On Wednesday 9 December 1868, William Gladstone became Queen Victoria’s eighth prime minister. He was a clever man who had followed what is today a familiar political route, gaining a double fi rst at Oxford, serving as president of the Oxford Union, training as a barrister, entering parliament at a young age and swiftly rising up the ranks. Gladstone served as prime minister four times: 1868-74, 1880-5, 1886 and 1892-4. He was advised to treat the Queen as a woman, that is, as a conventional nineteenthcentury gentleman was expected to treat a lady, and told that he could ‘not show too much regard, gentleness, I might even say tenderness towards her’. 1 But the prime minister ignored this advice and decided to speak to her as an intellectual equal. It did not occur to Gladstone to use different language with his sovereign from that which he was normally accustomed to use. 2 Gladstone’s behaviour to the Queen was as to a monarch and head of a great empire, not as an empty-headed female, with the result that Victoria was as much out of her depth as she had been with Palmerston, ‘lost in the fog of the long and far from lucid sentences of her Minister’. 3

It is claimed that the evolution of the relationship between Queen Victoria and William Gladstone ‘decisively affected the future course of constitutional monarchy in Britain’. 4 Gladstone was a convinced monarchist whose fervent religious belief made him regard Queen Victoria’s rule as sacred. Nevertheless, Gladstone was a realist, fully aware that the Crown was dependent on public opinion for its continuation. He was the fi rst prime minister to focus on the need for a ceremonial monarchy, doing his best to

persuade Victoria that her job as sovereign was to be seen. In his opinion, ritual was an essential part of being queen and he took pains to explain how essential it was for Victoria to be present on ceremonial and state occasions if the monarchy was to survive. It was clear to Gladstone that ceremonies were a visible representation of the power of the sovereign, reminding the population of the long history of an independent and self-governing Britain. Naturally, such events should be carried out in style: in 1815 the future George IV, the Prince Regent, had ridden in a coach with a cavalry escort to parliament, arriving to a cannon salute. But Queen Victoria, with striking disdain, now preferred to avoid all such display.