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Posts Tagged ‘Queen Victoria’

My husband, Tom Rogers, and I at our wedding banquet. 1986

My husband, Tom Rogers, and I smile for the camera at our wedding banquet at Green Pastures, Austin, Texas. 1986

Me 1988

I wasn’t thrilled when I learned I had to have a Caesarean section, especially in view of the fact that my doctor had not discovered my baby was breeched until I was already dilated nine centimeters and after he had already given me a spinal block. I was 33, somewhat of a late mother, maybe even a reluctant mother. I was a terrible chicken where childbirth was concerned. I had not rushed into having a child. The fear of having to have a Caesarean kept me back. Now my baby was trying to come out through my back and I had no choice but to submit to the knife.

Not only did I have to have a Caesarean that day in July 1988, but, because of the spinal block, the doctor would not give me any more anesthesia, so I had to go into the operating room wide awake. In a little freak-out, I made the doctor erect a tent over my abdomen so I could not see what he was doing in the surgery. I guess I didn’t want to see them cut me.

My husband was there. He sat on a stool beside me and, with characteristic keen intent, watched the whole thing. What I remember most is the way it felt to have those masked people putting their hands into my stomach and digging around. I felt like a giant purse that they were digging around in, looking for a cigarette or something that had drifted to the bottom among tobacco and gum wrappers and dust. After a while, they must have found what they were looking for, because, after endless tugging and pushing and clawing, they reached deep down and pulled out a little baby, my little baby, my baby girl. She had a shriveled face that looked just like my mother-in-law’s.

“Helen!” I exclaimed, calling out my mother-in-law’s name.

Katie Rogers at one month. 1988

Katie Rogers, born healthy, pictured at one month. 1988

If it had been 129 years earlier, in 1859, and not 1988, with modern medicine, there would not have been a Caesarean for me. My daughter Katie might have thrashed around inside of me until I bled to death and she suffocated.

“[A Caesarean] was long considered an extreme measure, performed only when the mother was already dead or considered to be beyond help. In Great Britain and Ireland, the mortality rate [in mothers] in 1865 was 85%.” (1)

Princess Vicky 1859

Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1819-1901) was sure that arranging marriages for her children and grandchildren in the royal houses of Europe would insure a lasting peace; after all, the countries would be tied by blood and relatives would never fight each other. Her first “power pairing” was the marriage of her eldest child, Victoria (“Vicky”), the Princess Royal, with Prince Frederick of Prussia, the cream of the German royal houses:

“As the royal couple departed London at the end of January [1858] during a heavy snowfall, the populace of that city still turned out onto the streets to cheer and chant, “God save the Prince and Bride! God keep their lands allied!”

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Twelve months later, Princess Vicky was in labor with her first child. Her mother had sent Scottish doctor Sir James Clark to Berlin to assist the German obstetrician Eduard Martin and, specifically, to administer to Vicky the “blessed chloroform,” the new miracle drug that the Queen had discovered and that had so eased the pain of her last two deliveries (children #8 and 9).

However, chloroform was not to be the solution for her daughter. For Vicky,

“The entire experience was ghastly….[D]espite the fact that she inhaled chloroform for hours on end, the birth was extremely painful….Dr. Martin had to work under her long flannel skirt so that royal decency prevailed.” (2)

The chloroform, “two-thirds of a bottle,” rendered Vicky insensible to help the doctors, who found themselves in a deadly position. The baby was coming out bottom first, in breech position, with its arms stretched over its head. The umbilical cord was being crushed by the head in the birth canal. The odds were stacked against a successful vaginal delivery: In that same year in Germany, 98% of breech births were stillborn. The doctors would not take a knife to a royal princess; besides, a Caesarean would have killed her. It would be another 40 years before that procedure would be performed in a clinic.

Dr. Martin reached into the birth canal and pulled the baby’s legs out. Then he reached deep inside to pull the left arm through and pull the body out by rotating it. The motion pulled the baby out but the “nerve complex in the neck was torn” and the baby suffered from fetal asphyxia. (3)

The baby lay motionless. The doctor’s report said that, “the baby was seemingly dead to a high degree.” Vicky was exhausted. It had been ten hours since her waters broke.

