An Audience with Queen Victoria: The Royal Opinion on 30 Famous Victorians

An Audience with Queen Victoria: The Royal Opinion on 30 Famous Victorians

by Ian Lloyd


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During her 63-year reign Queen Victoria met everyone from Charlotte Brontë to Buffalo Bill; she had opinions on all those who graced her parlor—and some who didn't. This book examines the meetings and letters exchanged between the queen and a veritable who's who of her time. It draws on often brutal character assessments in her journals and letters—Henry "Dr. Livingstone I presume" Stanley was "a determined ugly little Man." Exploring those she met officially and personally, and her thoughts on figures of the time such as Jack the Ripper, this book unlocks a fascinating aspect of Victoria's outlook through brand-new archival research, newspapers and interviews with descendants.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750989039
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 06/01/2019
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Ian Lloyd has spent 20 years as a writer and photographer specializing in the British Royal Family. He is the Royal Correspondent for the Sunday Post and a regular royal pundit on Sky News and BBC News.

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Out of Africa

Exchanging Gifts with Kings and Chieftains

British monarchs have exchanged gifts with foreign leaders from the earliest times. Henry VIII and Francis I of France gave each other jousting horses at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, and the Ottoman ruler Suleiman I gave Henry two pet monkeys, which he took with him to meet the French king.

After the death of the Prince Consort in 1861, Victoria no longer travelled abroad on state visits and never visited any part of her growing empire. She did, however, receive visits from heads of state and delegations from her Indian and African territories. The presents they exchanged were often personal, and occasionally bizarre.

In her memoirs, Princess Marie Louise tells of a meeting between her grandmother and a chieftain from the Gold Coast, now Ghana. The be-robed visitor was the exotically titled holder of the 'stool' of Agbosome. After his audience at Windsor, the Queen asked if there was anything she could give him as a souvenir of their meeting. Pointing to the white 'lisse' widow's cap with its long streamers that she always wore in private, he replied, 'Yes, Mighty Queen: I should like to have a bonnet as Your Majesty is now wearing, and I would like to be the only chief entitled to wear it. I will pass it on to my successors.'

Both were true to their word. Victoria asked for a cap to present to the Chief and he and his successors wore it as proof of sovereignty. However, another local custom was for the leader to wear a top hat too. Years later Marie Louise was sent a photograph of the Chief in full regalia, with her grandmother's cap on his head surmounted by a top hat. As she herself commented, 'the effect is quaint to say the least!'

Another visitor, a Chief of the Axim district (which again is in modern-day Ghana), was received by the Queen, who was accompanied by several uniformed courtiers. When asked what memento he would like he is supposed to have said, 'Your Majesty, I should like to have a medal bigger than any I see now,' and so Victoria obligingly had a specially large one struck just for him.

The Queen and her government had a fraught relationship with Emperor Tewodros II of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), later dubbed 'Mad King Theodore', the Ethiopian version of Russia's Ivan the Terrible. In 1863 he wrote to Victoria asking for skilled workers to come to Abyssinia to produce firearms and other skills. Unfortunately, the Foreign Office in London filed it under 'Pending' for a year before forwarding it to India, since Abyssinian affairs came under the remit of the sub-continent. Here it was filed under 'Not Even Pending'. The temperamentally volatile Tewodros, incensed at this snub by the Queen and her government, imprisoned the British Consul, Charles Cameron, as well as all the British subjects based in his country.

Eventually, after a three-year hiatus, the British sent a mission under the Abyssinian-born Hormuzd Rassam. The latter carried the much anticipated letter from 'your good friend Victoria R' written at Balmoral on her birthday, 24 May 1864. It offered Tewodros 'friendship' but denied him an embassy, ignored the request for help with arms, and asked for the release of 'Our servant' Cameron and the other British citizens.

This upset Tewodros even more and in retaliation he imprisoned Rassam and his mission with the other British and European prisoners, while he negotiated with the Queen. Writing to 'Victoria, who God has elected and exalted above all men', he once again asked for 'skilful artists ... workmen' to help him establish a gun industry. 'Rejoicing in their coming,' he promised, 'I shall receive them with great honour, and give them good pay.' He included a list of equipment from a small blast steam engine to a gunpowder mill (with rollers). The Emperor then released Martin Flad, a lay missionary with the London Jewish Society, whom he'd imprisoned with his wife and family, and tasked him to return to Britain with the letter.

