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Exhibition Review – Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855 at The Queen’s Gallery from 9 November 2018 to 28 April 2019


The Queen’s Gallery presents the first exhibition of Roger Fenton’s Crimean works in London since 1856, the exhibition entitled Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855 explores how the photographer brought the stark realities of the Crimea war to the public through more than 60 photographs from the Royal Collection.

Roger Fenton was already a respected photographer (Queen Victoria had commissioned Fenton to produce portraits of the royal family in 1854) when he travelled to the Crimea.

He had been commissioned by the publishers Thomas Agnew & Sons to photograph people of interest in the Crimea for use as source material for a painting by the artist Thomas Barker. However, Fenton’s photographs of bleak terrains and exhausted soldiers would have a profound impact and marks one of earliest examples of war photography.

When Roger Fenton arrived in the Crimea in March 1855, the war had been fought for 12 months and many of the major battles of the campaign had already been fought. Fenton spent three months producing approximately 360 photographs, travelling and working in a mobile darkroom that he had converted from a wine merchant’s van. To a public that had been given selected information about the ‘great’ campaign and the famous Charge of the Light Brigade, Fenton’s photographs were a stark reminder of the horrors of war.

In his most famous photograph, Valley of the Shadow of Death (23 April 1855), he places the viewer at the bottom of a barren ravine littered with cannonballs leaving it to the viewer’s imagination to create a picture of past events.

Britain sent 98,000 men into the conflict and Fenton spent several weeks photographing the key figures of the war. One of his best-known portraits, The Council of War (June 1855), shows the three commanders of the allied armies – Lord Raglan, Maréchal Pélissier and Omar Pasha preparing for an assault on the Russian fortifications. An exhausted looking Lord Raglan died shortly after the image was taken.

One of Fenton’s more haunting images in the exhibition is Lord Balgonie (1855), who seems to be suffering from some kind of psychological problem associated with the conflict.

The majority of Fenton’s portraits depicted senior officers, however he did photographs troops on the frontline usually around the cooking facilities or showing the after effects of battle.

Although Fenton did not produce scenes of battle and death, he photographs were a stark contrast to artistic depictions of battle which tended to glorify the conflict. Fenton returned to Britain in July 1855, and in September his Crimean photographs went on display at the Water Colour Society on Pall Mall. The images raised awareness of the conditions endured by soldiers and Queen Victoria took a personal interest in the conflict and the welfare of the troops. The exhibition features a 1856 painting by John Gilbert which shows Queen Victoria meeting wounded soldiers in Buckingham Palace in 1855.

This interest was translated into practical action when she became the first British monarch to meet and support wounded soldiers in public, personally greeting troops at Buckingham Palace and during visits to hospitals. She also instituted the Victoria Cross, which remains the highest award for gallantry in the British Armed Forces.

This thought-provoking exhibition provides some insights into how the advent of photography changed many of preconceptions of how war was presented to the public. Fenton’s photographic technical and practical skill created a body of work which amazes the modern viewer. It is important to remember that photography was still in its earliest development when Fenton travels to the Crimea and yet he produces portraits of considerable psychological depth and landscapes that live long in the memory.

Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855 is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 9 November 2018 – 28 April 2019, with Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or book tickets, visit the Royal Collection website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in  2014 , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
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Disease X : London’s next epidemic? at the Museum of London from 16 November 2018 to February 2019

One hundred years after the outbreak of the deadliest wave of ‘Spanish Flu’, an epidemic that killed 5% of the world’s population, the Museum of London in a new display will look to the future for the next unknown lethal disease that might hit us and explore the deadly epidemics of past centuries.

This year, the World Health Organisation declared an unknown pathogen (micro-organism causing disease), they have named ‘Disease X’, one of the great potential risks to life and a top priority for research. The next international health crisis may be caused by something unknown to doctors and with no known cure.

The new display uses the museum’s collections to show the effect of historic epidemics on London and how we might learn from the past should we be visited by ‘Disease X’.

