Queen Victoria’s Visit to France in 1843

Queen Victoria’s visit to see the King of the French at the Château d’Eu in Normandy on 2 September 1843 made headline news. She was the first British monarch to visit a French monarch since Henry VIII of England visited Francis I of France on the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. Queen Victoria’s visit was also a symbolic gesture of friendship and remarkable because only three years earlier, Great Britain and France had been on the brink of war with each other.

Queen Victoria's visit 1843 to the French

Queen Victoria in 1843. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The historic visit occurred because of the appointment of a new government that resulted in François Guizot (a French historian, orator, and statesman) being declared Foreign Secretary on 29 October 1840. He got along well with Lord Aberdeen (George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen, styled Lord Haddo), the foreign secretary to Sir Robert Peel. Guizot’s appointment was viewed as a sign of reconciliation and so relations between France and Great Britain quickly improved and resulted in the Queen Victoria’s visit in 1843.

Queen Victoria's visit - François Guizot

François Guizot. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Because of the significance of the Queen Victoria’s visit, there was a lot of newspaper coverage. For instance, the Northampton Mercury reported that at 8am on 2 September the guns of the small fort at Treport, a coastal port in the Seine-Maritime department in Normandy, France, were fired announcing that the English squadron was in sight. In a moment the whole town was bustling in great confusion. They had not expected Queen Victoria and her cortége so early in the day:

“The drums beat to arms, the National Guards turned out, the whole of the officials appeared en grande costume, the King’s carriages, to the number of about a dozen, were prepared and brought into the court-yard of the chateau, and, in short, everything was prepared to do honour to her Majesty of England on her arrival in France; but, after all was got ready, and the troops had been stationed along the road leading to Treport, a rumour went abroad that there had been some mistake, and after a short interval the truth came out that the commandent of artillery at Treport had mistaken a small steamer, which happened to pass, for the cortége of the Queen of England.”[1]  

Discovering that it was not the Queen, everyone was unsure what was happening until word from the English steamer Ariel reached the French King around 10am. The dispatch stated that Queen Victoria and her suite would not arrive until later in the afternoon. Immediately afterwards, a French steamer named the Napoleon, in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte, was sent out to meet the English squadron. Then around 2pm, another French steamer, the Archimedes, arrived from Cherbourg, bringing word that Louis Philippe I should expect Queen Victoria around 5pm.

Preparatory to the Queen’s arrival, the King, Louis Philippe I, who was the son of the Duke of Orléans (later Philippe Égalité) and Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon, and also nephew to the Princesse de Lamballe, ordered the royal carriages readied. In addition, some curious Frenchmen began to accumulate at the Treport dock and watch as the King’s troops fell in line to prepare to greet the English Queen. The jetty was also cleared for some distance and those responsible for Louis Philippe I’s barge, which was “handsomely arranged” having a crimson silk awning and white muslin curtains, took their respective places. Furthermore:

“Under the awning was fitted up a horseshoe shaped seat, capable of containing about a dozen persons, the whole covered with crimson velvet. near the barge were placed to other boats, handsome of their kind, but far inferior to that designed for the King. Over the deck of the Reine des Belges, which was moored along the quay; was formed a temporary passage to the state barge. A ladder, of which the steps were covered with crimson velvet led down to the passage, and by this it was intended that Queen Victoria should land. Evergreens were disposed with taste on each side of the head of the steps on the side of the quay.”[2]

Queen Victoria's visit - King Louis Philippe I

King Louis Philippe I in 1841. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

At precisely 5pm three large cannons boomed to announce the departure of the King and his royal party from the chateau. Locals then rushed to the docks to obtain a good spot and newspapers reported that the jetty and quays were quickly filled with spectators hoping to see their royal visitor when she alighted. People were so excited about Queen Victoria’s visit to their homeland that it was also reported:

“In an exceedingly short time, every height and vantage ground was occupied, and the spectacle from the quay was exceedingly picturesque, every window being occupied, the line of houses presented a mass of animated countenances, all wound up to the highest pitch of anxiety.”[3]

About twenty minutes after his departure from the chateau, the King arrived to cries of “Vive le Roi!” He rode in a “large chariot” accompanied by the Queen of the French, the Queen of the Belgians, the Duchess of Orleans, Madame Adelaide, and the Princesses. The King’s son, François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville arrived on horseback with other officers and other carriages following, all being open chars-à-banc with four seats. The King’s carriage was pulled by eight fine horses and the other carriages had either six or four horses pulling, but all the horses were handsome bays known in England as Cleveland bays.