Then the baby cried.

“It’s alive and it’s a prince!” her mother-in-law wrote Queen Victoria.

The newborn boy was a royal prince and second in line to the Prussian throne. His name was Wilhelm, William in English, as he was half-English, half-German in blood.

Three days would pass before a nursemaid would mention that there was a mysterious crease between Wilhelm’s left shoulder and arm. The left arm was permanently paralyzed, caused by the pressure exerted on the shoulder during the delivery.

Treatment for Wilhelm

Vicky was devastated that her son, heir to the Prussian throne, should be handicapped. To be Prussian in 1859 was to be independent, manly, and warlike, not weak and crippled. Prussian men, like the statesman Otto von Bismarck, fought duels often with the intent to get slashed across the cheek (preferably the left one), get a clean-cut wound that gaped wide into a beautiful scar, rub salt into it to make it stand out, then boast how you got it.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

“The idea of his remaining a cripple haunts me,” Vicky wrote Queen Victoria regarding Wilhelm.

Vicky was determined to fix Wilhelm’s left arm, to make it work, to make him fit to be a king, in the Prussian way. Of course, she and the doctors didn’t know that his arm was permanently maimed and useless and that nothing could be done to change that. The nerves were so damaged that the muscles didn’t work. At adulthood, his left arm would be six inches shorter than his right and his hand smaller. His left arm locked stiff at the elbow. The condition is known as Erb’s Palsy.

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm's paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm’s paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

In Germany in 1859, there was a lot of alternative medical experimentation. When Wilhelm was six months old, his doctors began applying an odd poultice to his left arm. In his presence, they slaughtered a live hare (big rabbit) and tied the flesh of the dead animal, still warm, to the baby’s left arm, hoping that the vitality of the animal would transfer to Wilhelm. This they did twice a week for years.

Later, they discovered that Wilhelm’s head was tilting, so they created “Wilhelm’s Machine,” as his mother called it: a barbaric, head stretching device that consisted of a metal rod run up his back, attached at the waist by a belt with a harness that strapped across his head. At the back of his head was a screw they tightened to stretch the head up straight.

The "head stretching machine" was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm's torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

The “head stretching machine” was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm’s torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

They galvanized his left arm periodically with electric jolts. They cut muscles in his neck. They applied stretching machines to his arm.

They tied his good arm behind him to try to force the left one to work. Of course it didn’t.

His mother made him ride a pony a lot. He would fall off because he had a poor sense of balance, maybe due to the ear infections he had frequently, or because of brain damage at birth.

While his mother’s intent was to prepare Wilhelm to be fit for the throne, these barbaric and medieval procedures had only served to traumatize and depress Wilhelm.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

The camera had just been invented and photographs were the rage. The public wanted to see its future king. But Wilhelm’s disability was an embarrassment, something to hide. In photographs, props such as capes, swords, gloves, books, and guns were used to disguise the withered arm. Sometimes he held the left arm up with the right hand.

 Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved "Granny" (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved “Granny” (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

By the age of 12, Vicky stopped trying to find a cure.As Vicky had more children, she showered her love on her new children, rejecting her damaged son. He suffered deeply. He became filled with rage and prone to violent tantrums.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one coy remained.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one copy remained.

Wilhelm began to hate the English. His mother was English. An English doctor had crippled him. As he grew up, he would become more and more Prussianized. He would reject the liberal democratic principles favored by his parents and fall under the influence of his German tutor and Otto von Bismarck in favor of aggressive, autocratic rule finding power in military force.

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

In 1914, he would have his revenge on his mother and England because, by then, he would be the world leader, Kaiser (Emperor, King) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany (1859-1941), whose bellicose (bellicose: demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight) policies would help to bring about World War I.  Three royal cousins –  the leaders of Russia, England, and Germany – would be at terrible war with one another.