In the early 1890s, the ‘Russian Flu’ epidemic killed a million people across Europe. Among the victims was a man whose demise changed the course of history, threw Britain into a state of shocked mourning and created major public awareness of the danger that had been visited upon the country. Prince Albert Victor known as Prince Eddy, brother of the future King George V and grandson of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, was second in line to the throne. In January 1892, shortly after his 28th birthday, Prince Eddy was hit by influenza, developed pneumonia and died at Sandringham. His sudden death, when apparently fit and healthy, shocked the nation. It became brutally clear that nobody was immune to the threat of Russian Flu. The fact that Russian Flu would strike down people across society, caused widespread alarm.

Among the key exhibits in the new display will be the outfit worn by Queen Victoria in the very earliest period of mourning for her grandson. Never previously displayed in public, the outfit features a thick band of black crepe, designed to display the depth of the Queen’s sadness.

The display also features previously untold stories of Londoners struck down by disease. Among these is that of William Leefe Robinson of the Royal Flying Corps. Awarded the Victoria Cross for shooting down a Zeppelin airship on its way to bomb London, Robinson was an acknowledged hero, who later survived being shot down, captured and imprisoned in France. After making three attempts to escape, he eventually made it home to Middlesex in December 1918, just in time to celebrate Christmas with his family, only to be killed by influenza on New Year’s Eve.

It also includes the skeleton of a 9 month old infant who died from smallpox. While epidemics rarely leave any trace in the human skeleton, smallpox did affect the bones of growing children and this can be seen in the elbow joints of this baby, who was buried in the early 1800s at the Crossbones Cemetery in Southwark.

If you would like further information, visit the Museum of London website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Exhibition Review – The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution at the Science Museum from 21 September 2018 to 24 March 2019

This year marks 100 years since the murder of the Romanov family, the last rulers of Russia and the Science Museum presents a free exhibition entitled The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution. The exhibition investigates the role of science in the lives of Tsar Nicholas II and his family and how advances in forensic science helped to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.

The first part of the exhibition explores the lives of the imperial family through a number of rare artefacts, including the family’s personal diaries, private possessions and two Imperial Fabergé Easter Eggs presented by the Tsar to his wife just a year before the fall of the imperial house.

An insight into the personal lives of Nicholas II and his family to life is gained by looking through the photographic albums created by an English tutor to the Tsar’s nephews which is displayed for the first time. They offer a unique glimpse into the daily lives and routines of the Romanov family.

The exhibition explores the treatment of Tsar Nicholas II only son and heir, Alexei’s life-threatening haemophilia B, a rare blood condition and infamous ‘royal disease’ was passed down from Queen Victoria.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is the medicine chest that traveled with the family which contained hundreds of different treatments.

The Romanov family’s decision to keep Alexei’s illness a secret had serious consequences because although the imperial family showed some reliance on the latest medical discoveries, it was the use of traditional and spiritual healers especially Rasputin that contributed to the fall of the 300-year-old dynasty.

The second part of the exhibition examines the investigation into the disappearance of Tsar Nicholas II, his family and entourage following the revolutions of 1917 and the events of 1918.

Visitors will be able to examine evidence from the scene of the execution – from the dentures of the imperial physician, a single diamond earring belonging to the Tsarina, to a chandelier from the house where the family were executed and look at the evidence about the events that led to the deaths of the family.

The exhibition shows how for the first time, forensic DNA analysis was used to solve a historic case using blood samples from relatives (including HRH Prince Phillip) and how advances in DNA profiling and 3D reconstruction were used to positively identify the remains of the imperial family and enabled the family to be finally laid to rest in a ceremony in St Petersburg. Dr Peter Gill from the Forensic Science Service in the UK played a leading part identifying the remains of the last Tsar, Tsarina, and three of their five children.

This fascinating exhibition provides some real insights into one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century. For decades it was thought that the remains of the murdered Romanov family had been cremated, however a number of often unofficial investigations came up with a number of alternative theories. It was the advance of forensic DNA analysis and British expertise that was able to prove that certain remains found were indeed those of members of the family.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the Science Museum website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Review: Florence Nightingale Museum in London

The Florence Nightingale Museum celebrates the life and work of one of the world’s most famous nurses. The museum is located within St Thomas’ Hospital near the banks of the river Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament. The Florence Nightingale Museum collection is made up of almost 3000 artefacts relating to the life, work and legacy of Florence Nightingale and attracts visitors from all over the world who want to learn more about the ‘Lady with the Lamp’.

