Saturday, 6 August 2011

Osborne House.

A chance for a weekend away and so we caught the early morning ferry from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight for a cheap and cheerful get away and a long planned visit to Osborne House, Queen Victoria's favourite home high on a hill in East Cowes.

Soon after they married Victoria and Albert bought the house as a place to where they could retreat from the stresses and strains of courtly life. Albert, defying his Gothic credentials worked with the design Thomas Cubitt to create and Italianate palace - apparently the view across the Solent reminded him of the bay of Naples.

It's a really moving place, small in scale, reflecting the couple's desire to attempt some sort of domestic normality. Their private rooms have been left as they were including the joint study where they worked together on a daily basis. Victoria's desk, filled with keepsakes and ephemera, raised slightly higher than her husbands tidy and functional surface.

Albert was clearly a remarkable man, an internationalist, with clear views on how young Royals should be brought up. The Swiss chalet, allotment plots, museum of curios and play fort, half a mile from the main house bare testimony to his progressive views on holistic education and his long term plan to engineer marriages between the Princes and Princesses from the great dynasties of Europe was driven by a desire to ensure peace across the continent. With the hindsight of two world wars we can see how tragically it backfired, of course, but one can only wonder whether, had he lived, Albert's benign influence, and assertive search for the best of the world, might have slowed the insular armament of the nineteenth century superpowers.

When Victoria died in the house, bringing to an end the nineteenth century, her son, the new Edward VII, sealed the bedroom for fifty years, to create a shrine, only visited by the immediate family. The house itself was given back to the nation and now stands as a physical representation of a way of life and thought that spread from the two linked desks outwards ever outwards to help create the largest empire the world has ever known.


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