Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - A Looker-On in London, by Mary H. Krout, 1899 - Chapter 16 - The Death of the Prince of Battenberg

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CHAPTER XVI

THE DEATH OF THE PRINCE OF BATTENBERG

(1896)

    IN November 1895, it became necessary to dispatch an expedition under Sir Francis Scott to the Gold coast to quell permanently disorders which had prevailed in Ashantee for more than twenty years. King Prempeh, a cruel and superstitious savage, in spite of the protest of the British and other authorities, continued to make raids upon neighboring tribes, carrying into captivity, or as victims for sacrifice, natives who desired peace, who wished to work and whose labor was necessary in the development of the rich tracts which were being opened up by the Gold Coast Company.
    This colony, in establishing peace and by promoting prosperity, had protected the lives of defenseless tribes and had added incalculably to the wealth and security of the people themselves. The main reasons for the expedition have been thus briefly summed up by Major R. S. S. Baden-Powell, 13th Hussars, commanding the Native levy:
    "To put an end to human sacrifice. To put a stop to slave trading and raiding.
    "To secure peace and security for the neighboring tribes.
    "To settle the country and protect the development of trade.
    "To get up the balance of the war indemnity.
    In a treaty negotiated in 1874, the King had promised [-164-] to discontinue the sacrifices but, as Major Baden-Powell has stated, notwithstanding this treaty the cruel custom continued "at the rate of some 3,000 per annum." A promise had also been made to keep the high-road open from Kumasi to Cape Coast Castle, for the benefit of trade carried on with the natives beyond the forests in the Hinterland. "The road," says Major Baden-Powell, "was allowed to become overgrown again with the rank, thick jungle of the bush and the slight foot track to which it dwindled was used by a few small bands of rubber dealers, but these traded at great risk and for small returns, owing to the heavy dues and peremptory punishment imposed by the Ashantees on traders passing through their country."
    An indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold had been demanded by Sir Garnet Wolseley, who commanded the expedition which it became necessary to send out in 1872 to quell the difficulties between the Fantis and Ashantees, in which the British of the colony became involved and in which a number of Europeans had been captured and detained as prisoners. This indemnity had not been paid and in the interval 2,000 men of a neighboring tribe had been seized and beheaded.
    The expedition left England November 8th on the "Coromandel" reaching Cape Coast Castle, December 13.
    Among the first to volunteer was Prince Henry of Battenberg and Prince Alexander of Teck. From the moment he announced his intention of joining the expedition, Prince Henry was condemned by the Radical press in the most outrageous manner; he was charged with intruding himself into affairs where his presence was undesired and would prove inconvenient and embarrassing, and where, through his alliance with the Royal family, he would be given precedence, standing between officers who had seen long and honorable service and who had bravely and faithfully won promotion. None of these charges were [-165-] verified and would not have been, even had the unfortunate Prince survived the campaign. After landing at Cape Coast Castle he accompanied the advance body of Sir Thomas Scott's troops in the march upon Kumasi, through regions abounding in swamps and infected with deadly malaria. He was almost immediately seized with fever of a virulent type and was sent back to the coast accompanied by Surgeon Captain Hilliard, with whom he embarked upon the "Blonde," to return to England. The Prince after an apparent rally grew worse and died on Monday evening, January 20. The ship put back to Sierra Leone, where the sad news was telegraphed to England, and then proceeded on her way to Madeira where the body was embalmed, and continuing the voyage, the vessel reached Plymouth early in February.
    When the full particulars ·were ascertained it was learned that, instead of asking or expecting special consideration, Prince Henry had uncomplainingly borne his share of hardships, and refused as long as possible to admit that his condition was serious, and only consented to be sent to the rear when he perceived that, in his critical condition, he had become a source of anxiety to his comrades. As the fever developed the Queen and the Princess Beatrice were informed by frequent telegrams as to his condition, but no especial alarm was felt. Suddenly at noon on the 20th of January, it was learned that the fever had proved fatal, and that the body would be brought home for burial at once.
    The telegrams had been received in London too late for the morning papers, and I was driving along Pimlico road with an English friend when we caught sight of the bulletins at the news stands which announced simply: "The death of the Prince of Battenberg." It was a great shock and the good woman seized my arm with a distressed exclamation and burst into tears, and more or less emotion [-166-] was shown by people everywhere, which it would be difficult for a foreigner to comprehend who knew nothing of the deep and sincere affection of the English people for the Queen and her family.
    By a very painful coincidence the newspaper which had been most unsparing in its censure of the Prince when he volunteered for service in West Africa, in its issue of that day continued the attack, and appearing simultaneously with the tidings of his death the public sense of propriety and decency was greatly outraged. When the illness of the Prince was first announced, the consequences of his possible death - a contingency that was regarded as extremely improbable - had been reviewed with unfeeling irritability. The sorrow of the Queen and the widowed Princess in such an event had been passed over; but the results of plunging the court into mourning at the beginning of the season, the interruption of social affairs and the consequent loss to tradesmen, were carefully pointed out.
    As a palliation of this indecent and ill-timed censure there was afterwards a disposition, even more offensive, in the direction of extravagant praise. 
