Although Victoria Day remains a popular and much cherished holiday, the word "Victorian" often evokes feelings of mental, spiritual and cultural repression. Yet the dynamic and progressively minded Victorian Age also set the intellectual and social tracks in which the 20th and even 21st centuries are moving.
A recent film, "The Young Victoria," has for many viewers redrawn our picture of a dour and dark-clad queen, replacing her with an independent young woman who challenged her family and stifling court traditions. Young Victoria was not only capable of exhibiting empathy for her less fortunate subjects, but also of deep emotion and love in her relationship with Prince Albert.
The movie casts her uncle, King William IV, in the role of promoting his niece over the designs of her mother and the ever manipulative Sir John Conroy. As comptroller of the household of the Duchess of Kent, Conroy colludes with Victoria's mother to control the young Victoria who, at the age of 18, nonetheless succeeded King William upon his death in 1837.
Adelaide of the House of Saxe-Meiningen, the queen consort and King William's wife, appears in the recent movie as a caring aunt amidst all this aristocratic scheming. She offers advice to the young queen with the sobering words, "You may dream of independence, but you won't get it. From now on, everyone will push and pull you for their own advantage, Melbourne (the prime minister) more than the rest. Just remember, you are the queen. He's a politician. And politicians, whatever their creed, always resent the monarchy. They pass through, you stay. So just keep dear Lord M in his proper sphere."
And when the young monarch created a political crisis in 1839 over her refusal to replace the Whig ladies of the bedchamber with Tory ones, her aunt told Victoria bluntly: "You are confusing stubbornness with strength, my dear. And I warn you, the people will not like you for it."
Adelaide, the queen dowager who survived her husband by more than a decade, also had a Newfoundland connection. She was appalled by the deteriorating state of the Anglican church building in Placentia, in which a young Prince William Henry, as commander of the naval frigate Pegasus, had taken a special interest in 1786.
The prince at Placentia
While at Placentia, the prince had undertaken a subscription for a chapel, to which he himself contributed more than 50 pounds and established a fund to secure income for a minister.
He also had requested permission to build a church in Placentia. In 1788, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent a missionary to Placentia. Also, an exquisite communion set from the prince reminds of the future king's interest in the community.
Bishop Feild's visit
Bishop Feild visited Placentia in 1845 and found only three or four loyal Anglican families remaining in the community. In a subsequent memorial, he recalled the origin of the church through Prince William Henry, but also the fact that the last resident priest had left 37 years earlier.
While at Placentia, Feild confirmed two people and celebrated communion for four individuals with the communion service that the prince had given to the church. Feild described the church building as being "in a melancholy state of decay and desolation" and appealed to members of the Church of England at home to help restore it or at least secure the revered edifice.
Help for the parish
In response to Bishop Feild's 1845 "sad and disheartening statement" about the dilapidated nature of the old church at Placentia, the queen dowager had her chaplain, Rev. James Ryle Wood, write to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and offer help for the ailing church. She sent at once to the bishop the 300 pounds needed for "restoring and fitting up the Church at Placentia."
Knowing that the church was not primarily a building but rather its people, Adelaide felt she would be remiss "to the King's memory, and the interests of religion in Newfoundland" if she did not also "request from the society and the bishop an assurance that some arrangement shall be made, by the appointment of a missionary." A missionary at Placentia, the queen dowager hoped, would "secure the future regular performance of divine service in the church at Placentia, and of other religious ministrations to the district."
Grateful for this "great liberality," Feild promptly requested an additional missionary.
A few years later, however, the bishop still expressed disappointment about the condition of the church. On his visitation journey of 1848, he had found to his regret an "unhappy Placentia!" "The restoration of the church by the Queen Dowager's great bounty," he wrote, "which I hoped would be an occasion of union, peace, and joy to the few church members who remain in this settlement, seems to have given birth to nothing but strife."
The work on the church building, Feild considered "shamefully done" so that "much of it must be renewed." Yet the restored church building survived into the early 20th century, even though it was serviced by clergymen stationed in Harbour Breton and Whitbourne.
It was replaced by a new one consecrated by Bishop Llewellyn Jones on St. Luke's Day in 1908.
Hans Rollmann is professor of religious studies at MUN and can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.