Possibly the person to whom the Queen owed most—next to her husband—was Lord Melbourne. His position at the time when the young Queen came to the throne was a unique one. Victoria was just eighteen years of age—that is to say, if she had been a little younger it would have been necessary to appoint a Regent until such time as she came of age. For many years it had not been a matter of certainty that she would succeed to the throne, and the late King’s unreliable temper had been the means of preventing the matter from being properly arranged as regards certain advantages which might have been given to the Princess during his life-time. In many ways, however, it was fortunate that the Queen came to the throne at such an early age: if her knowledge of State politics was small, she possessed, at any rate, a well-trained mind, a sense of duty, and a clear idea as to the responsibilities of her position as ruler of a great nation.
There had been four reigning queens in this country before Victoria, but all of them had had some previous training for their duties. The two Tudor queens came of a ruling stock, and were older in years and experience. The times, too, were very different. Queen Elizabeth, for example, before coming to the throne possessed an intimate knowledge of political affairs, and experience—she had been confined in the Tower of London and narrowly escaped losing her head—had endowed her with the wisdom of the serpent. The two Stuart queens were no longer young, and both were married.
The circumstances in the case of the young Victoria were thus totally different. She stood alone, and it was clear that some one must help her to grapple with the thousand and one difficulties which surrounded her. It was for some time uncertain who would undertake the duty, until, almost before he had realized it himself, Lord Melbourne found himself in the position of ’guide, philosopher, and friend.’
How he devoted himself to this work can be judged from the fact that no one—not even any of his opponents—regarded him with the slightest mistrust or jealousy.
Melbourne was at this time fifty-eight years of age, an honourable, honest-hearted Englishman. He was sympathetic by nature, fond of female society, and, in addition, was devoted to the Queen. His manner toward her was always charming, and he was in constant attendance upon her.
Nor was the training which the Queen received from him limited to politics, but matters of private interest were often discussed. Every morning he brought dispatches with him to be read and answered; after the midday meal he went out riding with her, and, whenever his parliamentary duties allowed, he was to be found at her side at the dinner-table. When he retired from office he was able to state with pride that he had seen his Sovereign every day during the past four years.