The origins of the collection were artefacts acquired by Dame Alicia Lloyd-Still during her time as Matron of St Thomas’ Hospital in 1913-1937. The collection was first publicly displayed for the centenary of the Crimean War in 1954 at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, then again on the centenary of the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in 1960, and the 150th anniversary of Florence’s birth in 1970. The collection was transferred into the care of the Florence Nightingale Museum Trust in 1983, who then went on to open the museum on the site of the original Nightingale Training School in 1989.

Florence Nightingale is most famous for being the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ who organised the nursing of sick and wounded soldiers during the Crimean War, however the museum provides plenty of evidence of the way that Nightingale’s ideas and reforms have influenced modern healthcare.

The museum displays begins by looking at Florence’s ‘Early years’, she was born into a fairly wealthy middle-class family and soon began to show an aptitude for academic studies especially mathematics. Florence believed she had a ‘calling’ from God was destined to do something important with her life. This background gave Florence a strong sense of moral duty to help the poor and gradually began to consider that nursing may be a path to fulfil her ambitions. Paid nursing at this time had a poor reputation at this time and was generally considered a job for elderly women.

What often set Florence apart from many others was her practical approach and she read anything she could find about health and hospitals before persuading her parents to allow her to take three months’ nursing training at an hospital in Dusseldorf. When Florence was 33, she became superintendent of a hospital for ‘gentlewomen’ in Harley Street in London. However it was to be the Crimean War which would make her reputation.

The displays in the museum tell the story of how Florence was invited by the Minister of War to oversee the introduction of female nurses into the military hospitals in Turkey. With a party of 38 nurses, Florence arrived in Scutari and began to organise the hospitals to improve supplies of food, blankets and beds, as well as the general conditions and cleanliness. For centuries, soldiers were more likely to die from disease than conflict when serving overseas but little was done to deal with these issues.

By introducing the new measures at Scutari, the mortality rates declined significantly and British soldiers showed their respect for Florence by giving her the nickname ‘Lady of the Lamp’. The introduction of female nurses to the military hospitals was considered an outstanding success and Florence returned to Britain a heroine. It is this image of the ‘Lady of the Lamp’ that is ingrained in popular culture, however this overshadows her later work which many consider to be even more important. One of her greatest achievements was to transform nursing into a respectable profession for women and in 1860, she established the first professional training school for nurses, the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital.

For the rest of her life, she campaigned tirelessly to improve health standards, publishing over 200 books, reports and pamphlets on hospital planning and organisation. It is said that she wrote over 13000 letters as part of her campaigns and reforms. Some of the books, reports, pamphlets are included in the displays including her most famous work Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not.

Despite often being confined to her sick bed, Florence used many of her contacts including Queen Victoria to push for reforms and used statistics to provide evidence of her arguments. Despite her ill health, Florence lived till she was 90, she died in 1910.

The museum looks at Florence Nightingale’s legacy by featuring a set of ten oil paintings by French artist Victor Tardieu, which depict a field hospital during the First World War. The lesson learned in the Crimea were applied in latter wars to save millions of soldiers from disease and death from injuries.

Visitors walking around the museum may be surprised to come across a stuffed owl and dog, Athena was Florence Nightingale’s beloved pet owl which she rescued in Athens in 1850 and used to put in the pocket of her apron. The dog is called Jack and belonged to Edith Cavell, Jack helped soldiers escape from captivity during the First World War.

The Florence Nightingale Museum tells the story of a remarkable woman who transformed the nursing profession in the 19th century. The museum illustrates the life of Florence Nightingale with attractive displays, full of interesting objects that show how modern healthcare was influenced by a woman who used her celebrity to save millions of lives.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets , visit the Museum website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here

 

Exhibition Review : Fashioning a Reign at Buckingham Palace – 23rd July to 2nd October 2016

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The Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace includes a special exhibition in celebration of The Queen’s 90th birthday. The exhibition entitled Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe at Buckingham Palace is one of three special exhibitions, staged across each of Her Majesty’s official residences during 2016.

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Fashioning a Reign explores significant events in The Queen’s life and reign through an unprecedented collection of dress, jewellery and accessories designed for these occasions, from childhood to the present day. Over the three residences, 150 outfits will be shown which illustrates fashions of ten decades, from the 1920s to the 2010s.

