L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Clarence House under the Duchess of Kent, 1840-1861

The Duchess of Kent, by Winterhalter, 1843.
Victoria, Duchess of Kent, born Princess Marie Luise Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (17 August 1786, Coburg - 16 March 1861, Windsor), German princess and the mother of Queen Victoria. At seventeen she made a first marriage to Charles, Prince of Leiningen, by whom she had two children. He died in 1814, and four years later, in the scramble by the sons of George III to provide a legitimate heir to the British throne, she accepted a marriage proposal from Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn. Their only child, Princess Victoria, was born the next year, on 24 May 1819. The Duke died less than a year later, but his daughter would remain Great Britain's heiress presumptive and in 1837, at the age of eighteen, would become Queen Victoria. 

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 sitting-room. These four interiors were done by James Roberts (circa 1800- 1867) in 1861. The paintings on the left are,
first, a version of a portrait of Louise, Duchess of Saxe-Coburg with her two sons - the future Duke Ernst II and the Prince Consort - probably by
Louise Leopoldine von Meyern Hohenburg, and a Winterhalter portrait of Alexandrine, Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, wife of Duke Ernst II.
The large drawing-room. The paintings on the far wall are of King Leopold - the Duchess' brother - and Queen Louise of the Belgians, reduced
versions of full-length portraits by Winterhalter. On the other wall, a portrait of Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha - another brother of the
Duchess - by Dawe. This is flanked by copies of the first Winterhalter portraits of the Queen and Prince Albert.
The dining-room.
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.

1 comment:

  1. I always think it so funny to see how unpretentious Clarence house originally was -really a regular townhouse, not the palace it has become.