Washington Pulls Out All the Stops for Prince Arthur, 1870

Prince Arthur was the youngest son of Queen Victoria. (Source: Mount Vernon website)
It's safe to say that Washington noticed when Prince Arthur came for a visit in 1870. (Source: Mount Vernon website.)

In 1870, the fashionable set in Washington pulled out all the stops for the seventh child of Queen Victoria, His Royal Highness Arthur William Patrick Albrecht -- called Prince Arthur by the press.

He arrived by train from New York in late January, greeted by a large cheering crowd at the depot. Met by officials from the White House and the British legation, the prince was soon conveyed to the residence of the British ambassador, Mr. Thornton, where he and his entourage were put up in an elegant set of apartments on the southeast side of the British embassy on the comer of I and 17th st. The rooms were newly furnished in a “magnificent style” fit for royalty.[1]

Everywhere Prince Arthur went he was the toast of the city, the “lion of the capital.”[2] His visit to the treasury department was well noted by the female clerks there, the so-called treasury girls. Lining the corridors on the Prince's tour through the building, the young ladies had a lot to say about the handsome royal; here's what the Evening Star recorded:

“Well, I declare! Is that him?” “I wish he was a clerk here!” “Well, I've seen him!”     “Why, ain't he tall?' “Yes indeed, and so slim!” “Oh, but he is really nice looking.' “Yes, because he's got stamps!”[3]

The prince said he was “very glad to see so many ladies in good employment, both on their own account and in the interest of the city.”

Good looking and always dressed exquisitely, the royal young man also caused a stir when he visited the houses of Congress. In the Senate he sat with his entourage in the diplomatic gallery; it only took a few minutes for the visitor's spaces to be filled, especially the ladies' side. Every Senator was in his seat, but the citizens' eyes were not riveted to them and their currency bill, but rather to the prince. The same scene appeared while Prince Arthur watched the proceedings at the House, though he himself found the congressional debate very interesting.

Being admired by ladies wasn't the only appreciation given to the British prince. General Sherman presented him with his choice of two rifles; Prince Arthur chose a Winchester's repeating arm, mounted with gold, and engraved with Eve, the genius of liberty, and General Grant on horseback. Mrs. Grant commissioned a magnificent bouquet of rare flowers to give to the prince. At the Navy Yard, he was received with honors and a royal salute. So highly was Prince Arthur held that when he dropped into the First Lady's social reception, he was shortly seated next to her and receiving visitors in his own right.

The Prince also attended dinners held by the finest in the city, most notably a state dinner at the White House. The dining room was elegantly and elaborately decorated with flags, flower wreaths, and evergreens. Included in the declarations was a full length portrait of Queen Victoria, which the Prince could look at while he dined... because he would want to look at his mom while eating, for some reason? Anyway, the table was heaped with flowers and “handsome confections” to complement the delicious meal.[4]

The grand ball held in Prince Arthur's honor was called “one of the most magnificent affairs ever witnessed in this city.”[5] The ballroom selected, that of the Masonic Temple, was 140 feet by 40, and a platform was erected at one end. Purple and red chairs with golden stripes were set out for guests to lounge as well as cane seat chairs for 200 people, and fragrant wreaths of beautiful flowers were hung between the enamel and gilt gas lights in the shape of crowns. In front of the specially hired Baltimore musicians was displayed an elegantly designed star of six points with ten shining gas lights. At the entrance of the hall were two “splendid” American flags in the shape of shields, and around the rest of the hall hung the flags of every nation.

The prince arrived at 9:45, dressed exquisitely in the uniform of the royal rifles and emblazoned with the Order of the Garter, the highest order of chivalry in the United Kingdom. The musicians played “God Save the Queen” and he strode in with his entourage in full court dress. The president arrived with his cabinet at 10:40, accompanied on his entrance by “Hail Columbia.” Following the rules of social precedence, the prince escorted the First Lady into the ball, the hostess Mrs. Thornton was escorted by the president, the host Mr. Thornton escorted Mrs. General Porter, the General Porter escorted Mrs. Dent, Mr. Dent escorted Mrs. So-and-So... and so on down the line of the cabinet; no word on if someone at the bottom of precedence was eventually left without partner.

When he left the city, Prince Arthur was well impressed with all he had seen and witnessed in the capital. And for good reason! It's clear Washington pulled out all the stops for this royal visit; it's a tourist's dream!


  1. ^ HRH His Arrival and Movements.” Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 24 Jan. 1870. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  2. ^ HRH Prince Arthur.” Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 26 Jan. 1870. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  3. ^ HRH Prince Arthur.” Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 25 Jan. 1870. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  4. ^ HRH Prince Arthur.” Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 27 Jan. 1870. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  5. ^ His royal highness, the ball in his honor.” Daily National Republican. (Washington City [D.C.]), 28 Jan. 1870. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.