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The exhibition opens with a selection of dresses and items representing key events from each decade in Her Majesty The Queen’s life. It enables visitors to see the full range of fashions from the Royal Christening Gown, Sir Norman Hartnell dresses from the 1940’s, 50s, 60s, 70s and the famous Angela Kelly dress from the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

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Whilst many people have seen Her Majesty The Queen in military and ceremonial dress, it might be a surprise to some that in 1945, the then Princess Elizabeth became the first female member of the Royal Family to join the Armed Forces in a full-time active role.  Her simple battle dress is shown amongst other grander military and ceremonial dress. For ceremonial occasions, such as The Queen’s Birthday Parade, usually wears a full dress uniform. This follows the tradition of Queen Victoria, almost 100 years earlier and two military tunics made for Queen Victoria and Her Majesty The Queen are included in this section.

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The next section is related to Dressing for State and Family Occasions and illustrates the importance of clothes that are appropriate for the occasion.  Included here are examples worn on important occasions including the Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees, the Investiture of The Prince of Wales and the State Opening of Parliament.  The most important State Occasion of The Queen’s reign was the Coronation in 1953 and for the first time both The Queen’s wedding and Coronation dresses were displayed together.

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The importance for dress designers to create something for an occasion is once again explored in the Diplomacy and British Design section. As Head of State and Head of the Commonwealth, attention is paid to ensure that The Queen’s clothes respect religious and diplomatic conventions. Many of the dresses display symbolic meaning about nations or the particular occasions, this is often done with beautiful embroideries representing national, regional or cultural emblems.

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Another aspect of dressing for these type of occasions is to show British design to a wide audience, The Queen is the only British female monarch to wear exclusively British-designed clothes and many famous names in British couture, such as Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies, Angela Kelly and Stewart Parvin have designed clothes for The Queen during her reign.

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The next section, Dressing for Tours offers some insight into the logistics of creating outfits for a Royal tour. The Queen has visited 116 countries and carried out 265 official overseas visits and is the most travelled monarch in British history. Often in the longer tours, multiple designers will create ensembles for the many different engagements to be carried out.

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The three exhibitions Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe are at the Palace of Holyroodhouse from 21 April to 16 October 2016, the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from 23 July to 2 October 2016, and at Windsor Castle from 17 September 2016 to 8 January 2017.

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The exhibition at The Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are just one aspect of a visit which includes a tour of the State Rooms and a chance to have a drink or eat in the café overlooking the extensive Palace gardens. However, this year’s exhibition celebrates the remarkable reign of  Her Majesty The Queen and  provides some insight into the considerable effort needed to make sure that The Queen’s ensembles portray her position in a way that is relevant and up to date. The wonderfully designed exhibition takes visitors on a trip through most of the 20th century royal fashion, this remarkable collection is unique for its breadth and significance in a period where every aspect of the role of the monarchy including fashion has been subjected to intense scrutiny.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

Tickets

Adult £21.50

Over 60 / Student (with valid ID) £19.60

Under 17 / Disabled £12.30

Under 5 Free

Family £55.30 (2 adults and 3 under 17s)

If you would like further information about the exhibition or buy a ticket, visit the Royal Collection website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Exhibition Review – High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson at The Queen’s Gallery from 13th November 2015 to 14 February 2016

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The High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson at The Queen’s Gallery exhibition  explores Rowlandson’s life and art, it also reflects how popular his work was amongst members of the British monarchy especially George III, George IV, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Despite being the subject of some of Rowlandson’s satirical humour, George III (1738-1820)  began the collection of around 1,000 caricature prints by Rowlandson in the Royal Collection today.  Around 100 works by Rowlandson  are on display in the exhibition, many of remarkable quality that show Rowlandson’s skill in great detail and clarity.

Thomas Rowlandson studied at the Royal Academy, a very skilled draughtsman, he developed a talent for portraiture. He also possessed  a  humorous outlook  and an eye for the absurd which led him to design and make comical prints for London publishers. His subject matter  included  all elements of British life featuring fashion, love, political life and the royal family.

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Satirical printmaking was enormously popular in Georgian Britain where  satirical prints were shown in print shop windows and collected by the fashionable elite who often pasted them into albums, walls and decorative screens. One such screen is featured in the exhibition, some of these screens were illustrated by risqué material  and were folded up and put away in polite company.

