On January 5, 1907, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London, England.
At the time, King Edward VII was reported to have said, “After my mother [Queen Victoria], she was the most remarkable woman in the kingdom.”
The baroness was born Angela Georgina Burdett, daughter of Sir Francis Burdett and Sophia Coutts, who was the daughter of wealthy banker Thomas Coutts, founder of Coutts & Company.
In 1837, at the age of 23, Angela inherited her grandfather’s fortune of nearly two million pounds. She could easily have spent the rest of her life living in luxury, enjoying the pleasures and extravagances of the very rich. Instead, she chose to devote her life to helping others and spreading her fortune where it was needed the most.
Having befriended many notable people, such as Louisa Twining, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Dickens, and learning of the plight of orphans and the very poor in London, Angela used much of her wealth to help those causes.
She also became a notable benefactor of the Church of England, building and endowing churches and church schools around the word—in Africa, in Australia and in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Her contributions to Victoria included donating money to help build Angela College on Burdett Street, a prestigious Anglican school for young women. Both the building and the street honor this woman today, even though, like Queen Victoria, she never visited the city.
In addition she donated money for the church bells in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, for cotton gins in Nigeria, and for drinking fountains for dogs in large cities. She assisted Turkish peasants and refugees of the 1877 Russo-Turkish War, organized housing schemes for the working class as well as giving money for the Ragged Schools Union, soup kitchens, and the Temperance Society in London. She also helped place hundreds of destitute boys on training ships for the navy and merchant service.
Speaking of ships, at Angela's instigation, vessels were sent out to British Columbia (the most notable in 1862 being the Tynemouth, known as the Bride Ship), which carried 60 women to the colony, where there was a great shortage of women at that time.
In 1871, Queen Victoria bestowed a peerage on Angela with the title of Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate, and the following year, she became the first woman to be presented with the Freedom of the City of London. She also received the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh in 1874.
Although she had many suitors throughout her life, she refused all offers of marriage until she was 67 years old, when she shocked society by marrying her secretary, a young man of 30, William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett, who was also a member of Parliament. In an unprecedented move, he changed his name to Burdett-Coutts after the marriage.
By the time Angela Burdett-Coutts died in December 1906 at the age of 92, she had given well over three million pounds to needy causes around the world.
The benevolent baroness makes a brief appearance in my forthcoming novel, Providence, as a motivator for my main character to set out from England for the new world on the SS Tynemouth.
Like millions of people around the world, I watched the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle (now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex).
This is the third wedding I have attended in my pyjamas! Yes, my daughter and I started watching it live in Canada at the ungodly hour of 2:30 a.m. We did the same when Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married and then Prince William and Kate Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge.)
Prior to that, I lived in England so could watch royal weddings live at a respectable hour! But having English blood pumping through my veins, I have never lost my love of the monarchy and the mystique surrounding it all. I am not ashamed to say that I absolutely wallow in all the royal traditions and history.
Once again, this wedding was well worth waking up early or staying up late for. To begin with, it was good to watch something happy for a change instead of the bad news we are bombarded with daily.
This royal wedding was a positive event, and anyone with an ounce of optimism must have seen the hope for a better world through the eyes of this young couple so obviously in love.
After all, Harry and Meghan have really achieved what at one time would have been the impossible. A prince marrying an African American, divorced woman, and an actress to boot! What would Queen Victoria have thought of that? I’m sure she would not have been amused.
But these two young lovers have brought the monarchy well and truly into the 21st century. Their wedding, executed in their own special way, was a mixture of simplicity and splendor.
We won't quickly forget the wonderful touch of humor provided by the black pastor, the Reverend Michael Curry, who delivered a somewhat lengthy, but very passionate sermon, raising a few royal eyebrows. Or the eternally beautiful “Stand by Me” provided by Karen Gibson and the Kingdom Choir, which sent shivers down many a spine.
The wedding location was also ideal: Windsor Castle.
The castle, built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, has been home to 39 monarchs. Queen Elizabeth II spends her weekends there and has declared it to be her "favorite home."
I have fond memories of many visits to Windsor Castle when I was growing up in England. At that time, there weren't long lines and thousands of tourists everywhere.
Later visits on trips back to England were disappointing because of the crowds and all the strict security—so much a sign of the times these days. Nonetheless, I still love the quaintness of the town of Windsor and the magic of the castle where guards shout “Who Goes There?” and you are warned to stay back or else!
My family and friends in England were smart enough to watch the wedding on television rather than standing for hours in the hot sunshine in Windsor for a mere glimpse of the royals and other celebrities. I think I would have agreed if I were still living in England.
For me, this wedding brought hope for a brighter tomorrow amid all the horror in the world today. I believe Harry and Meghan will do a great deal of good throughout the world—and if I’m wrong I will eat my fascinator (that’s a hat, by the way!).
Did you stay up (or get up early) to watch the royal wedding? Were you as glued to it all as I was? Please leave a comment below.