While Father’s Day might be an excuse for your son or daughter to ransack the kitchen in aid of creating ‘breakfast in bed’ for Daddy, parenting Victorian style meant children had a little less free rein. But in the royal household of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, fatherhood was still a considerable responsibility, and Albert approached it with characteristic vigour. “Ich habe einen Plan, I have a plan”, was his perennial mantra.
While researching for the new childhood exhibition at Osborne’s Swiss Cottage, within the grounds of Queen Victoria’s seaside home on the Isle of Wight, I started thinking what advice the Prince Consort might have for 21st century dads if he was to share his plan for fatherhood.
1. Start early
Don’t worry too much about real instruction in the first six years, but concentrate on their physical development, ‘train them to obedience’ and teach them a foreign language or two. Princess Vicky, the Queen and Prince Consort’s first child could reportedly speak fluent French, English with a German accent and German with an English accent by the time she was three.
2. Choose your childcare carefully
Albert’s valued advisor Baron Stockmar, who’d been closely involved in his own upbringing, and his marriage to Queen Victoria, helped Albert to devise a programme for the children’s upbringing. Lady Lyttleton was chosen by Stockmar to take charge of the Royal nursery and became Lady of the Bedchamber to the Queen. She took care to ensure a balance in the nursery between toys– soldiers, dolls and tea sets – and more stimulating learning materials. Books of children’s tales and songs were also provided.
3. Pay attention at ‘Parents' Evening’
Albert personally devised the children’s demanding curriculum, and closely monitored the day-to-day running of the schoolroom with the governors and governesses. One of these Madame Hocédé noted that Albert never left her ‘without my feeling that he had strengthened my hand and raised the standard I was aiming at’.
4. Provide them with the same positive experiences you had
The Swiss Cottage quarter at Osborne can be seen as part of Albert’s attempt to recreate for his own children the childhood he had enjoyed, which he recognised as being so important in building his own character. Both Osborne and the Rosenau, his childhood home, had children’s gardens, a Swiss chalet and miniature fort. The emphasis was on play with a purpose, on activities which taught the children the value of hard work, self-reliance and money.
5. Let them get their hands dirty
The children themselves were involved in the creation of this little haven at the Swiss Cottage. They helped dig out the garden plots and laid the first stones of the building, burying a time capsule in the foundations. The earthworks of the miniature fort were laid out by Bertie and Affie under the supervision of their governor Lieutenant Cowell as a birthday surprise for their mother. The two boys also helped built the tool shed where the children’s miniature garden implements were stored.
6. Decide when the time is right to let them fly the nest
When Prince Albert Edward (Bertie) was 17, Colonel the Hon. Robert Bruce, was appointed as his governor and Bertie’s £100 allowance was increased to £500 with instructions to “free himself ‘from the thralldom of abject dependence’ upon servants,” and to “‘do unto men as you would they should do unto you’, and to become a good man and a thorough gentleman”, to which Bertie responded well. Under Bruce, Bertie was deemed not “to be kept in childhood” any longer.
Today the Osborne estate brings alive the experience of royal childhood, with hands-on activities in the Swiss Cottage quarter, a royal palace to explore and Queen Victoria's private beach, surrounded by beautiful gardens and woodland.
For more Father's Day activities and events, see our pick of the best days out for dad at historic properties across the country.[ssba]