By 1900, Queen Victoria had lost many of her loved ones and had survived three of her children and her beloved husband, Albert. The death of her second son, Prince Alfred, in July 1900 came as a shock to her. She wrote in her journal, “Oh, God! My poor darling Affie gone too. It is a horrible year, nothing but sadness & horrors of one kind & another.” She had begun to suffer from cataracts in her eyes and rheumatism in her legs. Nevertheless, she maintained the custom of going to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight at Christmas time.
On 24 December, one of the Queen’s companions, Baroness Churchill, had died in her sleep at Osborne House. Queen Victoria wrote, “She had died this morning early, in her sleep, & had just slept peacefully away. They had not dared to tell me for fear of giving me a shock, so had prepared me gradually for the terrible news. I naturally was much upset & very unhappy, as dear Jane was one of my most faithful & intimate friends. This has indeed been a terribly sad Christmas for us all!” On Christmas Day, she wrote, “Did not have a good night, was very restless, & every remedy that was tried failed in making me sleep. Then when I wished to get up, I fell asleep again, which was too provoking.”
On the first day of the new year, Queen Victoria wrote, “Another year begun, I am feeling so weak & unwell, that I enter upon it sadly.” The following night, she slept a little better and was annoyed with herself for sleeping longer. If she felt up to it, she went out on short drives in her carriage. Her final entry in her journal was on 13 January 1901. She wrote, “Had a fair night, but was a little wakeful. Got up earlier & had some milk. Lenchen came & read some papers. Out before 1, in the garden chair, Lenchen1 & Beatrice2 going with me. Rested a little, had some food, & took a short drive with Lenchen & Beatrice. Rested when I came in & at 5.30, went down to the drawing room, where a short service was held, it was a great comfort to me. Rested again afterwards, then did some signing & dictated to Lenchen.”
By the 16th, she was drowsy, confused and aphasic. Sir James Reid, her physician, was becoming quite concerned and believed that she might die within a few days. He wired Sir Richard Powell, another physician, asking him to come to Osborne House. Victoria began to have difficulty speaking. Sir Richard Powell arrived the following day, and he diagnosed cerebral degeneration. Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales was not with his mother, evidently not realising the seriousness of the situation. On the 18th, Victoria suffered a slight stroke. On 19 January, a first bulletin was issued by the doctors. “The Queen is suffering from great physical prostration accompanied by symptoms that cause anxiety.” That same day, her grandson Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany and her son Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn departed for England. The Emperor wrote to the British Ambassador in Berlin, “I have duly informed the Prince of Wales, begging him that no notice whatever is taken of me as Emperor and that I come as a grandson.” The Prince of Wales was now on his way as well with his sister Louise, the Duchess of Argyll.
The Prince of Wales and the Duke of York returned to London to receive the Emperor, and they reached Osborne House just before noon on the 21st. On 22 January 1901 at 8 a.m. a bulletin was issued from Osborne House. “The Queen this morning shows signs of diminishing strength, and her Majesty’s condition again assumed a more serious aspect.” The Victorian era was coming to an end.
The future King George V, then Duke of York, wrote, “We were all sent for to darling Grandmama’s room & we all thought the end was coming but she rallied in a wonderful way & became better, so we all left her. This is indeed a terribly anxious time. I sent for May (his wife who had remained in London) to come at once. Went for a short walk with papa.”
At midday, a second bulletin was issued. “There is no change for the worse in the Queen’s condition since this morning’s bulletin. Her Majesty recognised the several members of the Royal Family who are here. The Queen is now asleep.” A second bulletin at 4 p.m. read, “The Queen is slowly sinking.”
Her daughter Princess Helena wrote, “I shall never forget the look of radiance on her face at last when she opened her dear eyes quite wide & one felt & knew she saw beyond the Border Land & had seen & met all her loved ones.”
A final bulletin was issued at 6.45 p.m. It was pinned to the gate where a crowd was waiting. “Her Majesty the Queen breathed her last at 6.30 p.m., surrounded by her children and grandchildren.” Her eldest son was now King Edward VII.3