Britain was plunged into mourning following the death of Queen Victoria, at the age of 81, in January 1901. Her body lay in state for eight days in the dining room of Osborne House, her home on the Isle of Wight. Then the body of Britain’s then longest-reigning monarch was escorted to the mainland by a fleet of warships.
It was the end of an era that had seen Britain cover the globe in great swathes of imperial red. Awe-inspiring advances in engineering and science had taken place during Victoria’s 63-year reign that had also kept the peace between Britain and the young pretender, Germany.
It was no secret that the soon-to-be Edward VII didn’t get on with his near-relative, and Victoria’s grandson, the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. So it was with good reason that the nation looked to the new century with some trepidation. Just 13 years later, the First World War exploded across Europe.
The British had also forgotten how to mourn on so grand a scale. The last great state funeral procession had been for the Duke of Wellington back in 1852. But on a sleet-ridden 2 February 1901, Queen Victoria’s coffin, draped in white satin, wound its way from London to Windsor on the back of a gun carriage, with all the pomp and ceremony due the passing of a great monarch.
The weather that day was miserable. And the fractious horses had to be unharnessed from the carriage and replaced with a team of sailors. Otherwise, the procession adhered to the Queen’s own instructions, so that, in the words of The Times’s correspondent, “those who had been her subjects might look upon the moving scene in common grief”.
The procession arrived at St George’s Chapel, and Victoria was laid to rest with her beloved late husband, Prince Albert, in Frogmore Mausoleum. So attached had they been in marriage that Albert is supposed to have once reassured her, “We don’t know in what state we shall meet again; but that we shall recognise each other and be together in eternity I am perfectly certain.”
Also on this day
After four years and four months marooned on a desert island, Alexander Selkirk – the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe – was rescued on this day in 1709. Read more here.