Queen Victoria under a ‘dizzy’ spell: Hughenden Manor
Visiting impressive manor houses can sometimes saturate our ability to comprehend the sheer wealth of their former occupants, and to really understand the vast gulf that separated them from the poor masses. But some of the nation’s inheritance is now there to be enjoyed by the masses, and Hughenden Manor (near High Wycombe) is one such place. But beyond the fascination of the interior décor and furnishings, beneath the surface lies the story of the occupants. And that story can sometimes be fascinating.
In the case of Hughenden Manor, the story revolves around the best known Prime Minister of the 19th century, Benjamin Disraeli. He was, perhaps, the least qualified of most of his contemporaries to aspire to such an elevated position. In modern jargon, he didn’t tick any of the right boxes. He was Jewish, from a humble social background, he didn’t go to public school nor to University but, by chance, his parents had converted to Christianity, giving him a leg up onto the first rung of the social and political ladder. His spats with William Gladstone are legendary, and with his gift for the well turned ‘Churchillian’ observation, when asked what was the difference between a misfortune and a calamity, he replied: “It would be a misfortune if Mr Gladstone were to fall into the Thames, but a calamity if someone were to pull him out!”.
Also well documented was his close relationship with Queen Victoria, who never warmed to the lecturing style of Gladstone, but deeply appreciated the well-meant flattery of Disraeli who skilfully created
word-pictures of the political manoeuvrings of Parliament and served them up to her Majesty in easily digested narratives. Her friendship with ‘Dizzy’ was so close that she broke protocol to pay him a visit at his home, she even spent time in his study a few days after his funeral to breath in the air once inhaled by her beloved friend. In life, he was the only commoner permitted to sit down when in private audience with his Queen. The obvious question really needs to be asked: was this a purely platonic relationship?