set on black Belgian marble donated by Victoria's Uncle Leopold, the first King of the Belgians. Above the sarcophagus hang Albert's heraldic achievements, to which were added in time those of the Queen. The walls and floors are covered with a splendid array of marbles from round the world, all set into a Portuguese marble called Emperor's Red, given by King Luiz I, a cousin of both Albert and Victoria.

All this magnificence lay in the future when the Royal Family gathered on a wet December day in 1862 in the unfinished building as Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of Oxford conducted the consecration service. Afterwards he wrote to his brother-in-law from Windsor Castle in a letter now among his papers in the Bodleian Library, Oxford:

My dearest Anderson, I am just home from the Consecration of the

Mausoleum, one of the most touching scenes I ever saw to see our

Queen & the file of Fatherless Children walk in & kneel down in

those solemn prayers. Secret, I had a half-hour's talk with her

yesterday & nothing could be more delightful. So gentle so affecionate

so true so real. No touch of morbidness. Quite cheerful -- & so

kind . . . A sister could not have been more tender.

Over the porch entrance is a terracotta medallion of the head of Christ designed and executed by the Princess Royal, Victoria's eldest daughter and, for a tragically short time, Empress of Germany. It had been a gift to Prince Albert before his death and was put over the entrance as a statement of faith. Inside the porch, over the door, is this inscription: |Alberti principis quod mortale erat hoc in sepulcro deponi volvit vidua moerens Victoria Regina A.D. MDCCCLXII. Vale desideratissime! Hic demum conquiescam tecum tecum in Chrito consurgam'. |To Prince Albert whose mortal remains were deposited in this sepulchre by his grieving widow, Queen Victoria in the Year of Our Lord 1862. Farewell thou for whom I most yearn. Here at last with thee shall I find rest; with thee shall I rise in Christ'. It remains one of the most touching, personal and romantic of inscriptions and is also one of those most ignored by visitors.

The Queen, who retained the key to the Mausoleum, constantly visited the building, often simply to be alone and occasionally to show it to special guests; when at Windsor she worked in the gardens nearby as does the present Queen, Victoria's great-great grandaughter. Throughout Victoria's lifetime and into the reign of her son, Edward VII, members of the Royal Family gathered for a special service each year on 14 December, the date of Prince Albert's death. In the decades following completion of the work in 1871 Victoria added memorials to those she loved: to her three children and two sons-in-law who died before her and to her |faithful Highland servant'. John Brown. Her memorial tablet to Brown was not one of those mementoes of the hated Brown removed by her son, King Edward VII, when the ccame to the Throne. However, by being set low down on a wall in the ambulatory it is difficult to read. In the present century graves of members of the Royal Family, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, now surround the Mausoleum to the right as one enteres the building. The present Queen has given orders that she and Prince Philip are to be buried along with her father, King George VI, under the new chapel built to his memory in the north side of the nave of St George's Chapel.

It was in 1901 that the Mausoleum was once again the focus of national attention when the Queen's remains were removed there. The occasion was not without incident as Bishop Randall Davidson, one of her few clerical friends and later Archbishop of Canterbury, noted in a private memorandum among his papers at Lambeth Palace. The funeral service at St George's Windsor had itself been fraught with problems. It is well known how the horses bolted at the station and the gun-carriage carrying the Queen's coffin was then pulled by naval ratings. But inside the chapel the Lord Chamberlain had forgotten, when issuing tickets, that those in the procession could not come into the Chapel. As a result there were so few people inside that ushers moved them about to make it look less empty.

The greatest difficulties arose when it came to the actual internment. Lord Esher had recorded in his diary that no one could find Marochetti's statue of the Queen. Only after much frantic searching did one old workman remember a marble statue walled up in the castle. The wall was taken down and the forgotten effigy removed to Frogmore. Another problem soon arose: Queen Victoria was very short -- not much if any above five feet. Her coffin was remarkably small as a result. But this coffin was placed inside another, lead, coffin which Bishop Davidson noted was |needlessly huge', at least one-third bigger than Albert's.

When the sarcophagus was opened workmen discovered that the lead coffin would not fit inside. The only solution lay in hacking away several inches of the perfect granite which, forty years before, had caused so much trouble to find and cut. Luckily the King was not told of this and the damage was not visible.

Inside the sarcophagus it was found that Prince Albert's coffin was covered, in accordance with royal tradition, with a velvet pall. Victoria, however, had ordered in her will that her coffin should not be covered. Inside it the smaller, wooden one was of plain elm, exactly like those, noted Davidson ironically, |which disfigure the Royal Vault; which the Queen had always hated. What neither he nor the King knew was that inside the inner coffin and hidden from view lay a host of momentoes which Victoria had secretly ordered placed there, reminders of those she had loved.

In 1991 her great-grandson, Prince Henry, later the Duke of Gloucester, told Lady Diana Cooper a story of one of the religious services held in the Mausoleum after the Queen's death. As the Royal Family knelt round the sarcophagus a dove which had got into the building circled above them. |Dear Mama's spirit . . . we are sure of it' everyone said. Princess Louise, the Queen's most artistic, temperamental and difficult daughter, said |No, I am sure it is not so'. The others insisted, |It must be dear Mama's spirit'. |No,' she replied, looking at her youngest sister, Princess Beatrice, |Mama's spirit would never have ruined Beatrice's hat.'

The Royal Mausoleum and surrounding gardens, which include Queen Victoria's mother's mausuleum and the royal graves, are open this year on 6 and 7 May. The Royal Mausoleum by itself is open on 20 May. The gardens alone are open on 27 May. For further information contact the Windsor Tourist Information Office on (0753) 852010.

Dr. James Munson is co-author of a biography of Queen Victoria, Victoria Portrait of a Queen, published by BBC Books.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Contemporary Review Company Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:The Royal Mausoleum in Frogmore, England
Author:Munson, James
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:May 1, 1992
Previous Article:A letter from Israel.
Next Article:A memory of Australia's tragic poet.

Related Articles
James Whitaker Column: I THANK YOU FOR CARING.
Victoria's 100 years.
Princess 'made choice'.
Books: DID SHE OR DIDN'T SHE?; Unmasking scandal in Victoria's court.
Royals at funeral for Sir Angus.
Sir Angus farewell.
Historical sites at risk through lack of cash, say Tories; BRITAIN.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters