“We ARE most amused.” 43,000 pages of Queen Victoria’s journals posted online… as we dig into royal reality.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author’s program note. In 1979 my first book “Insubstantial Pageant: Ceremony & Confusion at Queen Victoria’s Court” was published by Hamish Hamilton in London and Taplinger in New York. It was treated as front page news in England, because it was based on hitherto unknown and unreported papers, including unpublished documents made available to me by Her Gracious Majesty The Queen.
Aside from their undeniably important content, something else was significant about this matter; the fact that it was the research of an American, indeed the very first Yank ever admitted to the treasure trove that resides in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. In fact, so far as I know, I remain all these many years later the only American still. And so I am uniquely qualified to write this story.
Hear more in my recent book “Happy and Glorious. Encounters With the Windsors.”
“Soldiers of the Queen”.
As every monarch has known, a royal story goes better with a strong, rousing tune, and this one is no exception. Thus I have selected one of the best marches of the Empire on which the sun never set, “Soldiers of the Queen.” It was written and composed by Leslie Stuart in the1890s for the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal. Its lyrics were not merely catchy, they were very gospel to the people who thrilled to their imperial achievement.
“It’s the soldiers of the Queen, my lads Who’ve been, my lads, who’ve seen, my lads In the fight for England’s glory lads When we’ve had to show them what we mean.”
Go now to any search engine and find this pip of a tune which you’ll probably recall from Shirley Temple’s 1939 film “The Little Princess.” It is sure to get your blood stirring if you’ve got even a drop of the old English about you.
Enter by the tradesmen’s door.
To gain access to the sovereign’s private papers, you must apply to the Royal Librarian, in my day Sir Robin Mackworth-Young. The key to entry was being a “recognized scholar.” This meant being a known author or having secured the Ph.D. from a known university. In my case it necessitated being patient until I took my Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1975. As soon as I had it in hand, I left for England, for Windsor, for the papers I needed to complete my book.
Perhaps only a scholar given such access can know and understand the thrill, the giddy excitement as you travel to such riches. But reality entered the picture at once. I was told to go to the tradesmen’s entry where a footman in powdered hair handed me a quill pen and told me to sign in. Me? Tradesmen’s entry? The sage of Cambridge?
More sobering reality.
The footman then picked up a candelabrum and a giant key. “This way,” he said (“doctor” and “sir” omitted), as if I were the butcher’s boy; leading me the few steps to the door at the base of the Round Tower. He unlocked the massive door and told me to ascend the stairs to the top where another heavy door would be unlocked.The concrete stairs were steep; it was cold. There was no light. I was a prisoner in the Tower, locked in at their pleasure, wondering how to get out. Now I was thrilled no longer; I was in a story that could easily be written by Edgar Allan Poe or M.R. James, both masters of the macabre.
“We’ve been expecting you.”
Then as I reached the top, the door swung open, there was light, warmth and a greeting from Miss Jane Langton. She showed me my room, told me which papers they had laid out and explained the rules, viz that I must take tea with the staff daily and leave for luncheon. I resented both rules; I had come a long way to gather what I needed… and luncheon was immaterial. Still I was logged out then, too, to log in again in 60 minutes sharp.
Her Majesty The Scribbler.
Victoria became sovereign by birth, merit being no part of the matter. But she became a writer by hard work, assiduous effort, and the constant perfecting of her craft. I liked that about her from the start, for she knew the burden of the blank page… and she knew the necessity to write regularly, frequently, and follow the writer’s first rule: to write about what she knew. She did, publishing two best-selling books, writing thousands of letters (only a fraction in print) and creating the most important royal journal ever written.
Thus each day I was allowed in the Round Tower, I was in direct, personal converse with the majesty that reigned over a preponderance of the known world. At first, of course, there were her quirks and abysmal handwriting to learn. This wasn’t easy for Queen Victoria was famous for her illegible hand and abbreviations… the text messaging of her day. However, in due course I mastered both to the extent that the staff would bring me papers they were working on and asked for my opinion. Thus, I built bridges with people not keen on my American heritage and became a known master of royal cryptograms, to the extent the staff would often compliment my proven skills… and in truth I earned their regard, though there were frustrating times when the Queen’s execrable handwriting defeated us all.
Now available to the world at.
Now thanks to the generosity of Queen Elizabeth II you need not demonstrate that you are a “recognized scholar” to gain access. No interview required with a pompous minor member of the royal staff; no forced tea or luncheon… just you and the great Queen, from the comfort of your home. All this deserves the highest praise and gratitude and as the complete collection is indexed (a gigantic task indeed), your praise should swell, too.
But now it is time to dip into Her Majesty’s actual words, where you find from the very first a woman of honesty, directness, of strong sentiments, but no pretence at all. See for yourself…
On her birthday, May 24, 1837. “Today is my eighteenth birthday! How old! and yet how far I am from being what I should be. I shall from this day take the firm resolution to study with renewed assiduity, to keep my attention always well fixed on whatever I am about, and to strive to become every day less trifling and more fit for what, if Heaven wills it, I’m some day to be.”
On proposing to her adored Prince Albert, (October 15, 1839). “My mind is quite made up, and I told Albert this morning of it. The warm affection he showed me on learning this gave me great pleasure. He seems perfection, and I think that I have the prospect of very great happiness before me. I love him more than I can say…”
And this effusion: “I really cannot say how proud I feel to be the Queen of such a nation.” She entered it into her journal the evening of her coronation, June 28, 1838… but she felt this way every day of her life. I felt this commitment strongly as I worked busily in the Round Tower so many years ago! Now this feeling can be yours wherever you are as you dig in to her most private thoughts. God save the Queen… and every word she ever wrote.
About the Author
Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four university degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities and is quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 60 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com
His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” has garnered nine literary prizes that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” A good read by this man of so many letters. Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of becoming a success. Connect with Dr. Lant at www.drjeffreylant.com