Queen Victoria, called “the Grandmother of Europe,” had not lived to see her matchmaking plan to unite Europe through royal marriages fall far afield of its mark. Tens of millions of people would die because of Kaiser Wilhelm and Europe would be devastated. Relatives, history has shown, do fight against one another.

(1) wiki: Caesarean Delivery

(2) Rohl, John. The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 .

(3) Rohl, John. Kaiser Wilhelm: A Concise Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

 

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Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

They first met at the 1884 wedding of his uncle to her sister. She called him Nicky; he called her “Alix” or “Sunny.”  Although Alix was only 12, she knew at that moment that Nicky was “The One.” It was on this occasion she carved their names on the window of the Peterhof Palace.

Alix of Hesse as a young girl ca. 1878

After the wedding, Alix bid her sister and Nicky goodbye, returning to the Darmstadt Palace in Germany which was her home. Alix was a royal princess.

Alix of Hesse ca. 1888

Young Nicholas II of Russia, before he ascended the throne in 1894

Five more years would pass before Princess Alix would return to Russia and see Nicky again. During that visit, the two fell even more deeply in love. Nicky was determined to make Alix his bride.

But Nicky’s parents wouldn’t hear of Nicky marrying a German princess. They hated Germans as did almost every Russian. But Nicky’s parents weren’t just any Russians.  Nicky’s parents were the Romanov rulers of Russia: Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Marie Feodorovna . They were the Royal Emperor and Empress. Nicky – Nicholas Alexandrovich- being their oldest son – was the Tsarevitch – the heir to the Russian throne.

Alix returned to Germany.

Princess Alix of Hesse, seated, prepares for her first ball. 1889.

More years passed. Love letters written in English flew back and forth between the lovesick pair.

Meanwhile, Nicky carried on a torrid and scandalous three-year affair with the famous Russian ballerina, Mathilda Kschessinska.

Mathilde Kschessinska (1872-1971)

Nevertheless, Nicky’s heart still belonged to Alix.  He wrote in his diary:

It is my dream to one day marry Alix H. I have loved her for a long time, but more deeply and strongly since 1889 when she spent six weeks in Petersburg. For a long time, I have resisted my feeling that my dearest dream will come true.”

Nicky’s parents continued to wage a fierce campaign to find Nicky a suitable bride. The Tsar hoped to land a bigger catch for his son than Princess Alix (even though she was his godchild!), parading a series of royal princesses in front of his son. But Nicky stood firmly against each proposed match, declaring flat out to his folks that he’d become a monk rather than marry anyone ugly and boring when he could have the tall and lovely blue-eyed beauty Princess Alix as his wife and royal consort.

Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom comforts her German granddaughters, the Princesses of Hesse; left to right, Victoria, Ella, and, the youngest, Alix. Their mother, Princess Alice, had just died. Alice was Victoria's second daughter.

Meanwhile, alone in Germany, Alix was equally resolute to marry Nicky, doing her own bit in  turning down royal suitors. She even stood up to her domineering grandmother, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, when the Queen tried to marry her off to her grandson, the Duke of Clarence. Alix declined to marry the Duke stating to “Granny” that she did not love him. Victoria – notorious for her royal matchmaking – surprisingly

“was proud of Alix for standing up to her, something many people, including her own son, the Prince of Wales did not do.”

 
For five years, Tsar Alexander III had stood firmly against his son’s wishes. But, in 1894, he became ill and relented, the couple announcing their engagement in April of 1894.

1894 official engagement photo of Princess Alix of Hesse (later Alexandra Feodorovna) and Tsarevitch Nicholas (later Tsar) of Russia

Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt and by Rhine & Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, London, 1894

Alix, as a requirement for the engagement, converted from Lutheranism to the Russian Orthodox religion and took the Russian name “Alexandra Feodorovna” to strengthen her appeal to the Russian people. Nicholas and Alexandra planned a spring 1895 wedding.

