Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/England's welcome to the Dane

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


The Princess Alexandra of Denmark.
There has been a thrill of emotion in half the schools in the kingdom as the news has spread among them, that the Prince of Wales is going to be married to a Princess of Denmark. The school age is perhaps that in which there is the strongest interest about the Danes. The name brings up to the beginners in history the image of the Raven napping from the mast of the pirate ship,—flapping over our eastern shore,—flapping over the fen and the wood where the invaded people lay hid. The name brings up the picture of King Alfred wandering in the wilds, and letting cakes burn on a herdsman’s hearth. It brings up the story of King Canute seating himself on the edge of the tide, for moralising purposes, to shame his flatterers; and the other story of his rowing near the land in the Fens, that he might hear the evensong of the monks of Ely. It is through Canute that we seem to be connected with the Danes in friendship, rather than bound up with them as a conquered people with their conquerors. The schoolchild is full of hatred of the Danes, and contempt of the English, while the sea-rovers are pouncing down upon the eastern coast every two or three years, and burning and sacking the towns, and putting the terrified country people to flight; and the same child is almost as angry with the English for being so foolish as to buy off the Danes each time,—knowing very well that the higher they were paid the more they would come. Those awful associations, and the images of the obstinate worship of Thor and Odin, in spite of the Christian missionaries who risked their lives to convert the Danes, melt away when King Canute comes over the sea, and grows fond of England, and England grows fond and proud of him; and it seems natural, as the young student gets further on in the history of England, that there should have been a sense of affinity between the English and the Danes for a long course of centuries. Thus it may seem very natural that our Heir Apparent should marry the daughter of the future King of Denmark; but still the news will make many young eyes open wide, and many young hearts beat thick.

Can a daughter of the sea-rovers—one of the brood of the Danish Raven—be coming to be a future Queen of England? Yes: but she will not be the first Princess of Denmark who has come over to take a seat on a throne in our island.

It was thus that we became possessed of the Orkney and the Shetland Isles. These were the pledge of the dowry of Margaret, daughter of Christian I., who married James III. of Scotland, in 1469; and as the dowry was never paid, the islands came to us, with Scotland, on the death of Queen Elizabeth. At the same time we had a Queen from Denmark, the wife of James I., and the mother of Charles I., being the daughter of Frederick II. of Denmark. Our present race of sovereigns was also connected with the Danish throne by the marriage of the sister of George III. with Christian VII. of Denmark. It was this tie of kindred which aggravated the bitterness of our sufferings from the ambition of Napoleon, in the early part of this century. By the secret articles of the Treaty of Tilsit, the Danish fleet was delivered over to Napoleon, who meant to use it for the invasion of England. A confidential warning of this arrangement was given us from Portugal, under promise of secrecy. We had no choice but to seize that fleet; and yet we were unable to explain the reason: and thus we stood before the world, and especially before the people of Denmark, as wanton aggressors. The feelings of the royal house may be imagined; and the princes scarcely suffered more than their relative, George III. Mr. Jackson was sent over to Copenhagen as envoy, to demand the navy, while it was impossible to give any satisfactory explanation of the demand, so long as the secret must be kept. George III., on hearing from Mr. Jackson the details of the interview with his nephew, the Crown Prince, asked the odd question whether the interview took place in an upper story of the palace.

“No, your Majesty; it was in a ground-floor apartment,” replied the Envoy.

“That was lucky for you,” replied the King; “for if the Crown Prince had half my spirit, he would have kicked you down stairs.”

Denmark had long been sinking in the scale of nations; and this annihilation of her naval power looked like a death-blow. But the Scandinavian spirit is not easily broken; and it revived by the very excess of the humiliation when, seven years later, in 1814, Norway was wrested from Denmark, and given to Sweden,—a hated rival. As the only hope, the idea of Scandinavian union arose; and this ambition has sustained the spirit of all the three nations for half a century, and is in full vigour at this day. It is not necessary that Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, should be under one crown. It is enough that they should cherish a common pride of race, and draw together in vigilance against encroachment on the part of Russia and of Germany. In the last reign, there was an approach towards a grant of popular rights in Denmark; and the present king, Frederick VII., granted in 1848 a species of parliament, by which the country is better prepared than ever before for any action which may be necessary against the encroachments which the German Powers attempt from time to time.

This liability on the side of Germany is the ground on which some people cry out against the proposed marriage of our Prince. Others, who persist in the dread of Russia, which certainly need not trouble us much at present, object to the alliance on account of the chance of a Russian succession in Denmark. There is a satisfactory answer to both; and if the marriage had been a political scheme, instead of a natural love-affair between two amiable young people, it might have been considered a wise and good measure in a public sense.