The Queen received the missionary and her own Prime Minister at Osborne on 14 August 1866:

Saw Ld Stanley & a MrFladd [sic], a German Missionary, who was with those unhappy captives, confined by king Theodore of Abyssinia then released, & finally taken again. It is thought that my having seen MrFladd & asked him to tell the king that he must let these poor people go, may have a good effect. He is to say, that unless this is done, there can be no friendship between us.

As the full story of Rassam's trial and imprisonment filtered through, all thoughts of a compromise involving the Queen were wiped out, and instead the government decided to send an expeditionary force under Sir Robert Napier. He defeated 9,000 troops loyal to Tewodros at the Battle of Magdala on 9 April 1868 with only two British casualties. The prisoners were released, but instead of negotiating, Napier went on to capture Magdala. Before this last ditch battle, Tewodros made it clear he would never allow himself to be taken prisoner by the enemy. As his remaining troops were slaughtered and his citadel was stormed by Napier's men, the Emperor seized a favourite duelling pistol, placed the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. When the redcoats found the body minutes later, they noted the sunlight reflecting on a silver plate on the stock. The inscription read:


Although the Queen never met Emperor Tewodros face to face, she was visited by several African leaders and delegations during the latter part of her reign. In her journal for May 1880 she records, with evident fascination, a meeting with Ugandan diplomats at Windsor:

Received the 3 black Envoys, from Central Africa, sent by the King of Uganda, who has been very friendly to the explorers & to Capt: Speke. They are very fine tall, dignified, youngish men, wearing a sort of loose blue coat & loose trowsers [sic] to the knee, with stockings & shoes, white shirts, & broad red sashes. Interpretors & Missionaries came with them.

* * *

The most fascinating gift bestowed by the Queen was one that, sadly, never survived her lifetime. In her Diamond Jubilee year, 1897, Victoria received 'some presents from the Empress of Abyssinia, 2 necklaces, &c, one of them said to be exactly like that worn by the Queen of Sheba, from whom the Emperor Menelik claims to be descended'.

The following year Menelik II – the third ruler of Abyssinia following the death of Tewodros II – asked if the Queen would record a message for him so he could hear her voice. 'After luncheon,' she noted in August 1898, 'Ld Denbigh brought a phonograph into which I spoke, as it was wished I should sent [sic] a message to the Emperor Menelik. It will be sealed up & destroyed, after he has received the message.'

Victoria's insistence that it should be destroyed may have been to stop it falling into non-royal hands after it was sent abroad. Another reason is embodied in a minute sent by Sir Thomas Sanderson, Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, to the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury. According to the former, 'the voice produced by a phonograph is rather nasal and squawky – a travesty of the original.' We have no transcript of Victoria's message, though a minute from Lord Salisbury to Sanderson observes, 'I think your formula will do admirably. If HM desires to add sentiment or admonition, she will do it better than we can.'

A delighted Menelik and his wife listened to the message with due ceremony. An artillery salute was fired and the royal couple stood in respect as it was played several times. The wax cylinder was then smashed to pieces as per the Queen's wishes. The Emperor and Empress recorded their own message, which was brought to Victoria at Osborne. She listened to it and read the translation, making the observation, 'it was very curious'.

There was one final gift from Africa in the summer of 1900. 'I saw the Zebra given me by King Menelik of Abyssinia, which has only now been brought down to the Shaw Farm from the Zoological Gardens,' the Queen noted at Windsor Castle on 13 July. 'It is a beautiful beast, very large, & wonderfully marked. Unfortunately the other one, which came at the same time, died.'


Two Degrees Of Separation – Victoria and Rita Hayworth

The Queen Meets the Aga Khan

Sultan Sir Mohammed Shah, known as Aga Khan III (1877–1957), succeeded his father Aga Khan II as imam (leader) of the Nizari Ismaili sect in 1885. He is most remembered today as a successful horse breeder and racehorse owner and for briefly being the father-in-law of the Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth.

In a 1954 television interview to promote his newly published memoirs, the Aga Khan remarked that the most notable person whom he had ever known was Queen Victoria. He would go on to be close to Victoria's five successors as monarch, and noted in 1954:

When I was a young man I sat next to Queen Victoria at a dinner party and talked to her throughout it; the other day I sat next to Queen Elizabeth II at a tea party and talked to her throughout it.