But their plans were thrown in disarray by Alexander’s sudden death in November and Nicholas’s subsequent ascension to the throne as His Imperial Majesty, Tsar Nicholas II. Nicholas insisted that the wedding date be moved forward, as he wanted Alix by his side to help him rule. They married a swift three weeks later. He was 26.  Alix, now called Empress Alexandra,was 22.

Wedding of Russian Emperor Nicholas II (1868-1918) and Grand Princess Alexandra Fedorovna (1872-1918) by Laurits Tuxen, 1895

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Queen Victoria at her Golden Jubilee, 1887. Note the tiny crown atop her mourning veil.

In my previous post, “Queen Alexandra’s Royal Bosom,” I mention that Queen Victoria refused to wear a crown to the Thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey that was part of her Golden Jubilee celebration in June, 1887. She did, however, consent to wear a crown for her official Jubilee photograph (shown here), which we may assume she wore to the banquet celebrating her 50 years on the British throne. Fifty European Kings and princes and the American author Samuel Clemens (AKA Mark Twain) attended.

After her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861, the Queen had largely disappeared from public view. She had vowed to publicly mourn her husband until her death and wear nothing but black widow’s weeds and her white lace mourning veil. In 1870, under government pressure, Victoria began to appear in public again. But she refused to wear her Imperial State Crown again, for several reasons. Chiefly, it was too big and heavy and was impossible to wear with her mourning veil.

The Imperial State Crown of Great Britain worn by Queen Victoria at her coronation. It includes a base of four crosses pattée alternating with four fleurs-de-lis, above which are four half-arches surmounted by a cross. Inside is a velvet cap with an ermine border. The Imperial State Crown includes several precious gems, including: 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies.

Queen Victoria shown wearing the Imperial State Crown at her Coronation, 1837

Consequently, a new crown, a small one, was designed for the Queen. It sat atop her mourning veil. The Queen was satisfied and so was the government. Wearing the tiny crown atop her veil allowed her to look like both a widow and a queen.

“The crown followed standard design for British crowns. It was made up of four half-arches, which met at a monde, on which sat a cross. Each half-arch ran from the monde down to a cross pattee along the band at the bottom. Between each cross pattee was a fleur-de-lis. However, because of its small size (9 centimeters across and 10 centimeters high) Victoria’s small diamond crown possesses no internal cloth cap. The crown was manufactured by R & S Garrard & Company.”
 

Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown created in 1870 measures 3.7 inches (9.9 cm) high and 3.4 inches (9 cm) in diameter. It was worn atop a widow's cap. The silver crown was made in 1870, using some 1,300 diamonds from a large necklace and other jewelry in the Queen's personal collection. Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown remains on show in the Jewel House in the Tower of London.

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"The Landing of H.R.H. the Princess Alexandra at Gravesend, March 7, 1863," by Henry Nelson O'Neil, 1864.

When Princess Alexandra of Denmark arrived on English soil in 1863 to marry the Prince of Wales, the heir of Queen Victoria, she was the very picture of modesty. No jewelry was visible and she wore a handmade bonnet. Alexandra may have been Danish royalty, but she wasn’t rich. Matter of fact, her family had lived on handouts to get by. She was shy, kind, and very beautiful. Everyone loved her immediately.

Queen Victoria, 1873

Queen Victoria of Great Britain, 1873

When Alexandra joined the British royal family, over two years had passed since Queen Victoria‘s husband, Prince Albert, had died.  Yet Victoria was still plunged into deep mourning. Victoria had wished she had died with her beloved Albert. Upon his death, she had renounced all pleasures and vowed to wear dreary black crape dresses the rest of her life as a token of mourning. She spent many of her waking hours kneeling in Albert’s carefully-preserved bedroom, crying and pleading with God to help her. (See “Queen Victoria in the Blue Room with a Bust.”)