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Rowlandson and other caricaturists of Georgian Britain including James Gillray, James Sayers and the Cruikshank family often attacked members of the elite especially politicians, foreign enemies and  members of the royal family. The victims did not always take it in good humour and although George IV enjoyed collecting caricatures, he did suppress prints that showed him in a bad light.

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Rowlandson did not set himself up as paragon of virtue, when he came into a large inheritance, he  gambled and drank till it had all gone. The rest of his career saw him using his talent to make money but would  face poverty periodically, this lifestyle gave him considerable insight into everyday life in an era of considerable social, cultural and political upheaval.

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The political personalities of the day  including Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger were favourite targets for Rowlandson and the exhibition has many examples of his attacks on the corrupt political system, one of the highlights is a print that features the  glamorous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who it was claimed had traded kisses for votes in the Westminster election of 1784.

The rise and fall of Napoleon is charted in a series of prints including  The Two Kings of Terror, in which Napoleon and Death sit face to face on the battlefield after Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig in 1813.

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Other highlights of the exhibition include Doctor Convex and Lady Concave, Sketches at – an Oratorio!, and A York Address to the Whale in which  the Duke of York thanks a whale for distracting attention from accusations that his mistress was paid by army officers for securing their promotions. The exhibition also features  a number of watercolours by Rowlandson which includes a number of the artist’s landscapes.

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This entertaining and informative exhibition explores the work of one of the wittiest and most talented caricaturists of Georgian Britain, visitors can get a flavour of the period through the eyes of an artist who recorded the era in all its intimate detail. The quality of the prints illustrate  Rowlandson’s  skill as an artist and his eye for the comic and the absurdities of the age.

A ticket to this exhibition includes free access to the Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer exhibition in the Queen’ s Gallery.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or to book tickets visit the Royal Collection website here

High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace,

13 November 2015 – 14 February 2016

Open daily, 10:00-17:30

Adult £10.00

Under 17/Disabled £5.20

Under 5 Free

 London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Book Review : Treasures from the Royal Archives ( Royal Collection Trust)

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The famous ‘Round Tower’ of Windsor Castle may be one of the most recognisable Royal Buildings, however less well-known is that it is the home of the Royal Archives. The Royal Archives are one of the most important collections in the United Kingdom containing many thousands of documents and records dating back to the reign of Elizabeth I.

It may be a surprise to many that until the Royal Archives were created in 1914, there was no appointed place for the Royal Family to store their historical records or any person with the responsibility to look after them. In the introduction to the book, it is related that pre 1914, the documents were ‘ kept in tin trunks, boxes, folders and volumes, they were often lodged in cupboards or storerooms in the various royal residences.’ One of the more formal collections was within the Royal Library in Windsor established by William IV in the 1830s. This rather haphazard system did not offer great security and it was not unknown that members of the Royal Family or members of the Royal Household would destroy documents to prevent them falling in the ‘wrong hands’.

Prince Albert showed his organisational skills by developing a filing system for Queen Victoria’s official correspondence, but when Queen Victoria died it was considered her vast collection of private papers were in significant disarray. It was with King George V and Queen Mary that a concerted effort was made to centralise all the documents and begin to log exactly what documents the Royal families had collected over centuries. It soon became clear that some of the documents had a narrow escape, 30 large boxes of George III and George IV documents were found at the Duke of Wellington’s London home,  Apsley House with a note on the top for the documents to be destroyed. Another important collection were documents from the exiled Stuarts bought by George IV. The Royal Archives have an extensive collection of documents but most are from the time of George III and after, before that date most of the official papers of monarchs are found in the National Archives. A notable exception is the records collected by the Dukes of Montagu of the Royal Household covering the years 1660 – 1749. It is also important to remember that the Royal Archives that although in recent years, many of the documents have been made public, it still remains a private family archive.

Within the rest of the book it is this public and private face of the monarchy that offers the most interest and the most surprises, a letter to Queen Victoria from her uncle King Leopold of the Belgians offers advice on the political importance of affirming  her English birth, a transcript from the Lord Chamberlain’s office gives some insight into the onerous task of organising Queen Victoria’s Coronation and finally a rather sweet transcript by the seven-year old Princess Elizabeth describing her parents Coronation.