I need not go into the story which most of us find rather tiresome, of the Holstein controversy. The leading points are enough;—that the German Powers want to interfere in Denmark on account of the German character of the Holstein people; that they endeavour to assume that the province of Schleswig is under the same conditions as Holstein, whereas Schleswig is a Danish province altogether, though a small proportion of the inhabitants speak German, and are German in their ways;—that Prussia and Austria have made one war of late years, for the annexation of Holstein to Germany; and that they are incessantly threatening to renew the attack, with an undisguised aim of dismembering the kingdom of Denmark; so that, at this moment, every Dane is aware that there is a great struggle ahead for the honour and integrity of his country, in which there would be little hope but for the countenance of other nations, and for the disunion which prevails among the German Powers. Prussia is now the Power which menaces; and the aggressive temper of Prussia towards Denmark threatens the peace of Europe almost as formidably as the Italian difficulty and the Eastern question.

At this very juncture, our Princess Royal, the Crown Princess of Prussia, is understood to have been the chief mover in bringing together her brother and the daughter of the future King of Denmark. To most people’s minds this is delightful. It shows that the private happiness of the young people is the first consideration: and, if we are to look at the matter in a political light, it certainly appears to reasonable people that the best chance of a pacific arrangement arises from the knitting of a family bond between the royal houses of Prussia and Denmark. It is impossible to help thinking that the next heir to the Prussian throne must be kindly disposed towards the Danish house, while desiring a marriage between that and the English royal family.

“O! but,” say the croakers, “this Danish princess is herself of a German family. The people of Denmark hate the Germans; and this marriage must therefore be disagreeable to them, as a direct countenance of German pretensions. They hate the existing settlement of the Crown; and they will believe that England is enlisted on the side of their enemies, if the proposed marriage takes place.” This croak brings us up to the other dismal view,—the dread of Russian relations with Denmark.

It has been a great misfortune to Denmark that there has been a repeated failure of male heirs to the throne. There was no male heir for a century after the death of Christopher III., in 1448; and for some time past there has again been difficulty and danger to the State from the same cause. It is not to be wondered at; for marriages of consanguinity have been far too common in the royal house of Denmark; and deterioration of the quality of families, and troubles about succession, are the proper consequences of such marriages. One of the best features of the proposed connection is, there being no relationship in the case; and where the choice is so restricted as that of royal children is by our Royal Marriage Act, and by state religion and policy all over Europe, it is a great blessing that our Prince will marry a Protestant princess out of a fresh family, who will bring new blood into our royal house. Denmark, meantime, is suffering from failure of male heirs. The reigning King is old, and long ago made a left-handed marriage. The Hereditary Prince is old, and has no heirs. When it was clear that none were to be expected, the chief Powers of Europe entered upon a consultation as to how the succession was to be arranged, so as to preclude civil and international strife when the two childless princes should die. The result was the Treaty of May 8th, 1852, by which it was agreed by England, France, Russia, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, and Norway, and Denmark, that succession by the female line was inadmissible, and that therefore the House of Glücksborg must succeed. This is the family which is cried out upon as German, and as standing between the Danish and the Russian throne. Next to the Glücksborg princes, we are told, stands the Czar; and then follows a dismal picture of the state of Europe in general, and England in particular, when the Czar shall have absorbed Denmark, and laid his grasp on the entrance to the Baltic. A very few words will disperse these ingenious fears. The Second Article of the Treaty provides for another consultation being held, and another settlement made, in case of any probability of a failure of male heirs in the Glücksborg line. Thus, all the great Powers of Europe stand between the Russian family and the throne of Denmark.

Glücksborg is in Schleswig: and those who choose to class Schleswig with Holstein, and to claim a German mode of government for it, choose also to consider its princes German. That house is allied with Hesse Cassel; but not only have Glücksborg wives come from Hesse, but Hessian spouses have come from Denmark. We consider our royal family English, though they have been abundantly connected with Germany, besides coming from thence within a century and a half. The Princess who is coming to us is rather less than more German than the Prince of Wales, whose father and grandmother were German. It would be enough to say that his wife becomes English by her marriage with the future King of England; but it is also true that she is Danish, by every qualification of Nature and of training.

There is always an alarm set up in some quarter or another about German influence; and nothing ever comes of it. For a whole generation there has been railing at the German party in Russia: there used to be dismal shakes of the head here about “a little German Prince,” when the Princess Charlotte was marrying; and about “a little German Princess,” when the Duchess of Kent was educating the Princess Victoria; and again about him who filled the post to which Prince Leopold was destined: we have heard evil bodings for Portugal, and even for France in the days of the Orleans rule, on account of their German matrimonial connections; yet each country is as much itself as it ever was. Each absorbs and transmutes the foreign element it takes up; and, in this way, the Prince of Wales is English, and his bride is Danish, not the less for the father of the one and the mother of the other having come from Saxe Coburg and Hesse Cassel. The Scandinavian connection will be peculiarly welcome to Englishmen, from the deep affinity which a thousand years have not extinguished. We should have hailed an amiable and sensible young lady from any Protestant country; but, if we had been offered the choice of her birthplace, it would doubtless have been one of the northern kingdoms, from which the maritime element of our national character, with all its perdurable virtues, was derived.

This being happily settled, we contemplate the young people in their first days of happiness, and with an anxious forecast into the future.

