The Queen Alexendra memorial ©Carole Tyrrell
People pass by Queen Alexandra’s memorial every day on their way to and from the Mall. It’s set back from the road in an alcove and is a rippling Art Nouveau composition, if bronze can be said to ripple. I am indebted to the Tea and Morphine facebook page for featuring it and as soon as I saw it and found its location I knew I had to go and see it. I love Art Nouveau and there was an air of mystery to the sculpture. Who were the figures? Who was Queen Alexandra? The memorial is very close to the royal monument section of the Mall and, on my way, I passed tourists busily snapping away at memorials of George VI and the Queen Mother as well as walking along the Diana, Princess of Wales, memorial walk. Buckingham Palace is only a short walk away.
But this particular monument is to a Queen who lives on in the many, many memorials to her in every road, avenue, street, park, hospital and even another palace high up in the North London hills that have been named after her. There are 67 Alexandra Roads in London alone. This memorial has a tale to tell of a scandalous sculptor who was persuaded back from exile and ignominy to create his last major work to commemorate the longest serving Princess of Wales in history.
Queen Alexandra as the Princess of Wales in 1881 by Alexander Bassano. Shared under Wiki Commons
Christian IX of Denmark with his family in 1862. From left to right Dagmar, Frederick, Valdemar, Christian IX, Queen Louise, Thyra, George and Alexandra. Shared under Wiki Commons
Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia (1844-1925) or ‘Alix’ as her family knew her was chosen, aged 16, as the future wife of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the son and heir of Queen Victoria. 18 months later they married in 1863 and were crowned in 1902 after Queen Victoria’s death. Alix came from Danish royalty as her father was King Christian IX and her brother was appointed King of Greece as George I. She was Princess of Wales for 38 years from 1863-1901 and was immensely popular. Fashion conscious women copied her dress sense but she had no political power.
Instead, she worked tirelessly for various causes and founded her own charity, the Alexander Rose, in 1912 which aimed to support Londoners in poverty. It’s still going today but, since 2014, it has issued Rose vouchers to enable families to access fruit and vegetables. Alix’s great, granddaughter, Princess Alexandra is its patron. I can still remember buying paper roses on stick pins in June in the 1970’s for Alexandra Rose Day and there is still an Alexandra Rose plant. Alix brought the idea of selling paper roses from her native Denmark.
Princess Alexandra Rose from an online seed catalogue.
But Alix’s marriage was not a happy one. Edward was openly unfaithful with several mistresses, one of which was the actress Lily Langtry. The public believed that their marriage was a love match but Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Edward’s parents, had begun looking for a possible wife in 1858 believing that an early marriage would settle a ‘difficult’ son. The couple had 6 children, one of whom died after a day and the Duke of Clarence, who had been second in line to the throne, died after an influenza pandemic, aged 28. There were many rumours about the Duke including that he was thought of as a possible suspect for Jack the Ripper. Alix suffered from increasing deafness which was caused by hereditary otosclerosis and died at Sandringham in 1925 aged 81 from a heart attack. Poet John Masefield wrote an ode dedicated to her with music from Sir Edward Elgar called ‘So many true Princesses who have gone’:
So many true princesses who have gone
Over the sea, as love and duty bade,
To share abroad, Till Death a foreign throne,
Have given all things, and been ill repaid.
Hatred has followed them and bitter days.
But this most lovely woman and loved Queen
Filled all the English nation with her praise;
We gather now to keep her memory green.
Here, at this place, she often sat to mark
The tide of London life go roaring by,
The day-long multitude, the lighted dark,
The night-long wheels, the glaring in the sky.
Now here we set memorial of her stay,
That passers-by remember with a thrill:
This lovely princess came from far away
And won our hearts, and lives within them still.
Photo ©Carole Tyrrell
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.
Part 2 – The scandalous sculptor of the memorial, Alfred Gilbert, and the possible meaning of the figures.