Alexandra discovered that Victoria had amassed an enormous jewelry collection.  But, after Albert’s death, the Queen had became convinced that excessive display of jewels awakened anti-monarchial feelings in the English people. Princess Alexandra tried to convince her to wear her pretty, glittering things but to no avail. Famously, Victoria refused to wear a crown to the Thanksgiving service honoring her 1887 Golden Jubilee. The Queen of Great Britain arrived at the state ceremony wearing a bonnet.

Whereas Victoria had renounced all pleasures, Princess Alexandra had just begun to live. She had grown up poor and now she was rich and the future Queen of England! She was not about to be sucked into Victorian mourning dress. Although her husband, “Bertie,” was a serial adulterer, Alexandra accepted his infidelity and got on with her life, moving with him from party to party with the artsy crowd. Dressing herself in fine jewels and frivolous clothes became her passion – and she indulged herself completely.

Queen Alexandra at her Coronation, 1902

Initially, Princess (later Queen) Alexandra adopted dog collar chokers, called a ‘collier de chien’ to cover a small scar on her neck. For state and formal occasions, though, she plastered herself from head to waist in necklaces, tiaras, ribbons, sashes, and brooches of pearls, diamonds, and other jewels. Her long strings of pearls became her signature look. Alexandra became quite popular and women copied her style and bearing. American tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., remarked that:

Queen Alexandra “possessed the world’s most perfect shoulders and bosom for the display of jewels.”
 

Readers: “Queen Victoria’s Tiny Crown” follows this post.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1854. They had been married 14 years and are both about 34 years old. This is the first time Victoria had been photographed. Queen Victoria reigned as Queen Regnant of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837-1901 and as the first Empress of India of the British Raj from 1876 -1901. Her reign as the Queen lasted 63 years and 7 months, longer than that of any other British monarch before or since, and her reign is the longest of any female monarch in history. The time of her reign is known as the Victorian Era, a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military progress within the United Kingdom.

Throughout their 21-year marriage, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria delighted in showering each other with gifts of art. A new major exhibition of the Royal Collection (March 19-October 31, 2010) at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, is the first ever to focus on the royal couple’s shared enthusiasm for art. “Victoria & Albert: Art & Love” showcases over 400 paintings, drawings, photographs, jewelry, and sculpture from the years of their courtship (1836-1839) and marriage (1840) until Albert’s untimely death of typhoid (1861).

Gold, enamel, and tooth brooch belonging to Queen Victoria (1847, probably commissioned by Prince Albert)

Many trinkets exchanged between the royal couple were sentimental in nature, marking special occasions in the royal household, such as this gold and enamel brooch, seen for the first time ever. This unusual and tiny brooch in the form of a thistle has, as its flower, the first milk tooth lost by the firstborn of their nine children, Princess Victoria (1840-1901). An inscription on the reverse states the tooth was pulled by Prince Albert at Ardverikie (Loch Laggan), on September 13, 1847. (To see more of Victoria’s jewelry made with teeth, click here.)

Princess Victoria was the subject of many art commissions; her parents were overjoyed at her birth because she almost wasn’t born. When the Queen was four months pregnant, she had been the target of a failed assassination attempt. Edward Oxford fired two shots at her as she and Prince Albert rode up Constitution Hill in a carriage in June of 1840. Fortunately, neither the queen, prince, or the unborn Princess Royal was harmed.

An attempt is made to assassinate Queen Victoria by Edward Oxford, June 10. 1840, as the Queen rides up Constitution Hill with Prince Albert. Oxford was arrested for high treason, tried, and acquitted by reason of insanity.

Prince Albert was a man of many talents. He designed many of Queen Victoria’s jewels, including this 1842 brooch featuring a miniature of Princess Victoria as a bejewelled angel.

Queen Victoria's enamel, gold, and jewel brooch, 1842, with a miniature of Princess Victoria as an angel, Prince Albert, designer; William Essex, after William Ross, miniaturist

The queen appreciated Albert’s talent in jewelry design. She wrote:

“Albert has such taste & arranges everything for me about my jewels.”

In addition to designing the queen’s personal jewelry, Prince Albert designed many pieces of her state jewelry. He designed most of her tiaras, including the Oriental Circlet, also a part of this year’s special exhibition.