When King’s party alighted, he strode into the royal tent where the Royal Standard of France was raised at one end. After admiring the preparations, the King then proceeded to the royal barge, which was manned by fourteen rowers dressed in light color attire with crimson sashes tied at the waist. The Northampton Mercury reported:

“[W]alking as firmly as a man of forty, and giving directions for several changes which he desired, [the King] descended the steps leaning upon the arms of Lord Cowley and of Admiral Makau, the minister of marine, and accompanied by the Dukes d’Aumale and Montpensier, M. Guizot, and one or two others.”[4]

The King’s barge began heading towards the Albert and Victoria royal yacht that was fast approaching and when it reached her, the crowd responded with celebratory cries of happiness at Queen Victoria’s visit. The yacht then pulled alongside the King’s barge, and the King went on board where he met the Queen. She was decked out in a dark purple satin dress, a black mantilla trimmed with lace, and a straw bonnet with yellow ribbons and one long ostrich feather. Also standing with on the quarter deck was her husband Prince Albert. Of this historic meeting the Northampton Mercury reported:

“He [the King of the French] immediately welcomed the Queen in the most cordial terms, and embraced her. He then went up to Prince Albert, to whom he also gave a very warm reception, and shook heartily by both hands.”[5]

In the meantime, the Queen of the French, the Queen of the Belgians, and the others in the King’s party walked to the end of the jetty. There they witnessed the approaching steamer and saw their King greet Queen Victoria and her husband. Additionally, during this time, sporadic cannon fire rent the air while music played in the background. Once everyone boarded the royal barge, the Queen of the French and her party proceeded to the head of the landing stairway to await their arrival. In the meantime, as the Queen left her yacht, the royal standard of England was lowered and then hoisted, along with the French standard, over the King’s barge. In addition, celebratory gun fire continued during the whole time the party was on the water.

“By the time the barge had approached the landing place, the ladies of the Royal Family of France, and all their lords and ladies in waiting, had placed themselves round the top of the stairs, in a curved line, but in such a manner, however, as not to hide the interesting scene of meeting from the spectators. The Queen of the French stood two paces in advance of the brilliant line. This was, perhaps, the most interesting moment of the day. Each person, no mater of what degree or quality, stood mute, breathless, and sedulously observant — a fitting image of expectations. At length the royal barge touched the shore, and the King of the French, taking her Majesty of England by the hand, assisted her up the steps with the care and paternal gallantry of a French gentleman of olden times.”[6]

On land, crowds cheered enthusiastically especially when Queen Victoria set foot on land. The Queen of the French, who was said to be wearing a “Pekin grenat dress” and a white chip bonnet, took Queen Victoria by the hands and kissed her on both cheeks. During this time there were ongoing shouts of “Vive la Reine Victoria” and “Vive la Reine d’Angleterre.” This demonstration of joy continued until the royal party retired into the tent which had been prepared for them and they remained there for several minutes, during which time, the English Queen, although a little flushed, appeared in excellent health and spirits.

Queen Victoria's visit - Queen of the French

Queen of the French by Louis-Édouard Rioult. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The royal party then headed to the Chateau d’Eu amidst a new round of shouting and celebration by the crowd. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert entered the royal carriage, with Prince Albert sitting alongside the King and the two queens sitting opposite Queen Victoria. The remainder of the royal group then sat behind. All along the route Queen Victoria’s visit encouraged well-wishers to cry out with joy, “Vive le Roi,” “Vive la Reine Victoria,” and “Vive la Famille Royale.”

The chateau d’Eu had been decked out in celebration for Queen Victoria’s visit. Regiments and the National Guard were drawn up to receive her and the hall of the chateau was filled with dignitaries and guests. As the royal parties approached the French troops presented arms and as the carriages entered the courtyard, a tremendous cheer went up. Then “God Save the Queen” was struck up by the regimental band and continued to be played until the whole royal party had entered the chateau.