In the interesting section on palaces and possessions it is intriguing to come across the deed for George III ‘ s purchase of Buckingham Palace and perhaps more mundanely the Balmoral estates work diary.

Nowhere is the role of the Monarchy more clearly defined that in the business of government, the nation has been a constitutional monarchy since the late 17th century and the Sovereign as head of state has a number of symbolic functions but is expected to be up to date on political developments. William Pitt’s letter to  George, Prince of Wales about the problems of George III is a reminder of how the relationship between the two institutions is an important factor for good government.
However the non partisanship expected of the monarchy does not mean that the Royal Family have strong feelings on particular subjects, one of Prince Albert’s first speeches recorded in the book was to denounce slavery.

The role of the monarch is not just related to domestic issues, Queen Victoria at one time was the ruler of a quarter of the world population and often had Indian servants from whom she had lessons in Hindustani. Some examples of her studies are included, other letters from famous world leaders include those from  Abraham Lincoln and Tsar Nicholas. However one of the most unusual letters is the one from the Chinese Emperor in 1793, a letter and gifts were sent to the Emperor to seek permission to send an ambassador to the Chinese capital to encourage trade. The reply was dismissive of the idea and it was clear he thought British monarchs were inferior to the might of China Emperors. The Emperor decreed  ” It behoves you, O King, to respect my sentiments and to display even greater devotion and loyalty in the future, so that by perpetual submission to our Throne, you may secure peace and prosperity for your country hereafter.”

Unfortunately a constant of many monarch’s reigns were war and conflicts, the book offers a wide range of documents in this area. Quite remarkably, the Royal Archives possess papers from the leaders of both sides of the Jacobite Rebellion, correspondence between Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale at the time of the Crimean war, documents related to the creation of the Victoria Cross, Prince Albert the future King George VI eyewitness account of the Battle of Jutland and Queen Elizabeth’s description of the bombing of Buckingham Palace in 1940.

For all the responsibility of the monarchy, most Sovereigns find time to pursue their own interests. The Royal families interest in hunting, dogs and racehorses is well documented but other interests have included photography and literature. The book features an excerpt from a list of books read by King George V between 1890 and 1936, in the considerable list is many worthy books but it is noted he did possess an early edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover which was banned in the UK until the 1960s.

The final sections of the book look beyond the public face of the monarchy to consider the private aspects of Royal life. For all the benefits of a privileged background there is many documents that illustrate that Royal Families still had to endure issues common to most people.

A rather sad letter from the future Bonnie Prince Charlies to his father in 1728 , an equally sad self-portrait of Princess Victoria from 1835 after she had recovered from an illness, Queen Mary baby’s souvenir books is slightly more cheerful and more remarkably the household accounts of Princess Elizabeth at Hatfield in 1551-1552 illustrate the more domestic responsibilities of royal residences.

One very private letter with considerable historical interest is a ‘Certificate of Marriage’ from 1785, whilst on the surface it seems to be a marriage certificate of the betrothal of George, Prince of Wales and Mrs Maria Fitzherbert, it is deceptive. Amazingly the certificate was written by the Prince of Wales himself and the illegal service was conducted by an Anglican priest who was let out of Fleet Prison for this singular event. The marriage was illegal due to the facts that  the Prince was not allowed to marry without the King’s permission and Mrs Fitzherbert’s status as a widowed Roman Catholic would have prevented the prince from acceding to the throne. When Mrs Fitzherbert died in 1837, the document was deposited in a London bank until rather ironically it was sent to the Royal Archives in the reign of Edward VIII.

This well written, lavishly illustrated and fascinating book offers considerable insight into a wide range of documents within the Royal Archives, viewing both the private and public aspect of the monarchy  gives the reader a more balanced view of an institution that is known for its secrecy especially in the past. It is a fairly recent development to put some of these documents into the public domain, but as this book illustrates these treasures are of considerable interest and historically of great importance.

This book would appeal to a wide range of people with an interest in all areas of history, the Royal Family was generally at the centre of many world events and the various documents allow some insight into the role they played. Looking at these primary sources it is possible to discover some aspects of the real people behind the myths and legends.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like to find out more about the book or buy a copy, visit the Royal Collection shop here

If you would like to see some of the Treasures from the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, there is an exhibition  from 17 May 2014 to 21 January 2015 , more details here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here