Queen Victoria's State Jewelry: "The Oriental Circlet," 1853. Diamonds, rubies, gold. The inspiration for the design of this tiara, which includes ‘Moghul’ arches framing lotus flowers, came from Prince Albert who had been greatly impressed by the Indian jewels presented to the Queen by the East India Company.

Readers, you might also enjoy: “Queen Victoria in the Blue Room with a Bust.”

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Showman P.T. Barnum (l) with his protegee, "General Tom Thumb" (born as Charles Sherwood Stratton). Daguerrotype by Samuel Root, 1850

The best known of circus pioneer P.T. Barnum‘s performers was Charles Sherwood Stratton (1838-1883), also known as General Tom Thumb. Stratton weighed 9 lbs. 8 oz. at birth, a bouncing baby boy for the time, but stopped growing at six months. When Barnum discovered him at the age of five, Stratton weighed only 15 lbs. and was 25 inches tall. 

“The boy barely came up to the showman’s knees!” (1) 

Barnum wasted no time signing up the boy as a sideshow attraction. His parents happily rented out their child for $7 a week plus room, board, and traveling expenses. Barnum installed the Strattons in a fancy New York City apartment above his museum of human curiosities. Barnum then began transforming Little Charlie into an international celebrity he christened “General Tom Thumb,” recalling the tiny fictional knight of King Arthur’s round table. The knight was so small, he rode a mouse and battled spiders. 

1844 stereograph depicting General Tom Thumb as Napoleon. Although "Tom" was really six at the time, P.T. Barnum promoted him as a 13-year-old.

Barnum taught the little dwarf to dance, sing, and tell jokes while dressed in elaborate costumes as Cupid, Napoleon, and Frederick the Great. At five, Tom learned to drink wine and at seven he took up cigar smoking. Barnum billed Tom Thumb as the “smallest man alive.”  

In 1844, Barnum took his young protege on a much-publicised European tour debut. Tom Thumb was a huge sensation, appearing before the crowned heads of Europe and visiting Queen Victoria not once, but twice. Audiences were enchanted with the man-boy whose charm combined innocence with pomposity. Over time, Tom made so many visits to royalty that Barnum had a special carriage built for him. 

“Only 11″ high, it was painted blue and lined with silk. Drawn by ponies only 28″ tall, and driven by children dressed in livery, it caused a sensation wherever it went.” 

Years went by and the money from Tom Thumb’s tours made him a rich man. “The Man in Miniature” moved to a specially-designed mansion for him and his parents in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

Lavinia Warren (1841-1919), photo c. 1855-1865

It was said that, by the age of 19, Tom had been kissed by a million and a half girls.Soon, though, the United States was plunged into the Civil War and Tom wanted more than just kisses from strangers. He began looking for a wife. He found her in the diminutive form of another little person, the charming and very beautiful Lavinia Warren

On February 10, 1863, the two were married at Grace Episcopal Church in New York City. The wedding was front page news. Billed as “the fairy wedding,” it was the social event of the season. People clamored for invitations, yet only two thousand people were invited. 

"The Fairy Wedding" of General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) and Lavinia Warren. This is a reenactment of the ceremony staged by photographer Mathew Brady after the Feb. 10, 1863 event.On the left in each picture is the best man, George Washington Morrison Nutt, known as Commodore Nutt, who had courted Lavinia unsuccessfully; Tom Thumb; Lavinia, and Minnie Bump AKA Minnie Warren, Lavinia's younger and even more petite sister


As Tom and Lavinia made their way up the center aisle to the altar, only guests seated along the aisle could see them. Once they arrived at the chancel, women stood on tiptoes and a few climbed on chairs to witness the ceremony. Afterwards, P.T. Barnum staged a reception for the newlyweds at the Metropolitan Hotel. Barnum charged $75 a ticket. Although there was a demand for 15,000 tickets, only 5,000 were sold. 

