Perhaps one of the most popular rulers of England, Queen Victoria is best known for her long reign which lasted 63 years, and her undying love for her husband, Prince Albert. Now, visitors are offered a chance to get a glimpse of what the indomitable queen was really like through her journals, which go on display at Windsor Castle.
At the age of 13, the then Princess Victoria of Kent, was given her very first diary by her mother, The Duchess of Kent, who intended for her to use it to record her thoughts as she embarked on an educational tour of the country. “This book, Mamma gave me, that I might write the journal of my journey to Wales in it.” So began the first of Queen Victoria’s journals.
In her new journal, the future queen described the scene she encountered when she visited the industrial areas in the Midlands: “The men woemen [sic], children, country and houses are all black. But I can not by any description give an idea of its strange and extraordinary appearance. The country is very desolate every where; there are coals about, and the grass is quite blasted and black. I just now see an extraordinary building flaming with fire.” However, she was delighted with the people’s welcome, writing: “We have just changed horses at Wolverhampton a large and dirty town but we were received with great friendliness and pleasure.”
As a young princess, Victoria’s daily timetable showed that the she would spend half an hour each morning writing in her journal, before taking lessons in history, geography, Latin or general knowledge. As she grew older, Queen Victoria wrote in her journals frequently, describing important events of her reign, such as her coronation, her wedding, and her Golden and Diamond Jubilees. Fondly known as the ‘Grandmother of Europe’, she frequently corresponded with her vast family, as well as foreign ministers, ambassadors and heads of State. The Queen also maintained brief diaries in Hindustani, a language which she learnt after being proclaimed Empress of India.
Queen Victoria wrote until the final year of her life. Her last entry was penned on 12th January 1901, just ten days before her death: “Had a good night and could take some breakfast better. Took an hour’s drive at half-past two … It was very foggy, but the air was pleasant.”
What started as a habit in 1832, grew into a passion for writing which lasted for nearly 70 years, until Queen Victoria’s death at the age of 81. During that time, The Queen filled over 43,000 pages, spanning across 141 volumes. As per her instructions, her journals were transcribed by her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, who then destroyed the originals. In 2012, these abridged versions were made available online to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
Today, only 13 volumes of Queen Victoria’s journals survive. The collection is stored in the Royal Archives in the Round Tower. This came into effect in 1912, when Queen Victoria’s grandson King George V decreed that “All the Royal Archives shall be kept…in the Round Tower [at Windsor Castle]”. The transfer of records began two years later, in 1914.
To celebrate the centenary of the records being housed in the Round Tower, Queen Victoria’s first journal will be among more than a 100 books and documents from the Royal Archives to be displayed at Windsor Castle. The exhibition will begin on Saturday, the 17th of May, and go on until January 25 next year.