I need say nothing of the perils of the position of an Heir Apparent to such a throne. The snares in the path of Princes are an old and well-worn topic for moralists and true loyalists. It is enough to say that we are all willing to accept, without remonstrance, an earlier marriage for a young Prince, unattached to any profession, than we could pretend to approve in other cases. There are unquestionable evils in a very early marriage, but they may be the lesser of two orders of evils; and this is our conclusion now. A home, and a system of domestic interests, is of supreme importance to a young man who will one day be burdened with the toils and cares of sovereignty, but who has, in his prime years, nothing that it is necessary for him to do, and no engrossing taste which involves exercise and discipline of the intellect. Our Prince is of an affectionate and kindly temper,—no student,—and following no profession. The prime necessity for him therefore is a home of his own, with its special duties and its expanding interests. Under his peculiar circumstances, it is well that he is to have this resource so early.

It will be of inestimable value to him, and to the nation, if out of this home should come the influence which will place him under training for the great work of his life. Some of us feel that the year of mourning which is approaching its close would have been best sanctified by diligent work, rather than by the restless wandering which looks too much like a formed habit in the young Prince;—by an attendance on his mother, which might have already put him in training for the sort of assistance which his father afforded her under the constant burden of her duties. To learn from travel is good; but it can only be after a fixed study at home. Recreation by sport is good; but it is recreation only when it succeeds to toil. If the new friend who is henceforth to be always by his side should influence him to work,—to work at anything whatever with all his might;—especially if she supports in him the dutiful and natural desire to understand public questions, to discharge his legislative functions, and to relieve the Queen of whatever business can be committed to his hands,—such influence will endear the young wife to the existing generation, and will deserve the gratitude of all that are to come.

Influence of one sort or another, for good or for evil, she cannot but have and exercise. It will make an incalculable difference to this country, and probably to all Europe, whether it tends in the direction of industry, self-culture, filial service, and the public interest, or in that of light amusement, intellectual indolence, and a life of mere waiting for a function which is an honour and blessing, or the contrary, precisely according to the preparation or the neglect of preparation for it. At this moment, when we are all full of sympathy for our Prince, we can wish nothing better than that he should work as other men work, in order to enjoy as other men enjoy, the rest and comfort and unspeakable blessedness of home,—a blessedness which the man of pleasure and the rover never know.

Thus we look forward for him. As for her,—she will hear on all hands of the brilliancy of her lot; and very brilliant, indeed, it is. While dreaming over it, and preparing herself for it, as no doubt she is, she probably thinks that no young girl ever had such a prospect. In its way, this is nearly true. Considering the advance that England has made in a century, the lot of Queen Charlotte cannot be regarded as comparable in solid grandeur to that of a Queen Consort of England henceforth. As for poor Caroline of Brunswick,—she was not her Prince’s choice, but was appointed by his father, who was humbly obeyed by her own parents; and there was that about her Prince of Wales which excludes all comparison between the fate of the two wives. The Princess Alexandra is going to marry one who is not ashamed of domestic affections,—a man who is not only affectionate to his widowed mother, but makes friends of his sisters. In the middle ranks, we should say that the lot of one so betrothed is in her own hands.

And why not in the highest rank of all?

Far be it from any one of us to say that it may not be. But we have before our eyes the history of so many Princes of Wales that it would not be natural to be very confident. The more constitutional government has advanced, the stronger has been the jealousy between the possessor of the throne and its heir. As the sway of parties has become more pronounced and more regularly organised, the split of the royal family between these parties has become a sort of assumed liability,—fatal at once to good government and to family peace and honour. I need not dwell upon it; and I refer to it only to point out that the present period is favourable to the denial of this liability, and to the endeavours of the Princess of Wales, who shall have sense and spirit enough to refuse the discredit and discomfort of a state of alienation from the parental house and heart.

There is no clear division or visible organisation of political parties among us now. On some accounts it would be better if there were: but we have thus the advantage of fair play for the domestic relations of the royal family. There is now no political clique trying to get possession of the future king. We see no disposition to make a popular idol of the heir. We feel that there is no rival, even in men’s imaginations, to the actual sovereign;—no excuse for the slightest movement of jealousy in her, or for mortification and resentment in her son. It is impossible to say how much the Princess of Wales may not do towards either preserving or breaking up the family confidence on which the whole of the sovereign’s happiness, and much of that of the people, will henceforth depend. She may not be able to do everything; but she may do much, and she certainly might mar everything. Even if there were that tendency to jealousy which is common in the temper of rulers, mischief might be precluded by a frank family demeanour, by the encouragement to confidence between parent and son which a young wife can afford, and by the respectful and tender consideration of the Queen’s wishes and convenience which it is always held a grace in a daughter-in-law to manifest. From all that we have yet heard of the Princess Alexandra, we may anticipate that she will be an example of the high prudence of goodness. If so, she is likely to be an illustration,—unhappily but too new,—of the possibility that the lot of a Princess of Wales may be as happy as it is brilliant. May her life so grow before the eyes of the rising generation, and so stand in the picture-roll of History!

From the Mountain.