At the reception, the Strattons stood on a piano to receive their guests. Later on their honeymoon, they traveled to Washington, D.C., to the White House, where President Lincoln gave them a fancy party. In the course of the evening, the president told General Tom Thumb that he had put him completely in the shade, as he [the General] was now the center of all attention. 

(1) Fleming, Candace. The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009.

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Charles Dickens at writing desk

By the time Charles Dickens turned ten, his family had lived in six different houses, each poorer than the one before. Although Charles’ father John Dickens was employed as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, he lived well beyond his means. Plus, the family kept growing; there were eight children in all, which meant many mouths to feed.

Then, in 1822, John Dickens was transferred to London and the family followed. Things went rapidly downhill. John Dickens was soon in debt up to his eyeballs. He informed Charles that he no longer could afford to send him to school. This broke Charles’ heart. The headmaster at his school had already recognized Charles’ special intelligence and imagination and Charles wanted to be a man of letters.

To pay the butcher and the baker, Charles was sent with armloads of books to sell at the pawnshop. Charles was humiliated and heartbroken. Gone were the wonderful hours in his little attic room in Chatham, reading tales of heroes like Robinson Crusoe and Peregrine Pickle. Now he was forced to part with his beloved stories, his only escape from the drudgery of his life. The books were soon followed by all the household goods, sold in an attempt to pay off the family’s debts, and keep John Dickens out of debtors’ prison.

In this 1840 engraving, 'Love Conquered Fear,' fictional character Michael Armstrong, a boy adopted by the mill owner, is shown embracing his brother Edward who is one of the ragged factory boys working amongst the spinning mules. By Michael's foot, a child can be seen crawling out from under a mule, employed to keep the floor under the mules dust and fiber free to minimise risk of fire. These poor boys often suffered horrific injuries when crushed by the moving machinery. From Frances Trollope's ''The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong'' London 1840.

Then, in “an evil hour for me,” Charles was offered work at Warren’s Blacking Factory at six shillings a week, or about $1.40.  Charles’ parents jumped at the offer. Charles remembers:

It is wonderful [shocking] to me how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age….My mother and father were quite satisfied. They could hardly have been more so if I had been twenty years of age, distinguished at a grammar-school, and going to Cambridge.”

No one – no neighbors, friends, or family members reached out to save Charles from this terrible fate. So, on Feb. 9, 1824, at the tender age of twelve, he entered the business world to earn wages for the family. From eight in the morning until eight at night, six days a week, Charles worked alongside rough boys in a dark room covering pots of boot polish and gluing on labels.  The work conditions were appalling:

“The blacking-warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old gray rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place,rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river.”

 Victorian children are shown working in a cotton mill. At the beginning of British Queen Victoria’s reign (1837), many children worked in factories for cheap wages. Some workers were as young as five. Few citizens questioned the practice of employing children at the time as there were no laws to protect them. The novels of British author Charles Dickens (1812-1870) with their depiction of poverty did much to bring about positive social change and improve the living conditions of the poor.
 
 
Then, two weeks later, John Dickens was arrested and thrown into Marshalsea Prison, where he had to stay until his debts were paid. Charles’ mother and his seven siblings were allowed to live there with him, everyone living in one room, except, alas, Charles. The blacking factory was too far from the prison for Charles to get back before the gates were shut at night. Charles was sent to live in a cheap boarding house. After work he wandered the dark streets of the big city, utterly alone, totally miserable, shabbily dressed, anticipating a dinner of bread and cheese in an empty room.
 
Those days were so crushingly painful for Charles that, years later, when he was a grown man with a family of his own, he could not walk those same streets without being reduced to tears. As a writer, Dickens filled his books with people and places from those bitter days, offering a social commentary that improved the lives of the poor. The novel Oliver Twist (1839), for example, shocked readers with its depiction of poverty and crime in Jacob’s Island, resulting in an actual clearing of the slum.

For more on Victorian child labor, click here.

Readers: For more on Charles Dickens, scroll down the right sidebar: Categories/People/Charles Dickens. Enjoy!

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