The 112 ton racing schooner HILDEGARDE was the first Royal Yacht owned by His Britannic Majesty Edward VII, when he was Prince of Wales. The schooner was built by Nicholson at the Gosport Naval Yard in 1874. In this painting, Arthur Wellington Fowles, as the official artist to the Royal Yacht Squadron, has skillfully captured one of HILDEGARDE’s crowning moments. In 1877 the future King and his schooner won the Royal Yacht Squadron’s annual Cowes Regatta, also called the Queen’s Cup. At the time, the big schooners were losing popularity to the new cutter racing designs. The interest that year was mostly confined to the rivalry of the new British cutters VOL-AU-VENT and KRIEMHILDA. The most notable competitor, however, was the Prince’s elegant new schooner.
In this painting Fowles portrays a pivotal moment with HILDEGARDE seen in profile with sails full on the left, in second place, trailing her rival, the RYS schooner ENCHANTRESS around the turning mark. The location is at Old Castle Point on Osborne Bay just east of Cowes on the northeast coast of the Isle of Wight.
On the low shoreline to the far right may be seen Norris Castle- a place where many European royals spent their summers and where a young Princess (later Queen) Victoria often stayed for prolonged periods while growing up. Queen Victoria was so fond of the area that years later, in 1845, she and Prince Albert built their Royal Summer Residence, Osborne House here, shown in the painting on the hill above the castle. It was at her beloved Osborne House that Queen Victoria died in January 1901. Fowles was understandably familiar with the area, as he was born and grew up in Ryde, the small seaside town visible in the far distance. The bell tower of All Saint’s Church in Ryde is visible just off the tip of HILDEGARDE’s bowsprit. The town and parish lie beneath.
Accurate to the recorded race conditions, Fowles has essentially portrayed schooner weather, with brisk winds and violent seas- environments in which schooners alone are able to stand up to their canvas. The two other RYS schooners competing that year were EGERIA and ENCHANTRESS. Seen just beyond HILDEGARDE's stern, one of the favored cutters struggles to capture an embarrassing third place. Coming out from the harbor at Ryde, a colorful side-wheel excursion steamer carries sightseers who, along with the landmark castles, will also be able to view the racing event.
The coveted Queen’s Cup fell to the Prince after a well-sailed race in which HILDEGARDE revealed her prowess and beat the rest of the field by three and a half minutes. Edward remained an enthusiastic yachtsman for the remainder of his life, owning several famous racing yachts, including the well-known speedster BRITANNIA. In 1885 HILDEGARDE was imported to America by George J. Gould of the New York Yacht Club, where she spent the remainder of her years racing and cruising as a Royal addition to the NYYC Fleet.
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