It would not be until her daughter became a mother of her own, that Victoria found herself welcomed back into the family. When Sir John Conroy died in 1854, Victoria wrote to her daughter, “He has been of great use to me, but unfortunately has also done great harm.” In May 1859, Victoria fell ill. Her daughter wrote to King Leopold, “Albert, who writes to you, will tell you how dreadfully our great, great happiness to have dearest Vicky, flourishing and so well and gay with us, was on Monday and a good deal too yesterday, clouded over and spoilt by the dreadful anxiety we were in about dearest Mamma. Thank God! Today I feel another being – for we know she is ‘in a satisfactory state’ and improving in every respect, but I am thoroughly shaken and upset by this awful shock; for it came on so suddenly – that it came like a thunderbolt upon us, and I think I never suffered as I did those four dreadful hours till we heard she was better! I hardly myself knew how I loved her, or how my whole existence seems bound up with her – till I saw looming in the distance the fearful possibility of what I will not mention.”
That fearful possibility came true not much later. After months of ill-health, Victoria – Duchess of Kent – died on 16 March 1861. Her daughter sat by her bedside on a footstool holding her mother’s hand when she realised that she had stopped breathing. Albert took his wife into the next room and a devastated Queen Victoria wrote to her uncle, King Leopold, “On this, the most dreadful day of my life, does your poor heartbroken child write one line of love and devotion. She is gone!” She cried for weeks and deeply regretted their estrangement.
After the funeral, Queen Victoria wrote, “On Sunday I took leave of those dearly beloved remains – a dreadful moment; I had never been near a coffin before, but dreadful and heart rendering as it was, it was so beautifully arranged that it would have pleased her, and most probably she looked down and blessed us – as we poor sorrowing mortals knelt around, overwhelmed with grief! It was covered with wreaths, and the carpet strewed with sweet, white flowers. I and our daughters did not go yesterday – it would have been far too much for me – and Albert when he returned, with tearful eyes, told me it was well I did not go – so affecting had been the sight – so universal the sympathy.
But oh, dearest Uncle – the loss – the truth of it – which I cannot, do not realise even when I go (as I do daily) to Frogmore – the blank becomes daily worse! I try to be, and very often am, quite resigned – but dearest Uncle, this is a life sorrow. On all festive or mournful occasions, on all family events, her love and sympathy will be so fearfully wanting. Then again, except Albert (who I very often don’t see but very little in the day), I have no human being except our children… and besides, a woman requires woman’s society and sympathy sometimes, as men do men’s. All this, beloved Uncle, will show you that, without dwelling constantly upon it, or moping or becoming morbid, though the blank and the loss to me, in my isolated position especially, is such a dreadful, and such an irreparable one, the worst trials are yet to come. My poor birthday, I can hardly think of it!”
On 30 March, she wrote, “I think you may like to hear from your poor motherless child. It is to-day a fortnight already, and it seems but yesterday – all is done before me, and at the same all, all seems quite impossible… Weeping, which day after day is my welcome friend, is my greatest relief… To open her drawers and presses, and to look at all her dear jewels and trinkets in order to identify everything, is like a sacrilege, and I feel as if my heart was being asunder!”
Ten days later she wrote in her journal, “It is dreadful, dreadful to think we shall never see that dear kind living face again, never hear that dear voice again! The talking of ordinary things is quite unbearable to me… The outbursts of grief are fearful and at times, unbearable… One of my great comforts is to go to Frogmore, to sit in her dear room… dread as it is to feel the awful stillness of the house… I had never been near a coffin before… The dreadful thing as I told Albert yesterday is the certainty that the loss is irrevocable.”
Shortly before what would have been the Duchess of Kent’s 75th birthday, Queen Victoria wrote to King Leopold, “On the 17th we shall visit that dear grave! Last year she was still so well, and so full of life; but it was a very sad birthday, two days after the loss that dear beloved sister, whom she has joined so soon! Beloved Mamma, how hourly she is on my mind!”
Queen Victoria had sometimes doubted her mother’s affection for her, especially during her youth and the early days of her reign, but the reconciliation had brought them closer again, and she had even come to need a mother’s love and companionship.1