|The Duchess of Kent, by Winterhalter, 1843.|
The young Queen had not had a happy childhood, a lonely only child, living under the repressive atmosphere of a household led by her mother's ambitious and domineering comptroller, Sir John Conroy. Rumored by some to be the Duchess' lover, Conroy tried at every turn to gain influence over the child who, shrewdly for her years, frankly loathed him. She was under the influence, though, of her governess, Baroness Lehzen, who opposed both the Duchess and her adviser. The main result of this long domestic struggle was that the princess became increasingly estranged from her mother. And from her accession, Victoria did everything she could to keep her mother at a distance. It was only after her marriage, with the influence of Prince Albert - the Duchess' nephew as well as son-in-law - that Baroness Lehzen was finally dismissed, Conroy retired or was dismissed, and a rapprochement was established between the Duchess and her daughter. The two became very close, she appears to have been an attentive grandmother, and the Queen was devastated when her "dear mama" died at the age of seventy-four.
|The Duchess of Kent, painted by Winterhalter in the year of her death, 1861.|
Clarence House was built between 1825 and 1827 to a design by John Nash. It is attached to St. James's Palace, sharing its garden, and was commissioned by the Duke of Clarence - the Duchess of Kent's brother-in-law - who would soon become King William IV. It passed to his sister Princess Augusta Sophia and, following her death in 1840, to the Duchess of Kent. In 1866, it became the home of Queen Victoria's second son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh - later Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha - until his death in 1900. His younger brother Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, Queen Victoria's third son, used the house from 1900 until his death in 1942. Much altered over time, the building also suffered bomb damage during World War II, and after the death of the Duke of Connaught, was used by the Red Cross and the St. John Ambulance Brigade as their headquarters during the remainder of the war. After their marriage in 1947, the future Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh made Clarence House their home. In 1953, after the death of King George VI, the Queen Mother and her younger daughter, Princess Margaret, took up residence; the Queen Mother would live there until her death in 2002. It is now the official residence of Charles, Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
|Clarence House, as it was in 1851; the building was subsequently much altered and enlarged.|
|The Duchess of Kent's bedroom. The paintings on the walls are mostly family portraits: Lieningens, Hohenlohe-Langenburgs, etc.|
The Duchess died the same year these interiors were painted. It's possible, considering the relative lack of ornamentation and fashionable clutter - some of the tabletops are completely bare - that they were painted after her death, as a memorial record.