At 6.30pm on 22 January 1901, Queen Victoria breathed her last aged 81. Like her descendant Queen Elizabeth II, she was at a favourite country residence, in this case Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Victoria’s reign had spanned the 19th century, starting in 1837 though she would be out-reigned by Elizabeth. Her funeral would be the first that we would recognise as a modern royal event with massive attention to detail, long processional routes, and mass media coverage.
Whereas her immediate predecessors had confined the whole business of the funeral to Windsor, Queen Victoria was processed around London for maximum public view. Firstly, her coffin arrived by train at Victoria station. It was then taken along the streets of London to Buckingham Palace, then down the Mall turning at St James’s Palace, along Piccadilly to Hyde Park, up the Edgware Road, and eventually to Paddington station for the train to Windsor.
Her body ended up at the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, just south of Windsor Castle, where she was laid to rest next to her long dead husband Prince Albert. Within her coffin, she was attired in her white wedding dress and veil, which is unusual as we often associate the older Queen Victoria with dowdy black.
Rather mawkishly, a plaster cast of Prince Albert’s hand was placed in hers alongside mementoes of John Brown, the Scottish personal assistant of Victoria who had enjoyed an unusually close relationship with the queen after her husband’s death. He had died in 1883.
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Royal attendees at the funeral of Queen Victoria
In the year 1901, there were a lot more royal families ruling Europe than there are today. Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia, Portugal, Italy, and many other countries still had monarchs. And many were related to Queen Victoria who was something of a matriarch to all these European royals.
The titles of those present reads like an article in the Tatler. The King of the Belgians and his Grand Marshal of the Court; Count de Bourboulon, Envoy Extraordinary of Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria; the Hereditary Grand Duke of Baden; the Grand Duke of Saxe-Meiningen; and Count D’Avricourt, representing the Prince of Monaco. Also present were the King of the Hellenes, Grand Duke Michael of Russia, and the Crown Prince of Denmark.
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The British Empire announces the death of Queen Victoria
As Queen Victoria ruled an empire that spanned the globe, announcements of her death were made in all the dominions and colonies. The Governor of New Zealand Lord Ranfurly had formerly been a member of the Queen’s personal staff and had hoped to re-enter her service. He was “deeply moved” according to The Times.
In Australia, the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Moran, and other senior clerics “preached powerful sermons eulogizing the Queen and her reign”. A day of mourning was proclaimed in India as Victoria was official the Empress of that country. Eighty-one-gun salutes, representing each year of her life, were fired throughout India.
South Africa, the bloody Boer Wars were still raging between the British Empire and two Boer republics. Queen Victoria’s military governor in the Orange River Colony pledged its allegiance to the new king, Edward VII. While in Pretoria, Lord Kitchener proclaimed the accession.
La Liberte newspaper in France reported on the “exchange of honours” between Victoria’s son, the new Edward VII, and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, who was Victoria’s grandson. But it warned that as Britain was now weakened by the war in South Africa, it had to be on its guard against the threat of war with a “great European nation or with the United States”. Just over a decade later, Britain would be at war with Germany – so prescient words indeed.
The cost of the funeral of Queen Victoria
In March 1901, a month after the funeral, the Daily Telegraph gave a breakdown of the funeral’s cost – which totalled £35,000. In today’s value, that would be: £4,781,513.49. Allowing for the recent spike in inflation. About £15k at 1901 value went on travel and accommodation for troops; £8.5k on entertaining royal and foreign guests; and £4,300 on hire of carriages, railway, and steamer expenses.
Below is a photograph of Queen Victoria not long after she died – viewer discretion is advised if you find this kind of image distasteful.