    The sermons on the Sunday following commemorated the virtues with which Prince Henry had been abundantly endowed, and the Queen and the bereaved Princess were sympathetically remembered in the prayers of both Nonconformists and Churchmen. In his review of the life that had come to so untimely an end the Archdeacon of London truthfully said of the Prince: "Qne could hardly be without faults, but no breath of rumor had tarnished his good name among the people." The greatest defect with which he had been charged was a certain arrogance of manner which possibly may have been occasioned by his peculiar position at court, which no one seemed disposed to envy.
    For several days prior to the arrival of the "Blonde" [-167-] with the body, there was some uneasiness as to whether court mourning would be ordered and as to the duration of the period of public mourning. The law of precedence was appealed to, the archives were diligently searched, and it was discovered that, at the death of the Grand Duke of Hesse in 1892, the court had gone into mourning for one month and eleven days, but there was no public mourning. This, accordingly, was accepted as a precedent and public mourning was dispensed with, but as the dead Prince had been a member of the Queen's immediate family, the court went into mourning for thirty days, many quite outside of its exclusive circle following the royal example. On Tuesday the streets were filled with people clad in black, women in black gowns, bonnets and veils, men in black coats and trousers and displaying bands of crepe upon the sleeve. Loyal drapers filled their shop windows with black dress materials, gloves, ribbons and black-bordered handkerchiefs, mourning hats and bonnets. Flags were displayed at half-mast on public buildings and churches; invitations were cancelled and the theatres throughout the week were empty. It was learned that the Prince had requested to be buried at Whippingham in the Isle of Wight, rather than among the royal dead at Windsor, and preparations were made to carry out his wishes. Both the Queen and the Princess Beatrice were overwhelmed with grief, but both exercised that admirable self-control which is so conspicuous a trait in the Queen's character and which her children so largely inherit.
    Upon being embalmed, the body had been placed in a lead coffin, which was enclosed in an outer one of oak, procured in Madeira, and it had lain in state on the deck of the "Blonde" throughout the voyage home. At Plymouth the coffin was transferred to the cruiser "Blenheim" and conveyed to Osborne. 
    [-168-] While the obsequies were being conducted at Whippingham amidst the booming of cannon and the strains of military dirges, that held in Westminster Abbey by command of the Queen was scarcely less solemn and impressive. The church at Whippingham was so small that only the members of the royal family, attaches of the court and representatives of the various European sovereigns were present. The services at Westminster, therefore, were attended by the officials of the Queen's household, and that of the Prince of Wales, Lord Salisbury, the Ministry and the Diplomatic Corps, with a great concourse of the nobility, and of men and women distinguished in every profession and walk of life. A great number of carriages had collected in Dean's Yard, from which the occupants descended, passing through the arched doorway at the West Cloister, and each card of admission being presented and inspected by the policemen on duty. The entrance into the Abbey by way of the nave was the narrowest of doorways, a mere slit in the wall, through which two persons could scarcely walk side by side. As the long procession moved slowly and silently through the ancient cloister, a line of reporters from the London newspapers stood at one side rapidly jotting down names, and now and then quietly asking a question when some one of the throng was unknown to them.
    Just within the narrow doorway a visitor's book lay open upon a desk in which many paused a moment to inscribe their names. The Dean, in his robes of office, stood near the door, and shook hands, and exchanged greetings with those whom he knew. Within the Abbey itself the audience which filled the choir was quietly and quickly seated by the vergers in their black robes, to whom the cards were finally surrendered. The whole assemblage was in mourning. It had been announced that the doors would open at half past twelve, the general public being [-169-] admitted by the main entrance, and there was no discrimination between the general public and the distinguished company in the West Cloister; all alike waited the time announced before the doors were opened. At half past twelve, to the notes of Chopin's March Funèbre, the Abbey bell tolling solemnly, the procession of the clergy and the choir marched slowly to their stalls, the officiating clergy proceeding to the chance!. Each chorister in his white robes wore a knot of black ribbon at the throat, while the clergy were habited only in their black cassocks, which gave the procession a very somber appearance. The Bishops of Rochester, Lincoln, Manchester, Salisbury, Chichester, Newcastle, Truro, Litchfield, Hereford, Bath and Wells, Gloucester, Bristol and Worcester occupied places within the chance!. The opening sentences were sung by the choir, followed by Purcell's arrangement of the Thirty-ninth Psalm, composed for and rendered at the burial of Queen Mary. The lesson was then read by the Dean and was followed by Sullivan's anthem: "Brother, thou art gone before us," the words of which had been written for the service by H. H. Milman. A hymn, "Christ will gather in His Own," had been selected by the Princess Beatrice and was most touchingly and sympathetically rendered. At the conclusion of the an- them the great audience arrayed in black sank on its knees in an interval of silent prayer for the bereaved Queen and her daughter, and as they rose the choir sang the sentence beginning: "I heard a voice from heaven. The final prayers and the closing hymn were followed by the "Dead March in Saul," the notes of the great organ rising and swelling along the arches and aisles crowded with the dead of centuries. As the strains died away, the people standing with bowed heads, the choristers descended from their stalls and were followed by the clergy, passing out through the nave as they had entered. The representatives of the [-170-] Government and the ambassadors and the attaches then left their places, walking slowly between double lines of people, the general public, hundreds of whom had stood in the aisles throughout the service.
    It was the end of the brief drama in which the poor young Prince had played his part, and as we returned home through the crowded streets, his body had been consigned to its eternal rest in Whippingham church. He had died as he had lived, upright, steadfast, worthy of the confidence and affection which the Queen had felt for him, and which had been strengthened by the tragic circumstances of his sudden death in the full vigor of manhood.