Leopold and Queen Victoria kept up a regular correspondence throughout their lives, and their letters show their affection and respect for each other. Leopold’s reveal his character in the most amiable light. He was her trusted confidant and advisor in both political and personal matters, and Victoria confided in him unreservedly. He familiarised her with the complicated details of foreign politics, warned and encouraged her and answered her enquiries with the minutest care.
A letter by Queen Victoria to Leopold, written on the conclusion of a visit of Leopold to England.
WINDSOR CASTLE, 19th September 1837.
MY DEAREST, MOST BELOVED UNCLE,
One line to express to you, imperfectly, my thanks for all your very great kindness to me, and my great, great grief at your departure! God knows how sad, how forlorn, I feel! How I shall miss you, my dearest, dear Uncle! every, every where! How I shall miss your conversation! How I shall miss your protection out riding! Oh! I feel very, very sad, and cannot speak of you both without crying!
Farewell, my beloved Uncle and father! may Heaven bless and protect you; and do not forget your most affectionate, devoted, and attached
Niece and Child,
King Leopold paid several visits to England and Queen Victoria visited Belgium in September 1843. The Belgian newspapers were full of her visit. Charlotte, then in her second year in the Pensionnat, saw the Queen passing along the Rue Royale on her way to the Palace, which was only a stone’s throw from the school.
The Queen, accompanied by Prince Albert, landed at Ostend on Friday, 15 September, and from the outset her visit was a source of good humour and amusement to all concerned. It included all the principal towns of Belgium, and everywhere she went she was greeted by illuminations and fireworks by night and parades and concerts by day.
On Monday, 18 September, her arrival in Brussels was fixed for one o’clock in the afternoon. To ensure a good turn-out for her the burgomaster had put out a proclamation which Charlotte and everyone else in town would have seen posted on the public buildings. It read: ‘Fellow Citizens! I have the great pleasure of informing you that H.M. the Queen of England will visit the capital of Belgium where she will make her entry by the Porte de Cologne on Monday at 1 p.m. and will drive to the Palace by the Boulevard du Jardin and the Rue Royale.’
Flagpoles decorated with flowers were set up along the route. It was at the point nearest the Pensionnat, in the Rue Royale, that Charlotte saw the Queen. Answering Emily’s letter, who inquired her about it, she wrote on 1 October:
“…You ask about Queen Victoria‘s visit to Brussels. I saw her for an instant flashing through the Rue Royale in a carriage and six, surrounded by soldiers. She was laughing and talking very gaily. She looked a little stout, vivacious lady, very plainly dressed, not much dignity or pretension about her. The Belgians liked her very well on the whole. They said she enlivened the sombre court of King Leopold, which is usually as gloomy as a conventicle…”
The Queen was in an open carriage with Queen Louise of the Belgians beside her and King Leopold and Prince Albert with their backs to the horses. The royal party attended a concert in the Park that afternoon and in the evening drove into the city to see the illuminations, which the newspapers declared were the finest since the Independence celebrations of 1830. Queen Victoria sailed back to England form Antwerp on 20 September.
Charlotte, on 10th December the same year, again witnessed the presence of the King and Queen, when she attended a concert of the recently opened Salle de la Grande Harmonie. She gives an accurate account of this event in the following passage from Villette, where she portrays the King and Queen of Labassecour:
“….Till then, I had never set eyes on living king or queen; it may consequently be conjectured how I strained my powers of vision to take in these specimens of European royalty. By whomsoever majesty is beheld for the first time, there will always be experienced a vague surprise bordering on disappointment, that the same does not appear seated, en permanence, on a throne, bonneted with a crown, and furnished, as to the hand, with a sceptre. Looking out for a king and queen, and seeing only a middle-aged soldier and a rather young lady, I felt half cheated, half pleased.
Well do I recall that King – a man of fifty, a little bowed, a little grey: there was no face in all that assembly which resembled his. I had never read, never been told anything of his nature or his habits; and at first the strong hieroglyphics graven as with iron stylet on his brow, round his eyes, beside his mouth, puzzled and baffled instinct. Ere long, however, if I did not know, at least I felt, the meaning of those characters written without hand. There sat a silent sufferer – a nervous, melancholy man. Those eyes had looked on the visits of a certain ghost – had long waited the comings and goings of that strangest spectre, Hypochondria. Perhaps he saw her now on that stage, over against him, amidst all that brilliant throng. Hypochondria has that wont, to rise in the midst of thousands – dark as Doom, pale as Malady, and well-nigh strong as Death. Her comrade and victim thinks to be happy one moment – ‘Not so,’ says she; ‘I come’. And she freezes the blood in his heart, and beclouds the light in his eye.
Some might say it was the foreign crown pressing the King’s brows which bent them to that peculiar and painful fold; some might quote the effects of early bereavement. Something there might be of both these; but these as embittered by that darkest foe of humanity – constitutional melancholy. The Queen, his wife, knew this: it seemed to me, the reflection of her husband’s grief lay, a subduing shadow, on her own benignant face. A mild, thoughtful, graceful woman that princess seemed; not beautiful, not at all like the women of solid charms and marble feelings described a page or two since. Hers was a somewhat slender shape; her features, though distinguished enough, were too suggestive of reigning dynasties and royal lines to give unqualified pleasure. The expression clothing that profile was agreeable in the present instance; but you could not avoid connecting it with remembered effigies, where similar lines appeared, under phase ignoble; feeble, or sensual, or cunning, as the case might be. The. Queen’s eye, however, was her own; and pity, goodness, sweet sympathy, blessed it with divinest light. She moved no sovereign, but a lady – kind, loving, elegant. Her little son, the Prince of Labassecour, a young Duc de Dindonneau, accompanied her: he leaned on his mother’s knee; and, ever and anon, in the course of that evening, I saw her observant of the monarch at her side, conscious of his beclouded abstraction, and desirous to rouse him from it by drawing his attention to their son. She often bent her head to listen to the boy’s remarks, and would then smilingly repeat them to his sire. The moody King started, listened, smiled, but invariably relapsed as soon as his good angel ceased speaking. Full mournful and significant was that spectacle! Not the less so because, both for the aristocracy and the honest bourgeoisie of Labassecour, its peculiarity seemed to be wholly invisible: I could not discover that one soul present was either struck or touched.”