by Claudia Willetts
The Queen’s great grandmother, Queen Alexandra, was born in 1844, daughter of a poor and relatively obscure prince, who later became King Christian IX of Denmark. According to Georgina Battiscombe in Queen Alexandra, Princess Alexandra had a happy, unsophisticated upbringing, even sewing her own dresses and bonnets.
Denmark at that time was so small that everybody had unhindered access to the sovereign, and so, when a gawky country youth Hans Andersen found himself penniless in Copenhagen, he appealed to the King, who made the necessary arrangements for his education. The story of a young girl, brought up in seclusion and poverty, wooed by the most exciting young man in the world, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales was just the sort of fairy tale that might have been imagined by the folklorist Hans Christian Andersen, remarks Mrs Battiscome.
For the course of the romantic process, we turn to the memoirs of the wife of a British diplomat, Embassies of Other Days and Further Recollections, by Walburga, Lady Paget. On one occasion, she and her husband were asked to Windsor for dinner, where Lady Paget sat next to the Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria. Lady Paget introduced the subject of the Prince of Wale’s marriage, and told him that she had often seen Princess Alexandra, and thought her the most charming, pretty and delightful young princess. The Prince Consort repeated this to the Queen, who asked for a photograph, and more information. Matters took their course, when the Prince of Wales approved of the Princess’s photograph, and the Queen approved for the most part of her family and character. Though Lady Paget writes of difficulties beginning to endanger the whole project, and “some of the persons I had to deal with did not possess quite easy dispositions”, it went forward, with the wedding taking place fifteen months after the untimely death of the Prince Consort, who had approved the choice.
The arrival of the Princess in England for the wedding in 1863, was a never-to-be-forgotten occasion. David Duff tells us in Alexandra: Princess and Queen, that this day proved to be one of the most extraordinary days in the long history of London, with the crowds viewing the royal procession being seldom rivalled. The author attributes this to the recent increase in the railway network, the lack of royal occasions in past years, and the new process of photography, which had made it possible for pictures of the Princess to be sold in shops prior to the arrival. The City of London spent 40,000 pounds on decorations and illuminations, and the result was a tumultuous reception for the bride.
Years passed and the fiftieth anniversary of the Princess’s arrival in London and her wedding to the late King Edward VII came. David Duff tells us that the Dowager Queen’s army of admirers insisted that the day of her arrival should be celebrated in a special way. A processional drive through the streets of London seemed an obvious choice, but Alexandra wanted an occasion that would help the sick and needy. She developed an idea which would benefit the funds of London hospitals through the sale of artificial wild roses, which were to be made by the disabled. The day was to be called Alexandra Rose Day, and the initial drive swept Londoners off their feet. The funds raised were a godsend to hospitals, and the annual drive became an institution, one of the chief attractions of London’s summer, with Alexandra the star. By 1920 three-quarters of a million pounds for London hospitals had been raised. Queen Alexandra’s last Rose Day was 1923, the sixtieth anniversary of her arrival in England. She died two years later, in 1925.