Cupola-Room

On Sunday, Princess Charlotte, daughter of Prince William and Princess Kate, was christened at Sandringham. So we thought we’d take a quick look at another christening that took place in London almost 200 years ago, that of Princess Victoria.

The future Queen Victoria was born on 24th May, 1819 – the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent (fourth son of King George III), and his wife, Princess Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

At the insistence of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), the christening was a small affair and was held a month after the birth on the afternoon of 24th June in the magnificent Cupola or Cube Room of Kensington Palace (pictured as it is now, above).

The guest list was small and included the Prince Regent, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, and his wife Princess Frederica, Princess Augusta Sophia, Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, and her husband, Prince William, and Prince Leopold, who had recently become a widower after the death of Princess Charlotte.

The ceremony was conducted by Charles Manners-Sutton, the archbishop of Canterbury, and, thanks to the intransigence of the Prince Regent, her name was apparently only decided at the last minute.

The Prince Regent has earlier forbidden the use of such ‘royal’ names including Charlotte, Elizabeth, Georgina or Augusta and when asked by the archbishop what she would be named, he replied brusquely that she would be named Alexandrina in honour of the Russian Tsar Alexander, one of the new princess’s godparents.

Her second name was Victoria in honour of her mother, and while Victoria was often called “Drina” while a girl, she herself apparently preferred her second name to her first.

The gold font used in the ceremony formed part of the Crown Jewels and its origins go back to the time of King Charles II.

Interestingly, there were a couple of significant Victorian connections during Princess Charlotte’s christening – the font used at this christening was known as the Lily Font (like its predecessor, it is usually found with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London).

It was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the christening of their first daughter, Princess Victoria, in 1841, apparently due to Queen Victoria’s dislike for the gold font used at her own christening – it had been used by King Charles II to christen his illegitimate children.

The Lily Font has apparently been used at every royal christening since except that of Princess Eugenie who had a public baptism in Sandringham in 1990.

Princess Charlotte also wore a replica of the christening gown worn by Princess Victoria.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest Tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (until 31st October); COST: £17.50 adult/£14.10 concession/children under 16 free (online booking discounts available, Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.

PICTURE: HRP/newsteam

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A white tiled plunge bath which once belonged to Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV), still lies in the south-west corner of Greenwich Park between the Rose Garden and Chesterfield Gate.

Princess Caroline, a cousin of the prince, married him in 1795 in an arrangement made so he could get out of debt. Theirs was never a marriage of love – the prince is said to have spread rumours that she was adulterous, had bad breath and never washed – and after Princess Caroline gave birth to a daughter, Princess Charlotte, the couple separated.

Two years later, in 1798, Princess Caroline was banished to live at Montague House near Greenwich Park while the prince dallied with his mistress Maria Fitzherbert. The princess, known for her scandalous and indiscreet behaviour during her residence at the house, used the sunken bath, which the stood inside a bathhouse partly attached to the main building.

The house was demolished in 1815 on the orders of the king (a decision apparently prompted by a fit of pique at the Queen’s lifestyle), a year after Princess Caroline left England for the Continent plagued by rumours that she’d mothered an illegitimate child (a secret commission into her behaviour cleared her of a charge of adultery but did find her behaviour to be improper).

The sunken bath, meanwhile, was filled in during the 1980s and served as a flowerbed until, in 2001, it was re-excavated by Royal Parks in a dig funded by the Friends of Greenwich Park, Greenwich Society, the Friends of Ranger’s House and donations from individuals.

WHERE: Princess Caroline’s Bath, south-west corner of Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 8pm (but beware, closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx

PICTURE: © Copyright Colin Smithwww.geograph.org.uk 

We’re nearing the end of our series on Wren’s London (next week we’ll take a final look at some of the Wren designs we’ve not yet mentioned), so this week we look at one of his lesser known (and less accessible) designs – Marlborough House.

Tucked away behind high brick walls next to St James’ Palace just off Pall Mall, Marlborough House was built for Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough – a confidant of Queen Anne – and completed in 1711.

The duchess, who secured a lease of the site from Queen Anne, selected Sir Christopher as the architect in preference to Sir John Vanbrugh, but she later fell out with Wren and, after dismissing him, oversaw the completion of the building herself. It is believed that the design of the house was actually the work of Wren’s son, also named Christopher, although the plans were undoubtedly drawn up under Wren senior’s watchful eye.

The house, built of red Dutch bricks brought to England as ballast in troop transports, was noted for its plain design. But the walls of the central salon and staircases were decorated with scenes of battles the Duke had fought in.

The property remained in the hands of the Dukes of Marlborough until it was acquired by the Crown in 1817. The building – which was substantially extended in the mid 1800s to the designs of Sir James Pennethorne – was subsequently used by members of the royal family including Princess Charlotte (only daughter of the future King George IV) and her husband Prince Leopold (later the King of the Belgians), Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), George, Prince of Wales (later George V), King Edward VII’s widow, Queen Alexandra, and, lastly, Queen Mary, widow of  George V.

Following the death of the Queen Dowager in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II donated it for use by the Commonwealth Secretariat who still occupy the building today.

WHERE: Pall Mall (nearest Tube stations are Green Park and Piccadilly); WHEN: Two hour tours are usually held every Tuesday morning (check first); WEBSITE: www.thecommonwealth.org/Internal/191086/34467/marlborough_house/