Education: A Victorian Melodrama


A Victorian Melodrama

Edward, Prince of Wales taken by Oliver Sarony    Queen Victoria  Lord Londesborough by Oliver Sarony


The recovery of Edward, Prince of Wales, from typhoid fever which he caught in Scarborough, is commemorated in a unique way in St. Martin’s Church.  Firstly, this is what happened:

The Prince of Wales together with his Marlborough House set (those who gathered around the Prince of Wales and indulged in the Prince’s fondness for gambling, the turf and the demi monde of London and Paris after dark) were invited to Londesborough Lodge in Scarborough in November 1871 for a hunting party in the company of William Denison, 1st Lord Londesborough. Somewhat unusually for the philandering Prince, he was accompanied by his wife Alexandra, Princess of Wales.

Londesborough Lodge was a relatively cramped house built high up a valley side with what transpired to be a fetid drainage system. The Princess of Wales, then the Prince himself, complained of feeling unwell and returned to their Norfolk estate at Sandringham where the Prince was diagnosed with typhoid fever. Typhoid had claimed the life of his father Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, almost a decade to the day of the Prince of Wales’s near-fatal illness.

Such was the seriousness that Queen Victoria was summoned from Osborne House to hold vigil at his bedside with a distraught Princess Alexandra. The Prince of Wales recovered after evading the Grim Reaper by a whisker.
Victoria, at Balmoral at the time Bertie began showing signs of the illness, sent her trusted personal physician Sir William Jenner to care for Bertie at his home at Sandringham.  

Coincidentally, Victoria herself was recovering from a rather long bout of ill health following both a fall and an abscess removed from her arm earlier in the year.  Shortly before her health deteriorated, Victoria’s children had signed a letter written by Vicky that urged their mother to pay more attention to her royal duties in the face of growing republicanism within the country.  In short, 1871 had been a year in which Victoria’s extreme seclusion and depression had finally begun to catch up with her. 
Over the following weeks, Bertie’s medical team monitored his symptoms with growing concern.  In the meantime, two other members of Lord Londesborough’s hunting party, Lord Chesterfield and William Blegge (Chesterfield’s groom), died from typhoid, likely the same strain from which Bertie was suffering. 

Victoria first travelled to Sandringham on November 29, alerting the press to the severity of Bertie’s condition.  Friends and family were summoned to visit Bertie during what was feared to be the final days of his life. Bertie’s illness continued through the month of December.  He suffered from bouts of delirium, dangerously high fevers, and severe muscle pain and spasms.  That Bertie was faring quite badly on December 14, the same day and from possibly the same disease that had taken his father eleven years earlier was a coincidence that certainly did not escape Victoria.  Her journal entries from late November through the end of December recall Albert’s final illness multiple times. 

However, a note Victoria made on December 14 shows that she was beginning to exhibit the first signs of emerging from her decade-long obsession with grief over Albert’s death.  Victoria had bounced between Sandringham and Windsor Castle several times during Bertie’s illness.  On December 14 she happened to be at Sandringham with Bertie instead of marking the day by Albert’s deathbed at Windsor.


Victoria seems surprised that instead of mourning more death, the family was celebrating what seemed to be an improvement in Bertie’s health. Victoria echoed this somewhat unusual concern for the well-being of another during her traditional time of extreme mourning.  She minimized the importance of her own grief at the loss of Albert in favour of expressing her thanks for Bertie’s survival.  In addition, Victoria, who usually felt no qualms about dressing down her children for any perceived slight, seemed to show concern only for Bertie. 

For the first time in over a decade, Victoria was beginning to live in the present.

At the first signs of Bertie’s recovery, Victoria began talks with Gladstone, her prime minister, to plan some sort of celebration to mark her son’s recovery.  Victoria commissioned a service to be delivered on January 21 1872 in all of the churches in England and Wales.  The program included prayers of Thanksgiving for Bertie’s continued recovery from what was really the brink of death. 

A larger celebration was planned at St. Paul’s for February 27 in which Victoria and the family attended a larger service celebrating Bertie’s restored health.    Ecstatic to finally see their Queen in public, Londoners (left) gave a warm welcome to the family, erecting a triumphal arch near the cathedral and decorating every inch of the procession with flags and banners.

Although Victoria did remain in mourning for Albert until her own death, she gradually continued to give more of herself to her family and her official duties in the years following Bertie’s illness.  The republican movement that had been gaining popularity a few months before was now all but dead thanks to the wave of national celebration over Bertie’s survival. 

As for Bertie, after some initial interest on the part of Victoria and her administration to give him some sort of official role, he soon returned to his partying ways after no role was created for him.  He did find some renewed happiness with his wife, Alexandra, following his illness after the two had been growing apart. Like Albert years before, a grave illness brought immense change to Victoria, her life, and her family.

Queen Victoria, however, blamed Scarborough for the scare, and never had a good word to say about the town again!

You might imagine how relieved the population of Scarborough was that the Prince recovered. Miss Mary Craven was no exception, and she decided to give thanks to God for the Prince's recovery by installing more stained glass windows into her favourite church!

Altogether she had three stained glass window put in to replace the original plain glass, two on the South Aisle (The Peter, Paul and Stephen (martyrs) window and the Dorothea and Theophilus window next to it), and one on the North Aisle depicting Moses, Melchizedek and Aaron.

The Windows