The Sultan's first encounter with the British Royal Family was with Victoria's third son, the Duke of Connaught. Named Arthur after his godfather the Duke of Wellington, he also served in the army and saw military service in South Africa, Canada, Ireland, Egypt and India. It was during his time in the subcontinent as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army from December 1886 to March 1890 that their paths crossed when the Aga Khan was only 9 years old. The boy ruler was a frequent guest of the Duke and his wife, the former Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, who spoiled him with 'more toffee and chocolate than was altogether good for me'. He would also encounter the Duke riding each day, when Prince Arthur would always stop and talk to him. When he finally met the Empress of India at Windsor, 'she said at once, I remember, that she had heard all about me and my home from her son'.

In 1898 the Aga Khan toured Europe and was twice received by the Queen at Windsor Castle, where, during the second visit, she personally invested him with the KCIE (Knight Commander of the Indian Empire). By then he had already glimpsed the Queen during her annual spring stay in the south of France. He stayed in the same hotel as Victoria in Cimiez and recalled, 'I had frequent opportunities of watching her go out to and return from her daily drives in her landau. She was helped in and out of her carriage by Indian servants from her personal household.' The Aga Khan condescendingly pointed out that the monarch's two Indian servants were 'distinctly second-class servants, of the kind that you find around hotels and restaurants', something he found 'highly odd'; and he mused that perhaps the pay was not high enough to attract men of a higher calibre. Victoria's family and the Royal Household would have concurred with this viewpoint. The Queen, on the other hand, was neither racist nor class conscious, and her romantic view of India, its people and in particular her beloved manservant Abdul Karim overcame the many rumblings of discontent from those closest to her about her fondness for the low-born men.

On 6 May 1898 the 20-year-old Aga Khan finally had the opportunity to talk to the Queen when he was summoned to see her at Windsor. The Queen noted in her journal:

After luncheon received, in the Audience Room, the Aga Khan, a young man, head of a big Mohamedan sect, called Khoja. He lives in India, but is really a Persian. He was dressed in a loose sort of Cashmere dressing gown, with a low turban on his head. He asked to kiss my hand, & was very shy, but speaks English quite well.

In his memoirs the Aga Khan recalls the second meeting with the Queen when she invested him with the KCIE:

The Queen, enfolded in voluminous black wraps and shawls, was seated on a big sofa. Was she tall or short, was she stout or not? I could not tell; her posture and her wraps made assessments of that kind quite impossible. I kissed the hand which she held out to me. She remarked that the Duke of Connaught was a close friend of my family and myself. She had an odd accent, a mixture of Scotch and German – the German was perfectly explicable by the fact that she was brought up in the company of her mother, a German princess, and a German governess, Baroness Lehzen. She also had the German conversational trick of interjecting 'so' – pronounced 'tzo' – frequently into her remarks.

The Queen told him that, as he was a prince, she would not ask him to kneel and be dubbed by a sword in the conventional method of knighting but would instead hand him the insignia as an equal – a courtesy he found very touching.

He was asked to stay to dinner where he:

sat at dinner between the Queen and her daughter Princess Beatrice. The Queen was wearing her customary black – that mourning which, from the day after her husband died, she never put off. On her wrist she wore a large diamond bracelet set in the center of which was a beautiful miniature of the Prince Consort, about three inches long and two inches wide. The Queen was then seventy-nine; the vigor of her bearing and the facility and clarity of her conversation were astonishing.

The guests included the Lord Chancellor, the Earl of Halsbury, a small, squat, unimpressive-looking man. The Sultan remembered, 'I was both surprised and amused when the Queen murmured to me that Lord Halsbury, though not much to look at, was a formidable lawyer and statesman.'

They talked of India and the Queen was very concerned to find out if her senior officials and representatives in the subcontinent were 'civil or were they wanting in manners toward Indian Princes and gentry?' The Aga Khan assured her they all showed him 'impeccable kindness and courtesy'. Ironically there was nothing impeccable about his own kindness and courtesy to Victoria's Indian attendants, 'who were the same kind of rather second-rate servants whom I had noticed in her entourage at Nice'.

The royal visitor has left us a valuable insight into the Queen's eating habits, and her rather good appetite even in her last few years:

The dinner was long and elaborate – course after course, three or four choices of meat, a hot pudding and an iced pudding, a savory and all kinds of hothouse fruit – slow and stately in its serving. We sat down at a quarter past nine, and it must have been a quarter of eleven before it was all over. The Queen, in spite of her age, ate and drank heartily – every kind of wine that was offered and every course, including both the hot and the iced pudding.

Not everyone was impressed with Victoria's overindulgence. Her personal physician, Dr James Reid, tried to wean her on to Benger's Food, a wheat and milk food supplement designed to soothe the digestive system. Frustratingly for him she treated it as a food supplement and drank a nightly cup after gorging herself on her normal three-course late-night banquet.

