In 1520, Henry VIII and Francis I of France exchanged gifts at the Field of Cloth of Gold. Since then, the exchange of gifts between rulers has become a tradition, one which has continued for centuries and is prevalent even today. Having been on the throne for more than 60 years, The Queen has undoubtedly seen her fair share of official gifts. In the past, she has received many unusual and exotic gifts, including numerous live animals from countries all over the world. Last year alone, she received over a hundred official gifts, including a silver box containing soil from World War I battlefields and a wooden coffee grinder.
Yet, Her Majesty couldn’t help but marvel at the inventory of historical Royal gifts as she attended the launch of a project to digitize the private archives of King George III.. “You don’t get gifts like that anymore,” she remarked to guests as she was shown the collection of manuscripts in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.
Among the papers was a written account by Aristarchus, an English spy who used to report to King George III from America, and a letter written by The King’s wife, Queen Charlotte. In the letter, The Queen described her life in court and domestic details of the royal household, but also discussed philosophy.
Also on display was a beautifully illustrated collection of poems. The poems had been a gifted to The Prince of Wales (the future George IV) by the Shah of Persia in 1812.
Her Majesty was accompanied by Dr Joanna Newman, international Vice-Principal of King’s College London. Afterwards, Dr Newman said: “The Queen said she was stunned by the beauty of the gifts and letters, especially the Persian book of poetry that she was looking at earlier. She talked a great deal about the letters. She said she was extremely interested by them, that they were very impressive and that she is happy for the collaboration to be with King’s College.”
These priceless documents were previously locked away in the Royal Archives – even The Queen hadn’t seen them before! According to Dr Newman: “They were kept in the Tower at Windsor and were inaccessible to academics because security clearance was required to get in there.There is a huge amount of material – only 12.5 per cent of the 350,000 pages have been seen before – and it will potentially transform our understanding of Georgian Britain, the Enlightenment and the War of Independence.”
The event also attended by the director of the Science Museum, Ian Blatchford, found that The Queen had an excellent understanding of the 20th century. “The remarkable thing about the Queen is that she has a vast knowledge of history because she has lived through it, and sometimes it is easy to forget that,” Mr. Blatchford said. “As a historian you try to find out as much as you can about a period, whereas she was actually there.”
The George III Collection is a massive archive, with over 350,000 pages. It includes papers from the reigns of all the Georgian Kings, but with a focus on King George III. Along with the Royal Household, academics from King’s College are working on this project. It is intended to widen access to material in the Royal Archives, and making the entire collection available online is expected to take up to five years.
King’s College has a long history of association with the Royal Family. Founded in 1829 by King George IV, and in 1841, Queen Victoria gifted the College most of the scientific instruments collected by George III to be used for scientific experiments and public displays. At present, The Queen is Patron of King’s College. The Duke of Edinburgh is a Life Governor, and The Princess Royal and The Duchess of Cornwall are both Fellows of the College.
This digitization of the Georgian archives comes three years after George III’s granddaughter Queen Victoria’s journals were made available to the public online.