Queen Victoria's visit with her arriving at the chateau d'Eu

Queen Victoria’s visit as she arrived at the chateau d’Eu. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Immediately afterwards, Philippe Louis I, presented Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on the chateau’s balcony to those below. He then called for three cheers to be given to their visitors and the cheers that arose were said to be given with “unbounded enthusiasm.” The royal party then retired, the troops filed off, and a sumptuous banquet was held in honor of France’s English visitors.

Queen Victoria's visit - King Louis Philippe I with Queen Victoria on his arm

King Louis Philippe I with Queen Victoria on his arm. Courtesy of the British Museum.

Of the banquet that followed various newspaper reported that it was held in a richly decorated room that overlooked the garden terrace. About 40 people attended. The Queen sat on Louis Philippe I’s right and to his left was the Queen of the Belgians. The Queen of the French sat opposite her husband with Prince Albert on her right and the Duke d’Aumale to her left. Queen Victoria seemed to enjoy the dinner immensely and reportedly had a “most animated” conversation with the Prince of Joinville, while the French Queen and Prince Albert seemed to have a much more sedate conversation.

The Belfast Commercial Chronicle provided other details about the banquet stating:

“At the banquet her Majesty Queen Victoria was splendidly dressed in a costume (of crimson velvet) similar to that which she usually goes to the House of Peers; she also wore the ribbon of the Garter. She is much admired by the French, and has already secured, from her appearance and the affability of her manners, many friends among the gallant spectators who witnessed her arrival.”[7]

Over the course of the next few days, Queen Victoria’s visit included such activities as the Fête Champêtre held at the Mont d’Orleans in the center of the forest d’Eu. There was also a concert, a review of the cavalry, and a visit by the whole royal party to the old church of Eu. The French King had spent considerable sums on beautifying and repairing it because it was the ancient burial site of the family of Guise and of his maternal ancestors, the Counts of Eu.

Although it was enjoyable, the Queen Victoria’s visit was brief and ended when she and her party departed Treport about ten minutes past nine on Thursday morning 7 September. They arrived at Brighton later that same day after being spotted about a quarter past 3pm offshore. A royal salute was fired as the yacht approached and about a half hour later, it was docked off the pier, having accomplished “73 miles of the sea-way in little more than six hours.”[8]

As to the outcome of Queen Victoria’s visit, the Newcastle Journal reported it a success stating:

“Queen Victoria seems to have taken all hearts captive at the Chateau d’Eu. She seems to have imparted to all within the sphere of her presence something of that exceeding sweetness, of that graceful vivacity, and fascinating liveliness, for which she is so distinguished, as a woman and a Queen. The French, as the world willing owns, are a brave and gallant people, remarkable alike for politeness and a chivalrous devotion to the better part of creation; perhaps a little too prone to vaunt of their prowess — a little too fickle and changeful, but withal, a fine, courteous polished nation. To such a nation the kindness and compliment of the queen’s visit must have been peculiarly agreeable, and thought the unsympathizing and surly of the Paris journalists endeavoured to excite the jealousy of the people by misrepresenting the motives and objects of the royal meeting, finding they wanted no responsible echo in the public mind, and that even they failed to operate on the fears of the habitues of the Paris Cafes, they gave over the task as ungracious and hopeless, and in time fell in with the prevailing humour of the times. La Presse … relaxed the sternness of its brow, and smiled. The National … seems to have forgotten its apprehensions … for it too can treat of the Queen’s arrival on the French territory, and of the enthusiastic greeting that cheered and welcomed her. … In a word, the French press and people have generously allowed politeness and hospitality to get the better of groundless jealousies, absurd apprehensions and national antipathies, and surrounded her Britannic Majesty with those demonstrations of cordial greeting and glad welcome, that we know full well would await the King of the French in any part of Her Majesty’s dominions.”[9]

References:

  • [1] Northampton Mercury, “Queen Victorian in France,” September 9, 1843, p. 2.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Belfast Commercial Chronicle, “Her Majesty’s Visit to France,” September 9, 1843, p. 2.
  • [8] Northampton Mercury, p. 2.
  • [9] Newcastle Journal, “The Newcastle Journal,” September 9, 1843, p. 2.

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