After dinner she gave the Aga Khan a jewelled portrait of herself, decorated with the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland and the harp of Ireland – the latter in emeralds. More importantly to the equine-loving leader, she arranged for him to have a Royal Household badge for the Royal Ascot meeting – something that was re-bestowed on him in turn by Edward VII, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II.

Victoria's account of the investiture and dinner shows she was charmed by her young visitor:

Invested the Aga Khan with the K.C. of the Indian Empire. He kissed my hand twice, pressing it to his forehead, & when saw him afterwards presented me with a most beautiful Tiara in pearls & diamonds, which can also be worn as a necklace ... Dined in the large Dining Room ... The Aga Khan sat next to me & is extremely intelligent & well informed, speaking beautiful English, which he learnt from his earliest youth. He was full of expressions of devotion to me & my family.

The next morning Abdul Karim, known as 'the Munshi' or teacher by Victoria, was sent by the Queen to show the Aga Khan some of the texts she had copied in Urdu and Arabic characters. This time the Sultan made no scathing comments about the low-born Indian servant and instead opted to focus on Victoria's genuine concern that those who represented her in this part of the empire did so with sensitivity to local people and traditions:

I particularly remember that at dinner she said to me with great earnestness she hoped that when British people in India visited mosques and temples, they conducted themselves with respect and reverence as they would in cathedrals in their own land.

During his 1898 visit to Britain the Aga Khan attended two state concerts hosted at Buckingham Palace by the Prince of Wales on behalf of the Queen. Edward acted benevolently to the younger man and enrolled him as a member of his own London club, the Marlborough Club. The Aga Khan was present at both Edward's coronation in 1902 and his funeral in 1910. Afterwards he became a close friend to Edward's successor George V and his consort Queen Mary, who were his near contemporaries, and he regularly dined with them whenever he was in Britain.


Excerpted from "An Audience with Queen Victoria"
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Copyright © 2019 Ian Lloyd.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 7

Preface 9

1 Out of Africa: Exchanging Gifts with Kings and Chieftains 11

2 Two Degrees of Separation-Victoria and Rita Hayworth: The Queen Meets the Aga Khan 17

3 'I Have Seen the World': An Abyssinian Prince Captures Victoria's Heart 25

4 'This Is Me!': Barnum, the Greatest Showman, Fails to Impress the Queen 31

5 Getting Connected: Victoria is Taught How to Use the Telephone by Alexander Graham Bell 41

6 French Leave: Queen Victoria Meets Sarah Bernhardt 53

7 Whip-Crack-Away: Queen Victoria and the Wild West Show 61

8 'Stout … Plain … Not Much Dignity': Charlotte Bronte Glimpses the Queen 73

9 'A Very Modest Young Man': Pablo Casals Plays for Victoria 81

10 Pitch Perfect: Ivor Novello's Mother and Four Welsh Choirs in Five Years 87

11 A Dickens of a Crush: Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens 97

12 Thoroughly in Tune: Edvard Grieg Plays for Victoria 103

13 'These Horrible Crimes': Victoria and 'Jack the Ripper' 109

14 The Churchills: Winston Churchill's Mother and Father Impress the Queen 113

15 Animal Magnetism: Queen Victoria and Landseer 121

16 'So Terrible a Calamity': Victoria Mourns Abraham Lincoln 129

17 Lisztomania: Queen Victoria and Franz Liszt 135

18 'My Singing Teacher': Queen Victoria and Mendelssohn 143

19 Darling Grandmama: Queen Victoria, Nicholas and Alexandra 151

20 'We Are Much Pleased With Her': Florence Nightingale Impresses the Queen 167

21 Lamb on a Persian Rug: Queen Victoria Receives the Shah 191

22 Tragedy at Mayerling: How the Suicide of the Austrian Heir Affected the Queen 199

23 One Could Have Danced All Night: Victoria Waltzes to Johann Strauss 213

24 'Nearer My God to Thee': The Queen, Gilbert and Sullivan 219

25 Three Degrees of Separation - Queen Victoria and Oliver Reed: Meeting Sir Henry Beerbohm Tree 231

26 Hitting the Right Note: Queen Victoria and Richard Wagner 241

27 The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name: Oscar Wilde's Fascination with Queen Victoria 249

28 I was Kaiser Bill's Grandma: Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm II 261

Bibliography 275

Index 281

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